This is being written the evening of Sunday, January 29, 1995.
This afternoon, while most of America focused on the Super Bowl, a small band of relatives and friends of Jack Kirby gathered at a
cemetery in Thousand Oaks, California to unveil the plaque marking the spot of his burial.
Very few tears were shed: It's been a year now...ample time for crying. And Jack wouldn't have wanted a lot of sadness, anyway.
Every one of us there, I'm sure, could remember where we were the moment the word came to us that Jack Kirby had passed away. I was
sitting right here...hurrying through a letter on my computer, already ten minutes past the time I should have left the house for the airport and a
rest/recreation trip out of town.
The phone rang. I thought about not answering it...but you never know.
The phone would ring five dozen times or more that evening...and I placed at least that many calls going out. Ordinarily, when someone
dies, it is of immediate concern only to the family...
But around the Kirbys and their conventional clan, there was an extended circle of friends, fans and disciples. Other comic book
creators have their partisans and acquaintances but nowhere else have I seen quite the sensation of Family that always surrounded Jack and
Roz...wherever they went, whomever they met.
When the call came, I sat for a while, just thinking and reflecting, before I was overwhelmed by the list of people who would be hurt
not to be among the first to know.
But before I started down the list of calls I knew I had to make, I knew I had to post something on the CompuServe electronic bulletin
board service. I started to write some very flowery things and deleted each before I'd finished it. Finally, I managed the simplest-possible
#: 352802 S2/News and Reviews
Sb: The King is Dead
Fm: Mark Evanier 76556,3724
Jack Kirby died this morning.
That was all it said. That was all it had to say.
Four hours later — about the time I finally remembered that long-departed plane I was supposed to be on and called the hotel to
cancel — I checked in at CompuServe again. I had over eighty replies. Most were unbelieving; more than half said something about a personal
loss...like a relative or a part of their childhood had gone away. I have been hearing it for a year now.
In that time, a lot of us have had to do a lot of simple, basic contemplation. Nothing Jack ever did — not even leaving us
— was without its impact on those around him.
At the time, I thought I knew everything a person could know about Kirby. ("Know everything a person could know about Kirby. Now,
there's a stupid notion. In the past twelve months, even I have been stunned at how far-reaching was and is his influence; how many lives he changed,
invariably for the better. You could no more "know everything about Kirby" than you could know everything about the stars or the moon or any other
good celestial force of nature.)
One by one these past twelve months, I have heard stories about Jack...stories I had not heard before and yet I had. They are stories
that are all the same in that they are all based on his endless capacity for compassion and respect for others, above and beyond whatever "cosmic"
creative talents he may have employed.
There are few surprises in the stories...not about Jack, at least, for in every one of them, he is decent and caring and giving towards
someone for no reason other than that the recipient was another human being. With Kirby, that was all it took.
Jack, of course, had no monopoly on generosity in the world; I know plenty of people who are generous with their time and talents. But
with most of them, you have to prove yourself worthy — at least a little — before you are on the receiving end. With Kirby, you were
automatically welcome and the question was always whether you would prove yourself unworthy. In the time I knew Jack only a few ever did...and even
some of them remained in his favor, long after a man of lesser soul would have put them on his personal "drop dead" list.
The personal stories about Jack — and I have been honored to hear many this past year — are all of a piece. In every one, a
young man (or the occasional woman) was inspired by published Kirby work — any of his work, including the stories that many would consider
among his lesser efforts.
In each of these cases, it is more than a matter of a kid reading a comic book and enjoying it; it is a matter of something special
— some primal and positive energy — reaching up off a badly-printed page, arcing to the youth's creative nodes and stimulating them in
some way, bringing to the forefront, all that the person possessed in imagination and vision. The stimulation might later be redoubled with a
personal audience with The King but that was, while always desired, not mandatory; a lot of kids got it just through the work, just by avidly reading
New Gods or Kamandi or whatever.
That enriching — I have come to call it the Kirby Effect — might not send the youth stampeding into the field of writing
and/or drawing. Often, the reaffirmation offered by Jack's work inspired someone to an achievement in business, in others of the Arts...even, in one
case, to become the best danged spot-welder he could be. I know Jack would have been no less proud of the spot-welder than he was of all the fine
writers and illustrators who parlayed their Kirby-induced inspiration into great achievements in comics or other creative fields.
I would be the last to suggest that Jack Kirby was the only comic book creator whose work had this effect on his fans. I also don't
mean for this to devolve into a lot of claims that Jack was better than other creators, for Jack simply did not think on those terms, did not measure
himself against others. But if I am to tell you what impressed me most about Jack, I have to say it: He and his work inspired the best in most
everyone it touched. If he wasn't your favorite artist, the odds were good that he was your favorite artist's favorite artist.
Every week or two since Jack left us, I phone up Roz Kirby or, if I can, drive out to take her someplace for a meal. She has,
thankfully, not been alone much this past year. In addition to a constant rotation of visiting relatives, she has had an almost endless stream of
phone calls, visits and letters from this "extended family," the size of which she never could have imagined. She, like all of us, are still amazed
at the press coverage.
Many of the condolences have come along with contributions to the Jack Kirby Educational Fund maintained by Temple Etz Chaim in
Thousand Oaks...so far the recipient of well over twenty thousand dollars. Before the ceremony this morning, the rabbi was telling us how amazed
everyone at the temple has been, not just at the dollar figures pouring in...but at the heartfelt sentiments expressed in the enclosures. Temple Etz
Chaim has set up such funds in memory of members of its congregation before...and, though they all knew that Jack Kirby was a very special, very
famous man, I think even they were unprepared for the response.
On one visit to Roz, I got to read a few of the cover letters. I doubt there is a person alive so sophisticated, so jaded that they
would not get a little tug, reading a letter, painstakingly handwritten on lined notebook paper by someone aged twelve, apologizing that the enclosed
amount is only a few dollars, lamenting that was all that could be spared or collected, regretting they could not send more in memory of the
co-creator of their favorite comic book.
Some are from strangers; many are from names we recognize from the industry or conventions. I am delighted at the outpouring, not just
for Jack's memory but because Roz deserves these constant reminders of how lasting is Jack's memory, how far-reaching is his influence. More than
half the letters I sampled used the phrase, "changed my life." If all Jack Kirby comics ever did was to brighten a few childhoods, that would have
been achievement aplenty; that it meant so much on so many levels is astounding.
It has, of course, been a difficult year for Mrs. Kirby: The two of them were inseparable for more than fifty years. They had one of
those ideal marriages — every day. Roz got well-deserved standing ovations at the two conventions she attended last year; I'd like to think all
that applause was for her and all she did for us Kirby lovers, as much as it was in sympathy of our mutual loss.
The marker on Jack Kirby's grave is perfectly appropriate for the setting but not the man. It's the same size and shape as hundreds of
others that dot the lawns of the cemetery. That, of course, is precisely what's wrong with it.
When they unveiled it, I turned to Scott Shaw, who was standing next to me, and whispered the same thing that I'm sure was on his mind:
"Jack's gravestone ought to be the size of a billboard...in full-color with explosions and rockets and super-heroes all over it."
It ought to yell to the world — bold action, full-page panels, double-page spreads — came to light on Kirby's drawing
The plaque that marks Jack's gravesite ought to proclaim to all, the special compassion and endless respect for people that underscored
everything Jack did, whether on a comic book page or in real life. He lived as he created and he created as he lived...with a love of people, as
flawed and troubled as we can sometimes be, and a clear eye on the ideal that Man should strive to become. No one was ever more qualified to do
The sign that identifies where the remains of Jack are interred should announce to all that the man thereon identified gave us all he
had to give for over a half-century, dedicating his life to an industry that did not always return as good as he gave, at least not in fame or
fortune. It should express to all that he was, indeed, the "King" of his domain.
As the rabbi led us through the Mourner's Kaddish and I did a bad job of keeping up with the phonetic Hebrew in our little booklets, I
thought some or all of the above.
And then I realized that I was just being silly...
It's not the job of a granite marker to say all that about Jack Kirby. That's asking way too much from a hunk of stone.
No...telling the world about Jack Kirby...making sure future generations know who he was and what he did...that's our job.