Stuf’ Said p 5: I’ve never been a major follower of Steve Ditko’s work, or of Spider-Man, for that matter. And Ditko’s distaste for speaking out and appearing publicly puts him at even more of a disadvantage against Lee’s verbosity. So alas, there’s little I can do to rectify that disparity, but I think the few quotes from Ditko presented here speak well of him, and of his involvement at Marvel.
Ditko’s “A Mini-History” beginning in Robin Snyder’s The Comics in 2001 is essential reading and worth the extra effort to track down. For the second edition, Morrow has added quotes from A Mini-History Part 13, “Speculation,” 2003, as well as The 32-Page TSK! TSK! Package (2000), and the 2015 essay, “Why I Quit S-M, Marvel.” Morrow also quotes from The Avenging Mind (2008), Ditko’s 32-page treatise on Lee and Goodman, another must-read.
24: Though it may’ve occurred earlier, by December Jack Kirby submits his presentation for Spiderman, the idea for which is loosely based on Jack Oleck and C.C. Beck’s earlier unused “Silver Spider” strip from Simon & Kirby’s defunct Mainline company. The concept is approved, and Kirby is assigned to draw the origin story.
Kirby said the idea that became Spider-Man was submitted with the concept “blitz” that included the FF, The Hulk, and Iron Man, thus it predates Goodman’s shutdown. Plot points in the concept pages (or conveyed to Lee in a story conference) come from The Fly, Private Strong, and Rawhide Kid (itself echoing Boys’ Ranch and Bullseye origins).
26: Looking closely at the original art, you can see vestiges of Kirby’s handwriting under the final lettering in the balloons from Strange Tales #108 (with Robert Bernstein dialoguing), and Journey into Mystery #88 and Tales to Astonish #40 (both with Larry Lieber dialogue)—which begs the question: Did Jack simply copy Bernstein’s and Lieber’s pre-written script onto the artwork (and if so, why?), or did Kirby have a hand in writing the dialogue for these stories?
The vestiges of Kirby’s handwriting are the only actual proof that exists; no Lieber scripts have survived, even though Kirby kept an older Silver Spider script. It’s easily demonstrated that the credits were manipulated to give Lee plot credit where he didn’t plot (see p 28 below).
Yes, Kirby had a hand in writing the stories.
26: On some of these Torch stories, Kirby’s handwriting can be seen in the word balloons, indicating either he was penciling in his own dialogue, or that of Larry Lieber, directly off his full script.
His own. Also on original art that’s still known to exist of nearly all of the monster stories. (See the IDW book under Just plain wrong, p 19.)
28: Strange Tales #103 splash page, showing the Human Torch maintaining his non-Leelike secret identity.
Lee’s first plot credit. Story plotted by Kirby.
THE ORIGIN OF IRON MAN
28: This month, Jack Kirby designs Iron Man for his debut in Tales of Suspense #39. The cover of ToS #39 is seemingly derived from Kirby’s original concept drawing for the character, before the strip is assigned to Don Heck to illustrate using the Marvel Method.
The credits and publishing sequence of this story bear a closer look. The plot is based on a Kirby Green Arrow story, and #40 contains a Kirby origin story that may have been produced first.
Patrick Ford (Marvel Method group, 6 February 2019): “I don’t know why Lee might have held back Kirby’s origin/introduction story and replace it with one drawn by Don Heck. One thing is sure. Marvel never published another comic book where a character was introduced by someone other than Kirby only to have Kirby come along and do the second issue.”
Chris Tolworthy (same discussion): “One argument for [issue 40] being the origin story is the science. The finally published story is too magical, and that’s why I never cared for Iron Man. You simply cannot make such an advanced device in a cave! But here we see that Stark has the full resources of the military behind him.
“I can easily see Lee saying ‘this is too sciency, I want a more dramatic origin’, but Kirby was too busy to produce another story before the deadline. So Kirby recalled his old Green Arrow story (the jungle is the opposite of science, but it still has the science core) and created quick layouts for somebody else to finish.
“The mistake in the dialog (‘transistor powered’) is highly consistent with Lee not understanding a Kirby plot. It happens all the time in the Fantastic Four. Kirby’s typical method was to read something in a science magazine, then create a story about how the technology might be in thirty years. Lee would then butcher the text, showing that he did not understand the core idea.
“Regarding the scientific source material, I think it’s notable how many of Kirby’s stories come from material that was published circa 1958. Whenever I look for Kirby’s source material that date keeps coming up. So I imagine him seeing more movies and reading more magazines around that time (give or take a couple of years, and allowing for re-runs of earlier movies). In 1963 he was far too busy to do more than minimal reading. 1958 source material is also consistent with Kirby’s claim to have been pushing for superheroes since he arrived: the spark for the radiation heroes, the bomb monster and the transistor hero can all be traced to around 1958. Though of course Kirby would not work out the story details until he got the go-ahead in 1961. Just as he prepared New Gods in his mind and as sketches, but did not fill in the details until he got the deal he needed.”
Patrick Ford (same discussion): “What other comic books does TALES OF SUSPENSE #40 happen to coincide with? One of them is HULK #6 where Kirby was replaced by Ditko.
“One of the most curious things about the first ten Iron Man stories is the plots. When Kirby is the credited penciler we get robots, giant monsters, aliens, inner worlds, Dr. Strange, time travel. The other stories are far more Earth bound.”
Tolworthy made the same observation regarding the Kirby/non-Kirby issues of early Thor during the same period.
28: Kirby also draws Incredible Hulk #5 this month, his final issue. When Jack brings his pages into the office, Stan rejects several of them. In a fit of anger, Kirby tears them in half and tosses them in the trash on his way out. Larry Lieber rescues the unused pages 11–13 of this Hulk story from the garbage. This is the earliest known major disagreement between Kirby and Lee.
33: This month, Jack Kirby draws X-Men #1 [corrected to Avengers #1 in 2e], while Stan explains to readers why the Hulk was cancelled: [Lee] “We’ve always believed in leveling with our fans. So, for those of you who’ve asked what happened to the Hulk, here’s the scoop: We decided to discontinue the mag because we felt we were spreading ourselves too thin! … We don’t yet know where, when, or how, but be patient—mankind won’t be Hulkless much longer!”
It’s interesting to note that regular assignments on The Hulk and Thor were simultaneously dropped from Kirby’s schedule. He would only return to Thor full time with the addition of Tales of Asgard six months later.
32: [Lee] “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.”
Steve Ditko: What producer tells his customers ‘We have a product based on someone’s bad ideas but I’ve covered the shortcomings, defects, flaws, so the product is not really good but buy it anyway.’ 58
33: This is a pivotal month, as Jack Kirby permanently takes on the main Thor strip, and draws the first installment of “Tales of Asgard” back-ups in Journey into Mystery #97, a project that Lee feels is tailor-made for Kirby…
Speculation: Lee promised Kirby autonomy in the back-up feature to entice him to return to Thor.
Chris Tolworthy made some observations on the lost issues (see the link under p 28 above).
42: After several issues away, Jack is drawing Sgt. Fury #13, featuring a WWII team-up between Fury and Captain America. The credits read “Written and drawn by the titanic two: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby”, and with his WWII experience and association with both characters, I’d assume Kirby was at least partially (if not totally) responsible for the plot.
Totally. The John Severin quote (Stuf’ Said, p 29) is helpful in making this determination.
45: By the end of November, Kirby is drawing layouts for the Hulk feature in Tales to Astonish #68. If Jack doesn’t already have growing resentments, no doubt doing layouts for other artists would’ve caused some.
48: Lee gives readers his rationale for assigning Kirby to layout so many strips…
Layouts are not a difficult concept in the context of the Marvel Method. Kirby was writing; Lee was not. In Romita’s Daredevil example, there wasn’t even a story conference. As for “it’s no wonder his layouts are simple block figures”, why don’t we just define layouts as what Kirby provided? They’re not supposed to be full pencils, they’re supposed to be what (outside of Marvel) would be called a full script with panel breakdowns. The purpose was for the penciller to pay the layout fee in the name of more Kirby-like art, and for Lee to get the full writing rate.
Morrow’s example (ToS #70 layouts) shows that Lee was only the next stop in the production line. Kirby was doing the writing, Kirby was initiating the story.
46: As the year closes out, Jack Kirby creates a presentation for a new spy series, which becomes the debut of “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” in Strange Tales #135.
It’s critical at this point to contrast Tom Brevoort’s 2015 creation description with that of Lee from 2010:
“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.” 59 (See pp 46 and 51 in Stuf’ Said.)
48: Stan apparently forgot about Jack’s story in FF Annual #1, which was originally done for Amazing Fantasy #16 or Spider-Man #1, but redrawn by Ditko when he became the artist on the strip.
Important to note. See Jean Depelley’s reconstruction of events, “Ditko vs. Kirby on Spider-Man,” The Jack Kirby Collector #66, Fall 2015.
STORY CONFERENCES I
61: This month, Lee uncharacteristically invites Kirby to join him to be interviewed for the New York Herald Tribune—no doubt jumping on the media bandwagon started by the National Observer article. In it, Stan comments to interviewer Nat Freeland about Federico Fellini returning “in January.”
Lee also “uncharacteristically” invites Thomas to sit in.
Sean Howe: When Marvel fan Federico Fellini, in New York to promote Juliet of the Spirits, swept into 625 Madison Avenue to meet Stan Lee, Men magazine editor Mel Shestack scoffed that Lee didn’t know who Fellini was; years later, Shestack insisted that the director had quickly lost interest in Lee and cottoned instead to the more colorful magazine editors, who were themselves like “living comic books.” 60
61: So this casts some doubt as to whether this is an accurate representation of a plot conference (if so, Stan skipped an entire issue’s plot, and Kirby stretched a few sentences from Stan into FF #55–60, and tossed in the Klaw issue and subplots himself).
Chris Tolworthy, Marvel Method group, 13 September 2016: “Clearly the meeting was staged, and equally clearly Stan did not know what was in the book. E.g. he said that the Surfer was away in space, yet the whole point of the Surfer was that he was trapped on Earth! Given that they must have had a meeting first, that makes it even clearer that Stan had absolutely no idea what was going on. Stan’s plan interrupted Jack’s flow: issue 55 stands out like a sore thumb, amid a series that otherwise flows from issue to issue. So either Stan ignored what Jack said or he deeply misunderstood it. Almost certainly a combination of the two. And having discussed it first, Jack had every reason to hope that Stan would make this a back and forth performance. But Stan, being Stan, couldn’t stop himself hogging the limelight. So everything about what Stan did was an insult to Jack. The published description of Jack as boring was just icing on the cake, and a natural result of Stan’s behaviour.”
Chris Tolworthy (email to me, 23 June 2018): “Remember, this alleged plotting session must have been for Fantastic Four 55 (based on the content and the date): just five issues after the most famous Fantastic Four story ever, featuring the intro of Stan Lee’s all time favourite character, the one he would not let anybody else write! The story climaxes with the Silver Surfer being EXILED ON EARTH. That is the whole point of the Surfer’s character: he is an alien TRAPPED ON EARTH and must therefore learn about us and be horrified by our madness. But Lee thinks the Surfer spends his time out in space after the battle with Galactus. Lee does not know the first thing about the story he claimed to write, or the first thing about the characters! As soon as Lee opens his mouth he proves he is doing exactly what Thomas denies he is doing: trying to grab credit away from Kirby.”
96: His faster schedule means he can take on additional work at this point, including the story “The Monster” for Chamber of Darkness #4. But Kirby’s original version of the story goes through numerous revisions in the Marvel offices before publication, and he is required to redraw several panels—and to change the original ending, that has Kirby and Lee be the surprise narrators in its final panel. Why this is rejected is still a mystery, as the original story by Kirby is solid, and more remarkable than what finally sees print.
In The Jack Kirby Collector #13, Morrow detailed Lee’s destruction of Kirby’s story:
The differences in the stories were devastating. The sheer inventiveness was diluted out of Jack’s original, its grandiose action reduced to parlor room gunplay, and the finale seemed half-hearted. There was evidence of major revisions, and the final boards showed it. Entire pages were discarded, panels cut and rearranged, and remnants of original pencils could be detected under redrawn panels.
Chris Tolworthy, The Marvel Method group, 26 September 2016: “How can anybody read both versions and claim that Stan was anything other than a vandal? Given the final panel, and Jack’s comment about the dialog, I wonder if Stan rejected it because he thought it was a personal attack? And if so, Stan did far more to embarrass himself by changing it: he’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. Heck, he’s not acting LIKE that, that is precisely what he was and what he did.
“Even the parts that survive, like the images of the monster leaping from the tower, and the frame with the stairs, are damaged by overly verbose dialog hiding the details.
“This reminds me of one of Stan’s favourite original ideas, one of those things he kept coming back to: publishing photo books (of movie monsters, celebrities, etc) with his own uninspired captions: the ‘You Don’t Say’ series. I think Stan missed his vocation. He was born to be a vandal, finding anything that people liked looking at, anything that somebody else had spent years to develop, and defacing it with his own dumbed down version then writing his name really big with a spray can.”
STORY CONFERENCES II
80, 159: [Romita, 2001] “Stan would go off on a tangent and Jack would be talking about what he thought should happen. Jack would go home and do what he thought Stan was expecting. And when Stan got the script, I could hear him saying, ‘Jack forgot everything we were talking about!’”
Morrow attaches significance to this event, as though it were part of the regular workflow. This is a clear example (the Freedland interview being possibly the first and most egregious) of Lee putting on a show for his underlings to maintain the charade that he contributed in advance. What Romita’s story illustrates is that Kirby the writer (like Ditko in Mini-History, Part 12) was usually able to dismiss the more hare-brained of Lee’s suggestions in the pencilling stage. Once Kirby turned in his pages, however, Lee was in full control.
John Romita testified in his 2010 deposition that he was present “at at least two plotting sessions” between Lee and Kirby. After Toberoff’s objection, Romita went on to describe the plotting session after the plotting session, on the drive home after Kirby had taken the train in and met with Lee behind closed doors. As Romita admitted, quoted by Morrow earlier in the book (below), he was never present for a story conference.
55: JOHN ROMITA:  “I never sat in on their meetings. When they had a plotting session, the door was closed. But when Jack would send in, say, the first ten pages of a story—and this is how I knew where things came from—Stan would say to me, ‘Jack completely changed what we wanted the opening to be’… They didn’t always remember what the other had said.”
This admission cancels out Romita’s car ride story as well as his deposition statement.
112: On January 5, Stan Lee headlines a critically-panned Carnegie Hall show, “A Marvel-Ous Evening With Stan Lee,” meant to be a celebration of the Marvel brand.
Dean Latimer in The Monster Times: So it was a drag, and a gyp and a Roy-al Rip-off, the Marvellous Evening With Stan Lee. The only element of it that was anywhere near new was Lee’s introduction of Alain Resnais, the famous French culture-groupie, and film-maker and advertising chairman for the Marienbad Wallpaper Company, and who, according to Lee, is making a flick which will incorporate elements of Marvel cartoons.
‘It’s a wierd, lovely, funny, sad flick,’ equivocated Stan, ‘about life and death and love and hate, and — well — everything!’
Chances are, this pencil-pusher speculates, old Stan is letting his editor Roy Thomas or perhaps some far lesser talents ghost who knows the Way-of-the-Con-by-boot-licking, write the script for that one too, and that Smilin Stan doesn’t really know a heck of a lot about the film at all. I mean; Stan’s latest ish of Creatures On The Prowl Where Boogeymen Stumble was ‘wierd, lovely, funny and sad’ — and I can say that, and I didn’t even read it! And I’ll even bet that Where Ghosts Romp or whatever their ‘horror’ comic of reprints from the 1960’s is called, was ‘about life and death and love and hate, and well… everything!’ 61
159: It’s also tempting to make the psychological conclusion that Stan was passive-aggressive; that whenever a collaborator asserted themselves, he pushed back.
Lee’s “first sayer” doctrine of creation was printed in TCJ. Steve Ditko quoted it in one of his Avenging Mind essays in order to take issue with the idea.
[Lee quoted by Ditko]: “It seems to me that the person who says, ‘This is the idea that I want done,’ is the person who created it… I think I’ve been very generous, ‘cause, as I say, anywhere except in the comic book business the artist would not be considered a co-creator, because it’s the guy who says, ‘Let there be a Hulk,’ and lo, there was a Hulk. The guy who says it, he’s the creator.” 62
Lee wasn’t correct from a legal standpoint, nor was he First Sayer in any of the creations. He did, however, apply the Doctrine of First Sayer to his relationship with Kirby. He was the first to get into print that he was the writer of Kirby’s comics, then the initiator of the synopsis. When Kirby came along later in the decade to make the same claims, he’d been set up to look like the liar and accused of sour grapes. Still later Lee became the first to say (outside of fanzine interviews) that he was originator of the ideas.
Early on in the FF letters pages, and to interviewers in later decades, Lee was first to accuse Kirby of his own unsavoury motives. Some examples: greedy, a very evil person, tending toward hyperbole. Only the first one can be said to be partially in jest.
Alan Weiss: I would also like to know what the name of your artist is.
Lee: 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!
Stan Lee, Fantastic Four #3 LOC page, cover date March 1962, also Stuf’ Said p 23.
“I think he’s gone beyond of no return,” Lee said [of the TCJ interview]. “Some of the things he 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.” 63
“Jack tended toward hyperbole…” 64
Greedy? It’s easy to say that Lee’s behaviour begs to be psychoanalyzed (he was a master of projection), but his scapegoating or narcissistic reaction formation was simply covering up his own greed in the theft of the writing pay. Evil? Tending toward hyperbole? Lee was talking about himself.
It’s a measure of the success of Lee’s strategy that one reaches the end of a book like Stuf’ Said to discover that the verdict is inconclusive: the truth is somewhere in the middle. Lee rarely gave anyone cause to believe what he said, but as First Sayer he convinced people that he told the truth about Kirby’s work. Kirby never gave people reason to doubt his word, but for wearers of the Big Boy Pants, his contradiction of Lee’s version of events was sufficient for them to give Lee the benefit of the doubt.
Mark Mayerson (23 September 2012): “It’s important to remember how long Lee was a failure. While he worked for a relative, Lee could never get 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.
“And there was that incident where Goodman found an entire closet full of unpublished inventory and laid off the comics staff as a result. That was gross mismanagement on Lee’s part, damaging the company’s cash flow. I don’t doubt that if Lee hadn’t been family, he would have been fired too.
“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.”
Patrick Ford (24 September 2012): “Mark, Logic dictates Lee’s original motivation for taking credit for the writing was because he was paid a page rate for writing apart from his salary for editing. If Kirby and Wood, and Ditko, had been credited with writing (or plotting) they would have been paid instead of Lee. Ever notice that Lee was always careful to credit himself with plotting stories which were actually plotted by Jack Kirby?”
138 Jack Kirby (to Leonard Pitts Jr, 1985): “Since I’ve matured, since the war itself–I’ve always been a feisty guy, but since the war itself, there are people that I didn’t like, but I saw them suffer and it changed me. I promised myself that I would never tell a lie, never hurt another human being, and I would try to make the world as positive as I could.”
back 58 “He Giveth and He Taketh Away,” The Avenging Mind, © 2008 S. Ditko.
back 59 Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort to Tj Dietsch, “C2E2 2015: S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Comics News, Marvel.com, 26 April 2015.
back 60 Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, 2012.
back 61 Dean Latimer, The Monster Times #3, March 1972.
back 62 “Newswatch,” The Comics Journal #111, September 1986, quoted in Creator or Co-Creator?, Avenging Mind, © 2008 S. Ditko.
back 63 Steve Duin, “The Back Story on Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby,” The Oregonian/OregonLive, 26 June 2011.
back 64 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.