Who was the most influential pop artist of the 20th Century? Most art history scholars would point to names like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns or that plagiarist hack Roy Lichtenstein. As great as two of those artists are, their influence pales in comparison to Jack Kirby, who was born on this day in 1917. Kirby helped shape the look of the modern superhero, inspired generations of artists who grew up with his work and to top it all off, his creations still play a vital role in contemporary culture.
Kirby got his start drawing all manner of adventure comics in the 1930s: sci-fi, western, pirates, etc. However, Kirby made his first big mark on comics in March 1941 when he and Joe Simon created Captain America. The first issue of Captain America Comics is one of the greatest images ever sketched, depicting our star-spangled hero punching Adolph Hitler in the face and presumably breaking the Fuhrer’s jaw. Oh, and may I remind you, this was a full nine months before the United States entered World War II! Kirby would continue working on comics until he was drafted into the Army.
After the war, Kirby would go back to comics art, working in a variety of pulp fiction styles, and even helping to create the “romance comics” genre. However, that achievement would pale in comparison to Kirby’s next trick, creating a universe. In November 1961, Kirby and collaborator Stan Lee released the first issue of The Fantastic Four. Fantastic Four represented a new approach to superheroes, different from the heroes made popular during the 1930s and 1940s Golden Age. While many of the superheroes of the past were born with their powers, the Fantastic Four gained their powers in an accident and while the average superhero saw their powers as a gift, FF member Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) rightly viewed his incurable transformation into a humanoid rock monster as a curse. On top of all that, the Fantastic Four were a family who (for the first few issues at least) didn’t wear costumes, instead they fought crime in contemporary fashions.
The Fantastic Four were just the start, as soon Kirby would co-create a whole universe of characters for Marvel Comics. The list of characters and concepts Kirby co-created for Marvel includes dozens of the all-time great comic book heroes and villains (and the subjects of many future hit movies). Here are but a few of the familiar names Kirby created for Marvel: The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Magneto, Doctor Doom, Galactus, the Black Panther, the Silver Surfer and also an obscure superhero team called the Avengers.
Kirby would leave Marvel in the 1970s due to creative differences, and went to work for rival DC Comics. At DC, Kirby created what is considered by many to be his masterpiece: The Fourth World, a tale of a battle between literal good and evil that combined Greek mythology with techno-futurism. Written and drawn by Kirby, the Fourth World saga detailed the battle between the planets New Genesis and Apokolips, as heroes like the mighty warrior Orion and the master escape artist Mister Miracle sought to stop Darkseid, the lord of Apokolips and living embodiment of all evil, from discovering the “Anti-Life Equation” which would allow him to subjugate all living things and bring an end to that troublesome notion of free will. Kirby didn’t shy away from the obvious allegorical elements of the stories, and in fact embraced the story’s more over the top elements by constantly adding new crazy sci-fi concepts and peppering the narration and dialogue with purple prose and Shakespearean turns of phrase. Somehow, Kirby managed to make all of these mad elements work together and created a gripping tale of the ultimate battle between good and evil.
In addition to his comics work, Kirby’s other projects included designing wonderfully whacked-out costumes for a 1969 production of Julus Caesar at UC Santa Cruz, and the concept art for a unproduced film adaptation of the novel Lord of Light. Although that film would never come about, Kirby’s concept illustrations would later be used by the CIA to help pull of the “Canadian Caper,” as depicted in the 2012 film Argo. So, for those of you keeping score at home, between The Avengers and Argo, that’s two films from last year that Kirby was partially responsible for.
So, raise a glass to the King of Comics and his lasting legacy with a drink named after one of his iconic characters, The Silver Surfer. Although this drink won’t give you the Power Cosmic, it is a nice fizzy blend of lemon-lime flavors and potent clear liquors.
The Silver Surfer
- 1/2 ounce Silver Tequila
- 1/2 ounce White Rum
- 1/2 ounce Vodka
- 3 ounces lemon-lime soda
- A dash of lemon juice
- A dash of lime juice
Pour all the liquors into a highball glass with ice and top with lemon-lime soda, then add the dashes of the juices. Garnish with a lemon slice and a lime slice.
Tomorrow: The last of the Yahi.