Jack Kirby's legacy

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Thomas, Roy. Stan Lee's Amazing Marvel Universe: Listen to Stan Lee Comment on 50 Legendary Marvel Moments (New York: Sterling, 2006)

The combination of text by Roy Thomas and audio annotations by Stan Lee in Stan Lee's Amazing Marvel Universe covers many highlights of Marvel's stable of superheroes, from the beginning (Ditko's Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, Don Heck's Iron Man, Bill Everett and Wally Wood's Daredevil) through the middle period (John Buscema's Silver Surfer, Steranko's reinventions of Captain America and Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, Neal Adams' draftsmanship on The Avengers' Kree-Skrull War) as well as some later pieces (Frank Miller's revitalized Daredevil and Moebius' Silver Surfer).

Much of the artwork in this book was created by one artist who doesn't get nearly enough credit among all the Stan-Lee-centric hype: the incomparable Jack "King" Kirby! Without Kirby, most of Marvel's early successes (The Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, Sgt. Fury, The Avengers--including the return of Kirby's 1941 co-creation Captain America--and The X-Men) would have had a far less dynamic existence, if any at all. Stan Lee, always the company's voice--literally, in this book--received the King's share of the credit, despite Kirby's irreplaceable visual contributions and often unrecognized co-writing.

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Milo, George. The Comics Journal Library, Volume 1: Jack Kirby (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2002)

One attempt to correct the historical record is the first issue of The Comics Journal Library series, which focuses on Jack Kirby's contributions. Without Kirby, it is not unreasonable to suspect that there would likely be no comics industry today. After his first two decades in the industry--including his co-creation of Captain America--Kirby was responsible for most of the 1960s Marvel pantheon (listed above) as well as a great deal of early-1970s work for DC (OMAC, Kamandi, The Demon, and his epic The Fourth World), a triumphant return to Marvel (The Eternals, 2001, Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur, Black Panther) and some later work for Pacific Comics (Captain Victory, Silver Star) in the 1980s.

What is difficult to quantify even from a career this long--and a list of successes this extensive--is the extent of Kirby's indelible influence on the comics medium. Frank (Sin City) Miller takes a stab at it in "God Save the King:"

In the history of American comic books, there has been no single talent of greater importance and influence than that of Jack Kirby. It would be impossible to exaggerate his contribution to the evolution of the superhero, or to calculate exactly how much he personally advanced the art form. [...] Single-handedly, he developed the visual dialect, tone and spirit of the modern superhero comic. He brought a sense of operatic drama and mythological scope to a genre that was fat, bloated, old and dying. It could easily be argued that his vigorous creative lifeblood kept the comics industry alive through decades of editorial infertility, apathetic management and dwindling distribution.

(pp. 96-7, Frank Miller, The Comics Journal #105, February 1986)

A compilation of interviews with Kirby and essays on his work, this volume is illustrated quite liberally with Kirby's artwork. The Fantastic Four and The Fourth World are featured most heavily, along with a smattering of early work, sketches, and the pencil images from "Street Code," Kirby's autobiographical story about his childhood in New York's Lower East Side.

In a very real sense, every comic-book shop in America is a shrine to the legacy of Jack Kirby; these two books--one more so than the other--help to show why.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on June 5, 2008 6:42 PM.

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