Jack Kirby is probably the single most important figure in the development of American comic books. His career spanned seven decades, and though he is best-known for his work on super-hero titles, he defied simple categorization and worked in nearly every style of comic: horror, science fiction, romance, comedy, fantasy, funny animal, crime, war, western, and probably some others that I'm forgetting.
He didn't just define a single genre: he constantly defined (and re-defined) the entire comics medium, right up until his death in 1994. So in honor of his 96th birthday, we here at MTV Geek have assembled A Week Of Jack Kirby, a series of posts celebrating the life, work and inspiration of the man that Stan Lee dubbed simply 'The King'.
Today is Jack Kirby's 96th birthday, and more than a quarter-century after his first published work, his spirit permeates every corner of the comic industry. He possessed a seemingly unlimited imagination, creating new characters, concepts, and genres with every stroke of his pencil. And today, a truly staggering cross-section of the comics community have joined us to offer words and pictures that give an idea of what this one man, and his work, have meant to them. In fact, there were so many people contributing, we've had to break things up among several posts – for the entire series, click here.
And now, on with the show!
I wasn’t really surprised at how at how empty Hall 4C1-2 was at ECCC, but I was disappointed. A guy—an older black dude—sat down in front of me and my friend Jason and asked what this panel was about. We explained it was for Dwayne McDuffie, but that just resulted in a blank look. Jason explained that McDuffie worked on JLA and the JLU cartoon, and that he’d co-founded the Milestone imprint at DC. Somewhere a light went on in the guy’s head, causing him to nod and say, “Yeah, yeah, I heard he died.”
The thing is, I really couldn’t claim to be any more knowledgeable than that old dude who was obviously just looking for a place to chill in the middle of the Con. Ask me to rattle off a chunk of McDuffie’s work and I can go to the aforementioned JLA/JLU, the Milestone stuff, and his run on Fantastic Four—which I only knew about because I happened to be reading the run at the time post-Civil War and really dug what he was doing there. But here I was, sitting in a mostly-empty room, with some of the writer/editor’s friends and colleagues onstage to eulogize a man who’d died two weeks before.
If you wandered into the room you’d have seen Mark Waid up on stage leading the proceedings with Bob Harras and Marv Wolfman seated beside him. At the far end of the table was a younger guy named David Walker, who’d been a friend of McDuffie for 15 years, hoping to give the guy who’d been his mentor a proper sendoff. The whole thing was pretty mellow. I don’t think I was expecting to start crying or anything—in the grand scheme of things, two weeks is a long time relatively speaking and folks had move onto to other things in the Facebook/Twitter/blogosphere.
Waid set the tone for the remembrances in saying that McDuffie “pushed the boundaries and helped others push the boundaries of comics beyond pasty white guys.” Harras said that McDuffie’s biggest legacy while both he and Harras were assistant editors at Marvel was that he showed “a bunch of liberal white New Yorkers” who were pretty satisfied with the level of diversity in comics that they could do more. I actually really liked that bit. I loved the story Harras told of how McDuffie sent a survey around the Marvel offices asking how many of their black characters did not dress like a chicken.
A simple question and a funny story that kind of exposed the sort of weird default a writer could go into when writing about another race.
But then, according to Waid, McDuffie had what he called an insane curiosity about how things worked. Dude majored in physics and it was important to him, even in his superhero fiction, to have a plausible explanation for how things ticked. I have to imagine that when you take a step back, that mind was working overtime to understand what factors + what circumstances = black superheroes being associated with skateboards back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. What was that process and why was it okay? Read More...