2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the King of Comics, and Friday afternoon at New York Comic Con marked a special celebration for the greatest artist of them all. Assembling on stage for the IDW-organized Jack Kirby's 100th Birthday Celebration panel were legends in their own right John Byrne and Walter Simonson alongside IDW President Greg Goldstein and CCO Chris Ryall.
The two cartoonists have been Kirby acolytes throughout their career – not only in their general approach to comics storytelling, but in the way they continued the King's legacy by telling new stories with Kirby-created characters like the Fantastic Four, the New Gods, Thor, the X-Men and countless others. Meanwhile, IDW's execs have worked to grow appreciation for Kirby's work in recent years with an ongoing series of "Artist's Edition" hardcovers reprinting key works from the original art boards.
Things kicked off with a round of applause for Byrne, making a rare convention appearance, though he quickly tamped down the cheers to focus on the subject at hand. As the panel spoke, Goldstein queued up over 1300 Kirby images on a slideshow – still but a fraction of the King's prolific output.
"I think there are people in Botswana who are the only people who don't know that my first Marvel comic and my first exposure to Kirby was Fantastic Four #5," Byrne explained. "It was so different than DC. DC was bland, to be kind. DC was Superman fighting bank robbers. And that first issue, #5, had Doctor Doom. That face on the cover scared me. I was a sensitive little child...I used to have nightmares...and that Doctor Doom face [terrified me.] It was like nothing I'd ever seen before."
Simonson similarly was taken unawares by his first Kirby: Journey Into Mystery #115. "I was a freshman in college. I found it in the dorm room of one of my classmates...I didn't read the credits, so I didn't see the names. It was not until years later when I loved Jack and followed his work did I go back and read that comic again," he recalled. "Like John said, I read DC stuff like Mystery in Space and Adam Strange, but Jack's stuff was so different and vital."
Byrne said that as he got deeper into Marvel, he had to drop certain DC titles he was buying, slowly turning him into a major Marvel fan even though he had to skip many issues that never showed up on the local stands. Simonson said, "I became a Marvel addict much faster than John" and noted how months after his first exposure he found Journey Into Mystery #120 and 121 together at a shop. Initially he told himself he was too old to be buying comics, so he just read them. Then he rode his bike back to the drug store five times to read them again before finally relenting and buying both issues...and their maddening cliffhanger.
"I'm freaking out on what's happening, and when I go back to college I can't find the next issue. I'm foaming at the mouth, and I write Marvel Comics a letter which thank God I have no copy of this. But I asked if I could buy issue #122 directly from the company, and a few months later a manilla envelope shows up with a pristine copy of Journey Into Mystery #122" with a person note from Stan Lee written in the hand of Flo Steinberg. From there, he was a Marvel head all the way. But to the comedic groans of the audience, Simonson admitted that he stapled the note into the back cover of the book.