Today is a day where, like any other day of the year, a lot of things have happened and will happen again in the decades to come. The Ottoman Turks occupied Belgrade on this day in 1521, Emmett Till was murdered by racist assholes and, in 1917, Jacob Kurtzberg was born in New York City.
You know him better as Jack Kirby, the man whose mind made Marvel.
If you’ve walked into a movie theater in the last decade, then you have probably seen his work on screen at one point or another. Captain America, elements of Guardians of the Galaxy, the Uncanny X-Men, drawing the first Spider-Man story and creating the first serious and non-insulting African superhero, the Black Panther. All created by a man who came from nothing.
Though Kirby died in the 90’s, today he is finally getting respect and accolades for his work.
Disney recently declared him to be a company legend, well-known stars like Evangeline Lilly drop his name on Twitter and breathless and sharp write ups on various aspects of his life and legend sometimes appear in well-to-do publications like The New York Times that once dismissed the art form he did his best work in. There are many things we can learn from the man.
How to fight a company with class, drawing and making entertainment that inspires billions of people all over the world, and, perhaps most universally, the right way to treat other people.
Though a lot of comic and superhero fans can be at times a bit…close minded, the father of the medium that has come to dominate our cultural zeitgeist today way anything but. Take a look below at this story concerning what Kirby did when some U.S. Nazi’s came to the Timely (Precursor to Marvel.) offices in order to cause him grief for co-creating Captain America.
“A biographer, longtime Kirby assistant Mark Evanier, described Kirby getting a phone call from someone urging him to come down to the lobby…where three thugs wanted ‘to show him what real Nazis would do to his Captain America.’ Kirby, Evanier recalled, ‘rolled up his sleeves and headed downstairs’.”
He ended up serving with distinction as a scout in the Second World War, fought at the Battle of the Bulge and came home to further – as we all know by now – shape the fabric of our society. Towards the end of his life, he gave an interview and said the following when asked why he decided to create the Black Panther and not make him into a joke character, as had been the past.
“I came up with the Black Panther because I realized I had no blacks in my strip. I’d never drawn a black. I needed a black. I suddenly discovered that I had a lot of black readers. My first friend was a black! And here I was ignoring them because I was associating with everybody else. It suddenly dawned on me — believe me, it was for human reasons — I suddenly discovered nobody was doing blacks. And here I am a leading cartoonist and I wasn’t doing a black. I was the first one to do an Asian. Then I began to realize that there was a whole range of human differences. Remember, in my day, drawing an Asian was drawing Fu Manchu — that’s the only Asian they knew.”
Language is a bit antiquated to be sure, but that’s pretty enlightened for a guy born in 1917. Ultimately, everyone could learn a thing or two from him on being forward thinking. Unlike so many artists whose work is far better than they are or were as people. Kirby lives up to his portfolio. A real-life Captain America, a quiet and intellectual man like Dr. Strange, and a boisterous and humble cigar chomping badass like Ben Grimm. In a just world, he’d still be alive today and still creating stuff that makes all of us as happy as we are normally with his work.
Long live the King.