Today is Jack Kirby's 91'st birthday. He died in 1994, but still lives as only true artists do.
I didn't realize, back in the the late '70s, how privileged I was to have met him. I was almost 14, and the San Diego Comic-Con (not yet "International) had a "Celebrity Brunch" every year, where fans could pay an incredibly high price (I think it was *gasp* $20!) to have a brunch with their favorite comics creators artists.
There were a number of great artists on the brunch list - I think Jim Starlin was there, and maybe even Steranko - but my first choice was Jack Kirby. And, thanks to an amazingly indulgent mother who took me to San Diego AND paid for admission and brunch, I was able to attend. But I was utterly stunned when I was given the news that I had actually gotten my application in early enough to sit with the KING himself!
Needless to say, I was awestruck. He was a very small man (as the picture of us together will show) but he had a HUGE personality. And he absolutely loved talking to us kids (and kids we were for the most part - no aging fanboys yet). I was one of the youngest at the table, yet he spoke to me with the same respect and interest he showed the other, older kids there. (High schoolers!) He told interesting war stories from WWII, stories about the Marvel days, his New Gods saga, all sorts of stuff.
I personally asked him about why Vince Colletta was no longer inking for him. Vince had been Kirby's inker on Thor at Marvel, and had followed him to DC to do the Fourth World saga, but within a half a year he was gone, replaced by Mike Royer and others. Now, at the time there was very little "fan press", and I didn't know about how reviled Colletta was amongst the Illuminati of the comics world, nor how he had a tendency to leave out parts of the pencils at random, and add shading where it wasn't indicated. I just knew I liked the soft, almost etched quality he gave Kirby's pencils.
And rather than rip into Vince (which, I've read, he did privately when he finally found out how much Colletta was changing his work) he simply said "Well, Vince is a great guy. But he was leaving some stuff out. So we though we'd try someone else". It was a few years before I understood that Kirby was teaching me about the concept of "class".
As an artist? Unparalleled. Literally - look up the definition. I would argue, without hyperbole, that he's in a class of 20th century artists along with Picasso, Wyeth and Du Champ. He did not re-define comics art - he defined it, in a way that no other artist before or since has had the guts or talent to do. Others have been great, there have been many geniuses, but only Kirby allowed himself to be the form in the way no others have dared.
And besides, I have this great picture of us together at the con!
(And yes, when my house burns to the ground, as all houses inevitably must, this is the first thing I'm taking out with me).
For more on Kirby, check out these links:
The Comics Reporter
The Kirby Museum