Tomorrow the much anticipated and hyped movie, ‘The Avengers’, will debut, featuring a super-group of Marvel superheroes who were co-created and given their visual look by Jack ‘King’ Kirby. Sadly Kirby’s essential contributions to the pantheon of Marvel heroes has been criminally underrecognized and rewarded by his publishers, so few people realize the extent of his influence on comics, art, and popular culture.
The Avengers debuted in 1963 as Marvel’s supergroup answer to DC’s Justice League of America. But the character Captain America had been created two decades before, by Kirby and his then partner, Joe Simon, to fight the Nazis in WWII. There is also a strong claim to be made that for the more recent members of the squad, Kirby had likewise played a key role, both in conceiving the characters and in actually writing the stories visually, with Stan Lee adding dialogue to the results. While Stan Lee has received full, and some would too much, credit for his writing contributions, Kirby has been neglected.
Though its reported that Kirby will receive a ‘Co-created by’ credit in the new film, the surrounding issues of fair compensation and recognition have led to some backlash against the film. Center for Cartoon Studies founder James Sturm (who did the homage above) has decided not to see the film over the issue of Kirby’s treatment by Marvel/Disney and others have called for a compete boycott of all the corporation’s products.
On the topic of Kirby’s larger cultural contributions, this piece by Stephen Brower on Kirby’s collage work highlights a fact that was new to me – Kirby’s work appears as part of Richard Hamilton’s historic collage, “Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?” from 1956 . Try finding a book on the history of Pop Art that does not start with this homage to the post-war material culture from which Pop burst forth.
Note the framed Young Romance comic on the rear wall. Yep, that’s Jack.
To delve into the world of Kirby, here a few titles:
The essential Avengers / Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, & Don Heck – PN6728.A9 E8 1998
The best of Simon and Kirby / Joe Simon & Jack Kirby – PN6727.S522 B48 2009
Kirby : king of comics / Mark Evanier – PN6727.K57 E93 2008
The essential Captain America / by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby – PN6728.C26 E75 2000 v.1
Maximum Fantastic Four / by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby – PN6728.F33 M39 2005