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The Words of Jack Kirby

Perhaps the most influential and prolific comic book artist of all time, Jack Kirby (1917 – 1994), was also a writer and editor. Kirby entered the comics industry at its beginning in the 1930s, having taught himself how to draw by tracing characters from comic strips in newspapers. In 1940, writer-editor Joe Simon and Kirby created the highly successful superhero character Captain America for Timely Comics, the company which was to evolve into Marvel Comics. Teamed with Simon, Kirby also created numerous other characters for Marvel and for National Comics Publications, later to become DC Comics.

After the Second World War in which he served, Kirby and Simon created the genre of romance comics. But it was in the 1960s, teamed with writer-editor Stan Lee that Kirby co-created many of the company's major characters, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk, achieving fame and critical acclaim. In 1970, feeling he had been treated unfairly, Kirby left the company for DC, where he created his Fourth World saga, returning to Marvel briefly in the mid-to-late 1970s. In 1987 he was one of the three inaugural inductees of the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.

Though usually standing in the shadow of Stan Lee as far as the writing of comics goes, Kirby had his own flair and plenty to say, as this selection of quotes shows:

‘I taught myself how to draw, and I soon found out it was what I really wanted to do. I didn't think I was going to create any great masterpieces like Rembrandt or Gauguin. I thought comics was a common form of art, and strictly American in my estimation, because America was the home of the common man - and show me the common man that can't do a comic. So comics is an American form of art that anyone can do with a pencil and paper.’

'Life at best is bittersweet.’

'Once we've learned enough about the universe we will admit to ourselves that we will never know everything.'

'It's not letting your anger out that gets people hurt. It’s keeping the anger locked up in side that hurts you.’

‘You need that stimulation. Stimulation to make you an individual. And the draftsmanship, hang it….You don’t have to be perfect. You are never going to do a Sistine Chapel, unless someone ties you to a ceiling. Damn perfection.’

‘All a man has in this field is pressure. And I think the pressure supplies a stimulation. You have your own stresses, that will supply your own stimulation. If you want to do it, you’ll do it. And you’ll do it anyway you can.’

'All life on Earth is subject to the rumbles and rockings of the parent stucture which has no control over the disastrous effects of its stresses and strains on whatever thrives on its surface. The ambitions and dreams of men are irrelevant to this planetary giant which pursues its own way in its own manner. Man is its child, tenant and still, to this date, its captive.'

'Remember how unimportant you are because that knowledge will gain you more respect than someone who thinks the world revolves around them.'

'It's funny how easy it is to point out other people’s mistakes and make our own mistakes seem insignificant.'

'A good commander can beat the odds. A great commander can beat the gods.'

'Drawing a good figure doesn’t make you a good artist. I can name you ten men, right off the bat, who draw better than I do. But I don’t think their work gets as much response as mine. I can’t think of a better man to draw Dick Tracy than Chester Gould, who certainly is no match for Leonardo Da Vinci. But Chester Gould told the story of Dick Tracy. He told the story of Dick Tracy the way it should have been told. No other guy could have done it. It’s not in the draftsmanship, it’s in the man.’

‘I feel that any man that tries, any man that comes out with something we like, is a good man. A man doesn't have to be Leonardo Da Vinci to be sincere.’

‘I felt the comics grew because they became the common man's literature, the common man's art, the common man's publishing.’

‘I began to learn about the universe myself and take it seriously. I know the names of the stars. I know how near or far the heavenly bodies are from our own planet. I know our own place in the universe. I can feel the vastness of it inside myself. I began to realize with each passing fact what a wonderful and awesome place the universe is, and that helped me in comics because I was looking for the awesome.’

‘Everybody can draw, in my estimation. If you give a man 50 years, he'll come up with the Mona Lisa.’

‘I was an artist, but not a self-proclaimed great artist, just a common man who was working in a form of art which is universal.’

‘I've never done anything half-heartedly; it's a disservice to me and the audience if I do it half-heartedly.’

‘There are people that I didn't like, but I saw them suffer and it changed me. I promised myself that I would never tell a lie, never hurt another human being, and I would try to make the world as positive as I could.’

‘I feel that man can transcend himself to a point where he can accomplish greater things than he thinks. I see people depressed and I see people who devalue themselves and I feel that's a terrible, terrible waste. But I love the people who try. But try fairly, try honestly.’

‘The artist is the lowest form of life on the rung of the ladder. The publishers are usually businessmen who deal with businessmen. They deal with promotional people. They deal with financial people. They deal with accountants. They deal with people who work on higher levels. They deal with tax people, but have absolutely no interest in artists, in individual artists, especially very young artists.’

‘If you think a man draws the type of hands that you want to draw, steal ‘em. Take those hands.’

‘The only real politics I knew was that if a guy liked Hitler, I'd beat the stuffing out of him and that would be it.’

‘It's not in the draftsmanship, it's in the man. Like I say, a tool is dead. A brush is a dead object. It's in the man. If you want to do it, you do it.’

‘I feel my characters are valid, my characters are people, my characters have hope. Hope is the thing that'll take us through.’ ‘Some of my friends became gangsters. You became a gangster depending upon how fast you wanted a suit. Gangsters weren't the stereotypes you see in the movies. I knew the real ones, and the real ones were out for big money.’

‘I draw people as I see them. I'm not involved in making artistic masterpieces. My, my object is to mirror people and I've always done that.’

‘A character to me can't be contrived. I don't like to contrive characters. They have to have an element of truth.’

‘All human beings have the capability of doing what they want, what they're attracted to.’ ‘I had to make a living. I was a married man. I had a wife. I had a home. I had children. I had to make a living. That's the common pursuit of every man.’ ‘I feel that man can transcend himself to a point where he can accomplish greater things than he thinks.’ ‘I feel that life is a series of very interesting questions, and very poor answers. But I myself am willing to settle for the questions. If the questions are interesting, I feel I evoke them in what I do. I feel that should be good enough for everyone else.’

‘Our dreams make us large.’ ‘Kid ... Comics will break your heart.’


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