Raising A Birthday Glass To Comics King Jack Kirby This Thursday is comics legend Jack Kirby's birthday; the creator of Captain America would have been 97. Comics stores and creators all over the country are hosting celebrations in his honor.
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Raising A Birthday Glass To Comics King Jack Kirby

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Raising A Birthday Glass To Comics King Jack Kirby

Raising A Birthday Glass To Comics King Jack Kirby

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the summer's biggest blockbuster movies - "Guardians Of The Galaxy" - features a monosyllabic, intergalactic crime-fighting tree named Groot. That's one of my favorite sentences I've ever said. He's the creation of Jack Kirby, who is something of a legend in the comic industry. Kirby also brought us "Captain America" and some "X-Men" characters. He died in 1994, but his birthday on August 28th has become something of a national celebration for comic fans. Jessica Bloustein Marshall of member station WAMC checked in on preparations for a Kirby Day celebration in Upstate New York.

JESSICA BLOUSTEIN MARSHALL, BYLINE: In the back room of a brewery, just outside of Albany, a small group of comic shop owners and comics creators gather around a sketch of Jack Kirby. The likeness peers intensely out from the page - inking pen in one hand, pencil clenched in his lips. But it's not in a comic book - it's the label on a bottle of beer.

PAUL HARDING: So I just want to capture his sort of artistic power, sort of an extreme view looking up from his drawing surface.

MARSHALL: Artist Paul Harding is the sculptor behind a lot of the action figures you see in stores. He drew the image of Kirby. The group is slapping it on limited edition beer bottles in preparation for Kirby Day. As they work, they trade tales of the legendary Jack The King Kirby.

RON MARZ: You know, when I was a kid Jack's art work frightened the hell out of me. I was really kind of weirded out by the square figures and the tortured poses on all the characters. But I couldn't look away from it either.

MARSHALL: Fellow party organizer Ron Marz has written for "Silver Surfer", "Green Lantern" and "Witchblade" comics. As well as the famous "DC versus Marvel" comics crossover series of the mid-1990s.

MARZ: Anybody working in the industry now - whether you are a writer or an artist - stands on Jack Kirby's shoulders.

MARSHALL: If you don't know comics, you may not know Kirby. You probably know his more media-friendly partner - Stan Lee - who tends to get more credit from both fans and publishers for creating the Marvel universe. Kirby preferred the introspective quiet of his drawing board. Comic shop owner John Belskis was lucky enough to meet Kirby once at a convention. The King was sitting in the Artist's Alley by himself completely overlooked while convention goers flocked to celebs like Rob Liefeld and Stan Lee.

JOHN BELSKIS: And I thought to myself - this is ridiculous. This is, like, a comic legend and there's nobody here.

MARSHALL: It was toward the end of Kirby's life when he suffered from arthritis and would not sign his work for fans. But Kirby and his wife Roz made an exception.

BELSKIS: Roz kind of told me, give me the pages - and they went behind a curtain and when they came back out the pages were signed. Did she sign them? Did he? I don't know. It didn't matter at that point.

MARSHALL: Belskis and Company wanted to make sure Kirby and his contribution to pop culture were remembered. Their celebration springboards off a small, national movement to celebrate his birthday started by Kirby's granddaughter in 2012.

BELSKIS: The comic community at-large understands and cares - the fandom, guys with shops, guys that are creators - everybody.

MARSHALL: Once all the labeling is done the crew packs the bottles into cases ready for the birthday bash. Notable comics creators will be there and they plan to auction off one-of-a-kind items - like a statue of Groot. All proceeds will go to the hero initiative, a fund that helps provide a financial safety net for struggling comic book creators. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Bloustein Marshall in Albany, New York.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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