What Kirby wrote

Two years ago, for an audience on social media, Chris Tolworthy dissected “everyone’s favourite” Fantastic Four story, “This Man, This Monster!” His goal was to peel back the layers added by collaborators to Kirby’s finished pages to find the genuine Kirby story underneath. The Facebook post was lengthy and split into several parts, but here’s a taste:

The real monsters are often not the ugly people who see their faults clearly. The real monsters are the handsome people who are either unaware of their faults, or dismiss them for the greater goal. In the FF, Reed frequently hurts his best friend and is not even aware he is doing it. In this story, by seeing two other “monsters” lose everything (one is rejected by his best friend and loses his old life, the other who actually loses his life in Reed’s latest experiment – it was Reed’s faulty cable that broke), Reed finally learns to appreciate Ben: it is the climax of 51 issues.

This was not just a cheap parlour trick. Chris, one of the world’s pre-eminent FF historians, has put together a book of such dissections. From the back cover:

  • The first origin of Dr Doom
  • The lost Hulk #4
  • Who really defeated Galactus?
  • The original Black Widow
  • Ragnarok
  • The first origin of Iron Man
  • Xavier before Cyclops
  • and many more

…and from Chris’ announcement: “This book began as an appendix to my other book (more on that when it’s ready) and that’s how I think of it: a very big appendix. For years people have asked me to put all my crazy Kirby theories into one place. Some of these theories are from my friend James. A few years ago we were contacted by an individual who was able to confirm that at least one of the theories was correct. I cannot guarantee the others, but they are all based on meticulous forensic work, so judge for yourself.”

For those who contend that in the 1960s Marvel Method books, the individual contributions of the collaborators are unknowable, Stan Taylor had this to say:

We can do what historians, detectives, and scientists have always done: ignore the hearsay, mythology, and personal claims and look at the actual physical evidence, in this case, the original comic books, and contemporaneous documentary evidence from unbiased sources. It has been said, “an artist is someone who pounds the same nail over and over again.” All artists, graphic or literary, have patterns. They repeat aspects, concepts, a style of punctuation, a brush stroke, lines of musculature, anything that separates their style from the hundreds of others. When trying to identify an unknown artist, one can compare the piece in question with other contemporaneous works to match up these patterns. This method has been used to research everything from Shakespeare’s writings to the works of the Great Masters.

The nature of Kirby’s collaboration with Stan Lee in most cases allows us to point to a stage in the process that was thoroughly Kirby: when he turned in his pencilled pages on a story. After that, Lee along with the letterer, inker, and other (sometimes accidental) production staff, swung into action and remade the work into the pages that were published. In recent decades, it’s been possible to study Kirby’s notations and pencilled-in dialogue using original art scans that are available online and in the IDW Artist’s Edition volumes. The Lost Jack Kirby Stories provides a new tool for that toolbox.

Jack Kirby was one of the world’s greatest storytellers. Chris spends 170-plus pages proving that some of the stories Kirby intended to tell can be teased out from the noise layered on top. He then teaches the reader to do it for themselves.

Buy it here.

What Kirby wrote

Steve Sherman and Iron Man

I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet Jack Kirby in person. I’ve never been to a convention further from home than the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, and my first trip to California was in 1995, the year after he died. My more recent and more modest ambitions have been to get to a Kirby Museum pop-up in NYC, and to get to a minor convention to see the “History of Jack Kirby” presentation by Mark Badger, Bruce Simon, and Steve Sherman. Sadly, Steve passed away last week.

Steve and Mark Evanier were Jack Kirby’s assistants in the early ’70s, and before the decade was out, Steve was also Kirby’s co-writer on screenplays and the co-creator of Kobra. Steve evidently didn’t have any ambitions to write a book, but if he had, it would have been a book I’d have wanted to read. Steve was humble and always generously forthcoming answering questions, and he was an unflinching advocate for Jack Kirby.

One of Steve’s emails, to Patrick Ford, was quoted in Ferran Delgado’s excellent Sky Masters Sundays book, and was instrumental in the construction of my own book. I reproduce it here:

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. I think that if you go through all of the interviews with Jack, Stan and countless others, it’s pretty obvious that Stan never came up with a title in his life. It either came from Goodman or someone on staff. I read somewhere that even “Millie the Model” and the other girl comics that Stan takes credit for were thought up by someone else.

Curiously, in the Kirby “tribute” issue of Alter Ego, Will Murray cited Mark Evanier suggesting the same thing. This is curious because it would have had to pass by the editing pen of Roy Thomas (see previous blog posts). Murray’s article is a rework of his Comic Book Marketplace article from 2000, “The Secret Origin of Iron Man.” The Evanier quotes are from the original. Here’s the interesting bit:

The origins of the character are complicated, and many behind-the-scenes details have either never been fully reported or are in dispute. According to Mark Evanier (friend and early-1970s assistant to Jack Kirby), who got the story from the artist himself, Kirby created the character design for Iron Man and brought it to Stan Lee sometime prior to the creation of Thor, Spider-Man, and Ant-Man. If verified, this may date from the period during which he brought in the original version of Spider-Man. Little if any thought was given to who the man inside Iron Man’s bulky armor would be. Kirby’s concept sketch ultimately became the cover to Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963).

One thing that seems to have escaped Will completely is the source of the plot of the first Iron Man story: it is identical to Kirby’s 1958 Green Arrow story, “The War That Never Ended.” If Murray had to rework a 20-year-old article, why in the world didn’t he cite the Green Arrow plot? In the Alter Ego telling, Kirby’s involvement in the Iron Man origin is restricted to the character design. It becomes clear, however, that if Don Heck got the plot from Lee over the phone, then Lee, as was his MO, was reading said plot straight off of Kirby’s Iron Man concept pages.

Roy Thomas expends a lot of effort in and out of Alter Ego to see to it that Kirby is credited as nothing more than Stan Lee’s artist. It’s fitting that, despite printing an Iron Man creation article that omits the key fact of Iron Man’s creation, Thomas’ tool of Kirby suppression is the source of a 20+-year-old Mark Evanier quote that confirms Steve Sherman’s version of Marvel’s inception.

Steve Sherman and Iron Man

The Kirby Checklist

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 blog posts.

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)

From Kirby Unleashed: Kirby’s own example of his inking.

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.

Pre-implosion (1956)
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.

Post-implosion (1958-1961)
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.

The Kirby Checklist

Knock Letters again

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

Knock Letters

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[140]: [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.”

Jack Kirby to Howard Zimmerman:8

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.

Footnotes

back 1 Comics Scene #4.

back 2 Eric Stedman, Marvel Method group, 15 April 2020.

back 31 Scott Edelman, “Three cheers for, and long live, the King!” scottedelman.com, May 28, 2012.

back 42 Scott Edelman, “Shame on you, Captain America!” scottedelman.com, April 21, 2011.

back 53 Tom Brevoort, blog post, 14 March 2020.

back 64 Stephen R. Bissette, Jack Kirby! group, 10 September 2019.

back 75 Mark Evanier and Michael Vassallo, Kirby-L mailing list, October and November 1996.

back 86 Howard Zimmerman, “Kirby Takes on the Comics,” Comics Scene #2, March 1982.

back 97 Ralph Macchio, “The Return of the King,” Kirby Returns!, Marvel, 2019.

back 10 Scott Edelman, “Stan Lee Was My Co-Pilot,” The Comics Journal #99, June 1983.

Knock Letters again

True Believer

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.

True Believer

Tom Scioli’s Jack Kirby biography

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.

ScioliSammy

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.

ScioliSchiff

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.

ScioliKyle

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.

Footnotes

back 1 “Jack Kirby in the Golden Age,” Jack Kirby interviewed by James Van Hise, The Jack Kirby Collector #25, August 1999.

Tom Scioli’s Jack Kirby biography

Kirby faces

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..

7FP07p01

7NG07p01

7NG07p05a

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.

9MM9Willik

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).

9NG09p22panel

What Jack Kirby left unfinished was the time of peace when he was left alone to do it his way.

Kirby faces

What does Funky Flashman tell us about Stan Lee?

Enterprise

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.

villain

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.

shadow

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.

Mr Miracle_06_01

Funky likes it when the Little People hear his words of inspiration, and Houseroy tells him what he wants to hear.

pathos

Houseroy plans to take over when Funky leaves.

valet

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.

Mr Miracle_06_03top

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.”

shocking

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.

Mr Miracle_06_07bot

This Kirby woman, like many of Kirby’s female characters based on his wife Roz, isn’t having it.

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Funky is a classic: ego, ignorance, and hostility! A real powerhouse!

MM6Classic

For panel after panel, Kirby gives us an intimate view of a Kirby-Lee story conference.

Mr Miracle_06_10

“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?!”

MM6Beggar

Folksy to a fault Funky in his “Uneasy Rider” outfit (and cleaning his ear).

UneasyRider

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.

voice

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…”

establishment

Throwing Houseroy to the wolves.

Mr Miracle_06_22bot

Funky makes good his escape.

Mr Miracle_06_23b

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

cyclopean

Scott is not ignorant of Funky’s devices.

MM6Anybody

Footnotes

back 1 Larry Lieber in conversation with Roy Thomas, Alter Ego v3#2, 1999.

back 2 GROTH: Did you find that fulfilling?

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.

back 3 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.

back 4 Stan Taylor, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 6 November 1999.

back 5 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 6 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.

back 7 What’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.

What does Funky Flashman tell us about Stan Lee?

Knock Letters: Some Context

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.

shocking

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 blog posts 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.

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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.

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Macchio sets Kirby straight in Eternals #3.

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.”

Cap193Thomas

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.

Some background

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

TheTrueBeliever

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

DarkseidMassiveFeatures

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.

Mr Miracle_06_10b

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.

Mr Miracle_06_22bot

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

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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.

Footnotes

back 1 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.”

back 2 Scott Edelman, “Stan Lee Was My Co-Pilot,” The Comics Journal 99, June 1983.

back 3 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.

back 4 “The Terrific Roy Thomas,” The Jack Kirby Collector #74, Spring 2018.

back 5 Mike Royer with Rand Hoppe and Tom Kraft, Fourth World Summer, Special Episode, The Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center YouTube channel, 4 June 2020.

back 6 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…”

back 7 “Drag Your Battered Bones,” Jack Kirby Quarterly #15, Winter 2008.

back 8 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.

Knock Letters: Some Context