Thomas explains

Stuf’ Said p 37[40]: Roy Thomas: “Jerry told me he had dropped Stan a line to ask for a copy of a Marvel script to go with ones he’d received from Julie Schwartz for Justice League and the like… In 1961 and 1962, Stan was working hard to keep a number of artists busy all at the same time, so it would make perfect sense that he might make up the first part of a story off the top of his head and send it off to Jack, figuring that either (a) he’d send the rest later, (b) he’d relate the last part of the story to Jack in person or over the phone by the time he needed it, or (c) Jack would devise an ending himself.”

…and…

69[75]: Roy Thomas offered me more thoughts on its lineage…

Sometimes the truth lies in the most verbose and convoluted explanation. Sometimes that explanation just shows the lengths required to cover up the original deception. Thomas is given free rein to do this in Stuf’ Said, his remarks uncontested. In a couple of instances, Morrow provides contradictory evidence, but not in the same place, and not tied to Thomas’ declarations.

101[111]: Roy Thomas: “You can see where almost anybody would be upset in that kind of circumstance… [Stan] knew there were some difficulties, but he certainly didn’t see it coming that Jack was quitting, or I never got any indication of it… with Jack, he sort of bottled it up, and Stan knew there were problems, but he didn’t know how deep they ran.”

On the contrary, treating Kirby like just another freelancer was clearly in the best interests of PF&C, and Lee embraced the role he was given. To suggest that the con man is oblivious to the feelings of his mark is one thing; to portray the thief as the victim is outrageous.

Morrow does the same thing…

36[147]: At the beginning of August, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have an encounter at the Marvel Comics 25th Anniversary party being held at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, is witness to the meeting, and later recounts, “I’m watching history here. They’re really getting friendly again. They really seemed to be becoming friends. Then Stan says, ‘Ya know, Jack, I don’t care who owns [the Marvel character copyrights]. I don’t care who gets the credit. You can own it, you can have the credit. I’d just like to work with you once more’.” Kirby allegedly nods and says, “Well, that will be fine,” but Roz Kirby, pulling her husband away from the conversation, says, “Over my dead body.” As I’d expect in such a situation, Lee is offended.

Although Lee continued stealing Kirby’s accomplishments every time he opened his mouth, even at Marvel’s 25th Anniversary, the Kirbys were expected to “get over it” so Lee could be the offended party.

Thomas’ 1981 TCJ interview is a clinic on quitting Lee.

HOUSEROY

115[127]: [Thomas] “And all I could say to Jack was, ‘The only thing between you really is that Stan was a little hurt about the way you left, but that’s not a big deal. And the Funky Flashman stuff bothered him a little bit, because it seemed, to Stan at least, somewhat mean-spirited.’ 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. But I said, ‘We can get past that. Stan would love to have you back; he never wanted you to leave’.”

This is very magnanimous of Thomas who denies that he took offense at Kirby’s Houseroy but behaves otherwise. Despite having personal experience taking advantage of others through the Marvel Method, he dismisses Kirby’s valid grievances against Lee. Thomas seems oblivious to the irony in his recent demands for proper credit from DC Comics when he’s been on the credit misdirection side for over fifty years.

“I don’t take the Houseroy stuff that personally, because you don’t know me.” It turns out that Kirby knew Thomas very well, because in 1972 he accurately predicted Thomas’ inescapable legacy as valet to the Lee myth (see “Funky Flashman,” Mister Miracle #6).

SCHOOLED BY KIRBY ON THE MARVEL METHOD

121[133]: [Thomas] “Jack agreed to do it—under one condition. He insisted that I plot out the stories, panel by panel, and send him that to pencil from. And I balked at that. I could see that Jack was determined that he wasn’t going to add one incident, one thought, to the story that I hadn’t given him. And if I was going to have to do that, I really didn’t see any special value in having Jack pencil the FF at that point. I’d prefer to work with Rich Buckler or someone else Kirby-influenced. So that was the end of my attempt to get Jack to do Fantastic Four.”

Translation: “Jack really didn’t see any special value in having me get paid the writing page rate if he was going to be doing the writing.” You’d think the reality of Kirby’s situation might have occurred to Thomas when he was asking him to work Marvel Method.

DISCIPLINES OF THE ENDURING MARVEL HISTORIAN

6: …[Roy Thomas] remains a fan at heart, relentless in his pursuit of documenting comic book history. While admittedly loyal to Stan Lee for helping his creative career blossom, Roy also has one of the sharpest memories I’ve ever encountered, and in working with him since 1997, I’ve never found him to be anything less than 100% fair, professional, and honest.

It bears mentioning that if it weren’t for Thomas being present when Lee opened the package from Kirby, Lee would be known as the creator of the Silver Surfer.

Thomas explained the secret of his “relentless” approach to being an historian to Jim Amash…

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. [emphasis mine] 47

Thomas may have had the title of historian thrust upon him, but for the period of time he was not an eyewitness, his idea of research is “what little I heard from talking to Stan and Sol Brodsky.” He documented a discussion he once had with Kirby (see p 115 above), but other than that there’s no evidence he ever sought out the other side of the Marvel story from Kirby or Ditko.

69[75]: [Thomas] “But of course, at that time, it wasn’t occurring either to Stan or to Jack to claim such credit. They were both too busy just getting the stories done and collecting their paychecks.”

Thomas was not present at Marvel’s inception, and all of his knowledge of the motivations of Kirby and Ditko come from Lee. What keeps him awake at night is the outrageous idea that Kirby would later try to claim credit. Because Thomas wasn’t there to hear Kirby claim credit at the time, any claim of credit after the fact should quite obviously be given to Lee.

CREDIT

[Thomas] “For years, Jack Kirby didn’t care that he wasn’t being listed as a writer. Later on when something becomes successful, then everybody starts saying, ‘This percentage of it’s mine!’ ‘That percentage of it’s mine!’” 48

[Thomas]: “We weren’t worried about the credits, because there wasn’t any money involved.” 49

Thomas is being deliberately misleading: there was money in the credits for the person writing them. Even though Lee didn’t sign any of Kirby’s monster stories, he later instituted credit boxes for the express purpose of adding his name to things he didn’t write (see p 28 under Further Information).

Morrow has provided two quotes that diminish Thomas’ credit crusade:

65[71]: [Kirby] “…when I began asking for a little more credit, say, a writer credit, he cut the horse up fine and said it was ‘plotting.’ And no matter what I said, he was the publisher’s relative and Goodman was big on family.”

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. I don’t think Jack would’ve fought if I didn’t kick him in the pants. I think I was more angry than he was.”

TIGERS IN AFRICA?

CoalTiger

When printing Arlen Schumer’s visual essay, “The Origin of Jack Kirby’s Black Panther” in Alter Ego #118, Thomas devoted considerable space in his editorial to refuting Schumer’s thesis:

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. Because Arlen believes that can be inferred, I had little choice but to respond to that assumption.

I strongly maintain that no assumption of Kirby priority can or should be made. For one thing, we know virtually nothing about the Coal Tiger concept except its visual aspect. 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), ready to alter it in an instant into the dark garb of T’Challa, son of T’Chaka.

Chris Tolworthy, the Marvel Method group, 1 August 2018: “As is reasonably well known, Kirby wanted his character to be called the Coal Tiger, and Lee wanted the name changed, hence Black Panther. As anybody can see, the story of Wakanda and its Vibranium is closely modeled on the then-recent news about Katanga and its uranium. Now, once the independence movement was crushed in 1963 the independence army (the Katangan Gendarmes) fled, and planned to return one day to reclaim their uranium mines, much like T’Challa. And what did this Katangan army in exile call itself? ‘The Katangan Tigers.’ ‘No tigers in Africa’, eh? Thomas had better tell the Katangan rebels that. It appears that the only person who understood the source material for the Black Panther was Kirby.”

Patrick Ford (same discussion): “Kurt Busiek has mentioned this connection. There is thought that Patrice Lumumba was the inspiration for the Panther. ‘the US acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo, following its use of the uranium from Congolese mines to manufacture the first atomic weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.’

“BTW. I don’t know that it is ‘reasonably well known’ that Kirby came up with the name Coal Tiger and Lee came up with Black Panther. It is far more likely that Kirby came up with both names perhaps after Lee rejected the name ‘Coal Tiger’ due to its political implications at a time where Lee may not have been aware of the nascent Black Panther movement. Kirby may have been aware and not told Lee about the budding political implications of the name Black Panther or Kirby may have taken the name from the United States Army 66th Infantry Division which Kirby would have almost certainly have been familiar with due to his WW II service in France.

“For whatever reason people like Roy Thomas tend to think they are smart and that Kirby was some sort of dullard. Time and again evidence turns up that people like Thomas don’t (as Grant Morrison put it) have Kirby’s reading list. Here’s a difference between Roy Thomas and Kirby. Roy Thomas is a man with an obsessive interest in super heroes. In 1965 Thomas was a highly unusual man in his twenties whose main area of fascination was super heroes. He was not only still reading super hero comic books but was so interested in them that he spent a great deal of time writing about and researching the adventures of the Justice Society of America. And Thomas was not interested in comics other than super heroes. He has said in various interviews that he never read Carl Barks or John Stanley because he did not read ‘children’s comics.’ He has also said he didn’t read horror or war comic books. The only sort of comic book he read was super hero comics. On the other hand Jack Kirby had no interest in super heroes what-so-ever aside from the fact it was a genre he could find work in.”

MEMORY

Lee: “As you know, I have the worst memory in the world…” 50

Thomas: Later 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. They may or may not have; he just didn’t recall because he didn’t think it was important at the time… Again, was it an idea Stan had verbally, or was it totally Jack’s idea of doing it? I don’t think anybody knows anymore. I wouldn’t trust either Stan’s memory or Jack’s memory totally in these cases, because people tend to remember things differently over the years. 51

Thomas excuses Lee not remembering who first spoke the idea of the Fantastic Four, because “[Lee] didn’t think it was important at the time.” In reality, it was so important to Lee that his never-having-wavered memory regarding that single detail caused the destruction of his own mythical Happy Bullpen, when first Ditko and then Kirby quit over the lack of credit and accompanying pay. Thomas dismisses Kirby’s recollections, but contrary to his claim here that he doesn’t trust either man’s memory, he stakes his legacy on the account of the man with the self-proclaimed world’s worst memory.

Memory? Steve Ditko had the remedy for the world’s worst memory: stop claiming credit.

Ditko: “Poor memory advocates — too often — want to be given a blank check for what comes out of their mouths. Can a man/mind with a claimed poor memory have any authentic, personal integrity? There are those who make reference to, justifications for, their poor memory but poor memory doesn’t stop them from still claiming facts, truth, credit.” 52

Kirby never claimed a bad memory, and told Mark Borax in 1986 that he and Lee both knew the FF creation story. 53

MARK: Jack, even though each of you, in your own hearts, know who did what —
JACK: We know!
MARK: — do you think that time has obscured some of —
JACK: NO! It hasn’t obscured it. He knows it, I know it.

Roy Thomas serves as a kind of conscience at TwoMorrows, ensuring that Kirby’s legacy is kept in a box defined by Marvel, and Kirby’s “delusions of grandeur” (Thomas, Comic Book Creator #3) are kept in check. “One day, when someone starts a Stan Lee Collector magazine, there’ll be plenty of untapped quotes by Stan they can present…” (Morrow, Stuf’ Said p 5). Until then, we can count on the Kirby Collector to look out for Lee’s reputation.

NEXT: Lieber comes into his own
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Footnotes

back 47 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 48 Roy Thomas, Robert Kirkman’s “Secret History of Comics” Episode 1, 2017.

back 49 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 50 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 51 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 52 Steve Ditko, “Essay #34: Memory,” The Four-Page Series #5, February 2014. Published and © by Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko.

back 53 Kirby interviewed by Mark Borax, Comics Interview #41, 1986.

Thomas explains