Anyone familiar with the history of comic books should recognise the name Jack ‘King’ Kirby. As the father of much of Marvel’s mythology, his influence pre-dates Stan Lee and continues to this day. While his tales of Captain America, Black Panther, Darkseid and the Fantastic Four are almost as well known as Shakespeare these days, what is less well known are the many chapters of his own – rather interesting – personal story.
Jack Kirby: The Epic Life Of The King of Comics is an unofficial comic book biography written and drawn by Tom Scioli. Pieced together from numerous sources and interviews, it provides an unfiltered look at the man who crafted some of the finest artwork and stories of the modern age.
So what better way to tell the story of the King than through his most popular medium, the comic book? Each page is filled with a familiar 2×3 layout, with Jack himself seemingly narrating the storyboard of his own life. The book flows like a seamless tapestry, starting with his childhood spent on the streets of 1920s New York, onto his harrowing experiences during the Second World War and through into his many years working for both Marvel and DC during the swinging Sixties, all the way up to his sad death in 1994.
Jack not only lived through pivotal moments in history, he also created a lot of his own. For those less familiar with the industry, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life Of The King of Comics may seem a bit too free-flowing as we bounce from topic to topic and year to year, without Scioli providing cultural context to the work being discussed or the people involved.
But this is most definitely Jack Kirby’s history of comic books as he remembers it, complete with a narrative agenda that can be biased and, at times, uncomfortable. Kirby (and many others) famously did not get sufficient credit for his work at the time, with much of it going to the arguably still more famous Stan Lee. Jack’s life revolved around comics about good vs evil, so naturally his own story is peppered with villains. Stan Lee brought out a comic book style biography of his own back in 2015 and we can’t help but wish that Jack Kirby had been alive to read it, as it might have softened some of the bitterness that taints his recollections.
The artwork in the book is an impressive achievement – it constantly, subtly, evolves, reflecting Jack’s life and his own growth as an artist. Scioli is often touted as drawing with a Kirby style and it pays dividends in this work, as he cleverly turns panel backgrounds into intricate collages of some of Kirby’s most iconic works. Whether they’re fakes or a homage, we don’t care, as the opportunity to read/watch one of the masters of the art form creating in front of our eyes is an emotive experience.
Despite an unavoidable natural bias to some of the storytelling, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life Of The King of Comics is an opportunity for fans to read about comic book history from the man who created most of it.
Jack Kirby: The Epic Life Of The King Of Comics is out now.