Legendary comic book creator/artist/writer/editor Jack “The King” Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzburg) would be 96 years old today had he not died on February 6, 1994 at the age of 76. Any reader of Marvel and DC Comics has probably been touched by at least the legacy of genius that was Jack Kirby through the characters he helped bring to life collaboratively with Golden & Silver Age comics greats such as Joe Simon, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and others (and in some cases single-handedly). Without Jack Kirby there would be no Captain America, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, The X-Men, Black Panter, Silver Surfer, Fourth World, Challengers of the Unknown and, yes, Young Romance. A lot of folks don’t realize that Kirby and his first mate Joe Simon had pretty much created the genre of romance comics during the Golden Age 1940s. But seriously, that list is just a small sample size which didn’t even included the plethora of colorful villains to thwart the abundant heroes).
When I finally started reading and buying comics regularly on my own in the mid-80s (predominantly the Uncanny X-Men), I was not quite aware of the importance and greatness of this American icon. Naturally the Marvel Bullpen news column in the comics would always mention The King. But it wasn’t until a batch of Silver Age Marvel Comics that I obtained in 1987 or so finally exposed me to his actual work, particularly in the Fantastic Four, one of the titles that most displayed the breadth of his talent and unique vision for well over 100 issues (including annuals & specials).
By the early 1990s it was the Image Comics partners Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino, as well as other creators like Alan Moore and Steve Bissette (of the Kirby inspired 1963) who really exposed a younger generation of comic book fans to the importance of Kibry. He was no doubt a great inspiration to them, not only creatively but in terms of their spirit of independence at the time as they championed creator rights. Image Comics was one of a few handful of independent publishers that actual allowed Kirby to OWN his creations of the time. Prior to that, there was a contentious long and ongoing legal battle with Marvel Comics (and to a lesser extent, DC Comics) over legal rights of copyright ownership or co-ownership for the vast majority of characters/intellectual properties that especially Marvel continues to exploit (even to this day) with little or no residual monetary compensation for one of the originators (and his estate). The scope of this issue is actually far greater than what I have time to delve into here.
Besides, on this day to remember this great man’s day of birth and unrivaled contribution to American pop culture, I want to positively acknowledge this event with enduring admiration and respect.