The Marvel Method according to Jack Kirby, Part Six

Lee the Creator

Tom Crippen: 1

People compare Lee-Kirby and Lennon-McCartney. I think that misses the point. It was more like Jimi Hendrix was in a band with whoever did the words for “Incense and Peppermints.” Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (the label’s Syd Barrett, I guess) had talent. Lee had knacks: for putting words on pictures, for peanut gallery banter, for gimmicky ear prodding, verbal drumrolls, the hey-gang tone, mock grandiosity… Now he makes a handsome living as an icon while pretending to be a creator. Being Stan Lee means saying the artists do the pictures first and then you put on the balloons, and your wife said to you why not do a story you want to do, and Kirby was the best, a splendid imagination, and comics do a lot for getting young people to read.

From Neal Kirby’s deposition: 2

FLEISCHER Do you have any basis to contradict Mr. Lee’s testimony that the concept for the Iron Man character was his?

A Do I have any basis for that? I have the basis that I know my father’s creativity versus Mr. Lee’s creativity and Mr. Lee was an excellent marketer, he was an excellent manager, excellent self-promoter. I honestly don’t believe he had any creative ability.

Q Do you feel that Mr. Lee’s testimony in some way diminished the contribution that your father made to the various characters that he worked on at Marvel?

A Diminished I think is – I think diminished is the least of it. I think Stan Lee is kind of rewriting history…

Steve Ditko: 3

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

Stan Taylor: 4

Stan Lee says “all the concepts were mine” (Village Voice, Vol.32 #49, Dec. 1987). It is his contention that he singly produced a script [for Spider-Man], offered it to Jack Kirby, and when he didn’t like the look of Kirby’s rendition, he then offered it to Steve Ditko. Can he be believed? Not really. Stan would go so far (or stoop so low!) as to claim that a minor character named The Living Eraser from Tales to Astonish #49 was his creation. This character, had the dubious distinction of being able to wave people out of existence with a swipe of his hand. “I got a big kick out of it when I dreamed up that idea,” Lee is quoted as saying (Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, pg. 97). He then further embellishes this tale by stating how hard it was to come up with an explanation for this power. The fact is, this ignoble power and explanation, first appear in a Jack Kirby story from Black Cat Mystic #59 (Harvey Publications, Sept. 1957). If Lee will take credit for an obvious minor Kirby creation such as The Living Eraser, which nobody cares about, then he certainly would take credit for another’s creation that has become the company’s cash cow.

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Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon (between 1952 and 1955 Keyes was a prolific contributor to Stan Lee’s fantasy/horror line): 5

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.

Richard Kyle: 6

By the way, in discussing just what Jack did and what Stan did, no one seems to refer to that SHIELD story in Strange Tales #148, mentioned by the San Diego panel in another connection. In an editorial, Lee mentions specifically that Jack was going to write the story while Stan took a vacation. I recall turning to the story, wondering if it would be different from the regular SHIELD yarns, and being a little surprised that it read the same as the others—which I had believed Lee wrote. Consequently, I wasn’t surprised when Lee’s attempts to write the FF after Jack left were not only poor but completely unlike any of the Fantastic Four stories done under Jack. By that time, I realized that Lee was simply a dialogue writer, not a story writer—much like the “title-writers” in silent movies, many of whom were extremely talented (and often touched with genius) and highly paid, but whose work was after the fact of the actual creation of the story and filming.

1989 [Groth] 7

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. The only thing he ever knew was he’d say this word “Excelsior!”

Lee’s Inspiration

[see the “Interviews” post for Kirby’s Inspiration]

Thor

From Origins: 8

The only one who could top the heroes we already had would be Super-God, but I didn’t think the world was quite ready for that concept yet. So it was back to the ol’ drawing board.

I must have gone through a dozen pencils and a thousand sheets of paper in the days that followed, making notes and sketches, listing names and titles, and jotting down every type of superpower I could think of. But I kept coming back to the same ludicrous idea: the only way to top the others would be with Super-God.

As far as I can remember, Norse mythology always turned me on. There was something about those mighty, horn-helmeted Vikings and their tales of Valhalla, of Ragnarok, of the Aesir, the Fire Demons, and immortal, eternal Asgard, home of the gods. If ever there was a rich lode of material into which Marvel might dip, it was there—and we would mine it.

Historians of the future will wish to note that Larry Lieber acquiesced when asked if he’d pen a new superhero strip for the greater glory of Marveldom. Let the record also show that Jack Kirby did likewise when offered the illustrating chore.

Assorted characters

From Stan Lee’s depositions [emphasis mine]: 9

QUINN: Tell me to the best you can recall, how did the idea for the Fantastic Four come about, and who they were, and what was the back story with regard to the Fantastic Four.

A. Well, as I mentioned, Martin Goodman asked me to create a group of heroes because he found out that National Comics had a group that was selling well. So I went home, and I thought about it, and I – I wanted to make these different than the average comic book heroes.

Q. Let’s talk a little bit about the Spider-Man. How did the idea for Spider-Man come about?

A. Again, I was looking for – Martin said, “We’re doing pretty good. Let’s get some more characters.” So I was trying to think of something different.

Q. And could you tell us how The Incredible Hulk came about? What was your idea for him?

A. Well, same thing. I was trying to – it was my job to come up with new characters and to expand the line as much as I could. So I was trying to think again what can I do that’s different.

Q. Tell us about how Iron Man came about, how he was created, the back story with regard to Iron Man.

A. I will try to make it shorter. It was the same type of thing. I was looking for somebody new.

Q. And how Thor was created and what was your idea behind Thor.

A. Same thing. I was looking for something different and bigger than anything else.

Q. Daredevil. I want to hear about the lawyer.

A. Again I’m trying to think of what can I do that hasn’t been done. And it occurred to me –

Q. Keeping with our discussion, could you tell us about the creation of X-Men? How did that come about?

A. Again, Martin asked me for another team because the Fantastic Four had been doing well. And again I wanted to try something different.

Q. Who created Ant-Man?

A. What could I do that was different?

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Nick Fury

From Lee’s depositions: 10

Q. Next Nick Fury. Tell us about Nick Fury.

A. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. There was a television series called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that I used to watch and I liked it. And I thought it would be fun to get something like that as a comic book.

So I remembered we had done a war series called Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Stories of World War II. And it was quite popular. I don’t really like war stories, so after a few years of doing it I asked Martin if we could drop the book so we could concentrate on superheroes. And he said okay. But we got a lot of fan mail. The kids loved the characters. And we kept reprinting those books, and they sold as well as the originals.

So when I wanted to do the thing like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I thought why don’t I take that popular Sgt. fury that was years ago in World War II, why don’t I say he’s older now and he’s a colonel, and he’s in charge of this new outfit that I made up, S.H.I.E.L.D, which stood for the Supreme Headquarters International Law Enforcement Division. So I took Sgt. Fury, who now has a patch over one eye, and made him in charge of this group.

And again, there was Jack Kirby. I said, “How would you like to draw Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. And it was right up Jack’s alley. He loves that kind of stuff. And he came up with all kind of weapons and things.

As of May 2015, the official version of Nick Fury’s creation differs from Lee’s sworn testimony. Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, quoted on Marvel’s website: 11

“Jack Kirby first broached the idea of doing a modern day strip with Nick Fury, and he produced a two-page ‘pilot sequence’ to show to Stan Lee, titled ‘The Man Called D.E.A.T.H.,’” he says. “Stan liked the idea of a modern day Fury strip, but reworked the basic concept with Kirby to create NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. And that two-page pilot story was never used. In fact, when Jim Steranko turned up at Marvel looking for work, Stan gave it to him as an inking test, which is why those pages are inked by Steranko.

Kirby the Creator

Joe Sinnott: 12

I got to know Jack Kirby’s work and remarkable creativity quite well and witnessed his characters and stories as they evolved. There is no question in my mind that Jack Kirby was the driving creative force behind most of Marvel’s top characters today including “The Fantastic Four,” “The Mighty Thor,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “X-Men” and “The Avengers.” The prolific Kirby was literally bursting with ideas and these characters and stories have all the markings of his fertile and eclectic imagination.

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Jim Woodring: 13

He was like a wild spraying geyser of the substance we struggled pitifully to evoke in driblets. Even those among us who had never read superhero comics and saw Jack without his aura, so to speak, stood in awe of him. He was more than a master; he was the comic book impulse incarnate.

We loved to draw him out in conversation because he was completely unpredictable; his mind was nimble and unfettered by convention. I never heard him tell an anecdote that was not heavily spiced with benign absurdity. As with his drawing, there was something preciously fragile about his sledgehammer approach to storytelling. One sensed that a hard life had made Jack tough, but that the great child’s heart of which he was the custodian had been sheltered and saved at all costs, and that this heart was the force that drove him.

Jim Steranko: 14

More than anyone around him, Kirby was aware of the magnitude of his contributions, yet he never evidenced a moment of public arrogance or conceit.

From Neal Kirby’s deposition: 15

FLEISCHER Of your own firsthand knowledge do you know whether the concept for the Spider-Man character and the basic powers of a Spider-Man character were conceptualized initially by Stan Lee or someone else?

A Well, I would say my firsthand knowledge, my first guess would be my father just because of his – just his knowledge of science, his use of science fiction in stories, just in his if you want to call it pattern, for lack of a better word, of how do you get a human to have super powers, you know, without direct intervention from God. Well, the best way to do it was somehow altering DNA which was the big thing at the time with the Cold War going on and so on.

Q Did your father ever tell you that he was the sole creative force at Marvel during his tenure there?

A I don’t recall him using – again, my father would have been too humble a person to even word anything like that but I know in discussions it just, to me, he certainly seemed that way.

Q What information, if any, do you have concerning the creation of The Fantastic Four?

A In discussions with my father The Fantastic Four basically was a derivative of the, from what he told me, basically he came up with the idea just as a derivative from the Challengers of the Unknown that he had done several years earlier.

Q Apart from the specific instance that you recall with respect to Fantastic Four, can you recall the specifics of any of those instances where your father relayed to you statements made to him or others by Stan Lee that were the subject of concern to your father?

A I can remember one instance, again I do not recall if it was a print interview or, you know, on-the-air interview or what it might have been, but I do recall one instance involving the creation of Thor and I guess Stan had taken – he had created that and my father was very upset about that. He said Thor was his idea, his creation. Honestly, given my father’s interest in mythology and Norse mythology and, again, biblical history and all kind of history, that kind of thing just flowed out of his mind. I mean, to me just from my knowledge of comic history, and I’m not a comic historian by any means, but my knowledge of it and my personal history, the thought of Stan Lee, honestly, coming up with concepts of, you know, Thor, Loki and Ragnarok, The Rainbow Bridge and every other part of Norse mythology coming out of Stan Lee’s mind is relatively inconceivable.

Stan Goldberg (interview with Jim Amash): 16

Jack would sit there at lunch and tell us all these great ideas about what he was going to do next. It was like the ideas were bursting from every pore of his body. It was very fascinating because he was a fountain of ideas.

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Ken Viola: 17

When I first began the journey to make my 1987 film The Masters of Comic Book Art, I had no idea it would end up being about The Storyteller — artists who both drew and wrote. It is the supreme challenge of the artist and their ability to tell the story — to break it down visually, in terms of content, time, space, action, emotion, reflection… et al. The accomplishment of that goal is to take the personal and private experience of the artist and give it to the reader. To then be able to communicate that same spark of life to the masses is the rarest of gifts. That achievement is Jack Kirby’s life’s work.

Stan Taylor: 18

Jack Kirby was a conceptualist, an idea man, he felt that creation was the coming up of new ideas.

Michael Vassallo: 19

Only Kirby could have launched the Marvel universe because all the concepts came from him.

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Footnotes

Repetition of citations allows linking back to individual quotes.

back 1 Tom Crippen, “Stan,” The Hooded Utilitarian, 30 September 2008 (originally ran in The Comics Journal, February 2008).

back 2 Neal Kirby deposition, 30 June 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 G.

back 3 Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History 13: Speculation,” The Comics, v14n8, August 2003.

back 4 Stan Taylor, “Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 5 Daniel Keyes interviewed by Will Murray, Alter Ego #13, March 2002.

back 6 Richard Kyle, letter to the editor, The Jack Kirby Collector #13, December 1996.

back 7 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 8 Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974.

back 9 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 10 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 11 Tj Dietsch, “C2E2 2015: S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Comics News blog, Marvel.com, 26 April 2015.

back 12 Joe Sinnott declaration, 25 March 2011, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 92.

back 13 Jim Woodring, “Jack Kirby: Reminiscences, Tributes and Critical Commentary,” The Comics Journal #167, May 1994.

back 14 Jim Steranko, “The Man Who Was The King,” Hogan’s Alley #1, Fall 1994. Reprinted in The Jack Kirby Collector #8, January 1996.

back 15 Neal Kirby deposition, 30 June 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 G.

back 16 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.

back 17 Ken Viola, “Jack Kirby – The Master of Comic Book Art,” introduction to his interview of Kirby for the film, The Masters of Comic Book Art. Published in The Jack Kirby Collector #7, October 1995.

back 18 Stan Taylor, “Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 19 Michael Vassallo, by email, 22 October 2014 and 4 January 2015.

© 2015, Michael Hill

The Marvel Method according to Jack Kirby, Part Six