Jack Kirby, Creator of Super-Heroes for Marvel Comics, Dies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jack Kirby, highly respected comic book artist who helped to create and humanize such super-heroes as Captain America, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, has died at age 76.

Kirby died Sunday at his home in Thousand Oaks of heart failure.

He was known for drawing the square jaw and rippling muscles that became the prototype for the comic book hero, and for the perspective that made fists seem to fly off the page in dramatic battles. Unlike many contemporaries, he gave his characters changing expressions and made them human and vulnerable despite their super-human abilities to thwart evil.

"He created not only artwork, but ideas," said Tom Christopher of Kirby's longtime publisher, Marvel Comics. "Another person of his particular talent and innovation is not going to come along again."

Kevin Eastman, a Kirby fan who helped create "Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles" and last year funded publication of a book about Kirby's work, has called Kirby the "comics artist's artist."

During his career, Kirby churned out 20,318 pages of published art, 1,385 comic book covers, 600 characters and 2,600 stories, according to that book, "The Art of Jack Kirby" compiled by Ray Wyman Jr.

"Comics constantly move," Kirby told The Times last year. "To me, a comic has to be like a good movie. There's no way of making it move like a movie, so I let the characters do it for me."

Born Jacob Kurtzberg on Manhattan's Lower East Side, the slightly built Kirby taught himself to draw and got his first job drawing animated Betty Boop cartoons. But he quit, hoping "to create rather than duplicate."

"We sat at rows of tables and got paid very little," he said of the Boop days.

He adopted the surname Kirby from a comic book character, Rip Kirby, and set himself up as a free-lance comic book writer and artist. His work helped move comics from short strips in newspapers into magazine-type books.

In 1940, working with partner Joe Simon, Kirby developed the heroic Captain America with "the strength of a thousand soldiers" for his publisher Atlas (the forerunner of Marvel Comics) to compete with DC Comics' new hero, Superman. Kirby's captain was soon selling 900,000 issues a month, rivaling Superman.

Kirby, inspired by his short but scrappy matinee idols, Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, created Captain America in his own image--a small New York youth who got picked on by bigger guys. The comic book story described Steve Rogers, rejected by the Army because he was underweight, who volunteered for a top-secret government experiment in which he took a serum that magnified his strength and agility. A favorite villain was Hitler.

"Captain America hit really big," Kirby told The Times in 1986. "It was then that my publisher knew that super-heroes were going to be a big commodity. . . . It was also when I really started to enjoy life."

He and Simon also succeeded with another wartime comic, Boy Commandos.

Then Kirby got drafted. As an infantryman, he fought the Germans and wound up in a Paris hospital with frozen feet.

The experiences prompted more war story comics before Kirby shifted to creating Westerns and romance comics.

In 1959, he offered Marvel a list of comic book character ideas that included Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers--characters that led a resurgence in comic books in the 1960s.

The new characters were reminiscent of his Captain America--Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker, is a youth bitten by a spider who gains the proportionate strength of a spider; the Fantastic Four is the story of four young people who are bombarded by cosmic, radioactive particles on a trip to the moon and achieve superpowers.

Kirby is survived by his wife, Rosalind; three daughters, Susan, Barbara and Lisa; son, Neal, and two grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Pierce Brothers Griffin Mortuary in Thousand Oaks, with interment at Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Jack Kirby Educational Fund, Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91360.

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