The Marvel Method according to Jack Kirby, Part Four

Stan Lee’s credits worked as a voucher system

In December 1962, when Stan Lee’s credit boxes took effect, Lee was already receiving the writing page rate. The credits for the very first story, “Prisoner of the 5th Dimension!” in Strange Tales #103 show Lee as the plotter, remarkable on a story that so obviously bears a Kirby plot.

strangetales103It’s the beginning of a pattern: Lee is credited (and paid) for writing stories that come to him already written by Kirby. The credits worked as a voucher system in the absence of any other accounting records. Mark Evanier: 1

Marvel kept no records of this stuff. In fact, every time there’s a reprint fee due on FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #5 — inked by Giacoia but credit to Sinnott — they pay Sinnott.

Lee disclosed his writing page rate when he was deposed in 2010: 2

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.

Barry Pearl reported on a visit to the home of Dick Ayers: 3

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!”

The credit boxes had multiple facets. The public-facing side told the readers that Stan Lee gave credit to his collaborators. For many, this perception obscures the overwhelming evidence that Lee was misappropriating the pay of the “artists,” and Kirby and Ditko are cast as ingrates. The same credit boxes told the writer-artists that they were being denied credit; the writing credit was only for adding dialogue and captions. Stan Taylor: 4

I think that Stan’s singling out and praising the artists actually upset the artists, more than making them happy. Stan was quick to tell everyone how his artists not only pencilled, but plotted also, yet they knew they were only being paid for pencilling, and at a rate less than the competition, and getting nothing for plotting, while Stan was getting all the glory, and the big bucks for simply putting the finishing sheen on the artists stories. If it was me, I would get pretty mad about doing the work of one and a half people, while being paid less than the competitor paid just for pencilling, and then someone else takes the credit for my stories.

Steve Ditko: 5

Lee started out early with his self-serving, self-claiming, self-gratifying style, of giving credit and then undercutting the giving by taking away or claiming most or all of the credit.

Martin Goodman was evidently under the impression that the plotting credit was part of writing. When this credit was granted, the accompanying page rate was deducted from the writing rate. To keep this from dividing his page rate, Lee concealed his arrangement by spinning it as the Marvel Method.

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1982 [Eisner] 6

KIRBY: I’ll tell you from a professional point of view. I was writing them. I was drawing them.

EISNER: But you do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of someone else, regardless of who it is, putting balloons in on a completely penciled page. I have a prejudice on it but I want to get your opinion.

KIRBY: My opinion is this: Stan Lee wrote the credits. I never wrote the credits.

In early 1965, Ditko requested and received plotting credit on Spider-Man. Lee took the hit directly in the wallet, and stopped speaking to him: 7 “Stan Lee claimed (in Comic Book Marketplace, July 1998) that he gave me that ‘idea’ for that ‘famous’ Spider-man lifting sequence (issue #32). I responded (CBM Sept-Oct 1998) that he couldn’t have because he had chosen to stop communicating with me before issue #25 and that I alone was creating the story line and all panel ideas.”

Steve Ditko’s letter to Comic Book Marketplace: 8

In your Comic Book Marketplace #61, July 1998, page 45, Stan Lee talks about “…a very famous scene…” of the trapped Spider-man lifting heavy machinery over his head.

The drama of that sequence was first commented on and popularized by Gil Kane.

Stan says “I just mentioned the idea…I hadn’t thought of devoting that many pages to it…”

I was publicly credited as plotter only starting with issue #26. The lifting sequence is in issue #33.

The fact is we had no story or idea discussion about some Spider-man books even before issue #26 up to when I left the book.

Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories until I took in the penciled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.

Steve Ditko, New York

Steve Skeates: 9

It was during one of these frequent visits of mine to the offices that I took note of the fact (it would have been hard NOT to notice) that Stan was fuming and saying he was really gonna have it out with Ditko this time! I asked somebody what was up, and whomever I asked (Marie or Flo or maybe even Roy) explained the whole thing. As you undoubtedly know, the way the Spider-man comic was put together back in those days was that Ditko would turn in his pencils and his plot, Stan would write the dialogue and the captions and make various instructional notations in the margins of the artwork, next the story would be lettered, and then it would be given back to Ditko so he could ink it! It was the finished inks that Stan was fuming about – in the panel I previously spoke of, even though the dialogue was obviously that of Spidey, Ditko had drawn the villain, forcing Stan to either rewrite the dialogue or have the panel redrawn (probably by either Sol or Marie) and I really can’t remember which course of action he chose! I of course have no way of knowing whether Steve simply forgot he was supposed to change the figure while at the same time failing to read the dialogue and missing the notation in the margin, or if he purposely drew the villain because he (Steve) was being obstinate, but I am positive that Stan THOUGHT that the latter was the case! Needless to say, I wasn’t privy to Stan “finally having it out” with Steve! Still and all, the next thing I knew, Ditko was outta there!

Ditko’s Spider-Man creation account is often used to refute Kirby’s creation claim. Strangely, an actual reading of Ditko’s essays reveals statements like, “The ‘original idea’ for S-M was in Jack Kirby’s five pencilled pages and Lee told me that S-M is a teenager with a magic ring that turns him into an adult S-M.” 10 He also makes one thing perfectly clear (something he’s compelled to add because of what he knows of Stan Lee): “Stan never told me who came up with the idea for SM or for the SM story Kirby was pencilling.” 11

1975 [Sherman] 12

SHERMAN: About your drawing. At your fastest, during that time, do you have any idea how many books you were doing?

KIRBY: I felt, for a while, like I was doing them all. The stuff I wasn’t penciling, I was doing layouts on. I got the books going–I think that was mainly my function–so that, as Marvel acquired a top-notch staff, they could keep them going.

Beginning in 1964, Kirby was writing books for other artists in the way of breakdowns or “layouts,” roughly sketched action broken down into panels with extensive margin notes. Even these figured into Lee’s scheme. Ostensibly the process was designed to show new artists how to work Marvel Method. The small layout page rate was deducted from the penciller’s rate, and Lee was able to retain the full writer’s rate without having to plot for new pencillers. Mike Gartland wrote a detailed article for Kirby Collector: 13

As has been noted on other occasions, Stan never wanted his other artists to draw like Kirby, but to learn his abilities at dynamic storytelling, which is probably why with the border notes/directions, Jack was requested to do the pencil layouts… The artist would do 75% of the work, but only be paid the standard page rate for penciling; Lee, on the other hand, would be paid for writing, editing, and dialoguing a story already fleshed out and drawn. Jack, of course, received a better rate as a penciler, but never as much as he was promised or felt he deserved. The layout work he did just added insult to injury, as Jack was only paid 25% of his usual page rate; near the end it may have been moved up to around a third, but he still felt it was terrible pay. And as with FF and Thor during this period, it also increased the number of comics per month where Jack was contributing story ideas and plots to comics that were published with sole writer credit going to Lee.

Kirby layouts were designed from the start to give Lee more Kirby-written pages for which Lee could be paid the writer’s rate. (Incidentally, the Gartland article was accompanied by page 29 of Tales To Astonish #73, with the caption observing, “A good example of Stan dialoguing almost verbatim from Jack’s notes.”)

John Romita described Kirby being invited to lay out Daredevil for him: 14

[Lee] said, “Wanna help me out? How about penciling this Daredevil story?” Like a dummy, I said, “Okay.” [laughter] I did it, and when I came in with the first four pages, he loved the splash page, but the next three pages he said were very dull, like romance pages. He said, “I’ll tell you what; just to get you rolling…” He calls up Jack Kirby right there and says, “Listen Jack, how quick can you do 10 pages of breakdowns?”

Ultimately an increase in Kirby’s page rate enabled him to say no to Lee’s abusive practice of making him do layouts.

The Marvel Method

Stan Lee has said he created what he called the Marvel Method to keep his “artists” busy while he dialogued multiple books, and that the happy result was that it gave them more freedom. It’s advertised as an assembly line approach to comics production (something that didn’t originate with Lee). Story conference, synopsis, sometimes just the “germ of an idea” passed from the writer/editor to one of the interchangeable artists. In reality, it was having the writer/artist do the plotting without pay to the benefit of the editor’s income.

From Lee’s depositions: 15

QUINN: Okay. Why don’t you describe the Marvel method.

A. There was a time when I was writing so many stories that I couldn’t keep up with the artists. I couldn’t feed them enough work. And, you see, the artists were freelancers. Now, for example, if Jack was working on a story, and Steve was waiting for me to give him a story because he had had finished what he had been doing –

Q. Jack being Jack Kirby?

A. Jack Kirby.

Q. And Steve Ditko?

A. Right. Or it could have been any of the artists. But just using them as an example, if one of them was waiting for a story while I was still finishing writing the story for the other one, I couldn’t keep him waiting because he wasn’t making money.

No mention is made of how the “artist” would continue to not make money for the plotting that now fell to him because Lee wasn’t doing it. Marvel was pretty much the bottom of the barrel, page-rate-wise, so the people applying for work were desperate. Kirby being blacklisted by Schiff at DC forced his return to the company, and John Romita had to be let go by DC in 1965 before he would consider returning. 16 Even under those circumstances, Lee managed to attract and keep some talented writer/artists.

2002 [Goldberg/Jim Amash] 17

JA: Was Stan writing full scripts for you when you started drawing Kathy, your first humor work?

GOLDBERG: He was at the very beginning. Then things started exploding at Marvel, and Stan needed to cut some corners at his end so he could come up with new ideas. That’s when he developed the “Marvel Style” of writing stories, where the artist did most of the plotting and he did the dialogue. He didn’t trust too many other writers, and this was a good way to keep control of the stories. Some people weren’t happy about it, because Stan was putting work on the artist for no extra pay. Some artists resented it, but that was how it was done. I wasn’t happy about it at first, but I learned how to do it.[emphasis mine]

Mr Miracle_06_10cWhen Thomas interviewed Lee in 1998, they backdated the Marvel Method into the ’50s and portrayed it as something that ultimately brought happiness and fulfillment to everyone involved: 18

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.”

Roy: The amazing thing is, not only could you get Jack and Steve to do it, but that other artists who had always worked from scripts—Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and others—could also learn to do it and be quite successful with a little training from you.

Stan: I will admit that a lot of them were very nervous about it, and very unhappy about being asked to do it. But then they loved it after a while.

Mark Evanier’s unpublished interview with Wallace Wood: 19

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

ME: You did write one issue, as I recall…

WW: One, yes. I persuaded him to let me write one by myself since I was doing 99% of the writing already. I wrote it, handed it in and he said it was hopeless. He said he’d have to rewrite it all and write the next issue himself. Well, I said I couldn’t contribute to the storyline unless I got paid something for writing and Stan said he’d look into it, but after that he only had inking for me. Bob Powell was suddenly pencilling DAREDEVIL.

ME: I believe Powell pencilled an issue before the one you wrote.

WW: Oh? God, you know this stuff better than I do. Well then, I think I complained about it before. That’s right. I complained about not being paid for writing and suddenly I was inking Powell but I managed to talk him into letting me write one… I guess Stan Lee couldn’t stand having me do the whole thing. I do remember that that was his way of dealing with me asking for writing money if I was pencilling. He had me ink other guys who didn’t want to share the writing money. He said it was because the book was going monthly and he didn’t think I could pencil and ink both but I think it was just because I wasn’t going to write the book for nothing. Actually I wouldn’t have minded if their page rate for pencils hadn’t been so awful.

ME: So you wanted to write and pencil?

WW: Yes. I got to do some of that for Tower. But remember that issue of DAREDEVIL I wrote? Stan said it was hopeless and that he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. Then I saw it when it came out and he’d changed five words, less than an editor usually changes. I think that was the last straw.

John Romita had an amusing take on the Marvel Method: 20

It was very difficult for me, very hard, but it turned out to be the greatest thing for the industry and for me, because the comic – the comic medium had been a script first and visual second and this made it visual first and script second, which was probably the greatest innovation, completely done for expediency sake… when [Lee] was behind, when he couldn’t keep up with the artists and he did not want the artists to stay idle, because the deadlines were looming, he would give them a descriptive verbal or written – quickly-written synopsis of what to do. And that’s how the plot first and script second, script third came about, which was called the Marvel method, which I believe made the comic industry what it is today.

Romita has just ascribed to Stan Lee an “innovation” that Jack Kirby and many other cartoonists practiced for their entire careers, and it’s the very definition of cartooning. In his solo work and as part of the Simon & Kirby Studio, Kirby first laid down the pencils, then returned to add the words (“visual first and script second” as Romita described it). The difference at Marvel was that Kirby did everything as usual up to the point where, instead of writing in the captions and balloons himself, he wrote margin notes before turning the pages over to Lee.

Larry Lieber was credited for writing scripts for a number of early Kirby stories. In addition to giving Lee a way to send a little income in his brother’s direction, Larry’s scripts were another mechanism to suggest Kirby wasn’t doing the plotting. Lee was actually feeding Kirby’s own plots, not only to Ditko, but to Lieber so he could script the Kirby stories. There’s no reason to question the assertion that Lieber wrote scripts for Kirby, but why would Kirby even look at a script for a story he had already described to Lee in a story conference?

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Footnotes

Repetition of citations allows linking back to individual quotes.

back 1 Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby Fan Group Facebook Group, 12 August 2013.

back 2 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 I, and 8 December 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 J.

back 3 Barry Pearl, “The Yancy Street Gang visits Dick & Lindy Ayers,” Alter Ego #90, December 2009.

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

back 5 Steve Ditko, “Creative Crediting,” The Avenging Mind, April 2008.

back 6 Shop Talk, Jack Kirby interviewed by Will Eisner, Will Eisner‘s Spirit Magazine 39, July 1982.

back 7 Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History: Wind-up,” The Comics, v14n11, November 2003.

back 8 Steve Ditko, letter to the editor, Comic Book Marketplace #63, October 1998.

back 9 Steve Skeates, “drawing straws, the raw truth…,” Wood-L (Internet mailing list), 15 October 1999.

back 10 Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away,” The Avenging Mind, April 2008.

back 11 Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History 13: Speculation,” The Comics, v14n8, August 2003.

back 12 Steve Sherman, 1975, The Jack Kirby Collector #8, January 1996. (Originally presented in the 1975 Comic Art Convention program book.)

back 13 Mike Gartland, “A Failure to Communicate: Part 6, The Best Laid (Out) Plans…” The Jack Kirby Collector #29, August 2000. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 14 John Romita interviewed by Jon Cooke, Comic Book Artist #6, Fall 1999.

back 15 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 I, and 8 December 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 J.

back 16 John Romita deposition, 21 October 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 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.

back 17 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.

back 18 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 19 Mark Evanier’s unpublished interview with Wallace Wood, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997.

back 20 John Romita deposition, 21 October 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 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.

© 2015, Michael Hill

The Marvel Method according to Jack Kirby, Part Four