When Titans Clash: Kirby vs Tezuka

Jack Kirby is known as the King among fans of American comics, and it’s fair enough. He was there at the start of superheroes (creating Captain America), he created the first romance comics, the first mystical horror comics, he created virtually the whole Marvel Universe, he was in the frontline of the independent boom of the early ’80s, and he produced many of the greatest American comic books ever.

But if you’re a fan of Japanese comics, there is another strong candidate for the throne. Osamu Tezuka produced over 150,000 pages of comics in 40 years – I’d guess that’s about three times as much as in Kirby’s longer career, though I’m unsure how much of Tezuka’s work was done by assistants. He also produced vast amounts of animation, including Japan’s first cartoon series, exported to the West as Astro Boy, a few prose books, and was seen as enough of a major cultural treasure to have addressed the UN.

In quality, I think they are closely comparable. The Astro Boy strips of the ’50s are brilliant stories, full of wit, humanity and energy. What I’ve read of his series of Phoenix tales is even better, among the most powerful and moving comics ever. I really think this is in the same league as Kirby’s greatest work, say the FF and the Fourth World titles. But on the one hand I’ve read maybe ten times as much Kirby as Tezuka, and as proportions of their careers that’s a thirtyfold difference. Is there anyone out there with a really extensive knowledge of both of these creative giants who can better compare them?