Now hold on, hold on. Let me explain.
Jack Kirby is the monolith from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or, to call it by its familiar nickname, TMA-1. Howdy, T!
Now, that's not just because Jack did the oversized treasury edition adaptation of 2001 (and can you think of a Marvel book more deserving of that big-ass format?), but that's a good enough place to start. Along with being glad that Jack Kirby never did a comic book adaptation of Kubrick's Lolita or Eyes Wide Shut. (Although I would have dearly loved to see Jack's version of Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange. Heck, even Barry Lyndon!
Splash page from Marvel Treasury Special: 2001: A Space Odyssey one-shot (1976), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Frank Giacoia, colors by Marie Severin and Jack Kirby, letters by John Costanza
Periodically throughout history Monoliths have appeared in the presence of life on Earth. A Monolith emits a compelling, hypnotic hum that portents inspiration, change, ideas evolution. Even to the man-apes of 3,000,000 BC who would eventually become homo sapiens, the Monolith communicates and teaches.
A spark of inspiration, and the man-apes become creative. They learn to use rocks, sticks, and skulls as tools…and as weapons.
And then suddenly, in one of the greatest transitions in cinema history and pretty deftly done on Kirby's comic page, too the entire history of mankind is summed up in a cut from bone to space shuttle. Whew, that saved some time! Kind of wish we'd had Kirby's short cut back when I was learnin' world history.
You may by now see where I'm goin' with this. Jack Kirby is a big slab of rock. Like the Monolith, he's intoxicated us with concepts and ideas seemingly unimaginable (until we saw them in his comics). His work fills us with wonder and awe, with respect and imagination. Like the evolution of man, the finest Kirby art is a quantum leap beyond the ordinary.
And the journey of discovery is as exciting as the destination.
Jack Kirby built on and expanded Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick's ideas and visual language in the ten-issue 2001 Marvel series that followed the Treasury. All-new stories, yes, but with a continuing theme: the evolution of life and the creative spark that moves us forward.
Panels from 2001: A Space Odyssey #1 (December 1976), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks and letters by Mike Royer, colors by George Roussos
You don't have to look far in comics history and contemporary times to find the huge influence and debt owed to Jack Kirby. His creations and co-creations have themselves evolved and changed with time, and I think Kirby himself woulda liked that. Generally known to be a supportive and patient man in giving time and advice to budding artists and writers, Kirby would advise not to copy what he did, but to find your own path, your own vision, your own way of telling stories.
Granted, there are plenty of Kirby imitators throughout comics history. They're mostly forgivable. His "look" and grand panoramic sweep, his innovations in art and design, have influenced much of what we read today. But consider the continuations of his sagas which go in different directions than he originated: the various eras, looks, and approaches to the Fantastic Four, or artists like Steranko, Adams, or Simonson, or the breakdown and restructure of the New Gods in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis. Books, plays, music, and artwork galore bear the DNA of his spark. We have dived headfirst into an age of comics that, though it might have existed without Kirby, would not have been the same.
Panels from 2001: A Space Odyssey #2 (January 1977), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks and letters by Mike Royer, colors by Janice Cohen
2001 the series follows the Monolith's influence across time and space, from alien worlds to the distant past and near future of our own planet...
…and the mind-bending, paradigm-leaping bursts of evolution and imagination that follow its encounters...
Panels from 2001: A Space Odyssey #3 (February 1977), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks and letters by Mike Royer, colors by George Roussos
And like the movie itself, Kirby's worlds of 2001 are visually astounding.
Panels from 2001: A Space Odyssey #6 (May 1977), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks and letters by Mike Royer, colors by George Roussos
2001 the movie, the novel, the comic teaches us that what we experience is not all. Humanity is not the end, merely a step in the process.
Panel from 2001: A Space Odyssey #7 (top) and #6 (bottom) (June-July 1977), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks and letters by Mike Royer, colors by George Roussos
To sum it up in the words of another equally thought-provoking (altho' maybe just a little more ponderously slow-paced), "The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning." And not just humans either.
Panels from 2001: A Space Odyssey #8 (June 1977), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks and letters by Mike Royer, colors by Petra Goldberg
He's called X-51, but you may recognize this guy yep, he's another Kirby Kreation as perennial Marvel denizen Mister Machine. (Who?) Which he later changed by robotic deed poll to the more familiar Machine Man! (Oh!)
Panels from 2001: A Space Odyssey #9 (July 1977), script and pencils by Jack Kirby, inks and letters by Mike Royer, colors by Petra Goldberg
2001: A Space Odyssey was eventually followed up with three sequel novels by Arthur C. Clarke, a sequel movie, and the actual year 2001. But Machine Man starred its very first sequel, created by…you guessed it…Jack Kirby.
Cover of Machine Man (1978 series) #2 (May 1978), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mike Esposito
It explored not only the themes of the movie but also perennial questions and insights Kirby brought to his work: what is humanity? How do we handle great power? (With, I'd guess, great responsibility.) And how long is this new series gonna last? A short 19 issues, the first nine by Kirby, and the back half by Steve Ditko, another of the Architects of the Marvel Universe.
Text page from Machine Man #2
Just remember: without 2001 we wouldn't have Machine Man. And without Machine Man we wouldn't have Nextwave.
Panels from Nextwave: Agents of HATE #2 and 5 (April and July 2006), script by Warren Ellis, pencils by Stuart Immonen, inks by Wade von Grawbadger, colors by Dave McCaig, letters by Joe Caramagna
Nextwave! Making the comic rack safe for Fin Fang Foom's underpants and giant mecha robocops! Oh, yeah, and these guys.
(Click picture to nothing-subtle-about-this-size)
So there's my tortured metaphor for Kirby: a big slab of rock. He's not the only...shall we say, cornerstone...of comics or even the Marvel Universe, but he's a big one. Shall we say…he's the King? Yes. Let's say that. Jack "King" Kirby. He opens as many adventures as a big shiny monolith hangin' out on your moon and inspiring your monkeys.
Kirby's original pencils for the splash page of Marvel Treasury Special: 2001: A Space Odyssey one-shot (1976)