It’s July and that means the worlds of meetings, movies and comic books are coming together for the San Diego Comic-Con. While around 150,000 geek girls and fan boys will be cramming themselves into the San Diego Convention Center July 20-23 for star-studded rollouts of upcoming Star Wars and superhero movies, this year Comic-Con is putting its celebration of the 100th birthday of Jack Kirby front and center.
Jack Kirby (Aug. 28, 1917–Feb. 6, 1994) doesn’t have the name recognition of a Stan Lee or George Lucas, but it’s doubtful there’d even be a Comic-Con without him. Kirby is the architect of Marvel Comics and blockbuster movie franchises he never lived to see. He is the co-creator of Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, the Avengers, the X-Men and Groot. Don’t forget Groot. He also created the cosmic villains from the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the villain that’s teased for the next one, plus the bad guys The Justice League will be squaring off against in movie theaters in November. Stan Lee put words in superheroes’ mouths, but Kirby drew and designed them. He gave them bodies and brought them to life.
“Jack Kirby was an absolute artistic phenomenon,” said comic book artist Mike Royer. “He was a true artist. He was always creating.”
Royer worked with Kirby in the 1970s, inking Kirby’s penciled artwork for such innovative and just-plain fun comics as The New Gods, The Sand Man and The Eternals. Royer is a special guest at this year’s Comic-Con and will speak on the centennial of his friend and mentor.
“He was such a warm, friendly, gentle human being,” Royer said. “They would invite strangers into the house and his wife Roz would make sandwiches for them.”
Jack Kirby was also the reason I first made the pilgrimage down to San Diego for Comic-Con in 1992. I had grown up obsessed with Kirby’s work on The Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor, and to meet Kirby you had to go to San Diego. When I met him, pushy fans had turned him off to signing comics, but he would bend your ear. I was just a kid, but he walked around the floor of the con with me like we were old friends. He told me about serving under General Patton in World War II and the guys he knew growing up in New York’s Lower East Side who inspired Captain America’s fighting prowess.
“They’d kick a barrel under one guy’s legs and wallop two others,” Kirby told me.
The last time I met Kirby was at a comic book store in Palo Alto, Calif., where he held court like a modern-day Socrates, and inspired the group of young people that had gathered to see him to find our artistic inspirations.
“If you do what you like, you’ll have a good time,” he said. “You won’t be able to help yourself.”
“There will never be another Jack Kirby,” Royer told me nearly 25 years later.
He’s right, but there sure are a lot of us writing and drawing today because of him.
Happy Birthday, Jack.
Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit in—even when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.