Tag Archives: X Men

Jew of the Week: Jack Kirby

The King of Comics

Jack Kirby (Credit: Susan Skaar)

Jacob Kurtzberg (1917-1994) was born in Manhattan to poor Jewish immigrants from Austria. He loved to draw as a child, and taught himself art techniques by studying comic strips and political cartoons in newspapers. He was rejected by the Alliance Art School (a branch of the Educational Alliance in Manhattan that was created by wealthy Jews to assist and integrate poor Eastern European Jewish immigrants), and quit Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute after a week. At 19, he started working on newspaper comic strips, first under the pseudonym Jack Curtiss. For a time he worked on Popeye cartoons, then switched to comic books. He worked on many productions over the next few years, and published under a variety of pen names, finally settling on Jack Kirby. Soon, Kirby teamed up with Joe Simon, and the two were hired by Timely Comics, later renamed Marvel Comics. Simon and Kirby’s first creation was Captain America. The comic was a huge success, but Marvel didn’t pay a good wage so they moved over to DC Comics. There, they produced a number of hits, selling over a million copies each month. During World War II, Kirby was drafted to the army and fought in Normandy. In the winter, he had severe frostbite and military doctors nearly amputated both of his legs. He was able to recover, and was awarded a number of medals, including the Bronze Star. Returning to America after the war, Kirby reunited with Simon and the two worked on a number of projects, including a stretch making popular romance comics that sold several million copies a month. At one point, they ran their own comics company. Eventually, the partnership soured and the two parted ways. Kirby eventually returned to Marvel. Partnering with Stan Lee, the two went on to revolutionize comics and usher in its “Silver Age”. Their first creation was the Fantastic Four, followed by more famous figures like the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Galactus, Silver Surfer, Black Panther, and the X-Men. In 1963, they combined some of these heroes to create The Avengers. Many of these characters have since been adapted to the big screen, making the Marvel Cinematic Universe the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. (The latest – and for now, final – installment of The Avengers, Endgame, opens this week and is expected to break nearly all movie records.) Kirby has been credited with being “the single most influential figure in the turnaround in Marvel’s fortunes from the time he rejoined the company.” He helped make comic book characters and their stories deeper and richer, more vibrant and alive, and more meaningful for readers young and old. Kirby also pioneered a number of new art techniques, including his famous “Kirby Krackle” energy fields. In 1970, he moved back to work for DC Comics, then came back to Marvel in 1976. During this time, he created The Eternals (rumoured to be the next big Marvel film series). Through the 1980s and until his last days, Kirby continued to create characters and draw comics. He was involved in a number of cartoons and film animations, too. Kirby felt like he never got the credit he deserved, and spent a great deal of time fighting for the rights to his own work. At the end, he only got about 2000 pages of the 13,000 pages he drew for Marvel alone. Nonetheless, the impact he had on the comic books industry, and on the world of art and film in general is immeasurable. Many artists, writers, and filmmakers point to him as their main inspiration. Kirby has been called “the King of Comics” and “one of the chief architects of the American imagination.”

How the “Splitting of the Sea” Can Change Your Life

Words of the Week

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
– Gandhi

The first issue of The Avengers (September 1963); cover of Fantastic Four #72 (March 1968), showing characteristic “Kirby Krackles” in the background; a page from Fantastic Four #61 (June 1966) illustrated by Jack Kirby.

Jew of the Week: Stan Lee

The Genius Behind Marvel Comics

Stan Lee (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Stanley Martin Lieber (1922-2018) was born in Manhattan to Romanian-Jewish immigrants. He grew up in poverty, working all sorts of odd jobs from a young age, including delivering sandwiches and selling newspaper subscriptions. He dreamed of becoming the next great American novelist, and wrote obituaries in his spare time. Upon graduating from high school at 16, he got a job as an assistant at Timely Comics, a company started by his cousin’s husband, Martin Goodman. Lieber spent his time refilling inkwells, erasing pencil marks, and bringing lunches – for $8 a week. Eventually, he got a chance to write something of his own. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (also Jews) had recently come up with a new hit superhero – Captain America – and needed content. They gave the young man a shot, and he wrote his first story under the pseudonym “Stan Lee”. He would later explain that he did this because in those days comics were still unpopular and generally regarded as silly, and he was embarrassed to put his real name. His story was a success, turning Lee into a writer. When Kirby and Simon left Timely Comics over a dispute with Goodman, Lee was put as a temporary editor, despite being just 19 years old. As his stories continued to be hugely successful, Lee went from temporary editor to editor-in-chief, holding the position for over 30 years (except for a few years of service in World War II). Timely Comics would be renamed Marvel Comics, and Lee would co-create (mostly with Jack Kirby, who returned to the company) some of the most popular superheros of all time, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Hulk; the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and the Avengers. Lee’s heroes and stories were unique in that they did not portray the typical, flawless protagonist. Instead, his characters were more complex, had everyday problems, and were sometimes just outright nerdy. The stories explored deeper, and at times darker, themes. These became wildly popular, opening up the comic book market to a much wider audience. Lee also pioneered a new approach of connecting comics writers with their fans to build a strong comic book community. Unlike others, he would credit writers and illustrators right at the front of the issue, and even name inkers and letterers that were typically omitted from mention. Lee was at the forefront of social change, writing about serious topics that were still taboo (like drug abuse), while introducing the first African superhero in comics in 1966 (Black Panther) and the first African-American superhero in 1969 (Falcon). Lee himself wrote countless stories, edited just about all the others, and also penned a monthly article, “Stan’s Soapbox”. In 1981, he moved to Los Angeles to take Marvel from print to television. He would serve as a producer on multiple TV and film adaptations of Marvel characters, most famously in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe – now the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. Lee was also a noted philanthropist and has done a great deal of charity work (especially through his Stan Lee Foundation). He was happily married for nearly seven decades. Lee struggled after his wife passed away last year, and a number of people sought to take advantage of him in his old age. Sadly, he passed away yesterday, at 95. Disney CEO Bob Iger called him “a superhero in his own right,” and said: “The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart.” Click here to see a tribute to Stan Lee, featuring some of his best movie cameos.

9 Ways to Talk Like a Jew

Words of the Week

I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.
– Stan Lee

Stan Lee’s First Comic, 1941