Happy Birthday, Jack Kirby?

jack_kirby__spanToday is the birthday of Jack “King” Kirby.

He was born on August 28, 1917, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

And, if you don’t know who Jack Kirby was than you have no business reading comics, going to superhero movies or probably even reading this blog.  In fact, if you DON’T know Kirby, then I don’t want to know you.

Jack Kirby is the reason we have comic books today.  Jack Kirby is the reason we have blockbuster movies like CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, THOR and THE AVENGERS that make corporations millions of dollars every year.  Jack Kirby didn’t just make ‘worlds’… he made UNIVERSES!

And if you think this is going to be yet another post about how badly Kirby has been treated, then you’re right.  Because as much as I’d love to sit here and praise the glory that is Jack Kirby’s work, it is tainted by the exploitation and greed of others.

Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further: I’m a Kirby ‘guy’.  When I was growing up, comic fans were divided into factions much like the street gangs of Kirby’s youth.  There were DC fans and Marvel fans and then there were Kirby fans and Ditko fans and Adams fans but, oddly, not too many Stan Lee fans.  You had your favorites and you wore them proudly.

But, for me, there was simply ‘Kirby’.

Kirby created comics as we know it.  He created the Marvel Universe which we see constantly now in video games, cartoons, movies and everywhere else.  Kirby made Marvel.

Now some may question this and state that Kirby and Stan Lee co-created the Marvel Universe.  Well, I’m not going to rise to that bait because, quite simply, Lee couldn’t have done it without Kirby or Ditko.  Both artists were geniuses of their form and created something amazing from the ground up but, make no mistake, Lee couldn’t have done it himself or with anyone else.

And Marvel crapped all over Kirby.

Not just once but several times.

And they continue to do so.

When you buy a ticket for that latest blockbuster movie based on Marvel’s characters (many of whom Jack created), not a penny goes to his heirs or estate.  When you buy that fancy hardcover reprint of FANTASTIC FOUR, Kirby gets nothing.

It all comes down to legal questions of ownership which have been argued back and forth in courtrooms for years.  I remember the 1980’s when Marvel, despite returning artwork to many other artists, refused to give Kirby back his pages.  The comic community back then stood up and would not allow this outrage to stand so Marvel eventually gave in and returned some of the pages.  Now, while the Kirby estate fights to regain copyrights, fans are strangely silent.  Or, even worse, call Kirby’s heirs ‘greedy’ and side with the corporations.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and if Kirby could have foreseen how profitable his work would become, he’d have fought for better rights.  But part of the reason he didn’t was the very medium itself.  Comics were thought to be worthless, disposable.  In 1963, 50 years ago, who would ever have thought comics would become this vast, money-making environment?

So, today, on Jack Kirby’s birthday, let us thank him for all the wonder and joy which he brought us and let us also remember how horribly he was treated (and continues to be) by an industry that he essentially created.  Let us exalt his work as we point to these executives and corporations and say, “See this?  This is genius.  No matter what you do, no matter what you say, you can never take away from the genius who created this.  You can never extinguish the creative fire that was Jack ‘KING’ Kirby!”

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About Sam Gafford
My name is Sam Gafford and I've been doing critical work on William Hope Hodgson for many years. I wrote the article "Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson" in which I presented evidence that WHH wrote his novels in the reverse order in which they were published. I've recently written an article on Hodgson's confrontation with Houdini and am currently working on a book length study of WHH.

3 Responses to Happy Birthday, Jack Kirby?

  1. trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

    Bravo, Sam! Well stated, concise, and gets right to the point.

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