The temporary Jack Kirby museum will be open through Sunday, November 10. Credit: Aymann Ismail, ANIMAL New York
From "Marvel's The Avengers" to ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Thor: The Dark World," opening in theaters today, many of film and television's biggest blockbusters came from the mind of the comic book artist Jack Kirby.
As the creator or co-creator of such iconic characters as Captain America, the X-Men, and The Incredible Hulk, Kirby has been at the heart of American pop culture since the 1940s. Now, the man often called "The King of Comics" is being honored in a temporary museum on the Lower East Side, the neighborhood where he was born and raised.
"We want to get the word out about one of America's greatest pop culture creators," said Randolph Hoppe, co-founder of the Jack Kirby Museum. "There really wouldn't be comics as we know them today without Kirby."
In a temporary space at 178 Delancey St., the Jack Kirby Museum houses some of the artist's most beloved works, from images of legendary heroes like the Fantastic Four to more obscure characters such as Devil Dinosaur and OMAC. The exhibit draws a connection between the artist and the neighborhood, displaying a large-scale reproduction of a story Kirby created about the Lower East Side, as well as a map of the area marking important locations from his childhood.
Thanks to an organization called Made in the Lower East Side, the museum has been open for the past several days, and will continue welcoming visitors, free of charge, until Sunday, Nov. 10. Made in The Lower East Side, also known as MiLES, helps groups and individuals get access to short-term storefront space in a neighborhood where rents are often prohibitively high. The Kirby museum is the inaugural tenant for this particular location, which will host a different group every week until late December.
"Spaces like these are intrinsic to what the Lower East Side needs right now, which is a little more community, and a little more togetherness," said Mary Garrett, operations director at MiLES. "People get something new and exciting that normally wouldn't have a chance to occupy a storefront in the neighborhood."
"Jack Kirby, being a former Lower East Side resident, fits MiLES's locally oriented mission," she added.
According to Hoppe, Kirby deserves the museum treatment not only for the stable of characters he helped create, but also for the artful sensibility with which he approached comic books. "Even though comics were seen as a pulpy, juvenile medium, Kirby and his partners took them seriously as an art form, exploring what it would take to tell a story over the course of a number of pages," Hoppe said.
"When you look at stories in the 1940s by other artists, and you look at what Kirby was doing, he's just leaps and bounds ahead," he added.
The small space was brimming with enthusiastic spectators on a recent weeknight. "I used to be a fan of comics when i was younger, but i kind of forgot about them, unfortunately," said Stephen Gonzalez, 35, who noticed the exhibit while walking to a friend's apartment. "Something like this really brings you back."
It's only natural to wonder what the artist, who died of heart failure in 1994, would have thought of his work's newfound popularity in movies and TV. According to Hoppe, it may not have come as a surprise to Kirby.
"Decades ago, before the Comic-Con was huge, he said it would get as big as it has," Hoppe said, referring to the San Diego Comic-Con International, which today regularly hosts the film industry in addition to comic book artists. "He predicted that Hollywood studios would come get their ideas from comics. He really expected it."
The Kirby Museum is located at 178 Delancey St., and will be open from noon to 7 p.m. every day through Sunday, Nov. 10. Admission is free.