Sunday, 18 June 2017

Why Jack Kirby?

For comic book fans, Jack Kirby needs no introduction. For Alan Moore, perhaps the most famous contemporary comic book author, Kirby is the creative force behind the 'Marvel Revolution' - the introduction of mature themes and literary qualities into the superhero genre. He is known as 'the king' and, when a comic book wants to represent God, it is the image of Jack Kirby that is presented. 

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Having worked with Joe Simon until the 1950s - and in Will Eisner's studio - Kirby's apprenticeship had him churning out comic books in multiple genres. In 1958, however, he began working for Timely Comics and teamed up with Stan Lee. Although this partnership would ultimately dissolve in recriminations over ownership of the creative process, their collaborations included The Fantastic Four and The Avengers, heralding the 'Marvel Revolution' and reviving the importance of the superhero comic.

From an article in The New York Herald Tribune (1966) onward, Stan Lee's importance was frequently emphasised to the detriment of Kirby, but Marvel Comics undeniably changed the potential of the superhero. Modern icons - or branded products - such as The X-Men, Iron Man, and a re-imagined Captain America - emerged from their work and the eventual acceptance of comic books as a legitimate - and adult - medium in the 1980s (usually attributed to the publication of Watchmen, Dark Knight and Maus) could be traced back to the ambition of the Lee-Kirby comic books.

This period, however, contains much of the work that has established Kirby as the king of comic books. The Fantastic Four run, of around one hundred issues, can be seen as a showcase for Kirby's genius.

Following his departure from Marvel, Kirby moved to rivals DC and began his Fourth World (1971- 75) narrative. Featuring all-Kirby creations, and spread across a variety of minor DC properties, The Fourth World is often seen as his master-work, despite exposing his weakness as a writer.

He returned to Marvel in 1976, but his twilight years were spent on a variety of projects, mostly unsuccessful or marginal. During the 1980s, the question of creators' rights came to the fore, and reclaiming the legacy of Kirby became an aesthetic, legal and financial campaign. The years of litigation on his behalf became a cause célèbre that revealed the unfair working practices of the comic book industry. 

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