Book Review: Readings

A new biography of Jack Kirby successfully evokes the proper mystique and respect for this creative giant while revealing his human side


Kirby: King of Comics

by Mark Evanier
Harry N. Abrams, 224 pp., $40

From the age of 17 to his death in 1994, at the age of 76, artist Jack Kirby devoted his life to creating an influential pop-culture iconography for the 20th century. His many accomplishments included creating or co-creating Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, and the romance comic. His concepts fuel the backgrounds for both the Marvel and DC comic-book universes. Kirby's works permeate nearly every fantastical creation of the last 40 years, from prose novels to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster.

Unlike other contemporary visionaries such as Will Eisner, who in Evanier's heartfelt biography-homage credits Kirby with saving the comics industry many times over – "He was like the cavalry with a pencil" – Kirby failed to comprehend the legal and promotional facets of the business. He rarely owned his own work and spent a good portion of his career in what was often self-perceived as financially desperate straits. Publishers took advantage of his naivete time and time again. This situation propelled Kirby to prodigious artistic feats. Famous for taking on seemingly impossible assignments, Kirby routinely produced amazing 12-page stories in one day. (Most artists draw just one page a day.) Regardless of the time limitations, he always produced powerful, emotionally evocative work, often the finest comic-book accomplishments of his era.

As aptly demonstrated in this visually intense book, Kirby's fame was based on far more than speed or output. He introduced dynamism into visual storytelling, literally creating a new storytelling language using larger than life, yet anatomically realistic, characters, who leapt off the pages at the reader. Whether you love or hate the visuals, Kirby's work was never boring.

By telling a linear story lavishly infused with Kirby's art, Evanier successfully evokes the proper mystique and respect for this creative giant while revealing his human side. Since his death, a handful of books has attempted to showcase or grant insight into Jack Kirby, but none has succeeded quite like Kirby: King of Comics, the perfect tribute to both the artist and the man.

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