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The Independent - Jack Kirby

The Independent - Jack Kirby



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Published by: Jago on Sep 04, 2008
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16/05/2008 11:25Loading “The Independent - Print Article”Page 1 of 3http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/film-and-tv/features/jack-kirby--the-real-comic-book-hero-829087.html?service=Print
Jack Kirby - the real comic book hero
Behind today's blockbuster superheroes lies the genius of one man, legendary artist Jack Kirby. TimWalker finds out what makes his work so special
Friday, 16 May 2008
This summer, millions of moviegoers will crowd into cinemas to see the latest incarnation of TheIncredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton. They have also recently been introduced to the less familiarbut equally action-packed Iron Man, with Robert Downey Jr in the title role. Meanwhile, next year'sstudio slate includes spin-offs from X-Men and the Fantastic Four series, featuring Wolverine and theSilver Surfer. Yet all of these heroes, whom most of us now know as multimillion-dollar moviefranchises, were once confined to the mind of one man: Jack Kirby.Kirby and Stan Lee, his creative partner at the Marvel Comics company, were the Lennon andMcCartney of the comic book business. Together, they helped to overhaul the industry, paving the wayfor generations of innovative artists and creators. Kirby died in 1994, but his pop cultural influence iseverywhere. His disciples include not only leading graphic novelists such as Frank Miller and AlanMoore, but also fine artists, film-makers and even novelists, all of them inspired by Kirby'sgroundbreaking artwork and storytelling flair.Mark Evanier, comics historian and author of the first Kirby biography, appeared last month at theInstitute of Contemporary Arts for a celebration of the artist's life and career. It would have beenunthinkable, says Evanier, for such a distinguished institution to host a comic book event while Kirbywas at his creative peak, from the 1940s through to the 1970s. "Comics have a new prestige," saysEvanier. "And a lot of that is down to Jack, so I wish he were around to reap the benefits."In 1941, nine months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Kirby and writer Joe Simon providedMarvel (then known as Timely Comics) with its first major hit, Captain America. Two years later, Kirbyhimself would be drafted into the Army, landing on the beaches of Normandy 10 days after D-Day. Hiswork was prescient: the cover of Captain America's first issue featured the title character socking noneother than Adolf Hitler on the jaw. Kirby had announced his arrival in the signature style that laterbecame an industry norm."A lot of people have made livings drawing like Jack," says Evanier. "He wanted his art to grab thereaders, to leap out at them. So there's a lot of forced perspective to try and get an effect of thingserupting out of the page. One of his stylistic innovations was the in-your-face feel of his work. Heexaggerated action; he found ways to distort the human body and still make it credible, to createimpact and excitement. Jack was the guy who, in a nice way, punched you in the face."Kirby's influence elevated not just the comic book medium, but the entire industry. A child of Depression-era New York, Kirby was always aware that his work fed his family, and his colleagues'families. As such, he was always looking for ways to keep the business in rude health. "Jack was veryambitious. He wanted everyone around him to succeed," says Evanier. "A lot of people think he savedthe comic book industry on several occasions."Jonathan Ross developed a passion for Kirby's comics as a boy, after he came across copies of theFantastic Four being sold in a local junk shop. Today the presenter boasts a considerable collection of original Kirby artwork. "He was one of the first comic book artists I was aware of as being a uniquestylist," says Ross. "I started collecting comics around the same time as I noticed a difference betweenthecomics that his artwork appeared in and others. Kirby's work was so immediate and impressive thatI would seek it out whenever possible. He'd draw a knee twice as big as a head. He'd have a tiny facewith a gigantic hand coming towards you. It was almost as if he was drawing a 3D drawing without the3D glasses."Fantastic Four is one of Kirby's greatest creations. Created with Lee, who was then Marvel's editor-in-chief, in 1961, FF was the Cold War tale of four Americans who acquire superpowers after exposure tosolar rays on a space mission. In its early years it was revolutionary for its comparatively naturalisticapproach to the superhero genre. Towards the end of the decade, the series broke new ground againby tackling the cosmic concerns that were a recurring Kirby motif, epitomised by the Silver Surfer. The
16/05/2008 11:25Loading “The Independent - Print Article”Page 2 of 3http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/film-and-tv/features/jack-kirby--the-real-comic-book-hero-829087.html?service=Print
 Surfer was an intergalactic traveller with cosmic powers bestowed on him by Galactus, the terrifyingconsumer of worlds. Storylines that took his characters to other worlds, or brought alien beings toEarth, were Kirby's stock in trade.He also had a passion for mythology. Another Kirby-Lee favourite was Thor, the Norse god of Thunderwhom the pair made a superhero. Kirby turned Hercules into a comic book character, toyed with theidea of using Egyptian gods like Horus in his work, and even produced his own pantheon of deities forThe New Gods, a title he created for DC Comics in 1971. Ross's favourite Kirby creation is The Demon,featuring Etrigan, a character fashioned by Kirby from Arthurian legend.Evanier was present at Etrigan's birth. "In 1972, DC decided that the new trend in comics would bedemons, monsters and other ghastly creatures," he recalls. "Jack got a call from DC around four in theafternoon, and that evening I went to dinner with the family at a Howard Johnson's restaurant. Weordered, and then Jack sat quietly thinking while the rest of us talked around him. By the time theybrought him his hot turkey sandwich he said: 'I've got it!' and he started telling us the story of theDemon. He'd figured it all out in about half an hour and plotted the whole first issue in his head."Despite his boundless imagination, many of the themes that run through Kirby's work were shaped byhis own very earthly life experiences. He created many physically unappealing characters, like theIncredible Hulk, or the Thing (a member of the Fantastic Four), who were redeemed by the love of agood woman. Evanier believes those characters were autobiographical. "The Thing is how Jack thoughtpeople saw him. Jack was short but physically very strong and powerful. His incredible energy andoutput had a lot to do with his physical strength as a human being. And I think he draws like a strongperson, too – his characters have mass and bulk. He had a wonderful wife, Roz, who was utterlydevoted to him. In 52 years they were apart for about four days. And Jack was fierce about protectingher."
Watch the trailer for The Incredible Hulk 
The self-made man who had struggled into the working world at the end of the Great Depression was agreat believer in taking responsibility for others. Many of his characters are motivated by a simple wishto make the world a better place. Like those superheroes, Kirby was a modest man with anunremarkable exterior, beneath which was hidden an extraordinary talent.Ross is just one of many who felt an affinity with Kirby's characters. "As a young boy I had all theissues that young boys have," he says. "Feeling sidelined, lacking in power, lacking in physicalpresence, nervous about the world. Jack's comic books tapped into that; they bristled with remarkableenergy, with an aggressive, muscular power that leaps right out of the page."

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