Comics: Jack Kirby

ack Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg in New York in the early 20th century; the son of Austrian Jewish immigrants.  Kirby was a self taught artist who learned his trade by copying drawings from the newspaper strips, like Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon.  Kirby was rejected by the rigid art schools of the day despite his talent.  However he did find work on small strips and eventually landed a job with Fleischer Studios working as a fill in animator for the popular Popeye cartoons.
After leaving Fleisher studios Kirby entered the nascent comic book industry which was booming thanks to the birth of Superman over at National Comics.  Working at Fox Feature Syndicate on a superhero strip called The Blue Beetle.  It was here that he met his first collaborator Joe Simon.
Simon and Kirby would leave Fox to work for Timely Comics which was enjoying modest success from their title Marvel Comics which featured the popular heroes the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch.  Seeing the terror of the Nazi menace in Europe the Jewish Kirby and his partner Simon co-created the patriotic hero Captain America.  Kirby crafted a memorable cover for the character’s first appearance; the Star-Spangled Sentinel is shown delivering a mighty punch to Adolph Hitler, a full year before America’s entrance into World War II.
Feeling they were not getting a fair shake for their work on Captain America the duo left timely for National Comics and helped reinvigorate the Sandman character as well as create what would become National’s third best seller the Boy Commandos.
Kirby married in 1943 and had his name legally changed to Jack Kirby.  A short time later he was drafted into military service and worked as a reconnaissance scout, using his artistic abilities for drawing maps of enemy positions.  He was discharged in 1945 after suffering severe frostbite to his legs.

Returning stateside he continued his work in comics, however the postwar comics industry was mired in controversy over the content of comic books and Kirby languished drawing romance and western strips, while occasionally creating a superhero or two that were quietly forgotten.
The 1960’s would see the heyday of Jack Kirby as he returned to Timely Comics, now renamed Marvel Comics and began his longtime partnership with Marvel’s golden boy Stan Lee.  The two would go onto create legends like the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer, Iron Man, and Doctor Doom.
Despite this boom in comics and his amazing success at Marvel, Kirby felt slighted in how he was treated and the compensation he received for his creations and in 1970 jumped ship for National once more, now renamed DC Comics.
At DC he created his space spanning Fourth World Saga and introduced one of Superman’s most powerful enemies Darkseid, a demigod despot bent on destroying the universe in search of the anti-life equation.  Unfortunately, despite Darkseid resonating profoundly with audiences Kirby’s fourth world books failed to meet sales expectations and Kirby once more left for Marvel.
His time at Marvel would be short lived and Kirby would leave once more, this time for the world of animation and at Hanah-Barbara he helped create the memorable Thundaar the Barbarian and teamed with Fantastic Four co-creator Stan Lee to work on the Fantastic Four cartoon.
Kirby’s final years would see him receive the recognition he was due in the comic community, winning awards and after years of legal battles receiving much of his original artwork back from Marvel Comics.  He would continue to create comic characters but none had the staying power of those that he had crafted during his time at Marvel.  Jack Kirby died in 1994 from a heart attack at the age of 76.

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