Jack Kirby isn’t having a banner decade in TwoMorrows publications. In Jack Kirby Collector 74 in 2018, John Morrow printed an interview with Roy Thomas. I wrote John in response to the preview to say Thomas had his own TwoMorrows magazine, what place did the world’s biggest Kirby denier have in TJKC? He persuaded me to give the interview a chance, resulting in a series of blogposts.
The next issue of TJKC, also in 2018, was Stuf Said, with Thomas as a key witness. Stan Lee cheated Kirby out of nearly a decade of writing pay and misrepresented the nature of their collaboration to the end, but Morrow took the opportunity to find his inner Jury Foreman Mitch, and acquit Lee on all charges.
What could be better than a Roy Thomas interview in the Kirby Collector? How about an entire Alter Ego Kirby tribute issue? As Lee always did, Thomas tends to steal credit from Kirby every time he speaks his name or writes about him. The tribute issue stays true to Thomas’ mission, to confine the TwoMorrows definition of Jack Kirby to “artist.” Thomas expresses the thrust of the issue like this: “Jack was an artist for all eras, and it was high time we made certain that everybody knew that we knew it, too!”
Kirby was a storyteller, and saw himself as primarily a writer. He was a creator/writer/artist, and the writer of the bulk of his own work. That version of Jack Kirby cannot be given credence in Thomas’ world, because it calls into question everything he and the other fans-turned-writers believe they accomplished in their lifetimes. No, Thomas needs to discredit Kirby the writer with every fibre of his being or admit that, in Conan terms, Kirby was Lee’s Robert E Howard and Barry Windsor-Smith combined. Unlike Thomas’ Conan “collaborators,” Kirby worked in a medium that he helped define and repeatedly revolutionized, one for which Lee held nothing but disdain.
By the same token, the tribute issue for that Jack Kirby won’t come from TwoMorrows. Despite having printed the thoughts of people like Grant Morrison, who “get” Kirby’s dialogue, the only Kirby-the-Writer-themed articles in TJKC that will be tolerated by the readership are those that make fun of that dialogue, catering to people who believe Lee’s captions and promotion represented the epitome of literature.
From Thomas’ article in the issue: “Before long, Jack was bad-mouthing Stan again to the fan press, but Stan—at least for the most part—tried not to respond in kind.” This is a lie from the pit of hell: Lee turned on Kirby the way he turned on every other one of his dissatisfied “collaborators”—just ask Ditko, Everett, Wood, or Ayers. (It was also the way many of the fans-turned-writers, Thomas included, turned on their co-workers, in public.) Lee told Salicrup in a 1983 interview for a Marvel publication that Kirby was “beginning to imagine things,” and more specifically to Steve Duin after the TCJ interview, “he’s either lost his mind or he’s a very evil person.” As of the late 1970s, the internal company line from the “serpent’s nest,” somehow leaked to the fans, was that Kirby had dementia.
Thomas, doing his best Minister of Propaganda impression, has accused his detractors of that of which he himself is guilty: he believes Lee contributed something, insinuating that Kirby advocates do not. I’m going to try to make this simple enough for even a Marvel Method writer to understand:
No one says “Lee did nothing.” Everyone believes that Lee contributed a great deal; the question is whether it resulted in the greatest thing ever. Thomas is using the accusation to cover up the fact that it’s precisely what he’s doing to Kirby in the guise of praising him, just like Lee always did.
“Kirby hater”: Thomas’ own words. (“Lee hater” is the epithet directed at someone who suggests Kirby wrote, a usage potentially initiated by Thomas.) Athough some might see intense hatred as the motive behind a decades-long anti-Kirby campaign in the fan press, I’m going to go with the more descriptive “Kirby denier.”
The question Thomas needs to answer is what it was, beyond the dynamic artwork, that Kirby brought to the equation. Without specifics, it’s far too easy for him to go on “praising” Kirby with generalities.
Anyway, back to 2018… What does a guy have to do to get a writing credit in his own checklist? If he’s Jack Kirby, it may just be too much to ask.
The 2017 two-volume Jack Kirby Monsterbus and this year’s Complete Kirby War & Romance were encumbered with credits dictated by lawyers. Stan Lee and Larry Lieber got top billing as writers, with no evidence that they were involved in the work Kirby was doing in the fantasy/sf titles. (By this time Lee hadn’t yet felt the compulsion to risk Kirby’s wrath and step outside his editor’s salary for occasionally editing the copy on Kirby’s “monster” pages—edits during the period weren’t signed.)
The 2018 version of the Jack Kirby Checklist from TwoMorrows, called the Centennial Edition, comes with similar issues.
The checklist made its debut in The Art of Jack Kirby by Ray Wyman, Jr and Catherine Hohlfeld, the book that in 1993 set a high bar for Kirby biographies. In the standalone editions of the checklist that followed, Richard Kolkman gets “compiled by” credit in 1998 and 2008, then “compiled and curated by” in 2018. The Final Edition (1998) introduced a Joe Simon inking credit on many stories inked by Kirby, an error repeated in subsequent editions. This misconception on the part of Kolkman appears to have led to more recent, more far-reaching inaccuracies.
The 1998 version also featured the first appearance of a Marvel Method disclaimer, attributing story flow and pacing to Kirby: “Kirby is a primary co-plotter by virtue of the ‘Marvel method’; story being pencilled first establishes story flow and pacing.” The Centennial Edition expands and reverses the meaning by adding Lee, Lieber, and Bernstein to an already inaccurate blanket credit; now, instead of crediting Kirby for his uncredited plotting, the disclaimer credits others for their nonexistent writing.
The collaborators listed in the Marvel Method note vary: Lee, Lee or Lieber, Lieber, Lieber or Bernstein, and in one instance none specified (perhaps after twenty years in the business Kirby finally got the hang of writing Marvel Method with himself). These titles have been assigned the note:
Yellow Claw (1956) Gunsmoke Western (1958, starting with pre-implosion inventory not previously credited to Lee) Battle (1959) Journey Into Mystery (1959) Love Romances (1959) Strange Tales (1959) Strange Worlds (1958) Tales of Suspense (1959) Tales to Astonish (1959) Two-Gun Kid (1959) Rawhide Kid (1960) Amazing Adventures (1961) Fantastic Four (1961) Incredible Hulk (1962) Avengers (1963) Sgt Fury (1963) X-Men (1963) Mighty Thor (1966) Captain America (1968) Silver Surfer #18 (1970)
The Marvel Method was Lee’s kickback scheme to extract Kirby’s writing page rate, and the testimony of Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby put the start of the scheme at Fantastic Four #1. The Marvel Method disclaimer should therefore at most apply to the following titles:
Fantastic Four Incredible Hulk Avengers Sgt Fury X-Men Mighty Thor Captain America Silver Surfer #18
Yellow Claw is Kirby writing, pencilling, and inking (Harry Mendryk covers this in a blog post cited below), and it’s where Kirby introduced the concept of mutants to Atlas. Lieber wasn’t present at the time; Lee wasn’t involved with Kirby’s stories, and was possibly not even the editor on any of Kirby’s books.
Battle doesn’t merit the “Lee or Lieber” credit. The stories were written by Kirby. If this isn’t obvious to the casual reader or crackerjack indexer, Nick Caputo blogged about it.
Michael Vassallo’s rule of thumb for Lee is if he participated in something, he signed it. For the period prior to FF #1, let’s take a look at the first issue of each title to which Lee was willing to sign his name or add a credit box, taking credit and pay on a story of Kirby’s while it was happening (ie not subject to his “recollections” in 1974 or 1998). None are in the 1950s.
Strange Worlds, Amazing Adventures, zero Lee signatures or credit boxes Two-Gun Kid 54, June 1960, signed Gunsmoke Western 59, July 1960 signed Rawhide Kid 17, August 1960, signed Love Romances 96, November 1961, signed Journey Into Mystery 86, November 1962, credit box (Thor but not the first) Tales to Astonish 38, December 1962, credit box Strange Tales 103, December 1962, credit box Tales of Suspense 40, April 1963, credit box (Iron Man but not the first)
The other note introduced in the Centennial Edition tries to tie Kirby’s 1956 Atlas stories to S&K work for Harvey. Between Simon and the Marvel Method, there’s simply no longer any need to agonize over who wrote Kirby’s stories in the 1950s and reach the unpalatable conclusion that it was actually Kirby. Stories in these titles (all 1956) have been designated “surplus Harvey Publications story”:
Astonishing (explicitly credited as Simon inks), Battleground Strange Tales of the Unusual
Each entry refers to the others, and the parenthetical list at the end of the Yellow Claw #2 entry implies guilt by association.
The other 1956 title containing Kirby’s work, Black Rider Rides Again!, somehow escaped the checklist’s Harvey designation. One of the Black Rider stories was printed post-implosion and received the blanket Lee writing credit (see Gunsmoke Western above).
Michael Vassallo contacted Richard Kolkman to find out the reasoning behind the latest Kirby discrediting. Kolkman believes Joe Simon inked “Afraid To Dream,” the Kirby story that was printed in Astonishing, and used that to jump to the Harvey surplus conclusion. He cites Harry Mendryk, but Mendryk is extremely capable in distinguishing Kirby’s inks—it’s unfortunate he wasn’t consulted on the inking credits. Mendryk blogged about Yellow Claw and “Afraid to Dream.”
Kolkman believes Kirby scripted “Afraid To Dream” but didn’t ink it, and inked the “Mine Field” story in Battlefield but worked from someone else’s script. The reality is Kirby wrote and inked both, and nearly every Simon inking credit in the book should be changed to Kirby. Kolkman says he will remove the Marvel Method note on Yellow Claw.
Let’s look at the timeline from the viewpoint of the evidence.
Kirby scripts, Kirby inks (with the exception of Yellow Claw #4, inked by John Severin). Lee was not the writer (he didn’t sign any of the work in question), and he was likely not the editor. Two of the editors at the time were Alan Sulman and Ernie Hart.
Kirby was being paid for writing and pencilling. If Lee made changes to the wording in the office, as is visible on the original art at least once (“Fin Fang Foom,” late in the period), he was doing it as the editor. Lee did not sign a single Kirby sf or fantasy story.
Marvel Method (1961-1970)
During this period, a Lieber script credit meant Lieber (or Bernstein where he was credited) was adding dialogue and captions to a finished story. A Lee plot credit was simply fraudulent, since Lee was getting the plots from Kirby’s finished pages. The plot credit/pay was the cut Lee took out of Kirby’s writing pay when he directed it to Lieber. It’s possible that this is the period Lieber remembers as supplying scripts for Kirby based on plots by Lee (which were in turn scraped from Kirby’s pages). Kirby was being defrauded of the writing pay.
The Jack Kirby Checklist, Centennial Edition was a mammoth undertaking and provides an invaluable catalogue of Kirby’s work. When it comes to credits, however, the simplicity of the original Art of Jack Kirby edition, with none added, is simply more respectful of the name on the cover.
Here’s a chapter from my book. It’s actually an unnumbered chapter, meant as a sidebar or supplemental information to the chapter before it. It’s my earlier blog post of the same name but updated for the book.
In the chapter that follows, I quoted Jack Kirby’s interview with Howard Zimmerman in Comics Scene #2, famous for Kirby’s characterization of the Marvel offices as a serpent’s nest. Ferran Delgado recently posted the company response, undertaken in the form of letters to the magazine from Roger Stern and John Byrne that had Zimmerman backpedaling on his presentation of Kirby’s views (which were, still, Kirby’s views).1
Byrne wrote that the article “was so full of inaccuracy and muddled re-tellings of events that it was almost unreadable. Example: when I started at Marvel in 1974 they had already established a policy of returning artwork to the artists and writers involved. Kirby makes it sound as if he had to fight for the return of his work after he came back to Marvel in 1976, and this is reported as true… Unfortunately, since Marvel, Jim Shooter, Stan Lee, and probably myself by now, are branded as corporate bad-guys the majority of your readers will probably take every word of the Kirby article as gospel.”
John Byrne is not, and will never be, Jack Kirby. Like Gene Colan, John Romita, John Buscema, or Stan Goldberg, Byrne’s experience with Marvel cannot be used to relate to, or discredit, Kirby’s. Kirby’s treatment at the hands of the company was shameful, and Byrne compounds it by attempting to deny it. While Kirby was getting his 1970s artwork returned, Marvel was not only holding his earlier more valuable work hostage, the company was going to great measures to encourage the theft of what was left of it after certain people were permitted to help themselves to it in the ’60s. In his letter, although he intended it sarcastically, Byrne identified the correct approach: take Kirby’s words in the article “as gospel.” He was also spot on in his enumeration of the “bad guys.”
Stern wrote, “If Mr Kirby has been led to believe that there was some sort of conspiracy to sabotage his books at Marvel in the 1970s, then someone has played a cruel joke on the man. When I started working at Marvel in December of 1975, standard operating procedure was to basically let Jack do whatever he wanted… Hell, the whole office, yours truly included, looked upon Jack as a comics demi-god.” Translation: we were “Jack’s biggest fans,” a euphemism for “We slag Kirby out of our love for him.” (It goes with his conclusion, where he wrote, “I don’t wish to have this sound like I’m down on Jack Kirby. There are few people in the comics industry whom I more admire and respect. I must point out, though, that he is laboring under some misconceptions which can only do him harm.”) Stern went on… “As for the idea that competing writers filled the pages of Jack’s books with overly critical letters—’knock letters’ as Jack called them—well, nothing could be further from the truth… Moreover, I find it hard to believe Mr Kirby’s claim that he wrote all of the early Marvels.”
The transparent strategy of this pair of company men to discredit Kirby closely follows that of their mentor: bluster through the list of “outrageous” claims and conclude, if Kirby hasn’t lost it, then Marvel, Lee, Shooter, and Byrne are the bad guys. Isn’t that ridiculous?
This is the version of the Knock Letters chapter included in the book after the First Edition. It originally started with a quote from a Mike Royer interview, but I removed it at the request of the interviewer. During the resulting reorganization, a casualty of space considerations was Eric Stedman’s concise assessment, but I’ll include it again here:
“All of this is nothing more than vilification of a mature genius by greedy young dumbshits in order to try and justify theft of his creations.”2
In the midst of Marvel’s lawsuit against the Kirbys, something was bugging Scott Edelman, the letter column editor on a number of issues of Kirby’s Captain America and Black Panther. On his blog, he attempted to demonstrate how fair he’d been, and asked: “Where are those letters columns designed to turn fans into a torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding mob intent on storming the House of Ideas and demanding Kirby be fired? I just don’t see it. And I’d like those who feel they do see it to back up their claims with some proof. Otherwise, all they’re doing is maligning folks like me who were doing their best to let readers have their say.”3
In an earlier blog post, Edelman proved that it was about more than just letters:4 “I was on staff at Marvel Comics in the mid-’70s when the King returned and tried to pick up where he’d left off… The buzz from us kids in the office wasn’t kind. I’ll admit it. Kirby was a god to us for what he did during the ’60s, but what he was doing at Marvel in the ’70s made us wince, and we didn’t have the tact or maturity to say it appropriately. So we acted like ungrateful punks.”
In The Jack Kirby Collector #72, Shane Foley did an investigative report called “The Great Kirby Kontroversy Letters.” He set out to read all of the letters printed in Jack Kirby’s titles during Kirby’s final years at Marvel, from 1975 to 1978.
Contrary to the article’s title, the Marvel knock letters are not controversial. To expend so much effort to prove Kirby’s (and Jim Shooter’s) impressions were wrong about them seems misguided. The article should have shown the brutal examples from Captain America and Black Panther, and called the case closed. Ralph Macchio’s letter, printed a month before he joined the staff, portended the demise of the medium with the fanboy call for “continuity and verisimilitude,” and provided the template for many letters to come. Editor/publisher Robin Snyder, in his letter to Black Panther, asked for some respect for Kirby and an end to the knock letters.
This isn’t a question of balance, and a comparison to the LOC pages of other editors proves nothing. What Foley left out of the discussion is that Stan Lee wouldn’t have printed a negative letter. The meaningful comparison would be with ’60s letter columns, with Lee writing and answering letters in FF and signing the names of Stan Goldberg and Sol Brodsky: “Your comics are a cut above!” and “Our readers are more intelligent than most!” (See Chapter 8 in the book.)
The knock letters were the tip of the iceberg of Kirby’s treatment at the hands of the “serpent’s nest.” It was part of a coordinated campaign to discredit him, causing him to take the extreme step of wrestling control of the letters pages away from New York. The campaign was orchestrated by young men of lesser talent without a shred of gratitude (or shame) who wanted to ride Kirby to success the way Lee had. When Kirby declined, they showed a unanimous lack of class and belittled the guy who made their careers possible. His perception of negativity doesn’t bear contesting: it was Kirby’s perception, and calling him overly sensitive is beneath TJKC.
127: [Morrow] I attend my first major comics convention, the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, and pick up the Kirby Masterworks Portfolio from Jim Steranko’s Supergraphics table. I meet Stan Lee, and Jack’s new Silver Surfer Graphic Novel pages are on display. But I overhear some Marvel staffers make disparaging comments about how Jack has “lost it” and can’t produce decent work anymore. I am stunned, to say the least, as I’m still enjoying his work greatly at the time.
Tom Brevoort:5 “It’s been reported that people in the Marvel offices who weren’t enamored with what Kirby was doing on his titles (and who may have preferred it if he had been drawing stories of their design) filled up his letters pages with ‘knock letters.’ In this instance [Captain America #210], they have a point. The whole page is devoted to how divisive Kirby’s return to CAPTAIN AMERICA has been–and while there’s a balance of viewpoints presented, the very fact that the idea of a controversy is acknowledged and given credence plays into the situation. This is a far cry from the typically-laudatory fare that filled most Marvel letters pages. Sure, an occasional knock letter might be printed, but usually those were few and far-between.”
Others’ perceptions aside, what was Kirby’s experience?
Stephen Bissette:6 “I can only imagine how demoralizing this must have been for Jack; I was freelancing at Marvel around this time, and it was heartbreaking to see with one’s own eyes various photocopies of Kirby’s work posted around the offices with ‘satiric’ overdrawings and sarcastic written comments scrawled on them. The utter contempt for and jeering at Kirby’s work for the company was mortifying, and a stern lesson for a budding freelancer working to (maybe) get one’s foot in the door.”
Mark Evanier:7 “Archie Goodwin, whom Jack respected greatly, kept in touch with Jack and did do a little editing on the books, sometimes rewriting (or allowing his assistants to rewrite) a line or a caption. Jack once showed me a splash page to a CAPTAIN AMERICA where someone in New York had rewritten some of his copy. He asked me to explain what this had accomplished and I couldn’t; the rewritten text was not substantially better or different in meaning…it was just different. Some of the other editorial changes were more logical.
“Jack’s feelings about this work (and his concern about his letters pages trashing him, which someone else mentioned) will perhaps make more sense if you know that there was at least one editorial staffer at Marvel at the time who was quite vocal in his dislike of Kirby writing, and who felt HE should have the job of doing the dialogue. Jack told me that this guy would phone him up and say, ‘Well, your new issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA just arrived, Mr. Kirby, and the artwork is breathtaking but everyone here in the office [a gross exaggeration] agrees that the writing is shit. Your books are all bombing, too. The only way you can save your career is to have one of us take over doing the dialogue.’ Or words to that effect.”
Michael Vassallo: “You mean to tell me that some disrespectful moron at Marvel actually said to Jack personally that his writing was ‘shit’? You’d better keep his name a secret Mark. This is one livid Sicilian here!! Even 20 years after the fact I’m appalled.”
Mark Evanier: “It’s true and there were some worse incidents than that.”
The health of a comic book can be manipulated by the staff alone. You fill up a book with knock letters [negative criticisms in the letters pages]. The reader who picks up the book and reads all those knock letters knows that the book he’s reading… well, it’s not so hot. And if you do it consistently, it becomes ‘a bad book.’ I haven’t seen anything like a bad book anywhere. I’ve seen a lot of guys trying. I’ve seen a lot of guys who’ll never get the chance to develop. And you can’t develop with two or three issues. You’ve got to give a man a chance to stay in there—either take his beating or succeed. And comics have not done this today.
A guy will create a book, another will fill his book up with knock letters—he’s off in five months, or three months, and the other guy’s got his shot.” Until now Kirby has spoken in even tones. His voice quiet, firm. Now emotion breaks through. There is an anguished look in his eyes and a touch of bitterness in his voice as he says, “I see it as a serpent’s nest. And in a serpent’s nest, nothing can survive. Eventually all the snakes kill each other. Eventually they’ll also kill whatever generated them.
Kirby was attacked out of the gate. When he submitted the pages for his first issue of Captain America, Roy Thomas was permitted to pass judgment by annotating a set of photocopied pencils. On the first page, Thomas wrote, “NICE ART—lousy dialogue.” Someone saw fit to send the set to Kirby (the copies were found in his files). Morrow added it to the Thomas interview in TJKC 74, with this caption: [Morrow]: “Roy doesn’t recall this specifically, but someone at Marvel (Verpoorten, Brodsky, or Stan Lee perhaps) loaned him a set of pencil photocopies of Captain America #193 for feedback. After Roy wrote his honest assessment of the issue (though today he wishes he had used a slightly less opprobrious adjective than ‘lousy’), someone at Marvel mailed these in-house copies to Jack—a thoughtless move at best, and one that helped get Kirby’s 1970s Marvel tenure off to a rocky start.”
Ralph Macchio wrote in the foreword to a recent Kirby reprint volume9 that one of his first assignments at Marvel was “proofreading” Kirby’s work for continuity. “Rarely was there anything jarring enough in that regard to contact the King about.” In other words the defacement of Kirby’s work was done in the office without telling him.
KIRBY (to Leonard Pitts, Jr): The people at Marvel (now) weren’t there at that period. The new kids weren’t there. The new kids didn’t feel that desperation– never felt any desperation. In a way, they don’t care. Why should they? They have their lives ahead of them. Nobody will get involved or go on crusades. “Truth, justice and the American way” is just a childish slogan to a lot of people. But I can tell you that a lot of guys died for it. Superman created an attitude that helped many Americans in a very bad spot.
I can tell you that, besides being a non-person up there, I’ve had adverse personal incidents… which I won’t tell you about. And they’ve hurt me badly. It’s something you don’t like to live with. If I cut off your arm, you’re going to live with that forever. Even if they put a false arm on you, you’re never going to have a right or left arm. And that’s what they’ve done to me. They’ve cut off one of my limbs. Keeping my pages… spreading lies. Blatant lies.
Another one of Kirby’s uninvited junior editors was Scott Edelman. This would seem to be a bad combination, because at the time he was “proofreading” it, he was “offended by the crudeness and incomprehensibility of Kirby’s dialogue…”4 Yet during Kirby’s art battle with Marvel nearly thirty years earlier, Edelman penned what could have been the foreword to this book:10
I look back to the first few Bullpen Bulletins Pages of 1965-1966, and read: […] “Jack ‘King’ Kirby drops in loaded down with a new mess of masterpieces, once a week. Poor Jack! He’s so absent-minded that he usually goes home with someone else’s hat, portfolio, or train ticket! Stan wanted to put a label around his neck reading: ‘if found, please return to the Merry Marvel Bullpen!’ but he couldn’t—Jack had lost the label!”–and I think to myself, if I lied in 1975, what’s to say Stan wasn’t doing the same in 1965? Was it all really as good-natured as it seemed? Or did some of the joshing sting?
Alison Lurie, whose most famous novel is The War Between the Tates, wrote in her earlier novel Real Life (1969): “If nothing will finally survive of life besides what artists report, we have no right to report what we know to be lies.”
The terrible answer is that we are losing our real history. Losing it to people too anxious to collude in the Big Lie for the sake of being inside instead of outside as I once did, not even realizing the enormity of what we were doing. Losing it to those all too willing to say that the Emperor is fully clothed if that will keep them working in comics. Losing it to those for whom the incestuous nature of comics means: Never criticize those who might someday have the power to hire you.
The history of comics should be written by journalists, not by propagandists, and as those who can tell the truth about our past pass on one by one, I’m frightened by the thought that soon it will be too late to undo all the damage done by the propagandists.
Abraham Riesman has written one of the most important books in comics history.
The field of Stan Lee biographies is not a narrow one. Ronin Ro brought the outsider’s perspective to his Tales to Astonish, but he simply rehashed the Marvel mythology without questioning it, and he refused to cite sources. Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon were on the right track with their 2004 Lee biography: they questioned Lee’s claims, but still portrayed Marvel as a Stan Lee-Martin Goodman operation that somehow benefited from having Kirby around. Danny Fingeroth’s A Marvelous Life is a straight-up hagiography: the Marvel mythology retold from the perspective of an industry insider. Lee was a great guy who was always nice to everybody, and Kirby, Ditko, Wood, and others were just unreasonable.
What sets Riesman’s book apart is that he is foremost a journalist. He is versed in the mythology but able to step outside it and look at it with a skeptic’s eye. The book is compassionate toward its subject, and compelling. It’s impeccably researched with copious endnotes, and incorporates eye-opening interviews with Lieber, Nat Freedland, Denny O’Neil, and Keya Morgan, among many others.
The introductory sequence portraying Celia Solomon’s family in the Old World is captivating. The book begins and ends with Larry Lieber, the little brother Lee barely tolerated for most of his life, and only grudgingly acknowledged while Goodman was still in the picture. Kirby’s death is like a scene from a movie, with his assessment of the relationship from a recent interview done as a voice over.
As Riesman details, Lee’s existence following Kirby’s death was disturbing and devastatingly sad, not something to be wished on anyone. Kirby’s 1972 Funky Flashman ends with Lee inadvertently burning down the House of Ideas and heading for Hollywood. Lee’s final decade bears an eerie resemblance to one of the storylines in another of Kirby’s DC titles, OMAC.
Although necessary, it’s disconcerting that the objective approach requires Kirby’s words to also be treated with skepticism. The propensity to question Kirby’s claims originated with Lee’s decades-long campaign to discredit his creator and story writer (aka his “collaborator”); it was the greatest possible injury he could have inflicted. Riesman says Kirby’s recollections were confusing, citing the Prisoners of Gravity interview where Kirby told Rick Green that The Fantastic Four “were the young people. I love young people.” It’s one of the supposed inconsistencies that requires “Kirby’s defenders” to explain for him. I oblige, here.
It goes without saying that the book’s release mobilized tens, if not dozens of Lee’s followers to discredit the book sight unseen. On the bright side, on February 8th, Kim O’Connor took issue with a line in that day’s review in The New Yorker:
“Like Troy or Rome, every new Marvel story exists on layers of foundations laid by various hands.”
Come on now, lol. This is surely the most bombastic version of “comics aren’t just for kids” in human history. Which is itself remarkable… but whatever, that’s harmless enough. It’s a lot worse to say, ‘Sure Jack Kirby deserves credit. And so do all the colorists who ever worked on that title and the fans who wrote in about plot points, etc.’ That’s not even remotely the same. Come onnnnnn… If we’re talking about assessing Stan Lee’s legacy, it seems to me the central point is that the myth the man created for himself was leveraged by Marvel to whitewash its egregiously exploitative practices. He was the mascot for what remains, in many ways, a shithole industry.
What does it mean that the entire Marvel Universe was built on the ethos of a glorified used car salesman? Among other things, it means someone at the New Yorker can compare Marvel to Troy & Rome (lmao) without ever acknowledging the deep deep human harm this business has done. The “Marvel Method” isn’t about collaboration and teamwork. That is not the takeaway. The Marvel Method is about exploitation. It is a process that has by every indication ruined lives. Can we stop romanticizing this stuff? Stan Lee is dead, and Marvel Comics really, truly deserves your contempt.
Chris Tolworthy, who also loved the book, pointed out that yes, there were no outside witnesses to a Kirby-Lee story conference, but that doesn’t mean, as Riesman suggests, that the distribution of labour is unknowable. The investigation, as Tolworthy does now, and Stan Taylor and Rich Morrissey did before, teases patterns, themes, plots and characters out of the physical product.
Although the examination of the published work is outside the scope of the book, True Believer promises to reach a wide audience outside of comics fandom. Hopefully now that Riesman has done the important part of skewering the mythology, more resources can be directed at the work of knowing the unknowable.
Comics have had a history problem. Many books that touch on Marvel in the 1960s begin and end with the company version that was developed after Jack Kirby’s 1970 departure. The motivation behind an alternate history was the company’s need to preempt any intellectual property claims on Kirby’s part: he’d operated throughout the ’60s without a contract, and the incoming owners were rightly concerned. The revisionism meshed well with Stan Lee’s portrayal of his Marvel Method as an innovation in comics production, rather than the vehicle for his appropriation of other people’s writing pay, and in 1974 the first installment of the Official Version was published under his name as Origins of Marvel Comics. Compounding the situation, with the passing of labourers and fans of the Golden Age, there’s an increasing belief that comics history begins with Stan Lee creating the Fantastic Four.
The antidote to Marvel’s rewriting of history is the accounts of the freelancers: the writings of Steve Ditko and Wallace Wood, and Jack Kirby’s interviews. Tom Scioli’s Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics starts, not with the inception of the FF, but more than half a century earlier, with the inception of their real creator. Scioli employs a little-seen approach to Kirby’s story: he starts with Kirby’s interviews and treats them as the historical record. In addition to Gary Groth’s 1989 interview in The Comics Journal, he incorporates the 1985 Leonard Pitts, Jr interview, featuring Kirby’s invocation of Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? In Scioli’s telling, Jack Kirby is taken at his word, as he should be.
I wouldn’t have chosen the graphic novel format for a Kirby reference book, but Scioli’s book and James Romberger’s For Real have won me over. This is a book that will bring Kirby’s epic life story to a wider audience.
Jack Kirby is a deeply researched labour of love. Scioli’s careful approach is evident in his portrayal of Kirby’s career-derailing confrontation with Jack Schiff, giving voice to Kirby’s words from his court testimony. Schiff’s intentions are obvious when the scene is acted out, but equally obvious is why the judge wasn’t convinced when Kirby expressed those words on the stand. His sense of betrayal when Jack Liebowitz testified against him is palpable.
One weak spot is the Simon and Kirby years, where a dearth of Kirby interview material, or any other supporting accounts, forces Scioli to rely on Joe Simon’s The Comic Book Makers. Kirby himself was reluctant to talk about his time with the famously litigious Simon, other than a somewhat revealing interview with James Van Hise. 1 When Simon’s book came out in 1990, Roz Kirby asked that it be kept from her husband because it would upset him; it has the same passing relationship with the facts as Lee’s Origins. Many details from Simon’s stories, already considered sacrosanct, need to be rigorously fact-checked: these include the circumstances surrounding the team’s departure from Timely, and Kirby’s alleged grudge against the teen-aged Lee for ratting them out (something Kirby never mentioned). Since Simon wasn’t present, his accounts of Kirby’s conversations with Goodman in the ‘60s could only have been imagined.
A technical point: Simon is listed as the inker of Kirby’s stories in Young Romance #1 (and the Kirby Checklist has the same error). With some exceptions of Simon inks that really stand out, Kirby was frequently his own inker until the late ‘50s. Scioli does make a point of showing Kirby in charge creatively throughout the S&K period.
Jack Kirby saw himself as primarily a writer, and from that perspective the physical effects of aging that caused him to reinvent his drawing style had no effect on the grandeur of his writing; the word decline could no more be used to describe Kirby’s later works than it could Picasso’s or Kubrick’s. Fandom’s dinosaurs, Mark Evanier and Charles Hatfield among them, hold that only fanatics can love Kirby’s later efforts. Scioli represents a different generation of Kirby readers, and his enthusiasm for the ‘80s material has always been infectious.
Appropriately, the book features a number of familiar scenes showing the recognition Kirby received in his later years. His death is marked by a solid black panel with a small date in the corner, followed by three pages of half-height panels highlighting assorted posthumous events, speeches, and screen credits. Stan Lee is perfectly summed up, without comment, in just three of these panels.
Tom and I joined the Jack Kirby internet mailing list around the same time two decades ago, and at that time, news of the Official Kirby Biography was already a few years old. If that book does someday come to fruition, it will be encumbered in various ways by the Official Company History (if not designed to dovetail with it). Tom Scioli started with a clean slate and produced a Kirby biography with everything I had hoped for. I’m thrilled that he got there first.
back1 “Jack Kirby in the Golden Age,” Jack Kirby interviewed by James Van Hise, The Jack Kirby Collector #25, August 1999.
Jack Kirby conveyed volumes with just the posture or facial expression of a character. For a few months in late 1971 and early 1972, his faces exhibited exquisite detail, and Mike Royer’s faithful inks permitted us to see the intricacy of Kirby’s linework.
There is a myth that an abundance of ’60s margin notes signaled an increase in Kirby’s plotting involvement. A similar misconception is that in the early Fourth World books, Kirby was just throwing characters and concepts at the wall, and finally settled in just as Royer got involved. On the contrary, Kirby was playing the long game, and the early issues of the four titles show seeds of things that wouldn’t burst into full flower for a year or more. Before attributing any shortcomings in the books to Kirby, it needs to be acknowledged that his artistic efforts lay concealed under Vince Colletta’s inks. In fact, in the years since Kirby inked his own pencils in the ’50s, very few of the inkers assigned to his work were friendly to his penciled faces, not even Joe Sinnott.
For roughly eight months, Kirby was on top of the world. Aside from the ongoing issues with Jimmy Olsen, he was in complete control of his output in a way that he hadn’t been since the fall of Mainline, and it showed in his work. In the examples that follow, it’s particularly clear in the hair and the eyes.
Mike Royer gets acquainted with the pencils: New Gods #5 and Mister Miracle #5.
Forever People #6, New Gods #6, and Jimmy Olsen #146.
The second issues of the black and white magazines, In the Days of the Mob and Spirit World.
Kirby Draws Real People.
Kirby Draws Real People Again.
Funky Flashman and Murder, Inc. were done during the same two-month cycle. I’m in no way suggesting that Kirby drawing real-life criminals inspired the content of Mister Miracle #6.
The epic achieves biblical proportions with Forever People #7 and New Gods #7..
Scott and Barda return to Apokolips in Mister Miracle #7.
In Jimmy Olsen, Scrapper and Gabby achieve their own unique detailed style.
“The Power,” Forever People #8.
“The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin,” New Gods #8.
Kanto the Assassin debuted in Mister Miracle #7, but the book was strictly action. Kanto didn’t get his close-up until the following issue.
James Romberger: Kirby’s drawing was based on observation and feeling. Later he became a bit more simplified or one might say he began to almost parody his own style, but a lot of that developed in reaction to the inkers imposed on him. But there is a major rift and drop in the early-mid 70s and I think this came about because he was fucked so terribly—for a few years he had a hard time with it because he had been struck down at a peak of power and grace by the idiot Carmine Infantino at DC cancelling his Fourth World.
To my eye, Jack Kirby’s style experienced a reinvention before the Fourth World books were cancelled. The black and white magazine work came to an end, followed by the eighth issues of the trilogy: by production number, the sequence was Forever People 8, New Gods 8, Jimmy Olsen 148 (the last), Demon 1, Mister Miracle 8, Forever People 9, Demon 2, Kamandi 1, Mister Miracle 10, New Gods 9, Mister Miracle 9. By publication order, the final issue of Jimmy Olsen came first, followed by the eighth and ninth issues of the trilogy titles. The Demon and Kamandi were rolled out during the tenth issue cycle.
As can be seen in the examples above, Kirby was inspired and invested in all of his projects up to this point. Forever People #9, however, was both the cause and beneficiary of his new style. “The Monster in the Morgue” bears Carmine Infantino’s bootprints: Kirby had been instructed to add Deadman, a character that was not his own; he was disheartened, to put it mildly. His make-up compelled him to deliver a good story regardless of the circumstances, but the intensity was gone. Kirby’s reinvented style was more simplified and less detailed: it was on full display in that book, in the new titles, and in “The Mister Miracle to Be” (Mister Miracle #10 and subsequent issues), as well as in the final two issues each of The Forever People and The New Gods.
The other two books in the Issue 9 cycle are interesting. “Himon” in Mister Miracle #9 was the story Kirby couldn’t not tell: he had led up to it with a series of backup stories in earlier issues, and there’s evidence the story was moved up in the schedule. Knowing the implications of Infantino’s intervention, Kirby saw the writing on the wall and got the book out. It has some magnificent panels (particularly on pages 16 and 21), but very few detailed faces (Willik, below, being one close-up). Some of the facial expressions are reduced to slashes.
Patrick Ford: There is a bit of a loss of enthusiasm at DC at the time of the cancellation of the Fourth World but in my opinion the material recovered pretty quickly and his stuff for Marvel is often brilliant.
The other casualty was Kirby’s new New Gods storyline, “The Bug,” a potential multi-parter about discrimination in the perfect society. The rooftop scenes featuring Orion, Lightray, and Eve Donner are executed with care while the bug scenes on New Genesis are all action. The final speech could be Kirby’s DC equivalent of the Silver Surfer #18 scream: perhaps this issue had been started when Infantino called with orders to insert Deadman into Forever People. In the following issue, the Bug subplot was simply left hanging.
After Eve’s speech (below), the detail in Kirby’s faces didn’t fully recover until he was reunited with Mike Royer at Marvel (after again having to mess around for nearly a year, sometimes more, with the wrong inkers).
What Jack Kirby left unfinished was the time of peace when he was left alone to do it his way.
In Mister Miracle #6, Kirby unleashed a brilliant send-up of Stan Lee called “Funky Flashman.” It was the most accurate and incisive portrait of Stan Lee ever, by a master caricaturist who knew the inside story. No one was ever better positioned or equipped to give Lee the treatment.
Roy Thomas, as a Marvel staffer, might have gotten to know Lee even better than Kirby did as a freelancer. Thomas didn’t arrive on the scene until 1965, however, and he never broke into the exclusive club of those who addressed Lee by his full given name.
In 1961, with the comics division on the brink of shutdown by Martin Goodman, Kirby presented a stack of concepts to Goodman and was given the green light for the Fantastic Four. Lee’s brother Larry Lieber said “When Stan saw that the strips had potential [ie when they were approved by Goodman], he started writing them.” 1
Kirby had a different take: Lee saw Kirby’s paycheque for the writing and penciling page rates on the “monster” stories, and Kirby was forced to “render unto Caesar.” 2 To achieve this, Lee first added his signature to stories that Kirby wrote. He then added fraudulent plot credits to Kirby stories for which writing credits were given to others (for example “Prisoner of the 5th Dimension!” in Strange Tales #103, Lee’s first “plot credit”). Lee then redefined “writer” for the Marvel Method as “the person who fills in the dialogue,” while at the same time redefining his actual writers as “artists.”
Kirby told Mark Hebert in 1969 that the early superhero work, when Lee inserted himself as Taker of the Writing Page Rate, “was a back-breaking job.” Kirby finally got some relief when he was given a page rate increase for pencilling in the mid ’60s. 3
Stan Taylor: I think that Stan’s singling out and praising the artists actually upset the artists, more than making them happy. Stan was quick to tell everyone how his artists not only pencilled, but plotted also, yet they knew they were only being paid for pencilling, and at a rate less than the competition, and getting nothing for plotting. Stan was getting all the glory, and the big bucks for simply putting the finishing sheen on the artists stories. If it was me, I would get pretty mad about doing the work of one and a half people, while being paid less than the competitor paid just for penciling, and then someone else takes the credit for my stories. 4
For the purposes of this assessment, I’ll use “Funky” and “Stan Lee” interchangeably.
Funky Flashman: “…the opportunistic spoiler without character or values…”
“…he lives… in the decaying ante-bellum grandeur of the Mockingbird Estates!” Martin Goodman built his publishing empire by mimicking, mockingbird-like, his competitors’ successes.
In the opening sequence, Funky is taking “bread” out of the mouth of a bust that resembles Kirby. Lee was at the mercy of the number of pages Kirby was writing, including layouts. When Kirby received a page rate increase in the mid ’60s, he reduced his output, and stopped doing layouts: Lee was deprived of the writing rate on the pages Kirby was no longer doing. Ditko had a similar effect on Lee’s income when he demanded and received plotting credit on Spider-Man: the plotting page rate was deducted from Lee’s writing rate.
Funky likes it when the Little People hear his words of inspiration, and Houseroy tells him what he wants to hear.
Houseroy plans to take over when Funky leaves.
Kirby examines Funky’s attitude toward the talent. Officially, the freelancers were interchangeable and expendable. In practice, Kirby provided Lee with something no other collaborator did: thousands of pages of writing pay.
Roy Thomas once remarked, “Stan is always ‘on’,” 5 meaning Stanley Lieber was always immersed in his Stan Lee persona… except when he wasn’t, occasionally leading to “shocking results.”
That shifty master of mobility, Funky Flashman, is a bit of a misogynist. Lee repeatedly gutted Kirby’s strong female characters to allow them to demonstrate traditional gender roles to an impressionable audience. Kirby portrays a typical Funky-female interaction.
This Kirby woman, like many of Kirby’s female characters based on his wife Roz, isn’t having it.
Funky is a classic: ego, ignorance, and hostility! A real powerhouse!
For panel after panel, Kirby gives us an intimate view of a Kirby-Lee story conference.
“I tell you, I tested that phrase on my man, Houseroy… and the beggar literally cried! But call me Funky, sir! I prithee! For what is a name… but the opening gun of mutual enterprise?!”
Folksy to a fault Funky in his “Uneasy Rider” outfit (and cleaning his ear).
Funky is enamored of recordings of his own voice. In the Pitts interview, 6 Kirby cited the night he found Lee speaking into a recording device as a catalyst for his decision to leave Marvel.
“Don’t paw me, Houseroy! I know my words drive people into a frenzy of adoration! I’m preparing for my establishment stage! When the press notices build to fever pitch, I’ll…”
Throwing Houseroy to the wolves.
Funky makes good his escape.
After causing the estate to go up in flames, Funky heads for Hollywood. Kirby injects another comment regarding the treatment of the talent at the family-run operation.
The colours present a Marvel of Contrast. Cyclopean black is a reference to Robert E. Howard’s short story, “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales, November 1931). 7
Scott is not ignorant of Funky’s devices.
back1 Larry Lieber in conversation with Roy Thomas, Alter Ego v3#2, 1999.
KIRBY: Of course it was fulfilling. It was a happy time of life. But. But, slowly management suddenly realized I was making money. I say “management,” but I mean an individual. I was making more money than he was, OK? It’s an individual. And so he says, “Well, you know…” And the old phrase is born. “Screw you. I get mine.” OK? And so I had to render to Caesar what he considered Caesar’s. And there was a man who never wrote a line in his life — he could hardly spell — you know, taking credit for the writing. I found myself coming up with new angles to keep afloat. I was in a bad spot. I was in a spot that I didn’t want to be in and yet I had to be to make a living.
Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.
back3 TCJ: How were you able to draw ﬁve strips at once during the “Marvel Age’?
KIRBY: I forced myself. It‘s not very easy, especially when you’re in a ﬁeld that’s picking up momentum and there isn’t too much of a staff to take the burden off you.
TCJ: What do you mean, there wasn’t a staff?
KIRBY: There wasn‘t much of a staff. So I had all that to do and it was a back-breaking job. But, like I said, my generation adjusted to it.
TCJ: Is it smoother-going now?
KIRBY: Yes, it‘s eased off a bit. I’m grateful for that because I can read a newspaper occasionally.
TCJ: Would you like to do another strip, even after all that work?
KIRBY: If they‘re ready, I’m always ready. I never refused a job. I‘ve always been ready to do a job; that’s my bag. I’ll do a job for Stan. I’ll do a job for someone else. I’ll do a job for my family. It‘s the type of person I am. If I have a job to do, I‘ll do it. I‘ve got to do it.
Kirby interviewed by Mark Hebert, conducted early 1969. Appeared in The Nostalgia Journal #30, November 1976, and #31, December 1976.
back4 Stan Taylor, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 6 November 1999.
back5 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back6 PITTS: Why did you leave the F.F. and Marvel that first time?
KIRBY: Because I could see things changing and I could see that Stan Lee was going in directions that I couldn’t. I came in one night and there was Stan Lee talking into a recording machine, sitting in the dark there. It was strange to me and I felt that we were going in different directions.
Leonard Pitts, Jr., conducted in 1986 or 1987 for a book titled “Conversations With The Comic Book Creators”. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.
back7What’s Cyclopean: For a prototypically pulp writer, Howard at first keeps his adjectives thoroughly under control. Probably not accidentally, the prose gets purpler in proximity to the monolith (“lurid tongues of flame,” etc.). And in the midsummer moonlight, the cliffs around it appear like “cyclopean and Titan-reared battlements jutting from the mountain-slope.” Then later, the stone is “like a spire on a cyclopean black castle.” —review of “The Black Stone” by Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth.
In The Jack Kirby Collector 72, Shane Foley did an investigative report called “The Great Kirby Kontroversy Letters.” He set out to read all of the letters printed in Jack Kirby’s titles during his final years at Marvel, from 1975 to 1978.
Foley: More than once we’ve heard that Jack Kirby felt the letters pages in his ’70s Marvel books were stacked negatively against his work, with disparaging and critical comments being given greater voice than the positive, supportive ones. And there are certainly staffers from that period of time (Jim Shooter and Alan Kupperberg, for example, both interviewed online) who have publicly stated they felt Kirby was right in his suspicions. However, I must admit that, while I knew there were many negative and critical comments on those pages, I had never felt that they were overly so, or that the opinions printed there were entirely unfair.
At the end of the exercise he questions whether they were really so bad.
Foley: Could those negative letters comments—fewer in number than might be expected, but certainly harsh at times—really have had a significant impact in this area? Really?
A year and a half after John Morrow printed Foley’s article, he published Stuf’ Said. Throughout the book, Morrow adopted the language of deniability when referring to verifiable facts.
Morrow: On January 9, the New York Herald Tribune article appears, causing a major rift in the Kirby/Lee relationship. Stan Lee receives an angry phone call this morning from Jack’s wife Roz Kirby, livid about her husband’s portrayal in the article. Every little jab or slight, real or perceived, up to this point could’ve played a role in this reaction. –Stuf’ Said p63, 69(2e)
“Every little jab or slight, real or perceived…” is an extremely poor choice of words. Is it possible that Roz Kirby “perceived” that Stan Lee was signing his name to her husband’s work, or just “imagined” that Lee was stealing his pay? Morrow joins Roy Thomas in minimizing what was an impossible situation for the Kirbys.
Morrow: Kirby feels that there are staffers in the Marvel offices who have been intentionally trying to damage his work and reputation—due to professional jealousy, loyalty to Lee, or resentment over Kirby’s refusal to draw other writers’ scripts.–Stuf’ Said p126, 139(2e)
“Kirby feels”? Why is it necessary to add the qualification? It’s not just an impression Kirby had. Some other impressions, including Morrow’s, are below.
In Stan Lee: A Marvelous Life, Danny Fingeroth wrote: “There were rumors that staffers were deliberately printing a higher proportion of negative letters about Kirby’s titles than were actually received and were making fun of his output with nasty annotated pages of his comics pinned up on the office walls.”
“Rumors”? Besides Kirby himself, Stephen Bissette, John Morrow, and Mark Evanier have spread those “rumors” as first-hand experience.
In the midst of Marvel’s lawsuit against the Kirbys, Scott Edelman had something to get off his chest.
Edelman: I’d thought enough time had passed that I could forgive Jack Kirby. But I just learned I was wrong.
I was on staff at Marvel Comics in the mid-’70s when the King returned and tried to pick up where he’d left off. At the time, as I sat there in the Bullpen with my blue pencil and proofread the original art for some of his initial issues of titles such as Captain America, which he not only drew, but wrote and edited, I was horrified. The art could still be the stuff of dreams at times, but the words that came out of his characters’ mouths seemed more like a nightmare.
The buzz from us kids in the office wasn’t kind. I’ll admit it. Kirby was a god to us for what he did during the ’60s, but what he was doing at Marvel in the ’70s made us wince, and we didn’t have the tact or maturity to say it appropriately. So we acted like ungrateful punks. But now that the years have passed, as I read some of those issues of Captain America over again, I’m wincing still.
It would be interesting to know if Edelman was responding to blogposts by Jim Shooter the same year.
Shooter: Jack’s titles got plenty of positive mail, too, especially early on, but because the people putting together the lettercolumns then used a lot of negative letters, that had the effect of generating more negative letters. In those days, it was a very cool thing to see your letter in print. Show the readers that negative letters are likely to get printed and you’d get lots of them.
I cannot imagine what the people putting the letter columns together were thinking. Were they trying to be “fair and balanced,” and show that some people were disappointed with what Jack was doing? Was it that they, themselves, were disappointed with what Jack was doing and weighted the lettercols to express their POV? Putting together a negative lettercol is stupid, amateurish and/or malicious.
In an earlier post, Shooter blamed David Anthony Kraft, and wrote, “We fired Kraft and got someone else.” Kraft disputes this. 1
The year after admitting to “us kids in the office” being unkind to Kirby, and being “ungrateful punks,” Edelman got hostile with his detractors.
Edelman: Where are those letters columns designed to turn fans into a torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding mob intent on storming the House of Ideas and demanding Kirby be fired? I just don’t see it.
And I’d like those who feel they do see it to back up their claims with some proof. Otherwise, all they’re doing is maligning folks like me who were doing their best to let readers have their say.
At the time of Kirby’s art battle with Marvel nearly thirty years earlier, Edelman had sung a different tune. 2
Edelman: I look back to the first few Bullpen Bulletins Pages of 1965-1966, and read: […] “Jack ‘King’ Kirby drops in loaded down with a new mess of masterpieces, once a week. Poor Jack! He’s so absent-minded that he usually goes home with someone else’s hat, portfolio, or train ticket! Stan wanted to put a label around his neck reading: ‘if found, please return to the Merry Marvel Bullpen!’ but he couldn’t—Jack had lost the label!”–and I think to myself, if I lied in 1975, what’s to say Stan wasn’t doing the same in 1965? Was it all really as good-natured as it seemed? Or did some of the joshing sting?
Alison Lurie, whose most famous novel is The War Between the Tates, wrote in her earlier novel Real Life (1969): “If nothing will finally survive of life besides what artists report, we have no right to report what we know to be lies.”
The terrible answer is that we are losing our real history. Losing it to people too anxious to collude in the Big Lie for the sake of being inside instead of outside as I once did, not even realizing the enormity of what we were doing. Losing it to those all too willing to say that the Emperor is fully clothed if that will keep them working in comics. Losing it to those for whom the incestuous nature of comics means: Never criticize those who might someday have the power to hire you.
The history of comics should be written by journalists, not by propagandists, and as those who can tell the truth about our past pass on one by one, I’m frightened by the thought that soon it will be too late to undo all the damage done by the propagandists.
The knock letters are only controversial to people who believe the complaints therein were valid. Here’s part of the letter I wrote in response to the Foley article:
Excerpt from my letter of 5 October 2017, printed in TJKC 74
Contrary to the article’s title, the Marvel knock letters are not controversial. To expend so much effort to prove Kirby’s (and Shooter’s) impressions were wrong about the negative letters seems misguided. Shane’s hypothesis: “I’ve read every single letter and you know, they really aren’t that bad.”
Cut to the chase: show the brutal examples from Cap and Black Panther, and call the case closed. Ralph Macchio’s letter, printed a month before he joined the staff, portended the demise of the medium with the fanboy call for “continuity and verisimilitude,” and provided the template for many letters to come. Editor/publisher Robin Snyder, in his letter to Black Panther, asked for some respect for Kirby and an end to the knock letters.
This isn’t a question of balance, and a comparison to the LOC pages of other editors proves nothing. What Shane has left out of the discussion is that Stan Lee wouldn’t have printed a negative letter. The meaningful comparison would be with ’60s letter columns, with Lee writing and answering letters in FF and signing the names of Stan Goldberg and Sol Brodsky: “Your comics are a cut above!” and “Our readers are more intelligent than most!”
The knock letters were the tip of the iceberg of Kirby’s treatment at the hands of the “nest of vipers.” [sic] As we know from stories on the old Kirby mailing list, it was part of a coordinated campaign to discredit him, causing him to take the extreme step of wrestling control of the letters pages away from New York. (Foley significantly asks why the makeup of the letter columns didn’t change.) The campaign was orchestrated by young men of lesser talent who without a shred of gratitude wanted to ride Kirby to success the way Lee had. When Kirby declined, they showed a unanimous lack of class and belittled the guy who made their careers possible. His perception of negativity doesn’t bear contesting: it was Kirby’s perception, and calling him overly sensitive adds insult to injury.
Other points of view
John Morrow: Summer 1978: I attend my first major comics convention, the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, and pick up the Kirby Masterworks Portfolio from Jim Steranko’s Supergraphics table. I meet Stan Lee, and Jack’s new Silver Surfer Graphic Novel pages are on display. But I overhear some Marvel staffers make disparaging comments about how Jack has “lost it” and can’t produce decent work anymore. I am stunned, to say the least, as I’m still enjoying his work greatly at the time.–Stuf’ Said p140
Tom Brevoort: It’s been reported that people in the Marvel offices who weren’t enamored with what Kirby was doing on his titles (and who may have preferred it if he had been drawing stories of their design) filled up his letters pages with “knock letters.” In this instance, they have a point. The whole page is devoted to how divisive Kirby’s return to CAPTAIN AMERICA has been–and while there’s a balance of viewpoints presented, the very fact that the idea of a controversy is acknowledged and given credence plays into the situation. This is a far cry from the typically-laudatory fare that filled most Marvel letters pages. Sure, an occasional knock letter might be printed, but usually those were few and far-between.–blog post, 14 March 2020
Tony Isabella: Sadly, back in the day, staffers with their own agendas would take such cheap shots in letters page that were rarely supervised as closely as they should have been. Witness the letter column piling on Jack Kirby when the King returned to Marvel.–Facebook, 3 May 2020
Others’ perceptions aside, what was Kirby’s experience?
Stephen Bissette: I can only imagine how demoralizing this must have been for Jack; I was freelancing at Marvel around this time, and it was heartbreaking to see with one’s own eyes various photocopies of Kirby’s work posted around the offices with “satiric” overdrawings and sarcastic written comments scrawled on them. The utter contempt for and jeering at Kirby’s work for the company was mortifying, and a stern lesson for a budding freelancer working to (maybe) get one’s foot in the door.–Jack Kirby! group, 10 September 2019
Mark Evanier and Michael Vassallo had this exchange on the Kirby-L mailing list in October and November 1996.
Mark Evanier: Jack had a certain amount of autonomy in that his books were mostly self-contained. In fact, the reason Jack refused to do FANTASTIC FOUR or to guest other Marvel characters was that he didn’t want to consult with other creators, didn’t want to get involved with the office politics that surrounded the mainstream Marvel titles.
Archie Goodwin, whom Jack respected greatly, kept in touch with Jack and did do a little editing on the books, sometimes rewriting (or allowing his assistants to rewrite) a line or a caption. Jack once showed me a splash page to a CAPTAIN AMERICA where someone in New York had rewritten some of his copy. He asked me to explain what this had accomplished and I couldn’t; the rewritten text was not substantially better or different in meaning…it was just different. Some of the other editorial changes were more logical.
Jack’s feelings about this work (and his concern about his letters pages trashing him, which someone else mentioned) will perhaps make more sense if you know that there was at least one editorial staffer at Marvel at the time who was quite vocal in his dislike of Kirby writing, and who felt HE should have the job of doing the dialogue. Jack told me that this guy would phone him up and say, “Well, your new issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA just arrived, Mr. Kirby, and the artwork is breathtaking but everyone here in the office [a gross exaggeration] agrees that the writing is shit. Your books are all bombing, too. The only way you can save your career is to have one of us take over doing the dialogue.” Or words to that effect.
Michael Vassallo: You mean to tell me that some disrespectful moron at Marvel actually said to Jack personally that his writing was “shit”? You’d better keep his name a secret Mark. This is one livid Sicilian here!! Even 20 years after the fact I’m appalled.
Mark Evanier: It’s true and there were some worse incidents than that.
I misquoted Kirby in my letter to TJKC. Here’s the quote in context, from the interview conducted by Howard Zimmerman for March 1982’s Comics Scene #2:
Jack Kirby: “The health of a comic book can be manipulated by the staff alone. You fill up a book with knock letters [negative criticisms in the letters pages]. The reader who picks up the book and reads all those knock letters knows that the book he’s reading… well, it’s not so hot. And if you do it consistently, it becomes ‘a bad book.’ I haven’t seen anything like a bad book anywhere. I’ve seen a lot of guys trying. I’ve seen a lot of guys who’ll never get the chance to develop. And you can’t develop with two or three issues. You’ve got to give a man a chance to stay in there—either take his beating or succeed. And comics have not done this today.
“A guy will create a book, another will fill his book up with knock letters—he’s off in five months, or three months, and the other guy’s got his shot.” Until now Kirby has spoken in even tones. His voice quiet, firm. Now emotion breaks through. There is an anguished look in his eyes and a touch of bitterness in his voice as he says, “I see it as a serpent’s nest. And in a serpent’s nest, nothing can survive. Eventually all the snakes kill each other. Eventually they’ll also kill whatever generated them.”
Kirby was attacked out of the gate. When he submitted the pages for his first issue of Captain America, Roy Thomas was permitted to pass judgment by annotating a set of photocopied pencils. On the first page, Thomas wrote, “NICE ART—lousy dialogue.” Someone saw fit to send the set to Kirby (the copies were found in his files). Morrow added it to the Thomas interview in TJKC 74, with this caption:
Morrow: Roy doesn’t recall this specifically, but someone at Marvel (Verpoorten, Brodsky, or Stan Lee perhaps) loaned him a set of pencil photocopies of Captain America #193 for feedback. After Roy wrote his honest assessment of the issue (though today he wishes he had used a slightly less opprobrious adjective than “lousy”), someone at Marvel mailed these in-house copies to Jack—a thoughtless move at best, and one that helped get Kirby’s 1970s Marvel tenure off to a rocky start.
Lee: In the 1960s, he took the transferable skills he’d developed during the previous twenty years writing teen humour and fumetti, 3 and wrote wisecracks for superheroes in situations devised by Kirby. He wouldn’t allow Kirby’s stories or characters to take themselves seriously. He used his position as family to exaggerate the work he did, and paid himself accordingly.
Kirby: His stories, concepts, and storytelling techniques were often over Lee’s head. Lee simplified them, dumbing down his audience in the process. As he did this, he told readers the opposite was true: where intelligence was concerned, they were a cut above the competition’s audience. He told them that he was the writer, and Kirby was the artist.
The audience: Lee raised up an army he called True Believers by befriending them through the editorial pages and captions. He made a connection with them, engendering a fierce loyalty; as their best pal, he was persuasive. They learned his wisdom was not to be questioned, but to be defended for the rest of their days.
Robert Beerbohm: Face Front, True Believer. Mark Seifert has me mostly all-in convinced this [the 1951 book, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer] (and similar) propaganda tools were used to mind control audiences. Stan Lee used this book “creating” all the levels & terms during his PT Barnum barn-storming days of daze back in the 60s 70s… Many of the creative types in the comics business [like Lee] had also been in the US Army Signal Corps. That is American Propaganda section sharpening melding molding young minds.—Marvel Method group, 16 November 2019
By 1970, a fresh narrative was being ushered in to protect the intellectual property of Marvel’s new owners; the revised history was unveiled in Origins of Marvel Comics and its sequels. The message was delivered by Lee, and its key purpose was to preemptively discredit Kirby’s side of the story. With no contracts to define the terms of his employment, if Kirby were ever to be taken seriously (by the Supreme Court, for instance), there would be financial ramifications. The living narrative, Lee, propounded the precept that Kirby couldn’t write, and later that Kirby was not to be believed.
Kirby had gone on to his Fourth World at DC, where his own words on the pages made it clear that his stories were serious. Gone were Lee’s wisecracks and constant winking at the reader about the ridiculousness of intelligent kids reading comics. Some True Believers felt out of their element and declared Kirby’s dialogue un-Marvel-like, and that, by extension, Kirby was washed up without Lee.
Nigel Kitching once told another Kirby lister why Kirby’s Fourth World was better for Kirby having left Marvel to do it:
Nigel: …some of the great ideas in the Fourth World stuff would have been quite beyond Stan Lee to articulate in a Marvel Style script.
Mark (looking for a fight) said: Like what?
Nigel: Stan’s massive features would never have cracked wide and laughed at the Cosmic Joke. He wouldn’t have understood at all. He’d just have climbed on his little soapbox and had Darkseid trot out some liberal banalities about the face of evil.
Stan would never have understood that Lightray’s benign smiles hid a cold and calculating heart.
The Justifier concept would have been too difficult for him – the idea of ordinary men being capable of evil acts because some authority figure is willing to take onboard the guilt.
Kirby had such depth to his characters but this fact was obscured by some unfortunate word skills. Actually I don’t even think it was unfortunate. I’ve grown to really like Kirby’s writing style on the whole. All the characterisation is there but Kirby requires that his reader finds it himself. He’s not going to hit you over the head with his characters’ personalities. Writers in the seventies were so heavy handed with their ‘characterisation’ and they would labour it to death until they were damn sure that the audience just couldn’t miss the point. They look stupid now in retrospect but Kirby’s writing continues to intrigue and subsequent readings still bring up something new. I read Himon recently – this is such an intriguing story. Himon isn’t a person he’s a symbol of independence in a totalitarian society.
Stan wrote good dialogue but this sort of thing isn’t his cup of tea (and maybe not yours). But I like characters who represent ideas rather than just being personalities in a story.
When I say that it wouldn’t work in a Marvel style what I mean is that Lee would have misinterpreted Kirby’s intentions. He was already doing this before Kirby left Marvel.— Kirby-L, 11 March 2000
After Kirby’s departure, Marvel was where failed artist fanboys flocked with the dream of adding the words to other people’s stories. Kirby had built the House of Ideas, but Lee built a system where some of the “writers” received the full writing page rate for filling in the words on finished stories. It’s unsurprising that Buscema, Windsor-Smith, and Adams consider themselves to be the authors of work for which someone else received the writing pay.
Roy Thomas likes to tell the story of acting as peacemaker when Kirby was considering a return.
Thomas: “Jack, Stan would really like you back. He obviously never wanted you to leave.” I wanted to point out that he wasn’t given any choice, but instead I just said, “He didn’t want you to leave. He’d be overjoyed to have you come back.” I said, “The only thing in the way, really—he was kind of hurt and bothered when you did that Funky Flashman stuff in that one title, where you made a character who was a rather vicious—.” You know, I’m just honest with Jack. I mean, I didn’t know him that well, but I’m going to tell him the truth, because I knew how Stan had felt about it. I said, “Now, you had this character called Houseroy.” I said, “I didn’t mind about that because I didn’t feel you were really aiming that at me. I was just Stan’s flunky and this and that.” Okay, so I am Stan’s flunky or whatever. And Houseroy is a clever name. I didn’t really mind that much. And I was almost a sympathetic character. But it was such a nasty lampoon of Stan.
And Jack gives this nervous little laugh and says, “Well, you know, it was all in fun.” And I had to pretend to let that go, because if there was one thing I was sure about, it was that Funky Flashman was not ‘all in fun.’ It was Jack, it was his repressed—as close as he had come to slugging Stan in the nose. But I just pretended to believe that it was all in fun and just let that go… 4
A couple of things to note: 1, (a critical cog in the Lee version of events), Lee was the injured party when Kirby finally got tired enough of Lee’s ongoing theft to quit ; and 2, Thomas didn’t mind being portrayed as Houseroy, but Kirby was just a big meanie and he hurt Lee’s feelings. In reality, Funky Flashman is probably the truest picture of Stan Lee the world is likely to see.
Mike Royer: I loved working on this book, just loved it.
Tom Kraft: Did you laugh a lot?
Mike: I just thought it was a hoot! It was a hoot because it was so damn true. There are some people that think it’s vicious and overdone… well, I’m not one of them. 5
When Kirby returned to Marvel, he declined to revisit the Marvel Method charade, and never again shared the credit for his writing. The jilted wannabe “writers,” convinced of, or simply repeating, the mantra that Kirby’s work was nothing without an in-house Marvel writer, made their jealousy known.
Eric Stedman: All of this is nothing more than vilification of a mature genius–who is only one man–by greedy young dumbshits in order to try and justify theft of his creations. A total gang-gaslighting job and completely reprehensible.—Marvel Method group, 15 April 2020
My mother, an elementary school teacher, wouldn’t allow comics in the house in the ‘60s; we read books instead. Possibly intuiting the existence of a Stan Lee, she reasoned that comics were for people who couldn’t read. By the time I had a paper route and could buy my own comics, I came to Kirby by way of Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke; Star Trek, 2001, and Apes. Kirby’s dialogue grabbed me; Lee’s (all in the past by that point) was overwrought. Then, as now, Kirby’s writing stood as literature, and I discovered it before I could be told otherwise.
The idea that Kirby’s stories needed to be fixed is the sleight-of-hand at the heart of the Marvel Method. The reality is that Kirby’s work was self-contained, and a perfect balance of words and pictures based on his decades of experience. Lee’s changes and additions, in the name of justifying the appropriation of the writing pay, were simply vandalism. Lee was often lost when it came to Kirby’s intentions in a story, a character, or a panel, so he would pull it out by the roots and pave it over. When this couldn’t be achieved through dialogue alone, he demanded redraws.
Asked about the Fourth World in his recent TJKC interview, Thomas spouted the usual nonsense that Kirby needed to be reined in as he was with Simon and Lee. (This is another misrepresentation that’s essential to uphold the notion that Kirby couldn’t write. The truth is Simon was happy to stay out of Kirby’s way because his work sold comics; Lee’s “reining in” consisted of shitting all over Kirby’s work.) Thomas then admitted he didn’t get the Fourth World: “I was still in awe of Jack, you know? Despite the fact that I had hit the wall with that New Gods stuff and everything.”
Edelman’s rationalization (“we were ungrateful punks but Kirby couldn’t write”) might help him sleep at night, but it’s misguided. Kirby couldn’t write in a world where Lee, Thomas, and Englehart 6 are considered good writers; a very small world where the company line is still parroted, that the epitome of comic dialogue is Lee’s misogynistic teen humour. I was not a Marvel fan, I was a Kirby fan: I had no use for their writing, and have no use for their criticism. By Thomas’ own admission he didn’t understand Kirby’s writing, so he’s not in a position to judge.
Patrick Ford: The fact of the matter is that not only was Kirby a writer, he was a great writer in a medium where dreadful writing is common. One of the main reasons super hero comic book fans detest Kirby’s writing is because it isn’t anything like what they are used to reading. Kirby’s writing has been widely praised by novelists like Harlan Ellison, Glen David Gold, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, and Neil Gaiman. Comic book writer Grant Morrison has compared Kirby to William Blake, and commented comics fans who don’t appreciate Kirby’s writing simply don’t have Kirby’s “reading list.”—comments section, Deadline.com, 15 August 2011.
Marvel was envisioned and executed by Kirby, with added words and promotion by Lee. It’s no mystery why Thomas needs to attest to a backwards version, a Marvel envisioned and scripted by Lee and facilitated by Kirby: it’s the history in which he has invested everything. Thomas is treated as an expert witness in The KIRBY Collector, where Foley’s article is just a symptom of the decades-long process of discrediting Kirby.
Chris Tolworthy: So the quality of Kirby’s thinking matters. Just how right was he? I think he correctly predicted the future. So it matters the that he was not just well read, but a deep thinker of the absolute highest order. Because he may have all the answers. That is why I like Kirby. And why I study him like he is some kind of prophet. Because I believe he is.—Jack Kirby Dialogue group, 5 June 2020
I wrote in a Jack Kirby Quarterly article, 7 “there’s extraordinary depth in Kirby’s work that not only invites but rewards a deeper reading.” This is clear to me, but I’ve had many online discussions with people who insist there is no deeper meaning, no great intellect behind the work. These same people will tell me Kirby’s work wasn’t complete without Lee’s teen humour dialogue.
These discussions leave me baffled: is it a question of someone’s reading level when they first encountered Kirby’s own words, or is it a matter of indoctrination? Kirby was predominantly a writer, and Lee’s narrative takes that away from him. The art of Kirby the writer necessarily grew more expressionistic as he aged, but he had increasingly more important things to say. (The Lee version tells us Kirby’s later work is a joke and that he had lost it.) Lee, in contrast, didn’t have anything to say through the work, even if any could honestly be attributed to him.
Eric Stedman: It’s a lot easier to add a silly word balloon and caption to a painting than it is to create a painting. It’s also easy then after you do that to decide that since you bought the rights to it and you “contributed” something to it that you “created” the final image.—Marvel Method group, 11 June 2020
Lee unflatteringly characterized his pre-FF readers as “drooling juveniles and semicretins,” and according to one of his revisionist anecdotes, he set out to reform them based on his wife’s advice to be a better writer. 8 Proof that the story was a fabrication is that a. his actual approach was to dumb down the smart stories that were turned in to him, and b. he failed dramatically: at the end of the process the readers were no wiser but Lee was wealthier. My mother might have been slightly off base suggesting comics were for people who couldn’t read. Lee’s marks pigeons dupes pals didn’t raise their reading level, but they did learn how to be told what to think, and how to defend a false premise to the death.
I can’t force someone to like or understand Kirby’s work, but it’s comforting to know that his portrayal at the hands of the propagandists will eventually die off with them. Future historians will actually read the work, not the fabricated history of the work, and they will think for themselves.
back1 Asked to comment during the writing of this post, Kraft (an unrepentant Kirby fan) said it was safe to say Shooter was mistaken. “Take what he says with an entire mine of salt.”
back2 Scott Edelman, “Stan Lee Was My Co-Pilot,” The Comics Journal 99, June 1983.
back3 In the two-month period in 1961 leading up to the advent of FF #1, the Kirby concept that was green-lighted by Goodman, Lee signed stories in these titles: Rawhide Kid, Patsy Walker, Kathy, Life with Millie, Gunsmoke Western, Kid Colt Outlaw, Love Romances, Linda Carter Student Nurse, Millie the Model. When Lee realized that superheroes were starting to dominate the market to the exclusion of his bread and butter, he eventually stopped delegating the “writing” of their stories to his brother.
back4 “The Terrific Roy Thomas,” The Jack Kirby Collector #74, Spring 2018.
back5 Mike Royer with Rand Hoppe and Tom Kraft, Fourth World Summer, Special Episode, The Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center YouTube channel, 4 June 2020.
back6 Adding to the chorus of ignorance, Robert Kirkman or the writers of his Secret History of Marvel felt the need to give airtime to Steve Englehart, of all people, commenting on Kirby’s writing: “The thing about Kirby is, he couldn’t write… we found out, for sure. He had a terrible ear for dialogue, just, you know, off-putting, clanky dialogue…”
back7 “Drag Your Battered Bones,” Jack Kirby Quarterly #15, Winter 2008.
back8 Joan Lee allegedly told her husband to “write stories that you yourself would enjoy reading.” Stan Lee, “How I Invented Spider-Man,” Quest Magazine, July/August 1977.
As Kirby worked, he would not only draw the story and invent new characters where necessary, he would write marginal notes to Stan, including suggested captions and dialogue, so that when Stan wrote the dialogue, he would know what story points Kirby felt should be made in each panel. Stan would then write dialogue based on Kirby’s notes and perhaps a brief conversation.
This is why Cadence/Marvel started demanding in the 1970s that artists, such as Jack Kirby, sign agreements such as the 1972 Agreement assigning to Marvel all previous Kirby work published by Marvel. Similarly Cadence/Marvel sought to comply with the new Copyright Act’s explicit work-for-hire provisions, by having freelancers sign “work-for-hire” releases as to prior work long after such had been created. Cadence was trying to “clean up,” if not revise, Marvel’s past to protect what had become valuable intellectual property. Decades after the success of the key Kirby characters, Marvel, under its new corporate parents, Perfect Film/Cadence, attempted to “clean up” Marvel’s ownership claim to what had become comic book franchises by re-writing history. —Mark Evanier, Declaration in Support of Summary Judgment (Filing 74).
Mark Evanier doesn’t get thanked enough for the service he did the Kirby family when they were sued by Marvel. The Justia website has parts of his two depositions, and his three declarations (including his Expert Report) in their entirety. His Amicus Brief for the Supreme Court case is also online. 1
Judge McMahon excluded the expert testimony of Evanier and John Morrow because they weren’t present during the years covered by Marvel’s lawsuit (1958-1963). By that measure, the testimony of Roy Thomas and John Romita should also have been tossed: they both arrived on the scene in 1965, hence everything they had to say about the years in question was hearsay. Thomas confided to Jim Amash in 1997 that his knowledge of events was acquired solely by speaking to Stan Lee and Sol Brodsky, and not to the freelancers. His early Marvel “history” was either second-hand or fabricated as required over the years. In contrast, Evanier’s expert testimony provided a welcome dose of reality since it was informed by his decades-long relationship with Kirby.
If Kirby were still alive he probably wouldn’t spend time taking issue with what little Evanier has done for him lately, but now it seems Mark’s ambition is to make sure Kirby doesn’t get a swelled head. Any time I’ve encountered him online since the settlement, he’s been defending Stan Lee against the literal interpretation of two decades of Kirby’s interviews; this without regard for the question of whether Lee needs defending. I’ve been able to engage Mark on the question in a couple of Facebook discussions in the past year, where he made two points. First, the freelancers at Marvel don’t represent the only side of the story. Second, the material evidence doesn’t necessarily say what we think it says.
In September 2019, Stephen Bissette posted a brief review of Alter Ego #160, the Steve Ditko “tribute” issue. Thanks to Bob Heer’s blog, I was aware of Ditko’s writings, and Bissette’s 2013 blog series, Digging Ditko, 2 convinced me to start purchasing the work as it was published.
Reading the Steve Ditko commemorative issue of ALTER EGO, and still flummoxed at the utter disconnect between readily apparent cause-and-effect and the ongoing bizarre, caricature-like verbal portraits of Ditko and his decisions.
Thankfully, the ALTER EGO texts do acknowledge, cite, and quote Ditko’s own published accounts (via Ditko’s serialized book-length account of his Silver Age years in Robin Snyder’s THE COMICS) and stated reasons for his departure, which, again, are ample and crystal clear. Still, it’s disheartening to read yet again and again the same… old… shit, when it’s high time “fans” stopped spinning the same… old… shit. —Stephen Bissette, 8 September 2019.
Mark Evanier joined the discussion to provide information about the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoons. He later segued into undermining Bissette’s premise by calling into question Ditko’s version of events: Ditko said he was cut off from communicating with Lee for over a year ending in his 1965 departure from Marvel. Not only was Evanier bucking the consensus in the thread, he was going against the assessment of Roy Thomas in the very magazine being reviewed. Evanier made it clear that he didn’t put much stock in Ditko’s writing, and cited unpublished interviews with Lee and Sol Brodsky for informing his own take on the situation.
Patrick Ford responded: Put me down as believing Ditko. For one thing there are a number of very similar stories concerning Lee which come from Kirby and Wood. Ditko specifically wrote that Lee refused to come out and speak to him. Also, this isn’t a topic Ditko addressed once. He’s written about it several times… As to why Brodsky would say something different. Well, Brodsky was a Marvel employee. Also Brodsky would not be proud of the role he played in the situation between Lee and Ditko… No one walked into Lee’s office. It was locked at all times. This is clear from the Ted White interview. A buzzer from the outer office would sound and Lee had to let Brodsky or whoever in… According to Ditko (I happen to have his essays) when he had to communicate with Lee it was through Flo Steinberg or Brodsky. This is the way it worked because Lee refused to speak to Ditko.
I was disappointed at Evanier’s obliviousness to the implications of his claims, and questioned the validity of Lee’s words on this or any subject dealing with Marvel’s history. I pointed out that Lee and Brodsky were the same two cited by Thomas in 1997 for shaping his claimed belief that Kirby had created little at early Marvel. Thomas based his history, not on what he learned speaking to the freelancers, but on “what little [he] heard talking to Lee and Brodsky.” 3
Regarding Ditko, I quoted Thomas in Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics Episode 1: By the time I was there, Steve Ditko never came by the office except for a couple of minutes to drop something off, because Stan had decided that there was just no sense in the two of them speaking…
Elsewhere in the thread I related Thomas’ AE 160 comments: It never occurred to me to ask whose idea the no-speak situation had been; but of course, common sense dictated that it had to have been Stan’s decision. As editor, he was technically Ditko’s superior. Years later, in writings for his friend and partner Robin Snyder’s newsletter The Comics!, the artist confirmed that obvious assumption.
Comparing it to arguing politics with Trump supporters, Mark pointed out the futility of convincing people that Stan Lee was to blame for his falling-out with Ditko. I (somewhat rudely) asked why Lee is even given a say when by that point he had already assumed his false identity as creator, a charade that he maintained until his death. Evanier responded that having dealt with, and worked for, Lee, he didn’t “buy into the premise that if you catch him lying about one thing, it’s fair to assume he’s lying about everything.”
Later I was kicking myself that I didn’t think to ask Mark which “one thing” he meant.
A few months later, Evanier showed up to dispute a Ferran Delgado post which suggested that Kirby’s penciled lettering in story balloons in 1961 indicated that Kirby wrote those stories. Mark commented that Kirby’s penciled lettering didn’t necessarily mean Kirby had written the words he was penciling, alluding to the (relatively recent) company line that Kirby was working from the scripts of others. 4
I pointed out to Mark that Kirby had been quoted on the subject in the TCJ interview. Why, I asked him, was Lee’s version always given the benefit of the doubt despite the odds of a given Lee quote being a lie, while Kirby’s version is contested despite the only evidence against it being the word of Stan Lee? I reiterated pertinent points from the interview:
Kirby told Gary Groth that he wrote (specifically) the monster stories.
Kirby told Groth that Lee noticed that Kirby was taking home a bigger paycheque, and that Kirby was made to “render unto Caesar.” Lee started taking the writing pay.
The physical evidence shows Lee didn’t sign any of Kirby’s monster stories.
Nine years after the interview, Lee and Thomas interviewed each other for publication in Comic Book Artist #2; their agenda for the discussion involved openly scoffing at Kirby’s claims. 5 Evanier admitted not understanding Kirby’s comments in the TCJ interview at all.
Eric Stedman, Jack Kirby! group, 17 February 2020: I never felt that Kirby exaggerated in that interview at all. I picked up this magazine when it came out and I understood what he meant when he said Stan Lee never wrote anything. Which was that Lee 1. did not originate anything or know how to come up with good ideas and 2. did not know how to construct a story plot. Which is true, he couldn’t do either one. His addition of dialogue was cosmetic, involved no real thought, and was likely based on Kirby’s notes or rough versions anyway most of the time. And asking Jack Kirby or any other artist to come up with an entire story in pictures including original characters and costume designs and everything else is NOT “collaboration,” it’s commissioning the preliminary version of a work which is in essence complete and just needs to be embellished by others. This interview definitely included some tough talk by Kirby but I don’t doubt a word of what he said.
Though my opinion may be viewed by some as non-objective, I can say that my father spoke the truth in this interview.6 —Neal Kirby
Evanier cautioned that there are actual Kirby quotes, ready to be used to entrap someone inclined to call Lee a liar, that prove that not everything Kirby said was true. Kirby once talked about doing work for Filmation, when he actually worked for DePatie-Freleng. Mark suggested that, by my standards for the TCJ interview, his disbelieving that Kirby worked for Filmation meant he was calling Kirby a liar. He has a similar example in the FAQ on his website: But for all the things Jack did well, he was not great at being interviewed. He occasionally got carried away or confused. There was one interview where, without realizing what he was saying, he said he’d created Superman. Needless to say, he never really believed that but somehow, that’s what came out of his mouth.7
I responded with a comparison: Mark, I see what you’re saying. You’re saying that Lee accidentally misspoke when he said…
“I would have to think [Kirby has] either lost his mind or he’s a very evil person.”9
And (under oath): “In the 60s, the ideas for the new characters originated with me because that was my responsibility… And I dreamed up the Fantastic Four, and I wrote a brief outline.”10 —Stan Lee
Kirby misspoke on occasion, by accident. Lee’s falsification of history was deliberate and pervasive.
In another FB thread recently, Mark and Steve Sherman both stated unequivocally that they’d never known Kirby to lie. Kirby did have something to say regarding the writing in the monster stories, and instead of looking at the evidence through the lens of Kirby’s claim, Evanier has dismissed the claim. Among that select group of people who have actually heard of Jack Kirby, Evanier’s Kirby biography has been much anticipated for over two decades. Kirby now finds himself in the unenviable position of battling for credibility in its pages with the world’s most beloved serial liar.
Rewriting Comics History: Stan Lee has been positioning himself in the public consciousness as the living embodiment of the Marvel spirit for so log now he’s actually managed to make people believe in his megalomaniacal view of history. The fact of the matter is that Lee had a lot less to do with the vaunted “Marvel Philosophy” and the revolutionary Marvel approach to comic books than either Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. It was Kirby who created unworldly epics in Fantastic Four and it was Kirby who spun morality tales in Captain America. It was Ditko who made Spider-Man the “everyman” comic book and it was Ditko who created the unmatched fantasy in Dr. Strange.—Joe Brancatelli, 1980.
Lee exited the 1960s, in the eyes of some, as the industry’s buffoon. With a remarkable media biltz that began after Kirby’s departure, he laid claim to the writing and the creation of the properties; subsequent comic histories are infected with his account. The current situation exists because Lee was a master of manipulation of public sentiment, and used his power to dilute the concept of truth. As I asked Mark Evanier in the Steve Ditko exchange, why does Stan Lee get to be interviewed at all? Mark chose to bring politics into the discussion, so the obvious comparison is an illegitimate president taking credit for, or attempting to abolish, the achievements of his predecessor. With no creations Lee could legitimately call his own, he was intent on taking credit for Kirby’s.
One thing that tripped me up previously was Jack’s 1989 Comics Journal #134 interview, since back in the day, Kirby came across to me as a little nutty-sounding with some of the bitter recollections he brought to light. The most egregious is when he said, “Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did.”—John Morrow, Stuf’ Said, First Edition, p 158[Second Edition p 173]
In the final chapter of Stuf’ Said, “The Verdict,” John Morrow revealed that despite the nice things he’d said about Kirby in the previous 150 pages (how it was a revelation to him that Kirby had disputed Lee’s ‘70s disinformation campaign consistently, early, and often, and not just to Gary Groth), he concluded that it was Kirby’s words that were “egregious.”
Morrow: I may not like this explanation, but I don’t have any evidence to prove it’s wrong. So I have to give Stan a pass, like I gave Jack on his 1989 “Stan never wrote anything” comment.—158
This is false equivalence: the red letters in Morrow’s book consistently represent untruth, often baldfaced. Kirby’s comment will eventually prove to have been based in truth, but is not given the same benefit of the doubt that’s always given to Lee’s claims, for instance the tale about JLA sales. 11
Morrow: I will say that, ignoring a few minor discrepancies, I found both men have been pretty consistent in their accounts over the years. So no, I don’t think either man is a liar by any stretch of the imagination.—158
Based on the evidence in Stuf’ Said, surely a judgment could be rendered on the content, not just the consistency, of Lee’s account. When it’s obvious that Lee is lying, Morrow decides that we don’t need to call it lying.
Morrow: Lee usually does more than just reword Kirby’s margin notes, sometimes changing Kirby’s meaning to make the story more in keeping with his own tastes. He views that dialogue creation as “writing” the story.—8
Morrow determined that, solely based on Lee’s “unorthodox” definition of writing, Lee didn’t lie. The definition itself was a lie, arising from the necessity for Lee to redirect the writing page rate from Kirby’s pocket to his own. Lee took the stories Kirby had written, with suggested dialogue penciled into the balloons or margins, and added dialogue. In some cases Lee took his cue from Mort Weisinger and passed off plots from Kirby story conferences as his own. 12
As is now well documented, Mort made a habit of enticing writers to give him plot ideas which he would turn around and give to other writers as his own. He was addicted to the thievery of ideas.—William Woolfolk, 1978.
Morrow: Jack is also guilty of taking too much credit, even if it’s only in reaction to Lee’s grandstanding.—159
This statement is the most deserving of the book’s “egregious” label, but even amidst a relatively comprehensive collection of six decades of Lee’s misdirection, Morrow could only find against Kirby. He is willing to look at writing from Lee’s point of view, but studiously avoids looking at creation and writing from Kirby’s. Examination of the completed work Kirby turned in to Lee, as was done in a series of Mike Gartland articles Morrow once published, shows Kirby could never be guilty of taking too much credit.
When the one thing used to cast Kirby’s words as lies is the fact that his account contradicted Lee’s, it’s time to look more critically at Lee’s account. Lee’s record of lying should trigger an automatic fact check, but instead his words are used as the only measure of Kirby’s truthfulness. Instead of Kirby’s accounts in interviews being dismissed wholesale for that one reason, they should be taken on their own merits as an accurate representation of aspects of Marvel’s history.
From the time he opened the lines of communication with his readers and with Jerry Bails, Lee misrepresented the situation. The foundational “truth” of his fabricated persona is a falsehood: “I created the characters and wrote the stories.” Everything that followed built on that falsehood, and was therefore false.
The problem here is not that we don’t have eyewitness testimony, it’s that we have conflicting eyewitness testimony. The people involved disagree. If we can’t rely on first-person testimony, what can we do? I think The Confessor, in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City said it best, “Look at the facts, look at the patterns, and look for what doesn’t fit. Base your deductions on that.”13 —Stan Taylor
In this, Lee has succeeded spectacularly: Ditko and Kirby were reliable witnesses, but Lee’s ability to falsify history has caused even historians like Taylor and biographers like Evanier to conclude that all are unreliable. Richard Schickel has passed on, but his assessment of Disney’s control of the narrative remains spot on.
Mark Evanier and John Morrow, with the help of Stan Lee, are assembling the Jack Kirby chapter of The Disney Version. It’s time to look at Kirby’s story in light of the physical evidence, rather than validating it against a fictitious account that’s never subject to the slightest scrutiny.
Bonus link: When I started my response to Stuf’ Said, part of the motivation was to present some of the information that was left out of the book. I included it as the last installment of my multi-part review, and it rarely gets accessed. Here’s a direct link to Further Information.
back1Here are parts of Mark Evanier’s two depositions, excerpted by Marvel (Filing 65, Attachments 8 and 9), and the Kirbys’ lawyer Marc Toberoff (Filing 95, Attachments 2 and 3), and his declarations (Filings 74, 88, and 90). Exhibit A (Attachment 1) at Filing 90 is his Expert Report. This is Mark’s Amicus Brief for the Supreme Court case.
back3 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back4 In 1974, Lee wrote that “Jack and I were having a ball turning out monster stories” (Origins of Marvel Comics, p 15), and in TJKC #77 Will Murray cited a 1995 interview with Larry Lieber saying he wrote scripts for Kirby’s monster stories. Lieber’s version was endorsed by Alter Ego in 1999.
back5 Possibly conducted shortly before Lee was fired by Marvel, Lee and Thomas resumed the propaganda initiative begun with Origins by ridiculing Kirby’s TCJ interview.
back6 Comments section, “TCJ Archive: Jack Kirby Interview,” The Comics Journal website, 2 June 2011.
back11 The JLA discussion continues to resurface, even after the apocryphal golf element was discredited, with even Evanier weighing in against Kirby. The current reasoning goes, “Well, it could have happened that way, so it must have.” No one mentions that the timing doesn’t work, or the Challengers elephant in the room, or the fact that the JLA sales story was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, not in 1961, but in 1974.
back12 Evidence of Lee making Kirby plots his own to distribute to others shows up in the early issues of Spider-Man, Thor, and Iron Man. Larry Lieber’s belief that he was writing scripts for Kirby based on Lee’s plots could also be explained by this sequence of events: Lee “devising” a plot based on Kirby’s finished pages; Lee passing along the plot to Lieber to be scripted; then Lee and Lieber invoicing for plot and script respectively. Lee chose to start claiming plot credit in 1962 on a Strange Tales story that was plotted by Kirby; he also signed every splash page of FF #6 even though it was plotted, dialogued, and penciled by Kirby.
In January 2019 I emailed Roy Thomas to take exception to a caption in one of the Stan Lee tribute issues of Alter Ego. Thomas printed my letter in the very next Lee tribute issue, less than a year later. Right above my letter, he printed an online comment suggesting there should be a club called the Legion of Anti-Stan Lee ***holes, and pronounced the comment “succinct.” Below is my letter, followed by both of our responses.
Jan 10, 2018, 8:36 PM
I’m writing to take exception to this caption on page 10 of Alter Ego #150:
Stan suspects he may have written the entirety of the infamous giant-monster yarn “Fin Fang Foom” in Strange Tales #89 (Oct. 1961), on sale around the same time as Fantastic Four #1; but there are no credits for writer or artists on this splash for the 13-pager; so maybe Larry Lieber or someone else provided the actual script from Stan’s plot. Pencils by Jack Kirby; inks by Dick Ayers.
I don’t hold out much hope that you’ll publish this, but I’m cc’ing Jon and John in the unlikely event that they’d print a rebuttal.
By “around the same time” you mean Strange Tales #89 was published the month before FF #1.
The compulsion to inveigle Stan Lee into admitting that he had something to do with “Fin Fang Foom” needs to be addressed. In the interview accompanying the caption (conducted in 1988), Will Murray prompted Lee with hearsay:
WM: Most people think you wrote the lead fantasy stories, like “Fin Fang Foom,” even though you didn’t sign them.
LEE: I did that one. If my name was on them, I did. I never put my name on anything that I didn’t write.
Ten years later, you chose a similar tack (Comic Book Artist #2, 1998):
Roy: By Fantastic Four #1, you had developed what later came to be called “the Marvel style.” But you were doing this all along for some monster stories, some time before this. How far back does that go?
Stan: You mean just doing synopses for the artists? Was I doing them before Marvel?
Roy: I know that you did it for Fantastic Four. So I figured with Jack as the artist—and maybe Ditko, too—in these minor stories that you mostly wrote, along with Larry Lieber, you must have been doing it since the monster days.
Stan: You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, that’s probably true; but I had never thought of that. I thought that I started it with the Fantastic Four, but you’re probably right.
Roy: You probably didn’t write full scripts for Jack for “Fin Fang Foom.”
Lee said he didn’t remember specifically what he did on “Fin Fang Foom,” but you helpfully supplied the memory for him. You yourself didn’t arrive on the scene until 1965, and conveniently, your only source of information regarding Lee’s working relationship with Kirby, was Lee.
As Murray indicated, Lee did not sign “Fin Fang Foom.” Michael Vassallo has observed that Lee did not sign a single Kirby “monster” story (monster, science fiction, or fantasy), an indication that he didn’t write any of them. As to whether Lee would forget to sign something, he has even signed one-page paper doll features in Millie the Model (and each one if they were printed two to a page). As for Lee’s claim of never signing something he didn’t write, see Mike Breen’s Jack Kirby Collector #61 article for one of many possible instances of a Lee signature (one on every splash, in fact) that wasn’t necessarily backed up by any writing involvement.
Lee “probably didn’t write full scripts” for Kirby on “Fin Fang Foom,” or any other story – it remains to be proven whether he ever wrote a script, period. Although Lee was known to purchase scripts (most famously from Magazine Management writers) and assign them, Steve Ditko has written that he never got a full script from Lee. Vince Fago worked on humour comics with Lee prior to World War II and said he never got a script from Lee, that Lee was using the synopsis method.
Next, we can dispense with the idea that “Fin Fang Foom” was written “Marvel style”: Kirby’s penciled lettering is visible in the balloons and captions.
Nor was Lee working “Marvel style” with Kirby in this later story from Strange Tales #99, nearly a year after FF #1 (again, Kirby’s lettering is visible in the balloons).
In Episode 1 of Robert Kirkman’s “Secret History of Comics” (2017), you trotted out your old stand-by: “For years, Jack Kirby didn’t care that he wasn’t being listed as a writer. Later on when something becomes successful, then everybody starts saying, ‘This percentage of it’s mine!’ ‘That percentage of it’s mine!'”
Roy, you need to be called out on this: it’s patent nonsense.
Kirby and others were very clear at the time that writing credit was an issue. Wood quit over it in 1965. Ditko quit the same year because Lee wasn’t speaking to him; Lee wasn’t speaking to Ditko because he’d demanded and received plotting credit. In 1968 Kirby told Excelsior that what kept him from writing the dialogue on the books he wrote was Lee’s editorial policy. Finally in 1970, Kirby quit Stan Lee over the issue of writing credit and pay for the writing he always did.
In another caption in the interview, you make sure to refer to “penciler Jack Kirby” (where you actually credit Stan Lee with writing a story featuring Easter Island, like Thor a repeating Kirby theme). Aside from appropriating the writing page rate, the worst lie Lee ever told about Kirby was (by design) always insisting he was just an artist. Kirby was a creator/writer/artist, and deserves to be recognized as such in your little off-hand editorials.
Lee is treated as the victor and history is molded to his narrative: he’s given every opportunity to say he doesn’t remember an event and therefore it didn’t happen. The best way to uncover the true story of Lee’s working relationship with Kirby is to take one of Kirby’s many interviews (so far dating back to 1968) and ask the question, what if I took Kirby at his word instead of Lee? A good place to start is one with which you’re obviously familiar, the interview in The Comics Journal #134. It was by no means his first word on the subject (as you characterize it), yet it provides a precious raw piece of unmanufactured history.
Ask yourself, what events would explain Kirby’s recollection of Lee crying in the office? Mike Vassallo did precisely that and figured out that according to job numbers, Kirby’s very first trip to the office in 1958 was the first working day after Joe Maneely died. That should cause you to wonder if plummeting sales on the monster books had Goodman considering closing up shop (in fact, moving out the furniture) in 1961, before giving Kirby’s superhero advice a shot.
In your response to Jon Cooke for his Comic Book Creator #1 article, you accused Kirby of delusions of grandeur for supposedly greedily wanting credit after the fact (and not remembering the “little people” like Lee who enabled his rise). No, Roy, the grandeur is genuine: you just have the roles reversed.
[Thomas’ “delusions of grandeur” letter to Comic Book Creator is here, and Cooke’s gracious but firm response is here.]
Thomas’ response to me is here in full, and inline below in my response to him.
I’m disappointed. You’ve responded to my facts with a series of falsehoods, a lot of them manufactured by you. I know this is to be expected, because, following in Lee’s footsteps, you’re addressing the people who will believe you no matter what you tell them.
Thomas: Lessee… first off, both Will Murray and I were simply trying to see what (if anything) we could prod Stan into remembering about “Fin Fang Foom,” a monster story notorious mostly for its title. Neither of us was successful, but we had no nefarious motives as you suggest.
The nefarious motive in your case was the need to erase doubt raised by Kirby about who actually wrote his monster stories. Lee wasn’t a very good witness, telling you that your memory of it was better than his, even though you weren’t there. Murray, like many people, just seems to want to believe what he was told by Lee.
I’ve already covered the instances of trying to “prod Stan into remembering,” so this time let’s just look at Lee’s responses. To Murray, “I did that one. If my name was on them, I did. I never put my name on anything that I didn’t write.” [Lee’s name wasn’t on it (he hadn’t signed Fin Fang Foom), and Kirby’s penciled lettering is in the balloons.]
The caption that compelled me to write begins, “Stan suspects he may have written the entirety of the infamous giant-monster yarn ‘Fin Fang Foom’…”
His response to you about writing Kirby’s monster stories: “You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, it’s probably true; but I had never thought of that. I thought that I started it with the Fantastic Four, but you’re probably right.”
Thomas: In days since, by the way, Stan has convincingly staked his claim to that yarn, thank you very much. He revealed at a 2005 recording session in Hollywood (for a book we were both working on), with no prompting whatever from Yours Truly, who was there, or from the two non-comics people present, that he’d named “Fin Fang Foom” after the rhythm of the title of a [1934 British] movie called Chu Chin Chow. No, that doesn’t prove he plotted “Foom,”…
…nor does it prove that he did anything other than name the monster. Nobody disputes Lee’s claim to the names of the monsters. “Convincingly staking his claim” for plotting and writing “in its entirety” requires more than his suspicion, belief, even his word that he did something, especially when he contradicts the material evidence. Explain to me again, Roy, why Lee didn’t sign a single Kirby monster story, ever, and yet he signed this…
Thomas: …it’s well known that, circa 1961, he wrote synopses for most if not all of Timely/Marvel’s “monster epics,” which his brother Larry Lieber (and perhaps occasionally others) then turned into full scripts to be drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, et al.
This statement is false. It’s well known among your readers, Roy, because you began spreading this origin story in 1998 (quoted in my original letter): while crediting Lee with writing the monster stories, you slipped in the phrase, “along with Larry Lieber.” Based on the actual evidence, the published works and the original art pages that have surfaced, it’s not true.
Will Murray’s “Vandoom” article was revised and reprinted in TJKC #77. In its original 1984 form, the article credits Lee with writing Marvel style, as you did in 1998. Wouldn’t being “written” Marvel-style obviate the need for a Lieber script?
Murray, 1984: “Then Jack Kirby wandered over from DC… Stan Lee never showed this kind of imagination in his pre-1959 scripts, so I would guess it was Kirby, whose mother was born near Transylvania and told him some pretty wild legends when he was a kid, on whose doorstep we can lay the credit—or blame.”
“Lee-Kirby epic… Lee and Kirby developed… always a Stan Lee moral at the end… Lee/Kirby monster story…”
It’s unclear what Lee did in this collaboration, until..
“I also have to feel sorry for Stan Lee. I’m sure his artists helped create the monsters (this seems to be when he first started plotting ‘Marvel-style’), but he had to name them.”
By the time of the 2019 rewrite, the ’80s Lee-as-writer narrative had been supplanted.
Murray, 2019: “By the beginning of 1960, Stan Lee had weeded out the also-rans from his stable, trained a small group of replacements to work from his plots and brother Larry Lieber’s scripts, and established a new house look to his four surviving fantasy titles…”
“Lieber is the unsung hero of the monster era. When Lee had to let go of his staff scripters in 1958, he brought in younger brother Larry and trained him to write monster stories.”
The credits were introduced in 1962. Lieber was added to the scenario following an interview he did with Murray in 1995. I’d be grateful, Roy, if you could direct me to a mention of Lieber scripting for Kirby that predates Kirby’s TCJ interview, or more significantly, his death. After he died, Kirby wasn’t around to contest Lieber’s claim.
Thomas: Now, if Jack himself said at some point that he wrote that story, dialogue and all, that would definitely be worth considering. But traces of his penciled balloons and captions on original “Foom” art merely indicate he pencil-lettered it when he drew it, not that he’d written the original script.
“If Jack himself said at some point,” it would be dismissed like everything else Jack himself said because it couldn’t co-exist with what Lee and Thomas have been saying.
In fact, Kirby himself did comment… GROTH: When you went to Marvel in ’58 and ’59, Stan was obviously there.
KIRBY: Yes, and he was the same way [a pest].
GROTH: And you two collaborated on all the monster stories?
KIRBY: Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the [monster] stories just like I always did. Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.
Roy, you told Lee he “probably didn’t write full scripts for Jack for Fin Fang Foom.” You told Jon Cooke (see letter to Comic Book Creator, above) “Larry wrote a full script for the origin of Ant-Man (and probably ‘The Man in the Ant-Hill,’ earlier),” then you used the phrase, “ fully scripted by Lee and Lieber.” What is the physical evidence for scripts by Lee or Lieber? Have you ever seen a full script by Lee?
Will Murray interviewed Daniel Keyes, one of Lee’s editors between 1952 and 1955, for Alter Ego #13. Keyes described the process of vetting scripts of freelance writers for Lee; later, Murray asked him about Lee’s writing.
MURRAY: Stan Lee is today considered one of the great comic book writers. Was he writing many comics in those days?
KEYES: Not to my knowledge. He edited, I guess. He was a businessman, as far as I was concerned. And a shy businessman is almost an oxymoron. I’ve never thought of Stan as a writer at all. So that surprises me. Of course, he might have been turning in comics for a few extra bucks, doing it under pen names so that Martin Goodman wouldn’t know about it. I never thought of Stan as a writer. Daniel Keyes interviewed by Will Murray, Alter Ego #13, March 2002.
Thomas: It may well be true, as you say, that Jack would’ve preferred to write the actual scripts to some (if not all) of the stories he and Stan did. If so, it doesn’t seem he often (if ever) broached that subject to Stan, or I’d have probably heard about it in 1965 or after. But I won’t deny that, as the editor, responsible to publisher Martin Goodman for the contents of the comics, Stan really never felt that Jack’s dialogue would deliver what he wanted in a Marvel comic. Rightly or wrongly (and I submit he was basically correct), Stan believed his own way of scripting Marvel’s comics was every bit as important as the art during that first Marvel decade… and he wanted to keep that winning combination going. Not in order to rob Jack of credit, but because the system was working—had worked, indeed, from the first issue of Fantastic Four—and he didn’t want to mess it up.
Q: Who created the Inhumans, you or Stan Lee?
JACK: I did.
Q: Do you plot the Fantastic Four stories by drawing the basic story and then having Stan write the dialogue?
JACK: This is Stanley’s editorial policy. As a Marvel artist, I carry it out Excelsior #1, 1968.
KIRBY: I’ll tell you from a professional point of view. I was writing them. I was drawing them.
EISNER: But you do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of someone else, regardless of who it is, putting balloons in on a completely penciled page. I have a prejudice on it but I want to get your opinion.
KIRBY: My opinion is this: Stan Lee wrote the credits. I never wrote the credits. Shop Talk, Jack Kirby interviewed by Will Eisner, Will Eisner‘s Spirit Magazine #39, July 1982.
Darrell Epp, Jack Kirby and Kompany group, 15 January 2020: the mob has been wrong before, it has happened, so what do you think: look at the stuff kirby wrote before 60’s marvel and after 60’s marvel and try to compare the maturity/complexity of the writing…. and saying ‘the writers at dc lacked that kind of breadth’ compared to lee’s writing is tricky, because, what did lee ever write, without the genius of kirby or ditko to sponge off of lamprey-style? millie the model? ravage 2099? and yes, kirby’s writing could have been problematic for many readers because it operated at a higher level of sophistication than they were used to, it’s just brimming with literary illusions, HARD WON truths from a veteran who saw the darkest corners of the human experience up close, man! i’m so grateful….
Here’s an excerpt from Chris Tolworthy’s epic dissection of FF #51:
PART 3: LEE WAS EDITOR, NOT PLOTTER
The idea that Lee added the ending is “special pleading”: that is, all the evidence says Lee did NOT plot, but we say “in this one case he must have done (because the plot point is bad)”. I will now remind readers why the default position must be why Lee did not plot this issue, and then show why the “bad ending” argument fails.
As we have shown time and again in the Marvel Method group, all the evidence points to Lee having MINIMAL control over the plot of the stories. He might say “Bring back Dr Doom” or “lighten up the tone” or “have them fight Spider-Man” but that’s about it. Normally the story conferences take place behind closed doors, but when we do catch a glimpse they always show that lee had literally no idea what was in the comic until he saw it. This is nowhere more clear than around issue 51.
We are lucky to get two accidental glimpses into a story meeting around this time: one just before, one just after. For FF48, Roy Thomas accidentally walked in on a meeting and famously reported the “who’s that guy?” quote. Lee knew nothing about the Silver Surfer until he saw him. Then for FF 55, Lee put on a fake meeting for a reporter, and Lee’s comment shows he had no idea what was in the comic (being unaware of the ongoing Klaw plot, and thinking the Surfer whose whole story was being trapped on Earth, was “somewhere off in space”). So the default assumption must be that, barring other evidence, Lee did not plot the stories at all. He was an editor: he edited stories after they arrived.
PART 4: LEE’S MOST FAMOUS EDIT
The simplest way to see Lee’s edits is to read the stories without dialogue. The “Kirby Without Words” blog shows that the art and dialogue are frequently in conflict.
The clearest and most common conflict is sexism (check the blog for examples). Lee always wanted the male hero to be THE MALE HERO. So:
when a woman did something, Lee changed the dialogue to give credit to the man.
When the male hero was controlled by a villain, Lee changed the dialogue so the male hero was NOT being controlled.
When the male hero did something morally ambiguous (especially if it might offend the Comics Code) Lee changed the dialogue to make it safer.
The number one example is Reed Richards, Mr Fantastic. By editing out his moral conflicts, Lee removed the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four. I’ll look at that next, and then how it changes FF51.
Thomas: Sure, he let Wally Wood dialogue a single Daredevil issue; but he was unhappy with the results (as I learned when I came to work there, soon after Wood quit). I can appreciate Wood’s being unhappy to be acknowledged only as the “artist” in the credits, so that he moved on—but Stan was so obviously enamored of Wood’s talent that, if Wood had really pushed the point, Stan might well have made the same type of arrangement with him that he’d done first with Ditko, then with Kirby.
Arrangement? You seem to believe that any arrangement with Ditko and Kirby was acceptable to Ditko and Kirby at the time.
Wally Wood was writing Daredevil from the start and simply wanted writing credit.
WW: I enjoyed working with Stan on DAREDEVIL but for one thing. I had to make up the whole story. He was being paid for writing and I was being paid for drawing but he didn’t have any ideas. I’d go in for a plotting session and we’d just stare at each other until I came up with a storyline. I felt that I was writing the book but not being paid for writing.
ME: You did write one issue, as I recall…
WW: One, yes. I persuaded him to let me write one by myself since I was doing 99% of the writing already. I wrote it, handed it in and he said it was hopeless. He said he’d have to rewrite it all and write the next issue himself. Well, I said I couldn’t contribute to the storyline unless I got paid something for writing and Stan said he’d look into it, but after that he only had inking for me. Bob Powell was suddenly pencilling DAREDEVIL. Excerpts from Mark Evanier’s interview with Wallace Wood, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997. (Now published in Fantagraphics’ The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood.)
Thomas: As for your statement that “Ditko quit… because Stan wasn’t speaking to him”… well, maybe that’s the reason, and maybe it wasn’t. Do you have a quote from Steve specifically stating that? Because Steve had other, and, he felt, better reasons for leaving, I’m sure… and in any event, he went on working for Marvel for a year or so after the two men stopped speaking.
Ditko was forthcoming and transparent: he wrote impassioned essays in Robin Snyder’s The Comics, including a 15+-part Mini History of Marvel, the 2008 32-pager, Avenging Mind, focused on Marvel, Lee, and Goodman, and “WHY I QUIT S-M, MARVEL” in Four Page Series No. 9, September 2015.
Roy, I exaggerated in my letter when I called Lee your only source. You told Jim Amash that your take on who created characters was based on speaking strictly to Lee and Brodsky. Your version of what took place before your arrival is only informed by Lee, Lieber, and other Marvel employees. People like Lieber, Romita, and Brodsky, who rarely encountered Kirby in person, simply repeated what Lee told them, so Lee was the ultimate source. The 1998 Comic Book Artist #2 “interview” seems to indicate that Brodsky and Lieber hadn’t yet told you about the monster stories. Who were your sources of information at that point? Earlier?
Thomas: Nor do I necessarily accept that Jack quit Marvel in 1970 specifically “over the issue of writing credit and pay for the writing he always did.” I’m not saying it may not have been a factor. Still, during the preceding decade, he’d received several pay raises—and while they were officially for his work as “artist,” that doesn’t mean that Stan, who was pushing the publisher to get him those raises, didn’t personally count Jack’s plotting/storytelling input as partial justification for them, even if Jack didn’t see it that way.
Lee had a lot to say about Goodman’s promises, to himself and to Kirby and Ditko. Ultimately he said this:
“As far as what they were paid, I had nothing to do with that. They were hired as freelance artists, and they worked as freelance artists. At some point they apparently felt they should be getting more money. Fine, it was up to them to talk to the publisher. It had nothing to do with me. I would have liked to have gotten more money too. I never made an issue of it. I got paid per page for what I wrote, the same rate as the other writers—maybe a dollar a page more. “I don’t want anyone to think I treated Kirby or Ditko unfairly. I think we had a wonderful relationship. Their talent was incredible. But the things they wanted weren’t in my power to give them.” Stan Lee interviewed by David Hochman, Playboy, April 2014.
Kirby quit after years of having his writing pay stolen. It’s not a mystery, even though Lee made out for decades that he didn’t know why. Now Roy Thomas has taken up the mantle.
Thomas: But Stan felt that he himself needed to provide the actual finished dialogue for the stories. When Jack dialogued a “S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode while Stan was out of town, Stan, upon returning, was vocally unhappy with the dialogue (if then-production manager Sol Brodsky was still alive, he’d back me up on this) and hurriedly rewrote as much of it as he had time to do… and far more than poor, long-suffering, deadline-hounded, budget-conscious Sol wanted him to. and from the caption, Roy T. recalls The Man as actually doing extensive rewrites upon his return; in the end, he just didn’t want to take credit or blame for his part in a story whose writing he didn’t much care for. Surprisingly, it’s unusually difficult to detect the rewritten balloons and captions, which suggests that production manager Sol Brodsky may have called credited letterer Sam Rosen into the Marvel offices to handle Stan’s re-do. Or maybe Sol talked Stan out of doing quite as much rewriting as Roy knows he wanted.
How conveniently worded: “if the evidence doesn’t bear out my ‘recollection,’ I’ll say Sol talked him out of it.” Vocally unhappy? Let’s take a look at the evidence…
Jim MacKay, Marvel Method group, 15 December 2019: Artie Simek did the [front page] bottom caption and credits, and relettered a few word balloons elsewhere in the story. If that was Stan Lee’s contribution when he returned from vacation, it amounted to 1 or 2 percent of the dialogue. Certainly not “extensive rewriting.”
Don’t take Jim MacKay’s word for it… the pages of the SHIELD story can be viewed online.
WW: But remember that issue of DAREDEVIL I wrote? Stan said it was hopeless and that he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. Then I saw it when it came out and he’d changed five words, less than an editor usually changes. I think that was the last straw. Mark Evanier’s interview with Wallace Wood, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997. (Now published in Fantagraphics’ The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood.)
Thomas: In 1970 Stan let Jack dialogue the “Ka-Zar” and “Inhumans” 10-pagers, because he didn’t have time to write the script himself and he knew Jack didn’t want to work with any other Marvel scribes; in his own mind, Stan was mostly just trying to keep Jack happy—though it was clearly too late for that.
Too late for awarding the writing pay? Yes, by 1970 it was too late. Why don’t we say it was already too late when, as Kirby put it, Lee noticed Kirby was taking home a bigger paycheque, and Kirby was forced to “render unto Caesar”?
Thomas: In the mid-1960s, Stan was desperately looking for writers. If not, he’d never have hired, in short order in 1965, first Steve Skeates, then myself, then Denny O’Neil. If he’d felt Kirby or Wood could’ve delivered the kind of scripting he wanted, I’m dead certain he’d have found a way to utilize them in that capacity. (Admittedly, in Jack’s case, I’m sure he’d have been torn, because he wanted Jack to pencil as much as possible—and writing scripts, like inking, would’ve made him less productive in the area wherein Stan primarily valued him. But the fact remains: rightly or wrongly, he just didn’t care for Jack’s actual dialogue-writing, only his plotting and storytelling.)
Definitions: Kirby was writing, Lee was adding dialogue based on Kirby’s margin notes.
Less productive? According to Mark Evanier, Kirby’s solo work breakdown was the same as when Lee “collaborated”: Kirby wrote and penciled a complete story, then added dialogue and captions. The difference was that instead of writing dialogue in the balloons, Kirby wrote margin notes for Lee. How would writing his own dialogue be less productive?
If you’re honest, Roy, I think you’d agree that Kirby explaining the story to Lee in margin notes would be more time-consuming than Kirby simply finishing the story he’d already written. The results were disastrous, with Lee seemingly taking the margin notes as dialogue suggestions and having the dialogue explain what was visibly obvious. Also evident was the fact that Lee frequently didn’t know what was happening in the story. No, the purpose of taking away Kirby’s ability to dialogue his own story was to give Lee the writing page rate on stories that came to him pre-written.
When Kirby did layouts, he was writing the story for a fraction of the penciling pay. The penciler took a pay cut, and Lee’s page rate was unaffected. When Ditko got plotting credit, Lee took the pay cut.
“only his plotting and storytelling”: this is amusing because Lee never credited Kirby in the credit boxes with plotting, thus Kirby was never paid for it.
Lee “didn’t care for” Kirby’s dialogue because his reading level was lower than Kirby was used to writing. Joan told him to write the kind of stories he himself would want to read, and for that he needed to dumb down Kirby’s work. See Chris Tolworthy, above.
Thomas: Should Stan perhaps have made some additional accommodation with Jack? The point can be argued—in retrospect, I wish he had—but remember, Stan had reason to believe the matter had been settled to Jack’s satisfaction when the two of them agreed that future stories would be credited as “a Stan Lee & Jack Kirby production,” the phrasing Jack reportedly chose himself. I don’t recall ever hearing that Jack broached a further complaint in that area—at least not to his face, which is basically all that counts; if Jack didn’t bring it up, Stan can’t be faulted for not reading his mind. Stan thought things were back on an even keel—right up to the day he received that fateful phone call from Jack telling him that he was quitting and indeed had already begun working on new projects for DC. Yes, there was definitely a failure to communicate—and it’s a real pity that there was—but it was a two-way street.
No mind-reading was necessary. Lee was stealing from Kirby and Kirby knew it. Lee should simply have made some “additional accomodation” to not steal.
Kirby’s imminent departure seemed to be common knowledge around the Marvel offices as early as 1968. In a story in Not Brand Echh, John Verpoorten drew a gag note pinned to the bulletin board next to Kirby’s drawing board. It reads, “All is forgiven,” and is signed Carmine. The writer is listed as… Roy Thomas.
Kirby made it clear to you in the ’70s, Roy, that the Marvel Method was an unsatisfactory working arrangement on the FF. You still seem (or pretend to be) mystified, but even Danny Fingeroth pegged it in A Marvelous Life: “Kirby had no intention of plotting stories for someone else to dialogue.” (p 261)
Thomas: One further point: While Jack’s experience briefly drawing The Double Life of Private Strong and The Fly for Archie might indicate to some that Jack was always pushing Stan to do super-heroes, don’t forget that it was more likely Joe Simon as editor who initiated the idea of doing such characters to the Archie people.
I won’t dispute here that it was Simon’s idea; that’s not part of this discussion. I understand your need to strip the credit from Kirby for even the creating and writing he’d done at S&K lest he be perceived as someone who came to Lee as a successful creator and writer. Kirby was recommending superheroes based on his own experience of the success of work he was doing for other companies, while he was selling monster stories to Lee.
Thomas: Contrary to what you write, Stan didn’t think of Jack as “just an artist.” There are numerous references in the 1960s Bullpen Bulletins and elsewhere to Kirby’s contributions to story, including at least once or twice the bald statement that Jack would draw entire issues after just the briefest of story conferences.
Lee didn’t “think” of Kirby as “just an artist,” but he never credited him with anything more than art in published credits other than “This Is A Plot?” until the very end (the two writing credits you mentioned). He was “just an artist” in every way that mattered to him. Ditko got a plotting credit. Lee got plotting credits on many books where it’s clear that Kirby did the plotting (Strange Tales #103, Tales of Suspense #39, for just two examples). Lee’s neighbour’s kids got a plotting credit (Strange Tales #116). Letter writers got plotting credits. Jack Kirby, the primary plotter of the Marvel Universe, never got a plotting credit. Kirby was never given credit by Lee in a way that could be monetized: Lee paid lip service to plotting and creativity, but always took the money by taking the writing or plotting credit. When Ditko demanded and received a plotting credit, it ate into Lee’s page rate and Lee stopped speaking to Ditko.
Thomas: The “crying time” episode Jack recounted in the late ’80s may indeed have come about very much as Doc Vassallo postulates—i.e., less because sales were down (whatever the state of the office furniture) than because Stan’s artist friend Joe Maneely had died only a couple of days before. Small wonder Stan didn’t recall the episode as Jack did: his motivation for any tears, whether gushing or stifled, might well have been largely different from what Jack assumed.
Kirby told the story to Leonard Pitts, Jr in 1985, Ben Schwartz of the UCLA Daily Bruin in 1987, and Gary Groth in 1989.
Steve Sherman has recently shed some new light on this description of Kirby’s: ‘The thing is, if Joe Maneely hadn’t died, things would have been a lot different. I guess you can call it fate, destiny, random events, but Jack probably would have found something else. Yes it was early ’61 that Goodman was going to pull the plug. Don’t forget, the Marvel offices at the time were pretty small, so it wasn’t a big deal to close the office. I would guess that Goodman had not yet informed the printer or engravers, since that would have been bought ahead of time. I would guess that last issues of the books had been sent out. Jack couldn’t let them close. Jack had always been working on ideas for books. He was pretty well aware of what was being published. He always felt that “superhero” books would make a comeback. Since Goodman already had the pipeline going, it wasn’t too much to give it another shot, especially since it was Jack. He had come through before, so why not. As Jack told me, he came up with all of the titles at once. He called it a “blitzkrieg”. He felt if he put out a bunch of new books at once, it would make a splash. He had “FF”, “Spider-Man”, “The X-Men” and “Thor” and “Hulk”. You can believe it or not, but that’s what he told me.’ Steve Sherman by email to Patrick Ford, 2018.
Patrick Ford, Marvel Method group, 7 January 2020: JL Mast has a business document dated June 16, 1958 which indicates that Martin Goodman planned to shutter his comic book publishing division. June 1958 happens to coincide with the death of Joe Maneely and Jack Kirby beginning to sell freelance material to Goodman. Examining Marvel’s publishing record there is a 38 day gap between July 25th and September 2nd where nothing was published. On Sept. 2nd three new science fiction titles were introduced and Sept. 2nd also happens to be the month where Jack Kirby’s work began showing up in the science fiction titles. He did three of the four covers and had his first story published. The nearly six week long interruption may be further evidence that Goodman did intend to pull the plug.
Michael J. Vassallo: …this exact period is the most critical moment in Marvel’s 80 year history. Atlas implosion in April of 1957, inventory runs out, declining sales (assumed), and on June 7, 1958 Joe Maneely dies. It was the company’s nadir and I’m sure Goodman had had enough. There was enough profit in his men’s sweat magazines (a genre he actually pioneered, rather than copied). So what happens next is the lynchpin to what came afterward. Immediately (and I mean days) new sci-fi titles were launched. What corresponds with that launch? Jack Kirby returns. Do you actually think Stan suggested new sci-fi titles? He had never written any! Do you actually think Martin Goodman suggested new sci-fi titles? Goodman hated science fiction. It never sold for him. Not in the pulps, not in the comic books. The sales pitch had to come from Jack and the decision to green-light it was made immediately, based on job numbers. The original sales pitch may even have been for super heroes, and Goodman resisted, but at the very least it was science fantasy and Goodman relented. So the line chugs on for another 2 years as sci-fi becomes monster stories, westerns, romance and some new war stories appear and humor continues unabated (which were probably the best sellers). Then the second critical juncture occurs and with declining sales Kirby probably shows up with his blitzkrieg proposal for new superhero titles and Goodman finally relents The first series was a super-powered version of what he already did, the Challengers of the Unknown. THAT is the most likely scenario of how Marvel re-launched. No wife telling Stan to do comics “his” way, no golf game, no spider-on-the-wall, no Chondu the magician, no…
Patrick Ford: Michael, There is some evidence that Kirby’s pitch was for super heroes. In several different interviews (as early as 1969) he said he was pushing for the super hero. He said in 1969 that he “kept harping on” trying superheroes while doing the monster stories. Later he told Will Eisner he had to “fight for the super hero” titles. I think he came in pushing the idea and Goodman didn’t want to go with it due to the poor reaction to the Timely hero revival. Kirby was also doing science fiction and monster stories at the time for Crestwood, National and Harvey and my guess is he also pushed for those with Goodman jumping on the “giant monster” genre which was popular at the time in film and comic books.
Michael J. Vassallo: Back to what I said above, there are 2 lines of history now. There’s the “official” history nearly 100% based on what Stan has told starting in the 1970’s. Then there’s Jack’s history, told in numerous interviews. Of the 2, only Jack’s is backed by a deep look at the actual books, the actual history of the time period, and the back history of both. Jack’s story can be backed with data and evidence. Stan’s cannot. Stan’s back history tells us nothing. His recollection of the critical junctures are negligible. His forward story is made up and cannot be corroborated. Jack’s back story is really all you need to see which history is correct. His interviews just corroborate what he was saying.
So if the incident as Kirby described it happened in 1958 or 1961, yes, there was a corresponding shutdown.
Thomas: Nor is it likely that it was Jack’s supposed predilection for super-heroes that led to Timely reviving them (more than two years after the crying/furniture event Jack refers to). Not only Stan’s own various accounts, but also the 1960 success of DC’s new Justice League of America and related comics, gives credence to the greater likelihood that the 1961 Timely super-hero title was developed at the behest of the *publisher*. There’s no proof—and not really much probability—that Stan ever even mentioned to Martin Goodman that Jack Kirby thought the company ought to try putting out super-heroes again. If Jack felt it should, he was clearly correct, but that doesn’t mean his wishes had any more effect on Goodman than my own fannish musings, from nearly a thousand miles away. That wasn’t the way Goodman (or Stan Lee) operated, and I submit that it’s willfully naïve to believe it was.
Roy, “Stan’s own various accounts,” as well as your own, were introduced to the world after the purchase of Marvel by Perfect Film & Chemical. Some were introduced in 1998 or later. “Willfully naïve” describes Will Murray wanting Lee to be telling the truth, but you’re just willfully misleading because you know more of the truth.
John Morrow in Stuf’ Said: When Pitts next interviews Stan, he mentions Jack’s story about saving Marvel from closing down, and finding Stan crying: “Well, that’s his remembrance. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve had my head on the desk crying. You’re meeting me now, I don’t think I come across as an emotional wreck. I really don’t know what he’s alluding to at all.” I’m objecting again here, as Lee isn’t fully addressing the issue. He’s completely avoiding any discussion of whether Marvel was about to close when Kirby arrived, and only focusing on the “crying” comment.
As for the success of the Justice League, Kirby’s Challengers predated the JLA in the superhero revival by three years, and even without Kirby, was outselling JLA’s Brave and the Bold in 1960, when the JLA would have been around for Goodman to notice. The first JLA cover “paid homage” to Kirby’s Showcase #12 Challengers cover. Goodman was probably aware of the success of Challengers, and had seen DC themselves imitate Challengers with Suicide Squad, Sea Devils, and the JLA. He was nudged into action by Kirby’s presentation, after he’d actually pulled the plug on the comics division (for the second or third time?); his renowned knowledge of the market may have determined which of Kirby’s concepts to audition first. The JLA story is a smokescreen developed post 1968 to disguise the obvious source of PF&C’s newly-purchased intellectual property.
Thomas: As for your final insult, aimed at Stan and/or myself—well, I left it in, because I wanted to remind readers (and myself) that being a fan of a particular comics talent can be carried so far as to become almost a vice. As for myself—well, I’ve been a fan of Jack Kirby since probably you were less than a gleam in your father’s (if not your grandfather’s) eye, so I hardly need certification in your eyes as what I indeed am: a great and lifetime admirer of both men. I’ve written more than once that I find it impossible to imagine Marvel Comics as it ultimately evolved without the two of them being on the scene at the time, with each doing basically what he did. If you feel differently… well, I know a good eye specialist I could recommend.
Roy, you’ve been a fan for a long time, but given the ability to look at both men’s claims in light of the evidence in the work itself, it becomes clear that you’re just making stuff up. Your unique perspective on the man is not unlike Kirby’s: you knew him before his Cadence makeover, when the industry considered him a buffoon; you saw his vindictive side (the one he showed to Kirby, Ditko, Wood, Ayers, and others). Kirby used satire to show us truth about Lee, but your goal is to suppress that truth and erase Kirby’s accomplishments. Being a Kirby fan can be “almost a vice”? I would suggest that you’re leading a Lee cult, complete with false doctrine. Simply pointing out the existence of accounts other than Lee’s is treated as heresy.
More thoughts on Fin Fang Foom…
Chris Tolworthy, Marvel Method group, 19 January 2020: This topic (Fin Fang Foom) fascinates me, because it gets to the heart of Lee’s claims, in a number of ways:
1. Deep versus shallow. If the stories are shallow, then Lee might have a claim: he had a history of shallow stories. But the stories are not shallow, so “this silly name sounds the same” is no evidence.
2. Misdirection. Lee’s claims rely on half remembered maybes. Roy Thomas uses the same method when referring to the Chu Chin Chow claim. He admits that it is not proof, but for proof he refers to the “everybody knows” argument. And the “everybody knows” argument turns out to be based on other non-evidence like this. In contrast, any Kirby evidence is solid and well documented.
3. Racism, sexism, etc. “Chu Chin Chow” was a name created by a westerner in the Yellow Peril era. Presumably from “Fu Manchu”, “China” and “Chow Mein”. The name celebrates ignorance. Anybody with respect for a culture would not be so lazy when naming a major character. Sadly Kirby inherited some of these names, and he needed work (e.g. Charlie Chan), but his own creations show a greater understanding and respect (e.g. the Inhumans, an obviously Asian culture, but one with more depth).
Kirby’s choice of a name retains what is authentically ancient Chinese (monosyllabic alliteration) while avoiding the ignorant racism that Lee embraces (see previous point). From Wikipedia:
Old Chinese morphemes were originally monosyllabic, but during the Western Zhou period many new bisyllabic words entered the language. For example, over 30% of the vocabulary of the Mencius is polysyllabic, including 9% proper names, though monosyllabic words occur more frequently, accounting for 80–90% of the text. Many words, particularly expressive adjectives and adverbs, were formed by varieties of reduplication: full reduplication, in which the syllable is repeated, as in *ʔjuj-ʔjuj (威威 wēiwēi) ‘tall and grand’ and *ljo-ljo (俞俞 yúyú) ‘happy and at ease’.
rhyming semi-reduplication, in which only the final is repeated, as in *ʔiwʔ-liwʔ (窈宨 yǎotiǎo) ‘elegant, beautiful’. The initial of the second syllable is often *l- or *r-.
alliterative semi-reduplication, in which the initial is repeated, as in *tsʰrjum-tsʰrjaj (參差 cēncī) ‘irregular, uneven’.
vowel alternation, especially of *-e- and *-o-, as in *tsʰjek-tsʰjok (刺促 qìcù) ‘busy’ and *ɡreʔ-ɡroʔ (邂逅 xièhòu) ‘carefree and happy’.
As Patrick Ford has pointed out, Lee’s defences over the years appear to be schooled by legal advice. His reliance on names is a classic case. Lee cannot claim to have written the meat of the stories, as his abilities are laughable. He is simply unable to come up with a decent story on his own. HOWEVER, by talking about names he gets around that problem. If he provided the name then that inserts him into the creation process at the beginning, allowing him to claim originator status without having to claim any talent.
Talking about names has the added advantage that it does not require Lee to memorise anything. Lawyers always worry that their idiot clients will mangle or forget some vital point, so they have to make their case idiot proof. By sticking to names, Lee does not have to remember much, or even anything. When a critic asks “how did you create X” he can just riff on the name.
For examples, see his discussion of Dr Octopus, the Destroyer, or alliteration in general.
Lee’s focus on alliteration is deceptive. He likes to claim ownership of alliteration, using his alleged “poor memory” to appear plausible. But a closer examination shows that:
1. Superheroes traditionally have more alliteration, because they are showmen. Hence real life showmen like Harry Houdini, or Kirby’s acrobatic showman “Red Ryan”. We see some alliteration in DC characters for the same reason. So this is not a Stan Lee thing.
(Edit: for Lois Lane, think movie stars Greta Garbot, Rosalind Russell, Claudette Colbert)
2. The 1960s characters (that Lee claims) are not unusually alliterative in this context. Yes there are some (Peter Parker, Reed Richards), but far more of them are not: Johnny Clay (the Rawhide Kid), Anthony Druid, Hank Pym, Ben Grimm (the original star of the FF). Thor, Tony Stark, Nick Fury, Charles Xavier, Natalia Romanov, etc.
So alliteration is not evidence of Lee’s input. In the case of Fin Fang Foom, single syllable alliteration was simply a common feature of Old Chinese, and was one of the first thing that westerners noticed. As usual Lee tries to take ownership of something he did not create.
The post-Kirby Fin Fang Foom is the poster child for what Makes Marvel into Marvel. Fake knowledge. This is what attracted me to Marvel as a child, and what repels me now: Marvel claims to have depth, morality, maturity, continuity, fully realised characters, etc. and in fact has none of those things. What it DOES have is easy promises: buy a comic and be smart. Fin Fang Foom is the poster child because he offers instant cleverness: by remembering that hard-to-forget name, a child can act like he has knowledge of the pre-hero monster era. As an added bonus he can act like he is super cool because he embraces irony and can laugh at himself. Yet in 99 percent of cases the fan has not even read the story, let alone understood its references.
Lee embraced that and celebrated fan ignorance masquerading as brilliance. He was the arch fake, who also barely read the stories, yet used them to claim that he was clever. This approach only works if you either don’t care about good stories (the fans), or if you do, and therefore avoid Stan Lee’s works (most readers, including most lawyers). That is, it relies on NOT READING THE STORIES or reading them in a superficial way, knowing nothing of the source material or references. As long as there are legions of the young and uninformed, as long as a proportion of these wants to stay uninformed, Marvel has a market. And the last thing they want to do is be exposed as frauds (especially those who make a living from the industry) so they will support Lee in any way possible.
The solution to the “who did what” question is to actually read the stories. And here is another Marvel master stroke. Flood the market with so many stories that nobody spends more than five minutes on each one. So nobody reads, and everybody thinks they are a great reader. Nobody can tell a good story from a bad one. Never mind the quality, feel the weight.
The quality of this story is definitely the proof. It angers me that this is remembered just as the silly name story. No, it is a beautiful and profound story. A story of passive quiet learning defeating loud and strong barbarians. It is quintessentially Chinese: the young son with his great respect for the past defeats the foreigners.
Note that this is actually based on Formosa (Taiwan) and is about Taiwan defending itself against mainland China. While the older brother tries to defeat them with his gun, and while brave he is doomed to failure. The younger brother instead studies the old ways and gains strength from the wisdom of the ages. The message, repeated at the start and end of his quest, is that there is more than one way to wage war. Some do it with the sword, others with knowledge.
“Let China sleep, for when she wakes up, she will shake the world.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
The idea of the sleeping power is as old as the hills (hills that in many parts of the world are taken as sleeping dragons). Note the start of the story, where the Formosans run from the red army, just as the hero runs from the dragon. The plot is of how he turns one foe against another, and by him running fast enough they run into each other and defeat each other. I am no expert on martial arts, but I would bet money that is a martial arts concept.
Another beautiful part is how the fleeing Formosans write the name of their legendary protector on the walls, to give themselves courage. Just as happens today and in all oppressed regions.
A famous legend of Formosa: Ban Pin Shan
“Ban Pin Shan means ‘Half-faced mountain’. It is named as its shape implies. This story tells about the virtue of integrity and the values of kindness and selflessness.”
Recall how I mentioned that in many cultures, oddly shaped mountains are thought of as sleeping dragons. In the case of Ban Pin Shan the story (at least the one I have read) does not have a dragon, but it does have the mountain god who taught the people a lesson about greed. He appeared as an old man selling delicious dumplings. he said that the dumplings were a certain price, but if a person had exactly three they could have them for nothing. So of course everybody had exactly three, and the poor generous dumpling maker was not paid a single penny. He then revealed that he was the mountain god, and they had really eaten mud from the mountain, hence the missing gap in the mountain. he was teaching them not to be greedy, not to take something for nothing just because they could.
Fin Fang Foom parallels another story of Formosa: the true story of Wushe from 1930. The Japanese had attached Formosa with overwhelming numbers and weapons, and the aboriginals had no chance of winning, despite bravery. That is like the start of Fin Fang Foom. Only one of the aboriginals had an education: a man named Mo Na Dao. So the people turned to him, just as in Kirby’s story the educated boy was the only one who could win. Mo Na Dao stood up to the Japanese, and had a great victory for a while. Although the people finally died, they did so with honour, and Mo Na Dao became a name to inspire courage, just as “Fin Fang Foom” was written on the walls.
I am not claiming that Kirby knew this or that particular legend. But he had such a broad knowledge that when he made up a story about a Chinese dragon, the story worked and felt right on every level. Including the name.