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Biographies of the Stars

Jack Kirby, King of the Comics

It is difficult to say that any one individual is the most important person in any history, but no one is important than Jack Kirby to the history of the comic book and it's current styles, both visually and literary.

Jacob Kurtzburg was born in New York city on August 28, 1917 in one of the toughest neighborhoods of the city. Dubbed "Hell's Kitchen" it was home to many of the roughest hoodlums on the east coast.

His artistic career began in 1935 when he secured a job with the Max Fleisher Studios doing "in-betweens" for the Popeye cartoon series. In 1936 he joined the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate where he simultaneously drew several different comic strips under different pseudonyms. Drawing "Socko the Sea Dog", "Abdul Jones" and "Black Buccaneer" among others, he remained there until 1938 when the syndicate folded.

He free-lanced doing pulp illustrations for a short while before temporarily landing at the Eisner-Iger studio late in 1938. Some of his work in this period can be found in Jungle & Jumbo Comics, and he also began to work for numerous other companies as well, illustrating such characters as Blue Beetle, Blue Bolt, Red Raven, and even the big red cheese - Captain Marvel (he drew the entire first issue). It was at this time he began to cement his relationship with the publishers, his peers and comics fandom.

While at novelty pubs. doing Blue Bolt, Kirby met Joe Simon and within a few months they had become a team. Working out of their shared studio, they began to "package" comic books for various publishers, when in early 1941, Timely Comics publisher Martin Goodman asked the team to create a character to compete with the patriotic hero from Pep Comics named the "Shield".

They responded with one of the most enduring characters of the medium - Captain America! In those barely pre-American war involvement days, Captain America was an immediate hit and Kirby's influence on the comic form would gain it's great momentum. Using his dynamic perspectives and cinematic technique, Kirby began to exceed the previous boundaries of the comic book that only a few artists had done before him, namely Lou Fine, Will Eisner, Mort Meskin and Alex Schomburg.

The ten issues of Captain America drawn by Simon & Kirby (or more appropriately Kirby and Simon as Jack penciled and Joe inked) are historic in their creation and Kirby's art for them is legendary in status. One of the most startling concepts were the incredible two-page center-spreads which entranced readers and historians of comic art.

Artist Jim Steranko, heavily influenced by Kirby did homage to these huge spreads by doing his own in several Nick Fury stories done in Strange Tales & Agent of Shield in the late sixties. He even did Kirby one better and drew one incredible four page spread, and this technique is commonly copied today.

In 1942, the team was lured away from Timely by rival publisher DC Comics, who needed to get them away from Timely because of their popularity in the field at that time. While drawing Captain America, their team logo&127 "Simon & Kirby" was featured prominently, something that only Siegel & Shuster and the Eisner-Iger shop artists had done previously.

The great lure was not only better pay, but better billing for the artists as well. On the covers of Adventure Comics with the "Sandman" a banner blared with the message "Sandman by Simon & Kirby". They had certainly become famous in their own right to comics fans. Finally, in 1943 the war in Europe reached the Kirby-Simon studio and the creative team was drafted into the army.

When they returned from the war in 1945 Jack &Joe set up shop again packaging books for a string of publishers beginning with Harvey Comics for whom they created Boys Explorers & Stuntman.

In 1947 they began packaging for Prize/Crestwood and immediately brought back Headline Comics, which became the company's crime title (followed shortly by Justice Traps the Guilty, another crime title) and created Young Romance Comics, which is historically the very first romance comic title. Also for Crestwood the team created Black Magic, one of the most highly regarded horror titles of the 1950's.

In 1954 they went into publishing for themselves and formed Mainline Comics.It wasn't that they weren't being paid well at Crestwood. Indeed they were in for a 50% cut of the profits. No, they just wanted to get in on the money of publishing. Bullseye, In Love, Police Trap & Foxhole were some of the titles they produced during this period.

Also in 1954 the creative duo saw the revival of their early creation Captain America by rival publisher Timely/Atlas and created yet another patriotic hero to do battle head to head with one of their most famous creations. The Fighting American, was a hit but the title lasted a scant 7 issues before succumbing to oblivion.

Then a bomb dropped on the comics industry. Groups of moralists all over America were protesting comic books because they felt they were major contributors to juvenile delinquency. There were senate hearings, Reader's Digest articles and social backlash. Finally between late 1954 and early 1955 nearly 350 comic titles ceased publication under pressure from these groups.

Almost overnight, the business had been decimated as had Kirby's artistic output, which until this time had been over 20 pages of art per week in addition to scripting chores. From February through May 1955 Jack drew a scant twenty pages of comic art.

With nowhere else to go, Jack returned to Crestwood (now Prize) and again drew Young Romance & Young Love which was edited by Joe Simon. When Prize folded in late 1956, the artistic collaboration Between Simon & Kirby, which had lasted for almost twenty years came to an end, finished by the roar of censorship.

So in 1956 with a family to feed and nowhere else to go Kirby began working with DC again, illustrating the Green Arrow in Adventure Comics, and doing sci-fi and mystery stories. But Jack's mind was still bubbling and it would not be very long before he would help create a new generation of comic heroes, eternalizing his name in the museum of comics history.

In 1957 Jack got the idea of a group of men who survive a plane crash on a pacific island and after some death defying adventures the four daredevils become a team fighting fantastic criminals and futuristic villains. Called the "Challengers of the Unknown" they were a seminal influence for Kirby's design of the Fantastic Four which appeared in 1961, signaling the resurgence of superheroes in comic books.

At about the same time he created and successfully syndicated a science&127 fiction newspaper strip which is highly revered, "Skymasters" written & pencilled by Jack and inked by Wally Wood and the unrelated Wood brothers Dick & Dave. The strip folded in 1959.

Then Kirby returned to Marvel where he created or co-created nearly every character Marvel marketed for several years. The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man, Nick Fury, Iron man, the X-Men, Silver Surfer, the Avengers and Captain America was revived for the third time. Then there were the villains who fought the heroes. They are almost entirely machinations of the Kirby mind.

The creation and successful appearances of each of these characters not only contributed to comics media, but likely revitalized the comics publishing industry at a time when it was on the brink of oblivion. Kirby was most certainly responsible for Marvel's rejuvenation in 1961 and one wonders what direction the comics medium might have taken had it not been for Jack's genius when comics were at their darkest hour.

Later when Jack had a falling out with Marvel publisher/editor Stan Lee, he went back to DC for a third go round and Jack designed a whole new series of comics. The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Kamandi and the Forever People. These characters, though not extremely popular or successful at the time have in recent years become quite popular and their resurrections have caused collectors to go back & reappraise these incarnations of the Kirby genius.

Over the length of a career that has spanned seven decades Jack Kirby has been credited with illustrating over 24,000 pages of comic book art, making him the most prolific comic artist to ever walk the Earth. He also drew hundreds of comic strips throughout his career and numerous Hollywood film conceptualizations. He is credited with being one of the most influential creators of the field and his influence can be seen in nearly every comic artists visual concept and design. He is an American icon.

Jack passed away February 6 1994.

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