Category Archives: Charity & Outreach

Kirby Day: What a Blast!

Kirby4Heroes

Two days ago, Thursday, August 28, was Kirby Day—that is, Jack Kirby’s birthday. It brought a delightful outpouring of remembrance and appreciation that spilled over into Friday. The Kirby4Heroes campaign took the occasion to raise money for The Hero Initiative—I hope they were able to raise a lot!

It’s never too late to donate to The Hero Initiative. :)

I was glad to contribute to Kirby Day in my own small way: with a posting at Acts of Geek (also run here on my blog), and by taking part in the big two-part (one, two) celebration over at Comics Alliance.

I went a little Twitter crazy on the 28th, tweeting links to online examples of top-notch Kirby scholarship, Kirby appreciation, and Kirbyana. For the record, here are the things I linked to (besides those mentioned above):

Requiem for Jack Kirby (2001)

Of course I also followed the #WakeUpAndDraw campaign on Twitter, which you see here:

(Dig this Hollywood Reporter article about #WakeUpAndDraw!)

Congratulations to Jillian Kirby and her family for leading the charge on Kirby Day! As far as I’m concerned, it’s now a genuine holiday. :)

 

Kirby’s Second Act (in honor of Kirby Day)

Kirby self-portrait from DC

Tomorrow, Thursday, August 28, would have been the 97th birthday of the great Jack Kirby. I call August 28 Kirby Day because I believe Kirby’s birthday ought to be a holiday for comics fans!

When tomorrow comes, I hope my readers will celebrate Kirby Day by helping the Kirby4Heroes campaign raise funds for The Hero Initiative. You can read more about the campaign in my post of August 11, here. Supporting the Initiative means supporting veteran comic book creators in need—a cause Kirby himself would have championed.

In honor of Kirby Day, I’m posting the following mini-essay, which I’ve adapted from two different sources. One is my reading script for a panel I co-presented with my colleague Ben Saunders at the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle in 2013. The other is the script for a video presentation I contributed to the “Echoes of ’82″ panel at Heroes Con 2012 organized by my colleagues Craig Fischer and Ben Towle. I was proud and happy to do both events!

(The cover images are courtesy of the Grand Comics Database. Aptly named!)

Kirby’s Second Act

Jack Kirby changed comic books more than once. If he hadn’t drawn another page of comics after 1950, he’d still be remembered as one of the great comic book artists of the medium’s founding era. If he’d put down his pencil and disappeared from the comic book racks at about age thirty, he’d still be known as one of the giants.

But he didn’t do that, of course. In the 1960s and 70s, when Kirby himself was in his forties and fifties, he picked up the medium by the scruff and carried it along (some more). He changed comics again. In this remarkable second act of his career, Kirby gave his all: an outpouring of generosity and energy that renewed the medium, nudging the foundering industry onward yet again.

Fantastic Four 47 cover

Starting in the 60s, Kirby gave comic books an expanded canvas. He gave them scope: a sense of larger possibilities. If the superhero comics of that era moved from an episodic to an epic structure—or maybe I should say an epic and episodic structure—Kirby did more to make that happen than any other creator. The fact that superhero comics now so often deal with the apocalyptic—with the revelation, potential destruction, and re-creation of worlds, whole worlds—is testimony to his influence, to his genius for the costumed hero, yet also his impatience with the genre as he found it.

Kirby jacked up the threat level in superhero comics. He broadened the range and scale of the threats. He introduced to the genre a sense of discovery, of secret history, mythic origins, and eschatology—a sense of endings, and new beginnings—making costumed heroics an entryway into larger themes. Kirby’s superheroes addressed the grand, mind-rattling themes of epic fantasy. The fact that so many superhero comics today work at the level of the whole world or universe (or multiverse) is a testament to Kirby’s peculiar gift. Comic books drawn and plotted out by him, such as The Fantastic Four and Thor, and, later, comics entirely written and drawn by him, such as The New Gods and The Eternals, made the superhero genre a bridge between high and low fantasy: the grand and cataclysmic on the one hand, the low mimetic, comical, or absurd on the other; the cosmic and the urban; the epic and the crime story; the sublime vista and the lowly, grotesque caricature. Kirby knitted it all together, crazily, vitally, giving the superhero genre an infusion of energy that enabled it to survive and seduce further generations of fans.

Thor 154 cover

An important thing to remember about Kirby is that he was not an illustrator but a cartoonist—meaning an artist who developed stories and characters through the act of drawing. It was Kirby’s narrative drawing that made Marvel Comics work: he was Marvel’s busiest cartoonist, and its visual guide. He gave Marvel its momentum. He dreamed up and designed more concepts for the company than any other artist. Besides the comics that Kirby penciled himself—which he typically plotted, in effect co-wrote—he also laid out and plotted stories for many other artists, guiding and inspiring them. Most of Marvel’s other artists were urged to follow his lead.

In a great, mad rush between 1961 and the mid-decade, Kirby laid the foundations of what we now call the Marvel Universe. His drive and design chops provided most of the raw material for this new world. And now, half a century later—about 53 years after the launch of The Fantastic Four, about 51 after the launch of The Avengers—Marvel Entertainment is reaping the spectacular harvest of that effort. Graphically and conceptually, the foundation of Marvel’s success (in comics and movies) was laid in the basement of the Kirby family’s Long Island home between 1961 and 1966; yet, incredibly, during that period, in fact throughout the 60s, Kirby was only a freelancer for Marvel. During all the time he designed so many properties and spun so many stories for Marvel, he didn’t have a solid contract there. He didn’t have a contract at all.

The gap between what Kirby gave Marvel and what he got in return was enormous. He produced all these wild new concepts for a flat page rate; he had no salary, no security, no benefits, no assurances of long-term well-being. He just drew, drew, and drew, dreaming up new characters and ideas for Marvel several times a month for years on end. He worked unbelievably hard. When Marvel was sold to a new owner in 1968, Kirby sought a fair contract with the company that would take care of his family, but couldn’t get one. The new owners put faith in Stan Lee’s editorial savvy but did not understand Kirby’s vital role.

Of course Kirby got angry and angrier, and lost heart; he began to resent how much he’d given to the company with such slight return. He began to offer Marvel less and less, in terms of new ideas. After all, he couldn’t continue to work himself to the bone for such meager reward; the workload was draining, the situation maddening. So he left, hoping for greater recognition and editorial freedom elsewhere. He left to create the bizarre and visionary Fourth World and other comics for DC in the early 70s, where his imagination once again took flight and fans were able to see less diluted Kirby comics, comics “edited, written, and drawn” by Jack.

New_Gods_Vol_1_1_001

There’s nothing in the annals of so-called work-for-hire that can compare with Kirby’s run at Marvel in the 1960s—or for the richness of Kirby’s barnstorming second act. There’s nothing about comic book business-as-usual that can account for that miraculous outpouring. “Work-for-hire” does not begin to describe the indispensable, seminal, endlessly inspiring contribution that Kirby made to Marvel. Jack Kirby was the co-author of the Marvel Universe, and ought to be officially recognized as such. Further, Marvel Entertainment ought to establish a healthy relationship with Kirby’s estate by compensating his family and contributing to the study and appreciation of Kirby’s work. ’Nuff said!

Celebrate Kirby Day by helping Kirby4Heroes!

August 28, 2014, just over two weeks from now, would have been the 97th birthday of Jack Kirby, who passed away twenty years ago, in 1994, at the age of seventy-six.

Kirby means so much to the history of comics that I believe his birthday ought to be, for fans, a holiday—a day of remembrance, celebration, and thanks. I think of it that way myself. As Tom Spurgeon has observed, over at The Comics Reporter,

there seems to be a slowly developing movement to honor Kirby on his birthday,

and I’m glad to participate in and encourage that. Kirby Day: a day for acknowledging comics, cartoonists, and in particular the history of the American comic book.

Kirby Day! I like the sound of that. And it can be much more than a private celebration among fans—it can be a way to give back:

Kirby4Heroes Facebook page--please lend your support!Kirby’s family continues to celebrate his birthday by supporting veteran comic book creators through The Hero Initiative, a federally chartered, not-for-profit organization dedicated to honoring and helping creators in need. Since 2012 Jack’s granddaughter Jillian Kirby has spearheaded the Kirby4Heroes campaign to raise money for the Initiative on his birthday. In the spirit of generosity that Kirby himself championed, the Initiative seeks to provide (as its website says) “a financial safety net for yesterdays’ creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work.” In 2012 Kirby4Heroes raised $6000 for the Initiative, and in 2013 it raised $10,000. This year Jillian has set the goal of $15,000. I urge my readers to help reach that goal!

On August 28, Kirby Day, select comic book shops across the country will be donating a portion of their sales to The Hero Initiative. Some stores will also be hosting special events, as will as the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and other organizations. ComicsPRO, the professional organization of comic book retailers, has endorsed Kirby4Heroes, and many comics artists will be lending their time and talents as well. (Follow #WakeUpAndDraw on Twitter on Aug. 28th!)

Supporting Kirby4Heroes is simple. Besides shopping at your local comics store on August 28, you can donate online or by mail. To donate online, visit The Hero Initiative at heroinitiative.org (and be sure to type “Kirby4Heroes” in the space for “special instructions”). To donate by mail, send a check to:

Kirby4Heroes Campaign
c/o The Hero Initiative
11301 Olympic Blvd., #587
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Be sure to make out your checks to The Hero Initiative!

The Hero Initiative

For more information about Kirby4Heroes, check out the Kirby4Heroes website and this article at Hero Complex (the Los Angeles Times‘s pop culture blog). Also, visit the campaign’s Facebook page, and watch Jillian’s video about the campaign via YouTube, courtesy of the Nerdist Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQbKLQkDa6k

Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video here, since WordPress doesn’t play ball with YouTube, but click through the link and you’ll see it. Here’s a screenshot:

Kirby4Heroes video screenshot

I hope all of my readers will consider supporting Kirby4Heroes. Celebrate Kirby Day by lending veteran creators a helping hand!

The Kirby Museum Goes Live in the Lower East Side!

The Kirby Museum's Prototype Alpha

Wow! Thanks to miLES (Made in the Lower East Side) and its successful Storefront Transformer campaign on Kickstarter, the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center will be a live, brick-and-mortar museum, a crackling storefront HQ of Kirbyness, this coming week!

The Jack Kirby Museum Prototype: Alpha

179 Delancey Street, New York, New York 10002

Monday, Nov. 4th, through Sunday, Nov. 10th, 2013

Daily hours 12:00 noon to 7:00 p.m.; plus special events after 7:00 p.m.

This marks a milestone for the Jack Kirby Museum. Thus far the Museum has been an online venture mostly, but it hopes one day to establish a permanent brick-and-mortar space dedicated to Kirby’s life and work. That’s a dream and a cause I support with my whole heart! To get there, the Museum’s trustees have long dreamed of creating a pop-up museum—that is, a temporary exhibit—near Kirby’s birthplace in New York’s Lower East Side. Thanks to the trustees’ hard work, and miLES’s support, that dream has become a reality. Prototype: Alpha, a Kirbycentric space and an event in itself, will be happening all this week, Nov. 4th through 10th, at 179 Delancey. Noon to 7:00 at least, each day!

For a week, the Museum’s leaders—a dedicated, passionate, friendly, and welcoming bunch—will be celebrating all things Kirby, in that very part of NYC where Jack was born and raised. Prototype: Alpha will include an original art show, a biographical display, visits by local student groups, even drawing classes or demonstrations—and of course a shop, where visitors can purchase high-quality prints of Kirby art as well as Museum memorabilia.

There will be special events too! First, trustee Rand Hoppe will open the shop with a reception and brief talk on Monday, Nov. 4th, at 7:00 p.m. Then artist and historian Arlen Schumer will follow with a talk on Tuesday, Nov. 5th, at 7:00. Finally, artist James Romberger will appear in conversation on Sunday, Nov. 10th, at 5:00.

(Wish I could be there in person to help celebrate. Sigh, I’m on the wrong coast…)

More events, including Internet guests and video programming, are in the process of being planned—keep watching the Kirby Museum website for news!

Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center

Congratulations to Rand and all the Kirby Museum trustees on reaching this important goal!

A Birthday Bonanza!

A moment of joy and optimism, from Captain America's Bicentennial Battles (1976)

Today is the 96th birthday of the great Jack Kirby, and it’s wonderful to see the online outpouring of interest, affection, and commentary that this event has inspired!

There’s so much about Kirby on the Web today that knowing where to go could be a right challenge. Me, I recommend:

Or you could just turn off your computer, pick up and read a vintage Kirby comic, and get your mind blown all over again. :)

Hail Kirby!!!