Thursday, May 24, 2012

John Kirby Is No Jack Kirby-

Among all ML pitcher who have worked 600-plus innings, Jack Kirby has the worst winning percentage, with the exception of John Coleman, who did most of his work for the woebegone 1883 Philadelphia NL club that won only 17 games all season.  Kirby earned his mark pitching for a succession of wretched clubs over five years and losing 50 of 68 career decisions.  He would not have lasted long enough to achieve this unenviable record, however, had he lacked talent.  By some accounts Kirby was loaded with it actually, and the explanation for his failure to take advantage of it is not readily apparent.  Some contended he was too stubborn ever to take coaching, yet there are also indications that his prospects were damaged when inept managers handled him poorly.  His drastic 1887 falloff was due in large measure to arm trouble and also perhaps to difficulty adjusting to major revisions in the pitching rules.. 
Like many pitchers of that day, Kirby's career was finished by the time he reached his midtwenties.  He had married Jessie Hooper, a native of England, in 1885 when she was only about 17.  They had three daughters.  To support his family after his playing career was over, Kirby first walked a beat in St. Louis and later served as a prison guard and as police property custodian in St. Louis for forty years.  He died of diabetes in St. Louis in 1931.
-Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1

Kirby was born and raised in St. Louis and was a native of the city for his entire life.  He also played for the Maroons in 1885 and 1886.

David Nemec wrote a fantastic piece on him for Major League Baseball Profiles, a portion of which I quoted above.  If you'd like to read the whole thing, pick up the book.  Seriously, you can get both volumes of Major League Baseball Profiles at a great price and, while you're treating yourself, you should pick up The Rank and File of 19th Century Baseball, which is, essentially, volume three of this project.

Now, David mentioned that John Kirby was also known as Jack but, let's be honest here, there is only one Jack Kirby.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, Jack Kirby is this guy:

When you think of Marvel Comics, you're probably thinking of something that Kirby came up with.  That Avengers movie you all just saw, those characters were all pretty much invented by Kirby (and Stan Lee, of course).  Kirby helped come up with the original, Golden Age Captain America.  Thor- that was Kirby.  The Hulk - that was Kirby.  Iron Man - Jack Kirby.  The Avengers - Kirby.  As if that wasn't enough, he also came up with the Fantastic Four and the Kirby/Lee run on FF may be the greatest comic book run of all-time.  If it's not that, I'd argue for the Lee/Ditko run on Spiderman, a character which Kirby had a hand in coming up with.

And this:

Yeah, that's Jack Kirby's artwork.  And he also came up with the X-Men.  And the New Gods.  And Doctor Doom and Magneto and the Silver Surfer and Galactus and hundreds of other characters that I don't have time to name.

On top of all of that, he was an extraordinary artist who had a major impact on how comics are drawn.  Kirby's artwork is unbelievably fantastic and, for the time, it was unique and radical.  The man came up with a completely new way of visually telling a story.  Just google Jack Kirby and check it out.  He's arguably the most influential comic book artist of all-time and probably my favorite (although I have a soft spot in my heart for Mike Mignola, John Romita, Sr., Mark Bagley and, of course, Steve Ditko).  When I was really getting into comics in the late seventies and early eighties, Marvel was reissuing all those old comic runs and I grew up reading Kirby's work on the X-Men and the Avengers.  While I had always read comics as a kid, Kirby is one of the major reasons that I've been a lifelong comic fan and I'm sure that there is a lot of people out there that can say the same thing.

So, John Kirby may be an interesting fellow but he's no Jack Kirby.        

And to all may comic book geek friends, I love you guys but please don't bother commenting and trying to correct my brief, short-hand history of Marvel Comics.  I know how muddled the history is and how complicated it is trying to figure out who gets credit for coming up with what.  Let's just leave it at the fact that Kirby had a major hand in creating all the characters I mentioned.  But I am willing to debate the fact that Lee/Ditko's Spiderman is better than Lee/Kirby's FF or Claremont/Byrne's X-Men or Gaiman's Sandman or anything else you want to name.     



Mike S said...

You couldn't have said it any better. Kirby is King. If you haven't gotten it already pick up Mark Evanier's book Kirby King Of Comics - you will love it!

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Thanks, I'll definitely check the book.