Kirby: King of Comics

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Click for availability and more information Kirby: King of Comics, by Mark Evainer

Mark Evainer's long-awaited Kirby: King of Comics (Abrams; 2008) is a loving and heartfelt appreciation of the comic book work of Jack Kirby (1917-1994), the artist/storyteller who created or co-created such enduring characters as Captain America, The Boy Commandos, Fighting American, the Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer, The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Kamandi ("The Last Boy on Earth"), The Eternals and Captain Victory, to name just a few. Evainer chronicles the life of Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) as he made his way up and out of New York City's "Hell's Kitchen", his attempts to break into the animation and newspaper comic strip fields (the latter including a brief stint on the original Blue Beetle in 1940)and his long association with writer/artist Joe Simon, which lasted from the late 30s to the mid 50s. With Simon, Kirby ran a small "shop" that packaged original stories and art for various publishers in the fledging comic book field of the 1940s. They developed characters and books for Timely (later Marvel Comics Group), for whom they created Captain America Comics; DC (Boy Commandos, revamped versions of Sandman and Manhunter), Fawcett (the very first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures) and Harvey (The Boy Explorers; Stuntman; Captain 3-D; Boys' Ranch ). The advent of Congressional crackdowns on the comics publishers in the mid-50s (when comics were blamed for kids committing crimes and standing up against parental and social authority) resulted in many comic companies shutting down. Simon and Kirby, now without clients or employers,ended their professional partnership (although they stayed friends) and Kirby, a child of the Depression who had a wife and family to feed (and feared being unable to provide for them), sought out work elsewhere. After briefly finding work at DC again (where he created Challengers of the Unknown and revamped Green Arrow), a horrible lawsuit over the Sky Masters comic strip with one of DC's editors led Kirby to be blackballed at the company in 1958. A brief reunion with Simon on Archie Comics' The Fly eventually led Kirby to Marvel Comics in the late 50s, where he toiled on the company's horror and western comics. But in 1961, with writer/editor Stan Lee, Kirby began a new era in comics: the larger-than-life superheroes who, like the readers, had problems that weren't always solved overnight. Beginning with the first issue of Fantastic Four (cover dated November, 1961), Lee and Kirby started a whole new line of characters that revolutionized the field. Comics suddently weren't for kids anymore, as readers young and old identified with the Marvel characters developed by Lee and Kirby (the books became especially popular on college campuses). Though the books became popular, Kirby felt ignored and marginalized by Marvel's owners and left the company in 1970 to work at DC (which lifted their "no-hire" policy toward him; by this time Kirby also wasn't happy with Stan Lee getting all the creative credit for their work together). As artist AND writer/editor, he developed the Fourth World series of interlocking titles (The Forever People; The New Gods; Mister Miracle), tying them in with regular DC continunity (via Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen - I kid you not!), but sales were low and the books were cancelled (except Olsen, which Kirby had already left). Five years later Kirby returns to Marvel, only to be crushed and denigrated by younger colleagues as "Jack the Hack" (in part due to deteriorating eyesight, though Kirby didn't dare tell anyone about that at the time). Despite the hostile atmosphere, Kirby does exciting (if short-lived) work on Captain America, The Black Panther and a new creation, The Eternals. An eventual switch to Saturday Morning Animation in 1978 (where Kirby actually got Health Benefits for the first time in 40 years from an employer!) and freelance work for DC and smaller publishers rounded out his professional life until his death. Overall, despite reading how horrible Kirby was treated by his various employers (DC, at least, tried and succeeded in getting Kirby some merchandising profits from toys and cartoons based on his New Gods characters in the mid-80s), Kirby: King of Comics is a Kirby lover's treasure trove. There's so much here (yes, there are reproductions of covers and original penciled art) that one reading alone isn't enough.
-Ed

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This page contains a single entry published on April 25, 2008 8:34 PM.

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