Each installment of this feature I will share with you the first (at least as far as I know) U.S. professional work by a notable comic book creator. Here is an archive of the creators who have been featured so far.
Today’s featured creator is Jack Kirby!
Jack Kirby, like many comic book artists of his generation, began his comic book career working for a comic book art “packager,” the most famous of which was Will Eisner and Jerry Iger’s group (and that is precisely the one Kirby first worked with). The concept was that artists would work directly for Eisner and Iger and then Eisner and Iger would sell the collected work to publishers. Comics at the time were strictly anthology-based works, so this way publishers could get a guaranteed variety of stories by different artists. Eisner himself would do much of the work. He would famously use pseudonyms and altered art styles to make it look like he had more artists working for him than he actually did. The other artists would often do the same.
Before he worked with Eisner and Iger, though, Kirby first worked in the world of comic strips, doing work for the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate in 1936 and 1937. The great Kirby historian Greg Theakston put together some of Kirby’s earliest comic strip works, and this is an example of those comic strips…
Comic book-wise, though, Kirby’s first work was actually not published in the United States. Eisner and Iger packaged comics for the British comic book series WAGS in early 1938. Kirby was one of the artists who worked on WAGS on the feature “The Count of Monte Cristo” (Lou Fine would later take over the series).
Later in 1938, Eisner and Iger then sold much of those same features to Fiction House for a new comic book title called Jumbo Comics.
In the first issue, Kirby supplied the artwork for three separate features (Born Jacob Kurtzberg, he used a few different pseudonyms early on in the days before he began going by Jack Kirby, here he uses the pseudonyms Jack Curtiss and Curt Davis). Here they are, courtesy of the awesome Harry Mendryk…
He first took the last name Kirby as a pseudonym in late 1939 with the Lone Rider feature in Eastman Color’s Famous Funnies #63…
Around this time, Kirby also worked for the Fox Syndicate comic book packager. It is there that he first met Joe Simon and soon the two would begin working on their own, as some of the comic publishers decided it would be cheaper to hire artists individually rather than deal with a comic packager. Kirby and Simon went to work for Martin Goodman at Timely and in this 1940 Comet Pierce story in Red Raven Comics #1 in 1940 we see, for the first time ever, the Jack Kirby credit…
A year later he and Simon would create Captain America and the Jack Kirby name would become a brand of its own, and he would never need another name again.
If there’s a comic book artist or writer that you’re interested in learning where they got their start in comics, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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