Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jack Kirby's Unusued Character Ideas

I've written here before about a legendary comic book artist named Jack Kirby.  He worked in the field from before WWII, when comic books were still in their infancy, until just a few years before his death in 1994, at the age of 76. Along the way he created (or co-created) some of the most famous super-hero characters, including the X-Men, Captain America, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four, to name just a few (of hundreds).  But in his lifetime he never received either the broader public notoriety or the financial remuneration commensurate with the scope and importance of his contributions to the field.  You may have even read in recent months how his heirs are now suing Marvel Comics (and their new corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company) to reassert their rights to his comic book work.

I've also written here before how, in the early 1980s, Jack Kirby stopped drawing comic books for a time and instead worked in animation, doing character design work for Ruby-Spears.  They produced my all-time favorite Saturday morning cartoon, Thundarr The Barbarian.  The New York Times has published an article today (that you can read HERE) about how in the course of his work there Kirby prepared design proposals for dozens of shows that never made it on the air.  And these ideas have just sat in a warehouse, unused and unseen, for three decades. Now that super-heroes are hot commercial properties again, and now that the name "Jack Kirby" is getting more public recognition than ever before, the owners of the now defunct animation studio (seen in the current photo above), Sid Kroft and Marty Kroft and Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, are actively marketing these (almost lost) Kirby concepts around Hollywood.  

The New York Times article also has a link to a slideshow of 10 of these concepts.  While they're interesting artifacts of Kirby's later work, I wasn't particularly captivated by any of them. ("Roxie's Raiders," for example, looks to be merely a female Indiana Jones.)  Because Jack Kirby is such a beloved and revered figure in the world of comic fandom, there has always been an understandable reluctance to note too explicitly that by this point in his long career (he was almost 65 years old), his legendary creative and artistic powers had begun to fade a little.  Note how his age is never mentioned in this article. Nor is the fact that Jack Kirby had co-created Captain America in 1941, 40 years before, and the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and The Hulk in the early 1960s, almost 20 years before.

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