The Marvel Method according to Jack Kirby, Part Seven

Funky Flashman

In Mister Miracle #6, Kirby unleashed a brilliant send-up of Stan Lee called “Funky Flashman.” Lou Mougin called it “one of Kirby’s best satires.” 1 (Mougin knew Kirby was no stranger to satire — 1967’s “This is a Plot?” in Fantastic Four Special #5 was filled with Kirby visual gags, including a book on Lee’s desk entitled Shakespeare Made Simple, perfectly encapsulating Lee’s Thor dialogue.) “Funky Flashman” is a tour de force, showcasing Kirby’s literary abilities as well as his exquisite eye for caricature, and proof that no one was ever better positioned or equipped to give Lee the treatment.

villain

Stephen Bissette: 2

Kirby’s and Ditko’s work after departing Marvel was inherently reactionary, at first. Both writer/artists explicitly autopsied and rejected many of the core principles of the work they’d done at Marvel, countering the compromised heroes of the Marvel Silver Age, and even personifying and vilifying Lee himself via gross caricature (see Kirby’s Funky Flashman character in Mister Miracle). Ditko’s and Kirby’s conscious rejection, even vilification, of key characteristics of their collaborative work with Lee arguably and necessarily eschewed any emulation of Lee’s writing strengths and style.

shadowIn the opening sequence, Funky is taking “bread” out of the mouth of a bust that resembles Kirby. This could be a reference to an event like an increase in Kirby’s page rate—on one such occasion it enabled him to stop doing layouts and cut back on his penciling page count, reducing Lee’s take for Kirby’s writing to just over half what it was.

lessKirby examines Funky’s attitude toward the talent.

Roy Thomas once remarked, “Stan is always ‘on’…” 3

Like Funky, the real Stan Lee occasionally comes through with shocking results.

shockingFunky loves the sound of his own voice. Kirby mentioned Lee’s recording device in the Pitts interview. 4

voice1

Funky turns out to be a bit of a sexist. In addition to being credited with promoting comic books to teach literacy to young children, Lee gutted Kirby’s strong female characters to allow them to demonstrate traditional gender roles to an impressionable audience.

After causing the estate to go up in flames, Funky heads for Hollywood. Kirby injects another comment regarding the treatment of the talent at the family-run operation.

cyclopeanROY: 5 I said to Jack, “I don’t take the Houseroy stuff that personally, because you don’t know me. My relationship to Stan was somewhat like what you said, and partly it’s just a caricature because I was there. And the name ‘Houseroy’ is clever as hell, and I kinda like it.” I’m even a sympathetic character because I got tossed to the wolves. (laughter)

Funky had forerunners in the 1960s. Joe Simon depicted him as Sam Me in a 1966 issue of Sick Magazine 6, and Stan Bragg appeared in Angel and the Ape #2 (1968). 7

SamMe

In both cases, the character took delight in signing his name to other people’s work. Physically, Stan Bragg and his sidekick are the Funky and Houseroy characters reversed, perhaps to add a layer of deniability. Plotting and scripting are credited to Sergio Aragones and Bob Oksner, but it’s not hard to imagine editor Joe Orlando’s input based on his own experience with Lee.

What Makes Stanley Run?

1986 [Pitts] 8

PITTS: Why did you leave the F.F. and Marvel that first time?

KIRBY: Because I could see things changing and I could see that Stan Lee was going in directions that I couldn’t. I came in one night and there was Stan Lee talking into a recording machine, sitting in the dark there. It was strange to me and I felt that we were going in different directions… I realized I was creating something I didn’t want to create. Did you ever read What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg?

PITTS: No.

KIRBY: Read What Makes Sammy Run. Sammy, in that book, is the kind of a character you wouldn’t want to be responsible for developing. I felt that I was developing a Sammy– which I was, in Stan Lee. I felt it was my time to go.

PITTS: You’re very cryptic, Mr. Kirby.

Sammy

What Makes Sammy Run? 9

Sammy was waiting for them when they got home. With a face full of bad news. “Tough luck, kid,” he said. “I’m afraid your scenes didn’t go over like I thought they would.”

When the script was finished and Sammy was waiting for his next assignment, Julian didn’t like to sit around without writing so he started working on an original called Country Doctor because he thought it would help Sammy plead his case at the studio.

Julian wrote easily, and it was his sort of stuff, simple and human, and he had it finished in a week. For the next three days he wondered whether it was good enough to show Sammy. He had decided it wasn’t when Sammy came to him and said, “Say, I read that yarn of yours Blanche showed me. It’s pretty fair–got a couple of nice moments. I’ll see what I can do with it.”

“Well,” Julian said, “weeks went by and it looked like he’d forgotten all about my story, so I started helping him with his next screenplay because there didn’t seem to be anything better to do. And then one day Blanche happened to be reading through the trade paper and found this:

He handed me a ragged little clipping. I was beginning to feel like a district attorney. “Exhibit B,” I said.

Sammy was running through the room again as I started to read: “Sammy Glick makes it two in a row as his latest original, Country Doctor…” and handed the squib back.

“I guess you must have thought I was a little shell-shocked when you saw me after the preview last night. Well, maybe I was. Because that picture was the biggest shock in my life, Mr. Manheim. How do you think you’d feel going in to a movie cold and suddenly starting to realize you’re hearing all your own scenes?”

“The whole picture,” Julian was saying. “All those scenes I thought I was just doing for practice–actually showing on the screen–all mine–every line, mine–you know what I felt like doing, Mr. Manheim? I felt like jumping up right in the middle and screaming. I wanted to tell everybody there that the only line Glick wrote on Girl Steals Boy was the byline on the cover…”

There was no bitterness or anger in Julian’s story. It was full of mild wonder and deep resignation.

Wallace Wood paid tribute to What Makes Sammy Run?, likening Lee to Sammy Glick with his title “What makes Stanley run?” 10 Michael T. Gilbert described it like this: 11

Eventually [Kirby, Ditko and Wood] realized they were effectively co-writing the comics, but without extra credit or extra pay. Wood addressed this very topic in a bitter 1977 article for his Woodwork Gazette newsletter. He described an editor “Stanley” who “came up with two surefire 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.”

The recording machine Kirby mentioned makes an appearance in “Funky Flashman.” Did he accurately capture Lee’s words from that night when he wrote, “Naturally, as your leader, my faithful pets, I can only say… and get this gem…”? Or did he overhear something more sinister? Based on the context of the Sammy reference, Lee might have been reading Kirby plots and ideas into the device.

The “notorious” TCJ interview

Patrick Ford on the interview: 12

The interview is a conversation. In conversation there is almost always use of hyperbole, comments which are exaggerated for humor (even if it’s an insulting humor), and comments which might be understood by the participants but might not be understood by the reader. Far from being angry Kirby was about as even tempered and sweet as any person in the history of the form. In no way does he have a reputation for being bitter or angry. There are numerous video clips of the man anyone can look at and he comes across as soft spoken, controlled, whimsical, anything but angry.

Gary Groth on the interview: 13

Jack’s comments about Stan revealed a lot about Jack’s recollection. I don’t know if his recollections were literally accurate; I guess nobody knows but Jack and Stan, but it certainly reflects how Jack perceived that, and I thought that was important. There’s a section where Jack said Stan didn’t write anything. I don’t think that’s literally true; I think from Jack’s point of view that’s true, because Jack felt he wrote the comic by pacing it, and drawing it, and writing the descriptions in the margins; he considered that writing. And you have to accept that as Jack’s perception, and you have to read between the lines. I think that also reflected a lot of bitterness on Jack’s part, and that revealed the extent of his resentment. He felt betrayed. I also think there was Stan’s public attitude that Jack took offense at, in the sense that Stan took too much credit. There was a feeling that Jack felt betrayed because Stan didn’t stand up for him; that Jack gave all the creative energy he could to Marvel, and he got f*cked as a result.

Neal Kirby on the interview: 14

Though my opinion may be viewed by some as non-objective, I can say that my father spoke the truth in this interview.

When Charles Hatfield declared as his proof, “Lee explicitly denied all this years later,” he went further: 15

In any case [Kirby’s] account seems self-mythologizing and is hard to credit. At one point Kirby refers to Lee as being “just still out of his adolescence,” which is inaccurate, and characterizes him as helpless and childlike, which is unlikely.

Hatfield’s reading of Kirby’s comment is pedantic. Kirby had known Lee since Stan was an adolescent, and was making a comment about his character rather than a statement of fact. A better choice of words would have been, “It’s like he never grew up.” The Kurtzmans had some observations to that effect. Paul Wardle: 16

Harvey Kurtzman claimed that Lee would return his original art to him (strips such as Hey! Look! that Timely published in the 1940s) only after drawing a big “X” through them with a black grease pencil. He also said Lee would sit on top of a filing cabinet and force the employees to bow to him on their way to work. Stan was reportedly an “enfant terrible” in those days, having been promoted when still a teenager by publisher Martin Goodman after the departure of Simon and Kirby.

Adele Kurtzman: 17

He would blow a whistle and everyone would have to start drawing. Frank Giacoia was busy reading The Daily News when this happened, so Stan sent him home. I guess artists were notorious goof-offs.

Hatfield’s charge of self-mythologizing shows Lee’s “history” is so pervasive it’s mistaken for the truth. After he’s spent decades repeating his version of events, Lee’s account is widely taken as fact. (It’s been disputed by Kirby, Ditko, Wood and other creators, but that only served to get them labeled: Liar, Unreliable, Eccentric, Drunk, Bitter, Demented, Senile. The moment one of them is quoted disagreeing with Lee’s claims, the label is the automatic response.) Hatfield has got the players reversed… it would have been closer to the mark if he’d called Lee the self-mythologizer, and stated Kirby used the interview to explicitly deny all of Lee’s claims. Lee’s denial should be taken as an outright endorsement of everything Kirby said.

In a fresh introduction to the interview when it was reprinted in the first volume of The TCJ Library, Groth added the caution, “Some of Kirby’s more extreme statements (e.g., ‘I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything’) should be read with a grain of salt…” 18 The line has been used to discredit any or all of Kirby’s “claims” in the interview. On the occasion of its posting on the TCJ website, for instance, a commenter recalled Groth as saying “some of Jack’s claims… weren’t exactly true.” Dan Nadel replied, 19 “That’s not accurate. Gary Groth published a note saying that some of the claims were possibly exaggerated (Groth never said they were not true), a thought I echoed upon publishing this on Monday.”

Groth later added, “when I said that Kirby’s claims were excessive, I did not mean to say that Kirby’s claim to have ‘written’ his Marvel work was not without merit, only that, as I recall, such claims as his that Lee never wrote a thing in his life were, well, obviously excessive.” 20 Even during the interview Groth made it clear his disclaimer would be unlikely to support the broader interpretation.

1989 [Groth] 21
GROTH: At the risk of sounding partisan, let me ask you this: every time I read something by Stan or see Stan speak publicly, I’m struck by how obvious a bullshit artist he is. Was he always that way?
ROZ KIRBY: Yeah.

The only comments on Kirby’s part that call for scrutiny are the ones to which Groth refers, above. “I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything… 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.” 22

If the words “for all I know” are taken as implied, everything Kirby said becomes true. Prior to his 1970 departure, Kirby would have been aware that “some guy in the office,” namely Roy Thomas, was doing precisely that on books which Lee had grown tired of dialoguing, or had lost the plotting credit but was still being credited for editing. Thomas states 23 that Lee’s editing on his books was of the hands-off, sight unseen variety.

Fantastic Four #6 is an interesting study: in a Kirby Collector article, 24 Mike Breen shows that Kirby dialogued it himself, and suggests Lee was an absentee editor that month. Dick Ayers, the inker on the issue, once described  his reaction to learning his “Kirby/Ayers” signature was being whited out in production. 25 In this case it was replaced with Lee’s “Stan Lee + J. Kirby” at the beginning of all five chapters, despite the lack of evidence that Lee even laid eyes on the book. There is, however, no question who received the writer’s pay and the editor’s salary for FF #6.

Mr Miracle_06_17cThere is photographic evidence that Lee spent time with some of the pages; some even bear notes and comments in his handwriting. To state, however, with no eyewitness corroboration, that he wrote the copy himself, would be to fall into the same trap that was decried at the beginning of part one of this article. Let’s hedge our bets against some Marvel office worker coming forward in the future to lay claim to the task. To use Lee’s qualifying words to Jonathan Ross regarding Ditko’s creatorship, 26 “I consider” Stan Lee to be the one who added the dialogue and captions.

Filling in the balloons, connecting the dots

Like Piscine Molitor Patel in Life of Pi, Stan Lee is the myth-making, untrustworthy narrator in The Marvel Story. In opposition to Lee’s version of events, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko have provided interviews and writings that form a historical record of immeasurable value based on their first-hand accounts. These are consistent internally and with each other’s, and with those of other of Marvel’s designated pariahs from the 1960s.

Everyone from fans to scholars claims Lee’s genius was the ability to surround himself with artistic talent. In reality, it was the ability to recruit writer-artists who were desperate enough to put up with, not just Marvel’s poor page rates, but also having their pay appropriated for the writing they did. Lee had a tremendous effect on the product Marvel ultimately published, not all of it positive, but his creative work began on Kirby’s books when Kirby first relinquished the pages to him. Lee then made his mark by adding his unique dialogue and by demanding redraws to reconfigure stories in a way that made sense to him.

Stan Lee encourages the belief that the proliferation of margin notes on Kirby’s pages marked the point where Kirby came into his own, plotting-wise, but Stan Taylor proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Kirby plotted the earliest issues of the superhero revival. Other evidence confirms Kirby’s contention that he always did his own plotting.

In his deposition creation accounts, Lee’s stated motivation in every case was the desire to create something different. Astonishingly, none of the creations actually were different. Jack Kirby never said he was trying to do something different, he often simply did a thing that was the same as something he’d already done. The idea that Lee’s “different” creations somehow coincidentally always turned out the same as older Kirby concepts is somewhat improbable.

Kirby portrayed the story conference as the place where he would tell Lee what was happening in the story. Looking at what came out of it, he was being modest. The story conference was where Jack Kirby spun plots for all the stories, even those he wouldn’t draw. Not only did he plot the stories, he created the characters, and he brought superheroes back to Marvel to enable Goodman’s comics division to return from the brink of oblivion. His closed-door meetings with Lee were where he pulled back the curtain on his work to reveal the Marvel Universe to an audience of one.

When Stan Lee wrote the captions and the dialogue based on Kirby’s margin notes, sometimes he used Kirby’s words. At the very least, the Kirby Version should be given the same consideration as the Lee Version, and when we tell the Jack Kirby story, we can’t go wrong using Kirby’s words.

JackKirby1942

Footnotes

Repetition of citations allows linking back to individual quotes.

back 1 Lou Mougin, “New Gods for Old: A Hero History of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Part II,” Amazing Heroes #21, March 1983.

back 2 Stephen Bissette, “Marvel/Disney v Kirby: Part 2,” SRBissette.com, March 2nd, 2012.

back 3 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 4 Leonard Pitts, Jr., conducted in 1986 or 1987 for a book titled “Conversations With The Comic Book Creators”. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

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

back 6 “The New Age of Comics,” written by Joe Simon, art by Angelo Torres, Sick Magazine, November 1966.

back 7 “Most Fantastic Robbery in History,” plotted by Sergio Aragones, co-written and penciled by Bob Oksner and inked by Wally Wood, Angel and the Ape #2, November 1968.

back 8 Leonard Pitts, Jr., conducted in 1986 or 1987 for a book titled “Conversations With The Comic Book Creators”. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 9 Budd Schulberg, What Makes Sammy Run? Vintage Books, © 1941, 1968, 1990.

back 10 Wallace Wood, “What makes Stanley run?” Woodwork Gazette v1n5, 1980.

back 11 Michael T. Gilbert, “Total Control: A Brief Biography of Wally Wood,” Alter Ego 3 #8, Spring 2001.

back 12 Comments section, “TCJ Archive: Jack Kirby Interview,” The Comics Journal website, 26 May 2011.

back 13 Gary Groth interviewed by Jon B. Cooke, conducted February 1998. The Jack Kirby Collector #19, April 1998.

back 14 Comments section, “TCJ Archive: Jack Kirby Interview,” The Comics Journal website, 2 June 2011.

back 15 Charles Hatfield, Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby. University Press of Mississippi, 2012.

back 16 Paul Wardle, “The Two Faces of Stan Lee,” The Comics Journal #181, October 1995.

back 17 Adele Kurtzman to Blake Bell, I Have to Live with This Guy!, TwoMorrows, 2002.

back 18 Milo George, Editor. The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby. Fantagraphics Books. Seattle. May, 2002.

back 19 Comments section, “TCJ Archive: Jack Kirby Interview,” The Comics Journal website, 25 May 2011.

back 20 Gary Groth, personal email, 1 January 2015.

back 21 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 22 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 23 GUSTAVESON: Is Stan Lee a “fan”? THOMAS: Lord, I don’t think so! I mean, he probably was when he got into the field as a teenager, but I don’t really think that Stan has enjoyed being in comics… One of the reasons Stan liked my writing, for instance, was that after a few issues he felt he could trust me enough that he virtually never again read anything I wrote—well, at least not more than a page or two in a row, just to keep me honest. Roy Thomas, interviewed by Rob Gustaveson, The Comics Journal #61, Winter 1981.

back 43 Mark Evanier, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 27 November 1998.

back 24 Mike Breen, “That is strong talk… whoever you are,” The Jack Kirby Collector #61, Summer 2013.

back 25 “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.

back 26 Jonathan Ross, “In Search of Steve Ditko” (television documentary), BBC Four, 16 September 2007.

© 2015, Michael Hill

The Marvel Method according to Jack Kirby, Part Seven