America at War: The Best of DC War Comics - Michael Uslan

A tale of the unexpected: Happy 99th Birthday to Jack Kirby

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Jack Kirby - photo by Suzy Skaar
Jack Kirby
– photo by Suzy Skaar

August means it’s time once again to celebrate Jack Kirby’s birthday, with Aug. 28 being the day that would have been the illustrious illustrator’s 99th year; and you can bet that next year’s centennial will be quite the shindig for fans the world over, not to mention for the comic book industry as a whole.

We know Kirby as the creator and/or co-creator of a myriad of comic book characters that have become staples of the American zeitgeist. Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Avengers, X-Men, the Hulk, Nick Fury, Inhumans, Silver Surfer, Kamandi, Devil Dinosaur, New Gods, Mister Miracle and the Boy Commandos are just a few of the heroes that sprang from his vast imagination – ready for action! And the rogues gallery on Kirby’s resume is easily as impressive.

Kirby’s historic contributions to the sequential art form are well documented, and over the years we’ve written extensively about the artist here at Nerdvana as well – from Argo’s amazing science-fiction facts to a plethora of Classic Comic Book Covers – but this year I thought I’d share a personal story about ‘the King.’ A tale so unexpected Kirby could have dreamt it up himself.

Last year (2015) I completed the (highly recommended) edX MOOC course, The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture, taught online by comic book historian, author, and producer of the Batman films, Michael Uslan.

America at War: The Best of DC War Comics - Michael UslanMidway through the course Uslan briefly mentions a comic compilation he edited back in 1979 called America at War: The Best of DC War Comics, which (as the title infers) is a compilation reprinting some of DC Comics’ best war stories from the 1940s through the 1970s. I was intrigued, so took to the Interwebs to see if I could find the collection.

I ordered what was described as a reading copy of the book from a third-party seller on Amazon who offered the out-of-print tome at a very reasonable price (approximately $12) and then went about completing the course, which involved creating your own original comic book character, developing his/her detailed backstory, and actually drawing a few frames for their would be comic book debut – a process that gave me a much greater appreciation for the comic book creators of the world, including Kirby.

A couple of weeks went by and after a long day at the office I found the package containing America at War had arrived on my doorstep. While talking to my wife about the book I opened the padded manila-envelope and was shocked at the high-grade quality of this 35-plus year old book.

America at War: The Best of DC War Comics - Michael UslanBasking in my good fortune, I leafed quickly through the pages when my eyes caught some scribbling on one of the outer edges. ‘Son-of-a-b!itch,’ I exclaimed as my inner anal-retentive collector personality kicked in. Someone had written in the book … a huuuge pet-peeve of mine.

I disappointedly went back through the pages to find the one with the writing again and opened up to see what kind of nonsense the previous owner had deemed necessary to deface it with.

Suddenly, my jaw dropped and my eyes bulged out of my skull like in some Tom & Jerry cartoon. ‘Oh my God,’ I mumbled, as my wife began freaking out, wondering what in the heck was wrong with me.

On the disfigured page, above the intro to a Joe Simon/Jack Kirby Boy Commandos story titled “The Romance of Rip Carter,” was an inscription, “To Scott & Lisa,” and the signature of JACK KIRBY!

Yes, THE  – JACK – KIRBY!

America at War: The Best of DC War Comics - Michael UslanI never got to actually meet the man, but at some point in time the renowned artist – the greatest comic book creator who has ever lived – held this book and autographed it above the splash page of one of his classic stories; but there was more. On the next page, above a panel depicting a war plane named the Rosalind K. (the name of Kirby’s beloved wife) was the signature of Rosalind K.

I don’t know who Scott & Lisa might have been or why they parted with this treasure, and I don’t know if the Rosalind signature was made by Kirby, or by his wife, but at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con I confirmed with both Mr. Uslan and Kirby historian Mark Evanier that the Kirby signature is, in fact, the real deal.

I cannot convey the excitement of inadvertently receiving this prize, and I cannot conceive the astronomical odds that the fates would deliver this book from Kirby’s hands into my own or the story of its long and unlikely journey. All I know is that I felt like Elliot in E.T. – and with teary eyes I told my wife, ‘It came to me.’

MORE JACK KIRBY:

The Romance of Rip Carter” story originally appeared in Detective Comics #82 (December, 1943) and last year we showcased that very issue’s cover in the Classic Comic Cover Corner.

Want to learn more about Jack Kirby? There’s no better place to start than the Kirby Museum!

If you are in Arizona (or need a good reason to visit), come help celebrate the King’s 99th birthday on Sunday, August 28, at Phoenix’s Second Annual Jack Kirby Birthday Celebration – which will include a live reading of New Gods #2 by some of the Valley’s best spoken word talent. Details at: Facebook.com.

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