Saturday, February 6, 2010

When I Met Jack Kirby In 1988

I met the legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby back in the summer of 1988.  He died on this date in 1994, at the age of 76.    (That's him in the foreground of the photo above, and that's me in the purple shirt. And yes, that is the actor David Carradine in there, too.  I wrote previously about meeting him HERE.)

Jack Kirby rose from humble beginnings as Jacob Kurtzberg in Depression-era New York City to become a legendary comic book artist under his pen name "Jack Kirby," a co-creator of many of today's most famous super heroes, including the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Captain America, to name just a few (of hundreds).  And that's just the merest hint of his vast influence on the field of comic book illustration and on pop culture in general in post-WWII America. You've probably never heard of him, though. That's partly because in his time comic book publishers did not promote the names of individual creators.  But it's also partly because he was not an enthusiastic self-promotor, unlike some of his collaborators like Stan Lee (a name you may well recognize).   

I was introduced to him in 1988 at a meeting of comic book distributors near Los Angeles.  I was in awe of the man, even though he was physically smaller than I expected (and much smaller than me, even as a teenager), and was by then a little frail as well.  I had to be encouraged to show him some of the sample comic book pages that I had drawn. Despite the fact that my drawings were pretty crude and showed, I suspect, very little artistic promise, he took them with care, looked them over for a surprisingly long time, and then offered me some very sincere, if soft spoken, words of encouragement.  There were no insulting pauses or left-handed compliments in what he said. Just encouragement, offered genuinely.  And I was elated by that.  So enthused in fact, that despite replaying every second of that meeting in my mind over-and-over again for months, it wasn't until maybe a year or so later that I realized he had never actually said anything complimentary about any specific aspect of my artwork.   On reflection, all he'd really done was encourage me to keep practicing, in essence. But he did so in a gentle and positive way that somehow seemed approving.

That's one little moment in time which illustrates the characteristic graciousness of the man, by all accounts. I still have those pages I showed him that day.  And when I look at them today, I don't think of the dozens of hours I spent laboring over them in my childhood bedroom.  I think back very fondly to that three minutes when they were in the hands of the legendary Jack Kirby.

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