PITTSFIELD -- Happy birthday to Jack Kirby, born on Aug. 28.
There will be a significant number of people reading this who have little or no idea who Kirby was. Jack Kirby (1917-94) was the most influential comic artist in history. And one of the most influential pop icons (which would have stunned him) in history.
Think about this: The King, as he was known when he was alive, created, along with editor Stan Lee, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, the Red Skull, Magneto and Captain America for Marvel. He also created a host of monsters for Marvel in the 1950s, including, if you’ve seen the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, the tree creature Groot.
He created a host of characters for DC, including the New Gods, Omac the One-Man Army Corps and the Newsboy Legion.
It is estimated that Kirby’s creations, when they eventually made it to the so-called silver screen, have made various Hollywood studios more than $3.7 billion.
On a side note, when the superhero books waned in the 1950s, Kirby created what are widely known now as "romance comics." There were a lot of stories like, "I Love Him! Why Does He Care For Her?" And so on. I don’t recall reading too many of those.
He was called "The King" because he was The King. He drew characters in an amazing kinetic style. When Captain America smacked the Red Skull, he did so with legs extended, his punching arm rippling with muscles.
It would not be inaccurate to say that Kirby turned Marvel comics around in the 1960s, from a second-line company to the top comic book organization in the business.
The influence Kirby had on me was enormous. I bought Thor, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Captain America and the X-men because Jack Kirby drew those comics. I only knew vaguely who Kirby was. What I did know was that his drawings were so dynamic they seemed to leap off the page.
I still have a reprint of Avengers #4 that I often peruse. There’s a fight scene in it between Iron Man and Namor the Sub-Mariner in which Namor is just blasting Iron Man in midair. I called it once a "violent ballet." It was so balanced and beautiful that I still enjoy looking at it.
Kirby also drew the most amazing machines, rockets and robots. They were so amazingly detailed and complicated they could not really be duplicated.
I remember in third grade, I cut out a picture of The Hulk and brought it to Commercial Street School in Adams. I asked my teacher, the clearly very patient Mrs. Urbanski, if we could hang it up in the classroom.
Mrs. Urbanski looked at the drawing, depicting the Hulk, this big green monster, yanking out a telephone pole and staring menacingly out at the reader.
"Ah, yes, here we have ... ah, The Incredible Hulk," she stammered. "Of course, Derek. Put it up."
I was so proud.
Kirby’s creations made a lot of money, but not for him. He signed a standard artistic contract for Marvel, stipulating that the company held all rights to his characters, which was a not unusual deal in those days.
But when Marvel began using these characters in cartoons and in movies, Kirby didn’t make anything back. He was not happy. His estate is still trying to recover some money from the characters he created.
Kirby is gone, but fortunately, his work lives on. And it will probably live on as long as we keep reading comic books.
For images of Kirby’s work, go to www.comicartfans.com.
To reach Derek Gentile:
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile