Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Mr. Marvel


Jack Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg in New York City on August 28, 1917.  He's not exactly a household name (either one), but his creations are.  Kirby created many of the popular characters at what is now Marvel Comics and is often referred to as Stan Lee's uncredited partner.  But more on that later.

He was the son of Austrian-Jewish immigrants who had settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  His father worked in a garment factory.  His childhood years were difficult, so he learned to draw as a means of escape, if only for a little while.

He began by tracing characters from comic strips and editorial cartoons.  His talents took him to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at 14, but he soon dropped out. 

"I wasn't the kind of student that Pratt was looking for," he said.  "They wanted people who would work on something forever.  I didn't want to work on any project forever.  I intended to get things done."

He went professional in the late 1930s using a variety of pen names, including Jack Curtiss, before ultimately settling on Jack Kirby.

By 1940, Kirby was working full time at Timely Comics, the predecessor of Marvel.  While there, he and writer-editor Joe Simon co-created Captain America, which is still one of Marvel's most popular characters today. 

After serving his country during World War 2 (see Trivia below), Kirby returned to America and went to work for National Comics Publications, the company that would eventually be known as DC Comics. He worked for other publishers as well, including Harvey Comics, Hillman Periodicals and Crestwood Publications.  While at Crestwood, he and partner Simon created a genre of romance comics that was ultimately short lived.

In the 1950s, Kirby returned to where it all started, Timely Comics, which was by then known as Atlas Comics (it finally adopted the Marvel moniker in the 1960s).  At this point in his career, Kirby was working under writer-editor Stan Lee.  The two co-created many of Marvel's most popular characters, including Iron Man, Thor, The X-Men and The Hulk.  These titles brought critical acclaim to Marvel and boosted sales significantly.  Kirby felt he had been treated unfairly however, so in 1970, he returned to DC Comics.

Back at DC, Kirby created a saga known as Fourth World, which spanned several comic titles.  While they proved to be commercially unsuccessful and were ultimately canceled, one of the characters, Darkseid, continues to this day, and was even used as a season antagonist on the series Smallville

In the late 1970s, Kirby and Lee buried the hatchet.  Kirby would return to Marvel once again, but this too would be short lived.  He later ventured into television  animation and small, independent comics before ultimately retiring in the 1990s. 

Jack Kirby died of heart failure on February 6, 1994.  He was buried at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Los Angeles. 

Location: Beth Olam Section (near a row of trees)
Hebrew Translation: Jacob, Son of Benjamin
Inscription: An Inspiration to All

Rest in peace, Mr. Marvel.


  • Kirby chose his pen name as it reminded him of James Cagney.  Throughout his career, Kirby was often accused of trying to hide his Jewish heritage, accusations that greatly offended him.

  • As noted previously in this blog, Kirby was childhood friends with Leon Klinghoffer, who was destined to die at the hands of terrorists aboard the cruise ship Achille Lauro.  You can re-visit Klinghoffer's grave profile here.

  • Kirby served in the army during World War 2.  He was already well known as a comic book artist at the time, so he was made a scout, given the dangerous duty of advancing into Normandy towns ahead of his unit and drawing reconnaissance maps of the territory.

  • Earlier this year, a Jack Kirby biography was released by author Tom Scioli.  You can pick up a copy of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics from Amazon.

  • A few months after Kirby was laid to rest, murder victim Ron Goldman was buried just a few plots away.

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