Just plain wrong

Stuf’ Said p 5: But his greatest commercial success was always when working in conjunction with a level-headed, business-oriented personality like Joe Simon or Stan Lee to guide him.

Not so. Lee and Simon both took inordinate credit for, and misdirected the proceeds from, Kirby’s talents. They are taken at their word that Kirby needed guiding.

“greatest commercial success”? With the uncertainty in the sales numbers for the Fourth World books dictated by common sense and Robert Beerbohm’s research (see Good things, p 116), this is at best speculation. Worse, Kirby saw it as his job to make sales: attributing the success of his handiwork to Simon and Lee takes away one of the things for which he most wanted to be remembered. They are simply the victors in Kirby’s history; even TJKC endorses their version while Kirby’s words on the subject are ignored.

KIRBY: My monsters were lovable monsters. [Laughter.] I gave them names — some were evil and some were good. They made sales, and that’s always been my prime object in comics. I had to make sales in order to keep myself working. And so I put all the ingredients in that would pull in sales. It’s always been that way.

ROZ KIRBY: I was downstairs with him in the basement when he was figuring out what the (Sgt Fury) logo should be. If Stan Lee wants to know who created him, he can ask me. I was with him.

KIRBY: I didn’t have to take anybody else’s strip to make sales, and my purpose was just to make sales.

KIRBY: Marvel was on its ass, literally, and when I came around, they were practically hauling out the furniture. They were literally moving out the furniture. They were beginning to move, and Stan Lee was sitting there crying. I told them to hold everything, and I pledged that I would give them the kind of books that would up their sales and keep them in business, and that was my big mistake.

GROTH: Did your page rate increase substantially in the ’60s as the work became more popular?

KIRBY: Yes, it did. My object was to help the publisher to make sales. That was my job. It wasn’t a job of being a Rembrandt. 32

BITTERNESS?

5: By the time his original art battle became public in 1985, he was livid over his treatment by the company. In his 1989 Comics Journal interview, he was bitter after having spent the last part of his life waging that war.

Bitterness did not define Kirby, and shouldn’t be used to paint his claims as outlandish.

Patrick Ford (May 2011 comment on the interview at tcj.com): “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.”

Dan Nadel (same comments section): “Gary Groth published a note saying that some of the claims were possibly exaggerated (Groth never said they were not true)…”

Patrick Ford, 2015: “Let’s not pretend mean old Gary Groth manipulated Kirby, or that Kirby said things out of anger. Kirby always said he created the characters and stories. Is that so hard to believe? Harder to believe than Lee being the creator? Lee is under no pressure to get his story straight. He can say anything he wants comfortable in the knowledge that the comics press and the mainstream press (PBS, WSJ, Taschen, etc.) will support him completely. The trick Lee began and which all Lee’s fans have followed, is to call Kirby ‘an immortal’ ‘the King’ ‘incredibly creative’ ‘like a father to me’ ‘a legend,’ and then turn around and call him a liar by claiming that Lee came up with all the ideas and assigned them to Kirby who ‘co-created’ by creating the artwork. As we know Lee decided to completely turn over Spider-Man to Ditko. And SPIDER-MAN was Marvel’s best selling book… So we are supposed to believe that Kirby who was producing on average three times as many story pages as Ditko, was meeting all the time with Lee so that Lee could give him plots?”

RUMOURS

16: These quotes are at the center of why people will question Kirby’s mental acuity in the late 1980s. Most had never heard this version of events previously, and taken out of context, it does sound like Jack—bitter from the battle with Marvel Comics you’ll read about later in this book—is going overboard and making things up.

[Lee] “I never remember being there when people were moving out the furniture. If they ever moved the furniture, they did it during the weekend when everybody was home. Jack tended toward hyperbole, just like the time he was quoted as saying that he came in and I was crying and I said, ‘Please save the company!’ I’m not a crier and I would never have said that. I was very happy that Jack was there and I loved working with him, but I never cried to him.”

Kirby loyalists have tried to explain away Kirby’s comments. At the end of Bud Schulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run?, the character Sammy Glick (who Kirby is known to identify Stan Lee with) is sobbing because his bombshell fiancée cheated on him—can this be where Jack gets the mental image of Stan crying at his desk?

The questioning of Kirby’s “mental acuity” doesn’t belong in TJKC. The ultimate source of such a rumour about Kirby, or about any of Stan Lee’s collaborators, was Lee; just ask Ayers or Everett or Ditko or Wood. In the case of Kirby, Lee didn’t just let it be known through the grapevine as with Ditko and Ayers; he told an interviewer: “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.” 33

In the second edition, Morrow produces, unremarked, quotes from a 1983 Lee interview with Jim Salicrup, wherein Lee essentially suggests that everything Kirby has said is a lie, and that he has “taken leave of his senses.”

[145]: [Lee] “I think Jack is really—I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to say anything against him. I think he is beginning to imagine things.”

Steve Sherman once addressed the question like this: “I knew Jack from about late 1968 to 1994 and I can tell you he did not suffer from dementia.” 34

“Most had never heard this version of events previously…” John Morrow has spent a good deal of time with the entire body of Kirby’s interviews, yet by the conclusion of the book he is still “tripped up” by the “egregiousness” of Kirby’s TCJ interview.

“Crying.” Steve Sherman again: “Yes it was early ’61 that Goodman was going to pull the plug.” (See the full quote under p 19 in section Good things.)

The Sammy Glick reference here is a non sequitur: Morrow misses the point of the comparison. Sammy Glick is Stan Lee. Lee didn’t need to be married to Kirby for us to compare him to Walter Keane. Kirby didn’t need to get the mental image from a book, because he was present when the events took place.

Kirby loyalists? I am one, and it’s simple: Kirby’s comments don’t need to be explained away if he’s taken at his word. As Roy Thomas has learned just from this exercise, Lee’s story requires a great deal of explanation.

MONSTERS

19: Around April, Kirby draws Strange Tales #89, featuring Fin Fang Foom. Stan Lee’s signature isn’t to be found on any of the pages, so it’s likely this issue is dialogued by Larry Lieber or someone else in the Bullpen—although the alliterative name screams Lee’s involvement on some level, at least in plotting.

[18]: On any Atlas monster stories where Lee’s signature isn’t to be found, it’s likely the story is dialogued by Larry Lieber or someone else in the Bullpen—although the alliterative names of creatures like Fin Fang Foom screams Lee’s involvement on some level, at least in plotting.

In IDW’s Jack Kirby Heroes and Monsters Artist’s Edition, shot from the original art, Kirby’s lettering can be seen in the balloons on the Fin Fang Foom pages, with Lee’s corrections (see also Further Information, p 26). How likely is it that Lieber scripts were involved? Let’s base this on the evidence before 1995, the year Lieber was first presented as writer of the monster stories. The most likely scenario is the obvious: that Kirby wrote, drew, and dialogued the story, and Lee made corrections in the office.

Morrow suggests that the absence of Lee’s signature indicates Lieber dialogue, and that alliteration signifies Lee plotting. This is simply fabricating details to support a false version of events.

“MONSTER” STORY WRITING CREDIT TIMELINE

1974: Lee lays claim to writing Kirby’s monster stories. 35

1989: Kirby explicitly corrects him. 36

1994: Kirby dies.

1995: Lieber says no, it was him. 37

1998: Lee and Thomas go all in with Lieber’s story. 38

1999: Michael Vassallo disproves Lee’s claim based on the absence of his signature on any of Kirby’s post-code sf/fantasy stories. 39

Morrow was aware of the determination by Vassallo and chose to side with Thomas’ “he forgot to sign them” defence. Lee didn’t “write” a monster book before 1961 when he signed one of Ditko’s, and he never signed one of Kirby’s. Lieber isn’t confirmed to have scripted one before 1960; 40 he didn’t claim he scripted one of Kirby’s until after Kirby’s death.

Patrick Ford, The Marvel Method, 18 October 2016: “Kirby says he wrote them. Kirby’s name is on them. Lee says he wrote them. Lee’s name is not on them. Lee signed everything he claims to have written. So why is Lee’s word taken over Kirby’s? There are a lot of possibilities. Given the nature of the plots and Kirby’s writing on pages my guess is Kirby may have sold completely written and penciled stories to Lee. Lee then would give his brother a plot based on the Kirby story. Larry Lieber would then write a full script which Lee would place in a circular file and then Lee would edit Kirby’s dialogue.”

Mark Mayerson (same discussion): “Here’s some complete speculation on my part with no evidence to back it up. Kirby works at home and writes and draws the monster stories. He delivers them, invoices and gets paid. He doesn’t look at the finished comics because he’s too busy working on what’s on his board. The pay stinks, but Kirby knows that Marvel is a shoestring operation, so he just keeps grinding out the pages. Meanwhile, Stan Lee types up a plot based on Kirby’s story and tells his brother to take the story and type up a script from it. Then they both invoice and get paid fees for the plot and script of Kirby stories without Kirby ever knowing about it.”

ASSORTED INACCURACIES

19[20]: More likely, Kirby broaches the idea of doing pitches with Lee first, to see if his conduit to Goodman is even willing to do it, before he spends time preparing them. In such an instance, Lee will likely take part in a preliminary conversation with Kirby, to determine what would appeal to Martin.

“More likely?” Or, and this requires even fewer contortions, Kirby creates concepts out of whole cloth the way he has always done.

23: On the back of this page of original art for Fantastic Four #5 [sic: the “Lee layouts” are in FF #3, corrected in 2e], Stan Lee is clearly giving Kirby layout suggestions. The question is, why? Did he lack confidence that a 20-year veteran of comics like Jack could do it himself? Or was this done prior to the “Marvel Method”? More examples of FF #5 layouts are on the next page.

These are not Lee layouts; consider the logistics that would be required. These are demands by Lee for redraws: they were done in the story conference when Kirby brought in the pages to describe the story for Lee to dialogue. This has the same explanation as Lee’s margin notes (see Lee misrepresents, p 38).

27[28]: So I’m proposing that Lee never finished #8’s synopsis, realizing Kirby didn’t need such extensive guides to crank out a story he could dialogue—and that this new method of story production would soon spill over to other artists as Lee got busier with his editorial duties.

So I’m proposing that over a year after the issue was published, Jerry Bails asked Lee for a synopsis and Lee had the story conference notes (or even just a copy of the comic) lying around. He knew the ending was problematic so he just left it off. We’ll leave “Lee got busier” for another time.

153[168]: Comics is a collaborative medium between writer and artist, and to discount either’s participation, at least up till the first published appearance of a character, seems nonsensical to me.

Morrow’s definition was designed to suit the discussion. Comics are sometimes a collaborative medium; some of the best comics have a single writer/artist. Like the best cartoonists, Kirby did his greatest work outside of the artificial collaboration of the Marvel Method. Even at Marvel he collaborated with himself, then turned the pages over to Lee. Lee either collaborated with or fought against what was already written.

155[170]: And Lee’s correct: The idea for Spider-Man didn’t come from Kirby’s previous work on The Fly—it originated from the earlier “Silver Spider,” which wasn’t asked about in the public testimony.

Lee wasn’t correct enough for the point to have merited a correction. The idea may have come from the Silver Spider by way of the Spiderman logo, but as Stan Taylor showed in “The Case for Kirby” (and as Ditko told Lee at the time), Kirby borrowed from his own works: The Fly, Private Strong, and Rawhide Kid provided plot points and plot devices for more than just one Spider-Man story. This suggests Kirby’s plots were written on the pitch pages (as we’ve seen with other Kirby concepts); once they were in Lee’s office they became his plots to dispense to Ditko, Heck, or Lieber.

155[170]: In February 2012, things get ugly, as the Kirbys’ attorney files for appeal. He accuses Disney of paying Stan Lee for his testimony on their behalf, and claims that Lee pressured his brother Larry Lieber to testify against his will, under the implication that he might lose his job as artist on the Spider-Man newspaper strip, which is his only source of income.

Kirby attorney Marc Toberoff did not accuse Disney of paying Lee for his testimony. His January 2012 Appellants’ Opening Brief for the Kirbys’ appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals says this: “The evidence also showed that shortly after receiving the Terminations regarding Marvel’s biggest characters, Disney gratuitously paid Lee significant additional monies. CA(I) 39-46, 59-71.” The page numbers cited refer to a Confidential Appendix that would be accessible to the Court. The paragraph containing that information starts like this: “The record evidence demonstrated that Lee’s deep financial ties to both Marvel and Disney, coupled with the contradictions between Lee’s testimony, his prior authenticated statements, and much of the record evidence, raised very serious concerns about Lee’s credibility.”

70-Brief_Page_01

The “allegation” of the threat to Lieber’s income is also documented in the Appellants’ Opening Brief (link, above). Toberoff cites page numbers in Lieber’s deposition (meaning Lieber originated the “allegation”), but Marvel has redacted those pages.

I have to take issue with Morrow’s contention that “things get ugly” when the Kirbys appeal: things got ugly when Marvel sued the Kirby family, over a year earlier. This perspective on the Kirbys’ appeal from someone who was on their witness list is quite bizarre.

159[174]: You don’t hear of Kirby having any creatorship disputes with Joe Simon, Jack Oleck, Larry Lieber, Denny O’Neil, or Steve Gerber.

“creatorship disputes”? This minimizes the fact that Kirby was denied credit for his part in creating the Marvel Universe, and dismisses his reaction to having his writing credit and pay taken. Somehow the expectation is that Kirby should have shown nothing but gratitude when he knew his pocket was being picked. His livelihood wasn’t being compromised in any of the other collaborations (and he may not even have been aware he was collaborating with Lieber).

STANDING UP

159[174]: Kirby should’ve asserted himself more, rather than sitting back and hoping things would right themselves. I hesitate to psychoanalyze Jack, who he was a tough street fighter as a kid, never shrinking from a scuffle. But after experiencing the horrors of World War II, he tended to avoid confrontation, and let Joe Simon handle the business battles for him. When Joe wasn’t there any longer, if Kirby was expecting Stan to watch his back, he’d end up disappointed. Lee looked out for Number One, and there’s no crime in that. Jack should’ve done the same[—but the realities of the time didn’t afford him that opportunity (added for 2e)].

Nobody is entitled to the opinion that “Kirby should have stood up for himself” until they’re ready to admit:

  • that the Marvel Method was a kickback scheme;
  • that Kirby had recently had a bad experience going to court (i.e. standing up for himself) over such an arrangement;
  • that the recipient of the current kickback was withholding assignments from others over the kickback;
  • that Kirby believed DC was his only alternative, an option that wasn’t available to him before 1968 because he had once chosen to stand up for himself.

Why is it considered acceptable, in the publication that bears his name, to question the resolve of a combat vet in his business relationships with those who sought to take advantage of him? The copy writer, who hadn’t seen combat, saw fit to pull rank over the creator/writer who had, even in the credit boxes:

SgtFury6Credits

Kirby’s priority was always to provide for his family.

Patrick Ford, the Marvel Method group, 29 May 2019: A look at publishing records shows that nearly all of 1955 and through the end of 1956 must have been an incredibly difficult time for the Kirby family. Kirby had been paid a lump sum for the Mainline inventory and nothing after that. Aside from that records show that Kirby had almost nothing published for nearly two years.

Mark Mayerson (same discussion): I would suggest that the two years of little to no work were a big reason that Kirby didn’t stand up for himself more at Marvel during the ’60s. Unemployment, especially if you’re supporting a family, is a traumatic experience a person doesn’t forget. A period that long makes a man question his self-worth and whether his career is over. Tolerating a bad working situation is preferable to being unemployed. It’s only when Schiff retired and Kirby had a secure contract with DC that he left. Without that contract, he was risking unemployment again.

The conclusion of Stuf’ Said would seem to be the place to be honest about the criteria set forth here by Morrow: whether or not Lee committed a crime looking out for Number One, or whether Simon ever had Kirby’s back.

NEXT: Kirby was rarely, if ever, late with the FF pages
Back to Contents

Footnotes

back 32 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in the summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 33 Steve Duin, “The Back Story on Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby,” The Oregonian/OregonLive, 26 June 2011.

back 35 Steve Sherman, Kirby-L Google Group, 2 September 2011.

back 35 Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974.

back 36 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in the summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 37 In TJKC #77, Will Murray updated his 1984 article, “I remember… Vandoom, Master of Marvel Monsters.” The original article didn’t mention Larry Lieber, but the new version incorporates Murray’s 1995 Comics Scene article on Lieber, “Monster Master,” with quotes.

back 38 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 39 Michael Vassallo, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 17 November 1999.

back 40 Script credit tentatively confirmed, Official Index to the Marvel Universe #14, per Lieber’s Wikipedia page.

Just plain wrong