August 28, 1917 – February 6, 1994
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby The Wonder Years, TwoMorrows Publishing, 128 Pages amazon.com
Marvel Comics Encyclopedia - 400 Pages, amazon.com
Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book - 320 Pages. By Josh Raphael and Tom Spurgeon at amazon.com
Ronin Ro biography of Jack Kirby - 304 Pages at amazon.com
Kirby King of Comics by Mark Evanier, Neil Gaiman introduction amazon.com
One of the most famous comic book artists of the 20th century, Jacob Kurtzberg was born in New York City to Austrian Jewish immigrants, and he spent the majority of his childhood on Suffolk Street, always interested in art and seeking out ways to learn about it. Some of how Kirby remembered his childhood is depicted in the penciled comic book story "Street Code" which was published by Twomorrows Publishing in the anthology collection Streetwise.
Kirby used the name "Jack Curtiss" in his first comic book efforts during the 1930s as a teenager. He had also worked for the Fleischer Studios in animation film for awhile, and had drawn images for various New York City area publications. He was finally working at Fox Feature Syndicate in 1942, drawing the hero book "Blue Bolt," and from there he went to Timely Comics and was soon drawing Captain America, a character he co-created with writer and artist Joe Simon. The contract on Captain America gave Kirby a 15% stake in profits for the character through Timely Comics owner Martin Goodman.
With the second world war underway, Kirby and SImon generated a years worth of Captain America and other material for Goodman in anticipation of being drafted into the United State military. Kirby finally went into the army at the end of 1942, after marrying "Roz" Goldstein. Kirby was released from the service after hospitalization for frostbite which he received from his combat duty in europe. Kirby was discharged as Private First Class on July 20, 1945, having received a Combat Infantryman Badge and a European/African/Middle Eastern Theater ribbon with a bronze battle star.
Kirby and Simon teamed again to produce material for Harvey Comics, Crestwood and Hillman Publications, working on children's comics, "kid gang" books and then finally their biggest success, "romance" comics which Simon and Kirby had negotiated a 50% share in profits for the flagship title "Young Romance," the sales volume was enough to allow Kirby to purchase a home for his growing family, which now included three children.
At the same time, Timely relaunched Captain America, and Simon and Kirby countered with "Fighting American" which originally was played as a straight hero book, but then began to include satire following the uproar over the anti-communist "witch hunts" of the 1950s and particularly the career of Senator Joe McCarthy.
At about this time Kirby and Simon began to disagree on projects for their partnership (and a comics company they began together called "Mainline Comics"), and following a financial battle with Crestwood over $130,000 in unpaid monies, the pair split up.
Freelancing, Kirby then started a 600 plus-page run at National Periodicals (DC Comics) but after a multitude of disagreements with various DC Comics editors and fellow-artists/writers, Kirby went to Atlas Comics, then edited by Stan Lee, nephew of Martin Goodman of Timely Comics. Kirby continued to contribute some work to DC Comics, but finally settled in at Atlas which had begun the transformation into Marvel Comics. Kirby's work on monster titles like Tales to Astonish were selling particularly well, and Kirby and Stan Lee took the concept and expanded it into superhero books with Fantastic Four #1, in 1961.
This comic book, and its sales success, prompted Kirby to create dozens of additional characters and in effect create a theme for all of the Marvel comics throughout the 1960s, attenuated by Stan Lee who was both editor-and-chief and a principal writer. The success of the company, and fighting over ownership of Captain America (litigation prompted by Joe Simon filing a copyright renewal on the character in his own name in 1969) combined into a legal and personal chasm between Kirby and Martin Goodman, Marvel's owner.
In 1970 Kirby signed a three-year contract with DC Comics and discontinued his Marvel work. At DC he created a series of various books under the rubric of "The Fourth World" which touched upon an expanded view of superhero existence into a kind of galactic mythology of super powered deities. Though not particularly successful from a sales point of view, the books have been imitated and strongly contributed to the "superhero mythos" ideas that abound in later 20th century and now 21st century superhero comics.
In 1976, Kirby was back at Marvel, but was still rankling over financial fights in which he sought either compensation or ownership over characters he had created in the 1950s and 60s. By the 1980s, Kirby was again freelancing and did work for various publishers, but specializing in animation design which he was doing from his California home, having left New York City with his family to escape the winter weather.
He continued to agitate, by various means and with the support of friends, for acknowledgement of his seminal comics work and for legal ownership of characters he has created in the past.
Kirby died of heart failure on February 6, 1994, at the age of 76.
Iron Man's first appearance - 1963 Kirby/Don Heck
Art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck (inks) for Tales of Suspense #39, March 1963 issue - see enlarged.