Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirby’s son

April 09, 2012 | 11:30 a.m.
1950 kirby family long island Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

Long Island, 1950. Rosalind and Jack Kirby with their children, Neal, 2, and Susan, 6. Credit: (Kirby family collection)

1961 kirby family neals bar mitzvah Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

1961, Neal Kirby's Bar Mitzvah. Left to right in rear: Neal Kirby, Rosalind Kirby, Susan Kirby and Jack Kirby; Barbara Kirby in front. (Kirby family collection)

1965 touching up iron man marvel Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

Jack Kirby touching up an Iron Man page in 1965 at the Marvel offices. (Kirby family collection)

This week, the Marvel Universe reaches a new plateau with the Hollywood red-carpet premiere of “The Avengers,” which unites the title characters from four film franchises — Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk —  to save Earth from a cosmic threat. The only person who had a hand in creating all of those characters was the late Jack Kirby, a titan figure in comics, but his heirs weren’t invited to the premiere;  their presence would be awkward considering their legal quest to reclaim the rights to hundreds of his Marvel creations. That leaves Neal Kirby, Jack’s only son, on the outside looking in but in this guest essay he writes about the days when the Marvel Universe was as close as his family basement.  

In 1961, I was the luckiest damn kid on my block — or maybe any block. My father worked at home. Everyone else’s dad had to drive into Queens or Brooklyn or take the train into Manhattan. And it was not some boring, old desk job; my father was Jack Kirby, the King of Comics, and — though his humble personality would have him cringing to hear this — he is regarded as the greatest comic book artist and creator – ever. (Sorry, Dad).

jack kirby self portrait Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

Jack Kirby by Jack Kirby, from the 1960s. (Marvel Comics)

Of course back in 1961, though well-regarded in his field, he wasn’t yet crowned. He was just Jack Kirby — “Dad” to me, “Jack” to his wife, Roz; “Jacov” to his mother, Rose; and “Jankel” to his brother, Dave. Wanting a better life for his family (the overriding theme of his life), we were packed into the Studebaker and left Brooklyn for the green suburbs of Long Island in 1949. Buying a house in East Williston, Nassau County, it was to be our home for the next 20 years.

Sixty-three years later, memories of that house are still vivid for me, but what I remember most is my father’s studio. Buried in the basement, “The Dungeon” was tiny (just 10 feet across) and the walls that separated it from the rest of the cellar were covered in stained, tongue-and-groove knotty pine with a glossy varnish. Dad’s drawing table faced a beautiful cherry wood cabinet that housed a 10″ black-and-white television.

To the left of the cabinet was a beat-up, four-drawer file cabinet that was stuffed with Dad’s vast archive of picture references to, well, everything. I could sit for hours and just mull through musty old folders with bayonets, battleships, medieval armor, cowboy hats, skyscrapers, satellites — countless files on countless subjects. And — much out of character for my father — that metal cabinet sat beneath a stuffed and mounted deer’s head. I can’t remember where he said he got that damned thing, but it was always there. The things you remember…

avengers 4 Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

“The Avengers,” March 1964, one of Jack Kirby’s signature covers. (Marvel Comics)

My father finally got his first color television in 1963. The first color television program I ever saw at home? The Kennedy assassination in Dallas reached me, there in the Dungeon, and in more ways than one the world was no longer black-and-white. Dad handed me the old TV so I could take it apart and explore. I heard something bumping around inside the set when I dragged it on the basement floor beyond the Dungeon’s door. Screwdriver in hand, it didn’t take long to find the loose object but my jaw dropped when I studied the heavy disc. It was a 2,000-year-old Roman coin. Dad, I knew the TV was old, but…

My father couldn’t stop laughing. There was a lot of superhero history flying across his drawing board around that time — remember, September 1963 was the date on the first issue of “The Avengers” and “The X-Men” — but it all took a backseat that day to the mysterious return of Caesar Augustus. Dad had no idea how that coin got inside the television but he did know how it first reached America. Back in 1944, he explained, he had been pulled from combat with a dangerous case of frozen feet and frostbite and then sent to a hospital in Britain. English farmers would plow ancient coins up by the dozen and while they kept the gold ones they gave the lumpy lead coins to “the boys in the ward” as souvenirs of Europe.

Ancient artifacts didn’t seem out of place in the Dungeon, which felt like a time capsule — and, come to think of it, the walled-in square of Dad’s office was not much bigger than the Time Platform in Doctor Doom’s castle, which in a 1962 issue whisked the Fantastic Four back to the days of Blackbeard. Two walls in the Dungeon were covered in bookcases. Dickens, Shakespeare, Whitman, Conrad, were names I remember seeing, and one of his favorites, Damon Runyon.

foxhole 4 Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

Jack Kirby’s wartime experiences echoed in his comics. (Jack Kirby Museum)

There were shelves of mystery and mythology and plenty of science books and they ranged from rocks to rockets, from the inner ear to outer space. Science was always a big part of dad’s work. When he worked on “Sky Masters of the Space Force,” for instance, I remember some of the devoted fans of that post-Sputnik newspaper strip happened to wear Air Force uniforms and they even sent him photos of rocket programs of the late 1950s to lend authenticity to the syndicated sci-fi adventure.

Dad was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club, so robots and aliens and tales of the future abounded. How did he actually have time to read? I have no idea, but the Dungeon collection was no ornamental library; he had read every book and probably more than twice.

The door to Dad’s studio was usually closed. That wasn’t to keep noise out, it was to keep all the smoke in. My father’s cigar smoking was legendary and when you opened the door to the Dungeon you were met with a great billowing cloud. It wasn’t so bad if he was smoking something good, like a Garcia Vega, and the smell would be almost tolerable. Unfortunately, that only happened around his birthday or Father’s Day, when boxes of decent cigars came with a bow on top. When Dad was buying he didn’t bother with fancy brands. It didn’t matter if it was rolled-up skunk cabbage, to him a stogie was a stogie.

thor Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

Norse myth re-channeled through Jack Kirby’s art. (Marvel Comics)

The studio did have one window, it was at head level and it opened up to a small patio by the driveway. The threat of rain and snow to Dad’s work and library kept that window closed in the wet seasons and the position of the window frame (above a bookcase) meant it was rarely touched in the other seasons. I covered that window with plywood during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I remember; I guess somehow my 14-year-old brain thought it would shield us when the missiles rained down on Manhattan. Of course, the far greater danger to my family’s world were those missile-shaped stogies in the ashtray and, sure enough, Dad paid for his puffing passion with esophageal cancer later in life.

There were a lot of cigar-chomping characters in Marvel Comics and Dad was one of them — he and other writers and artists popped up in stories in a quirky trademark of the “House of Ideas,” as it was called in the 1960s. Personal parts of his life often crept into his work too. When recounting the creation of the Fantastic Four, for instance, he laughingly confessed that Sue Storm was named for my sister, Susan, and the “Storm” could be considered a bit of personality commentary. When he saw the expression on my face he appropriately apologized for the fact that he never got around to making Neal the name of the Human Torch, an Inhuman or even some low-ranking Skrull.

fantastic four Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

Jack Kirby’s art is hailed for its kinetic energy and cosmic imagination. (Marvel Comics)

Dad’s war experiences, which he would rarely discuss with me in the Dungeon era, sometimes surfaced in the comics. “Foxhole,” a Mainline series that began in 1954, was my favorite, and I would sit and read old copies I found on the shelves. For Marvel, of course, he created “Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos,” which drew on “The Boy Commandos from his 1940s work and his own infantry experiences. Sgt. Fury was Dad, big cigar and big action, the only difference being about 9 inches in height and 50 pounds of muscle. These days there’s a view that a liberal Democrat can’t be fiercely patriotic but my father was exactly that. Captain America, Sgt. Fury, the Boy Commandos, Fighting American and “Foxhole” were all born of that powerful love of country.

I loved watching TV with dad. In the 1950’s there were three shows in particular: Edward R. Murrow with the news, Groucho Marx and “Victory at Sea.” My father could explain the war backwards and forwards, both theaters. But, as I mentioned, I didn’t hear any of his war stories until I was older. Perhaps he thought I was too young, or more likely, the painful memories were still too fresh. Besides, we had plenty to talk about with the Brooklyn Dodgers and boxing.

My mother protested that I shouldn’t be exposed to such violence, but Dad was a boxer. It was how you defended yourself in the streets and my father was a product of the Lower East Side. Now and then he gave me a boxing lesson using one of grandma’s sewing mannequins. A paper bag served as the head so there was a fantastic noise when a right cross separated my rival from his head.

thor1 Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

The first appearance of Thor, in 1962. (Marvel Comics)

I wonder if Michelangelo had a kid watching him paint? Was there a little Luigi watching the ceiling from a quiet corner of the Sistine Chapel? Extreme example, maybe, but the emotion would have been the same that I experienced watching my father at the drawing board. I had to stand on his left, looking over his shoulder. Starting with a clean piece of Bristol board, he would first draw his panel lines with an old wood and plastic T-square. Then the page would start to come alive. He told me that once he had the story framed in his mind, he would start drawing at the middle, then go back to the beginning, and then finish it up. Everything seemed to come naturally; he didn’t even needed a compass to draw a perfect circle. He worked fast but smooth, too, no wasted movement or hesitation.

Watching him work gave us a chance to talk about science and history, subjects we both loved, but it also gave me a chance to see history being made. In the spring of 1962, for instance, I remember standing over the drawing board as Dad created a truly cosmic hero — it was a brand new character but I was confused when I heard his name. Thor? The story was “The Stone Men from Saturn.” My first reaction, before opening my mouth, was “Why the hell is a Norse god fighting rock-pile aliens?” Dad explained the whole origin story to me and how he would work in the entire pantheon of Norse deities in the future. Having either read or at least browsed through every book in his library, I thought I was pretty smart when I scoffed and asked him how Thor could even hold his head up with two big, iron wings attached to his helmet. “Don’t forget,” Dad said, nodding toward his creation, “Superhero.”

hulk Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

The Hulk was grey (not green) when he first appeared in 1962. (Marvel Comics)

Our time together was full of moments like this. The early 1960s was the era of atomic monsters and bomb fear, so along comes the Hulk. To Dad, the science of the man-monster was in the realm of “maybe.” Could a Jekyll-and-Hyde monster be created genetically? Jack Kirby thought so. Remember, the structure of DNA had been discovered only five years earlier, and the workings were still a mystery.

Everything in Dad’s mind, heart and soul went into those paneled pages — but my contributions to the Marvel Universe were limited to one flying car. Nick Fury had been a WWII soldier but the 1960s took him into a post-war career with S.H.I.E.L.D (It stood for “Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division” and was more than a little influenced by “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) and Dad needed a James Bond-type car and came to me (At that point in my life I was more interested in cars than girls). With just a little bit of research into my stack of Road and Track magazines, I found the perfect car, a Porsche 904D racer. We knew we needed to go a step beyond machine guns hidden in headlights so we stuck some missiles in the fender wells and, of course, wheels that flip and whisk the car through the air.

By the mid-‘60s I was entering high school, and my time in the studio grew less and less. There was more homework, my membership in a fledgling rock band (called the 2+2) and, of course, girls. I always made an effort, however, to spend some time in the Dungeon at least once a week, and when dad “came up for air” for coffee and crumb cake about 11 p.m. every night, I’d try to make it a point to meet him in the kitchen.

avengers 1 Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirbys son

The villain Loki takes on the Avengers in the new film, just as he did in the first issue of the comics series in 1963. (Marvel Comics)

In September 1966, I was off to Syracuse University and in December, 1968, my parents did one step better and moved to California. The Dungeon was gone but the drawing board, table,  chair and taberet all went west and ended up in a decent-sized, paneled family room in their Thousand Oaks home. Everything remained there, together and in place, even when Dad died in 1994 but after my mother passed in 1998 the inventory of that magical room went off in different directions.

My father’s drawing board and small taberet table now reside in my den in where they provide warm memories for me, and a basis for stories for Jack’s great-grandchildren. I wish there was some way I could borrow Victor Von Doom’s Time Platform and take the kids back to visit the secret headquarters of my father’s imagination, that smoky, paneled bunker of ink, conversation, bookshelves, creativity and love.   I’m a teacher living in California and I think about Dad a lot lately, especially when I see Thor, Captain America, Magneto, or the Hulk on a movie poster. My father drew comics in six different decades and filled the skies of our collective imagination with heroes, gods, monsters, robots and aliens; most of the truly iconic ones are out of the first half of the 1960s, when he delivered masterpieces on a monthly basis. I treasure the fact that I had a front-row seat for that cosmic event. People ask me all the time how one man could have dreamed and drawn so much. The best answer I can offer is one I heard about 50 years ago: “Don’t forget: Superhero.”

— Neal Kirby


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66 Responses to Growing up Kirby: The Marvel memories of Jack Kirby’s son

  1. Thanks for posting this. One of my few regrets in life was when I didn't take a chance to talk to Jack Kirby at a convention in San Diego in 1983. By all accounts, he was a warm, generous guy and I was too much of an awkward teenager to talk to him. This article by his son helped make me feel like I got to know him a little bit.

    • David says:

      I had a similar experience. It was a few years later, maybe 1988. I was a fledgling writer in my late 20s with a handful of credits, enough to get me into an industry only dinner. Jack was one table away, with his family. He seemed a bit under the weather and rumor was he had not been well. His family seemed very protective and was hovering over him a lot.
      Under the circumstances it seemed a poor choice of times to try to meet him. I hoped there would be other chances but it never came it be.
      Some of my favorite times at shows have been talking with the artists of Jack's generation. I had a great chat with Joe Sinnott a couple of years ago. Once I was doing an appearance at a local show and Murphy Anderson was at the table next to me. Spent an entire afternoon talking with him.
      I got to meet Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson in the year before they died, but didn't get to spend that kind of time with them. It was an honor to shake their hands. I wish I'd had that moment with Jack.
      I've been introduced to Stan Lee but I keep my mouth shut around him. I firmly believe the Kirby, Ditko and numerous other Marvel artists were cheated out of their share of both money and credit for their work. I'm not going to pick a fight with a 90 year old man, but I'm not going to shower him with praise either.

  2. Chris says:

    This was great! Brings back memories!

  3. Gary Goddard says:

    Neal, what a great post. Without a doubt, Jack Kirby as and is the King. There has never been a superhero comic book artist that could pack the power and majesty, the nobility, the savagery, the action, and the character into a page as he did. The guy was a force of nature.
    I cannot tell you the number of hours that Jack Kirby fueled my imagination as a young boy growing up in Santa Barbara. FF, X-MEN, AVENGERS, THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA, S.H.I.E.L.D, SGT. FURY — I read and loved them all. He was a true storyteller in every way, a great artist, and a great guy who – at a young age – encouraged and inspired me to do the best I could do. His influences are there in Captain Power, Masters of the Universe, and in a lot of what I have created over the years. As you can see Neal, your rembrance brought me back — so thanks for that.

  4. TronUI says:

    I know why… but I never understand how Stan Lee gets such top billing and credit compared to Kirby, who is at times feels like a footnote most anywhere except IN the comics circle.

    • If you look at how Lee talks bout Kirby. You can tell that in Stan Lee's life, Kirby gets top billing. Both are true geniuses. Just some times the world forgets how integral Kirby was, the good thing tho, is that Lee never will.

  5. Who Knows... says:

    Neal Kirby , what a wonderful tribute to your father.

    Jack Kirby was the best designer and creator that the medium ever produced. His output was staggering. It's an interesting thing to note that Marvel and DC continue to use his concepts. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few creative individuals who really "get" Jack Kirby (Walter Simonson, John Byrne to name two of the very few), no one has really captured what makes his characters work. Instead many of the new creatives tend to deconstruct and rework the concepts in an effort to "update" and put their own spin on them, work which seems to ultimately devalue what made the concepts powerful to begin with, all the while claiming to honor the legacy. If anyone cares, they need only compare a current comic book which uses Kirby's concepts and compare them to the work by Kirby. There's a reason why Kirby is called "The King".

    The truly sad thing about all of this is that Jack Kirby, a man who was even more creative than the revered Walt Disney, should have been wealthy on a level approaching George Lucas. Instead all he got for giving us his genius was a lousy page rate and, eventually, some royalties. Good old work for hire.

    Still, it's nice to know that his name will live on and the original stories and concepts will continue to entertain audiences. Still, if one wants to honor the legacy of Jack Kirby, go to the source. It's there and far more entertaining than anything. Anything else is like listening to Beatle covers.

    • @bkmunn says:

      Wonderful memoir! I urge anyone interested to check out the Jack Kirby petition at change dot org asking Marvel and Disney to give appropriate credit and royalties to the Kirby family for all of the characters and stories Jack had a hand in over the years and now generate millions of dollars for other people.

    • Steve Dilbeck says:

      Make that, not star struck.

    • Joel Kelly says:

      Amen. In some alternate universe Kirbyesque is a household word like Disney, JK Rowling or Jesus.

    • summer12 says:

      Neil kirby is a teacher at my school, I never even knew, wow its amazing

  6. Steve Dilbeck says:

    I grew up in the Jack Kirby universe. I had the good fortune of having met Mike Royko, his inker for a long time, and as a fledgling journalism student at Cal State Fullerton needing to write a major feature — only for a class — he hooked me up with Jack.
    In the spring of 1975 I drove to Thousand Oaks, sat on his patio and sipped tea, while my tape recorder whirled and I tried to mumble questions and act star-struck. He could not have been more generous with his time.
    Along with Vin Scully and Jim Murray, he was one of the greats of my youth I was lucky enough to later meet, and not only not be disappointed by, but discover an even greater appreciation. My first born is named Jack Kirby Dilbeck.

  7. This was a true treat to read. I am currently reading a book on Jack Kirby, but somehow hearing the words from his own son, in particular the part about wishing he could take his own children back in time. . . brought tears to my eyes. I think every father has felt exactly what was being said there. Jack Kirby is hands down my favorite comic book artist, Thank you Neal for sharing such warm, personal memories of a man I deeply admire.

  8. Morgan says:

    Jack Kirby was one of my brother's heroes growing up. Great article. And while I agree that Stan Lee gets much of the credit–well deserved–he could not have done it without Jack, Steve Ditka (early Spider-Man illustrator), and Joe Simon (Captain America co-creator).

  9. Grew Up on JK says:

    Jack Kirby is God…

  10. Rocky says:

    I was blessed to work with the very-talented Jack Kirby back in the old days at ol' Ruby-Spears back in the 80's. Good old memories.

  11. pcab says:

    kirby was the king. met him at a convention when I was in my teens. His autograph is one of my prized possessions.

  12. ejames1 says:

    stan is the man. kirby will forever be THE king.

  13. Richard De Angelis says:

    Thanks so much for for sharing these personal reflections of your father. I'm going to share this article with all my non-comics-reading friends to whom I've been trying to explain the magnitude of Jack Kirby's contribution to the comics art form and industry, and of the injustice done to him by Marvel Comics. I crated my own page to honor his memory during the upcoming premiere of the Avengers movie, which would even exist if not for him.

  14. Arpad Szoczi says:

    I grew up with Jack Kirby, so to speak. I was a single child in Toronto in the 1960s and comic books were a great way to keep me occupied as well as fuel my imagination and future writing skills. Jack Kirby was THE man for me when it came to the genre. I often used to wonder what he was really like. Now I know. Thanks for the write-up. I'm printing it and keeping it among the 850 comic books I kept from the 60s and 70s. I'm slowly introducing my daughters to them now. As for the writing, I'm doing fine here in Berlin, Germany, as a producer/reporter for Deutsche Welle. Jack, take a bow…
    Arpad (Art) Szoczi, Berlin

  15. Russell payne says:

    is it really too late for Marvel to throw a red carpet invite Neil's way?

  16. montoya says:

    most sincere thanks for sharing an experience that is to be envied by all. I only read comics if your dad drew them. he was my first drawing teacher, by extension of course. thank you so much.

  17. David says:

    Great article, and thanks for the memories. Jack Kirby's influence is still felt today in comics, and a was a part of my growing up as well. I still own some of those old yellowing comics.

  18. Robert Steibel says:

    What a wonderful piece. Neal is a terrific storyteller, just like his father.

    I hope this article will be essential reading for anyone who wants to get a first-hand glimpse into the history behind the creation of what right now are the most successful intellectual properties of the 21st century. Clearly Jack Kirby was one of the most important visionaries of the last century — it's remarkable to consider how successful his creations were in the his lifetime and now they've become the modern mythology for this new young century.

    Talk about humble beginnings. Thousands of Marvel characters including Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Spider-man, the Avengers, the X-men, Sgt. Fury, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans (plus countless supporting characters and legendary villians such as Dr. Doom and Galactus), and even the initial character designs for Daredevil and Iron Man all originated on Jack's beat-up old drawing table in his "dungeon." I don't think I've ever heard of a tiny dungeon that housed more love and more passion in all my life.

    Thanks to Neal Kirby for writing this enlightening article. It's a real treat to get this rare glimpse into the history behind the creation of a pantheon of heroes that have become just as iconic and influential as the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology. It's also wonderful to learn the man who created those characters was a terrific human being with a thirst for knowledge and a heart of gold — just 2 of the key ingredients that make Jack's work resonate with millions (if not billions) of people all over the world.

  19. thadboyd says:

    Correction: The self-portrait you’ve got at the top of the page says “Jack Kirby by Jack Kirby, from the 1960s. (Marvel Comics)”. However, the page is clearly from a DC comic; Jack is drawing Orion of the New Gods, and his speech bubble refers to the Boy Commandos, Sandman, Manhunter, and Newsboy Legion — all DC characters.

  20. Norm says:

    When I was a kid, I'd send Jack Kirby my own crude comics and I always got a nice hand written reply encouraging me to keep drawing (and to not neglect my schoolwork)
    I was lucky enough to meet him at a couple conventions in the mid-70's and he was just as nice and cool as I could have hoped he'd be.
    Those letters and brief meetings were probably a big part of why I believed I could one day draw comics professionally, and eventually did.

  21. steve downs says:

    Neil: I had the honor of meeting your dad twice at conventions, Despite the crowds and demands on his time he made me feel like I was the only kid in the room and that he deeply felt and understood how important the worlds and heroes he created were to me. I think of him often and he is immortal!
    Steve Downs

  22. Bob says:

    East Williston, NY? You mean that for ten years, Jack Kirby lived and worked seven miles away from me, and I never knew it? Aaargh! (Although I was only reading comics for the last four of those years, and didn't really recognize the name Jack Kirby until he went to DC in '70, so I guess it wouldn't have made that big an impression on me at the time even if I had known.)

  23. Scott Reed says:

    When I was living in Thousand Oaks, California and working at Malibu Comics as an inker (my first professional job in comics at age 22), several people there would encourage me to visit Kirby. "Just go up to his door and knock", they'd tell me. Apparently, that's exactly what some fans did, and I was told that the Kirby's actually enjoyed that sort of thing. I just couldn't see myself as a total stranger showing up at the KING OF COMICS doorstep, unable to say anything other than a stammering 'You're awesome'. Plus, I thought, there's always that chance that your idol doesn't quite live up to your expectations…

    In the years since he passed, I've learned much more about Jack Kirby the man, instead of the artist, through books and articles like this. I'm now thoroughly convinced I wouldn't have been disappointed.

  24. Jeff Rack says:

    Great article Neal. We met years ago when you lived in Clovis. When I finally met your father, and your mother, Roz, I mentioned that I had been to your place. From then on I was Neal’s friend. I tried to tell them that I had just met you briefly, but anytime I called them, your mom would yell out to Jack, “Jack, come to the phone, it’s Jeff, Neal’s friend.” Who was I to quibble with this direct line to “The King”. Thank you for that. He was not only the greatest comic book artist ever, but one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. He was always so encoraging to me and my artistic career, and had the greatests stories, even if I didn’t alway understand them at first. It was an honor to talk with him and I cherish those times. My family is in Fresno, and on one trip there from LA, I made a bathroom stop in Bakersfield. I was standing in line and I heard the unmistakable voice of you father. He and Roz were right in front of me. I of course said hello, and your mom was so shocked and excited to see me. I can’t tell you how good that felt. We had a great talk while we waited to go to the “john”. Your mom and dad were just the best people, and I’m sure great parents, so yes you were the luckiest boy on Earth. Thanks for your great memories and for making me remember my own.

  25. charleshatfield says:

    A wonderfully vivid recollection, to me magnetic, almost magical. The specificity, the detail, the sense of atmosphere–the Dungeon does indeed sound like a magical realm. Thank you, Neal, for this transporting, ever-so-revealing, and heartwarming tribute.

  26. Kirk G says:

    How wonderful a retrospective. I feel the warmth and love across the years. Thank you Jack for so much magic in my life!

  27. Tony Fornaro says:

    Hi Neal !
    Superb article on your dad ! You brought us back to a magical time.
    I saw Jeremy a few years ago at the SDcon. He mentioned that you
    still bring up the fact I recognized you when you came thru my line at
    the Clovis Safeway in the mid-80's.
    My still-best-friend Jeff had a post here earlier- we both made a visit to
    your place in Clovis. And we both have a nice FF original art page gracing our
    prospective homes. Your dad was,and still is- the reigning " King of Comics" !

  28. paul marchetti says:

    I never met your father never even wrote a letter to him and how stupid I was.

    In the seventies I read french translations of sixties marvel comics and your father ,along with a couple of others, molded my view of life. A positive attitude and the idea that all problems could be overcome is still with me 40 year later. Mister Jack Kirby's FF, Avengers and Captain America put those silly ideas in my head.

    I would not be the person I am if I had not read your fathers comics.

    Thank you for sharing your memories. I just wish that I had written to your father all those years ago, I might have been another fanboy but I should have told the biggest influence in my life how important his work had been for me.

  29. Stephen E says:

    It brings tears; blessed be the myth makers. I hope your family gets what it deserves, and the works that are clearly your heritage restored to their rightful owner. Thanks for sharing this wonderful tale!

  30. Fred Janssen says:

    Wonderful article Neal! While so much has been written about your father's time in California by Mark Evanier, etc., there has been virtually nothing about his working life and studio in New York, the birthplace of what was probably his greatest work. I am sorry that I never met your father, because I would have loved to shake his hand and thank him for the countless hours of reading pleasure and inspiration that he gave all us kids who absorbed those Marvels and called him "King."

    Jack Kirby is truly one of the giants of American culture, a creative force of positive change and the father of infinite cosmic journeys–both his own and the ones he sparked in multiple generations of young dreamers.

  31. michael reese says:

    Neal, your dad was the artist we tried over and over to imitate. The artist who's books we read over and over. My father had background in commercial art and such, and he would look at your dad's work, and marvel at it. It took a LOT to impress my dad. We miss yours so much … he did so much great work, and you are justifiably proud of him. LONG LIVE THE KING!

  32. patrick ford says:

    Neal, Your dad was a great man. I met him once and he said, "I bet you are disappointed. You probably expected a big guy like The Hulk." Your dad was big, it's the comics which have gotten small. My admiration for your dad as a man far surpasses my admiration for him as a writer and an artist, and I think he was the greatest comic book artist ever. His writing and art transcended the medium. Of all his stories my favorite will forever be Jack throwing a bunch of grapes out the window in support of Cesar Chavez, saying "We can't have these in this house."

  33. Brett Canavan says:

    I never had the pleasure of meeting your father yet my admiration for him and his contributions to the field is unsurpassed. Several decades ago, a friend met him at a convention and had him sign the then-new Silver Surfer book from Simon & Shuster. Said "friend" then sold the book to me for the unimaginable price of 15 DOLLARS (I think it was only going for about $6 at the time). I paid it happily because it was signed by JACK KIRBY. In 1993, I met Stan Lee and he signed it as well. That book is never leaving my collection.

  34. Frank Black says:

    Absolutely adore your dad's work. What a man. Great post.

  35. Wilson14 says:

    I remember the man dearly for his humility and his kind responses whenever I approached him and thanked him and again and again for his remarkable work. His comic book stories where the extension of his love for family, friends, and his readers.

  36. Greg Pharis says:

    Thanks so much for that, Neal. I met you at Comic-Con San Diego 1975. I even bought a splash page from CA #193. Your dad was my hero. I made a point to talk to him every San Diego Comic-Con (and there were many). What a wonderful man and comics genius he was. I have been a comics retailer for 40 years and a comic collector for an additional 21 years. Jack Kirby has and always will be the KIng of Comics. He passed away on my daughter's birthday. I was so devastated and yet had to be happy for my daughter. He is, by far, the greatest person I ever met in or out of comics.
    Greg Pharis

  37. Steve Brumbaugh says:

    Fantastic remembrance! I attended all those SDCCs back in the 70's (starting in 72, I think) and Jack always seemed to be there. Being too shy/intimidated, I just listened in when I got the chance. I remember buying an original Thor page early on and asking Jack to sign it. As he did, he said "That's a good page", even though it was a (for him) nondescript page from the middle of one of the stories about the Asgard residents, Balder IIRC, This thrilled me to pieces since it was about all I could afford. And, sure enough, surrounding all the art was the pencil comments describing (to Stan, I assume) what was going on in each panel and how it should be handled. I love it still!

    What a great guy and comic creator!

  38. Ace Frehley Jr says:

    Best. Artist. Ever.

  39. Kenn Thomas says:

    This is a tremendous recollection of an important American artist and one that resonates so personally for many because that artist was the beloved uncle of the baby boom. It is a pity that his creations are tied up with legalities and the false claims of lesser talents like Stan Lee, but such a tremendous personal recollection it's tempting to say don't sweat the small stuff. What's real about Jack Kirby is in this narrative and the personal narrative of everyone who grew up with his stories and comics. He deserves more credit in all the things still produced that derives from his prodigious ideas, his family deserves more of the vast fortune those ideas continue generation for the entertainment industry. But his art was a true and total success story, the perfect product of love and expression of American popular art.

  40. @HannibalCat says:

    Jack Kirby's legacy is immeasurable. He deserves so much more from the people currently profiting from characters he put so much of himself into creating. The work he did is a constant source of joy, from Captain America to The Eternals. Give him his due. The King of comics.

  41. Hawk says:

    Mr. Kirby,
    I listened to a radio interview conducted in celebrations of your late father's birthday. Mr. Lee called in, and his quick, confident manner soon took over the interview. I also thought in microcosm this interview provided some insight into how he came to take the lion's share of the credit for their work.

    Based on the decades of creative output, there should be no doubt about the source of energy and ideas.

    Carry on the struggle. A world of creative property is at stake, and more, the value of your father's good name.

    "Lay on, Macduff, And damn'd be him that first cries, Hold, enough!"

  42. Andy Scordellis says:

    Hi Neal, there isn't a thank you big enough to express the enjoyment and excitement created by your dad's comics when I discovered them – after a healthy dose of early sixties DC Comics – growing up in Surrey, England. After reading for the first time 'The Avengers Takeover' and 'Captain America Lives Again!' well, it was like listening to classical music, and then tuning in by chance to raw rock n' roll!

    Your recollections of how you grew up with your dad while he created all these fabulous characters are heartwarming, and is mirrored in some way by all the young kids around the world who put their pocket money down each month – not always that reliable in the UK – to immerse themselves not only in the latest exploits of their favourite heroes and heroines, but also to 'meet' again their favourite writers and artists.

    It goes without saying that the magical name of Jack Kirby was synonymous with adventure, power and majesty, and as a reader you were guaranteed a roller coaster ride every time you turned the front cover. Every time.

    I've been a huge comics fan since I can remember, and first and foremost a Jack Kirby fan. Your dad may not have been christened the King until the mid sixties, but from the moment I opened FF 23 or Avengers 4 (or any comic, take your pick) – he was the undisputable King of Comics!

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us, and thanks also for the tremendous support you all as a family gave your dad, so that he could by default become a storytelling 'dad' to all of us kids out there.

    Once a gain a big thank you Neal.

  43. King Kirby is god-like person among comic geeks. It's a shame Marvel and DC makes millions, I say billions off his work and his family does not. Early comic creators sold or gave away many of their rights to their works, so the BIG 2 can make movies, toys, etc. without sharing the profits!

  44. Jon Jenett says:

    Neal, great post. I can't tell you how many hours I spent as a kid and teenager reading your dad's comics. I still have most of them, and joke with my kids they are my 401k. Thanks for sharing a very wonderful remembrance of your dad and our superhero.

  45. Kittie Encinas says:

    Hi Neal,
    Great article on your dad. I remember working with you at Bank of California. I was surprised to see that you are now a teacher. Remember the party that you had at your house and your father was drawing pictures and giving them to people who were there. I have always regretted not getting an original Jack Kirby. Every time I see a superhero movie, I think of you and your dad.

  46. Mario D says:

    Thank you so much Neal, for this little peak into growing up with one of the greatest artist (not just comics in my opinion) in the world. And what sounds like a great father also. One of my fondest and most cherished memories was meeting Mr. Kirby at a comic convention here in Detroit around 1980 or so. My brothers and I, all devoted fans of your father, were walking down the hallway to the convention hall as your father was walking out and we couldn't believe it. Here he was, the King of comics right in front us with no fanfare, no huge throng of fans surrounding him. So we built up the courage to address him and not only was he gracious, but he was genuinely warm and friendly. He even invited us to visit him at home if we ever were in California. Told us some great stories and signed my program. A memory I will always cherish.

  47. George Zadorozny says:

    What a splendid and heart-warming article. Thank you Neal Kirby. I can't find the words to say how much your father's work means to me and helped me get through a tough childhood. A true mensch, and as you say, a superhero, the best there ever was.

  48. andrezbergen says:

    Huge fan of Jack's, growing up in Australia. Cheers for the memories.

  49. @angelfly72 says:

    I came across this article quite by accident. Like so many of the people here, comics meant so much to me growing up in the 60s and 70s. Since I was a girl, my parents tried to get me to read "Little Lulu" or at least "Casper the Friendly Ghost" comics, like my younger sister. I wanted no part of that sissy stuff. Superhero, all the way. I loved the magnificent stage of interstellar wars, big creatures smashing through Manhattan, and the wondrous drawings of Jack Kirby, who brought all these fantastical events to life on the page. Thank you so much for this amazing tribute to your father, Neal. It is very generous of you to share your memories with us, the die hard fans of father's work.

  50. Wilson14 says:

    Kirby's work is also at he center of the movie 'Argo'. It's amazing how much his work has come back to life in this country and in the world in so many forms. Simply astounding.

  51. Jason says:

    What a great article. I was a child in Thousand Oaks in the seventies, and I visited your home on a few occasions. Memories of your father are among my fondest childhood memories. He would sign stacks of comic books for my brother and I, and regale us with stories of the industry and, as we were both beginning to take a serious interest in illustration, he would give us tips on everything from his personal process to what type of paper and pencils he used. I can't imagine a nicer man ever lived. Reading your article made me misty eyed to think back on that. Thank you for writing this. All know Jack Kirby for the invaluable and unparalleled contributions he made to comic books, but not as many know what a simply amazing, humble, kind and generous human being he was.

  52. Leonard P. Perrault says:

    Dear Neal,
    Thank you for the background on your father. I grew up admiring the artwork that Jack created and was amazed how it came off the pages with so much excitement! I called him and was invited to the home in Thousand Oaks. Your Mom and Dad were so gracious and wonderful to meet. I have a photo of Jack and I and treasure it. I hope we can get a chance to meet talk to too. Sincerely, Leonard

  53. Satira says:

    Jack Kirby…..was truly the unsung hero of Marvel Comics…… My dad, Wilfred Khan was a devoted fan of Marvel Comics in the 60's & 70's…..Some of his letters were also published in Marvel Comics….. And out of the Hundreds of comics he passed on to me, Jack Kirby's Art stands out majestically among the rest… a very young girl, I read & reread a lot of these stories….each time with the feeling of awe & wonderment….Now in my 20’s these very stories & artwork still create inspiration and bewilderment within me and would continue in my children & many more generations to come…….Jack Kirby would live on through his work… for his artwork were as vast as Space and would be timeless as infinity…….

  54. Wilson14 says:

    A forever happy birthday, Jack Kirby:

  55. prescott says:

    I live a few miles away from that East Willistion home and can see that studio window you write about from the outside. The people who live there now probably have no idea who lived there before them!

  56. LaMarr Clemons says:

    I don't know if this is the correct place to ask. I would like a copy of the illustration at the end of Argo wherein a father and son are together on a space ship. My son is 11 now and was born when I was 57; he's my only child and it strikes a nerve when I see it.

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