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Column: All Hail The King! Celebrating Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday

The Longbox Theory

The King at work at his drawing table, doing what he did best: Create!

The King at work at his drawing table, doing what he did best: Create!

August 28th 2017 would have been Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday. And while both Marvel and DC are each honoring the man’s work in their own ways, the fact is it simply isn’t enough.

I have faithfully proselytized on behalf of Kirby’s legacy whenever the occasion to do so has arisen. I enjoy doing so, though it always stings that there is a need to do so…

The contradiction inherent in those feelings is at the core of the man, what he achieved and what he endured, and perhaps who and what he was.

He did it all, and I feel blessed for having experienced his creations, but while he was with us he was never fully recognized, feted or celebrated to the extent he merited. Knowing that was the case has marked my perception of the industry he helped create and illuminate.

And that’s without mentioning how it makes me feel about Stan Lee (yeah, Dave Baker, I bought a button) The fact that they all called him “The KING” but so often treated him like a servant, enrages me.

Every time I see one of Kirby’s creations on the screen I wonder what he would’ve thought if he were watching along with me. Pride? Justifiably. He knew some of those characters and stories were gold.

Anger? With reason. Billions in revenue, and his name flashes past in tiny letters somewhere at the end of the film. Surprise? Possibly. He was just working and cranking out ideas and pages, providing for his family, slapping a fresh page on his drawing table, starting up in that upper left corner and working his way across and down until he was finished and moved on to the next one, page after page after page.

Did he suspect what he was doing would end up leading to the domination of an industry? Yet it often seems too few know who he was or what he truly did. That’s why I help spread the word.

Whether it’s to a moviegoer who sees Stan doing one of his contractually enforced cameos and says, “That’s the guy who created the Marvel universe!” or to a comics reader who perhaps should know better and I find myself telling, “You do realize Challengers of the Unknown came out well before FF, right?”

Unfortunately, people don’t know.

When I was a young, hot-headed (slightly more empty-headed) tween, I even got in a fistfight over the King’s art—another dilettante had the temerity to suggest the man couldn’t draw, to which I forcefully replied that not only could he draw, but that he was arguably the greatest visual storyteller the medium had ever seen (personally, I’d only dare put a handful of others in the same sentence; Eisner, Caniff, and Foster) and as for said “drawing ability” the evolution of his style and his line, his abstraction and the liberties and license he took with “reality,” spoke to the fact that he wasn’t just a guy who drew comics, he was a true ARTIST.

I try not to punch people to make those points any more. I just guide them to one of the many issues of the Jack Kirby Collector John Morrow publishes, or one of the gorgeous IDW Artist Editions of the King’s work… and then I say a silent ‘thank you’ to Charles Hatfield for writing Hand of Fire so I don’t feel like I’m the only guy who noticed these things about the man’s oeuvre.

Those publications are proof that many are finally giving the man his due. I just wish he and his beloved wife could have lived to have seen it…and I wish it were more.
At the most recent D23 Expo that Disney held, Jack Kirby was named a Disney Legend, as was an emotional Stan Lee who’d recently lost his wife. Jack’s son Neal accepted the award on the great man’s behalf and explained that his father, “would be very humble and proud… He was probably the most humble person on the face of the planet.”

I’m so happy Disney did that… but it’s still not enough.

I believe Neal Kirby when he says his father would have been humble in the face of the accolades. And obviously it isn’t possible to go back in time and award them to him during his lifetime. However, there are some things we can do.

We can donate to The Kirby Museum. We can set the record straight, spread the word for those who don’t know, and share the work with those who haven’t truly seen it.
And on August 28th we can remember the man who left us this amazing gift he created and say, “Thanks, Mr.Kirby.”

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