The King of Comics' granddaughter continues his charitable legacy with the Hero Initiative!
On Friday August 28, anybody who has ever enjoyed a Marvel comic, movie, TV show, or character should take a moment to wish a happy 98th birthday to the one and only Jack Kirby, one of comics’ all-time greatest creators and a pillar of the House of Ideas. All-week long to celebrate, Marvel.com will be featuring the best of “The King,” with interviews, art, stories, and more! Visit marvel.com/kirbyweek!
Also be sure to check out and support Kirby4Heroes, a special campaign to raise money in Jack’s honor for the Hero Initiative founded by his granddaughter Jillian! Visit kirby4heroes.com and Facebook.com/Kirby4Heroes, and watch this special Kirby4Heroes spotlight video produced by The Nerdist!
At the age of 16, Jillian Kirby, granddaughter of legendary creator Jack Kirby, founded Kirby4Heroes, a charity to support the Hero Initiative, a non-profit organization to help those in the comics industry fallen on hard times and in need of medical and financial assistance. In this way, Ms. Kirby continues the charitable legacy of her grandfather, whose own door always remained open to those in need.
As she prepares to mark another year of Kirby4Heroes’ fund-raising, Jillian Kirby took a moment to reflect upon both her work for the charity and Jack’s spirit of giving.
Marvel.com: Jillian, you were a busy high school student when you founded Kirby4Heroes, and a busy college student now; how did it come about and how did you know you could make it work and still maintain your education and personal life?
Jillian Kirby: First and foremost, I was raised by both sides of my family in an atmosphere of charity, giving to those in need, and giving back to the community. My parents, Connie and Neal Kirby, are the biggest influences in my life. My mother is a Speech and Language Pathologist, who passionately serves elementary school children with speech and language difficulties and who might also suffer from Autism, emotional problems, or Attention Deficit Disorder. Many times, she has given a voice to children who cannot speak a word. A previous job involved serving children in juvenile detention centers, giving them hope for a future outside of prison. The kindheartedness and selflessness she has shown has inspired me to enter into a profession that ultimately benefits others. My father is a science teacher who also loves working with children, awakening in them an enthusiasm for science many have not experienced. His devotion and knowledge also awakened in me a passion for math and science. Both my parents, in their chosen professions and at home with me, are the best role models and heroes I could possibly have.
My other grandfather, Gene Oliva, had a very successful career in public relations in New York City, working tirelessly as my grandfather Jack Kirby did. He was a true mentor to those starting out in the field, sharing his creativity and enthusiasm. My grandmother, Ruth Oliva, epitomized public service. She served on her town board as a Councilwoman and Deputy Town Supervisor. In addition, she was a tireless voluntary advocate for environmentalism and preserving the quality of life on the North Fork of Long Island. I never saw her sit still except to eat dinner. What an example she set! I am proud that a county nature preserve, Ruth Oliva Preserve at Dam Pond, was named and dedicated in her honor after she passed away.
My grandfather, Jack Kirby, a WWII combat veteran and member of the “Greatest Generation”, to me serves as a role model in terms of his acts of valor and bravery during the war. In addition, one aspect of his status as a role model for my family and myself is his charitable works. Throughout his life, by giving to charity and to his temple, my grandfather embodied the very generous and giving nature that I hope to expand upon. His comic books reached out to so many children, and helped many through difficult times. He was humble and never refused to talk to any of his fans.
And, my grandmother, Roz Kirby, was a hero, true and steadfast to my grandfather. Her devotion to him allowed my grandfather to follow his passion; another example of selflessness. I am proud to call each and every one of them my grandparent; they have all had a very positive impact on my life. They are all heroes.
My grandfather Jack Kirby died the year before I was born. Prior to entering my senior year of high school in 2012, I was searching for a way to make more of a personal connection with him. In addition to family stories over the years, I had just read my father’s article “Growing Up Kirby: The Marvel Memories of Jack Kirby’s Son” published on the LA Times Hero Complex website, which brought tears to my eyes. The connection with my grandfather grew even more from this, and I wanted to take it one step further. I thought the best way to honor his legacy as a grandfather and as a creator in the industry he helped shape would be through some type of charitable work. This led me to look at charities benefitting the comic book industry. I was surprised to find there were only two: the Hero Initiative and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. After researching the Hero Initiative, I found it so tragic when I discovered that there were so many people in the comic book industry without a financial safety net. The Hero Initiative, which is the only federally registered nonprofit organization that provides medical and financial assistance to comic book creators, writers and artists, is definitely a cause that my grandfather would have championed.
Going into this campaign, I knew it would take an enormous amount of hard work. Hard work is something that is in my DNA, it runs on both sides of my family. I know from the examples set by my family that you can achieve anything you want if you work hard. I used my grandfather Gene’s lessons from public relations in creativity, organization, planning and follow through. Further researching convinced me that my grandpa Jack was held in such high esteem by his peers, past and present and I felt confident that I could ignite the campaign with initial support within the comic book industry. My grandfather was known to have a very strong connection with fans of all ages, spanning several generations. Somehow I knew I would be able to start by recruiting their help and support.
Though the Kirby4Heroes campaign is a year-round effort, it really heats up in June and reaches its zenith on my grandfather’s birthday, August 28th. Having a full-time job during the summer, in addition to managing the campaign, is definitely a balancing act! Unlike most teenagers, whose parents often delegate to them, sometimes I’m delegating certain Kirby4Heroes responsibilities to my parents during the hectic summer months. This has proved necessary and definitely helpful since the campaign has grown so much since its inception in 2012. I really appreciate my parents for their continuous support! September through May are much less intense months. However, as a biomedical engineering major entering my junior year of college—Iron Man, Ant-Man, need a new suit?—sometimes even just maintaining my Kirby4Heroes Facebook and Twitter pages on a daily basis can be a challenge! I try to do my best during these months to honor my grandfather’s legacy by continuing the enthusiasm for my campaign and the Hero Initiative on social media.
Marvel.com: That’s an incredible legacy. How would you describe the growth of the charity since its inception? What do you attribute it to?
Jillian Kirby: My 2012 Kirby4Heroes campaign included comic book retailers throughout the state of California, as well as the first Wake Up And Draw event (WUAD), sponsored by Hero Initiative. This event recruited comic book artists from across the country to create works of art on my grandfather’s birthday. These pieces were later auctioned off, with the proceeds going to Hero Initiative. In that first year, the Kirby4Heroes campaign raised $5000 for the Hero Initiative.
In 2013, my Kirby4Heroes campaign grew with the addition of a Kirby4Heroes public Facebook page. Because of the generous donation of time, effort and support from Bill Cucinotta and Gerry Giovinco of CO2 Comics, a Kirby4Heroes web site was created. Comic book retailers across the country were recruited, and WUAD, with [Hero Initiative’s] Jim McLauchlin’s persistence, was expanded through the voluntary participation of many more talented artists. This increased my fundraising efforts, raising $10,000 for the Hero Initiative!
Last year in 2014, artist Phil Hester created 97 different pieces of Kirby-themed art to auction off for my grandfather’s 97th birthday, raising over $3000! He pulled a marathon of an all-nighter working on these creations, live tweeting with lighthearted humor throughout the night, which truly increased individual participation and enthusiasm for the event! And there’s more! Yet another event spearheaded by the upstate New York team of Ron Marz, comic book writer, and Paul Harding, comic book artist, with participation of comic book retailers, threw a party in commemoration of my grandfather’s birthday at a local venue and raised over $2000 for the Hero Initiative. The event, celebrating the legacy of my grandfather Jack, was featured on National Public Radio! They characterized August 28th as a movement that is spreading throughout the country to become “National Jack Kirby Day”! My grandfather would have been astounded!
Also, a group of major comic book artists made appearances at comic book stores to participate in Wake Up and Draw. The revered inker Joe Sinnott created a work of art as a heartfelt tribute to my grandfather to be auctioned off for the Hero Initiative. In addition, global outreach for the campaign increased, with events at the Moebius Liceo Gallery in Buenos Aires, an appearance by comic book artist Joe Prado at a comic book retailer in San Paolo, Brazil, a major fan Facebook page in France dedicated solely to the works of my grandfather, and comic book artists in France and Italy that created Kirby-inspired works for auction. In total, the Kirby4Heroes campaign raised almost $15,000 in 2014!
Currently, my 2015 campaign is off and running! I am again working with major comic book retailers, not only in California, but also across the country. Many will be donating a percentage of their sales or profits on my grandfather Jack Kirby’s 98th birthday, August 28th, to the Hero Initiative, publicizing my campaign on their web sites and Facebook pages, and using in-store posters and collection jar labels that I have provided. Some will be hosting “birthday parties,” enlisting known comic book artists to draw in their stores with the work to be auctioned off either in their stores or as part of WUAD on eBay. Others will be holding raffles with the proceeds donated to the Hero Initiative. Phil Hester will once again participate with his crazy nonstop drawing, this time creating 98 pieces for my grandfather’s 98th birthday! Also this year, certain comic book retailers coast-to-coast, and Kansas too, will be broadcasting podcasts featuring comic book artists talking about my grandfather and Kirby4Heroes.
I am so excited that my 2015 Kirby4Heroes campaign will also have the official endorsement of ComicsPRO, the only professional trade organization for comic book retailers. Marco Davanzo, the Executive Director—and owner of Alakazam Comics in Irvine, CA—was instrumental in facilitating this arrangement. With over 130 members representing over 200 stores nationwide, I expect ComicsPRO to be a great resource and support. Within hours of Marco publicizing the campaign to ComicsPRO members, I began receiving requests by comic book retailers to be involved in my Kirby4Heroes campaign. It’s thrilling that my Kirby4Heroes campaign is receiving such enthusiastic support by members of the comic book community.
Since my campaign’s inception in June 2012, the support given to me by the LA Times Hero Complex and the Nerdist Channel has been instrumental in relaying my message to the comic book reading public, major comic book websites, and mainstream media outlets, increasing my fundraising outreach. My initial contacts, Geoff Boucher at the Hero Complex and Seth Laderman at Nerdist, provided such amazing guidance, mentorship and continuing support and enthusiasm which carries through to this year’s campaign. The LA Times Hero Complex again published a fantastic article about my 2015 Kirby4Heroes campaign, embedding the professionally produced and edited 2015 promotional YouTube video, released on the Nerdist Channel.
One of the most satisfying surprises from my 2014 campaign was the amount of personal donations in the name of Kirby4Heroes sent in to the Hero Initiative either by mail or on the Hero Initiative web site. The addition of my public Kirby4Heroes Facebook page in 2013 and its growth in 2014 greatly helped my fundraising efforts. This Facebook page is meant to serve as a type of personal Jack Kirby art museum. I try to keep my grandfather Jack’s legacy thriving through daily postings of his artwork. Comments made by the page’s followers are often both entertaining and educational. They keep my grandfather’s spirit alive. The Facebook page allows followers to personally message me, which has become another avenue for outreach. Furthermore, a Kirby4Heroes Twitter account was created in 2014, which really heats up for my grandfather’s birthday on August 28th.
Innovative fundraising ideas contributed by many Jack Kirby fans continually assist the Kirby4Heroes campaign to expand and blossom! Watching this event spread from state to state, with the possibility of becoming a national or international event is my greatest dream leading up to my grandfather’s 100th birthday in 2017. I look forward to the culmination of a fantastic show of support on August 28th! Over the past three years the Kirby4Heroes campaign has been fortunate enough to raise over $30,000 for the Hero Initiative. This year, I’ve upped the ante to a fundraising goal of $20,000!
Marvel.com: And what aspects of the 2015 campaign are you most excited about, and why?
Jillian Kirby: There are so many new and amazing aspects of Kirby4Heroes this year that it’s hard to pick just one!
Kirby4Heroes has the official endorsement of ComicsPRO, the only professional comic book retailer trade organization, which has greatly helped to expand the outreach of the campaign. Because of this, new retailers have been reaching out to me, asking how they can get involved in Kirby4Heroes. It is also very gratifying to see Marvel devoting a week on their web site to my grandfather, his legacy and this campaign for the Hero Initiative for the first time! It touches my heart!
Furthermore, I’m very much looking forward to August 28th, to see what is happening across the nation and globally for the Kirby4Heroes Wake Up And Draw event. The enthusiasm of the participating artists is evident on Twitter while they are in the process of creating and completing works of art in honor of my grandfather’s birthday. There are at least 70 artists and counting participating this year. I am contacted almost every day from another artist that wants to be involved in the campaign. Some individuals have reached out to me, noting that they don’t have the financial means to contribute to the Hero Initiative, but they contribute fantastic fundraising ideas. You can’t put a price on wonderful ideas that are volunteered to you!
Marvel.com: Indeed! How best would you describe your grandfather’s own charity towards others? Where did it come from within him?
Jillian Kirby: My grandfather was a Depression-era child who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His immigrant parents lived in very poor circumstances. Their family of four lived on the fifth floor of a walk-up tenement building. The apartment, if you could call it that, had but one window and no electricity. The entire family shared one bed. Can you imagine? My grandfather said that his only vacation growing up was to step out on the fire escape. Unlike most of his boyhood friends, he was very sensitive to the feelings of others. My grandfather has told this story, where the members of the street gang he belonged to were asked, for good luck, to rub the back of one of the boys who had a deformed spine, prior to fighting another street gang. Feeling sorry for this handicapped boy, my grandfather refused. Like Captain America, my grandfather always stood up for the little guy. Many of Grandpa Jack’s friends went on to become gangsters or wind up dead or in prison. He didn’t, he chose the path of hard work.
A wonderful example of my grandfather Jack’s charitable nature can be seen in an anecdote my father shared with me on many occasions. It took place during the Bar Mitzvah of my grandfather’s nephew in a Lower East Side Manhattan synagogue in the early 1960’s. After the service, his nephew’s family, being of modest means, had just a simple buffet served in the large entrance foyer of the synagogue. Noticing a homeless man standing in the open doorway, just looking in at the celebration, my grandfather Jack immediately walked over to the man, took him by the arm, led him into the room, sat him down at a table and served him a plate of food. Not a word was spoken between the two men.
My grandfather, himself having grown up in poverty, knew hunger. This act of kindness, typical of my grandfather, inspired me to raise money and awareness for the Hero Initiative, because a charity that helps others in the comic book community and gives aid to those in need exemplifies the devotion my grandfather Jack always had for his fellow man. As a member of the Jewish community in Thousand Oaks, CA, my grandfather gave generously to various charities as well.
My grandfather Jack’s generosity was legendary in the comic book industry. He always gave encouragement to budding comic book artists asking for advice. He never turned away a fan! He maintained a public address and phone number available to all. This would be unheard of today! His Thousand Oaks home was famous as a haven for comic book lovers, fans, and those just seeking one of my grandma Roz’s famous bologna sandwiches! Over the course of his career, my grandfather received thousands of fan letters, to which he always personally replied. He never hesitated to draw a sketch or sign an autograph when asked, whether by mail or at his home.
Whether helping the little guy through acts of kindness, charity, or support, my grandpa Jack is my personal Captain America!
Marvel.com: Ah, that leads us to ask if you have a favorite Marvel character your grandfather played a role in creating?
Jillian Kirby: There are so many characters I enjoy, such as the Silver Surfer, the Incredible Hulk and the Invisible Woman, but if push came to shove, I would pick Captain America as my personal favorite—shout out to co-creator Joe Simon! Cap is everything my grandfather stood for: standing up for the little guy, protecting the weak, and his fierce patriotism was emblematic of America’s stand against tyranny during WWII! My grandfather, as a liberal Democrat, always identified with this character, which gives Captain America personal significance to me. I loved seeing Lewis Black mention the iconic CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1 cover showing Cap punching Hitler in the jaw on “The Daily Show”! We miss you Jon Stewart!
Marvel.com: Okay, many say they find something new in Jack’s art every time they peruse it; do you find that in your own case? What’s the most engaging element of it for you?
Jillian Kirby: There are many aspects of my grandfather’s artwork that are engaging to me. The use of forced perspective for dramatic effect always wows me and makes his characters seem to jump off the page! Also, being an engineering student, every time I look at one of his technologically based drawings I notice new intricate details in the design of the drawing that I previously overlooked. His black and white pencil sketches truly resonate with me on a personal level because those were my grandfather’s original creations and ideas. Even without dialogue, his artwork always seems to tell a story, and I’m sure have served as storyboards for many super hero movies, which he would have loved.
As Brent Staples of the New York Times wrote, “He brought in a vibrant, cinematic style to the idiom and revolutionized it several times, working in romance, westerns, fantasy, and the [super hero] genre.”
Marvel.com: Finally, let’s look ahead to the 100th anniversary of Jack’s birth, what might we expect from you and the charity?
Jillian Kirby: Looking ahead to the future, I’m zeroing in on August 28th, 2017, my grandfather’s 100th birthday. Upon reaching my 2015 goal of $20,000 for the Hero Initiative, I will have brought in a total of $50,000 since my campaign’s inception in 2012. My target is to raise an additional $50,000 over the next two years. Upon my Grandpa Jack’s 100th birthday celebration in 2017, I will hopefully have been able to provide the Hero Initiative with $100,000 for their charitable works. It would also be wonderful to have fundraising events for Kirby4Heroes occurring in all 50 states to benefit the Hero Initiative by 2017.
Another one of my goals to honor my Grandpa Jack’s legacy is to increase outreach to the younger generation, using school art programs to educate students about my grandfather as an important 20th century American artist. To spread awareness of my grandfather’s influence as one of the most preeminent American pop culture artists of the 20th century, seeing his artwork displayed in several major art museums would be another amazing goal, enabling my grandfather and his legacy to be celebrated in the mainstream. As I feel my grandfather was an American Master artist and patriot, I would love to see PBS feature him in one of their inspirational “American Masters” documentaries. In addition, as Washington, DC represents the heart of our political process and my grandfather was a WWII combat veteran and fierce patriot, it would thrill me to see him given the very first posthumous Kennedy Center Honor.