Happy Birthday, Jack Kirby

Today would have been the 96th birthday of writer and artist Jack Kirby, who passed away in 1994. In his long career in the comic book industry, Kirby co-created the Marvel Universe and made over and entire medium without breaking a sweat.
Jack Kirby/DC Entertainment

There are some days that feel as if they should be officially observed cultural holidays, or at least recognized for their importance. I don't mean designating May 4 as "Star Wars Day" because it sounds like "May [the] Force," but days with some genuine pop culture significance -- like Aug. 28.

Aug. 28 1917, you see, was the day that Jacob Kurtzberg was born. If you don't recognize the name, don't feel too bad; it wasn't until he was going by the name Jack Kirby that he came to prominence, creating or co-creating characters and concepts including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, the Black Panther, the Inhumans, Galactus and the Silver Surfer for Marvel Entertainment -- Marvel Comics, as it was called back then, of course -- before going over to DC and coming up with what became known as his "Fourth World" saga, featuring series with epic, ambitious titles like New Gods, Mister Miracle and Forever People.

What made Kirby great -- the "King of Comics," as collaborator Stan Lee called him -- wasn't just his seemingly endless ability to come up with exciting characters (Even after his stints at Marvel and DC, he created series for independent publishers in the nascent direct market in the early 1980s, including Silver Star and Captain Victory, each as filled with potential as his more famous Marvel work), but the way in which he innovated and forever changed the visual language of comic book storytelling itself.

Jack Kirby's 'Argo' Concept Art Up for Auction

It wasn't just that Kirby's artwork was more dynamic and filled with energy than what had come before -- compare a page of Superman artwork from the early 1960s with a page of Kirby's Fantastic Four from the same period, and they look so different, you could be forgiven for thinking they were created years apart -- but that Kirby created new conventions (Kirby Krackle! Impossibly tight close ups!) that were adopted by other artists eager to try and grab some of his magic for themselves.

Kirby recreated comics in his image, but not out of any sense of ego or arrogance. He did it almost without thought, simply because he wanted to tell the best story possible and was constantly trying to figure out what that was. So much of the modern comic book medium can be traced back to things that he did, or ideas that he played with -- even if, perhaps, he wouldn't have appreciated what others had done to them -- and, today, so much of the modern movie industry can be traced back to his work, as well. Happy birthday, Jack. Maybe one day, more people will appreciate what you did for us all.

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