On the 100th anniversary of the birth of the man now known as the King of Comics, no tribute can really do justice to Kirby’s vast impact and importance. Last week at D23, Disney boss Bob Iger made a pretty fine effort when he praised Kirby as “an industry icon who redefined comics.” With those words in mind, we reached out to Kirby’s most famous collaborator Stan Lee, DC Entertainment head Geoff Johns and Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, Frank Miller, Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, Deadly Class creator Rick Remender, Calexit‘s Matteo Pizzolo and American Gods co-showrunner Michael Green for their takes on Kirby, his artistry and influence.
Having worked on almost every major comic character at one time or another until his death in 1994, Kirby created or co-created icons including Captain America, Iron Man, The Avengers, Hulk, the original X-Men, Magneto and Black Panther. Over his 40-year career, he also spawned the likes of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Nick Fury, the Fantastic Four and their foe Doctor Doom and the ravenous world-destroying Galactus, as well as Groot from Guardians Of The Galaxy and DC’s The New Gods, Darkseid and the efficacious Kamandi.
In fact, as part of its plan to honor Kirby’s centennial, DC is putting out a new Mister Miracle series and a half dozen one-shots.
After years of battling with Disney-owned Marvel over rights and credits to the characters he helped create (mostly as work for hire) for what have become multibillion-dollar film franchises, the studio and the Kirby estate settled their differences in fall 2014. Which is why now when the Ryan Coogler-directed and Chadwick Boseman-starring Black Panther comes out next February, like most Marvel movies the past few years, Kirby’s name will be there in the credits just like they should be.
Recently honored along with Kirby as a Disney legend, Lee was publisher of Marvel Comics and, of course, makes those cameos in the Marvel movies.
Well, Jack practically invented the visual language of American comics through his visceral sense of action and story. He gave vision to characters that are still beloved around the world seven decades later. His imaginative mind and skilled pencil work envisioned superheroes for the entire world to enjoy. I think it’s a safe bet that he’d be proud, as well he should. Excelsior!
Marvel Studios, President
I really hope he would be pleased that his work continues to be so influential, and is now seen and experienced by billions of people around the world. I’d love to be able to thank him.
DC Entertainment, President & Chief Creative Officer
Simply put, Jack Kirby re-created the visual power of comics. He made you actually feel the super in superheroes; creating larger-than-life heroes and villains, the massive worlds they come from and the uncanny power they wield. His impact on both Marvel and DC, and the generations of artists and writers in the field, is unlike any other because of that.
I hope he would be happy and proud to see so many people getting joy from it and that he would be receiving the accolades he deserves for his incredible talent in every sense of the word. It’s hard to believe Jack Kirby is underrated, but considering the number of characters and universes he created that are up on the big screen alone — he is.
The Dark Knight Returns, resurrected Daredevil for Marvel, Sin City, 300, directed The Spirit, and so much more
Jack created grammar of the superhero. If you look at this history of comics, there’s before Kirby came and after Kirby came and they’re two distinctly different periods. Everything in the look of comics was completely changed by this angry, supercharged, genius, World War II veteran Jew who’d lived through the worst anti-Semitism in American history. This is the point I make repeatedly. Some people get sick of hearing it. You can’t understand the history of superheroes without understanding the history of American Judaism because it starts with Superman, Siegel and Schuster. It climaxes with Jack Kirby and you see all of that in Kirby explode into the Fantastic Four and all the rest.
I mean the page wasn’t big enough for Jack Kirby. Who else would have come up with a character named Galactus? I mean the guy who eats planets. To be around Jack Kirby, the guy had so much energy you almost wanted to duck when he was around. When I knew him he was in his 70s at least. The man I knew was not mellow. I asked him once why when people got angry or agitated in his stories, he said, because they do.
CHEO HODARI COKER
Luke Cage, showrunner
Jack Kirby is to comics books what Jimmy Hendrix is to guitar or Rakim to emceeing. Sure there are many other influential artists and writers and my biggest influences (Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Jeph Loeb and Brian Michael Bendis) came years after Kirby, but that’s the thing. Kirby was amongst the first to make comic book characters people. He expanded the possibilities of the kinds of stories you could tell on the page.
One of my prized possessions in my writing nook is Fantastic Four #52: the first appearance of the Black Panther. If Black Panther hadn’t been successful as comic, who knows if Luke Cage would have existed.
Deadly Class, creator
Jack invented an entire visual language that is used by most every comic creator today, the good ones anyway. He taught us to create, not to parrot. Jack got to his desk everyday and did the work, he was all of the most important things, a prolific and inventive craftsman and dynamic and clear storyteller. There were endless universes inside Jack’s head, we only got a small taste of them, but that sampling changed not only comics but our entire culture.
Jack famously said, “Comics will break your heart.” And when you look at the way he was treated, after creating so much that many so many other people rich, you can understand why. He didn’t get any of the public acclaim for his Marvel creations. I think he’d be happy to see the legal stuff finally settled with Marvel, and knowing that his family would be rewarded for his genius might make him enjoy seeing all of his co-creations in all their many iterations across media.
American Gods, co-showrunner/Logan and Blade Runner 2049 co-writer
There are prolific artists, and there is Jack Kirby. No one comes close.
One of the most fascinating things about his legacy is how readily his works have translated to the 3D space. His style and forms, his backgrounds and worlds, were all always striking. But it wasn’t until we saw them large on screen in the last decade that we could finally understand how alive it all was. His pages weren’t comics, they were landscapes.
Jack Kirby is one of the chief architects of modern mythology. His characters and worlds have inspired millions of people to imagine the infinite possibilities of space and time while simultaneously urging us to fight the good fight here on Earth. He did more than just play a pivotal role in the creation of a storytelling medium — although that would be enough to make him King Kirby. He also played a pivotal role in expanding the dreams and aspirations of generations of people around the world and on into the future.
Being a WWII veteran and co-creator of Captain America, I imagine Kirby would be delighted that his characters are celebrated today as icons of resistance. But it’s no secret he was furious about the business of comics and intellectual property, so I imagine he would also be distressed to see his creations generating billions of dollars for massive mega-corporations, with some of that money actually supporting political figures he would most likely despise. Overall, though, I think the positives of providing a fresh pantheon of heroes we can all admire and seek to emulate would outweigh the negatives.