Everyone knows that the funny little cartoon mouse was created by Walt Disney. The man put his name on the door after all. JK Rowling is Harry Potter’s mother, and sadly hordes of teenagers know Stephenie Meyer was responsible for sparkling vegetarian vampires.
However, a large portion of the summer blockbusters for the past few years were influenced by one man. Fantastic Four, X-Men, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and even Argo. This man had his hand in the creation of these characters, and in the case of Argo, in real-life provided the drawings for the film that never was.
This man is not Stan Lee, who co-created a large number of the characters previously mentioned, and through sheer showmanship has made himself a media darling replete with cameos through every Marvel movie.
This man is also not a millionaire. Until his 1991 death he spent a lot of time, energy and emotion trying to get fair compensation for his creations, and at the very least that his original artwork be returned to him.
So, who remembers Jack Kirby?
When I was eight years old I fell hard and fast in love with a cartoon show which was unlike anything I had experienced until that moment. The 90s X-Men animated series captured my imagination to the point where I would be late for school in the mornings so I could finish the episode, only to watch the same episode repeated later that afternoon when I returned home.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine why this group of social misfits hated and feared by a world they were sworn to protect would resonate so much with my little brain. Maybe part of it came when I was teased mercilessly over my love of comics. I was a geek, which might be a mark of pride now, but in the 90s only meant you were somehow emotionally immature and a bit weird. Funny how life turns around.
I must have been about ten when I saw my first Jack Kirby art. Spain had started reprinting 60s X-Men issues which were a completely different world to the Wolverine and Storm technicolour I had experienced. The original X-Men were five teenagers, they actually went to school. The stories were odd, quaint, and explosive. The characters were blocky, the machinery complex and bizarre, things reached out of the page at you. It was like seeing Picasso for the first time. I was enraptured by the art and completely grateful to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for creating my only friends.
As I got older I became even more in awe of this man, who could draw at the speed of light. At one point he was drawing Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers and Thor on a monthly schedule. Some artists can barely crank out a monthly book without delays. His story was one of triumph, drawing his way out of a rough New York neighbourhood, and one of tragedy, never getting the recognition he deserved for his genius.
Everyone’s obsessed with Ancient Aliens nowadays, but in the 70s Kirby used that mythos and created The Eternals, and then The New Gods. Highly kinetic, sprawling space-opera epics with gorgeous page after page. If you ever watched Hanna-Barbara cartoons as a child you saw his influence there too. Kirby worked on Thundarr The Barbarian, amongst others.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jack Kirby recently. I finally managed to watch Captain America The First Avenger, and thought that if there was any film he would appear on the credits, it would be this one. One of his first and brightest creations, his most enduring. Nothing.
One day I would like to make a film about him, his genius and his work. He went up against one of the biggest comic companies, and to this day much of his work is tied up in legal battles, preventing something akin to the truth from appearing on screen. Next time you see a little boy holding an Iron Man action figure, or the queues of people in line for the next X-Men movie, remember Jack Kirby, hunched over his desk, drawing for his life.