John Ostrander: Jack Kirby is Still King!
I may have told this story before but I’m at an age where you repeat yourself a lot. And it’s germane to this column.
Years ago, when I was still somewhat new to the industry, I was working the First Comics booth at a Chicago Con along with my lovely wife, Kim Yale. A group of pros walked past me that included Julie Schwartz, the legendary DC editor, and Roz and Jack Kirby.
My jaw dropped and I started hyperventilating. Kim gave me a strange look.
“Pssst! Julie!” I whispered. I knew Julie from DC, at least somewhat. Ever affable, Julie came to the table.
“Introduce me to the King!” Julie gave me a strange look.
“Whattaya talking about? It‘s just Jack. Come over and say hello.”
“No no no no no! I can’t! Don’t you understand?! He’s the King! Help a guy out, wouldja?”
Julie looked at me like I was demented, which I probably was. He just shook his head and said, “C’mon, kid.” I was still young enough to be called a kid… comparatively speaking.
Julie took me over to the group and made the intro and Jack Kirby shook my hand and said “Hi. Howareya.” I made noises resembling words. I think my voice cracked. Kim would later tell me that she watched her husband turn into a 14-year old boy, complete with zits a-poppin’.
I freely admit it. Jack Kirby was the King and, despite making my living in comics, I was still the fan-nerd I had always been.
And still am.
Many of you out there will know all about Jack Kirby and will need no explanation, but some of you might.
Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was born in Brooklyn as Jacob Kurtzberg and got into the comics biz in the Thirties which was the dawn of comics. He took out time for World War II and then came back and worked for a number of different publishers.
What makes Jack Kirby the King? For me, it’s this.
- Imagination – The word “prodigious” comes to mind. So many concepts, so many characters, bear his mark. So many styles of stories. From the spires of Asgard to the weird distortions of the Negative Zone to the brutal cityscapes of Apokolips, to Ego the Living Planet, no one could top his visuals.
- Storytelling – His figures leaped off the page. The panels couldn’t contain the events on them. Even standing still, they vibrated with potential power. There was energy to burn on his pages. You felt them as much as you read them. You couldn’t read the story fast enough and when one issue was done you wanted the next one right now.
- Artistry – Okay, his anatomy was not always perfect. And every woman’s face looked the same. He was still one of the best ARTISTS that ever drew a comic because comics are about storytelling and no one beat Kirby as a storyteller.
He and the other titans of his era invented comic books, for cryin’ out loud! Without the King, there is no Marvel Universe, let alone the Marvel Movie Universe! He created or co-created Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Nick Fury, the Howling Commandos, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, Magneto, Loki, and the Hulk – among so many others… including Groot! At DC he created Darkseid, the whole New Gods, OMAC, Etrigan the Demon, Challengers of the Unknown (only one of the great titles in DC history), the Boy Commandos, The Guardian and gobs of others! And he did a whole posse of Westerns and co-created the genre of romance comics! He turned out three or more penciled books a month plus the occasional oversized Annual! My brain explodes!!!
(I don’t know if you can talk about Jack Kirby without using exclamation points!)
So here’s to the King! I did eventually wash the hand that you shook; Kim insisted. However, you were and are one of my comic book heroes and I’m glad I had the chance to meet you.