Sunday, August 29, 2010

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Jack Kirby!

It was yesterday. August 28, 1917 saw the birth of one Jacob Kurtzberg. He used a number of artistic pseudonyms early in his art career but soon settled on the name we know best: Jack Kirby. Or, as I like to call him, the King. If you ever hear me using that expression in a conversation, rest assured I'm discussing Jack Kirby and not Elvis Presley.

Unless I'm doing my horrible Presley impression. But you'll know the difference.

Jack Kirby is without a doubt my all-time favorite comic book creator. While there are others whose linework I strive to emulate in my one meagre efforts, Kirby remains my creative gold standard in all other respects. The concepts and characters that sprang from his fertile imagination! And his art is just so cool, with its idiosyncracies and wholly original stylistic elements; he, along with Will Eisner, created the visual vocabulary of the American comic book. Underpinning all of his stories is a love and understanding of humanity no doubt derived from his hardknock New York City upbringing and his formative World War II experiences. Even when Kirby depicted gods in his stories, they were still possessed of all the human frailties.

I believe Kirby, like some of the best American novelists of the 20th century, had this empathetic sense, and the skill to weave it into his stories. You might be rocketing into space with Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm to face the cosmic menace of Galactus in some ridiculous situation-- but the emotions were real. Visceral. Black Bolt walked with regal aloofness, but his enforced silence also meant deep loneliness and isolation. Darkseid contained all the things Kirby disapproved of in leaders, from Hitler to Nixon. Funky Flashman was his version of a the worst kind of glory-hogging, self-aggrandizing huckster boss, yet attractive in his optimism the way these guys usually are. Terrible Turpin and his death wish. Orion and his secret face and barely contained fury, Mr. Miracle and Big Barda the gender-role switched lovers.

Humans all. Kirby's legacy is one of humanism within the might and majesty of outrageous superheroics.

Happy birthday, Jack Kirby! Sorry I missed it!

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