“THERE CAME A TIME WHEN THE OLD GODS DIED! The brave died with the cunning! The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil! It was the LAST day for them! An ancient era was PASSING in FIERY HOLOCAUST!”
- opening caption of Jack Kirby’s New Gods #1, 1971
You don’t need me explaining what Jack Kirby did.
Most everybody knows the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Captain America and Thor -- creations so strong they’ve long leapt off the comics page and fueled a multiple-billion-dollar media empire likely to exist much longer than they already have. You may not know his Fourth World, his newspaper strips, his westerns, his romance comics, his movie adaptations, and complete reimagining of characters long gone by, but they’re all still out there, largely amazing. In this relentless abundant creativity, he even crafted how the rest of us tell stories. It’s easy for anyone to go on about him. And on. And on. And on.
People will likely do so even more for his birthday. They’ll talk about their favorite Kirby characters (Doctor Doom), pages (New Gods #1, Page One), issues (2001: A Space Odyssey #5), arcs (Fantastic Four #57-60), series (Kamandi) and everything-in-between (his double page spreads). Then there are the people lucky enough to have met and worked with him, who know him well enough to share stories about the man behind the pencil.
However, in the end, nostalgically looking back at what he did doesn't do much for me, and worshipping his old gods is not the thing keeping me excited.
It's the promise Kirby’s work exponentially gave and perpetually has. It’s how he never rested on laurels well deserved, always looking forward, always asking what tomorrow might bring. Always trying something new.
I never thought that doing comics in the “Kirby Manner” was adding cosmic crackle or impossible-to-wear helmets on impossible-to-exist creatures – it always seemed like it was doing things your own way, looking forward to where you can go, instead of looking back on what you and others have already done. What you do may not always work, it may fail, but it’s something new, it’s something yours.
For the longest time, it was only from his work that I got this impression, in how once Thor was over he tore the world down to set up his pantheon of New Gods, and eventually took full ownership and said goodbye to their heirs in his own way when Captain Victory hit the scene.
It was a gut feeling that this guy just wanted to keep moving, never settle. I caught glimpses in interviews, but never one-on-one.
Luckily a friend did, and recently shared this story. It shed a lot of light.
Said friend knew Kirby well enough to be invited to his birthday party and, along with an artist buddy, labored over crafting an Orion-themed card for their all-time favorite creator. They were nervous upon delivery – this was the guy who inspired them to do what they’ve dedicated their lives to.
Kirby appeared immediately crestfallen.
My friend was immediately heartbroken.
After what I imagined seemed like years but truly barely lasted moments, Kirby explained his composure: “the card is great,” Kirby said to their relief, ”but I wish the character was one of yours.”
Kirby didn’t need them showing what he did.
He needed them to show what they'll do.