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A Man of Action

December 05, 1993|DANIEL CERONE | Cerone is a Times' Calendar television writer

On Saturday mornings, "X-Men," a brooding group of mutant super-heroes, is among the biggest rages.

Today's Nintendo generation may not know it, but the "X-Men" were developed in 1963 by Jack Kirby, one of the most respected comic book artists of the century. A Kirby prodigy, "Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles" co-creator Kevin Eastman, describes him as a "comics artist's artist."

A compilation of Kirby's work--which includes 20,318 pages of published art, 1,385 comic book covers, 600 characters and 2,600 stories--are in the recently released book, "The Art of Jack Kirby" (Blue Rose Press; $46.95 hardback, $28.95 paperback).

"My comics existed on extreme action of the figures," says Kirby, 76 and living in semi-retirement in Thousand Oaks. Kirby infused such co-creations as "Boy Commandos," "Young Romance," "Fantastic Four," "The Avengers" and "The Incredible Hulk" with his style of exaggerated action and expression to bring the characters to life.

"Comics constantly move," says Kirby, who taught himself to draw. "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."

Kirby, a native of Manhattan's Lower East Side, spent several years in the 1930s drawing single-frame cartoons and comic strips for a small newspaper syndicate before releasing his first action character--Captain America, with "the strength of a thousand soldiers"--in 1940.

"Those times were intensely turbulent and patriotic, and Captain America was an offshoot from that kind of feeling," Kirby recalls. "One of my favorite villains was Hitler. I had him involved in fights with Captain America, with Nazis swarming all over the place.

"And then I got drafted."

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