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Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics Hardcover – Illustrated, July 14, 2020
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“A fast-paced celebration of an underheralded legend within the comic-book industry.”—Kirkus Reviews
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY LIBRARY JOURNAL
This sweeping, full-color comic book biography tells the complete life story of Jack Kirby, co-creator of some of the most enduring superheroes and villains of the twentieth century for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and more. Critically acclaimed graphic novelist Tom Scioli breathes visual life into Kirby's life story--from his days growing up in New York during the Great Depression and discovering a love for science fiction and cartoons to his time on the frontlines in the European theatre of World War II where he experienced the type of action and adventure he'd later imbue his comic pages with, and on to his world-changing collaborations at Marvel with Stan Lee, where the pair redefined comics as a part of pop culture.
Just as every great superhero needs a villain to overcome, Kirby's story also includes his struggles to receive the recognition and compensation that he believed his work deserved. Scioli captures his moves from Marvel to DC and back again, showing how Kirby himself and later his family fought to preserve his artistic legacy.
Drawn from an unparalleled imagination and a life as exciting as his comic book tales, Kirby's super-creations have influenced subsequent generations of creatives in the comics field and beyond. Now, readers can experience the life and times of a comics titan through the medium that made him famous.
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“Artist-writer Tom Scioli has created a magnificent tribute to Jack Kirby, the true King of Comics. Insightful, fun, and crafted with both love and respect. Bravo!”—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of V-Wars
“This is clearly the comic that Tom Scioli has been building toward for decades. He's answered every question I've had about Kirby within the pages of this biography. it's genius! This is the masterwork that Jack Kirby deserves.”—Ed Piskor, author of Hip Hop Family Tree and Red Room and co-host of YouTube channel Cartoonist Kayfabe
About the Author
- Publisher : Ten Speed Press; Illustrated edition (July 14, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1984856901
- ISBN-13 : 978-1984856906
- Item Weight : 1.76 pounds
- Dimensions : 7.25 x 0.89 x 10.26 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #77,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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A Graphic Novel by Tom Scioli
I am a huge fan of Jack Kirby. I started reading comics with his Challengers of the Unknown and stopped reading comics when he left Marvel in 1977. And there is no question in my mind that the comic book industry and the companies Kirby’s helped create did not treat him fairly or well.
This is an interesting 200 page graphic novel. This unauthorized bio may serve as a good introduction to someone who knows little about Jack Kirby. Scioli, as with all good comic artists is not just illustrating a book but he is telling the story.
I divide this book into two parts the first 100 pages and the second. He tells the book from Kirby’s point of view, the book is in Kirby’s first person. In the first part of the book Scioli handles the various controversies in Kirby’s life well. Scioli illustrates the early life of Jack Kirby. I found most interesting the segment where Kirby is in the Army and what he has to go through to get through World War II. Later, Scioli loses balance, telling only Kirby’s side. Very often Kirby is shown to be a victim and not in control of his own profession’s path. I did enjoy reading the book, this ism my only complaint.
Simon and Kirby, in this book, are told by an accountant, that their boss, Martin Goodman, is cheating them out of money from Capt. America so they seek work at Timely’s (Marvel) competitor National (DC). What is left out is that the accountant was also working for a competitor who wanted to hire the pair away from Goodman. When the two are discovered to be working at National comics they get fired from Timely It appears to Kirby that Stan Lee, being totally disloyal to him, might have ratted them out. No one says that Lee might have been loyal to his cousin and employer, Goodman.
Jack Schiff, who served as Kirby agent when they sold Sky Masters to the newspapers, successfully sued to get his 4% commission. Schiff’s full side of the argument is cleverly avoided here.
Scioli DOES properly show both sides to the legendary story of Jack Kirby coming to Marvel to find work soon after Joe Maneely passed.
But soon Jack seems to be in charge of creating everything at Marvel as Stan just stands by. Kirby here is given full credit for Iron Man. Kirby did do the cover, the initial design of the character, but that was discarded a few months later. Don Heck, who is not mentioned, along with Lee and Larry Lieber, created Tony Stark, Stark industries, Happy and Pepper and so much more. So Scioli does to Heck when he accuses others of doing to Kirby. Kirby is also shown several times working on a Spider-Man as if he created the concept and the character. Ditko does get a three-sentence mention.
The book once again suggests that Kirby wanted to cancel Thor, a big seller for Marvel, and start the New Gods. No comic book company in the world would stop publishing a successful title.
Personally, I was unfamiliar with Scioli's work before approaching this book... my only experience with him was seeing him on the Cartoonist Kayfabe YouTube channel (dissecting and discussing various comics along with channel hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg), and flipping through his retelling of the Fantastic Four history, "Grand Design"... and, honestly, I wasn't that impressed. The format was borrowed from Piskor's "X-Men Grand Design", so it seemed a bit unoriginal... they're pals, so I'm sure Piskor was cool with it, but I was unconvinced that Scioli was the man for the job. For, although unfamiliar with Scioli, I am a huge fan of Kirby's. Grew up with his books as a kid (mostly reprints), and followed him wherever he went... I distinctly remember my first visit to a comic book shop and seeing Captain Victory #8 staring back at me from the stands!!! Although I outgrew Kirby's stuff once I discovered Undergrounds/Alternatives/Adult comics, I was drawn back into his orbit once I discovered the Jack Kirby Collector magazine, edited by John Morrow. That discovery led me on not only a mission to acquire as much of the man's work as possible, but to piece together his history. So, any time a new JKC mag came out, I got it. Any time a book on the King's life and creations came out, I got it. I immersed myself in Kirby's career and history. So, a book like this is most definitely right up my alley.
Although, admittedly, the first thought that popped into my mind was "is this dude gonna get Kirby's story right??" Let's face it, as outlined above, Kirby's story is rich and varied... even a master cartoonist would have a monumental task ahead of him to make a coherent story out of so much. And, since I wasn't convinced of Scioli's mettle, I was entering into this book with low expectations. Not to be insulting to Scioli, but there are many books and articles out there that I've picked apart because of their mistakes or omissions. And I'm definitely not the only Kirby aficionado out there like that... there's literally an army of them!!! So, having said that, it's pretty clear that Scioli had his work cut out for him.
And the verdict is: Scioli did a really good job!!! There wasn't really anything in the book that I was unfamiliar with, but he did an admirable job of including everything important in the narrative without getting bogged down. If you're as intimately familiar with Kirby's history as I am, you can tell that Scioli definitely did his homework and researched his rear end off!!! It would be so easy to go off on a tangent regarding so many periods of Kirby's career... Scioli avoids that, however, and keeps the story moving along. I'm sure that if he had his druthers, he would have liked to have double the pages to get into more detail in certain instances. However, he wisely avoids this and targets his book at a general audience, for the most part. If you're not familiar with Kirby and what he did, this really is an excellent primer.
Cartooning-wise, Scioli definitely has chops!!! He uses a 6-panel grid for the vast majority of the book, and keeps the storytelling simple. That is a sign of a good cartoonist. His drawing style is nice and simple. It's in the service of the story at hand. There are a lot of words here, granted, and it would be somewhat expected for a lesser cartoonist to try and make the pictures more elaborate to compete with the wordage... however, Scioli finds a nice balance, and neither really overpower. There are instances, granted, where the verbiage seems hefty from panel-to-panel... but not in an uncomfortable or distracting way. Scioli has a stylized way of drawing Kirby that differentiates him from the other characters... by and large, the rest of the cast is drawn pretty straightforward. Kirby, seemingly touched with a bit of manga influence, stands out with his huge eyes and exaggerated physique. It's an interesting choice, but Scioli makes it work. One of my favorite instances is the introduction of Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who is an extremely tall guy. He dwarfs Kirby, almost twice his height... but those of us in the know realize who the TRUE giant is!!!
If I had a complaint, it's that I believe that Scioli gave Kirby's battle for his artwork/property short shrift... although mentioned, the level of scandal that ripped through the industry wasn't really addressed. I also thought that Gary Groth, the editor of the Comics Journal and the guy who basically spearheaded the fight to get Kirby his artwork back, should have at least been mentioned. Besides leading the charge against Marvel on Kirby's behalf, I believe it was Groth who put together the Kirby Awards and also conducted a lengthy interview where Kirby first came out and went into detail regarding his role in the creation of the Marvel characters. There's a bit of the interview alluded to, but the interviewer is anonymous. This is a glaring omission.
However, that's really a small complaint when given the scope of the story at hand. And Scioli definitely deserves praise and congratulations for pulling this epic off. If there was ever a cartoonist that lived a life that deserved to be depicted in comics form, it's most definitely Kirby. And, although there are those out there who may say a more "accomplished" or "well known" cartoonist should been the one to tell this story, fact is that Scioli definitely rose to the occasion and knocked it out of the park!!! This book was a no-brainer for me, being such a Kirby fan, but Scioli surprised me with the depth of research that went into the story and the level of cartooning on display... he may have made a fan out of me, and I'd most definitely take a look at whatever else he produces!! Highly recommended!!!
Anyhow. Great book. Definitely recommend.
Top reviews from other countries
“This is a biography of Jack Kirby, not an autobiography or memoir” reads a statement before we start our journey. Nevertheless, it passes itself off as the latter two. “The first person narration in this work is a literary device,” it explains, “The story is told through ‘Kirby’s’ point of view adapted from a number of sources, including interviews he gave throughout his life. There are differences of opinion and other points of view about the events depicted in this work”.
Indeed there are.
In a lively debate in the comments section on the Amazon U.S. site for John Morrow’s Stuf’ Said book (first edition), one commenter sagely said: “What a sad thing it would be to hold a grudge for 25 years. What a strange thing it is to hold another man's grudges 25 years after he's gone. Stan and Jack were very different people and both were critical to the eventual mainstream success of their industry”.
It’s hard to believe that we’re still seeing ‘Kirby saved Marvel’s a**’ narratives nearly thirty years after his passing, even after the cunning idiocy of Two Morrows’ Stuf’ Said last year, but this comic strip is so over the top that it may inadvertently put the tin lid on these silly distortions. Who could read this, and not see the bias?
In it, a bright-eyed manga-style Jack Kirby, childlike, cute and sympathetic like a big ol’ puppy dog, saves the day in every panel, and yes, he does everything, absolutely everything, while drab, banal, almost faceless colleagues, including the much maligned Stan Lee, Kirby’s colleague, friend (he thought), advocate, and decade-long employer, stand around helplessly, making dopey, dumb-faced contributions like “I always liked the name Hulk”. For some reason, Stan and the rest of the Marvel bullpen never actually drool and say “Duuhhh”, an example of rare restraint in this epic.
What is missing? Nothing, as far as I can tell, except the experiences, observations, and opinions of everybody besides Kirby and his devoted wife Ros, who only ever heard Kirby’s side of things and was rightly loyal and supportive of her husband (it is a shame, though, that she prevented them from reconciling). Every single story Kirby ever told about his life, true, false, or embellished, is chronologically related in dull, unquestioning matter-of-fact panels, although his more embarrassing statements (that even Morrow included), are absent, and the Notes reveal that most of the bragging and the more colourful tales come from one single source. Stan Lee, of course, perhaps Kirby’s greatest admirer, collaborator, and life-long supporter, is made to look like a thieving, talentless fool. This is the fallback position of a certain kind of ‘fan’, because otherwise, how could Kirby have “done it all”?
Only Kirby comes out of this looking good. Everyone else is portrayed as a background Muppet. I wonder what he would have actually thought of this strange publication. The other Marvel artists are imitators. The other Marvel writers are jealous. And all this bitterness and more is put into his mouth and perpetuated by admirer (and imitator) Tom Scioli.
Scioli’s book is diminished by his decision not to narrate events as they occur objectively, but instead channel the ghost of Jack Kirby over twenty years after his passing, with the entire events of his life presented from his unchallenged perspective. Even though he’s quoting Kirby unquestioningly and in a glowing positive light, it's to the detriment of everyone else. This is creepy, partisan, and dishonest, and undermines what could have been a worthy project that might have told the truth about his triumphs and his tragedy.
Kirby was a genius from anybody’s perspective, and his story could easily have been told honestly and still let his character and creativity shine like a beacon. There is no reason to do down the people he worked with; he still emerges a giant. Despite the rage other people stoked within him, he was essentially a man with integrity. He was a creator before creator’s rights, and his anger at Marvel’s exploitation of his art and invention for toys and TV cartoons without compensation was justified (Lee and Kirby were both stiffed of their story credit on Hanna-Barbera’s superb 1960s Fantastic Four cartoon, which went to the no-talents who adapted the comics). However, had there been creator’s rights in the ’60s, it would also have been harder for him to claim that he “did it all”; this would have had to be determined at source, at the time. And while Marvel’s refusal to return his art was petty and vindictive, and extraordinarily bad business and PR, it’s retrieval might have been easier without years of abuse, antagonism, and vitriol from the Kirby camp.
It is revealing that Scioli jumps right over the Silver Age, when Kirby’s greatest work was done, discussing barely a single comic or page of art, and pausing only to highlight the well-publicised grievances, such as the infamous newspaper interview and the falling out over the Silver Surfer. The Inhumans and the Silver Surfer are included because they are clearly Kirby’s babies, but Kirby’s finest and fecund period in the mid-‘60s is mostly hopscotched over because that would mean acknowledging Stan Lee’s contribution and get in the way of portraying Stan as a grandstanding clueless oaf (Scioli delights in calling Stan ’Stanley’ throughout, in the full knowledge that Stan didn’t like it). Consequently, while all other periods of Kirby’s creativity are discussed in microscopic detail, you will not see Doctor Doom stealing the Surfer’s cosmic power, Reed in the Negative zone, Jane Foster in Asgard, Captain America’s verbal jousting with the Red Skull as they fight over the Cosmic Cube, the tension and mounting hysteria as the Mad Thinker turns Ben bad, or any of the other classic Marvel Comics where Lee’s dialogue displays his input as the greatest comics writer in the history of the medium, with or without Kirby.
However, while supposedly contributing nothing, Stan somehow managed to change the meaning of Kirby’s stories. On page 137, we’re told that Fantastic Four 66 and 67, introducing “Him”, the golden Jesus figure who later became Adam Warlock, was initially supposed to be a critique of Steve Ditko’s reactionary political views until Stan ‘sabotaged’ it. But just a few pages earlier, on 134, we find Jack sympathetically listen to Ditko complain that the liberal Lee is misrepresenting his intentions by subverting his work—opinions he also disagrees with three pages later. Here, Scioli has Kirby showing Ditko departing Marvel as a man of integrity. And when Lee dismisses the idea of killing off all the characters of Thor, one of their top-selling titles, to bring in the New Gods, he’s apparently being unreasonable.
The 1940s and ‘50s are discussed item by item (compare the detail in which Simon and Kirby’s partnership is portrayed next to the ten year alliance of Lee and Kirby), as is Kirby’s ill-fated tenure at DC in the 1970s and the tail end of his career when he won some minor victories and paydays. Even when Lee is shown stepping in to stop the negative poison pen letters being published in Kirby’s late-’70s comics, it is shown as flatly as possible and without any acknowledgement that Kirby’s writing was indeed bloody awful. It seems odd that the letters columns were being wilfully sabotaged by writers who thought he was yesterday’s news, because they then wanted to script for him, as he alleges. Does this make sense, or is it another of his paranoid fantasies that blighted his relationship with Marvel even after Stan had given him a second chance after the DC fiasco? When the Hulk is drafted in for a guest star appearance in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to boost sales of The Eternals and save the title, Kirby sees it only as an affront and inconvenience.
His move from DC to Marvel in the 1950s just before the creation of the Fantastic Four is the closest the book comes to fact-juggling and time-shifting, and his most creative decade (with Lee) cannot be faced without accepting a few simple truths, and so the emphasis is instead on his hefty workload and what an effort it was carrying the entire company on his shoulders rather than how or where the characters came about. How much better Kirby would have come across if we could have been shown an honest portrait of the two of them when they were still friends, excitedly creating the Marvel Universe at the peak of their creativity. Instead, Kirby is shown giving Stan all his ideas at the birth of Marvel (because otherwise how are the family going to eat?), working all the hours God sends (because Stan keeps giving him layout work), and sly digs at Kirby coming up with first drafts of Spider-Man and Thor almost subconsciously are scattered around in the earlier years. Any time Kirby told someone he came up with something, whether it was Daredevil’s Billy Club (detailed on several occasions in the comics by Lee and Wally Wood), or the name for the X-Men, Scioli obediently and unquestioningly adds the panel. To accommodate all the revisionism of the Kirby zealots, Joan Lee’s suggestion to Stan that he create the super-hero book he wants to do, if he’s quitting anyway (or ‘being fired’), is ‘adjusted’ to be a more general pep talk about comics in general. Which it famously wasn’t. But that way it doesn’t get in the way of the proven nonsense that Kirby came up with the Fantastic Four on his own.
The insulting and libellous notion from Kirby’s wildest, most delusional period, that Kirby walked into Lee’s office to find him sobbing as the furniture is moved out before suggesting numerous seize-the-day fix-its is so palpably complete fantasy (one of the few things Lee bothered to categorically deny) that even Scioli is obliged to add a page showing Stan’s incredulity and alternate version of events (and that’s despite neither Lee or Kirby being around to see each other in court over it; it’s as if even Scioli realises this is just one shovel-full too many). I wonder if Scioli had produced this work after Kirby’s death but before Stan’s, whether it would finally have tipped the guy into defending himself in court, as he would have been going after Scioli instead of poor old Jack. Incidentally, Kirby’s solo (of course) creation of the Hulk as shown here is particularly sly, implying that he took inspiration from public domain materials including the B-movie Beast of Yucca Flats (Lee himself always made sure to cite Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde as primary sources), where in reality, Hulk no. 1 resembles the possibly more contentious Amazing Colossal Man. Indeed, Scioli is so keen to exclude Lee from the creative process that he inadvertently shoots Kirby in the foot, by implying that only Jack was taking ideas from television, when the sci-fi and supernatural shorts that preceded the Marvel super-heroes show that both Stan and Jack were avidly pillaging from the late night re-runs. When Lee is shown giving Kirby all the credit for coming up with the Surfer, something that happened too often for Scioli to leave out, this is represented by a panel showing Kirby taken by surprise that he did. In one particularly ludicrous panel, Kirby is shown presciently trying to revive super-heroes before either Showcase 4, the Justice League, or FF no. I, by wilfully suggesting sneaking elements of them into the westerns and monster books. There are no super-heroes in the monster stories, only a pre-Ant-Man Henry Pym in Tales to Astonish, after the Marvel Age has begun. Yes, Rawhide Kid fought a few costumed adversaries for variety, but this is absolute twaddle.
Once again, because of some of the reactions to my review of the aforementioned revisionist history Stuf’ Said, I feel I must try and pre-empt some of the inevitable comments to come by pointing out for the umpteenth time that I am a massive admirer of Jack Kirby’s work in comics. See my other reviews of Kirby comics on Amazon. He was huge, he was brilliant, he was great, he was extraordinary, he was visionary.
Jack Kirby was almost certainly the most important comic book artist of the 20th century. He was leagues ahead of anybody else, even in the creative maelstrom that was the 1960s. He played a major, massive role in making Marvel what it was, and became, and his influence is everywhere in popular culture. But—are you ready for this, conspiracy theorists and basement-dwellers, hold tight—he did *not* single-handedly create the Marvel Comics universe all on his own, or do all the work on everything, for everyone, and you do your idol no favours by constantly pushing the narrative that he did. It diminishes both him as a person and his actual contribution to constantly try and take away or belittle the input of everybody else, from Joe Simon to Joe Sinnott, and especially Stan Lee, without whom there would have been no Marvel to elevate him to a comic-book superstar. And that’s just the way it is.
If anyone “saved anyone’s a**”, it was Lee, who took Kirby on at Atlas/Marvel, not once, but twice, after DC dumped him, first in the 1950s, and then again in the 1970s. But Lee never bothered to point that out, he just shrugged, and let Jack keep on digging his hole. I feel sometimes that maybe Lee should have fought his corner. It would have been easy to refute this nonsense and stand up for reality, and his dignified silence just served to embolden Kirby and his acolytes to take an increasingly extreme position. And yet the guy who was too kind, respectful, and sympathetic to Jack to defend himself, the guy who gave the Marvel artists their canvas and made them look better than they were on their own, too big a man to lower himself to negative public bickering even though he was more than capable at PR, who said to both Kirby and Ditko, you know what, call yourselves co-creators, say you did it all, I don’t care, let’s make comics, is constantly vilified as a grinning carny con-man by so-called comics fans with less ability, class and charm than Lee had in his middle finger. When Silver Age Fantastic Four, Captain America, and Thor were all over, and the pair burnt out, Lee eventually retired from the hard graft of writing, and Kirby’s career, while he was still drawing beautifully, went into freefall as he insisted, quite wrongly, that he could write as well.
Poor old Stan. He never had a “version”. He gave endless kudos and credit to Jack consistently, during and after the Silver Age, during and after the constant sniping in the early ’70s and 1980s and on. Even after Kirby’s death, with the Kirby-did-it-all brigade carrying on without him, and up until his own, he carried on singing his praises for what Jack actually did contribute. He just had reality, and the physical evidence of the books themselves on his side. When we open them, we see he gave Kirby credit, constant praise, great dialogue, the best inkers, creative freedom, as much work as he could handle for ten years, and transformed him within a decade from a jobbing everyman comic-book illustrator of twenty years anonymity to a unique and distinctive pop culture legend for the rest of his days. Stan Lee—what a rotten, thieving, selfish bastard (this is sarcasm, review checkers).
But you know what? By putting Kirby’s bitter, ungrateful, and self-aggrandising version of events so unquestioningly complete and in chronological order with all its preposterous exaggerations intact in easy-to-understand comic strip panels, Scioli, with his Funko-Kirby protagonist front and centre in a world of invisible non-entity background characters, may have inadvertently put this nonsense to bed forever. It is so obviously and hilariously one-sided and dubious it is almost satire. Despite having “done it all”, Kirby fell flat on his face without Joe Simon and Stan Lee to work alongside. If Scioli, in his comic book work, wasn’t so obviously a Kirby copyist and fan-boy, you could almost mistake this for a send-up of Kirby’s late-life fantasies. Perhaps now this version of reality from the Kirby-verse has been put into simple, crystal clear comic-strip panels so perversely biased, it will finally dawn on even the most rabid Kirby acolyte just how silly and ridiculous Kirby’s position was as he drifted further and further away from actual facts after leaving Marvel in the early ’70s.
Don’t waste your money on this tosh. Also available on Amazon, just a few clicks away, is Fantastic Four Epic Collection 5 (issues 69 to 87). Not only does this offer nearly 500 pages of Lee and Kirby at their absolute zenith, both men firing on all cylinders to the peak of perfection, you will experience the greatest combination of story and art in the history of the comics medium. Having seen why Lee needed Kirby, and indeed was fired up by him (although he worked beautifully with a dozen other talented artists as well), if you turn to the back for the extras, you will see why Kirby needed Lee. There you will find five pages of original art with Kirby’s plot and dialogue notations in the margins of the sort that Kirby fanatics hold up to demonstrate that Lee ‘didn’t do anything’ and ‘Kirby did it all’, because, look, there’s story instructions and actual words on the edge of the page. Now compare what Kirby wrote as a rough guide to what he’d drawn with what Lee has ultimately put in the word balloons. What you see in the margins is what Kirby put in the balloons of his solo late ’70s stuff—the amazing concepts and beautifully illustrated unreadable plotless work of his final years.
Tom Scioli has done an excellent job of synthesizing what is known and what is lore into a coherent whole.
Some of it is heartbreaking and some of it is a cautionary tale, but none of it is boring.
So much information. Lots of nods and easter eggs to find throughout the book
and very touching and moving in places too.
Well worth the money