Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg, born in 1917) is one of the most important and influential artists in the history of U.S. comic books and popular culture. Growing up poor in New York City, Kurtzberg entered the nascent comics industry in the 1930s. He drew various comic strips under different pseudonyms, ultimately settling on Jack Kirby. During the 1940s, he would create a number of comics for various publishers, often teamed with Joe Simon; in 1941 they gave his first birth to the highly successful superhero character Captain America. After serving in World War II, Kirby returned to comics and worked in a variety of genres. He contributed to a number of publishers, including Archie Comics and DC Comics, but ultimately found himself at Timely’s 1950s iteration, Atlas Comics, later to be known as Marvel Comics.
In the 60s, along with writers Joe Simon, Stan Lee, and Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby created the characters and stories on which Marvel Comics has built its successful business over the past 60 years. He designed and/or created many of Marvel’s most famous and recognizable characters including the Fantastic Four, Dr.Doom, Nick Fury, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Inhumans, Thor and the Asgardians, Hercules, the Eternals as well as the Celestials. When Lee co-created Galactus in a three story arc of Fantastic Four, without telling Stan, Kirby created and designed the Silver Surfer and included him as the first known of Galactus’s heralds.
Despite the high sales and critical acclaim of the Lee-Kirby titles, Kirby felt unfairly treated, and left the company in 1970 for rival DC Comics. While working for DC, he created his Fourth World saga, which spanned several comics titles. While these and other titles proved commercially unsuccessful and were canceled, several of their characters and the Fourth World mythos have continued as a significant part of the DC Comics universe. Kirby returned to Marvel briefly in the mid-to-late 70s, then ventured into television animation and independent comics. In his later years, Kirby received great recognition for his career accomplishments, and is regarded by historians and fans as one of the major innovators and most influential creators in the comic-book medium. Actually, he created much of the visual language for fantasy and adventure comics as we know them. There were comics before Kirby, but for the most part their page layout, graphics, and visual dynamic aped what was being done in syndicated newspaper strips. Almost everything that was different about comic books began in the forties on the drawing table of Jack Kirby.
Kirby’s pages were brilliantly designed, subtly but inescapably leading a reader’s eye across the page, into the action and through the narrative via his graphic design which nonetheless never got in the way of keeping the story clear and readable. Most distinctively, where more and more artists seem to want to imitate reality in their drawing and page design, often looking like storyboards for a live action motion picture (or worse, cluttering a page with graphic flurries and drawing tricks, all sound and fury signifying nothing), Kirby’s pages exhibited a design and dynamic that could only exist on a comic book page. Hypertrophic and beautifully stylized, excessive and caricatured, his personal trait still retains an incredible and dynamic emotional functionality. His equipment, his monsters, his worlds have an incredible and mythological charm, his imagery is impressive and titanic. Sequences and action that might look ridiculous in another medium or at the hand of another artist seemed not only serious but believably dramatic and even glowingly transcendent at the masterful pencil point of Jack “King” Kirby. Jack Kirby passed away from heart failure in 1994.