Jack Kirby was born this day in 1917. I suppose — I hope — everyone reading this knows how brilliant a man he was and how important he was not just to the comic book industry but to several genres and media of popular culture. There are novels and feature motion pictures that are not about Marvel Super-Heroes that still show the influence of Kirby. I can scarcely turn around in a public place, let alone in my house full of comics, and not be reminded of Jack.
I am asked constantly what I learned working for him and knowing him. Simple question, very long answer. Here's about 2% of that answer…
I didn't learn how to draw like him, that's for sure. I'm not sure anyone could have except in the following sense. If you had developed a whole new, energized style that synthesized all you'd seen into one brand-new, innovative approach, then you would have been drawing like Jack Kirby. But if you produced work that looked like it had been drawn by Jack Kirby, then you weren't drawing like Jack Kirby. Jack was all about something new, something exciting and something that took whatever he was doing to the next level.
He was different from almost all the men who followed him on the comics he began. They were interested in producing a good, well-drawn issue of that book…and some, of course, succeeded very well. Jack was first and foremost interested in producing something that would take comics to some new plateau, creating new opportunities and new possibilities. He was also more interested than anyone else who ever worked in comics in creating work that would generate new revenue for his publisher. He had a steadfast, if foolhardy at times, belief that if he made his publishers and collaborators wealthier, some of that wealth would trickle down to him. That, sadly, almost never happened. In fact, it sometimes seemed to work in reverse: The more he made them, the less they seemed inclined to share.
He was a wonderful man on so many levels and one of the things I'd like to think I learned from him was to treat everyone with decency and respect. He was nicer than I would have been to some of the people I think screwed him over. Some are still doing that…but try though they may, they haven't been able to get all of his reputation. People everywhere love him and his work. People come up to me at conventions and ask if they can shake my hand because they never got to meet Jack and they know my hand shook his hand.
I'd also like to think I learned something about effort and caring about your work. It was not possible — for me, for anyone — to be as clever and innovative as Jack was but it was and is possible to work that hard. Jack worked very hard. Even doing work that he knew would be disrespected and diminished by those further down the assembly line…even doing work where he knew there was a high likelihood he'd be cheated on the money and/or credit…he still usually managed to give it his all. And his all was very, very good.
I have so many mixed emotions about Jack. I can't even decide whether to view him as a winner or a loser. He certainly never got his due financially but he is still to many, the kind of god-on-Earth he so often wrote about in his work. I should probably focus on "winner" since today is a day to remember Jack. Then again, every day is a day to remember Jack…at least around here.
Almost all his major work is either in-print or not far from its next reissue. I recommend darn near all of it, not just as good comics but as a way to know the man who made them. There's an awful lot of Jack in almost everything he did, at least when he had some measure of creative dominance. In fact, the more I read some of it, the more I see of that amazing guy I was privileged to know. We all were…even those who never met him except through that wonderful, wonderful body of work.
Here's some video of the man…