August 28, 2015 would have been Jack Kirby’s 98th birthday. The man was a legend in American comics; no, not just American comics, but in the international world of comics, period. He created not just beloved characters who today anchor multi-billion-dollar movie franchises and whose images grace practically everything from pyjamas to purses to posters to yes, the occasional comic book. Earlier this week I was trying to figure out how to best explain the impact that Jack Kirby had on comic books to someone who was unfamiliar with the medium, and I realized that outside of comics, there’s really no-one to compare him to. The best that I could come up with was that he was like the movie director John Ford, a skilled craftsman and genius who worked hard and was interested in the bottom line almost as he was at making something creative. Except imagine that in addition to the 140 movies that John Ford actually made, he’d also made Citizen Kane, Casablanca, City Lights, Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Lawrence of Arabia, Bonnie and Clyde, and about a dozen more award-winners, as well as created the movie romance. Oh, and worked as director, writer, producer, cinematographer, key grip, and craft services for most of the movies.
It’s a clumsy analogy, but that’s because it’s hard to overstate the man’s impact on the comic book medium (and also because the clumsy analogy is practically one of my trademarks). Jack Kirby stands astride the comic book medium like a colossus, and though there are other creators who can boast of a prolific creative output, or an influential storytelling technique, or a dynamic visual style, none of them really rival Jack. It’s why he’s called The King, after all.