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Jack Kirby, the legendary artist, writer, and so-called “King of Comics,” would have turned ninety-six this week. Though he built one of the most vaunted bodies of work in the industry, there are still plenty of folks outside of comics fandom who have at best only a passing idea of who he was or why he is so revered — even if they’ve paid out of their own pockets many times for the movies, toys, books and countless other forms of paraphernalia that have been adapted from his many, many creations.
Thankfully, there are lots of points of entry for those curious about the man and his work. Here are just a few off the top of my head.
Over at The A.V. Club yesterday they ran a very helpful beginners’ guide to Kirby’s career, which is relatively brief but still comprehensive. This is a good place to start, as is the Web site for The Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center, which is currently virtual-only but has ambitions to “manifest itself in the physical realm.”
A few years ago I picked up a copy of Mark Evanier’s beautiful, oversized hardcover monograph “Kirby: King of Comics” from a Barnes & Noble bargain bin. It’s a brisk, engaging read and a visual delight. Kirby drew in a style designed to deliver a maximum of drama within each of the many panels on a page. He could get a whollop out of just a few square inches, but in this book’s huge reproductions, his work is practically explosive. It’s a beautiful way to pore over the artist’s very particular way with scale, composition, line, depth, and human anatomy.
Finally, for those curious about Kirby’s somewhat tortured role in the evolution of the American comic book industry, I highly recommend Sean Howe’s “Marvel: the Untold Story,” an account of the business and editorial side of the company that was the platform for Kirby’s greatest run of work. It’s essentially the secret origin for this huge strain of pop culture, tracing the emergence of comics from seedy, early-20th Century publishing, through their initial golden age in the late 1930s and 1940s, their rebirth in the late 1950s and 1960s, and on to the industry’s lurching growth through the ensuing decades.+