The Marvel movie has highlighted one of the most important figures in the comic, Jack Kirby, known in the ninth art as King Kirby.
The recent Marvel premiere, Eternals, has brought back one of the greatest talents in the world of comics, Jack Kirby. Eclipsed by the figure of Stan Lee in recent years due to the focus that the movies have placed on him, few know that the most important Marvel icons came out of his hands and his head, since Kirby is the total author, capable of writing and draw your own stories . Captain America, The Fantastic 4, The Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, the X-Men and, of course, the Eternals are among his creations. In a race full of obstacles, this New Yorker of Jewish origin went from one publishing house to another without giving up his ideas and gaining both the admiration of his colleagues and the public, although his relationship with his editors was always tense.
Jacob Kurtzberg was born in 1917 in Manhattan in a family of Austrian immigrants with few resources, in fact the whole family slept in the same bed. His childhood in the harsh Lower East Side and the need to go to work as a child marked him forever, forging a culture of effort and an unbreakable character that will lead him to not bow to anything and anyone. In his teens he was involved in trouble with the law and many of his gang members in the neighborhood ended up becoming gangsters, a world he was attracted to.
His professional beginnings as a cartoonist are in the studio of Max Fleischer in 1935, who was in charge of animating the Popeye and Betty Boop drawings . A year later, he made the leap to newspaper strips, a successful format at the time, and entered the Lincoln News Syndicate, where he made caricatures of politicians.
As the salary was low and by then Kirby was a family man, he made compatible jobs for Eisner & Iger, a studio that was owned by another comic legend, Will Eisner , with whom he would forge a good relationship. There he made comics of different genres under various pseudonyms: Jack Curtis, Fred Sand and Curt Davis.
In 1938 he began a new adventure at the Fox Features Syndicate, which were pioneers in superhero comics, there he met Joe Simon, with whom he would form a creative partner for more than a decade. When the latter left for Timely Comics, the seed of the future Marvel, Kurtzberg continued to work with him under the pseudonym Jack Kirby, a name he used to avoid being fired from his other job. According to some versions, he took the surname of his favorite illustrators, Rollin Kirby; for others the source of inspiration came from gangster film noir.
Simon convinced Timely editor Martin Goodman to put Jack on the payroll, and after formally joining the company they reaped their first big hit in 1941: Captain America . But there began the problems with the future Marvel, the creators felt cheated by not receiving part of the promised benefits and began to negotiate with their rival, National Comics Publications (origin of DC). When Goodman found out he threw them out, according to some sources the tip came through his cousin in law, a certain Stanley Martin Lieber, who in the future would be known as Stan Lee. What is true is that Kirby and Lee met at this stage.
His time at National was one of great creative splendor, figures like Manhunter were born during these years, but World War II breaks their lives and both are called up, although he leaves material in advance to publish for a year. In spite of being already a well-known cartoonist, he does not achieve an easy destiny and is selected for the navy, although at the last moment he manages to move to infantry.
World War II
Kirby was assigned to the Western front and is part of the American army that liberates the northern part of France. His character and drawing skills make him an explorer in Patton's army. There he is distinguished by his sketches behind enemy lines and by being one of the first Americans to discover the horrors of the concentration camps ( Natzweiler-Struthof ) : “There were mostly women and some men. It looked like they hadn't eaten in I don't know how long. They were rare. His clothes were tattered and dirty. The Germans didn't care about anything. They just left the place ... "
At the end of 1944 he had to be part of the troops that endured the German offensive in the Ardennes. During this time, he contracts the disease called trench foot, which is caused by lack of food, extreme cold and humidity. After a few months of recovery, he was discharged on July 20, 1945.
The experience in Europe would mark his idea of good and evil. Kirby had already created iconic comic book antiheroes like Red Skull, but from now on many of his villains would have an authoritarian drive and supremacist ideas (Baron Zemo, Doctor Doom, Darkseid
The dark years
By the time Kirby and Simon returned home, America had changed, the trauma of war and fear of communism having ostracized the superhero comic. To this was added a strict censorship on everything published that led to the closure of many publishing houses. Kirby, under Simon's tutelage, tried different publishers and even founded his own label: Mainline Publications . Here he creates Foxhole, a realistic war comic in which ex-combatants were part. At this time he had to dedicate himself to all kinds of genres: romantic, children's, black series, science fiction ... His production becomes Stakhanovistic, working up to 14 hours a day.Simon, who sees no future in the industry, decides to change the world of comics for advertising and the creative couple breaks up after 15 years . Atlas, the new name of National (DC), triumphed with characters like Superman and Batman, while Kirby continued creating series: Challengers of the Unknown, Sky Masters of the Space Force, The Creaturare From Korgarr and The Escape of Monsteroso.
Back to Marvel
At the beginning of the 1960s and with DC about to launch its Justice League, Stan Lee was commissioned to create a group of superheroes with which to confront those of the 'enemy' publishing house. Marvel, who was going through a difficult time at the time, trusted the creative couple Lee-Kirby. Their first work, The Fantastic Four (1961) was a success with the public and gave free rein for the couple to unleash their talent. The Avengers (1963), Hulk (1962), Iron Man (1963), Nick Fury (1963), Black Panther (1966), Thor (1962), Ant-Man (1962), X-Men (1963), Silver Surfer (1966), Daredevil (1964) ... the great Marvel icons are the result of that era.
The way of working at that time gives more value to Jack's creative work, since Stan Lee only gave him an outline of what should happen in each issue. It was Kirby who developed the narrative and the drawing of each episode. And a posteriori the dialogues were added, in such a way that the most creative part of the process fell on him.
Back in dc
Kirby, not feeling overcooked to Stan Lee's level , decided to switch back to the enemy in the early seventies. At this time his work was highly influenced by the ideas of the extraterrestrial origin of life on Earth that the controversial Erich von Däniken supported and the fear of a nuclear holocaust. In the first line is his legendary Fourth World saga , in which he created a new mythology, while Kamandi (1972) reflected the atomic terrors in a land where animals had gained intelligence and humans were reduced to slaves. In these years, he created Darkseid, who would be the quintessential antagonist of Superman and the Justice League.
Eternals returns Kirby the glory he deserves
And again to Marvel
In 1976 he returned to Marvel for the third time, of course after creative discrepancies with DC. This time he returns with total freedom and develops some of the ideas that he had already outlined in DC in the New Gods. Thus arises a new line in Marvel, Eternals , in which the ideas of the ancient extraterrestrial astronauts as guardians and evolutionaries of the human race are reflected in its pages with great care. The scenarios and approaches of its first issues coincide almost to the letter with what Erich von Däniken describes in Memories of the future. For three years he shaped a new cosmology in Marvel, but disenchanted he passed in 1979 to the world of animation in Hanna-Barbera. There he was in charge of the series The Fantastic Four, coinciding again with Stan Lee, who was in charge of the scripts.
In the 1980s he promptly returned to do some work in independent publishers and even collaborated with DC on some new Fourth World stories. It was part of the deception with which the CIA managed to rescue six diplomats in Iran under the pretext of making a film. The sketches that were submitted were his. Ben Affleck would make a movie with this fact.
His last battle, which he would win after passing away (1994), would be for the rights and originals of his Marvel production. Of the latter, the house of ideas returned an insignificant part of his production, but his heirs reached an amicable agreement whereby they received an undisclosed sum in exchange for renouncing future shares.
Style and influences
Kirby's contribution to the world of comics went far beyond a very personal graphic style that was difficult to recreate, and it was also highly conditioned by his inkers. Among them are Joe Sinnott (The Fantastic Four), who rounded the shapes and embellished them, Vince Colleta (Thor) who was famous for simplifying the backgrounds, Chic Stone (X-Men), who softened the drawings, and Mike Royer ( Kamandi, Eternals, 2001, Demon ...), who most respects the essence of Kirby's original drawing. But beyond its graphic style, its influence is transferred to the narrative world since it completely changes the panorama of comics. endowing its protagonists with an aura of fragility and temporal continuity, the events that are narrated are part of a larger universe that interacts with other collections.
Within the world of comics, the 'Kirby Dots' are famous, thick black dots grouped around the figures and conveying the idea of energy and power to the reader. Although its origin is limited to Fantastic Four # 46 of January 1966, there is already evidence of an early use in the early 40s in Blue Bolt # 5.
Kirby has been a role model for many of the cartoonists and comic writers, but his style has crossed the borders of the ninth art and artists, such as the famous Spanish painter Oscar Seco , do not hide their admiration in some of his works .
Alan Moore, another of the great figures of comics, openly acknowledges his passion for the New Yorker: “Jack Kirby was an influence on my work. It's kind of an understanding that this is the way comics should be made. "