KIRBY AT MARVEL

What wonders may be fashioned when mere humans put forth their inner strivings in joint effort. Listen, don’t ask me to dissect the human imagination. All I know is that we’ve all got one, and use it in a variety of ways. So, I write stories, okay?—Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Hope of recognition of that achievement in his lifetime was dashed by a fateful encounter in 1958. On the heels of a series of career setbacks, he crossed the threshold of the alcove of a man who was ashamed to be associated with Kirby’s chosen field, comic books.

The man in the alcove was Stan Lee, and he was in charge of assigning work to Kirby and the other freelancers. As with many such assignments in that industry and that era, the privilege of working came at a price: the kickback demanded by Lee and other editors. Concealing the wage theft that fueled Lee’s late-30s career reinvention required the enlistment of Roy Thomas and an army of cult members to conduct a disinformation campaign against Kirby that spanned decades.

Kirby was too literate for comics, but even that was taken away. Lee told the world that he was the one versed in the classic literature that inspired the creations.

To become a wall in this
cheap hovel is an ignoble fate!

Kirby’s ignoble fate was to have his writing ability demeaned by the likes of Lee and Thomas, two men whose added dialogue was called writing under cover of what Lee called the Marvel Method. They knew that their “writing” could only be considered good if they convinced people Kirby’s was bad. (Thomas proudly relates how he warned Lee not to let Kirby write upon his return in 1975. Now in his 80s, he pretends never to have learned the secret that the Marvel Universe was built on the writing of Jack Kirby.)

When Lee hatched the narrative of Marvel’s inception, he used his position at the company to cast himself in Kirby’s role as the creator and primary writer. Today this false narrative is everywhere, and can only be dispelled by spreading the story told by the freelancers.

The Witnesses

The Freelancers

His previous assignment dating to before the 1957 Implosion, Steve Ditko returned to Atlas at the same time as Kirby. He’s considered a reliable witness for a number of reasons. He was one of the few people who had direct contact with Lee during the production of the work, and the approach to history and politics in his writings has been described by Zack Kruse as “ethically consistent.” As a kind of reverse endorsement, none other than Roy Thomas cast aspersions on Ditko’s integrity: Ditko’s first-person historical account conflicted with the official version, and needed to be discredited.

One limit to Ditko’s knowledge is the fact that he only had contact with the other creators through Stan Lee, an unreliable conduit. Ditko was led to believe that Kirby’s working relationship with Lee was the same as his own, with Lee providing a synopsis after a story conference. The reality of the situation was that Kirby supplied Lee with the plot ideas that Lee passed on to Ditko and others.

Wallace Wood was the first Marvel writer/artist to be advertised on a comic’s cover. When he objected to doing Lee’s writing without credit or pay, Lee took away his penciling assignment and reduced him to inking pay. Wood was forced to seek paying work elsewhere.

Other freelancers who, decades after the fact, took issue with Lee taking the writing pay include Stan Goldberg and Dick Ayers. Don Heck gave us a glimpse his part of the elephant.

Roy Thomas

Roy Thomas, a former Marvel staffer in the position of historian as the editor of Alter Ego, is given more credence than the freelancers. Some of them were present when the Marvel Universe came into being; he wasn’t.

From what little I
heard talking to
Stan and Sol Brodsky

Thomas’ history is limited to the company perspective. In 1997, he revealed to Jim Amash precisely how he sourced his knowledge…

Thomas was the target of Kirby’s genius for caricature, and despite his denials he acts as though motivated by a deep resentment. It was Kirby who was primarily responsible for creating the Marvel Universe and keeping open the doors of the outfit that eventually employed Thomas, but in Thomas’ version of history, Kirby was guilty of “delusions of grandeur.”

Larry Lieber

With many hours of interviews with Larry Lieber for his Lee biography True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, Abraham Riesman has shone new light on the relationship between Lee and his younger brother. Estranged at best, Lee assumed little to no responsibility for his brother’s well being, despite the nepotism instrumental in his own career. In his 2011 deposition in the Marvel-Kirby case (the Kirby family applied for copyright reversions on a number of Kirby’s characters and Marvel sued them to prevent it), Lieber disclosed that he was testifying under threat of being stripped of his sole income by his older brother.

To Lee, his brother was a tool in the decades-long campaign he waged to defraud Kirby of credit. Beginning in Origins of Marvel Comics, Lee claimed for over twenty years to be the writer of Kirby’s late ’50s “monster” stories. Kirby refuted the claim in an interview in the The Comics Journal in 1990; his death a few years later provided an opportunity for Larry to do something for his brother. In 1995 Lieber was pressed into service as the stories’ secret writer, no evidence visible or necessary.

The True Believers

Such is the power of a prestigious public spotlight and blind faith.—Steve Ditko

Stan Lee wrote for an audience of children. He didn’t understand the principles of storytelling the way Kirby did, so he dismantled the stories. He adjusted Kirby’s work for that perceived audience, writing down to them in a way that Kirby never did.

Having served in the US Army Signal Corps during WWII, Lee was aware of the power of propaganda. If it could ever be said that he had read a book, it would be Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951). Being strictly a magazine reader though, his exposure to the book likely came by way of a 1956 Look article.

Lee saw no difference between writing comic books and selling them, and he became superhero comics’ most celebrated writer by being their most devoted pitchman… Lee addressed the reader as a smart consumer, generating brand awareness and promoting the idea that one book’s success ought to rub off on another. The reader was told that appreciation of (read: purchase of) this comic placed him/her in the in-group of hip-talking cognoscenti. The direct address of the line implied that the reader was already a member of the group, a “pilgrim,” cool enough to enjoy this comic. Flattery like this got Marvel everywhere.—Darcy Sullivan

Lee created a cult and called them true believers: he played on their self esteem, and they became his army. He convinced them of something he didn’t believe himself, that reading comics was for cool, smart people. It became an enduring myth.

Another myth Lee cultivated was that true believers were older, college-age. He convinced even Will Eisner, who tried to foist it on Phil Seuling in an interview.

EISNER: Well, that was when Stan Lee developed a kind of connection with the “college market.” He produced the…
SEULING: …Pseudo-intellectual market [chuckle]. Grant Stan Lee that he sounded his market and fed it properly. I can’t go along with a lot of the propaganda that it was for adults, the Einsteins, the future Nobel Prize winners of the world. No, no, this just isn’t true. The mass market was still the 10-year-olds that kept plunking down 12 cents for a comic book.

The current generation of true believers sees Lee as the benevolent creator. They side with the company, management, and the characters over the real creators.

Stan Lee

Not all who knew Stan Lee were as enamored of him as the true believers.

Stan Lee has been positioning himself in the public consciousness as the living embodiment of the Marvel spirit for so long now he’s actually managed to make people believe in his megalomaniacal view of history. The fact of the matter is that Lee had a lot less to do with the vaunted “Marvel Philosophy” and the revolutionary Marvel approach to comic books than either Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. It was Kirby who created unworldly epics in Fantastic Four and it was Kirby who spun morality tales in Captain America. It was Ditko who made Spider-Man the “everyman” comic book and it was Ditko who created the unmatched fantasy in Dr. Strange.—Joe Brancatelli

Well, Stan was tall, skinny. And the shyest person I had ever met up until that time. He would not talk to anyone. He’d hole up in his back office… That shyness. He was very supercilious. He was way above all of us. I think Martin Goodman looked down on him. I intuited that. So I think, in a sense, Stan kicked people below him.—Daniel Keyes

[Lee]’s like a dictator who orders great art to be destroyed because he does not understand it, but vaguely suspects he is being made fun of.—Chris Tolworthy

I was delighted to learn that Lee has attained the status of an authority in the comics field. Twenty years of unrelenting editorial effort to suppress the artistic effort, encourage miserable taste, flood the field with degraded imitations and polluted non-stories, treating artists and writers like cattle, and failure on his part to make an independent success as a cartoonist have certainly qualified him for this respected position.—B. Krigstein

I want the credit (and the money) for everything I do! And I resent guys like Stan Lee more than I can say! He’s my one reason for living… I want to see that no-talent bum get his…
Wallace Wood

Jack Kirby always had the clearest view of his former teenage assistant. In this case he pegged it: Lee was a man without empathy.

…my wife was present when I created these damn characters. The only reason I would have any bad feelings against Stan is because my own wife had to suffer through that with me. It takes a guy like Stan, without feeling, to realize a thing like that. If he hurts a guy, he also hurts his family. His wife is going ask questions. His children are going to ask questions.
Jack Kirby

1961 began badly for Stan Lee, as his newspaper strip, his tether to a career outside of comics, was cancelled. On top of that, his cousin-in-law-publisher yet again threatened to shut down the comics division. Jack Kirby had presented his stack of concepts to Martin Goodman, and they were approved one-by-one for publication. Acting out of desperation, Lee started experimenting with signatures and credits to justify his taking of the writing pay. As Lieber described it, when Lee saw that Kirby’s “strips” had potential (i.e. Goodman approved them), he started “writing” them.

Did Stan Lee do nothing? No. Did he do what he said he did? No. Never an idea man, Lee solicited story ideas from his readers, and used ghostwriters throughout his career. His witness to these events was tainted the moment he decided to take Kirby’s writing pay.

Jack Kirby

Following in the footsteps of the Beats, “serious” artists and writers first vilified and then celebrated the bottom strata of American culture. Comics were certainly near the very bottom, but they got their Charlie Parker, their John Lennon, in Jack Kirby. Were it not for Kirby, there would have been no Marvel Age.—Darcy Sullivan

Jack Kirby was a man compelled to tell stories through his chosen medium of comic books, a field he was too good for. His part in the creation of Marvel is evident in his words, in his interviews and in his margin notes.

As witness to the events, Kirby was there. As an expert on events in which he participated, no one was closer. Kirby’s account is the historical record; with Lee gone, only Thomas, Marvel, and the true believers remain to suppress it.

A Brief History of the Official History

In his “review” of Riesman’s True Believer, Roy Thomas coined a term. The received history is that which shall not be questioned, the version of events that will be defended to the death by the true believers. It was comprised of various propaganda blitzes in which Thomas was instrumental, serving to falsify the events of the ’60s and the late ’50s. Ultimately its goal was to fabricate a sanitized legacy for Stan Lee (and by extension, Thomas) that left his stolen credits intact.

The received history was developed in stages. In 1961, Lee embarked on a scheme for partaking in Kirby’s page rate. Thomas started with the company in 1965, so this is the only stage for which he was not present and has no first-hand knowledge.

The month after the on-sale date of Fantastic Four #1, superfan Thomas had a review of it printed in Jerry Bails’ Comicollector. He wrote that the book stood “somewhere between the Challengers and the new Justice League of America.” The Challengers of the Unknown were Kirby’s ground-breaking and much-imitated team for National which was itself inspiration for, among other things, the JLA revival. The Thomas review is the origin of what would become “the JLA story,” missing (by about six months) the events that the story purports to describe.

In a 1963 letter, Lee told Jerry Bails that Steve Ditko had created Dr Strange on spec. Lee didn’t have much faith in the character’s sales prospects.

In January 1966, Lee and Kirby were interviewed by Nat Freedland for an article in the New York Herald Tribune. Lee put on a show, jumping around and physically acting out an upcoming Fantastic Four story, ostensibly “writing” it on the fly for Kirby to “draw” later. The readership had taken notice of Kirby’s choreographed fight scenes, and Lee wanted credit for their conception. Freedland’s published article exaggerated Lee’s contributions to the work and made Kirby look like an oaf. In an interview for True Believer, Freedland admitted to Riesman that he’d been angling for Lee to give him a job.

In 1968, Perfect Film & Chemical purchased Marvel. Having padded his résumé with Kirby’s accomplishments, Lee was perfectly positioned to assume the mantle of creator of everything. This suited the new owners because Lee had been on staff when the creating was done, mitigating any intellectual property concerns.

By the same year, Lee worship was already recognized as a problem in one of the Marvel-specific fanzines. Between 1968 and 1974, a narrative was established to cover Lee’s fabricated credits, culminating in Origins of Marvel Comics under his byline.

Origins gave us the JLA story, in which Martin Goodman allegedly saw competitor National’s sales figures for The Justice League of America and told Lee to come up with a superhero team. Roy Thomas could have ghostwritten this bit, simply recycling his 13-year-old review of FF #1. The Origins version strategically omitted Thomas’ earlier mention of the Challengers, which tied the FF to Kirby’s earlier work.

Kirby’s published interviews date back to the late 1960s. The one conducted in 1989 by Gary Groth, published in The Comics Journal in 1990, struck a nerve. Lee intimated in Origins that he’d had a hand in producing the monster stories, a claim Kirby refuted in the interview. This prompted Lee to begin formulating a propaganda counterattack that would take years to coalesce. For starters he lashed out, telling an interviewer that Kirby was either evil or crazy. He then reasserted his false claim to having written the stories in a “Soap Box” and a reprint introduction.

In 1994, Kirby died; the following year, Lee redirected his attack. Larry Lieber was introduced as the (uncredited) provider of full scripts to Kirby for the monster stories, based on Lee’s plots. Upon examination, it becomes obvious that the plots were Kirby’s from his (already written) finished pages; Lee was simply passing the plots along to Lieber. In his 2011 deposition, Lieber admitted he would turn in the scripts to Lee, and had no contact with a prospective “artist.” Kirby had no need of a Lieber or Lee script for a story he’d already written and dialogued himself.

There were no credits on those stories, although many were signed on Kirby’s behalf by Dick Ayers. Kirby was assigned his first in the spring of 1958, and the first credit boxes appeared in in December 1962. As an indication of when it first became important to Lee, 1973 monster reprints were retrofitted with credits for the first time. Lee was added as writer; Lieber didn’t rate a mention. Lieber failed to include “writing full scripts for Jack Kirby” in his 1975 Atlas/Seaboard CV, something that would have been a highlight of his career at that time.

You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, that’s probably true.
Lee, signaling that Thomas is making it up

In 1998, Lee was fired through Marvel’s bankruptcy proceedings, and Arthur Lieberman became a visible presence at his side. In Comic Book Artist #2 and the Alter Ego on its flip side, Roy Thomas swung into action providing much of what we know today as the early history of Marvel. Lee was quoted as saying “That’s absolutely true” about a story that was absolutely false.

In 1999, Michael Vassallo proved that Lee originally had no intention of being involved in Kirby’s monster stories other than through his staff position as editor. Lee’s signature was his mark for staking his claim to credit for “writing” something, whether that claim was valid or not, and he hadn’t signed a single one. Instead of science fiction or suspense, he stuck with his strengths: the teen humour titles and westerns.

When Thomas interviewed Lieber for Alter Ego the same year, Lieber maintained the full-scripts-for-Kirby charade, but an incredulous Thomas interpreted it as adding dialogue.

Finally, in a 2010 deposition in the Marvel-Kirby case, Lee, with Lieberman again at his side, laid claim to sole creatorship of every property for which the estate had applied for reversion of copyright. After the Kirbys commanded a steps-of-the-Supreme-Court settlement from Marvel, Lee and Thomas doubled down on their false history.

The Marvel Method

The Marvel Method was a kickback scheme. Stan Lee spun it as giving his “artists” freedom, keeping them busy while he wrote stories for more than one at a time. The reality is he was taking the pay for writing that was already done when he received the pages, and in exchange he would deign to give his writer/artists further assignments. Lee didn’t plot and he didn’t write scripts, but he frequently mandated changes to stories after the penciled pages were turned in.

Lee never wrote a full script for any work I did at Marvel.—Steve Ditko

I had no script. [At Marvel] I was never given a script.
Jack Kirby

Daniel Keyes:

WM[Will Murray]: Stan Lee is today considered one of the great comic book writers. Was he writing many comics in those days?
KEYES: Not to my knowledge. He edited, I guess. He was a businessman, as far as I was concerned. And a shy businessman is almost an oxymoron. I’ve never thought of Stan as a writer at all. So that surprises me. Of course, he might have been turning in comics for a few extra bucks, doing it under pen names so that Martin Goodman wouldn’t know about it. I never thought of Stan as a writer. He says that he created Spider-Man. I never thought of him as a creative person. It could be that one of the writers created it and sent in a synopsis. And it got picked up. But of course he’s become a multi-millionaire for that stuff.

Stan Goldberg:

One time I was in Stan’s office and told him, “I haven’t got another plot [for Millie the Model].” Stan got out of his chair, walked over to me, looked me in the face, and said very seriously, “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t think of another plot.” Then he walked back and sat in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more. After that, I could think of a plot in two seconds.
JA[Jim Amash]: Sounds like you were doing the bulk of the writing then.
GOLDBERG: Well, I was.

Dick Ayers (as reported by Barry Pearl):

Dick told us how Stan called him one day and said, “I can’t think of a story for Sgt. Fury #23. We won’t have an issue unless you think of something!” A worried Dick could not sleep that night and kept Lindy awake too. They talked about story after story until, in the middle of the night, Lindy came up with the idea of the Howlers saving a nun and her young charges. Dick said, “Stan will never go for that, he wants nothing about religion… But I’ll ask him.” When Dick did, Stan said, “What a great idea, I’ll use it.” So they put together a terrific story. When Dick’s finished pages were shown to him, he saw the credits where he was only listed as artist. He went to Stan’s office and asked if he could also be listed as co-plotter. Stan yelled, “Since when did you developed an ego? Get out of here!”

Wallace Wood:

I enjoyed working with Stan on DAREDEVIL but for one thing. I had to make up the whole story. He was being paid for writing and I was being paid for drawing but he didn’t have any ideas. I’d go in for a plotting session and we’d just stare at each other until I came up with a storyline. I felt that I was writing the book but not being paid for writing.

Conventional wisdom, disseminated by popular scholarship and the leading Kirby fanzine, says Lee did more plotting and writing in Marvel’s early days, until his “artists” developed their own plotting abilities. If he was leaning on Goldberg for Millie plots and Ayers for Sgt Fury, it is simply not believable that he ever supplied Kirby and Ditko with plots. A cursory glance at the early issues of Amazing Spider-Man shows us that the title subsisted on Kirby plots until Ditko took over with ASM #3. The physical evidence shows that Lee didn’t plot, but solicited or appropriated ideas throughout his career.

The disinformation campaign

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.

Early in the FF letters pages, for his audience of children, Lee jokingly accused Kirby of greed. Projection became one of his tools for dealing with the degree of insubordination that might be expected from victims of wage theft.

Considering that our artist signs the name JACK KIRBY on everything he can get his greedy little fingers on, I think we can safely claim that that’s his name!

Lee was the one who signed everything he “wrote,” including the paper doll pages in the teen humour mags. His titles were being squeezed out by the sf books, and when Martin Goodman gave the green light to Kirby’s team concept, Lee signed on to the project: on the splash pages.

Kirby didn’t sign his own name to his work, but when Dick Ayers inked, he signed “Kirby+Ayers.” Lee, in addition to putting his name on work to which he hadn’t contributed, began painting out the Kirby+Ayers signatures. He perceived that they gave the (correct) idea that he wasn’t involved, or that Kirby might have been the writer (also correct).

By the ninth issue of Fantastic Four Lee was taking the “script” credit and giving Kirby an “art” credit. In the eleventh issue, he wrote on the letters page, “Stan Lee writes the stories and Jack Kirby draws them.” Credit boxes replaced signatures as the outward reflection of Lee claiming the writing page rate for the work of Kirby and his other collaborators; they were bound to accept the situation or lose future assignments.

A few years later, Lee repeated his letters page shenanigans with Wood. In a display of petulance that gives perspective to the company view that Kirby’s Funky Flashman was “unprofessional,” Lee tore Wood apart in the editorial pages in front of the same audience of children.

Not Stan’s fault

Abraham Riesman, True Believer: The general public is typically aware of only one narrative of the Marvel revolution, and that is Stan’s. His can be summarized pretty simply: “Stan came up with all the characters, plots, and dialogue; Jack just came up with the visuals.”
Roy Thomas, Alter Ego: Actually, if the “general public” knows only the version of events that Riesman paraphrases above, that’s hardly Stan’s fault. First, it’s because the “general public” never read the many, many places in the pages of Marvel’s 1960s comics wherein Stan praised Jack Kirby’s contributions to the skies, often giving him credit for what amounts to co-plotting stories, and on occasion even saying that Jack was likely to come up with a particular story all on his own.

“Not Stan’s fault” is a common theme in Thomas’ retelling. It’s “not Stan’s fault” that everyone believes he’s the creator, plotter, and writer; if only he hadn’t constantly portrayed himself that way, and had corrected interviewers whenever they got it wrong. At odds with “not Stan’s fault” are his 1987 interview comment, “the characters’ concepts were mine,” and his 2010 deposition wherein he claimed credit for every creation. It is entirely “Stan’s fault” that Kirby, Ditko, Wood and others didn’t get paid for their work.

The “artists”

Lee is praised for giving abundant credit to his “artists,” but that was part of the strategy. His collaborators were also creators and writers, so telling the world they were his artists was a calculated move.

Lee is said to have made his supporting cast famous. That might have been the case for some of them, but it was Kirby who’d made Lee famous. Kirby should have come out of the decade recognized as the industry’s top creator/writer/artist, yet his 1970 page rate was no different than Marvel’s or DC’s top non-writing artists.

Lee often said Kirby was very creative, but never credited him with creating a copyrightable property. Kirby was called a great plotter, but he never received a plot credit; Lee generously bestowed plot credits on many (particularly himself), but never the actual plotter. Lee gave himself a plot credit in places where it’s obvious his only involvement with a story was adding the credits.

Kirby was content to call himself the artist. Each time Lee (and later Thomas) used the word, however, it was designed to diminish a writer/artist’s contribution and plant the idea that Lee was doing the writing.

Evil

When Kirby’s interview for The Comics Journal was published in 1990, it exposed Lee’s happy bullpen as a façade. Lee had always made tactical use of spreading rumours about collaborators who had rejected his working conditions, and this time he didn’t disappoint.

“Some of the things [Jack] said, there is no way he could ever explain that to me. I would have to think he’s either lost his mind or he’s a very evil person.”

As with his greed comment, the worst accusation Lee could imagine was dictated by self-knowledge.

Kirby couldn’t write/Kirby needed a collaborator

The contrived narrative that Kirby could not succeed on his own was best served by redirecting credit for the stories he wrote. Kirby’s “monster” stories that kept the comics division from closing in the late ’50s were thus retroactively credited as a collaborative effort.

Since Lee’s death, Thomas is in charge of the false historical record. He simply ignores the physical evidence and repeats the talking points of the “received history.” The greatest insult he can imagine about Kirby’s writing is to say he didn’t understand it.

The true believers continue to echo the mantra that Kirby couldn’t write, but for those weened on Lee’s kiddie fare, Kirby’s writing is simply over their heads.

Jack Kirby’s writing was “Opera” at DC and if you don’t understand what I mean, no amount of explaining will change your mind. Every Saturday morning in my early years assisting Russ Manning at his Mojeska Canyon studio we would listen to the Met Opera broadcasts on Radio. Russ told me to understand that opera was very similar to comic books: Larger than life happenings, plots, character reactions…on stage in song like the pen and ink going-on of comic books. Okay… I’ve oversimplified…but it made sense to me! Jack’s 4th world writing was operatic. If there are a lot of you who don’t “get” what Jack was doing I am sad for you.—Michael Royer

What a lot of people don’t get is Kirby’s level of SOPHISTICATION–his work is full of allusions to other literary works. Your reading is enriched if you already know who Isaiah or Daniel or Caliban were. If someone doesn’t get it, it’s a knock against them, not Kirby.—Darrell Epp

Kirby’s writing is rife with bizarre word play, clichéd and surreal dialogue, awkward appropriations of youth-culture lingo, and entirely invented slang and technological argot. While charged with giddy momentum, it is not humorous in the knowing “camp” way that typified so much of comic writing in the wake of his early sixties work (and its translation into TV dialogue on Batman ). Instead, Kirby’s writing is riddled with the kind of rollicking unconditional humor that animates the work of Charlie Chaplin or Ornette Coleman: lyrical, sentimental, and revolutionary… It was in his collaborative books with Lee, however, that Kirby’s dominance becomes clear, as Lee’s trademark coldwar huckster bombast falls increasingly short of the expansively democratic and accelerating mystic vision that possessed Kirby.—Doug Harvey

Kirby also gave exquisite voice to ordinary people, hitting his stride in his ’40s and ’50s romance stories and unpublished teleplays. In 1970, after shaking the restrictions of Lee’s limited imagination, he picked up where he left off. Spectacular but unrecorded sales of Kirby’s DC work resulted in its demise, but again, misinformation, this time about the beginnings of the direct market, plays into the anti-Kirby narrative.

For many years, Stan Lee has taken sole credit for the creation of Marvel’s best-known characters. Lee underscored his claims in his book, Origins of Marvel Comics.

“That’s his version of it,” Kirby observes. “If he wants to say that, it’s his book. If I write my book, you’ll get my side of it. But I can tell you that my side of it is the real side—Stan Lee never created a character. In fact, if you look it up in Maurice Horn’s book, he was amazed, too. He was amazed at the kind of things that came out of Marvel after I got there and the fact that Stan Lee had never created a character before that. What has he created since? Nothing. I don’t think that Stan Lee cares about creating characters. That’s my professional opinion. But as far as writing the stories is concerned, he never wrote the stories—not mine anyway.

“I was a penciller and a storyteller and I insisted on doing my own writing. I always wrote my own story, no matter what it was. Nobody ever wrote a story for me. I created my own characters. I always did that. That was the whole point of comics for me. I created my own concepts and I enjoyed doing that.”

Lee rewrote Jack’s captions and word balloons when he brought the artwork into the office.

“Lee wouldn’t let me put the dialogue in. I wrote the story and made up the characters. I had to tell Stan Lee what the story was going to be. He didn’t know. Nobody’s ever seen Stan Lee write a story. I’ve never seen him write a story–not in front of me. Stan was an editor. I argued all the time about doing the word balloons, but I wasn’t allowed to do them. Stan Lee was editor, and his cousin was the publisher and I wasn’t going to argue with that…”

James Van Hise, “A Talk with the King”

For three years, Lee stayed out of Kirby’s way and let him save the company. When it became evident that Kirby had the writing pay to show for it, Lee took measures to appropriate the pay and credit. The ensuing nine years were the low point of Kirby’s career.

The first step in getting to the truth is to disregard the constantly-changing Lee narrative as well as the received history. Jack Kirby is still the most reliable witness to the creation of Marvel: with his interviews and margin notes, he provided us with an outline for his book. With the help of his words, the view of the freelancers, and the physical evidence, the true story behind Marvel’s origin will continue to emerge.

Next: 1958-1960

Endnotes

“What wonders may be fashioned…” Jack Kirby, introduction, The Kid Cowboys of Boys’ Ranch, Marvel Comics, 1991.

ashamed to be associated: As soon as Stan had the opportunity to go back to his full-time job in comic books [after the war], he started trying to get out of it… It seems Stan was utterly humiliated by his profession. He and Joan would throw and attend lavish soirees, and Stan later told of doing everything he could to avoid discussing work when he was out partying.
—Abraham Riesman, True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, Crown, 2021.

alcove: Back then Marvel was Timely Comics. At the time I worked there, Magazine Management was big when the comics were big… it was small when the comics were small. At one time in the late ’50s it was just an alcove, with one window, and Stan was doing all the corrections himself; he had no assistants.
—“A Conversation with Artist-Writer Larry Lieber,” interviewed by Roy Thomas, Alter Ego V3No2, Fall 1999.

too literate for comics: From a discussion at the Jack Kirby Dialogue group, 27 February 2022: That’s something that I am struggling with in my book about Kirby. I point out serious implications in Kirby’s work, but the fact is, he was having fun, writing fiction, and usually has a very light touch. This is very common with great writers, e.g. Mark Twain, or the bawdy jokes in Shakespeare, or ancient fables using animals. But readers seem to want EITHER silly fiction OR serious messages, and can’t get their head round how good writers frequently combine both.
—Chris Tolworthy
In this way Kirby is like Philip K. Dick, Cervantes, Melville, and other visionary writers–his tone seems to charge everything (plot, story, characters, dialogue) with some kind of light and energy that borders on farce, skimming the top of sentimentality, but going deep in topics that are serious and tragic. It strikes me that there’s no easy way to say how he or other writers “achieve” this, but it goes back to (in my opinion) a love of the world and all it contains, mixed with deep moral concern.
—Chris Duffy

“To become a wall…”: “Himon,” Mister Miracle #9, August 1972.

Thomas proudly relates: And Stan calls me into his office and says, “Listen, I’ve got news! Jack’s coming back!” Of course, he knew I had talked to him, so it wasn’t a surprise for him to tell me that. “Well, that’s great,” I said. He said, “I think we can get him to come back. He’s interested in coming back.” So he says, “What do you think about it? I said, “Well, have him come back. Don’t let him write.” I didn’t mean plot; I meant write the dialogue, because he just really didn’t have it for our audience.
—Roy Thomas interviewed by Matt Herring, conducted in August 2017, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #74, Spring 2018.

false narrative: We dedicate Avengers Campus to the incomparable Stan Lee. That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt a real superhero. Thank you, Stan, for inspiring the hero within each of us. You have made us all True Believers.—”Stan Lee Honored with New Plaque at Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure Park,” marvel.com, 27 February 2022.

returned to Atlas: Additionally, how did Jack get to Stan’s office, out of the blue, the Monday (or Tuesday) after Joe [Maneely]’s death over the weekend? The only way is that Stan called him. Don Heck, in an interview with Will Murray, stated that Stan called him up immediately after Joe died, telling him that there was work open. Heck had not worked for Stan since the implosion in the Spring of 1957. Heck was also in that first issue of Strange Worlds, on a story with a job #T-77, the number immediately after Jack’s story. The other artists that issue were Steve Ditko, T-81 and an unknown artist, T-80.—Michael J Vassallo, “Stan Lee (1922-2018) – The Timely Years,” Timely-Atlas-Comics blog post.

“ethically consistent”: Ditko’s convoluted—but intellectually and ethically consistent—approach gives us insight into a strand of American political and religious thought
—Zack Kruse, Mysterious Travelers: Steve Ditko and the Search for a New Liberal Identity, University Press of Mississippi, March 2021.

called into question: Steve Ditko ended his Spider-man series on a low note, as far as this quarter is concerned. It’s ludicrous that he thinks he’s the only person with any integrity… and that every time fans don’t leap to his defense it means something other than that they’ve stopped caring about what percentage of credit for Spidey goes to him, to Stan, or to Kirby. His binary approach to right and wrong, alas, simply makes him liable to be written off. Still, I’m glad he wrote the articles he did, even if they must be taken skeptically just like any other recollections forty years after the fact. I suspect that much of what he says is true… and that all of it is sincerely stated… but he’s not the possessor of the final word on the subject. Even so, he’s a helluvan artist, and was important to the field.
—Roy Thomas, letter, The Comics, Vol. 15, No. 4, April 2004.
“Was”?—Robin Snyder’s response

an unreliable conduit: The accounts of Ditko and Lieber indicate that they were kept in the dark regarding Lee’s interactions with his other collaborators.

Kirby supplied Lee: Steve Ditko provided an example in his essay about Kirby’s Spider-Man. He would be called Spider-Man. Jack would do the pencilling and I was to ink the character… Who first came up with the specific name, Spider-Man, us for Stan and Jack to resolve… I said it sounded like The Fly, which Joe Simon had done for Archie Publications… Later, at some point, I was given the job of drawing Spider-Man.—”An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man,” © 2002 Steve Ditko
Stan Taylor attributes plots for the first three books to Kirby, the kind of plots that were typically presented in Kirby’s concept pages.—“Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003. Posted
on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.
Larry Lieber could doubtless name anything on his list, since he believed Lee was plotting Kirby’s already-plotted monster stories.

others: Don Heck provided another when he described how he received the plot for Iron Man. 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)… Heck had received a Photostat of the already-designed Tales of Suspense cover… “Stan called me up and told me that we were going to have this character, and the character’s name was Iron Man. That his name was Tony Stark and the way he was wounded in Vietnam. It was just a synopsis over the phone. We didn’t actually sit down and work out the character and the rest. I knew what the costume looked like because I got the [Kirby] cover in the mail.”
—Don Heck to Will Murray, “The Secret Kirby Origin of Iron Man: Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Ol’ Shellhead, & Marvel Comics,” Alter Ego #170, July 2021.
What Don said was that any time you saw a Kirby cover with a nice clear shot of a new villain or costume design on it, it meant Jack had designed and more than likely created that character, and the cover was a way of getting him paid for the design job… When [Kirby] was doing interior layouts, he was surely plotting, and would include character sketches to show his intent.
—Kurt Busiek, “Don Heck interview,” kirbyville (Internet mailing list), 28 November 2010. Don Heck interview conducted by Richard Howell and Carol Kalish, originally for ARTFORM magazine (it was ultimately published in Comics Feature #21). Adding to the Iron Man mystery is why Kirby’s obvious origin story for the character appeared second.

advertised on a comic’s cover: On the cover of Wood’s premiere issue, Daredevil #5, Lee blurbed “Under the brilliant artistic craftsmanship of famous illustrator Wally Wood, Daredevil reaches new heights of glory!”

“From what little I heard”: Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
AMASH: In that period when Marvel introduced The Inhumans, Galactus, and the Black Panther, would you say those were all co-creations, or did Jack come in like he did with the Silver Surfer and say, “Stan, I have these characters”?
THOMAS: From what little I heard from talking to Stan and Sol Brodsky, the Silver Surfer was kind of an exception, although there may have been a few villains that were created by Jack.

“delusions of grandeur”: What’s done on pp. 48-49 of CBC #1 is not far from the kind of statement Jack himself made, during the years when he had first left Marvel, when an interviewer tried to pin him down and ask him what Stan Lee did in those stories. “Stan Lee was my editor,” was all Jack would say. Jack, who of course was and remains even years after his demise one of the greatest artists in the history of the comic book medium, was given at that stage to delusions of grandeur that went far beyond even his massive talents and contributions
—Roy Thomas, Letter to the editor, Comic Book Creator #3, Fall 2013.

True Believer: Abraham Riesman, True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, Crown, 2021.

his 2011 deposition: Larry Lieber’s deposition, 7 January 2011, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 4. Portions available at the Justia website.

coerced into testifying: Lee’s attempt to get his brother Larry Lieber to testify in Marvel’s favor is also revealing. Lieber’s sole livelihood has been drawing Lee’s Spider-Man strip for 23 years. Document 102-5 at 7:18-23, 59:2-19. Marvel sought to recruit Lieber and others, but Lieber declined. Id. at 51:20-52:23. Lee then leaned on his own brother. Id. at 58:19-59:19 (Lieber: “[Lee] said, ‘Well I hope you don’t lose the [Spider-Man] strip because of it or something.’”).—Appellants’ Opening Brief, Case No. 11-3333: Marvel Characters, Incorporated, Marvel Worldwide, Incorporated, MVL Rights, LLC, v Lisa R. Kirby, Neal L. Kirby, Susan N. Kirby, Barbara J. Kirby; United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, signed by Marc Toberoff, 25 January 2012.

Origins: Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster, 1974.

The Comics Journal interview: Jack and Roz Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

“Such is the power…”: Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History 13: Speculation,” The Comics, v14n8, August 2003.

“Lee saw no difference…”: Darcy Sullivan, “Marvel Comics and the Kiddie Hustle,” The Comics Journal #152, August 1992.

Phil Seuling in an interview: Shop Talk: Phil Seuling, Will Eisner’s Quarterly #3, September 1984.

The True Believer: Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Harper & Brothers, 1951. Mark Seifert ties Lee and Jean Shepherd’s trademark use of the word “Excelsior” to Hoffer’s book, and speculates on the inspiration for the Merry Marvel Marching Society (a badge that some true believers still wear with pride). Lee, Hoffer, and Shepherd all served in the Signal Corps, and the Chowder and Marching Society was a post-war club for Republican power brokers (two of whom went on to the presidency from 1968 to 1976). The comic strip Barnaby provided the name. Some excerpts:
p 155 …the true believer who is wholly assimilated into a compact collective body has found a new identity and a new life. He is one of the chosen, bolstered and protected by invincible powers, and destined to inherit the earth… The true believer is eternally incomplete, eternally insecure.
p 173 The genuine man of words himself can get along without faith in absolutes. He values the search for truth as much as truth itself. He delights in the clash of thought and in the give-and-take of controversy. If he formulates a philosophy and a doctrine, they are more an exhibition of brilliance and an exercise in dialectics than a program of action and the tenets of a faith. His vanity, it is true, often prompts him to defend his speculations with savagery and even venom; but his appeal is usually to reason and not to faith. The fanatics and the faith-hungry masses, however, are likely to invest such speculations with the certitude of holy writ, and make them the fountainhead of a new faith.
p 175 However, the freedom the masses crave is not freedom of self-expression and self-realization, but freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from “the fearful burden of free choice,” freedom from the arduous responsibility of realizing their ineffectual selves and shouldering the blame for the blemished product. They do not want freedom of conscience, but faith–blind, authoritarian faith.

Look article: 12 June 1956.

“Stan Lee has been…”: Joe Brancatelli, “The Comic Books: Some thoughts on what has gone before,” Creepy #115, February 1980.

“Well, Stan was tall…”: Daniel Keyes interviewed by Will Murray, Alter Ego #13, March 2002.

“[Lee]’s like a dictator…”: Chris Tolworthy, Marvel Method group, 26 September 2016.

“I was delighted to learn…”: B. Krigstein, in 1965, when told by [John] Benson that Stan Lee was spearheading comics’ revitalization. Messages in a Bottle: Comic Book Stories by B. Krigstein, Fantagraphics Books, 2013. This was a variation on a quote from Squa Tront #6 in 1975. Greg Sadowski, editor of the Fantagraphics book, said the full quote was taken from a letter from Krigstein to Benson in the 1970s.

“I want the credit…”: Wallace Wood, letter to John Hitchcock, 5 September 1978. Wood had more to say.
WHAT MAKES STANLEY RUN?
Once upon a time, many years ago a young man, born the son of a famous comic book publisher, decided to become rich and famous. He had no idea how to go about this at first, lacking both the brains and talent to achieve this goal. But he was driven by one emotion, rather TWO .. ENVY and HATE. Envy for the people who were responsible for his enviable state, and hatred for the people who could DRAW. Comics are, after all, an artist’s medium. I’ve never read a story in comics that I’d bother with if it were written in novel form.
Did I say Stanley had no smarts? Well, He DID come up with two sure fire ideas… the first one was “Why not let the artists WRITE the stories as well as draw them?”…. And the second was …. ALWAYS SIGN YOUR NAME ON TOP … BIG”. And the rest is history … Stanley, of course became rich and famous … over the bodies of people like Bill and Jack. Bill, who had created the character that had made his father rich wound up COLORING and doing odd jobs.
And Jack? Well, a friend of mine summed it up like this .. “Stanley and Jack have a conference, then Jack goes home, and after a couple of month’s gestation, a new book is born. Stanley gets all the money and all the credit… And all poor old Jack gets is a sore ass hole.”
—Wallace Wood, “What makes Stanley run?” Woodwork Gazette, v1n5, 1980.

“my wife was present…”: Jack Kirby, interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

1961 began badly: It’s important to remember how long Lee was a failure. While he worked for a relative, Lee could never even get promoted beyond Martin Goodman’s comic books. While he had the examples of Mickey Spillane graduating to paperbacks and other Goodman writers like Bruce Jay Friedman and Mario Puzo graduating from Goodman’s magazines into novels, plays and screenplays, Lee couldn’t even get promoted to the ‘men’s sweat’ magazines that Goodman published. During the 1950s when comics were being vilified, that must have been particularly painful.
When Marvel finally took off in the ’60s, Lee had 20 years of pent-up hunger for success driving him. He wasn’t about to share credit with anyone. Admitting that Kirby and Ditko were the cause of his success, even partially, would only confirm Martin Goodman’s low opinion of him. And Goodman was right. There are dozens of examples of comics writers and artists who became prose authors, illustrators and fine artists. Lee is still milking the superhero genre even though he hasn’t created any successes in the last 40 years and never did without Kirby and Ditko.
Mark Mayerson, comment 7853, “Digging Ditko, Part 4: Expressions, Ideas, & Stan Lee,” SRBissette.com, 23 September 2012.

As Lieber described it: When Stan saw that the strips had potential, he started writing them
—“A Conversation with Artist-Writer Larry Lieber,” Lieber interviewed by Roy Thomas, Alter Ego V3No2, Fall 1999. Lee noticed the “strips” had potential as soon as Goodman approved one of Kirby’s concepts for publication.

“Following in the footsteps…”: Darcy Sullivan, “Marvel Comics and the Kiddie Hustle,” The Comics Journal #152, August 1992.

In his “review”: Roy Thomas, ‘”There Are Lies… And Damn Lies…” And Then, Apparently, There’s STAN LEE! A “Book Report” On The Controversial Biography By ABRAHAM RIESMAN,’ Alter Ego #171, September 2021.

had a review of it: Yes, these are THE FANTASTIC FOUR, heroes of a new comic put out bi-monthly by Canam Publishers Sales Corporation. Produced by Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby (of the old-time Simon and Kirby team, which originated Captain America, the Guardian, Stuntman, Challengers of the Unknown [sic], and many others) this comic stands between the CHALLENGERS and the new JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.
—Roy Thomas, The Comicollector #1, September 1961. Thomas mistakenly identified Challengers as originating with Simon and Kirby when it was a Kirby solo creation. Simon laid claim only after his biography was published without mention of it, although he had successfully tested the waters by detailing his part in Spider-Man’s creation.

Lee told Jerry Bails: Well, we have a new character in the works for STRANGE TALES (just a 5-page filler named DR. STRANGE–) Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. Sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him– ’twas Steve’s idea, and I figgered we’d give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much. Little sidelight: Originally decided to call him MR. STRANGE, but thought the MR. bit too similar to MR. FANTASTIC– now however, I just remember we had a villain called DR. STRANGE just xxxxxx recently in one of our mags– hope it won’t be too confusing! Oh well…
—Stan Lee, letter to Jerry Bails, 1/9/63, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 27.

Lee and Kirby were interviewed: Nat Freedland, “Super Heroes With Super Problems,” New York Herald Tribune, 9 January 1966.

Freedland admitted: “I called Marvel and talked to Stan Lee and said, ‘How come you didn’t put me in your column, now that the thing is out?'” Freedland recalls. “And he told me about Kirby being upset—I think he put it as, ‘upset about having his feelings hurt’—and I thought, Gee, I can see why he would.”
Nevertheless, Freedland remained enchanted and landed on a new idea: “I wanted to be a Marvel writer,” he says. “There was a writing test, and I took it and turned it in, and I got the word back from someone, saying I didn’t have the style or quality—by which I mean characteristics—or writing stuff that would work with Marvel Comics.”
—Abraham Riesman, True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee.

Lee worship: Thus, MM will serve as a vehicle of constructive criticism in an attempt to abolish both Lee-worshipping and anti-Marvelism, and in an attempt to establish a non-biased, broad-minded comics viewpoint in out readers.
—editor Greg Kishel, Marvel Mirror Vol 1 #5, April-May 1968.

struck a nerve: During and just after Kirby’s original art dispute with Marvel, Lee appeared conciliatory toward Kirby. In the late 1980s, Kirby was commissioned to write new introductions for various reprint volumes. Mere months before he died, in Monster Menace #2 (January 1994, on sale the previous November), Kirby wrote, “I had great enjoyment creating monster books back in the late 50s and early 60s.” This was drowned out by Lee’s own introduction and Mort Todd’s editorials (see below). As a result of the TCJ interview, it became quite important to Lee to reassert a claim he first made in 1973.

participated: Let me take you back to 1961… Jack and I were having a ball turning out monster stories with such imperishable titles as “Xom, the Creature Who Swallowed the Earth,” “Grottu, the Giant Ant-Eater,” “Thomgorr, the Anti-Social Alien,” “Fin Fang Foom” (I never could remember what his shtick was–if he was a he), and others of equally redeeming artistic and literary value.
—Stan Lee, “If One is Good, Four Will Be Better,” introduction to the origin of the Fantastic Four, Origins of Marvel Comics, 1974.

refuted: Jack Kirby, interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.
GROTH: When you went to Marvel in ’58 and ’59, Stan was obviously there.
KIRBY: Yes, and he was the same way.
GROTH: And you two collaborated on all the monster stories?
KIRBY: Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did.

Soap Box and a reprint: If the monster strips were popular enough to scatter around in our other titles, why not devote entire magazines to them? That was fine with me. I loved writing them and dreaming up the goofy names. As a matter of fact, I’d first invent a name and then try to find a monster and a plot that would justify it… Actually, it was tougher writing the monster scripts than the super hero tales.
—from “STAN’S SOAP BOX” in Marvel Age #115, August 1992. In reality there were no monster scripts.
Stan Lee wrote all of the enclosed tales, as he did most of the stories published in the late 1950s from Marvel (then known as Atlas Comics).
—Mort Todd, Monster Menace #1, December 1993. Todd’s editorial message appeared below the yellow box that contained “MONSTER MENACE: Some Titanic Thoughts… by STAN LEE,” that said absolutely nothing in five paragraphs, although by that point Stan Lee was just a pseudonym for some Marvel editor. Note that neither of the Lee “essays” mentioned Larry Lieber.

Larry Lieber was introduced: Lieber’s big reveal happened in the article “Monster Master,” in Comics Scene #52, September 1995. Writer Will Murray took everything at face value, dismissing his own journalism from an article he wrote eleven years earlier calling the stories a collaboration between Lee and Kirby but giving Kirby the credit for their inspiration.

Upon examination: Kirby’s pencilled lettering in balloons and captions on the original art is the rule, not the exception, in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The Heritage Auctions website and IDW’s Jack Kirby Heroes and Monsters Artist’s Edition are good sources of scans showing Kirby’s lettering. Two pages of Thomas’ favourite example, “Fin Fang Foom,” appear in the IDW book: clearly visible is Kirby’s pencilled lettering inside the balloons, with Lee’s editorial corrections outside.

December 1962: Stan Lee created his first two credit boxes that month, Kirby’s Human Torch story, “Prisoner of the 5th Dimension!” in Strange Tales #103, and Don Heck’s “Meet Mr. Meek!” in Tales of Suspense #36. It’s obvious from reading the Kirby story that it’s Kirby’s own plot. Given that Lee’s plot credit is fabricated, did Lieber actually fill in the dialogue? Who plotted the Heck story? Did Lee relay a Kirby plot, or was Heck left to his own devices?

1973 reprints: “The Two-Headed Thing” from Strange Tales #95, April 1962, was reprinted in October 1973’s Monsters on the Prowl #26 and given a set of credits for the first time: Script by Lee, Art by Kirby and Ayers. Lee was not involved the first time around. If bogus credits were going to be added, wouldn’t this be the time to mention Lieber?

Atlas/Seaboard CV: “What’s Happening at Atlas: A Letter from Larry Lieber,” editor introduction, July 1975 issues of Atlas/Seaboard comics.

Lee was fired: 30 July 1998, according to court documents from Lee’s 2002 suit against Marvel, and J.C. Lee’s 2019 suit against Marvel.

a visible presence at his side: Lee first encountered Lieberman in 1970 when Marvel acquired the rights to Conan. In True Believer, Abraham Riesman goes into detail about how the relationship developed after Lieberman helped Lee negotiate a new contract with Marvel.

Thomas swung into action: Roy Thomas, “A Fantastic First! The Creation of the Fantastic Four—and Beyond!,” Alter Ego Vol 2 #2, Summer 1998; “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy: A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas,” Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

absolutely false: “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy: A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas,” Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.
Roy: Now, skipping ahead to 1961: The story has often been told of this infamous, legendary golf game with Martin Goodman and [DC President] Jack Liebowitz in which Liebowitz bragged about the sales of Justice League of America, and Goodman came back and told you to start a super-hero book. Was that story really true?
Stan: That’s absolutely true. He came in to see me one day and said, “I’ve just been playing golf with Jack Liebowitz”—they were pretty friendly—and he said, “Jack was telling me the Justice League is selling very well, and why don’t we do a book about a group of super-heroes?” That’s how we happened to do Fantastic Four.

Lee had no involvement: Lee’s signature might have been his method to document which pages qualified for his writing page rate. The month prior to FF #1, he made edits to Kirby’s pre-written dialogue on “Fin Fang Foom” (a Kirby story through and through). His changes are visible on the original art, yet he didn’t consider these edits sufficient to warrant his signature as the writer, on that particular story, or on any Kirby story dating back to 1958. The very same month, he signed no fewer than seven paper doll pages, 128 distinct paper doll page signatures between 1957 and 1962. Why was he reluctant to sign the Kirby story, yet free to sign Al Hartley’s “Patsy’s Fashion Cut-Out!” in Patsy Walker #97 or Stan Goldberg’s “Kathy’s Cut-out” in Kathy #13 the same month? The irony is that historian Thomas insists that Lee was capable of conceiving and writing the one he didn’t sign.
Lee admitted to the page rate in one of his depositions.
STAN LEE: I received a salary which paid me as Editor and Art Director, but I got paid on a freelance basis for the stories that I wrote.
Q. And when you say you were paid on a freelance basis, how were you paid? On what basis?
STAN LEE: The same as every other writer. I was paid per page, so much money per page of script.
—Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit 1.

Thomas interviewed Lieber: “A Conversation with Artist-Writer Larry Lieber,” interviewed by Roy Thomas, Alter Ego Vol 3 #2, Fall 1999.

adding dialogue: Every one of Thomas’ captions about Lieber in the article is carefully worded to restrict Lieber’s contribution to added dialogue, even on panels from stories where Lieber claimed he wrote full scripts.

2010 deposition: Lee gave two depositions in the case Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Case Number 1:2010cv00141 (S.D.N.Y. 2011), one on 13 May 2010, and one on 8 December 2010. They are visible online with many pages redacted. Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 1, and Filing 102, Exhibit I.

Lee and Thomas doubled down: Within a year of the settlement that called Kirby a co-creator, Lee and Thomas were interviewed for Brian Hiatt’s 29 April 2015 article, “Stan Lee on the Incredible Hulk’s Path to ‘Age of Ultron’: Marvel Comics legend and writer/Ultron creator Roy Thomas offer history lessons on heroes and villains,” rollingstone.com.
[Interviewer]: What do you think is a fair way to describe Jack Kirby’s role in the creation and evolution of the Hulk?
[Thomas]: Well, even if Stan came up with the name and the general concept, Jack still contributed a lot — plus, of course, he came up with exactly what the character looked like. Even if Stan kind of described him as a Frankenstein-ian kind of monster, it’s still the artist who contributes a lot by deciding what that means. And I’m sure Jack contributed a lot of story elements as well.

mandated changes: Mike Gartland did a series called “A Failure to Communicate” for The Jack Kirby Collector, examining a number of examples of the jarring changes to Kirby’s stories that were demanded by Lee. Subsequently posted online at The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

“Lee never wrote…”: Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away,” The Avenging Mind, © 2008 S. Ditko.

“I had no script”: Jack Kirby interviewed by Claudio Piccinini at SDCC 1991, Comics Interview #121, June 1993.

Daniel Keyes: Interviewed by Will Murray, Alter Ego #13, March 2002, Keyes was the author of Flowers for Algernon, and story editor under managing editor Lee in the early 1950s.

Stan Goldberg: Interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.

Dick Ayers: Barry Pearl, “The Yancy Street Gang visits Dick & Lindy Ayers,” Alter Ego #90, December 2009.

Wallace Wood: from Mark Evanier’s interview with Wallace Wood, posted to Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997, later published in The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood Volume 1, edited by Bhob Stewart and Michael Catron, Fantagraphics, 2016.

Conventional wisdom: The conventional wisdom says Lee was more involved and doing more plotting in the early years, before Kirby resorted to margin notes to convey the story to Lee. This disregards the physical evidence that Kirby wrote his full script in the balloons and captions for the first three years of his Marvel experience (and continued to do so in titles that didn’t yet fall under Lee’s after-the-fact dialogue). Chris Tolworthy, in his excellent book, The Lost Jack Kirby Stories, clearly shows Kirby was firmly in control of the direction of the first collaboration, The Fantastic Four, until he turned in his pages for the eighth issue. Lee took control with his #8 synopsis, and Kirby’s dark science fiction stories were replaced with light-hearted fun and a corresponding loss of creativity. Also ignored by the conventional wisdom are the reasons Kirby resorted to margin notes: to reduce face-to-fave meetings with Lee in the office, and to spell out the story clearly in an attempt to reduce deliberate misunderstandings.

A cursory glance: Stan Taylor, “Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003. Posted online at The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

“And if all others…”: George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1949.

“Considering that…”: Stan Lee, Fantastic Four #3 LOC page, cover date March 1962.

paper doll pages: At Marvel during the 1958-late 1961 period Lee showed no interest in the various monster-mystery-fantasy titles being published by Goodman. Available sales records and Goodman’s publication history suggest those titles were buoying Goodman’s line at that time. In October of 1961 (same month as FF #1) Lee begins to show an interest in the genres by signing stories involving Steve Ditko and then taking over a title (Amazing Adventures) and making it (Amazing Fantasy) a showcase for the Lee-Ditko tales. After Lee took over the title sold poorly and was cancelled. Around the same time Lee began not only signing the Lee-Ditko stories (but no others in the genres) but began to systematically remove/cover up the “Kirby & Ayers” signatures on many stories signed that way by Ayers. Lee also began placing blurb promotions for Lee-Ditko stories on front covers drawn by Jack Kirby. And Lee began text editing stories by Kirby and others which Lee didn’t sign.
1. Lee uninterested in science fiction fantasy.
2. Goodman’s science fiction and fantasy titles are increased from bi-monthy to monthly indicating better sales.
3. Lee begins to sign Ditko fantasy-science fiction stories in October of 1961. The same month as Fantastic Four #1.
4. Lee takes over an entire title with Ditko doing all the artwork and covers. The title does not sell and is cancelled.
5. Lee begins to promote the Lee-Ditko stories on the covers of science fiction-fantasy titles drawn by Jack Kirby.
6. Lee begins to cover with white paint the Kirby & Ayers signatures added by Ayers.
This suggests to me that Lee saw the sort of thing Lee wanted to write was not selling. Lee made a move to insert himself into the genres which were making money. Lee probably sensing that Kirby was being identified with Goodman’s science fiction and fantasy titles begins to place his own name on covers by Kirby and removing Kirby’s name where it had been placed by Ayers.
—Patrick Ford, Marvel Method group, 9 February 2021.

painting out: After the Atlas Implosion from 1958-1960 almost all stories published by Goodman were signed. Ditko, Sinnott, Colan, Ayers, Reinman, Heck, all signed their stories. Kirby was the exception. Kirby didn’t sign anything. In 1959 Ayers began inking Kirby. Prior to that Kirby was inked by Reinman, Rule, Klein, Ditko and Sinnott. When Ayers began inking Kirby he signed the stories Kirby & Ayers. That went on very consistently for up until early 1961 when Lee began covering the Kirby and Ayers signatures with white paint. All stories not by Kirby continued to carry signatures. Only the Kirby and Ayers signature was painted over. Lee even went so far as to remove Kirby and Ayers signatures in reprints from stories which had carried the signature when first published.
—Patrick Ford, Marvel Method group, 7 January 2022.
So… regarding those Kirby / Ayers signatures… I always put the signatures on our work together just as I always sign my work. I noticed that the ‘whiteouts’ were happening and it sure didn’t make me happy for I usually had the signature as part of the composition of the drawing. It was a sore point. I’m not keen on the credit boxes that are added to the drawing and confuse the composition of my drawing.
—Dick Ayers, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 8 December 1998.

letters page shenanigans: Lee finally gave Wood a chance at the writing pay for Daredevil #10, but criticized the writing relentlessly in captions and on the letters pages in #10 and #11. Wood was relieved of the writing pay for #11, the second of two parts, although of course he was plotting and writing since #5 without pay.

Not Stan’s fault: Roy Thomas, ‘”There Are Lies… And Damn Lies…” And Then, Apparently, There’s STAN LEE! A “Book Report” On The Controversial Biography By ABRAHAM RIESMAN,’ Alter Ego #171, September 2021.

bestowed plot credits: Aside from himself, Lee granted printed plot credits to Ayers, Ditko, Adkins, and Lieber. Even if Lee had left a title, when Kirby was assigned to that title doing pencils or layouts, Lee returned to take writing or plot credit.

“Some of the things…”: Stan Lee recorded by Steve Duin, “The Back Story on Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby,” The Oregonian/OregonLive, 26 June 2011.

he didn’t understand it: Roy Thomas interviewed by Matt Herring, conducted in August 2017, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #74, Spring 2018.
HERRING: …what were your thoughts of seeing Jack’s work at DC?
THOMAS: …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.

“Jack Kirby’s writing…”: Michael Royer, Marvel Method group, 10 December 2021.

“What a lot of people…”: Darrell Epp, Twitter, 25 December 2021.

“Kirby’s writing is rife…”: Doug Harvey, Art Issues #61, January/February 2000. The article can be read online at dougharvey.la.

misinformation: Joe Brancatelli and Charles Rozanski have written columns about the fraud that was taking place in comics distribution in the early 1970s. Robert Beerbohm, in excerpts from his upcoming book, Comic Book Store Wars, gives a riveting account from the dealer’s perspective of what was happening behind the scenes.
The Kirby Fourth World books were phenom sellers. It’s just that [National Periodical Publications] did not see the money inside the distributor pipeline. New Gods and Forever People were ‘HOT’ big time sellers down in the [independent distributor] system of 900 or so wholesale outlets at the time. I remember the comicons back in 1970 71 72 73 awash with unopened cases of the Kirby books. Likewise with Adams GL/GA. The mail order guys advertising in Marvel classifieds and places like RBCC TBG etc had them also stocked in depth. Due to the affidavit return ‘honor system’ fraud rampant by the 70s the NYC publishers were not seeing the sales dollars. Mister Miracle was not on the ”hit” list with most the spec buyers back in the day. Neither was Jimmy Olsen back then. More bucks and energy were being poured in to Forever People and New Gods.
—Robert L. Beerbohm, “Secret Origins of the Direct Market,” Part One, Comic Book Artist #6, Fall 1999, and Part Two, Comic Book Artist #7, February 2000.

“For many years…”: Kirby interviewed by James Van Hise, “A Talk with the King,” Comics Feature #44, May 1986.

When it became evident: Jack and Roz Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.
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.

For more like this, take a look at my first book, Chris Tolworthy’s book, and the Marvel Method group.

Chronology of a Myth

There’s little reason to doubt Larry [Lieber]’s account, as he is explicit about how little he cares about his comics career and is never eager to claim credit for anything. I ask Larry whether Kirby came up with the initial stories without any input from Stan; he replies, “Maybe he did. See, I was never there when the two of them were there.” We simply don’t know conclusively how involved Kirby was, as a writer, in the sci-fi comics of 1958 to 1961.
—Abraham Riesman, True Believer

There was every reason.
—George Smiley to Peter Guillam

Roy Thomas is the custodian of what he calls the “received history,” an alternate timeline of early Marvel. In his recent “rebuttal” of True Believer, he took author Abraham Riesman to task for conducting his own research rather than parroting the received history. In the book, Riesman had failed to quote a 1999 interview by Thomas in which Larry Lieber claimed  to have always written full scripts for the “artists.” Instead, Riesman had interviewed Lieber himself, along with Thomas and many others. Among them, only Lieber was a primary source regarding the years 1958 to 1965—Thomas was not there.

Thomas’ “rebuttal” featured a list of several of the book’s Lieber quotes, each with a corresponding dismissal by Thomas insinuating Lieber was falsely represented. He needn’t have bothered: Riesman recorded his many hours of interviews. Thomas could have tried a more professional approach and simply requested the recordings, but the the litany of disputed quotes was meant to intimidate Lieber for breaking the Marvel NDA. The 90-year-old writer/artist, one of very few Marvel employees still living who were around at the time, is now involved in legal action with Marvel and unlikely to comment further.

Let’s take a look at the evolution of Lieber’s role in the alternate history.

In 1968, Perfect Film & Chemical purchased Marvel, and quickly realized that it would be necessary to conceal the fact that the intellectual property had all sprung from the mind of a freelancer. The company’s nominee to counter this, Stan Lee, often complained that he did not enjoy writing, but he was a salaried employee who couldn’t assert rights to the properties. A born salesman, he eagerly stepped into the role for which he’d prepared his entire life, the front man for the creation of the comic characters. Lee kicked off the campaign by showing Thomas, his future Chief Propagandist, a typewritten page of his own comments in response to part of Kirby’s submission for what would become Fantastic Four #1.

The following year in his Cartoonist Profiles #4 interview, Lee floated the tale that his wife Joan inspired him to create the FF. The same year, Kirby was interviewed by Mark Hebert.

TCJ: After Fighting American, you went to Marvel and did fantasy stories with monsters and predictable endings.

KIRBY: You still had an audience for that kind of thing.

In 1970, Stan Lee was considered by many to be the industry’s buffoon. Jack Kirby finally stopped allowing Lee to take his writing pay, and quit. Marvel and Lee seized on the opportunity to publicize the alternate, false history.

By 1974, the non-existent credits or signatures on the pre-hero monster stories gave Lee the opportunity to claim creative input on the work. That way his “writing” on Kirby’s FF would come as a smooth segue rather than highlighting the reality of the situation, that it was a thing he had never done before.

1974: Origins of Marvel Comics

Let me take you back to 1961. It’s been twenty-two years since I first started with Timely, and I’m still editor, art director, and head writer there. At the moment, the trend is monster stories, so we’re turning out a pandemonious plethora of BEMs and scaly-skinned scaries. Jack Kirby, he of Captain America fame when I first started at Timely, had long since left and then recently returned to the fold as out top artist. Jack and I were having a ball turning out monster stories… Yep, there we were blithely grinding out our merry little monster yarns.

To be accurate, 1961 was twenty years, not twenty-two, since Lee first started with Timely (although the extra two years does bestow a certain cachet). The fantasy/sf books were the realm of other editors, and he was not involved in the so-called superhero revival of 1953-54 (Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Captain America), not having written a superhero story since 1942. He implicitly denied his involvement in Kirby’s monster stories at the time by omitting his signature. Just prior to the debut of the Fantastic Four, that signature signaled his participation (as “writer”) in Rawhide Kid, Kathy, Gunsmoke Western, Love Romances, Linda Carter Student Nurse, Patsy Walker, Life with Millie, Kid Colt Outlaw, and Millie the Model.

Martin Goodman was canceling the titles in Lee’s preferred dumb blonde genre (“teen humour” as it’s euphemized) and replacing them with superheroes. Outside of the FF, the Hulk, and Spider-Man, Lee resisted the transition, delegating the dialoguing of Thor, Iron Man, and Ant Man to brother Larry Lieber and others. Meanwhile he was happy to continue as the mastermind behind these titles until their demise or their delegation to another writer: Linda Carter (1963), Kathy (1964), Life With Millie/Modeling With Millie, Patsy Walker, Patsy and Hedy (all 1965). He continued with Millie the Model or its 1969 spin-off Mad About Millie until he retired from writing in 1972.

Kirby again mentions monster books in a 1982 interview with Will Eisner.

KIRBY: I began to do monster books. The kind of books Goodman wanted. I had to fight for the superheroes. In other words, I was at the stage now where I had to fight for those things and I did. I had to regenerate the entire line. I felt that there was nobody there that was qualified to do it. So I began to do it. Stan Lee was my vehicle to do it. He was my bridge to Martin [Goodman].

For Jack Kirby Collector 77 (Summer 2019), Will Murray updated an article from 1984. The rewrite was very different from the original.

1984: “I Remember… Vandoom, Master of Marvel Monsters”

Will Murray, Comics Collector #3, Spring 1984.

In truth, it wasn’t until 1959 that the real Marvel Monsters began appearing. Marvel at the time was on shaky ground, its super-heroes long gone, it was sustained by the likes of Kid Colt, Outlaw, Millie the Model, and a number of colorless supernatural titles written by Stan Lee and others and drawn by a train of forgotten artists. A company purge in the summer of 1957 killed off most of the supernatural titles, including the company’s first title, Marvel Tales.

Then Jack Kirby wandered over from DC, where he had created Challengers of the Unknown, and began doing some of the science-fiction stories for Strange Tales (which went back to 1951) and Tales to Astonish (launched January 1959)… Stan Lee never showed this kind of imagination in his pre-1959 script , so I would guess it was Kirby, whose mother was born near Transylvania and told him some pretty wild legends when he was a kid, on whose doorstep we can lay the credit–or blame.

The article mentions the names of Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Ayers, Heck, Sinnott, Reinman, Goodman, and thirty-six separate monsters. The name Larry Lieber does not appear once.

1989: The TCJ Kirby interview

GROTH: When you went to Marvel in ’58 and ’59, Stan was obviously there.
KIRBY: Yes, and he was the same way.
GROTH: And you two collaborated on all the monster stories?
KIRBY: Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did.
GROTH: On all the monster stories it says “Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” What did he do to warrant his name being on them?
KIRBY: Nothing! OK?
GROTH: Did he dialogue them?
KIRBY: No, I dialogued them. If Stan Lee ever got a thing dialogued, he would get it from someone working in the office. I would write out the whole story on the back of every page. I would write the dialogue on the back or a description of what was going on. Then Stan Lee would hand them to some guy and he would write in the dialogue. In this way Stan Lee made more pay than he did as an editor. This is the way Stan Lee became the writer. Besides collecting the editor’s pay, he collected writer’s pay. I’m not saying Stan Lee had a bad business head on. I think he took advantage of whoever was working for him.

GROTH: Stan wrote, “Jack and I were having a ball turning out monster stories.” Were you having a ball. Jack?
KIRBY: Stan Lee was having the ball.

Stan Lee wrote whatever he signed, because he signed everything he wrote!
—Will Murray

Groth was mistaken when he said, “On all the monster stories it says ‘Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.’” Stan Lee didn’t sign a single one of Kirby’s fantasy/science-fiction stories, ever (Kirby’s involvement in the genre lasted from 1958 to 1962). Lee didn’t “write” a monster book before 1961 when he signed one of Ditko’s, and he never signed one of Kirby’s.

Kirby’s death presented Lee with the opportunity to regain control of the narrative. Coincidentally, Will Murray stumbled into an interview with Larry Lieber that caused him to reconsider his beliefs.

1995: “Monster Master”

Will Murray, Comics Scene #52, September 1995.

The company was reeling under a distribution crisis that led to a severe implosion of titles in 1957. For months, Atlas tottered on the brink. Then in 1958, Jack Kirby returned to the bullpen and publisher Martin Goodman approved a modest expansion.

There was one problem: editor Stan Lee, having laid off his entire writing staff, could not handle the increased workload. He needed a new writer, someone trainable with a fresh approach.

This is false. Lee was at most writing the teen and western books, Kirby was his own writing crew, and pre-implosion inventory was exhausted at different times in each genre. Michael Vassallo details the sequence of events in his comprehensive Lee retrospective.

Enter Larry Lieber, just out of the Air Force and studying at the Art Student’s League while he sorted out his future. “I felt I had to learn a living,” Lieber recalls. “I wasn’t fast enough at drawing comics. I said, ‘I don’t know how to write them.’ He said, ‘You can write. I read your letters in the service.’ He taught me to write. That’s when I started writing Journey into Mystery, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish.”

This is Lieber’s only comment regarding the timing, and it’s vague.

For years, it has been unclear how many of those [pre-superhero] stories Lee actually wrote. [Hint: it’s a round number.] The answer is deceptively simple: Stan Lee wrote whatever he signed, because he signed everything he wrote!

In the days before The Fantastic Four, it was Lieber’s job to keep Kirby in scripts. Because there were no credits at that time, readers didn’t know–and rarely realize today–that it was Lieber who wrote virtually all those giant monster stories. He remembers it as a very hectic period.

It’s Murray who backdates Lieber’s “writing” to the time of Kirby’s arrival and the very beginning of the monster stories. From Vassallo’s blog post: “Larry Lieber stated decades later he was writing scripts but I believe these were scripts based off Kirby’s already plotted stories. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that Jack Kirby would need monster stories plotted for him.”

Lieber later confirmed in True Believer that the only reason he believed all the plots given him were Lee’s was that’s what Lee had told him.

Key take-away: Jack Kirby was so fast!

“Jack Kirby was so fast! He could draw about six pages a day, and I was very slow as a writer. So, I was always hurrying to feed Kirby stories. I remember, one Saturday night, running to the post office on 42nd Street, which was open on Saturday, and getting a story out to Jack. ‘Whew! Oh boy, now he’ll have a story!’ Jack would just turn that stuff out, and he was drawing all the monsters.”

Other key take-away: Lieber tips his hand

All rumors to the contrary, Lieber verifies that Lee does indeed script King Features’ Spider-Man. “Stan writes a very thorough script,” he says. “What he didn’t do with Kirby and the others, he’s doing with me. It’s almost the opposite. It’s filled with descriptions. You know–the guy is leaving the room and with his left hand he’s putting on his hat, and his right hand he’s putting down the telephone, and the girl looks up sadly, etc. He’s writing it like a movie script almost.”

The last bit is the giveaway. The Spider-Man newspaper strip was ghost-written for Lee by Jim Shooter from the start, and would be afterward for 17-plus years by Roy Thomas. “What he didn’t do with Kirby and the others, he’s doing with me” is Lieber telegraphing to Murray that the interview content is fabricated, or a cry for help from the coerced brother. Murray remains oblivious.

It would be interesting to hear from Murray how the Lieber scoop fell into his lap in 1995, but asking seems futile. A glance at the preview for the next Kirby Collector shows that he’s invested in the false narrative and John Morrow is letting him run with it. Examples from his two articles in that issue: “Kirby merely designed the [Iron Man] costume,” and “[Martin] Goodman instructed editor-writer Stan Lee to package a super-hero title…”

Lieber’s Wikipedia page (citing the Official Index to the Marvel Universe #14) says his first script was a Heck story in 1960 for Strange Tales, and his first script for Kirby ran in Amazing Adventures in 1961. With no credits or signatures, these claims bear the designation “attributed” or “confirmed” to disguise the fact that they’re pulled out of the air. The underlying motivation for Lee/Lieber credit creep is the false claim that Kirby wasn’t doing his own writing, an essential premise of the received history. More recently, lawyers have had their way in the latest Marvel reprints and IDW Artist’s Editions, which credit Lee and Lieber with all of Kirby’s writing.

Three years after Murray’s Lieber article, Thomas had a “conversation” with Stan Lee for Comic Book Artist.

1998: “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy”

A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998, online here.

Roy: That’s the period when Jack Kirby came back to Marvel. Jack mentioned in an interview [in The Comics Journal #136][sic] that he came to work offering his services when people were literally moving out the furniture. Do you recall that?

Stan: I never remember being there when people were moving out the furniture. [chuckles] If they ever moved the furniture, they did it during the weekend when everybody was home. Jack tended toward hyperbole, just like the time he was quoted as saying that he came in and I was crying and I said, “Please save the company!” I’m not a crier and I would never have said that. I was very happy that Jack was there and I loved working with him, but I never cried to him. [laughs]

In fact, Martin Goodman shut down his comics operation a number of times between 1958 and 1961, once coinciding with the death of Lee’s closest collaborator Joe Maneely and another time coinciding with the cancellation of Lee’s newspaper strip, Willie Lumpkin. Thomas twists the story, contending that Goodman repeatedly considered Lee worthy of another chance, rather than being convinced by Kirby and his ability to sell comics. If this were the case, Lee’s operation wouldn’t have been subject to multiple shutdowns in the first place.

With the hyperbole remark, Lee is projecting. He tones down his own propensity toward pathological lying in order to train the accusation on Kirby.

Roy: By Fantastic Four #1, you had developed what later came to be called “the Marvel style.” But you were doing this all along for some monster stories, some time before this. How far back does that go?

Stan: You mean just doing synopses for the artists? Was I doing them before Marvel?

Roy: I know that you did it for Fantastic Four. So I figured with Jack as the artist—and maybe Ditko, too—in these minor stories that you mostly wrote, along with Larry Lieber, you must have been doing it since the monster days.

Stan: You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, that’s probably true; but I had never thought of that. I thought that I started it with the Fantastic Four, but you’re probably right.

At its heart, the Marvel Method is the kickback scheme by which Lee took the writing rate of his “artists” in exchange for continued assignments. The need to backdate it is driven by the fact that Jack Kirby was being paid for writing and pencilling his pre-hero work, something Lee decided he needed to tap into.

Roy Thomas makes a false entry in the historical record

Roy: You probably didn’t write full scripts for Jack for “Fin Fang Foom.”

Stan: I did full scripts in the beginning, but then I found out how good he was just creating his own little sequence of pictures—and I did it in the beginning with Ditko, too—but when I found out how good they were, I realized that, “Gee, I don’t have to do it—I get a better story by just letting them run free.”

Although he admitted he never did after 1961, there is little evidence Lee wrote full scripts for anyone at any time during the 1950s. Story editors who reported to him, Al Sulman and particularly Daniel Keyes, painted Lee as someone who trafficked in the scripts of others. When he says, “I did full scripts in the beginning,” perhaps he’s referring to just after the departure of Simon and Kirby in 1941.

Here’s how Michael Vassallo describes the period in his Stan Lee retrospective: “About a dozen years ago I picked Stan Lee’s memory about his earliest years at Timely. His notoriously bad memory was not in fact a reality. I learned that if you asked him about particular things like stories, credits, etc, he didn’t really have any definite answers mainly because he was supervising up to 50 titles a month, doing some writing on the side, assigning work, dictating one-line plots to writers under him, and overall producing a product that he didn’t give more than a passing thought about. But if you nailed him down to particular people and events, he recalled a lot in full clarity.”

In the “conversation,” Thomas had an agenda, while Lee showed all the signs of just playing along.

Thomas’ interview agenda
  1. Kirby’s TCJ interview
  2. The FF synopsis/the Marvel Method
  3. The golf story
  4. It’s “well known”: Lieber wrote dialogue from Lee plots
Lee’s interview agenda
  1. Overcoming things Martin hates to get Spider-Man published
  2. (At length): working from home three days a week is not all fun and games as people suppose, but hard work when you hate writing
  3. Lee finds writing comics the easiest thing in the world (contradicting #2) while Mario Puzo tries and fails
  4. (At length): union-busting the Academy of Comic Book Arts before it gets started

The agenda would become the talking points of Thomas’ subsequent career as valet to Lee’s legacy.

Key take-away: Lieber was “never the fastest” writer

Roy: …In the early days, it’s now well known that Larry Lieber, your brother, wrote the dialogue for a number of stories, after they were plotted by you and drawn by Jack or whoever, on some series like “Thor” and “Iron Man.”

Stan: Well, it’s in the credits and I always put his name in. If not, I’d say, “Plot by Stan Lee.” Larry definitely did the first “Thor,” and he may have written the copy for “Iron Man.” What I did was give him the plot and he wrote it.

Roy: Was it that you were just too busy, or did you just think that it wasn’t that important that you do the dialogue?

Stan: Both. And you know that both “Thor” and “Iron Man” were only 10-, 11-page stories and not a feature book. I was very busy and I liked the way that Larry wrote, and so I thought I’d give him a shot at it.

Roy: The mere fact that people assumed for years afterward that you did the dialogue shows that he imitated your style pretty well. The thing with Larry is that he was just a little slow.

Stan: He was like Romita; he was never the fastest one.

Other take-away: “Now that you say it, that’s probably true”

Roy: I know that you did it [i.e. wrote “Marvel style”] for Fantastic Four. So I figured with Jack as the artist—and maybe Ditko, too—in these minor stories that you mostly wrote, along with Larry Lieber, you must have been doing it since the monster days.

Stan: You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, that’s probably true; but I had never thought of that. I thought that I started it with the Fantastic Four, but you’re probably right.

Taken in context, this staged interview shows a disconnect from the previous staged interview. Now that Thomas is in charge of the narrative, Lee’s previous gambit (Lieber wrote all of the full scripts for everyone) goes out the window. Larry Lieber is mentioned once in the context of the monster stories “writing” by synopsis for Kirby and Ditko, the kind of writing that Lieber denied doing at all. Lee has no recollection of calling it the Marvel Method before FF #1: Thomas is the only one here suggesting anyone wrote Kirby’s pre-hero stories.

Next, the Alter Ego interview cited by Thomas, wherein Thomas adds Lieber back into the narrative.

1999: “A Conversation with Artist-Writer Larry Lieber”

Alter Ego Vol 3 No 2, Autumn 1999, excerpted here.

RT: When the comics were just getting started up again.

Lieber: Well, they were putting out… let’s see… Journey into Mystery… Tales to Astonish…. At the time I had a room in Tudor City, and I was writing stories for Jack to draw. Jack was so fast, and I was learning to write. You can appreciate this, I’m sure: I didn’t really know how, and Stan was giving me a writing course!

…I remember that Kirby was so fast he could draw faster than I was writing! Stan would say to me, “Jack needs another script!” I was on 41st, and I used to sit there Saturday and Sunday, and there was the Grand Central Post Office that was open all the time.

RT: You mentioned earlier that Stan would say to you, “Jack needs a story now.” Did you plot some of those lead monster stories, as well?

Lieber: No. Stan made up the plot, and then he’d give it to me, and I’d write the script. Tudor City had a park; and when it was nice, I’d sit there and break the story down picture by picture. I was unsure of myself just sitting down to write a script. Since I knew how to draw, I’d think, “Oh, this shot will have a guy coming this way… this shot we’ll have a guy looking down on him,” and later I’d sit at the typewriter and type it up. After a while, I’d just go to the typewriter. I would follow from Stan’s plots.

RT: Would Jack have already penciled the story?

Lieber: No. These were all scripts in advance.

RT: So this wasn’t “Marvel style” yet? I asked Stan recently just how that style started. He felt maybe Fantastic Four #1 was the start of it, but I wondered if, by 1961 and before, he was already doing some things plots-in-advance for Jack and others.

Lieber: No, I think it started with Fantastic Four, or around the time he did the super-heroes.

RT: So you’d turn Stan’s plots into a full script for Jack or whoever?

Lieber: Or for Don Heck, or someone. Stan liked writing his own stories for Ditko. Jack I always had to send a full script to.

What’s notable about the interview?

In his True Believer “rebuttal,” Thomas cites Lieber’s claim that he always wrote full scripts. During the original interview, Lieber himself could scarcely believe the claims he was being asked to make because “Jack was so fast…” Someone else present for the interview doesn’t believe him either: Roy Thomas. Here’s one of Thomas’ captions from the interview…

Note that every caption is carefully worded to restrict Lieber’s contribution to dialogue, even on panels from stories where Lieber claimed he wrote full scripts.

Roy Thomas makes another false entry in the historical record

There are no credits or signatures. Thomas suggests it’s anybody’s guess who wrote the dialogue, therefore it was probably Lieber.

Lieber sets Thomas straight on the fact that the Marvel Method began with FF #1. Were there assigned plots before that? Undoubtedly, but what distinguishes the Marvel Method is its key innovation, the theft of the writing pay.

2011: Larry Lieber’s deposition

Let’s give Larry Lieber the last word. Not the nice guy with no dog in the fight, but as he described in his deposition in the Kirby case, the bullied little brother who agreed to be deposed under threat of losing his livelihood. Lieber actually seemed to be under the impression that he was testifying under oath.

Larry Lieber had no contact with a script’s prospective recipient. His sole point of contact, his only source of information about office business, was Stan Lee. Like Thomas and his one-sided history of Marvel, Lieber got his version of events from Lee, and only from Lee.

The Vandoom article appeared in 1984. Ten years before that, there was Stan Lee claiming he had a ball with Kirby doing the monster stories. Before that there was nothing, because it was uncontroversial: no one had a reason to question the authorship of the stories. The original art pages have Kirby’s pencilled lettering in the balloons and captions, with an occasional in-office edit on later stories by Lee who was nominally the editor. There is no physical evidence for Lieber scripts.

In response to the TCJ interview where Kirby claimed, “I created; I wrote,” Lee said Kirby “either lost his mind or he’s a very evil person.” Once Kirby was dead, Lee could control the narrative, and he re-mobilized his propaganda machine.

By all accounts Larry Lieber is a nice guy, and for those invested in the false narrative it’s a sufficient reason for taking his word over Kirby’s. True Believer gives us a very different picture of Lieber than the one we had. He’s a timid man treated like a stranger by his brother (who himself owed everything to nepotism), and susceptible to his brother’s coercion. Seen in context, the 1995 interview with Will Murray could only be the result of that coercion.

KIRBY: Stan was a very rigid type. At least, he is to me. That’s how I sized him up. He’s a very rigid type, and he gets what he wants when the advantage is his. He’s the kind of a guy who will play the advantages. When the advantage isn’t his at all, he’ll lose. He’ll lose with any creative guy. And I could never see Stan Lee as being creative.

Roy Thomas and the physical evidence

This was done as a sidebar to my earlier post, but required an extra click. Here it is as its own post.

Some Roy Thomas statements from the recent past that are contradicted by the physical evidence…

Daredevil

Thomas: Sure, [Lee] let Wally Wood dialogue a single Daredevil issue; but he was unhappy with the results (as I learned when I came to work there, soon after Wood quit). I can appreciate Wood’s being unhappy to be acknowledged only as the “artist” in the credits, so that he moved on—but Stan was so obviously enamored of Wood’s talent that, if Wood had really pushed the point, Stan might well have made the same type of arrangement with him that he’d done first with Ditko, then with Kirby.1

Arrangement? Thomas seems to believe that Ditko and Kirby were consulted on having their writing pay extorted. Wood made it clear to Lee that the “arrangement” Lee had with Ditko and Kirby was not acceptable to him, and he had his pencilling assignment removed by Lee.

Wood told Mark Evanier, “remember that issue of DAREDEVIL I wrote? Stan said it was hopeless and that he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. Then I saw it when it came out and he’d changed five words, less than an editor usually changes.”2

Thomas needs to familiarize himself with the physical evidence before repeating this fairy tale. The original art to several pages of the story is visible at the Heritage site, and it’s obvious that the changes Lee ordered were minor.

Nick Fury

Thomas: But Stan felt that he himself needed to provide the actual finished dialogue for the stories. When Jack dialogued a “S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode while Stan was out of town, Stan, upon returning, was vocally unhappy with the dialogue (if then-production manager Sol Brodsky was still alive, he’d back me up on this) and hurriedly rewrote as much of it as he had time to do… and far more than poor, long-suffering, deadline-hounded, budget-conscious Sol wanted him to. and from the caption, Roy T. recalls The Man as actually doing extensive rewrites upon his return; in the end, he just didn’t want to take credit or blame for his part in a story whose writing he didn’t much care for. Surprisingly, it’s unusually difficult to detect the rewritten balloons and captions, which suggests that production manager Sol Brodsky may have called credited letterer Sam Rosen into the Marvel offices to handle Stan’s re-do. Or maybe Sol talked Stan out of doing quite as much rewriting as Roy knows he wanted. How conveniently worded: “if the evidence doesn’t bear out my ‘recollection,’ I’ll say Sol talked him out of it.”3

Vocally unhappy? Let’s take a look at the evidence…

Jim MacKay: Artie Simek did the [front page] bottom caption and credits (“SAM ROSEN” was lettered by Simek), and relettered a few word balloons elsewhere in the story. If that was Stan Lee’s contribution when he returned from vacation, it amounted to 1 or 2 percent of the dialogue. Certainly not “extensive rewriting.”4

Lee’s contribution to this panel: “SAWBONES.”

Don’t take Jim MacKay’s word for it… the pages of the SHIELD story (Strange Tales #148) can be viewed online.

Black Panther

Thomas’ editorial in Alter Ego 118 introduces Arlen Schumer’s Black Panther piece, responding to Arlen’s implication that Kirby created the character.

“Still, as I’ve told Arlen, I feel obliged to state up front that I have reservations about one of his key assumptions—namely that, because Jack Kirby’s drawing of a Panther-like character called The Coal Tiger (probably) pre-dates FF #51, it can be inferred that the idea of introducing a black super-hero into Marvel’s flagship title was necessarily Jack’s rather than Stan’s… To presume that Jack rather than Stan was the initiator of The Black Panther ignores the fact that Stan had long been instructing Marvel’s artists to include African-Americans in crowd scenes. I’ve no proof the impetus for a black super-hero came from Stan—but one can’t automatically assume it came from Jack, either. It’s equally possible that Stan came up with the idea, maybe even the name “Black Panther”—and if and when he did, there right in front of him was Jack with his very un-African “Coal Tiger” concept drawing (since there ain’t no tigers in Africa)…”

I’ve detailed elsewhere how Kirby came up with Coal Tiger based on current events: Patrice Lumumba, the Katangan Tigers. Thomas’ portrayal of Stan Lee the civil rights pioneer is belied by the fact that the initial cover appearance was altered from Kirby’s original partial mask to a full mask to conceal the character’s race, his skin was coloured grey inside the book (lampooned by Alan Moore in the series 1963), and Kirby’s greatest storyline was cancelled because of someone’s discomfort with the character (see Chris Tolworthy’s The Lost Jack Kirby Stories, p 54). Thomas may also want to check out the April 1969 Stan’s Soapbox, with Lee’s shout-out to the Jolly John Birchers.

John Romita: I remember asking [Jack] about The Black Panther. He said that was from some storyline he’d worked on for years, that he loved the idea of a black hero like that. He loved mythology. So if there was an African mythology, then he was going to latch onto it, just like he practically lived in Norse mythology. When he did the “Thor” stuff, he was in his own backyard. He loved those characters so much. He lived and died with them. African mythology was one of his pet projects, and he told me he loved the idea of The Black Panther being a royal African with a 500-year history, and things like that.5

Romita reveals that Kirby had developed a backstory, which Tolworthy covers in detail in Lost Stories. This calls to mind John Severin’s late ’50s discussion with Kirby about the roots of Sgt Fury. Stan Lee never spoke in terms of motivations of the characters he allegedly created.

Thomas’ most telling comment on the creation of the character came in 1986, before his conversion experience to Team Lee: “I came in at the beginning of what I consider the height of the ’65 period when Jack Kirby was introducing the Inhumans, the Black Panther and others.”6

Surfer

That Stan Lee was the co-creator, and not the sole creator, of the key Marvel heroes from the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man through Daredevil and the Silver Surfer can hardly be in dispute at this late stage.

Caption: Roy recalls, however, that it was Stan who turned the black-&-white-penciled entity (called by Jack simply “the Surfer” in his margin notes) into The Silver Surfer when he dialogued the issue.7

That Stan Lee was the co-creator (or less) needed to be restated every time Lee or Thomas opened their mouths. The Surfer was an unfortunate choice to illustrate this.

Daniel Greenberg: Lee made a stab at actually writing a comic with the Silver Surfer title he had promised to Kirby (before backstabbing the actual creator of the Surfer by taking it from him).

Despite all the elements for success—Marvel’s hottest new character in the Silver Surfer, Marvel’s best new artist in John Buscema, Marvel’s most prestige format, and Stan Lee’s alleged gift for hype, the book was a huge disappointment to fans and a failure on the newsstands. Why?

The writing.

Surfer stories written by Jack Kirby are flashes of brilliance so intense they erupt from the page, from his clashes with Doom, Quasimodo, etc. Marvel caught lightning in a bottle.

Surfer stories written by Stan “Shakespeare” Lee turn the Surfer into a mopey, petty, inconsistent, vacillating, emo whose soliloquies reveal nothing about his inner world other than odious self-pity.

No wonder the fans rejected the book. Simply imitating the form of a Hamlet soliloquy means nothing without Shakespeare’s penetrating look into the human psyche.8

Greg Theakston wrote in Jack Magic, Volume 2 that Kirby phoned him on the occasion of what might have been the last straw. To add insult to the injury of starting a Surfer solo book without its creator, Lee had taken the Surfer away from Buscema so he could bring Kirby in for an issue to try to save the title. Buscema insisted on doing Thor to replace the hole in his schedule and Lee capitulated, again ripping something away from Kirby that he’d created without asking.

Thomas was the witness to Kirby’s sole creatorship of the character.

ROY: Yet from the very beginning, he’s always been clear that Jack invented the Silver Surfer, and just tossed him into a story where Stan had not suggested any character like that. I know for a fact, having seen the pages in pencil when they came in, that the character was just called “The Surfer” in the border notes, not “The Silver Surfer.” The name “Silver Surfer” at the very least was Stan’s, and the speech patterns.

TJKC: In that period, when Marvel introduced the Inhumans, Galactus, and the Black Panther, would you say those were all co-creations, or did Jack come in like he did with the Silver Surfer and say, “Stan, I have these characters”?

ROY: From what little I heard talking to Stan and Sol Brodsky, the Silver Surfer was kind of an exception, although there may have been a few villains that were created by Jack. I think Stan had an initial idea for quite a few of them, but I wouldn’t say that there couldn’t be some individual characters that Jack didn’t come up with the idea for.9

If only Jack…

In his Alter Ego 161 response to my letter, Thomas called into question the existence of statements by Kirby and Ditko.

Thomas: Now, if Jack himself said at some point that he wrote that story, dialogue and all, that would definitely be worth considering. But traces of his penciled balloons and captions on original “Foom” art merely indicate he pencil-lettered it when he drew it, not that he’d written the original script.

“If Jack himself said at some point,” it would be dismissed like everything else Jack himself said because it couldn’t co-exist with the “received history.” In fact, Kirby himself did comment, and here it is.

GROTH: When you went to Marvel in ’58 and ’59, Stan was obviously there.
KIRBY: Yes, and he was the same way [a pest].
GROTH: And you two collaborated on all the monster stories?
KIRBY: Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the [monster] stories just like I always did.10

It seems odd that Thomas is unaware of Kirby’s claim in the TCJ interview, since the Stan-Roy “interview”11 was scripted to address, point by point, the TCJ interview, and Kirby’s monster claim in particular.

If only Ditko…

Thomas: As for your statement that “Ditko quit… because Stan wasn’t speaking to him”… well, maybe that’s the reason, and maybe it wasn’t. Do you have a quote from Steve specifically stating that? Because Steve had other, and, he felt, better reasons for leaving, I’m sure… and in any event, he went on working for Marvel for a year or so after the two men stopped speaking.12

Ditko was forthcoming and transparent: Thomas might want to make note of his essays in Robin Snyder’s The Comics, including a 15+-part Mini History of Marvel, the 2008 32-pager, The Avenging Mind focusing on Marvel, Lee, and Goodman, and “WHY I QUIT S-M, MARVEL” in Four Page Series No. 9, September 2015 containing these words of Ditko’s: “Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material, for a man who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me?”

Footnotes

back 1 Roy Thomas, response to my letter, Alter Ego #161, November 2019.

back 2 Mark Evanier’s interview with Wallace Wood, posted to Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997, published in The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood Volume 1, edited by Bhob Stewart and Michael Catron, Fantagraphics, 2016.

back 3 Roy Thomas, response to my letter, Alter Ego #161, November 2019.

back 4 Jim MacKay, Marvel Method group, 15 December 2019.

back 5 John Romita interviewed by Jim Amash, John Romita… And All That Jazz!, TwoMorrows Publishing, July 2007.

back 6 “Roy Thomas: Looking Back on the Golden Age,” Comics Feature 44, May 1986.

back 7 Roy Thomas, ‘“There Are Lies… And Damn Lies…” And Then, Apparently, There’s STAN LEE! A “Book Report” On The Controversial Biography By ABRAHAM RIESMAN,’ Alter Ego 171, September 2021.

back 8 Daniel Greenberg, Marvel Method group, 7 Sep 2021.

back 9 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 10 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 11 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 12 Roy Thomas, response to my letter, Alter Ego #161, November 2019.

Guardian of the Mythology

Roy Thomas (smiling gleefully): When Jerry [Robinson]’s article about what Bill Finger had done on Batman came out of course it made Bob Kane go ballistic the minute that he saw it. So he went to the editor of Batmania, and he wrote half a dozen pages of diatribe. Obviously Bob Kane did not want Bill Finger’s story told and took tremendous offense at it.1

The reaction of Roy Thomas to Bob Kane’s dismay at the exposure of his credit theft is telling. Thomas has made it his life’s work to suppress awareness of the same charges against Stan Lee, and to that end, he continues to discredit the Bill Fingers in Lee’s life. Compared to Lee, Kane was an amateur, because he was actually naïve enough to pay his uncredited collaborators for their work.

In Alter Ego 171, Thomas spells out the current state of the ever-evolving company version of Lee vs Kirby. The framework he uses this time is the expansion of his “rebuttal” of Abraham Riesman’s True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee (the original piece appeared in The Hollywood Reporter in February). Thomas shows he has little use for logic, and absolute contempt for the physical evidence. The article reveals the difficulty of maintaining a false narrative in the face of scrutiny from the outside world.

Thomas’ complaints in the “rebuttal” boil down to this:

I feel the chief transgression of this book is how the author goes so far out of his way to undermine much of the received history and biography of Stan Lee.

The “received history” consists of various publicity campaigns in which Thomas was instrumental. These propaganda blitzes served to falsify the events of the ’60s and the late ’50s to give the company clear title to properties created by freelancers.

Unless specified with a footnote, the indented passages herein are taken from ‘“There Are Lies… And Damn Lies…” And Then, Apparently, There’s STAN LEE! A “Book Report” On The Controversial Biography By ABRAHAM RIESMAN,’ by Roy Thomas. Quotes within those passages are taken by Thomas from True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, by Abraham Riesman.

In Alter Ego 161, an earlier defense by Thomas of the company line on Kirby consisted wholly of

it’s well known…2

What’s well known? Thomas was suggesting it’s well known that Larry Lieber wrote full scripts for Kirby’s monster comics based on Lee’s plots. This is taken to be “well known” because it appeared in the pages of Alter Ego, 22 years ago. What’s with the fixation of finding some way, any way, to deny Kirby the writing credit he claimed? The answer is simple: if it became known that Kirby was a writer, his “collaborations” with Lee might be subject to more scrutiny.

Jack Kirby always claimed he wrote his own monster stories, but the official line as of 1974 was that Stan Lee wrote them. When that became problematic in 1999, the torch was passed and Larry Lieber was nominated.3

In 1997, Thomas told Jim Amash how he researched his second-hand history for the years that preceded his arrival at Marvel in 1965.

From what little I heard talking to Stan and Sol Brodsky…4

The freelancers might tell a different story, so it was safer not to consult them. By the time Alter Ego 161 was published in 2019, it was clear that Thomas was still ignoring the claims of Kirby and Ditko.

Alas, Mr Riesman is a journalist, and unlike lifelong industry fans like Thomas or hagiographers like Danny Fingeroth, he was compelled to throw out the “received history” and do the research from scratch. Apparently Thomas will need to learn the hard way not to contest Riesman on the grounds of research or documentation.

A chronology of making up history

The “received history” was developed in four stages. In 1961, as Larry Lieber once commented,5 Stan Lee decided to “write” Kirby’s comics; more on this later. Thomas started with the company in 1965, so this is the only stage for which he was not present and has no first-hand knowledge.

Between 1968 and 1974, Marvel’s new owners had a narrative established for them to consolidate control of the copyrights away from the freelancers who created the properties, culminating in Origins of Marvel Comics under Lee’s byline. In later decades, Lee is known to have had ghostwriters for everything; Origins might be no exception to the pattern. Kirby commented in his TCJ interview that Lee even had ghostwriters for his 1960s dialogue. A look further back in his career shows Lee recycling other people’s scripts under his own name, yet it was Kirby’s remark that drew outrage.

In 1998, in response to two events—Kirby’s death and the interview of Thomas that appeared in the Kirby Collector—Thomas was recruited by Lee and his attorney Arthur Lieberman to join the campaign. (Lieberman had entered the lives of Lee and Thomas in 1970 at the advent of one of Thomas’ greatest creations, Conan the Barbarian.) By the time of the Stan-Roy “interview”  in Comic Book Artist that year, Thomas was directing the effort.

Stan: You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, that’s probably true…6

Finally, in a 2010 deposition in the case in which Marvel sued the Kirby family, with Lieberman at his side, Lee laid claim to sole creatorship of all the contested properties. In addition, that pesky Silver Surfer, not yet a contested property but a counterexample to the idea that Lee created all, was dispensed with by his legal team. Thanks to the presence of Thomas at the unveiling, Kirby had clear title, but in the deposition Lee became co-creator by virtue of making it “a separate character.” Thomas, formerly the only witness against, takes the opportunity in his “rebuttal” to incorporate this new truth in the narrative.

Discerning the truth

Some excerpts from the Thomas “rebuttal,” with Riesman’s work in quotes:

Both men were, I think, wrong… and that’s why Riesman is so ill-advised to use nearly every opportunity he gets to weight things in Jack’s favor and against Stan.

You think I’m exaggerating when I suggest that Riesman finds gratuitous excuses to favor Jack’s vision of things over Stan’s? I’m not.

He simply weighs Stan’s statements against Jack’s, without offering any real evidence that Jack’s memories are any more reliable than Stan’s.

“It’s very possible, maybe even probable, that the characters and plots Stan was famous for all sprang from the brain and pen of [artist writer Jack] Kirby….” “Possible,” yes. Lots of things are “possible.” But—“even probable”? Why? Riesman never really makes a credible case for that. He merely piles up verbiage and quotations: “He said… he said.”

Over and over again in the book—there isn’t room here to list them all—Riesman attempts to undercut Stan’s veracity.

“It was just two men in a room. Kirby relentlessly claimed until his dying day that his discussions were merely a matter of his telling Stan what was going to happen in a given plot, then going home and creating what he’d said he would create….” But hey—guess what: Stan Lee proclaimed to his dying day that he had had the initial idea for most of the 1960s Marvel heroes, with Jack being brought in later to help develop those characters. So why are we supposed to believe one man’s claim and not the other’s, given the lack of hard evidence?

Lee’s veracity can’t be undercut; he seldom told the truth. There is physical evidence, and in denying its existence, Thomas is hoping it will go away. Thomas says Lee was wrong, therefore by the “fine people” principle both men were wrong. No one will remember Thomas admitting Lee was wrong; Thomas won’t even remember for the duration of his article.

Bad memory, aka lying as a default setting

One of the things people have to realize about Stan Lee is that, like many another busy, forward-looking professional… he tended to discard (i.e., forget) events or discussions even in the recent past, once they were over and done with. That aspect of Stan’s personality could be maddening at times, but the fact remains: Stan was, in many ways, almost as forgetful as he generally portrayed himself as being. From the day I met him in 1965, he walked around with 3”x5” note cards in his shirt pocket, on which he’d scribble down things because he didn’t trust his memory. And, while some have argued that his “poor memory” was only a convenient shield against being held responsible for earlier decisions, I feel I spent more than enough time working with him between ’65 and ’74, in particular, to be certain that his notoriously bad memory was way more than just an artful dodge.

[Riesman] simply weighs Stan’s statements against Jack’s, without offering any real evidence that Jack’s memories are any more reliable than Stan’s.

Some people (Steve Ditko in particular) have suggested that poor memory is a reason to not be taken seriously when claiming creator credit. Lee repeatedly claimed “the world’s worst memory” and the like. Kirby never said he had a poor memory, yet propagandists like Thomas insist the unreliability is on both sides before saying their side is telling the truth. In 1986 Kirby said he and Lee both remembered clearly the events of 25 years earlier, and all that was necessary was for Lee to come clean. He expressed confidence that, knowing Lee, that would never happen.

Synopses

And [Riesman] weights things toward Jack’s view point with statements like the foregoing despite the fact, for instance, that partial synopses written by Stan for two of the first eight issues of the crucial Marvel flagship title Fantastic Four (including for #1) have been vouched for as existing since the 1960s.

Synopsis is a misnomer for the items promoted by Thomas as Lee’s documents of creation. Presumably typed by Lee, Chris Tolworthy shows convincingly that they were notes that suggested edits to the stories Kirby had turned in. The representation of the “synopses” as documents of creation, a view Thomas took up only after expressing his skepticism in 1997, is fraudulent.

“…I saw Stan’s plot for Fantastic Four #1, but even Stan would never claim for sure that he and Jack hadn’t talked the idea over before he wrote this.”7

The first “synopsis” to emerge (the one for #8) changed the direction of the Fantastic Four from Kirby’s dark science fiction to Lee’s light and fluffy. (Kirby wrestled control back some 40 issues later.)

If Stan Lee was engaging in an act of ex post facto forgery with that half-synopsis, it was surely the most inept attempt ever seen by man. And Stan was far from inept.

Thomas offers no evidence for this statement, because the “received history” is not about a Stan Lee who was inept. The physical evidence tells a different story.

Mark Evanier: [ FF #1] feels an awful lot more like Jack’s earlier work than anything that Stan had done to that date. So I find it very difficult to believe that Jack did not have input into the creation of the characters prior to the – that synopsis, whenever it was composed. And, also, I have the fact that I talked to Stan many times, and he told me – and he said it in print in a few places – that he and Jack had sat down one day and figured out what the Fantastic Four would be.

QUINN. And they discussed the plot before they actually – the drawings were done?

A. They discussed the plot before the alleged synopsis was done also.8

Amusing bit: Riesman wrote that “a rumor” said the FF #1 synopsis was created after the fact. Thomas refers to Evanier, one source of the rumor, as Kirby’s “one-time teenage assistant.” When Lee made Evanier a Vice President of Stan Lee Media, Thomas was having his loyalty rewarded by being handed the ghostwriting duties on the Spider-Man newspaper strip. Lee was paid $125k a year for having the strip written, but it’s a safe bet Thomas only got a fraction of that. Thomas exacts his revenge on Evanier with the “teenage assistant” crack, not realizing that it might bring to mind Kirby’s first teenage assistant, Stan Lee.

Lieber

Riesman even manages either to misunderstand Stan’s brother Larry Lieber on the way many of the early Marvel stories were written—or else, back in 1999, Larry himself was totally misremembering when he told me in a published interview that, to the best of his recollection, every single story he wrote was done in the script-in-advance format, never by the Marvel Method.

Riesman can’t misunderstand something that is insufficiently documented. Kirby said he wrote his own stories. Lieber has always been very malleable in the hands of his big brother whom, it’s clear in the pages of True Believer, treated him like dirt. Lieber’s name wasn’t mentioned in relation to Kirby’s stories before 1998, and he didn’t claim to have written full scripts for Kirby until after Kirby’s death.

In 2011 Lieber was deposed in the Kirby case, and mentioned that he’d been reluctant to give the deposition. Lee convinced him with the “suggestion” that if he didn’t, he might lose his work on the Spider-Man newspaper strip, work he had at the whim of Lee (see page 30 in the linked PDF).

Case No. 11-3333 Appellants’ Opening Brief

Lieber also described his understanding of what would happen to a script after he turned it in.

MS. SINGER. Do you know what would happen to the script after Stan went over it and made whatever changes?
LIEBER. Yeah. It would be sent to the artist, I would guess.
Q. Okay.
A. Whether it was, you know, the various artists, yeah.
Q. Did you ever — did you have any contact with the story after
you turned it in and made whatever changes?
A. No.9

Thomas notes a couple of points in the book that Lieber later asked to be clarified. Thomas calls it Riesman’s “misinformation.”

Through his friend Frank Lovece, Larry has recently corrected this bit of misinformation on Facebook.

According to Larry in his recent remarks put on Facebook by his friend Frank Lovece, it was his older cousin-by-marriage Martin Goodman who committed that particular verbal vulgarity…

Lovece is a reporter beholden to the Marvel narrative, but Riesman recorded his interviews.

Thomas then expresses disbelief at a few things Lieber said to Riesman.

This is something I’d definitely need to check with Larry himself about before I believed it

…but again, I’d want to hear that description from his own lips.

Again, it’s not that the lead-off pair of statements made by Riesman are necessarily untruths… I wasn’t in the room to hear precisely what Larry told him, and neither were you… but I’d want to hear it from Larry before I didn’t believe that he was, at the very least, misquoted.

Despite his rhetoric, Thomas will never check with Lieber because that kind of poking the actual first-hand accounts is not his style. He’s not a journalist or even an historian. Abraham Riesman not only checked with Lieber, but recorded his lengthy reminiscences. If Thomas were to approach Lieber, the implicit threat of his Marvel affiliation would precede him, and Lieber would alter his story accordingly.

Who was Stan Lee?

“‘When my mother died, our life changed dramatically.’ The change was not born of grief but rather of logistics.”

More of the same as on p. 14, really… this time, a quotation from Stan, followed by a judgment by Riesman. But perhaps, rather than criticize the author, we should all simply marvel at his ability to look inside the mind and heart of Stan Lee and know precisely what he meant by that quote, when the man was known for playing his emotional cards very close to his vest.

Jack Kirby always had the clearest view of his former teenage assistant. In this case he pegged it: Lee was a man with no empathy.

KIRBY: And my wife was present when I created these damn characters. The only reason I would have any bad feelings against Stan is because my own wife had to suffer through that with me. It takes a guy like Stan, without feeling, to realize a thing like that. If he hurts a guy, he also hurts his family. His wife is going ask questions. His children are going to ask questions.10

Freedland

It’s curious that Thomas, who hasn’t hesitated to spin Lee as the injured party in the Herald Tribune debacle, neglects to mention one of the exclusive revelations of True Believer: Riesman interviewed Nat Freedland. Freedland admitted to Riesman that he’d been sucking up to Lee in hopes of getting work with Marvel. This is notable because Thomas has tried to whitewash the incident in the past.

THOMAS: And, unfortunately, Stan kind of took the rap for [the tone of the article] from Jack and Roz, who somehow felt that Stan was trying to grab credit away from him, and though Stan could do that, he wasn’t doing that in this instance.11

Thomas is wrong: Lee was very much trying to grab credit. The purpose of staging the “plotting session” was to present Lee as the originator of the ideas. Thomas knew the story conference was atypical by the very fact that he was invited to attend.

Physical evidence

Stan Taylor: The problem here is not that we don’t have eyewitness testimony, it’s that we have conflicting eyewitness testimony. The people involved disagree. If we can’t rely on first-person testimony, what can we do? Criminal detectives have other words for this: evidence, and modus operandi. 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. Human behavior is repetitive, we all have our m.o, — our method of operation. It is this human trait that detectives use to narrow down the lists of suspects in any mystery.12

What comprises the physical evidence? The published comics are the main source, but there’s more. Kirby’s original art from the monster and early superhero period (visible online and in IDW Artist’s Editions) contains his pencilled lettering in the balloons and captions of stories where the writing has been retroactively credited to others. Kirby said in interviews that his documents of creation were a “blitz” of concept sketches that he used to present his characters on spec. Most of these have been absorbed into the published work, as cover figures like Iron Man, or Marvel Masterworks posters like the FF. At least one Spider-Man page and a pair of Nick Fury pages, however, survived long enough to be discussed. Taylor used the physical evidence, mainly the published work attributed to Lee, Kirby, and Ditko, to make a convincing case for Kirby bringing the Spider-Man character and plots to Stan Lee before the first story conference.

Physical evidence of a JLA prototype.

On the other side of the ledger, there are no surviving scripts (although Thomas devotes two pages of the article to a “Marvel Method script” from the ’70s that involved neither Lee nor Kirby). There are two “synopses” that may have been Lee’s attempt to change the direction of what Kirby had already written and drawn. The only physical evidence for writing, including the absence of Lee’s signatures, favours Kirby.

Kirby writing full script with panel breakdowns, writing pay taken by Lee.

Roy Thomas’ attitude toward the physical evidence is troubling. While in the Marvel offices, Jim Shooter encountered a Kirby Spider-Man presentation page, and Jim Steranko was assigned Kirby’s Nick Fury presentation pages to ink. Thomas was closer to that evidence than nearly everyone else for fifteen years. After expressing doubt regarding the timing of the FF #1 “synopsis” in a 1997 interview, he was persuaded the following year to embrace and extend the Lee creation myth.

Some examples of recent Thomas pronouncements that don’t stand up to the physical evidence are detailed here.

Audience

Caption: Frankly, Ye Editor finds it ludicrous that anyone would believe that Stan would’ve bothered to fake such a document [an FF outline] anytime… but especially back in the 1960s!

Thomas mocks the Riesman/Evanier “synopsis” takedown for the benefit of his audience. “Ye Editor” is an inside joke, a fun way for adults to secretly signal each other based on Lee’s cod Shakespeare.

Caption: When Stan and Jack Made “True Believers” Of Nearly All Of Us

It was not Kirby’s goal to make True Believers, it was his goal to tell an entertaining story and sell comics. Lee’s rebirth in the ’60s on the backs of his collaborators came with the realization that if he befriended his readers, he could make them enemies of anyone who called out his managerial abuses.

…in any subsequent edition, Crown Books should change the book’s subtitle. Because he isn’t likely to have convinced anyone who has access to (or interest in) any facts or intelligent observations that lie outside its pages.

“Come to Alter Ego to get all the facts and intelligent observations.” The magazine may run a Jack Kirby tribute issue, but it will never show him respect because he disrespected the flag of Stan Lee. The special brand loyalty to which it caters values the characters above the creators, and their friend in management (Lee) over labour (the freelancers).

But, no matter how well the Random House publicity machine manages to hype this book, as long as it stands as currently published, with Stan all but written off as an inveterate liar whose most important creation was his public persona (when it was actually the concept and direction of the Marvel Universe, an idea that was anathema to Jack Kirby, as per in-book quotes), it will remain undeserving of the high praise heaped upon it by people who, for the most part, don’t really know what the hell they’re talking about.

“People who don’t read Alter Ego don’t really know what the hell they’re talking about.” Thomas sidesteps having to prove Lee is not an inveterate liar with the implication that the “received history” answers all.

Propaganda

Michael J Vassallo: reading Stan Lee: How Marvel Changed the World, by Adrian Mackinder. Another book on Stan, mining the same rubbish. The prologue to the book is not inaccurate as it goes into great length explaining how Stan was positioning himself as a pseudo-military leader of the legion of Marvel fans. Phrases like “face front’” and “True Believer,” makes it obvious the author knows Stan was organizing a cult following. As the author said, “They didn’t just read. They believed.”13

Having served in the US Army Signal Corps during WWII, Lee was aware of the power of propaganda. If it could ever be said that he’d read a book (like Trump and his bedside copy of Mein Kampf), it would be The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.

Mark Seifert commented on a blog post about Jean Shepherd’s trademark use of the word “Excelsior.”

Mark Seifert: I’ve been researching the usage of “Excelsior” word by Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee. There too, there have been widespread claims that it doesn’t really mean much. And some that claim that Stan got it from Shepherd (he didn’t, we’ll get to that in a minute). But it does have specific meaning, as you say. Fwiw, I can give you a little additional context, I believe.

First off: Like Shepherd, Stan Lee was in the Signal Corps during WW2. After the war and their service, I believe they were both engaged in a little Cold War era propaganda as well. I’m not necessarily implying that’s a bad thing (that’s above my pay grade!), but their usage of it was very certainly purposeful and with specific intent.

Keep going. Achieve. Don’t let anything stop you.

In Stan’s case, as you might know, he also uses the terms “True Believer” and “Face Front” frequently. Both of these had gained relatively common usage as terms of propaganda in that era.

“True Believer” a very popular book about the psychology of mass movements by Eric Hoffer in the 1950s, also had a cover on the paperback version which shows a man climbing upward with the classic “Excelsior” banner.

“Face Front” was thrust into usage in that era by syndicated newspaper columnist George Matthew Adams, which a little research shows ran a syndicate that frequently engaged in propaganda. Its meaning is pretty close to the meaning of Excelsior. Basically: stand up, together, and face the enemy.

These are all terms of the trade of mass influence, and in the case of Excelsior, being used regularly by trained Signal Corps veterans who both had access to a mass audience.

In my opinion, there are conclusions to be drawn from that.14

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, 1951

Some excerpts.
Page numbers are taken from the Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition, 2019.

p 50 A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or by remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves–and it does this by enfolding and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole.

p 130 Propaganda by itself succeeds mainly with the frustrated. Their throbbing fears, hopes and passions crowd at the portals of their senses and get between them and the outside world. They cannot see but what they have already imagined, and it is the music of their own souls they hear in the impassioned words of the propagandist. Indeed, it it easier for the frustrated to detect their own imaginings and hear the echo of their own musings in impassioned double-talk and sonorous refrains that in precise words joined together with faultless logic.

p 131 [Dr Goebbels] sounds apologetic when he claims that “it cannot be denied that more can be done with good propaganda than by no propaganda at all.”

p 155 …the true believer who is wholly assimilated into a compact collective body has found a new identity and a new life. He is one of the chosen, bolstered and protected by invincible powers, and destined to inherit the earth… The true believer is eternally incomplete, eternally insecure.

p 173 The genuine man of words himself can get along without faith in absolutes. He values the search for truth as much as truth itself. He delights in the clash of thought and in the give-and-take of controversy. If he formulates a philosophy and a doctrine, they are more an exhibition of brilliance and an exercise in dialectics than a program of action and the tenets of a faith. His vanity, it is true, often prompts him to defend his speculations with savagery and even venom; but his appeal is usually to reason and not to faith. The fanatics and the faith-hungry masses, however, are likely to invest such speculations with the certitude of holy writ, and make them the fountainhead of a new faith.

p 175 However, the freedom the masses crave is not freedom of self-expression and self-realization, but freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from “the fearful burden of free choice,” freedom from the arduous responsibility of realizing their ineffectual selves and shouldering the blame for the blemished product. They do not want freedom of conscience, but faith–blind, authoritarian faith.

Lee’s True Believers aside, this 70-year-old book has echoes in current events that are alarming.

Lee took to heart a strategy attributed to Goebbels15 in his dealings with Kirby, joking with the True Believers about Kirby’s greed or incompetence, and in a serious moment, accusing him of evil for disputing the creation mythology. Thomas carries on the tradition: his favourite accusation is that Kirby was greedy because of his belief that he wasn’t fairly compensated for his share of the work.

Thomas includes an exercise in the “rebuttal” in which he proves that in today’s dollars, Kirby’s pay was nothing to sneeze at. He fails to mention Lee’s ill-gotten freelance writing pay on over 10,000 pages Kirby produced, or Kirby’s back-breaking 7-day schedule while Lee and Thomas put in a verifiable two to three days in the office. Something else that goes unmentioned is the motivation for Lee’s extortion racket, laid plain in Riesman’s book: the terrible price Lee was paying to keep his wife and daughter in the style to which they were accustomed.

Thomas noted in his 1981 TCJ interview that Marvel was a vindictive company, and that Lee himself could be vindictive on occasion.16 But although his examples of the targets of Lee’s vindictiveness were from the ’70s (Wein and Conway, both writer/editors), he didn’t mention writer/artist Dick Ayers, who sued for reprint fees and lost. Lee stripped Ayers of his assignments and spread the word that he’d had a mental breakdown.

Propaganda in the “rebuttal”

Caption: Fantastic Four #10… Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were shown in their office… trying to come up with a new storyline. In these panels, none other than Dr. Doom waltzes in and takes over… it seems unlikely that Stan would’ve approved such a scene a couple of years later… because it would’ve undermined the reality he was increasingly seeking in the Marvel line.

“The reality [Lee] was increasingly seeking in the Marvel line,” yes, reality in the line of superhero comics is one of those things that needs to be chanted repeatedly, without thinking about what’s being  said.

One of the things people have to realize about Stan Lee is that, like many another busy, forward-looking professional—and Stan was, as my keen-eyed wife Dann put it after a bit of observation, “one of the most future-oriented people” she ever met…

Jack Kirby was a prophet: many accounts (including that of Thomas) talk about his in-person predictions of the future coming true. There are many examples of it in his comic stories. Lee was a follower: Kirby’s account of Marvel’s creation was that Lee was immobilized by his disintegrating career prospects (cancellation of his newspaper strip, shutdown of the comics operation by Goodman), and Kirby stepped in.

“The general public is typically aware of only one narrative of the Marvel revolution: ‘Stan came up with all the characters, plots, and dialogue; Jack just came up with the visuals.’” Actually, if the “general public” knows only the version of events that Riesman paraphrases above, that’s hardly Stan’s fault. First, it’s because the “general public” never read the many, many places in the pages of Marvel’s 1960s comics wherein Stan praised Jack Kirby’s contributions to the skies, often giving him credit for what amounts to co-plotting stories, and on occasion even saying that Jack was likely to come up with a particular story all on his own.

“Not Stan’s fault” is a common theme in Thomas’ retelling, and it’s related to the falsehood that “he never knew why they quit.” It’s “not Stan’s fault” that everyone believes he’s the creator, plotter, writer, and “artist;” if only he hadn’t constantly portrayed himself that way, and had corrected interviewers whenever they got it wrong. It’s “not Stan’s fault” that Kirby and Ditko didn’t make clear their desire to get paid for their work before “stabbing him in the back” and quitting.

At odds with the “not Stan’s fault” line of reasoning are his 1987 interview comment, “the characters’ concepts were mine,”17 and his 2010 deposition,18 wherein he claimed that every creation was his. Lee’s run-of-the-mill propaganda was directed at his readers, but these comments were for general consumption. Thomas, under oath for his own deposition, said Lee misspoke if he ever said “artists” were expected to plot.

Q. Are you aware that Stan Lee, in interviews, has stated that in 1960s, under the Marvel Method, that artists were expected to plot stories?
MS. KLEINICK: Objection; states facts not in evidence.
A. I haven’t any knowledge of that. It would have, you know, surprised me; but if he did, he probably misspoke.19

This leads seamlessly into one of the biggest lies of the “received history”: Lee always praised his collaborators.

[Thomas quotes Lee via Barry Pearl]: “Comicbooks are a collaborative medium. Had I not worked with artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, John Buscema, Gil Kane, all the rest of them, Gene Colan, Syd Shores—yes, Syd Shores, too—Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott, all those guys… my stories would not have looked as good…. Those guys were writers themselves. But they would write with pictures…. It was a total collaboration affair and sometimes I feel a little guilty, you know: ‘Stan did this, Stan did that.’ I did it, but I did it with them. And they really deserve as much [credit] as I ever get.” You won’t find that quote, in full or in part, in Riesman, either.

Lee often said Kirby was very creative.20 If the actual words are parsed, it can be seen that he never credited him with creating a copyrightable property. Kirby was called a great plotter, but the physical evidence shows that he never received a plot credit. Ditko demanded a plot credit and was stripped of his Hulk assignment (it was given to Kirby so Lee would continue to receive the full writing page rate). Lee didn’t speak to Ditko for over a year, until he finally quit.

It’s important to note that each time Thomas or Lee used the word “artist” to describe Kirby or another one of the writers, it was designed to diminish their contribution and plant the idea that someone else was doing the writing. A better term would be writer/artist, and, in one instance, creator/writer/artist.

Produced by…

…as Riesman’s quotes testify, Stan often—not invariably, but often—gave Jack credit for doing much, even most of the actual plotting. By mid-1966, Stan, eager to accommodate Jack, stopped listing himself as “writer” in the credits and readily agreed to the mutual credit Jack suggested: “Produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” If Jack wanted still more credit than that, it doesn’t seem he ever made his wishes clearly known to Stan.

The “Produced by” story is one Roy Thomas is fond of telling. Roz Kirby seemed to speak derisively of the wording when she told John Morrow that they asked for credit all the time.21

This time,  Thomas tells the story as fact, but as recently as two years ago, his use of the word “reportedly” reveals that he got it second-hand.

Should Stan perhaps have made some additional accommodation with Jack? The point can be argued—in retrospect, I wish he had—but remember, Stan had reason to believe the matter had been settled to Jack’s satisfaction when the two of them agreed that future stories would be credited as “a Stan Lee & Jack Kirby production,” the phrasing Jack reportedly chose himself.22

Kirby asking for a “Produced by” credit is a Stan Lee story. Mark Evanier contributes to the mythology by relating Lee’s revelation to him that in another magnanimous gesture (the Lee/Thomas version of history is full of them), he offered Kirby and Ditko a plot credit at the same time.23 (It’s not clear from this fairy tale that Ditko was forced to demand it.) In Lee’s telling, Kirby’s response was no, just put “Produced by.”


What puts the lie to this one is, again, the physical evidence: it took Lee from April 8, 1965 (Amazing Spider-Man #26, Ditko’s first plot credit) until August 9, 1966 (FF #56, the first “Produced by” credit) for Lee to give Kirby the credit Lee claims Kirby asked for in lieu of a writing credit, a period of 16 months. What Thomas, Evanier, and Lee fail to mention is that Ditko received plotting pay with his credit, taken out of Lee’s writing page rate. A “Produced by” credit didn’t cost Lee a dime, and still didn’t earn Kirby any pay for his writing.

Backstab

…Stan not only refers to Jack as “one of the greatest artists in the whole world,” but, in the very next sentence, acknowledges that Jack “started most of the characters with me.” Yeah, he’s saying that about the guy who he felt had stabbed him in the back in 1970 when he started working for DC Comics before even bothering to tell him he was quitting, and who had then viciously lampooned him as “Funky Flashman”!

A member of the general public might infer from the circumstances that the matter of stolen writing pay could never have been settled to Kirby’s satisfaction. It’s common knowledge in the outside world that Kirby turned off the tap on new creations after Lee butchered his Cocoon Man story, and began stockpiling concept sketches for his next opportunity. Kirby finally quit after tolerating the Marvel Method for nine years. It’s not a mystery, even though Lee pretended for decades that he didn’t know why. Now Thomas has taken up the mantle.

Vicious? Funky Flashman was undoubtedly the most accurate portrait of Lee we’re ever likely to see, by someone who had worked closely with him but was not beholden to him. Marvel has since outlawed this kind of thing from former employees. Stabbed in the back? Let’s keep in mind that Kirby’s writing pay was extorted for the better part of a decade by the man who, upon Kirby’s departure, immediately began claiming sole creatorship.

Stan Taylor’s approach was to look for patterns. The obvious pattern here is that repetitive Roy Thomas anecdotes concerning Kirby and Lee were designed to conceal something. When a point is belabored in the official version, a little scrutiny should turn up the truth behind it in the form of an accurate Kirby claim.

Conclusion

Abraham Riesman is a journalist. His book is based on new interviews with Lieber, Thomas, Romita, Freedland, O’Neil, and many others. The quotes are accurate because the interviews were recorded. Riesman paid for his own fact checker, publisher Random House paid a separate fact checker, and historian (the real kind, not the Marvel kind) Dr Michael J Vassallo fact checked it. There is no other book about Stan Lee that has been as thoroughly checked against known facts.

Coming back to the “received history,” who is receiving it? The received history is received by the True Believers. Riesman has written a biography for the rest of us, the “general public” who have no use for the company mythology.

I’d like to add a corollary to Stan Taylor’s approach to the first-hand testimony: if the account of one of the people involved is consistently borne out by the evidence, and the other is consistently proven false, it’s appropriate to conclude that the former is a significant contribution to our understanding of the history. That of the latter should be called out at every opportunity.

Footnotes

back 1 The Hulu documentary Batman & Bill, 2017.

back 2 Letters pages, Alter Ego 161, November 2019.

back 3 “A Conversation with Artist-Writer Larry Lieber,” interviewed by Roy Thomas, Alter Ego V3No2, Fall 1999.

back 4 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 5 “A Conversation with Artist-Writer Larry Lieber,” interviewed by Roy Thomas, Alter Ego V3No2, Fall 1999.

back 6 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 7 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 8 Mark Evanier deposition, 9 November 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 8.

back 9 Larry Lieber deposition, 7 January 2011, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 4.

back 10 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989,  The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 11 “The Terrific Roy Thomas,” panel conducted by Matt Herring, The Jack Kirby Collector #74, Spring 2018.

back 12 Stan Taylor, “Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003, available at the Kirby Museum website.

back 13 Michael J Vassallo, Marvel Method group, 10 September 2021.

back 14 Mark Seifert, 10 August 2019 comment on the “Jean Shepherd–Excelsior!!!!!” post at Gene Bergmann’s Jean Shepherd Quest blog.

back 15 Accuse the other side of that of which you are guilty, a misquote, according to Wikiquote.org. It’s possibly based on this actual quote: “The cleverest trick used in propaganda against Germany during the war was to accuse Germany of what our enemies themselves were doing.”

back 16 “The thing that was truest in that article [‘Roy Thomas Leaves Marvel,’ Journal #56] was the analysis that Marvel has had a tendency in recent years to be very vindictive toward people who leave it to work for the competition. They go far beyond any kind of professional reaction. Stan generally has reasonably good and humane instincts, but once in a while he’ll just decide that if somebody does something, he’s never going to work for Marvel again. He did this with Len, and with Gerry, though to date he’s never said it about me.”—Roy Thomas, interviewed by Rob Gustaveson, The Comics Journal #61, Winter 1981.

back 17 Janet Bode, A Comic Book Artist KO’d: Jack Kirby’s Six-Year
Slugfest with Marvel, The Village Voice, 8 December 1987.

back 18 Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit 1.

back 19 Roy Thomas deposition, 27 October 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit K.

back 20 “Jack was about the best. He was really the most creative artist of all, because he was more than an artist. I call him a great conceptualizer. He could conceive of stories and follow them through. All I would have to do with Jack is give him a very brief outline on what to do, and he would just do the whole story. After a while when we were rushed, I didn’t even give him an outline, he just did whatever story he wanted and I’d come back and I’d put it in the copy.”—Michael Allen, “Stan ‘The Man’ Lee,” Overstreet’s Comic Book Quarterly Vol 1 #4, April-June 1994.

back 21 When asked if this credits change was the result of Kirby actively asking for it, Jack’s wife insisted: “Of course! He used to ask for it all the time…We always asked for a lot of things all the time, and finally they put down ‘Produced by…’ because it’s just ridiculous, you know.”—Roz Kirby interview conducted 12 December 1995 by John Morrow, The Jack Kirby Collector #10, April 1996.

back 22 Letters pages, Alter Ego 161, November 2019.

back 23 Stan told me something interesting. There was one point in the Spider-Man books when the credits changed from “Art by Steve Ditko” to “plotted and drawn by Steve Ditko…” Stan said that simultaneously he offered the same thing to Kirby— to give him a co-writing credit—and Jack, instead, asked that the credits read “Produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” or some variation of that. If you look at the credits, very rarely after that did it say “Written by Stan Lee.” Jack asked to keep it ambiguous, and Stan went along with it.—Mark Evanier, “Comic Interview,” cited by Barry Pearl in Alter Ego 170, July 2021.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.