If you're not a comic book fan, the name Jack Kirby probably doesn't mean much to you. However, to comic book fans Kirby is King.
Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was part of the Marvel Revolution which happened in the early 1960's, when the artist teamed up with editor/writer Stan Lee to reinvent the super hero comic book and usher in the Marvel Age of comics. Their characters had attitudes, and lived in the real world (New York City), and spoke and behaved like us (or like people we knew), making them stand out among Marvel's cookie-cutter, square dialogue of the Distinguished Competition.
Although Kirby had been illustrating comic books since the 1930's (he even co-created Captain America in the 1940's with Joe Simon), it really wasn't until he teamed with Lee to create Marvel's first big hit, The Fantastic Four, that Kirby became "King" Kirby— A nickname bestowed to Kirby by Lee.
Jack's contribution to the creation of the Marvel Universe was significant, giving the world of Marvel Comics it's look and style. He designed virtually every character in the early days of the Marvel revolution, including the Fantastic Four, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Ant-Man and The Wasp, The X-Men, and of course all of their supporting characters and villains, such as The Inhumans, The Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and Galactus.
In the early days, Stan and Jack were basically the main staff over at the struggling Marvel and since they were pumping out a significant amount of books each month, time was not a luxury. The only way they could get books out was to adopt a way of working, that later became known as the Marvel Method, which was Stan talking to Jack, giving him a brief outline of the story he had in mind, and Jack going off to his drawing table and filling in the blanks. Stan would then get the artwork and fill in the dialogue— there were no written scripts.
Although the Marvel Method allowed both Stan and Jack to not only pump out a substantial amount of work, it also allowed both unlimited creative freedom. Unfortunately, it also created a wedge between the two collaborators. As far as fans knew, Stan was the writer and creator of the Marvel Universe and Jack was the artist, no different than Marvel's other artists, like John Romita, Marie Severin, and John Buscema. It also became the fodder for endless debates among fans of Lee and Kirby as to who really created the Marvel Universe.
Did Jack contribute to the storytelling and plots? Yes he did. Did Jack create the look and style of Marvel— a style that lasted for over 20 yrs at Marvel (from the 60's to the 80's)? Yes he did. Did he take the brief story synopsis that Stan would give him and add to them? Yes he did. But it was Stan that gave the characters their voice. It was Stan who gave the characters their names. It was Stan that created an editorial cohesion with all of the Marvel books (creating continuity). And It was Stan who was the pitchman and marketing genius that put Marvel on the map and got Marvel in the news.
Without Lee or Kirby, would Marvel have succeeded? It's true that both men had worked in comics for years before teaming to produce the Fantastic Four, and even worked together on other titles, and hadn't reached the level of success they obtained with FF #1 and everything that followed.
There's no doubt that Jack was "King" in that he developed a unique artistic style, with dynamic action poses, bold splash pages, and two-page spreads. He put the power behind ever pow on the books and covers he worked on.
Jack was born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and now the Jack Kirby Museum wants to set up a brick and mortar museum in the neighborhood where Jack grew up in.
Activist Randolph Hoppe is working with the Kirby Museum, which is only an online representation of Kirby's artwork and career, to find a permanent location. Of course donations are welcome, so if you would like to see a museum dedicated to Kirby's art, life and career please contact The Jack Kirby Museum to find out how you can help make this tribute to the King happen.