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Tribute to Jack Kirby, On the 10th Anniversary of His Passing
posted December 31, 2003
Jack Kirby was one of the three or four great artists to work in American comic books, and his industry's most fecund creative force. His art was so provocative it can distort memory. There exists an almost throwaway panel in Fantastic Four #53 of a red elephant ripping up a tree I remembered for years as a double-page spread and major story moment. Kirby was responsible for thousands of exquisite smaller scenes like that one, but he also excelled in longer arenas of expression. That elephant made his cameo in the greatest run in superhero comic book history, one of several stories Kirby was a part of that could be seen as precursors to the modern graphic novel, except they were somehow bigger and grander than that. The breakneck tumble of Fantastic Four #44-63 gave Marvel the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus and the Black Panther, a visual hurricane of weird sights and still moments that defined Martin Goodman's comics company at the pinnacle of its pop-opera powers. Even Kirby's minor characters bristle with a visual liveliness many artists fail to achieve in an entire career: Lockjaw's tongue, Wyatt Wingfoot's squared shoulders, Klaw's magnificently designed artificial hand.
Much has been written on Jack Kirby since his passing, all of it wholly necessary. His work is rightfully acknowledged as the foundation on which all superhero comics are built, from the panel-busting energy of his groundbreaking Captain America art in the 1940s, the shifts in tone in his great Marvel Comics of the 1960s, and the wonderfully ambitious, sometimes madcap and often deeply moral comics he did in the 1970s and 1980s. I think that the legend of the man himself has grown in a lovely way, too: Jack Kirby as the devoted and professional artist, a family man and provider, one of his own characters in a hat in the big city rain perhaps a little less prepared than some to take full advantage of the runaway success due his creations but always honest, always fully present on the page. Someone once told me that the Kirby house was a remarkable place to visit as a child, and that much of the home's warmth emanated from the room Jack Kirby worked. I think, in a way, we still feel it.