Toth came from the “school” of cartooning that has its roots in the newspaper adventure strips, most notably studio-mates Noel Sickles and Alex Toth, who themselves were preceded by Roy Crane (to whom Toth equally credits as an inspiration). I’ve written about Toth, Sickles, Caniff, and Crane extensively over the years, so it’s no secret where my own stylistic influences lie.
But this year marks the centenary of Kirby’s birth (August 28), so I thought I’d add my own tribute and appreciation—the San Diego Comic-Con celebrated Kirby’s centennial birth this year (as it did cartoonist Will Eisner, born the same year) and numerous articles and tributes appeared on his birthday.
With that said, as someone with an interest in the history of comics, I was nevertheless very familiar with Kirby’s place in comics history, particularly through Stan Lee’s take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt memoir, Origin of Marvel Comics (1974). I have a vague memory of being fascinated around this time by some back issue of the Fantastic Four and, as a World War II buff at the time, reprints of the Boy Commandos that were reissued by DC Comics during the ‘70s. It was during my personal “Golden Age” of comics reading (i.e., age 12) when Kirby left Marvel for DC to create his Fourth World/New Gods meta-series, Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, and work on other books like Jimmy Olsen. The New Gods series was not a hit at DC and Kirby would eventually move on for greener pastures to work in animated television as a concept designer and return later to do more work at Marvel, DC and even the independent market.
Like many of the great cartoonists of his generation, Kirby was respected but never fully appreciated—nor fairly compensated—for his work or creations. Indeed, when comics companies began returning original artwork to artists, Kirby’s art was essentially held hostage by Marvel as it tried to impose stipulations on his work’s return. Then after Kirby’s death, his family, through his estate, pursued litigation against Marvel, which involved an effort to regain ownership of Captain America.
Like many comic-book artists of his generation, Kirby came from hardscrabble Jewish immigrant roots and was focused on providing financial security for his family, often becoming frustrated that he did not receive proper credit for his work, let alone a fair share of the profits generated by his creative work. While Kirby was a visionary, like many cartoonists, he was a poor businessman. Nevertheless, while Kirby did not see these wrongs made right in his lifetime, thanks to the overdue credit and financial settlement to him and his family, Kirby’s legacy and contributions have been firmly cemented in history.
For a couple of excellent comprehensive overviews of Kirby's career and legacy on his 100th birthday, see Mark Evanier's blog and Jeet Heer's New Republic article.