“The King of Comics”


Brendan Scruggs

These are pages from Kirby’s work on “Fantastic Four” in the 60s and are available in our Media Center.

The title “The King of Comics” would most likely conjure up the idea of an old man wearing aviators with a killer mustache to most. This, of course, would be an image of Stan Lee, the most famous man to ever work in the industry, but he is in fact, not the “The King of Comics.” Comic fans would immediately realize that title belongs to his closest partner, the right hand of the Marvel machine, Jack Kirby. Kirby was instrumental in the making of the pop culture of today, and his name should and contributions should be known by the masses.

Jack Kirby actually got his start nearly two decades before Stan Lee, working at Timely Comics. Timely was the company that would become Marvel about 20 years later. During his time at Timely Kirby was most known for being the co-creator of one of the most iconic Marvel characters ever, Captain America. He created Captain America with his first comic partner, Joe Simon. Kirby was drawing comics long before Stan Lee was in the industry, and his contributions at this time were incredibly important.

Captain America #1 is one of the most important comics of all time. It was the standout superhero comic at Timely and worked as a propaganda piece and call to action. Both Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were Jewish men and by March 1941 when Captain America #1 was released the Holocaust had been raging for about 8 years. The issue features Captain America punching Hitler on the cover and was released months before the U.S. entered the war. The comic was a call to action for America to join the war and fight the injustices of the Nazis. Simon and Kirby wanted to see the end of the genocide of their people and used comics to call for American support.

But Jack Kirby was not just a freedom fighter and fascist hater on paper. During the years before the U.S. entered the war, Nazi sympathizers were common in the U.S. Some of these sympathizers threatened Simon and Kirby for their beliefs and for creating Captain America. Kirby once got a call from the lobby in which one of these sympathizers threatened Kirby with physical violence. Jack Kirby simply said he would come downstairs, as he had no fear of fighting a Nazi. When he got down, there was no one there though, as it seems the Nazi stood no chance against the co-creator of Captain America.

Simon and Kirby did not just write Captain America though, they also wrote the first-ever romance comic. Young Romance #1 was released in October of 1947 and marked the creation of the romance comic. Kirby constantly innovated the medium of comics, whether it be through introducing new genres, or even introducing all new styles. Kirby would later work with collage art in his comics, making some of the most interesting and beautiful pages to ever be put in a comic. Kirby was an innovator who wanted the best for comics.

The most important and defining era of time in Jack Kirby’s life though was his work at Marvel Comics in the 1960s. This was the era in which he truly earned the title “The King of Comics” with the work he did with Stan Lee. This is the era in which he worked on The Fantastic Four, Avengers, Thor, The X-Men, The Hulk, and more. These comics defined the Silver Age of comics and define Marvel to this day. Kirby worked on some of the most iconic comics of all time at the same time, being more productive than any artist at the time. He was faster and better than any other artists at the time and was one of the most important figures in the success of Marvel comics.

Many would think that Kirby did not do as much as he did, or deserves less credit for his work as he is always credited as just an artist when in actuality he plotted most of early Marvel’s works. “The Marvel Method” was coined by Stan Lee and involved him giving a basic plot to Kirby that he would then flesh out, plan out, and draw before Stan Lee came back in and wrote the dialogue and exposition. This means that Jack Kirby was arguably the true mastermind behind Marvel’s early and ongoing success, as he was not just the artist, but the plotter. I am not trying to discredit Stan Lee though, as he still wrote some, came up with many ideas, and helped Marvel by being likable and charismatic, giving Marvel a face and a spirit. Jack Kirby was responsible for much of Marvel’s success, but to call Stan Lee any less than the face of Marvel is an insult to the man who gave Marvel its soul.

But Kirby did not stop there, as he later went to DC where he created the 4th World storyline. This story was the introduction of the New Gods, Apokolips, Darkseid, New Genesis, Orion, and more. Kirby gave D.C. another layer of worldbuilding and some of the most dynamic characters to ever grace their pages. Darkseid has become synonymous as one of the biggest villains in D.C. and has played massive roles in comics since his creation. Jack Kirby was not just one of the most important men in Marvel’s success, but an extremely important player at D.C.

Jack Kirby truly earns his title as  “The King of Comics” through all he has done for the industry. Through creating characters, worlds, and stories, introducing genres to comics, and using his platform for something meaningful, Jack Kiby has earned his place as one of the greatest creative minds to ever live. The man who was willing to fight Nazis and helped create some of the greatest fictional worlds of all time should be known by the masses. Jack Kirby’s name and story should be known by all, as he has truly shaped the world through his creations. This is the legacy and life of “The King of Comics.”