Today marks the one-hundredth second birthday of Jacob Kurtzberg, better known as comic book legend Jack Kirby. Few have had the impact on the comic book world quite like Kirby. Trying to categorize it all is difficult given the sheer breadth of his contributions. He is one of the greatest figures in comics and one of its major innovators as well as most prolific and influential creators.
He was born on this date in 1917 in Manhattan to Austrian Jewish immigrants Rose and Benjamin Kurtzerg. Early in his life he enjoyed drawing and sought to learn more about art, becoming essentially self-taught. He learned by tracing characters from comic strips and editorial cartoons. He began working professionally under various pen anes, including Jack Curtiss, before settling on Jack Kirby. He eventually made his big break when, as World War II broke out in Europe, he and Joe Simon created a character named Captain America for a small publisher called Timely Comics. Captain America became a hit and he went on to create numerous characters for Timely as well as another company called National Comics Publications.
He eventually met a woman named Roz Goldstein and married her on May 23rd, 1942. They eventually had four children together: Susan, Neal, Barbara, and Lisa. When the war came to the United States of America, Kirby was drafted in the United States Army. He joined his countrymen in the Normandy Landings storming the Omaha Beach. During the invasion, a lieutenant learned he was a comic book artist and gave him the dangerous duty of scouting ahead to draw reconnaissance maps and pictures. During 1944 he got frostbite and returned stateside where he spent the remainder of his service in a motor pool.
After the war, Kirby teamed with Simon once again to create Mainline Publications, a short-lived comic company, creating romance comics. He eventually returned to Timely, now calling itself Atlas and eventually Marvel. There he met a man named Stan Lee and the two ended up creating some of the biggest names in that company's history including, but certainly not limited to, the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, and Silver Surfer. Their works garnered high sales and critical acclaim. However, feeling he was being treated unfairly, he left for National Comics, now calling itself DC Comics, in the 1970s.
At DC, Kirby made equally important contributions, most notably his Fourth World saga. While the initial series was not commercially unsuccessful and were cancelled, the characters continued as a major part of the company in all its titles.
Later that decade, Kirby returned to Marvel. He began working in television animation and independent comics. He provided original artwork for Marvel's first animated series The Marvel Super Heroes and later did storyboarding for the 1978 series Fantastic Four. He also produced artwork for a proposed Thor series in the 1980s. In his later years, the world began recognizing his contributions to the comic book industry eventually being dubbed the "William Blake of comics," referring to the highly influential poet and painter of the Romantic Era. In 1987 he became one of three people to be the inaugural inductees to the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.
He and his wife Roz stayed together until his death. He died of heart failure on February 6th, 1994 at the age of seventy-six. In his honor, the Jack Kirby Awards and Jack Kirby Hall of Fame were named in his honor.