An Illustrator’s View on the Legendary Jack Kirby
Among the founding fathers of today’s popular superheroes, there is one man who has earned the legendary title of “king”. That is Jack “King” Kirby.
Jack Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg in 1917. He was responsible for creating a huge part of the Marvel Universe. Beginning with Captain America, Kirby also created The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, The Inhumans, The X-men, The Silver Surfer, Galactus, Iron Man, Doctor Doom, Ant-man, The Wasp, The Avengers, Kang the Conqueror, Nick Fury, Groot, The Juggernaut, The High Evolutionary, Rick Jones, The Kree, The Skrulls, The Eternals, Marvel’s Thor, The Watcher, as well as almost countless others for Marvel. For DC, he created the entirety of the New Gods from Darkseid to Highfather. He also created OMAC (One Man Army Corps), Kamandi, Mister Miracle, Guardian, The Newsboy Legion, and many, many others.
Jack Kirby passed away in 1994 with an enormous legacy of characters and creations that are known to every man, woman, and child who ever read a comic book.
It is impossible to have any conversation about the origin of comic books and superheroes without mentioning Jack Kirby. There is no one man more responsible for the creation and evolution of superheroes and their influence on our culture than Kirby. He was a prolific artist and when he wrote stories, he thought in terms of epic mythology. Kirby’s life was filled with his own brand of mysticism, faith, and superstition.
What we know of him as a writer and pioneer is that his stories were incredible.
I recently caught up with Guy Dorian, comic book artist and creator, at the New Jersey Comic Expo. Guy has been in the comic industry for over 20 years. He worked for both Marvel and DC as well as other independent comics. He is not just an illustrator. He does work as a fine artist, sculptor, manga, anime, as well as a toy designer.
Guy is best known for his work with the New Warriors, Marvel Comics Presents, and some of the large posters used with the film Chasing Amy by Kevin Smith. He also stands as the creator of the Scorch from television’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He is currently the editor and chief at a new large entertainment company, PKMM Entertainment. He is, among other things, a pro-penciler and inker. Guy has worked as Editor and collaborator to and with some of the world’s leading comic art talents and legends ever. Such legends are Ron Lim, Sean Chen, Christopher Sotomayor, Bob Wiacek, Josef Rubinstein, Al Milgrom, Scott Koblish, Rich Buckler, Paul Gulacy, Michael Royer, Neal Adams, Michael Golden, Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, and the late great Herb Trimpe.
Guy is a Jack Kirby enthusiast, has sat on panels relating to the comic legend with Eric Larsen, Rand Hoppe, Neal Kirby (Jack’s son), and Jillian Kirby (Jack’s granddaughter).
Here’s what Guy Dorian had to say about the legendary Jack Kirby during his presentation titled Jack Kirby: Marvel Comic’s True Superhero.
Jack Kirby’s early days
Jack wanted to be an animator. Everybody did back then. So, he joined Max Fleischer’s studio and he was doing animation and he was doing animation cells. He was doing things like Popeye and Betty Boop. And it didn’t take him long to say, “This just isn’t what I want to do.”
He got a chance to work on comic books. He would do comic strips of all types, anything he could get his hands on. And it wasn’t like real comics back then in the thirties. He did that for a little while. He did that until the war.
He had pseudonyms like “Bob Baker”, “Jack Curtiss”, “Bob Brown”, and “Ted Gray”, but he was still Jacob Kurtzberg until, I think 1964. But he settled finally on “Jack Kirby”. I’m bad with dates. But that’s when he changed his name.
Jack’s drawing style
He was a natural artist. You know some people can just do it. Jack was one of the most prolific natural artists in comic book history. When I say that I don’t mean there are artists who can draw realistic stuff. Some people think that that’s better. I’m fine arts trained and I can draw things that are super-realistic but it’s as boring as “truck” to do that. It just doesn’t interest me at all. Jack was very abstract with everything.
Jack could draw anything. He didn’t want to just “tell stories”. He found an interest in just about everything. That was the thing about Jack, he wasn’t just telling his story all the time – a lot of artists tell their story and there’s nothing wrong with that – but Jack wanted to tell everybody’s story. So he worked on everything. He worked on romance comics, westerns, science fiction, gangster stories, and all kinds of stories like that. It was some of the best stuff you ever saw. It was fluid and beautiful. He used to draw up in ink up until the forties or early fifties. I love some of that old western stuff.
The Jack Kirby/Joe Simon collaboration on Captain America
He did Captain America with Joe Simon in 1940. The significance of that is super, super, super. Joe Simon created the initial designs that Jack altered and changed. Ultimately Jack worked on the backstory. This was how collaboration worked. Let me explain what a lot of people don’t know about how collaboration works. When you’re a creator and work with a writer, if you’re a team, that’s it – you’re a team. One will come up with something that’s written, one will come up with something that’s background and then the writer will say, “How about you change it to this part of the costume?” Then the artist will say that he came up with the initial design and then the writer creates the backstory. That’s collaboration and that co-creator ship. Well, one thing about the industry when you co-create something – and I’m saying this so everyone understands because a lot of people don’t understand how the industry works. If there’s one guy, two guys, three guys… if there’s one guy, he’s the creator, if there are two guys they’re both creators. Either one can say they’re creator of that character. It doesn’t matter because your partner has as much of a right to say he’s the creator as well. With Kirby and Simon, they both created Captain America.
Do you remember the first cover of Captain America?
ECHOBASE: Captain America punching out Hitler six months before the allies joined the war.
Jack was Jewish. His parents were orthodox Jewish. This was close to home. Joe Simon was a Jew. So was Stan (Lee), and so was Will Eisner. But all this affected both of them. Jews were dying in incredible numbers. The reason why most of them were dying wasn’t just because of Hitler, but because they were not allowed into the US. They were told, “don’t come here, we don’t want you.” They had nowhere to go and they were slaughtered. Jack and Joe couldn’t take this. The worst villain they could think of was a real person. They didn’t need a comic book villain. That was the real life villain. That hit home. That hit home for everybody. Everyone knew what was going on in the world and there was a world event happening here. Now there are comic book guys, just as they were becoming comic “books” rather than comic “strips”. It was a boom. And Jack had done political cartoons. What Jack and Joe, essentially did was a political cartoon. Right on the cover. Then we entered the war. That’s foresight. Jack always had foresight.
The reason why Captain America is so important is that if you look at Marvel today, no matter if Iron Man and Tony Stark was the instigator for the Avengers – he’s great but the figurehead of the Avengers is Captain America. Jack only created that character with Joe – and Jack created over 300 characters.
The thing about Jack’s stories is that Jack was creating reality shows in comic book form. The characters would interact in ways that weren’t seen before. You know? People were more alive. No matter what Jack did, whether he collaborated with someone or not, Jack thought of the characters. Nobody drew those characters before he did. There were a few characters that were creations before Jack got to them. When Jack created the characters, he was talking about the jerk grocer across the street or the politician that was doing something wrong, they were real figures, they were doing real things. He was talking about the human condition and how we’re all flawed. It’s not like Jack didn’t have a say. Stan would want to do plots and say something like “I want to do this” because Stan liked science fiction and did the big boom with the Fantastic Four. I mean that was everything to Marvel.
Stan Lee and Jack’s collaboration
Martin Goodwin said to Stan, “Hey, there’s the Justice League! Can we do that?” And Stan would turn to Jack and he’d come up with a team of heroes. Then they’d come up with some basic ideas on the things that propel comics have come to be. Those initial thought processes are just as important as anything else.
Jack came from the days of comic strips. The comic strip artists, they just handed in their work. The company would ask, “What are you doing this week? I want this, this week.” Then people like Jack would bring those comic strips in. There were artists and sometimes they collaborated. They just did what they were going to do and say, “Hey, here’s what I got.” But Stan was already working at a young age as a writer and an editor. He was working nine to nine to nine. He was working on story plots and at times he even did lettering. He was doing everything. When they got together, they put together the Fantastic Four. It was with that, Captain America and the Avengers are what made Marvel what it is today. Marvel movies are doing better than any other movies out there. They figured it out. And to say that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby aren’t two of the major guys that did it would be outrageous.
Jack’s collaboration about Galactus and The Silver Surfer
The thing about the Fantastic Four that was great was that the characters had these great dynamics between them. Jack would go home and draw these pages and they were twice up. He and Stan would discuss things. Stan would say, “I want a god.” And Jack would say, “I love god stuff.” And then he would come up with Galactus. And one of the best characters that Jack created from that was the Silver Surfer. Because sometimes the best characters you can create are the ones that look the simplest. Less is more. Jack knew that. But Jack put more where it was needed. If you see pictures of Odin, he made him very ornate. But when Jack showed Stan the Silver Surfer, Stan was like “I didn’t write this” and Jack said, “No you didn’t but I thought you needed this guy. The guy comes in before the devourer of worlds starts his business, he needs someone to survey the planet.” And the Surfer is a thing of beauty. You can almost see the movement in his work. There’s counter balance with that. And he loved the simplicity of the human body and created the “Kirby slash” to show the peaks and valleys of the muscles.
Jack Kirby as the Fastest Artist of his Day
What Jack did was that he was faster than anyone else. He was the fastest artist around. I mean the guy could draw five pages in a day at times. He would do a book a week. What the flapjack?! That’s insanity. There are guys who can do a book a week. But to do a book a week is insane. He did about 30,000 and about 180,000 images. One year he did about 1,500 pages in a year. While he was doing the Fantastic Four, he had a system. They defined what a superhero was. What we know as superheroes today. The flagship characters from back then that Jack and Stan created with Iron Man by Larry Leiber, you can’t do better. No matter how hard Marvel tries.
What Guy Dorian’s opinion is of Jack Kirby
You can’t recreate Jack Kirby, by the way. It’s not possible. The reason why is you cannot recreate a pioneer. It’s not possible unless it’s pioneering something else. Jack Kirby was a pioneer. Stan Lee was a pioneer. But the reason why Jack Kirby was the greatest pioneer of all time was because Jack could write, draw, edit, ink – he did everything. He was a co-creator of more characters than anyone on the planet – except there’s an artist somewhere in Japan, I can’t remember his name. He was like the Jack Kirby of Japan.