“He created a new grammar of storytelling and a cinematic style of motion. Once-wooden characters cascaded from one frame to another—or even from page to page—threatening to fall right out of the book into the reader’s lap. The force of punches thrown was visibly and explosively evident. Even at rest, a Kirby character pulsed with tension and energy in a way that makes movie versions of the same characters seem static by comparison.”
–Brent Staples, New York Times
It’s hard to begin talking about someone as influential and iconic as Jack Kirby. His effect on the illustration world is so profound and ongoing even after his death that I’m not sure words alone do it justice—much like his epic drawings that could always stand on their own. There is no artist alive today that doesn’t have at least a hint of Kirby’s style echoing off of each page they draw, every doodle, and every comic strip.
Kirby is best known for crafting Marvel Comics’ cornerstone characters: The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Thor, The Silver Surfer and the X-Men. At DC Comics he is known for the creation of: The New Gods, Kamandi, OMAC, Etrigan The Demon, and Sandman,. All of these as well as hundreds of others throughout his life.
Kirby was one of few that changed the game like Will Eisner and Lou Fine before him. His characters expressed more in body language than anything before him. With dramatic foreshortening and dynamic figures jumping off of the panel toward the reader, Kirby created a magical and cinematic feeling in all of his work that had never been seen. Even now when I read a modern comic and see a blast of energy I can easily recognize the particles of energy drawn around the beams—often called “Kirby Dots”. He had a way with a pencil that turned a minimalistic drawing into a masterpiece of theater. If you closely examine any of his drawings, the details are carefully added to take advantage of form and figure, which for Kirby was his forte.
Over 24,000 pages of comic book art was drawn by Jack Kirby by the time he died in February of 1994 making him the most prolific comic book artist of all time. Nobody created more than Jack, who crafted universes upon universes and then onto more and more exciting things. He never stopped nor slowed and his creativity yielded over 300 characters—more than any other creator to date. And not just superheroes, but supernatural gothic characters and his most notable Young Romance comics, which is credited as the first romance comic ever published. There was no genre he couldn’t touch and invigorate.
As an artist myself, I find that the further back I go in the history of illustration, the more I learn and get to the source of innovative creativity. Great artists like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby have taught me about showmanship and telling a story in a single image. The drama of the characters can be portrayed with the right precision and emotional context. I see more and more of Kirby’s mark on my own work each time my pencil touches a page—a clear sign of improvement and growth. Today, I give a hearty thanks to a legend. Happy Birthday, Jack Kirby–You will not be forgotten.
Below are just a few characters created by Jack Kirby as well as a link to a full list of his creations. I implore you to check them out and check some of the modern illustrations that really excite you for the influence of this master of visual storytelling.
Kirby Creations: http://www.marvunapp.com/list/appkirby.htm
Wikipedia’s list of Kirby Creations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Characters_created_by_Jack_Kirby