Letters to Roy Thomas

In January 2019 I emailed Roy Thomas to take exception to a caption in one of the Stan Lee tribute issues of Alter Ego. Thomas printed my letter in the very next Lee tribute issue, less than a year later. Right above my letter, he printed an online comment suggesting there should be a club called the Legion of Anti-Stan Lee ***holes, and pronounced the comment “succinct.” Below is my letter, followed by both of our responses.

AELetterIntro

My Letter

Jan 10, 2018, 8:36 PM

Hi Roy,

I’m writing to take exception to this caption on page 10 of Alter Ego #150:

Stan suspects he may have written the entirety of the infamous giant-monster yarn “Fin Fang Foom” in Strange Tales #89 (Oct. 1961), on sale around the same time as Fantastic Four #1; but there are no credits for writer or artists on this splash for the 13-pager; so maybe Larry Lieber or someone else provided the actual script from Stan’s plot. Pencils by Jack Kirby; inks by Dick Ayers.

I don’t hold out much hope that you’ll publish this, but I’m cc’ing Jon and John in the unlikely event that they’d print a rebuttal.

By “around the same time” you mean Strange Tales #89 was published the month before FF #1.

The compulsion to inveigle Stan Lee into admitting that he had something to do with “Fin Fang Foom” needs to be addressed. In the interview accompanying the caption (conducted in 1988), Will Murray prompted Lee with hearsay:

WM: Most people think you wrote the lead fantasy stories, like “Fin Fang Foom,” even though you didn’t sign them.

LEE: I did that one. If my name was on them, I did. I never put my name on anything that I didn’t write.

FFFsplashUnsigned
Unsigned.

Ten years later, you chose a similar tack (Comic Book Artist #2, 1998):

Roy: By Fantastic Four #1, you had developed what later came to be called “the Marvel style.” But you were doing this all along for some monster stories, some time before this. How far back does that go?

Stan: You mean just doing synopses for the artists? Was I doing them before Marvel?

Roy: I know that you did it for Fantastic Four. So I figured with Jack as the artist—and maybe Ditko, too—in these minor stories that you mostly wrote, along with Larry Lieber, you must have been doing it since the monster days.

Stan: You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, that’s probably true; but I had never thought of that. I thought that I started it with the Fantastic Four, but you’re probably right.

Roy: You probably didn’t write full scripts for Jack for “Fin Fang Foom.”

Lee said he didn’t remember specifically what he did on “Fin Fang Foom,” but you helpfully supplied the memory for him. You yourself didn’t arrive on the scene until 1965, and conveniently, your only source of information regarding Lee’s working relationship with Kirby, was Lee.

As Murray indicated, Lee did not sign “Fin Fang Foom.” Michael Vassallo has observed that Lee did not sign a single Kirby “monster” story (monster, science fiction, or fantasy), an indication that he didn’t write any of them. As to whether Lee would forget to sign something, he has even signed one-page paper doll features in Millie the Model (and each one if they were printed two to a page). As for Lee’s claim of never signing something he didn’t write, see Mike Breen’s Jack Kirby Collector #61 article for one of many possible instances of a Lee signature (one on every splash, in fact) that wasn’t necessarily backed up by any writing involvement.

Lee “probably didn’t write full scripts” for Kirby on “Fin Fang Foom,” or any other story – it remains to be proven whether he ever wrote a script, period. Although Lee was known to purchase scripts (most famously from Magazine Management writers) and assign them, Steve Ditko has written that he never got a full script from Lee. Vince Fago worked on humour comics with Lee prior to World War II and said he never got a script from Lee, that Lee was using the synopsis method.

Next, we can dispense with the idea that “Fin Fang Foom” was written “Marvel style”: Kirby’s penciled lettering is visible in the balloons and captions.

FFFInsects

Nor was Lee working “Marvel style” with Kirby in this later story from Strange Tales #99, nearly a year after FF #1 (again, Kirby’s lettering is visible in the balloons).

In Episode 1 of Robert Kirkman’s “Secret History of Comics” (2017), you trotted out your old stand-by: “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!'”

Roy, you need to be called out on this: it’s patent nonsense.

Kirby and others were very clear at the time that writing credit was an issue. Wood quit over it in 1965. Ditko quit the same year because Lee wasn’t speaking to him; Lee wasn’t speaking to Ditko because he’d demanded and received plotting credit. In 1968 Kirby told Excelsior that what kept him from writing the dialogue on the books he wrote was Lee’s editorial policy. Finally in 1970, Kirby quit Stan Lee over the issue of writing credit and pay for the writing he always did.

In another caption in the interview, you make sure to refer to “penciler Jack Kirby” (where you actually credit Stan Lee with writing a story featuring Easter Island, like Thor a repeating Kirby theme). Aside from appropriating the writing page rate, the worst lie Lee ever told about Kirby was (by design) always insisting he was just an artist. Kirby was a creator/writer/artist, and deserves to be recognized as such in your little off-hand editorials.

Lee is treated as the victor and history is molded to his narrative: he’s given every opportunity to say he doesn’t remember an event and therefore it didn’t happen. The best way to uncover the true story of Lee’s working relationship with Kirby is to take one of Kirby’s many interviews (so far dating back to 1968) and ask the question, what if I took Kirby at his word instead of Lee? A good place to start is one with which you’re obviously familiar, the interview in The Comics Journal #134. It was by no means his first word on the subject (as you characterize it), yet it provides a precious raw piece of unmanufactured history.

Ask yourself, what events would explain Kirby’s recollection of Lee crying in the office? Mike Vassallo did precisely that and figured out that according to job numbers, Kirby’s very first trip to the office in 1958 was the first working day after Joe Maneely died. That should cause you to wonder if plummeting sales on the monster books had Goodman considering closing up shop (in fact, moving out the furniture) in 1961, before giving Kirby’s superhero advice a shot.

Delusions

In your response to Jon Cooke for his Comic Book Creator #1 article, you accused Kirby of delusions of grandeur for supposedly greedily wanting credit after the fact (and not remembering the “little people” like Lee who enabled his rise). No, Roy, the grandeur is genuine: you just have the roles reversed.

Michael Hill

[Thomas’ “delusions of grandeur” letter to Comic Book Creator is here, and Cooke’s gracious but firm response is here.]

Responses

Thomas’ response to me is here in full, and inline below in my response to him.

Hi Roy,

I’m disappointed. You’ve responded to my facts with a series of falsehoods, a lot of them manufactured by you. I know this is to be expected, because, following in Lee’s footsteps, you’re addressing the people who will believe you no matter what you tell them.

Thomas: Lessee… first off, both Will Murray and I were simply trying to see what (if anything) we could prod Stan into remembering about “Fin Fang Foom,” a monster story notorious mostly for its title. Neither of us was successful, but we had no nefarious motives as you suggest.

The nefarious motive in your case was the need to erase doubt raised by Kirby about who actually wrote his monster stories. Lee wasn’t a very good witness, telling you that your memory of it was better than his, even though you weren’t there. Murray, like many people, just seems to want to believe what he was told by Lee.

I’ve already covered the instances of trying to “prod Stan into remembering,” so this time let’s just look at Lee’s responses. To Murray, “I did that one. If my name was on them, I did. I never put my name on anything that I didn’t write.” [Lee’s name wasn’t on it (he hadn’t signed Fin Fang Foom), and Kirby’s penciled lettering is in the balloons.]

The caption that compelled me to write begins, “Stan suspects he may have written the entirety of the infamous giant-monster yarn ‘Fin Fang Foom’…”

His response to you about writing Kirby’s monster stories: “You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, it’s probably true; but I had never thought of that. I thought that I started it with the Fantastic Four, but you’re probably right.”

Thomas: In days since, by the way, Stan has convincingly staked his claim to that yarn, thank you very much. He revealed at a 2005 recording session in Hollywood (for a book we were both working on), with no prompting whatever from Yours Truly, who was there, or from the two non-comics people present, that he’d named “Fin Fang Foom” after the rhythm of the title of a [1934 British] movie called Chu Chin Chow. No, that doesn’t prove he plotted “Foom,”…

…nor does it prove that he did anything other than name the monster. Nobody disputes Lee’s claim to the names of the monsters. “Convincingly staking his claim” for plotting and writing “in its entirety” requires more than his suspicion, belief, even his word that he did something, especially when he contradicts the material evidence. Explain to me again, Roy, why Lee didn’t sign a single Kirby monster story, ever, and yet he signed this…

Patsy
Signed.

Thomas: …it’s well known that, circa 1961, he wrote synopses for most if not all of Timely/Marvel’s “monster epics,” which his brother Larry Lieber (and perhaps occasionally others) then turned into full scripts to be drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, et al.

This statement is false. It’s well known among your readers, Roy, because you began spreading this origin story in 1998 (quoted in my original letter): while crediting Lee with writing the monster stories, you slipped in the phrase, “along with Larry Lieber.” Based on the actual evidence, the published works and the original art pages that have surfaced, it’s not true.

Will Murray’s “Vandoom” article was revised and reprinted in TJKC #77. In its original 1984 form, the article credits Lee with writing Marvel style, as you did in 1998. Wouldn’t being “written” Marvel-style obviate the need for a Lieber script?

Murray1984

Murray, 1984: “Then Jack Kirby wandered over from DC… Stan Lee never showed this kind of imagination in his pre-1959 scripts, so I would guess it was Kirby, whose mother was born near Transylvania and told him some pretty wild legends when he was a kid, on whose doorstep we can lay the credit—or blame.”

“Lee-Kirby epic… Lee and Kirby developed… always a Stan Lee moral at the end… Lee/Kirby monster story…”

It’s unclear what Lee did in this collaboration, until..

“I also have to feel sorry for Stan Lee. I’m sure his artists helped create the monsters (this seems to be when he first started plotting ‘Marvel-style’), but he had to name them.”

By the time of the 2019 rewrite, the ’80s Lee-as-writer narrative had been supplanted.

Murray2019

Murray, 2019: “By the beginning of 1960, Stan Lee had weeded out the also-rans from his stable, trained a small group of replacements to work from his plots and brother Larry Lieber’s scripts, and established a new house look to his four surviving fantasy titles…”

“Lieber is the unsung hero of the monster era. When Lee had to let go of his staff scripters in 1958, he brought in younger brother Larry and trained him to write monster stories.”

The credits were introduced in 1962. Lieber was added to the scenario following an interview he did with Murray in 1995. I’d be grateful, Roy, if you could direct me to a mention of Lieber scripting for Kirby that predates Kirby’s TCJ interview, or more significantly, his death. After he died, Kirby wasn’t around to contest Lieber’s claim.

Thomas: Now, if Jack himself said at some point that he wrote that story, dialogue and all, that would definitely be worth considering. But traces of his penciled balloons and captions on original “Foom” art merely indicate he pencil-lettered it when he drew it, not that he’d written the original script.

“If Jack himself said at some point,” it would be dismissed like everything else Jack himself said because it couldn’t co-exist with what Lee and Thomas have been saying.

In fact, Kirby himself did comment…
GROTH: When you went to Marvel in ’58 and ’59, Stan was obviously there.

KIRBY: Yes, and he was the same way [a pest].

GROTH: And you two collaborated on all the monster stories?

KIRBY: Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the [monster] stories just like I always did.
Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

Roy, you told Lee he “probably didn’t write full scripts for Jack for Fin Fang Foom.” You told Jon Cooke (see letter to Comic Book Creator, above) “Larry wrote a full script for the origin of Ant-Man (and probably ‘The Man in the Ant-Hill,’ earlier),” then you used the phrase, “ fully scripted by Lee and Lieber.” What is the physical evidence for scripts by Lee or Lieber? Have you ever seen a full script by Lee?

Will Murray interviewed Daniel Keyes, one of Lee’s editors between 1952 and 1955, for Alter Ego #13. Keyes described the process of vetting scripts of freelance writers for Lee; later, Murray asked him about Lee’s writing.

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

Thomas: It may well be true, as you say, that Jack would’ve preferred to write the actual scripts to some (if not all) of the stories he and Stan did. If so, it doesn’t seem he often (if ever) broached that subject to Stan, or I’d have probably heard about it in 1965 or after. But I won’t deny that, as the editor, responsible to publisher Martin Goodman for the contents of the comics, Stan really never felt that Jack’s dialogue would deliver what he wanted in a Marvel comic. Rightly or wrongly (and I submit he was basically correct), Stan believed his own way of scripting Marvel’s comics was every bit as important as the art during that first Marvel decade… and he wanted to keep that winning combination going. Not in order to rob Jack of credit, but because the system was working—had worked, indeed, from the first issue of Fantastic Four—and he didn’t want to mess it up.

Q: Who created the Inhumans, you or Stan Lee?

JACK: I did.

Q: Do you plot the Fantastic Four stories by drawing the basic story and then having Stan write the dialogue?

JACK: This is Stanley’s editorial policy. As a Marvel artist, I carry it out
Excelsior #1, 1968.

KIRBY: I’ll tell you from a professional point of view. I was writing them. I was drawing them.

EISNER: But you do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of someone else, regardless of who it is, putting balloons in on a completely penciled page. I have a prejudice on it but I want to get your opinion.

KIRBY: My opinion is this: Stan Lee wrote the credits. I never wrote the credits.
Shop Talk, Jack Kirby interviewed by Will Eisner, Will Eisner‘s Spirit Magazine #39, July 1982.

51credits

Darrell Epp, Jack Kirby and Kompany group, 15 January 2020: the mob has been wrong before, it has happened, so what do you think: look at the stuff kirby wrote before 60’s marvel and after 60’s marvel and try to compare the maturity/complexity of the writing…. and saying ‘the writers at dc lacked that kind of breadth’ compared to lee’s writing is tricky, because, what did lee ever write, without the genius of kirby or ditko to sponge off of lamprey-style? millie the model? ravage 2099? and yes, kirby’s writing could have been problematic for many readers because it operated at a higher level of sophistication than they were used to, it’s just brimming with literary illusions, HARD WON truths from a veteran who saw the darkest corners of the human experience up close, man! i’m so grateful….

Here’s an excerpt from Chris Tolworthy’s epic dissection of FF #51:

PART 3: LEE WAS EDITOR, NOT PLOTTER

The idea that Lee added the ending is “special pleading”: that is, all the evidence says Lee did NOT plot, but we say “in this one case he must have done (because the plot point is bad)”. I will now remind readers why the default position must be why Lee did not plot this issue, and then show why the “bad ending” argument fails.

As we have shown time and again in the Marvel Method group, all the evidence points to Lee having MINIMAL control over the plot of the stories. He might say “Bring back Dr Doom” or “lighten up the tone” or “have them fight Spider-Man” but that’s about it. Normally the story conferences take place behind closed doors, but when we do catch a glimpse they always show that lee had literally no idea what was in the comic until he saw it. This is nowhere more clear than around issue 51.

We are lucky to get two accidental glimpses into a story meeting around this time: one just before, one just after. For FF48, Roy Thomas accidentally walked in on a meeting and famously reported the “who’s that guy?” quote. Lee knew nothing about the Silver Surfer until he saw him. Then for FF 55, Lee put on a fake meeting for a reporter, and Lee’s comment shows he had no idea what was in the comic (being unaware of the ongoing Klaw plot, and thinking the Surfer whose whole story was being trapped on Earth, was “somewhere off in space”). So the default assumption must be that, barring other evidence, Lee did not plot the stories at all. He was an editor: he edited stories after they arrived.

PART 4: LEE’S MOST FAMOUS EDIT

The simplest way to see Lee’s edits is to read the stories without dialogue. The “Kirby Without Words” blog shows that the art and dialogue are frequently in conflict.

SueRestrained
Sue restrained, or “Reed, do something!”?

The clearest and most common conflict is sexism (check the blog for examples). Lee always wanted the male hero to be THE MALE HERO. So:

  • when a woman did something, Lee changed the dialogue to give credit to the man.
  • When the male hero was controlled by a villain, Lee changed the dialogue so the male hero was NOT being controlled.
  • When the male hero did something morally ambiguous (especially if it might offend the Comics Code) Lee changed the dialogue to make it safer.

The number one example is Reed Richards, Mr Fantastic. By editing out his moral conflicts, Lee removed the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four. I’ll look at that next, and then how it changes FF51.

Thomas: Sure, he let Wally Wood dialogue a single Daredevil issue; but he was unhappy with the results (as I learned when I came to work there, soon after Wood quit). I can appreciate Wood’s being unhappy to be acknowledged only as the “artist” in the credits, so that he moved on—but Stan was so obviously enamored of Wood’s talent that, if Wood had really pushed the point, Stan might well have made the same type of arrangement with him that he’d done first with Ditko, then with Kirby.

Arrangement? You seem to believe that any arrangement with Ditko and Kirby was acceptable to Ditko and Kirby at the time.

Wally Wood was writing Daredevil from the start and simply wanted writing credit.

WW: I enjoyed working with Stan on DAREDEVIL but for one thing. I had to make up the whole story. He was being paid for writing and I was being paid for drawing but he didn’t have any ideas. I’d go in for a plotting session and we’d just stare at each other until I came up with a storyline. I felt that I was writing the book but not being paid for writing.

ME: You did write one issue, as I recall…

WW: One, yes. I persuaded him to let me write one by myself since I was doing 99% of the writing already. I wrote it, handed it in and he said it was hopeless. He said he’d have to rewrite it all and write the next issue himself. Well, I said I couldn’t contribute to the storyline unless I got paid something for writing and Stan said he’d look into it, but after that he only had inking for me. Bob Powell was suddenly pencilling DAREDEVIL.
Excerpts from Mark Evanier’s interview with Wallace Wood, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997. (Now published in Fantagraphics’ The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood.)

Thomas: As for your statement that “Ditko quit… because Stan wasn’t speaking to him”… well, maybe that’s the reason, and maybe it wasn’t. Do you have a quote from Steve specifically stating that? Because Steve had other, and, he felt, better reasons for leaving, I’m sure… and in any event, he went on working for Marvel for a year or so after the two men stopped speaking.

Ditko was forthcoming and transparent: he wrote impassioned essays in Robin Snyder’s The Comics, including a 15+-part Mini History of Marvel, the 2008 32-pager, Avenging Mind, focused on Marvel, Lee, and Goodman, and “WHY I QUIT S-M, MARVEL” in Four Page Series No. 9, September 2015.

WhyIQuit

Roy, I exaggerated in my letter when I called Lee your only source. You told Jim Amash that your take on who created characters was based on speaking strictly to Lee and Brodsky. Your version of what took place before your arrival is only informed by Lee, Lieber, and other Marvel employees. People like Lieber, Romita, and Brodsky, who rarely encountered Kirby in person, simply repeated what Lee told them, so Lee was the ultimate source. The 1998 Comic Book Artist #2 “interview” seems to indicate that Brodsky and Lieber hadn’t yet told you about the monster stories. Who were your sources of information at that point? Earlier?

Thomas: Nor do I necessarily accept that Jack quit Marvel in 1970 specifically “over the issue of writing credit and pay for the writing he always did.” I’m not saying it may not have been a factor. Still, during the preceding decade, he’d received several pay raises—and while they were officially for his work as “artist,” that doesn’t mean that Stan, who was pushing the publisher to get him those raises, didn’t personally count Jack’s plotting/storytelling input as partial justification for them, even if Jack didn’t see it that way.

Lee had a lot to say about Goodman’s promises, to himself and to Kirby and Ditko. Ultimately he said this:
“As far as what they were paid, I had nothing to do with that. They were hired as freelance artists, and they worked as freelance artists. At some point they apparently felt they should be getting more money. Fine, it was up to them to talk to the publisher. It had nothing to do with me. I would have liked to have gotten more money too. I never made an issue of it. I got paid per page for what I wrote, the same rate as the other writers—maybe a dollar a page more. “I don’t want anyone to think I treated Kirby or Ditko unfairly. I think we had a wonderful relationship. Their talent was incredible. But the things they wanted weren’t in my power to give them.”

Stan Lee interviewed by David Hochman, Playboy, April 2014.

Kirby quit after years of having his writing pay stolen. It’s not a mystery, even though Lee made out for decades that he didn’t know why. Now Roy Thomas has taken up the mantle.

Thomas: But Stan felt that he himself needed to provide the actual finished dialogue for the stories. When Jack dialogued a “S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode while Stan was out of town, Stan, upon returning, was vocally unhappy with the dialogue (if then-production manager Sol Brodsky was still alive, he’d back me up on this) and hurriedly rewrote as much of it as he had time to do… and far more than poor, long-suffering, deadline-hounded, budget-conscious Sol wanted him to. and from the caption, Roy T. recalls The Man as actually doing extensive rewrites upon his return; in the end, he just didn’t want to take credit or blame for his part in a story whose writing he didn’t much care for. Surprisingly, it’s unusually difficult to detect the rewritten balloons and captions, which suggests that production manager Sol Brodsky may have called credited letterer Sam Rosen into the Marvel offices to handle Stan’s re-do. Or maybe Sol talked Stan out of doing quite as much rewriting as Roy knows he wanted.

How conveniently worded: “if the evidence doesn’t bear out my ‘recollection,’ I’ll say Sol talked him out of it.” Vocally unhappy? Let’s take a look at the evidence…

Jim MacKay, Marvel Method group, 15 December 2019: Artie Simek did the [front page] bottom caption and credits, and relettered a few word balloons elsewhere in the story. If that was Stan Lee’s contribution when he returned from vacation, it amounted to 1 or 2 percent of the dialogue. Certainly not “extensive rewriting.”

StrangeTales148Credits
“SAM ROSEN” lettered by Artie Simek.

Don’t take Jim MacKay’s word for it… the pages of the SHIELD story can be viewed online.

sawbones
Lee’s contribution to this panel: “SAWBONES.”

WW: But remember that issue of DAREDEVIL I wrote? Stan said it was hopeless and that he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. Then I saw it when it came out and he’d changed five words, less than an editor usually changes. I think that was the last straw.
Mark Evanier’s interview with Wallace Wood, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997. (Now published in Fantagraphics’ The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood.)

Thomas: In 1970 Stan let Jack dialogue the “Ka-Zar” and “Inhumans” 10-pagers, because he didn’t have time to write the script himself and he knew Jack didn’t want to work with any other Marvel scribes; in his own mind, Stan was mostly just trying to keep Jack happy—though it was clearly too late for that.

Too late for awarding the writing pay? Yes, by 1970 it was too late. Why don’t we say it was already too late when, as Kirby put it, Lee noticed Kirby was taking home a bigger paycheque, and Kirby was forced to “render unto Caesar”?

Thomas: In the mid-1960s, Stan was desperately looking for writers. If not, he’d never have hired, in short order in 1965, first Steve Skeates, then myself, then Denny O’Neil. If he’d felt Kirby or Wood could’ve delivered the kind of scripting he wanted, I’m dead certain he’d have found a way to utilize them in that capacity. (Admittedly, in Jack’s case, I’m sure he’d have been torn, because he wanted Jack to pencil as much as possible—and writing scripts, like inking, would’ve made him less productive in the area wherein Stan primarily valued him. But the fact remains: rightly or wrongly, he just didn’t care for Jack’s actual dialogue-writing, only his plotting and storytelling.)

Definitions: Kirby was writing, Lee was adding dialogue based on Kirby’s margin notes.

Less productive? According to Mark Evanier, Kirby’s solo work breakdown was the same as when Lee “collaborated”: Kirby wrote and penciled a complete story, then added dialogue and captions. The difference was that instead of writing dialogue in the balloons, Kirby wrote margin notes for Lee. How would writing his own dialogue be less productive?

If you’re honest, Roy, I think you’d agree that Kirby explaining the story to Lee in margin notes would be more time-consuming than Kirby simply finishing the story he’d already written. The results were disastrous, with Lee seemingly taking the margin notes as dialogue suggestions and having the dialogue explain what was visibly obvious. Also evident was the fact that Lee frequently didn’t know what was happening in the story. No, the purpose of taking away Kirby’s ability to dialogue his own story was to give Lee the writing page rate on stories that came to him pre-written.

When Kirby did layouts, he was writing the story for a fraction of the penciling pay. The penciler took a pay cut, and Lee’s page rate was unaffected. When Ditko got plotting credit, Lee took the pay cut.

“only his plotting and storytelling”: this is amusing because Lee never credited Kirby in the credit boxes with plotting, thus Kirby was never paid for it.

Lee “didn’t care for” Kirby’s dialogue because his reading level was lower than Kirby was used to writing. Joan told him to write the kind of stories he himself would want to read, and for that he needed to dumb down Kirby’s work. See Chris Tolworthy, above.

Thomas: Should Stan perhaps have made some additional accommodation with Jack? The point can be argued—in retrospect, I wish he had—but remember, Stan had reason to believe the matter had been settled to Jack’s satisfaction when the two of them agreed that future stories would be credited as “a Stan Lee & Jack Kirby production,” the phrasing Jack reportedly chose himself. I don’t recall ever hearing that Jack broached a further complaint in that area—at least not to his face, which is basically all that counts; if Jack didn’t bring it up, Stan can’t be faulted for not reading his mind. Stan thought things were back on an even keel—right up to the day he received that fateful phone call from Jack telling him that he was quitting and indeed had already begun working on new projects for DC. Yes, there was definitely a failure to communicate—and it’s a real pity that there was—but it was a two-way street.

No mind-reading was necessary. Lee was stealing from Kirby and Kirby knew it. Lee should simply have made some “additional accomodation” to not steal.

NotBrandEcch
“Auntie Goose Rhymes,” Not Brand Ecch #11, December 1968.

Kirby’s imminent departure seemed to be common knowledge around the Marvel offices as early as 1968. In a story in Not Brand Echh, John Verpoorten drew a gag note pinned to the bulletin board next to Kirby’s drawing board. It reads, “All is forgiven,” and is signed Carmine. The writer is listed as… Roy Thomas.

Kirby made it clear to you in the ’70s, Roy, that the Marvel Method was an unsatisfactory working arrangement on the FF. You still seem (or pretend to be) mystified, but even Danny Fingeroth pegged it in A Marvelous Life: “Kirby had no intention of plotting stories for someone else to dialogue.” (p 261)

Thomas: One further point: While Jack’s experience briefly drawing The Double Life of Private Strong and The Fly for Archie might indicate to some that Jack was always pushing Stan to do super-heroes, don’t forget that it was more likely Joe Simon as editor who initiated the idea of doing such characters to the Archie people.

I won’t dispute here that it was Simon’s idea; that’s not part of this discussion. I understand your need to strip the credit from Kirby for even the creating and writing he’d done at S&K lest he be perceived as someone who came to Lee as a successful creator and writer. Kirby was recommending superheroes based on his own experience of the success of work he was doing for other companies, while he was selling monster stories to Lee.

Thomas: Contrary to what you write, Stan didn’t think of Jack as “just an artist.” There are numerous references in the 1960s Bullpen Bulletins and elsewhere to Kirby’s contributions to story, including at least once or twice the bald statement that Jack would draw entire issues after just the briefest of story conferences.

Lee didn’t “think” of Kirby as “just an artist,” but he never credited him with anything more than art in published credits other than “This Is A Plot?” until the very end (the two writing credits you mentioned). He was “just an artist” in every way that mattered to him. Ditko got a plotting credit. Lee got plotting credits on many books where it’s clear that Kirby did the plotting (Strange Tales #103, Tales of Suspense #39, for just two examples). Lee’s neighbour’s kids got a plotting credit (Strange Tales #116). Letter writers got plotting credits. Jack Kirby, the primary plotter of the Marvel Universe, never got a plotting credit. Kirby was never given credit by Lee in a way that could be monetized: Lee paid lip service to plotting and creativity, but always took the money by taking the writing or plotting credit. When Ditko demanded and received a plotting credit, it ate into Lee’s page rate and Lee stopped speaking to Ditko.

NeighbourKidsCredit
Not just anyone qualified for a plotting credit.

Thomas: The “crying time” episode Jack recounted in the late ’80s may indeed have come about very much as Doc Vassallo postulates—i.e., less because sales were down (whatever the state of the office furniture) than because Stan’s artist friend Joe Maneely had died only a couple of days before. Small wonder Stan didn’t recall the episode as Jack did: his motivation for any tears, whether gushing or stifled, might well have been largely different from what Jack assumed.

Kirby told the story to Leonard Pitts, Jr in 1985, Ben Schwartz of the UCLA Daily Bruin in 1987, and Gary Groth in 1989.

Steve Sherman has recently shed some new light on this description of Kirby’s: ‘The thing is, if Joe Maneely hadn’t died, things would have been a lot different. I guess you can call it fate, destiny, random events, but Jack probably would have found something else. Yes it was early ’61 that Goodman was going to pull the plug. Don’t forget, the Marvel offices at the time were pretty small, so it wasn’t a big deal to close the office. I would guess that Goodman had not yet informed the printer or engravers, since that would have been bought ahead of time. I would guess that last issues of the books had been sent out. Jack couldn’t let them close. Jack had always been working on ideas for books. He was pretty well aware of what was being published. He always felt that “superhero” books would make a comeback. Since Goodman already had the pipeline going, it wasn’t too much to give it another shot, especially since it was Jack. He had come through before, so why not. As Jack told me, he came up with all of the titles at once. He called it a “blitzkrieg”. He felt if he put out a bunch of new books at once, it would make a splash. He had “FF”, “Spider-Man”, “The X-Men” and “Thor” and “Hulk”. You can believe it or not, but that’s what he told me.’
Steve Sherman by email to Patrick Ford, 2018.

Patrick Ford, Marvel Method group, 7 January 2020: JL Mast has a business document dated June 16, 1958 which indicates that Martin Goodman planned to shutter his comic book publishing division. June 1958 happens to coincide with the death of Joe Maneely and Jack Kirby beginning to sell freelance material to Goodman. Examining Marvel’s publishing record there is a 38 day gap between July 25th and September 2nd where nothing was published. On Sept. 2nd three new science fiction titles were introduced and Sept. 2nd also happens to be the month where Jack Kirby’s work began showing up in the science fiction titles. He did three of the four covers and had his first story published. The nearly six week long interruption may be further evidence that Goodman did intend to pull the plug.

Furniture

Michael J. Vassallo: …this exact period is the most critical moment in Marvel’s 80 year history. Atlas implosion in April of 1957, inventory runs out, declining sales (assumed), and on June 7, 1958 Joe Maneely dies. It was the company’s nadir and I’m sure Goodman had had enough. There was enough profit in his men’s sweat magazines (a genre he actually pioneered, rather than copied). So what happens next is the lynchpin to what came afterward. Immediately (and I mean days) new sci-fi titles were launched. What corresponds with that launch? Jack Kirby returns. Do you actually think Stan suggested new sci-fi titles? He had never written any! Do you actually think Martin Goodman suggested new sci-fi titles? Goodman hated science fiction. It never sold for him. Not in the pulps, not in the comic books. The sales pitch had to come from Jack and the decision to green-light it was made immediately, based on job numbers. The original sales pitch may even have been for super heroes, and Goodman resisted, but at the very least it was science fantasy and Goodman relented. So the line chugs on for another 2 years as sci-fi becomes monster stories, westerns, romance and some new war stories appear and humor continues unabated (which were probably the best sellers). Then the second critical juncture occurs and with declining sales Kirby probably shows up with his blitzkrieg proposal for new superhero titles and Goodman finally relents The first series was a super-powered version of what he already did, the Challengers of the Unknown. THAT is the most likely scenario of how Marvel re-launched. No wife telling Stan to do comics “his” way, no golf game, no spider-on-the-wall, no Chondu the magician, no…

Patrick Ford: Michael, There is some evidence that Kirby’s pitch was for super heroes. In several different interviews (as early as 1969) he said he was pushing for the super hero. He said in 1969 that he “kept harping on” trying superheroes while doing the monster stories. Later he told Will Eisner he had to “fight for the super hero” titles. I think he came in pushing the idea and Goodman didn’t want to go with it due to the poor reaction to the Timely hero revival. Kirby was also doing science fiction and monster stories at the time for Crestwood, National and Harvey and my guess is he also pushed for those with Goodman jumping on the “giant monster” genre which was popular at the time in film and comic books.

Michael J. Vassallo: Back to what I said above, there are 2 lines of history now. There’s the “official” history nearly 100% based on what Stan has told starting in the 1970’s. Then there’s Jack’s history, told in numerous interviews. Of the 2, only Jack’s is backed by a deep look at the actual books, the actual history of the time period, and the back history of both. Jack’s story can be backed with data and evidence. Stan’s cannot. Stan’s back history tells us nothing. His recollection of the critical junctures are negligible. His forward story is made up and cannot be corroborated. Jack’s back story is really all you need to see which history is correct. His interviews just corroborate what he was saying.

So if the incident as Kirby described it happened in 1958 or 1961, yes, there was a corresponding shutdown.

Thomas: Nor is it likely that it was Jack’s supposed predilection for super-heroes that led to Timely reviving them (more than two years after the crying/furniture event Jack refers to). Not only Stan’s own various accounts, but also the 1960 success of DC’s new Justice League of America and related comics, gives credence to the greater likelihood that the 1961 Timely super-hero title was developed at the behest of the *publisher*. There’s no proof—and not really much probability—that Stan ever even mentioned to Martin Goodman that Jack Kirby thought the company ought to try putting out super-heroes again. If Jack felt it should, he was clearly correct, but that doesn’t mean his wishes had any more effect on Goodman than my own fannish musings, from nearly a thousand miles away. That wasn’t the way Goodman (or Stan Lee) operated, and I submit that it’s willfully naïve to believe it was.

Roy, “Stan’s own various accounts,” as well as your own, were introduced to the world after the purchase of Marvel by Perfect Film & Chemical. Some were introduced in 1998 or later. “Willfully naïve” describes Will Murray wanting Lee to be telling the truth, but you’re just willfully misleading because you know more of the truth.

John Morrow in Stuf’ Said: When Pitts next interviews Stan, he mentions Jack’s story about saving Marvel from closing down, and finding Stan crying: “Well, that’s his remembrance. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve had my head on the desk crying. You’re meeting me now, I don’t think I come across as an emotional wreck. I really don’t know what he’s alluding to at all.” I’m objecting again here, as Lee isn’t fully addressing the issue. He’s completely avoiding any discussion of whether Marvel was about to close when Kirby arrived, and only focusing on the “crying” comment.

Showcase12Challs

As for the success of the Justice League, Kirby’s Challengers predated the JLA in the superhero revival by three years, and even without Kirby, was outselling JLA’s Brave and the Bold in 1960, when the JLA would have been around for Goodman to notice. The first JLA cover “paid homage” to Kirby’s Showcase #12 Challengers cover. Goodman was probably aware of the success of Challengers, and had seen DC themselves imitate Challengers with Suicide Squad, Sea Devils, and the JLA. He was nudged into action by Kirby’s presentation, after he’d actually pulled the plug on the comics division (for the second or third time?); his renowned knowledge of the market may have determined which of Kirby’s concepts to audition first. The JLA story is a smokescreen developed post 1968 to disguise the obvious source of PF&C’s newly-purchased intellectual property.

Vindictive1Vindictive2

Thomas: As for your final insult, aimed at Stan and/or myself—well, I left it in, because I wanted to remind readers (and myself) that being a fan of a particular comics talent can be carried so far as to become almost a vice. As for myself—well, I’ve been a fan of Jack Kirby since probably you were less than a gleam in your father’s (if not your grandfather’s) eye, so I hardly need certification in your eyes as what I indeed am: a great and lifetime admirer of both men. I’ve written more than once that I find it impossible to imagine Marvel Comics as it ultimately evolved without the two of them being on the scene at the time, with each doing basically what he did. If you feel differently… well, I know a good eye specialist I could recommend.

Roy, you’ve been a fan for a long time, but given the ability to look at both men’s claims in light of the evidence in the work itself, it becomes clear that you’re just making stuff up. Your unique perspective on the man is not unlike Kirby’s: you knew him before his Cadence makeover, when the industry considered him a buffoon; you saw his vindictive side (the one he showed to Kirby, Ditko, Wood, Ayers, and others). Kirby used satire to show us truth about Lee, but your goal is to suppress that truth and erase Kirby’s accomplishments. Being a Kirby fan can be “almost a vice”? I would suggest that you’re leading a Lee cult, complete with false doctrine. Simply pointing out the existence of accounts other than Lee’s is treated as heresy.

Addendum

More thoughts on Fin Fang Foom…

Chris Tolworthy, Marvel Method group, 19 January 2020: This topic (Fin Fang Foom) fascinates me, because it gets to the heart of Lee’s claims, in a number of ways:

1. Deep versus shallow. If the stories are shallow, then Lee might have a claim: he had a history of shallow stories. But the stories are not shallow, so “this silly name sounds the same” is no evidence.

2. Misdirection. Lee’s claims rely on half remembered maybes. Roy Thomas uses the same method when referring to the Chu Chin Chow claim. He admits that it is not proof, but for proof he refers to the “everybody knows” argument. And the “everybody knows” argument turns out to be based on other non-evidence like this. In contrast, any Kirby evidence is solid and well documented.

3. Racism, sexism, etc. “Chu Chin Chow” was a name created by a westerner in the Yellow Peril era. Presumably from “Fu Manchu”, “China” and “Chow Mein”. The name celebrates ignorance. Anybody with respect for a culture would not be so lazy when naming a major character. Sadly Kirby inherited some of these names, and he needed work (e.g. Charlie Chan), but his own creations show a greater understanding and respect (e.g. the Inhumans, an obviously Asian culture, but one with more depth).

Kirby’s choice of a name retains what is authentically ancient Chinese (monosyllabic alliteration) while avoiding the ignorant racism that Lee embraces (see previous point). From Wikipedia:

Old Chinese morphemes were originally monosyllabic, but during the Western Zhou period many new bisyllabic words entered the language. For example, over 30% of the vocabulary of the Mencius is polysyllabic, including 9% proper names, though monosyllabic words occur more frequently, accounting for 80–90% of the text.[163] Many words, particularly expressive adjectives and adverbs, were formed by varieties of reduplication:[164]
full reduplication, in which the syllable is repeated, as in *ʔjuj-ʔjuj (威威 wēiwēi) ‘tall and grand’ and *ljo-ljo (俞俞 yúyú) ‘happy and at ease’.[164]
rhyming semi-reduplication, in which only the final is repeated, as in *ʔiwʔ-liwʔ (窈宨 yǎotiǎo) ‘elegant, beautiful’.[165] The initial of the second syllable is often *l- or *r-.[166]
alliterative semi-reduplication, in which the initial is repeated, as in *tsʰrjum-tsʰrjaj (參差 cēncī) ‘irregular, uneven’.[165]
vowel alternation, especially of *-e- and *-o-, as in *tsʰjek-tsʰjok (刺促 qìcù) ‘busy’ and *ɡreʔ-ɡroʔ (邂逅 xièhòu) ‘carefree and happy’.[167]

As Patrick Ford has pointed out, Lee’s defences over the years appear to be schooled by legal advice. His reliance on names is a classic case. Lee cannot claim to have written the meat of the stories, as his abilities are laughable. He is simply unable to come up with a decent story on his own. HOWEVER, by talking about names he gets around that problem. If he provided the name then that inserts him into the creation process at the beginning, allowing him to claim originator status without having to claim any talent.

Talking about names has the added advantage that it does not require Lee to memorise anything. Lawyers always worry that their idiot clients will mangle or forget some vital point, so they have to make their case idiot proof. By sticking to names, Lee does not have to remember much, or even anything. When a critic asks “how did you create X” he can just riff on the name.

For examples, see his discussion of Dr Octopus, the Destroyer, or alliteration in general.

Lee’s focus on alliteration is deceptive. He likes to claim ownership of alliteration, using his alleged “poor memory” to appear plausible. But a closer examination shows that:

1. Superheroes traditionally have more alliteration, because they are showmen. Hence real life showmen like Harry Houdini, or Kirby’s acrobatic showman “Red Ryan”. We see some alliteration in DC characters for the same reason. So this is not a Stan Lee thing.
(Edit: for Lois Lane, think movie stars Greta Garbot, Rosalind Russell, Claudette Colbert)

2. The 1960s characters (that Lee claims) are not unusually alliterative in this context. Yes there are some (Peter Parker, Reed Richards), but far more of them are not: Johnny Clay (the Rawhide Kid), Anthony Druid, Hank Pym, Ben Grimm (the original star of the FF). Thor, Tony Stark, Nick Fury, Charles Xavier, Natalia Romanov, etc.

So alliteration is not evidence of Lee’s input. In the case of Fin Fang Foom, single syllable alliteration was simply a common feature of Old Chinese, and was one of the first thing that westerners noticed. As usual Lee tries to take ownership of something he did not create.

The post-Kirby Fin Fang Foom is the poster child for what Makes Marvel into Marvel. Fake knowledge. This is what attracted me to Marvel as a child, and what repels me now: Marvel claims to have depth, morality, maturity, continuity, fully realised characters, etc. and in fact has none of those things. What it DOES have is easy promises: buy a comic and be smart. Fin Fang Foom is the poster child because he offers instant cleverness: by remembering that hard-to-forget name, a child can act like he has knowledge of the pre-hero monster era. As an added bonus he can act like he is super cool because he embraces irony and can laugh at himself. Yet in 99 percent of cases the fan has not even read the story, let alone understood its references.

Lee embraced that and celebrated fan ignorance masquerading as brilliance. He was the arch fake, who also barely read the stories, yet used them to claim that he was clever. This approach only works if you either don’t care about good stories (the fans), or if you do, and therefore avoid Stan Lee’s works (most readers, including most lawyers). That is, it relies on NOT READING THE STORIES or reading them in a superficial way, knowing nothing of the source material or references. As long as there are legions of the young and uninformed, as long as a proportion of these wants to stay uninformed, Marvel has a market. And the last thing they want to do is be exposed as frauds (especially those who make a living from the industry) so they will support Lee in any way possible.

The solution to the “who did what” question is to actually read the stories. And here is another Marvel master stroke. Flood the market with so many stories that nobody spends more than five minutes on each one. So nobody reads, and everybody thinks they are a great reader. Nobody can tell a good story from a bad one. Never mind the quality, feel the weight.

The quality of this story is definitely the proof. It angers me that this is remembered just as the silly name story. No, it is a beautiful and profound story. A story of passive quiet learning defeating loud and strong barbarians. It is quintessentially Chinese: the young son with his great respect for the past defeats the foreigners.

Note that this is actually based on Formosa (Taiwan) and is about Taiwan defending itself against mainland China. While the older brother tries to defeat them with his gun, and while brave he is doomed to failure. The younger brother instead studies the old ways and gains strength from the wisdom of the ages. The message, repeated at the start and end of his quest, is that there is more than one way to wage war. Some do it with the sword, others with knowledge.

“Let China sleep, for when she wakes up, she will shake the world.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

The idea of the sleeping power is as old as the hills (hills that in many parts of the world are taken as sleeping dragons). Note the start of the story, where the Formosans run from the red army, just as the hero runs from the dragon. The plot is of how he turns one foe against another, and by him running fast enough they run into each other and defeat each other. I am no expert on martial arts, but I would bet money that is a martial arts concept.

Another beautiful part is how the fleeing Formosans write the name of their legendary protector on the walls, to give themselves courage. Just as happens today and in all oppressed regions.

A famous legend of Formosa: Ban Pin Shan

“Ban Pin Shan means ‘Half-faced mountain’. It is named as its shape implies. This story tells about the virtue of integrity and the values of kindness and selflessness.”

Recall how I mentioned that in many cultures, oddly shaped mountains are thought of as sleeping dragons. In the case of Ban Pin Shan the story (at least the one I have read) does not have a dragon, but it does have the mountain god who taught the people a lesson about greed. He appeared as an old man selling delicious dumplings. he said that the dumplings were a certain price, but if a person had exactly three they could have them for nothing. So of course everybody had exactly three, and the poor generous dumpling maker was not paid a single penny. He then revealed that he was the mountain god, and they had really eaten mud from the mountain, hence the missing gap in the mountain. he was teaching them not to be greedy, not to take something for nothing just because they could.

Fin Fang Foom parallels another story of Formosa: the true story of Wushe from 1930. The Japanese had attached Formosa with overwhelming numbers and weapons, and the aboriginals had no chance of winning, despite bravery. That is like the start of Fin Fang Foom. Only one of the aboriginals had an education: a man named Mo Na Dao. So the people turned to him, just as in Kirby’s story the educated boy was the only one who could win. Mo Na Dao stood up to the Japanese, and had a great victory for a while. Although the people finally died, they did so with honour, and Mo Na Dao became a name to inspire courage, just as “Fin Fang Foom” was written on the walls.

I am not claiming that Kirby knew this or that particular legend. But he had such a broad knowledge that when he made up a story about a Chinese dragon, the story worked and felt right on every level. Including the name.

Letters to Roy Thomas