Thursday, May 05, 2011

11.09 Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier

Kirby: King of Comics (2008) by Mark Evanier

You can't talk about comics or the history of comics without mentioning Jack Kirby. I'd always been aware of Kirby, knew his style and influence but for some reason assumed that he was one of many of the founding fathers of the comic industry. Thank goodness I read this biography because it schooled me on his true influence.

Kirby wrote and drew comics for nearly 50 years. He was there at the inception of what we call comic books today which were stand alone digest size stores often in multi issue arcs rather than just collections of newspaper strips. In those days artists worked in virtual sweatshop environments cranking out whatever was required of them. Kirby's big break came when he and Joe Simon created Captain America for the proto-Marvel comics company.

No one could match the pace or quality of Kirby's output for a large portion of his career. When he knew he was going off to fight in WWII he drew a huge backlog of comics that could be released while he was gone. After the war he worked on any genre that would pay: boys adventure, romance, war, superhero, science fiction, western.

Eventually Kirby connected with Stan Lee back at Marvel. The author clearly has a thing against Stan Lee and it is hard to know how true some of hes assertions are. What is clear is that Lee was much better businessman than Kirby and although they may have co-created a number of characters, Lee seemed to get the lions share of the credit. This period in the 60s was the creative apex of Kirbys career. Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the original X-Men, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Galactus, Magneto, and the Black Panther were all titles that built Marvel into a successful company.

Kirby continued to work for Marvel, DC and other independents right through until the early 1990s through failing health and eyesight. Not may of the titles through this period were very successful commercially.

Jack Kirby was a terrible businessman and was exploited (or at the very least under-compensated) throughout his career. The terrible irony now is that multi-million dollar movies are being made one after another about characters that he created or co-created: Hulk, X-Men, Captain America Thor. I sure hope that his family are making some loot off them.

1 comment:

OlmanFeelyus said...

Kirby was amazing. Does the book go into his later work where he started to get really psychedelic, like The New Gods? I was always curious what influenced such an old school guy to have such a trippy art form.

I remember back in the day when the independent comics scene was exploding, there was tons of controversy about Kirby and his family getting nothing while Stan Lee owned all the rights (though at the time, Marvel almost died as well). Dark Horse (or maybe it was Eclipse) had a period where the back cover of all their comics was a big picture of Jack Kirby with the words "What about Jack?" under them. Mark Evanier was around back then, writing comics, so maybe he was involved with the fight back then as well.