One of the most influencial comic figures was certainly Jack Kirby. He was a key participant in the development of the comic book industry. He both wrote and edited comics but what we all will remember him for is his art. Jack Kirby is a name that any comic artist will think of if asked who influenced their choice to work in the comics field.
He is credited with co-creating some of the most big named comic book characters; including The Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Hulk. These of course he created with writer Stan Lee. Kirby's first big success came with the creation of Captain America in 1940. With Joe Simon, he created the character for Timely Comics which was to become what we know as Marvel today.
Like so many of his generation, Kirby served during World War Two. Drafted into the 11th Infantry Regiment, Kirby was assigned a very dangerous duty to scout towns and villages and draft reference maps for the advancing troops. During the war he tried to correspond regularly with is wife, Rosalind Goldstein. She wrote a letter every day to Jack during the war. During the winter of 1944, Jack suffered sever frostbite and doctors even considered amputation. Kirby, was able to recover and served out his duty back in America.
Teaming with Simon again after the war, the two worked for Harvey Comics into the 1950's. The two found great success creating Romance Comics. The two even created their own company, Mainline Publications. After about a year the two decided to part ways as Simon left the comic field. Jack continued on as a Freelancer doing work again for Atlas Comics (soon to be Marvel) and National Comics (DC Comics). In 1957 Jack departed from National due to contractual disputes.
In 1958 Jack returned to Atlas (Marvel) and was there until 1970. Kirby could draw many types of comics and would often put in 12 to 14 hour days. In 1961, with Stan Lee the two created the hit super hero title The Fantastic Four. The title really took off with the youth culture of the 1960's. For the next ten years Kirby's art was credited by many was an influencial element of Marvel's successful turn around in the 1960's. With writer Stan Lee, the two created many of Marvels most recognizable characters we still know today.
Together they created the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Doctor Doom, and many more. Kirby's, Black Panther is credited as the first African American Super Hero in comics. Kirby actually penciled the original Spider-Man that was to appear in Amazing Fantasy #15 but it was re-drawn before release by Steve Ditko. Jack Kirby was an essential figure in Marvels success and developed many innovations in art style including the "Kirby Dots", a way of showing energy fields.
Unfortunately Kirby began to experience troubles at Marvel with contractual promises that he felt were not kept. Copyright, and lack of creative control all added to the tension. Without a satisfactory contract Kirby left Marvel in 1970 to once again work for DC Comics for five years.
Stan Lee surprised the comic fans at a 1975 comic panel by announcing Kirby's return to Marvel. To add to the surprise of the audience, Kirby came down the center aisle and joined Lee. Kirby both wrote and drew Captain America as well as Black Panther. His final collaboration with Stan Lee at Marvel was The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience.
Jack still not satisfied with Marvel's treatment, left and worked in animation with Hanna-Barbera. In the early 1980's Kirby made a deal with Pacific Comics to publish a creator-owned series. He continued to work with independant publishes like Eclipse Comics and did some projects for DC once again. He advocated for creator rights to the work they created.
In 1987, Marvel returned a portion of the pages created by Kirby. Pressure came from comic creators and fans. It is estimated that Kirby had created 10 000 to 13 000 pages for Marvel.
Mr. Kirby passed away from heart failure on February 6th 1994. He was 76 years old. Several publications including Kirby's unpublished works and his characters have been released posthumously. Kirby's family continued to work to reclaim copyright, they persude the case right up to the Supreme Court of the United States. Ultimately they choose to settle and dismiss the case.
For more on Jack Kirby and the impact he had on the comic industry you can visit the Jack Kirby Museum.
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