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Phoenix to celebrate Jack ‘King of Comics’ Kirby’s birthday

Jack Kirby and friends.
Jack Kirby and friends.

Have you been enjoying all of the entertaining Marvel movies the past few years, with colorful costumed do-gooders like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Nick Fury, Groot and Ant-Man? Have you ever wanted to learn more about where these heroes, who have become mainstays of modern American mythology, come from? Well, get hip to the life of the late illustrator Jack Kirby, the revered co-creator behind all of those comic-book characters and dozens more, as Phoenix celebrates the undisputed “King of Comics” at Jack Kirby’s 98th birthday party.

At 7:00 p.m. on August 28, 2015, the Valley’s creative community, together with Kirby fans (and the Kirby curious), will be coming together at C-MOD Curated Modern Design in Phoenix for an evening of everything Jack Kirby. The party will include an art show, with actual Kirby originals and Kirby inspired work by local artisans, and an open mic where attendees can share stories, poetry and other anecdotes in appreciation of “the King.”

The Jack Kirby Birthday Celebration’s special guests will include Jesse James Comics shop owner, Jesse James Criscione, and renowned comic illustrator, Steve Rude, who will be showing original Kirby art from his private collection and holding a live art demonstration.

We asked event coordinator, Amazing Arizona Comics creator and “Arizona’s Ambassador of Comics,” Russ Kazmierczak, to tell us more about his hero, Jack Kirby, and the planned birthday celebration:

Jack Kirby by Susan Skaar
Jack Kirby by Susan Skaar

What inspired you to create this event?

Every year, I catch news of Kirby birthday celebrations around the country, and I saw a void here in Phoenix. I know comic book shops have had Kirby-themed events in the past, but the events I’ve read about seem as much celebratory as they were evangelical.

My hope is to share Kirby’s work with people who might not know of him by combining the immediacy of a one-night-only gallery with the intimacy of an open mic, NOT in a comic shop. I hope all types of artists, and fans of art, would be interested and unintimidated.

Steve Rude’s involvement has been a blessing, too. I asked if he’d be interested in sharing on the mic, since he studied with Kirby personally, and he’s offered to do so much more: he’s offered to display Kirby originals from his personal art collection, and he’ll demonstrate Kirby’s unique and dynamic art style, live. I dare say this will make Phoenix’s first mainstream Kirby birthday celebration one of the leading events in the country!

Why should we celebrate Jack Kirby’s work?

Jack was there in the beginning, right at the cusp of World War II, when superhero comics played a major role in American culture. By creating Captain America with Joe Simon, Kirby created an icon of patriotism, but more than that, Cap is the first hero to come from that Golden Age that combines man with superman.

The heroes that have endured from that era are either super-strong outsiders, like Superman or Wonder Woman, or the driven everyman, like the Shadow or Batman. Cap is the first enduring comic book character that GAINS super-powers and Kirby helped originate that concept.

 Avengers #4 - March, 1964 - art by Jack Kirby
Avengers #4 – March, 1964
-art by Jack Kirby

Further, his dynamic visual and narrative storytelling is just plain in your face. He’s one of the few artists in comics who can be called a genre in and of himself: from his romance to western to sci-fi comics, they are all now just KIRBY comics, and it’s easy to tell when someone is paying him homage.

Kirby made comics lofty, legitimate, and fun, and in my humble opinion, nowadays, artists achieve maybe one of those, but not all three. On the Mount Rushmore of comic books, Kirby’s would be the first face.

How has Jack Kirby influenced your Amazing Arizona Comics series?

Honestly, I came into Kirby’s work later than most, through his proverbial apprentices. I was a fan of Erik Larsen, Steve Rude, and Mike Allred in the ’90s, and while each of them have their own definitive styles, as soon as I saw and studied Kirby, you can tell that’s where all of those roads lead.

Since then, I’ve read a lot of Jack’s comics, and surprisingly I’d say his writing influences me more than his art. His concepts were often autobiographical, or allegorical to his real life experiences, and I think that’s the power of comics. Comics exaggerate reality into an adventure we all want to live, and I think that’s the power of Kirby’s legacy. His heroes made their own way, as he sought to do, too.

If you go:

What: Jack Kirby Birthday Celebration
When: August 28, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
Where: C-MOD Curated Modern Design, Phoenix [MAP]
Why: To celebrate an American icon and his entertaining and influential life’s work. This event is friendly to both long-time Kirby fans and the casually pop culture curious.

Get more information and/or details on submitting art or speaking at the Jack Kirby Birthday Celebration: Facebook event page HERE.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.


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