This is old content – originally written in August 2011 – but a couple people suggested I re-publish this in light of my post regarding Jack Kirby from earlier in the week. Similarly, a couple friends have asked me about Jack, and what role he really played in the creation and development of the Marvel Universe. It's easy to forget sometimes that even if somebody grew up reading comics, they didn't necessarily pay as close attention to what was happening behind-the-scenes as those of us who wound up working in the business. In many cases, they have no idea who created which characters or what battles have been fought for creator's rights. Sometimes they know the name "Jack Kirby," sometimes they don't. They nearly always know who Stan Lee is, though, and in most cases, they just assume he was the lone creative genius behind Marvel Comics. And they're always surprised to learn that's not the whole story...
THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT
Jack Kirby's birthday was Sunday, but I was flying back from Toronto that day and once I got home, I was too tired to write anything of substance about anything, let alone one of the most important men to ever put pencil to paper in the name of comic books. I thought about Jack Kirby, that day, though, because to a large extent, he created the world I live in.
The comics he created, first with Joe Simon, then with Stan Lee and then later on his own, speak for themselves:
The Boy Commandos
Challengers of the Unknown
The Fantastic Four
The Incredible Hulk
The Mighty Thor
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Forever People
The Black Panther
Some were hits, some were misses, and I'm likely leaving many out. I'm also not counting up the number of characters he created or co-created that never headlined their own series. Nobody has generated the sheer number of series and ideas that Jack Kirby developed whilst working in comics. You can say you don't care for his artwork. You can say you don't care for the comics themselves. But there's no denying the amount of work he generated or the impact that work had on the business of making comics.
And nowhere was that impact more greatly felt than Marvel Comics.
Between 1961 and 1970, Jack Kirby, working alongside writer and editor Stan Lee, literally saved Marvel Comics from going out of business. What's more, he and Lee created the framework for a gigantic entertainment company with a library of characters so great it was bought by the entertainment company to end all entertainment companies, Disney. Yes, there were other artists working at Marvel during that period, and Steve Ditko most certainly had a hand in the creation and success of Spider-Man, but it was Fantastic Four that launched the Marvel Age of Comics. People say "and the rest is history" a lot. In the case of what Stan & Jack started with the F.F., that's 100% true.
Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics in 1970, though, by all accounts frustrated by the amount of credit Stan Lee got for work they did together. Sure, he was Jack "King" Kirby, but Jack could see the writing on the wall at the House of Ideas and it said "Stan Lee Presents."
At this point, it's a decades-old dispute pitting Stan vs. Jack. There was even a court case recently, decided in Marvel's favor, and no matter what your position, it all ignores the very simple fact that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created those characters together. It's mind-boggling that so many people have trouble acknowledging that fact, or that Stan Lee has brazenly laid claim to an entire backlog of characters and concepts that were the result of a partnership. But just to the left of the desk I'm typing this at, there's a shelf filled with vintage Marvel paperback collections from the '70s and the revisionism is as plain as day:
Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee
Son of Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee
Bring on the Bad Guys by Stan Lee
The Superhero Women by Stan Lee
Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles by Stan Lee
The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee
The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee
Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts by Stan Lee
Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty by Stan Lee
The Incredible Hulk by Stan Lee
When I first started reading comics, Jack Kirby's artwork stood out. I loved Fantastic Four and when I discovered Jack's work on the book through the reprints of his issues in Marvel's Greatest Comics, I somehow knew those stories were better than the current series. If Jack did the cover on something, I bought it. I remember being disappointed by issue after issue of Invaders because there were all these great Jack Kirby covers, but he never drew a page of the interiors. And it didn't take me long to figure out how important he was to Marvel Comics.
I grew up wondering why it never said "Stan Lee & Jack Kirby Presents" on the books, or simply "created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby." And when I was older and began hearing about Jack's struggles to have his artwork returned to him from Marvel, I couldn't help but be amazed at how shoddily he was being treated by the very company he'd helped save from almost certain doom at the beginning of the '60s.
Marvel Comics would not exist as it is today, if at all, without Jack Kirby. There would be no Fantastic Four to celebrate it's 50th anniversary. There would be no Thor movies, no Captain America movies, no X-Men: First Class. There would be no Avengers to be disassembled and then re-assembled and then thrown into a Civil War or pitted against a Secret Invasion. No Human Torch to die in the Negative Zone. No Iron Man, no Ultimates, no Ant Man, no Hulk. No Nick Fury for Samuel L. Jackson to reinvent onscreen.
And yes, a hundred times yes, Stan Lee was part of all that, too, but if you can't see the incredible injustice that has been done by essentially reducing Jack Kirby's roll in the development of the Marvel Universe to that of a guy who drew a bunch of cool comics, then you don't have a soul.
I know I wouldn't be working in comics if not for the impact Jack Kirby's work had on my life.
If you work at Marvel Entertainment in any capacity, multiply that impact by something like a million.