On August 28, 1907, a boy named Jacob Kurtzberg was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Kurtzberg was a Jew with two quick fists, used primarily for scrapping and scribbling. Poor as he was, he tore through reams of old wallpaper and adorned the staircase of his tenement with cartoon illustrations. Entering the fray of a burgeoning genre that collected Sunday comic strips into 10-cent anthologies in the late 1930s, Jacob would emerge at the forefront of the comic book world. Changing his name and lending his talents to superheroes who tackled veiled versions of real-world villains like the Nazis, Jacob became Jack Kirby, the King of Comics.
Wasting no time, Jack drew Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw and never stopped swinging from the 40s through the 60s. Alongside co-creators like Stan Lee, Kirby devised a slew of socially-conscious heroes with allegorical undertones: the space-age paranoia and xenophobia of the Fantastic Four, the prejudice faced by the X-Men and the mock-UN of the Avengers. Valiant as these efforts were, these teams of fantastical characters were severely lacking in their diversity, especially in light of contemporary civil rights tensions of the 60s. This would be rectified when Kirby and Lee introduced the Black Panther, the first Black superhero, in 1966.
The character began as a Kirby sketch labeled as the Coal Tiger, designed for the Fantastic Four as an African King, and intended to be the first major Black character in Marvel comics. Inker Joe Sinnot designed the iconic full-face mask and Stan Lee developed the bombastic dialogue for the first Black Panther stories in the Fantastic Four comic. In spite of a brief name change to the Black Leopard in the mid-70s (to avoid Lee’s unwanted affiliations with the Black Panther Party), the character’s name and position in Marvel Comics proved to be too powerful to sustain long-term alterations. The Black Panther became well-known amongst comic book fans and well-situated among the Blaxploitation heroes of the late 70s, but it would be a boy born ten years after the character’s creation who would bring the character to a truly global stage.
On August 28, 2020, actor Chadwick Boseman died of stage four colon cancer at the age of 43. Born in South Carolina on November 29, 1976, Boseman took to performance at an early age, overcame financial hurdles to attend Howard University and established himself as one of the finest young actors of his generation. He won praise from countless names in the industry, including Denzel Washington, who financed Boseman’s education at the British American Academy of London as an anonymous donor. Boseman spent much of his early career writing and directing plays, paying his dues as a television actor prior to his ventures.
Boseman spent the final decade of his life portraying Black icons ranging from Jackie Robinson (August 28 is also Jackie Robinson Day) to James Brown. The Black Panther, however, was most notable. It was with this role that Boseman clinched his position as the hero of millions of children who saw themselves on screen in a way that had never before been equaled. Taking this status to heart, Boseman made sure to visit ailing children to galvanize their spirits. In doing so, Boseman has become an icon in his own right alongside the real life and fictional men he portrayed.
Jack Kirby died in 1994, before the reach of his co-creations became a massive multibillion dollar empire. Chadwick Boseman died at the pinnacle of his professional career, before a proposed sequel perpetuated the already-powerful legacy as the Black Panther, elevated in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement. As two creatives who amplified the voices of the disenfranchised, it is perhaps equal parts fitting and tragic that their names are forever bound by the date of August 28 as they are etched into history.
Art by Naomi Desai