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Kirby credit: something to feel good about

2012 May 3

With the Avengers feature film showing up in local news (as well as international comics and movie news) headlines pretty much all week, and the associated controversy over the late Mr. Jack Kirby continuing to simmer alongside it, I’m going to take the occasion to offer one more thought on the matter. I hesitate at doing so, but I have what I like to think is actually a positive message, so it seems worth a shot. Here goes.

To all of the creators and fans who have spent years, perhaps decades, aspiring to get Jack’s back: consider taking a moment to step back and look at how much you’ve achieved. I think it’s something you can feel good about. It’s true that the world is still full of evil, and it’s true that many wrongs have not been righted and that many of them never will be. But when it comes to getting appropriate recognition for Jack Kirby, I submit that it’s time to hang up that “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner and enjoy a cigar.

I’ve been thinking along these lines for a while, and decided it was time to step up and actually say this (or post it) after Slatelantic published this essay by cartoonist James Sturm, about his decision to boycott the Avengers film. Because the subheading, frankly, just seems ridiculous: “Because Jack Kirby has never been given the credit he’s due.” Now in fairness, that may very well be something which an editor wrote and, not atypically, it doesn’t actually seem to match anything in the essay. On the other hand, the essay doesn’t seem to give any particular detailed explanation of a specific wrong for which Mr. Sturm has a specific remedy in mind; for the most part it just seems like a 101 intro course lament of the various ways that Mr. Kirby was treated badly (of which there were many). In any event, I’m guessing that Sturm would probably agree with the subheading and list “getting the credit he’s due” as part of any remedy which he would consider necessary before he could go see The Avengers in good conscience. And I don’t think he’s alone in that.

I also don’t imagine that there would not be other things on such a list, for either Sturm or others who have been vocal in condemning Marvel. But right now I’m not going to go into those other items, or their merits. Right now I just want to address the issue of Jack Kirby getting “the credit he’s due.” Because I think that one can now safely be checked off as “done.”

I think that we are at the point where, in any meaningful sense, Jack Kirby has received the credit he’s due. How many comic related sites can one visit on any given day without finding some mention of Jack, who passed away 18 years ago? How many people with any real interest in comics as an art, or in American superheroes as a genre, are not well aware who Mr. Kirby was and what he did? How many are there who would disagree with the statement that he was an astonishing genius who created most of the good parts of the Marvel Universe plus quite a few interesting pieces of DC? I think in all cases the answer is that these are rare phenomena.

And it has not always been so. In the 20 years that I’ve been paying attention to the comics world, we’ve gone from a time when a a still-living Jack was to a great extent sidelined and neglected, and even a rabid fan of characters like the Fantastic Four which are almost emblems of the man’s work, they’re so thoroughly Kirby, could have only a limited awareness of “Jack Kirby” as “the name of that guy who drew this stuff way way back in the 1960s” … to a completely different world, today, where I believe that even if not everyone agrees with it, anyone who follows news and commentary on comics even a little is going to acknowledge that it’s at any rate a mainstream, well-supported view that “Jack Kirby was the godlike creative prodigy (compared with that overrated huckster Stan Lee) without whom Marvel (as Mr. Sturm argues) wouldn’t even exist.”

As far as I’m concerned, this is quite a change. And one which didn’t happen by accident at all; it happened through the tireless effort of people like Mr. Sturm beating the drum year in and year out. And I submit that he and everyone else who has done so much should take a moment, at least, and feel good about what they’ve accomplished.

Because, again, I believe that in terms of “credit” they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. Yes, there are still things to complain about; there are always things to complain about. I know it angers people that, afaik, Kirby’s name will not appear in credits for The Avengers. But I have to ask, so what? How many of the people going to see the Avengers movie who aren’t already very familiar with Jack Kirby would leave the theatre any less ignorant or indifferent than they were before taking their seats if “Jack Kirby” appeared on the screen for six seconds before the lasers and explosions and provocative shots of Scarlett Johansson which constitute the entirety of their real interest? Maybe a few. And in an ideal world that credit would be up there anyway as a satisfying sign of corporate Marvel finally saying “uncle, uncle” to justifiably outraged notions of fairness (which I suspect is what a lot of people really want) and for that matter, in an ideal world, Jack would still be alive to enjoy the credit and attention. But for what it’s worth, which I think is quite a bit, in that ideal world where Jack was still walking around and available for interviews I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that there would be a lot of interviews, because the fight to get appropriate acknowledgement of what he did has basically been won.

As it is, Stan Lee is getting all of the interviews because he’s still alive. Well, y’know, curses, drat, life is not entirely fair. It isn’t going to become entirely fair. By all means, people should go on working to make it more fair, and my point is in fact basically a tribute and an encouragement to such efforts because the tremendously successful efforts at getting fair credit for Jack Kirby are wonderful, wonderful proof that such efforts can succeed. No, not entirely; again, the world is not perfect. But with that being the case, I submit that one needs to stop sometimes and check perspective because one might be missing the forest for the trees. And I think that’s the case here. On the issue of credit for his work, Jack Kirby has (posthumously) won, and everyone who has worked hard to accomplish that goal has also won.

You want to keep fighting for other worthy causes (and maybe some other worthy contributors to comics who are still way more underappreciated than Kirby), go right ahead. But I suggest that you ought to at least stop here, briefly, to enjoy what you’ve accomplished and take a bow.

You’ve earned it.

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