False Equivalence

As Kirby worked, he would not only draw the story and invent new characters where necessary, he would write marginal notes to Stan, including suggested captions and dialogue, so that when Stan wrote the dialogue, he would know what story points Kirby felt should be made in each panel. Stan would then write dialogue based on Kirby’s notes and perhaps a brief conversation.

This is why Cadence/Marvel started demanding in the 1970s that artists, such as Jack Kirby, sign agreements such as the 1972 Agreement assigning to Marvel all previous Kirby work published by Marvel. Similarly Cadence/Marvel sought to comply with the new Copyright Act’s explicit work-for-hire provisions, by having freelancers sign “work-for-hire” releases as to prior work long after such had been created. Cadence was trying to “clean up,” if not revise, Marvel’s past to protect what had become valuable intellectual property. Decades after the success of the key Kirby characters, Marvel, under its new corporate parents, Perfect Film/Cadence, attempted to “clean up” Marvel’s ownership claim to what had become comic book franchises by re-writing history.
—Mark Evanier, Declaration in Support of Summary Judgment (Filing 74).

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Mark Evanier doesn’t get thanked enough for the service he did the Kirby family when they were sued by Marvel. The Justia website has parts of his two depositions, and his three declarations (including his Expert Report) in their entirety. His Amicus Brief for the Supreme Court case is also online. 1

Judge McMahon excluded the expert testimony of Evanier and John Morrow because they weren’t present during the years covered by Marvel’s lawsuit (1958-1963). By that measure, the testimony of Roy Thomas and John Romita should also have been tossed: they both arrived on the scene in 1965, hence everything they had to say about the years in question was hearsay. Thomas confided to Jim Amash in 1997 that his knowledge of events was acquired solely by speaking to Stan Lee and Sol Brodsky, and not to the freelancers. His early Marvel “history” was either second-hand or fabricated as required over the years. In contrast, Evanier’s expert testimony provided a welcome dose of reality since it was informed by his decades-long relationship with Kirby.

Resources

If Kirby were still alive he probably wouldn’t spend time taking issue with what little Evanier has done for him lately, but now it seems Mark’s ambition is to make sure Kirby doesn’t get a swelled head. Any time I’ve encountered him online since the settlement, he’s been defending Stan Lee against the literal interpretation of two decades of Kirby’s interviews; this without regard for the question of whether Lee needs defending. I’ve been able to engage Mark on the question in a couple of Facebook discussions in the past year, where he made two points. First, the freelancers at Marvel don’t represent the only side of the story. Second, the material evidence doesn’t necessarily say what we think it says.

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In September 2019, Stephen Bissette posted a brief review of Alter Ego #160, the Steve Ditko “tribute” issue. Thanks to Bob Heer’s blog, I was aware of Ditko’s writings, and Bissette’s 2013 blog series, Digging Ditko, 2 convinced me to start purchasing the work as it was published.

Reading the Steve Ditko commemorative issue of ALTER EGO, and still flummoxed at the utter disconnect between readily apparent cause-and-effect and the ongoing bizarre, caricature-like verbal portraits of Ditko and his decisions.

Thankfully, the ALTER EGO texts do acknowledge, cite, and quote Ditko’s own published accounts (via Ditko’s serialized book-length account of his Silver Age years in Robin Snyder’s THE COMICS) and stated reasons for his departure, which, again, are ample and crystal clear. Still, it’s disheartening to read yet again and again the same… old… shit, when it’s high time “fans” stopped spinning the same… old… shit.
—Stephen Bissette, 8 September 2019.

Mark Evanier joined the discussion to provide information about the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoons. He later segued into undermining Bissette’s premise by calling into question Ditko’s version of events: Ditko said he was cut off from communicating with Lee for over a year ending in his 1965 departure from Marvel. Not only was Evanier bucking the consensus in the thread, he was going against the assessment of Roy Thomas in the very magazine being reviewed. Evanier made it clear that he didn’t put much stock in Ditko’s writing, and cited unpublished interviews with Lee and Sol Brodsky for informing his own take on the situation.

Patrick Ford responded: Put me down as believing Ditko. For one thing there are a number of very similar stories concerning Lee which come from Kirby and Wood. Ditko specifically wrote that Lee refused to come out and speak to him. Also, this isn’t a topic Ditko addressed once. He’s written about it several times… As to why Brodsky would say something different. Well, Brodsky was a Marvel employee. Also Brodsky would not be proud of the role he played in the situation between Lee and Ditko… No one walked into Lee’s office. It was locked at all times. This is clear from the Ted White interview. A buzzer from the outer office would sound and Lee had to let Brodsky or whoever in… According to Ditko (I happen to have his essays) when he had to communicate with Lee it was through Flo Steinberg or Brodsky. This is the way it worked because Lee refused to speak to Ditko.

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I was disappointed at Evanier’s obliviousness to the implications of his claims, and questioned the validity of Lee’s words on this or any subject dealing with Marvel’s history. I pointed out that Lee and Brodsky were the same two cited by Thomas in 1997 for shaping his claimed belief that Kirby had created little at early Marvel. Thomas based his history, not on what he learned speaking to the freelancers, but on “what little [he] heard talking to Lee and Brodsky.” 3

Regarding Ditko, I quoted Thomas in Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics Episode 1: By the time I was there, Steve Ditko never came by the office except for a couple of minutes to drop something off, because Stan had decided that there was just no sense in the two of them speaking…

Elsewhere in the thread I related Thomas’ AE 160 comments: It never occurred to me to ask whose idea the no-speak situation had been; but of course, common sense dictated that it had to have been Stan’s decision. As editor, he was technically Ditko’s superior. Years later, in writings for his friend and partner Robin Snyder’s newsletter The Comics!, the artist confirmed that obvious assumption.

Comparing it to arguing politics with Trump supporters, Mark pointed out the futility of convincing people that Stan Lee was to blame for his falling-out with Ditko. I (somewhat rudely) asked why Lee is even given a say when by that point he had already assumed his false identity as creator, a charade that he maintained until his death. Evanier responded that having dealt with, and worked for, Lee, he didn’t “buy into the premise that if you catch him lying about one thing, it’s fair to assume he’s lying about everything.”

Later I was kicking myself that I didn’t think to ask Mark which “one thing” he meant.

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A few months later, Evanier showed up to dispute a Ferran Delgado post which suggested that Kirby’s penciled lettering in story balloons in 1961 indicated that Kirby wrote those stories. Mark commented that Kirby’s penciled lettering didn’t necessarily mean Kirby had written the words he was penciling, alluding to the (relatively recent) company line that Kirby was working from the scripts of others. 4

I pointed out to Mark that Kirby had been quoted on the subject in the TCJ interview. Why, I asked him, was Lee’s version always given the benefit of the doubt despite the odds of a given Lee quote being a lie, while Kirby’s version is contested despite the only evidence against it being the word of Stan Lee? I reiterated pertinent points from the interview:

  • Kirby told Gary Groth that he wrote (specifically) the monster stories.
  • Kirby told Groth that Lee noticed that Kirby was taking home a bigger paycheque, and that Kirby was made to “render unto Caesar.” Lee started taking the writing pay.

The physical evidence shows Lee didn’t sign any of Kirby’s monster stories.

Nine years after the interview, Lee and Thomas interviewed each other for publication in Comic Book Artist #2; their agenda for the discussion involved openly scoffing at Kirby’s claims. 5 Evanier admitted not understanding Kirby’s comments in the TCJ interview at all.

Eric Stedman, Jack Kirby! group, 17 February 2020: I never felt that Kirby exaggerated in that interview at all. I picked up this magazine when it came out and I understood what he meant when he said Stan Lee never wrote anything. Which was that Lee 1. did not originate anything or know how to come up with good ideas and 2. did not know how to construct a story plot. Which is true, he couldn’t do either one. His addition of dialogue was cosmetic, involved no real thought, and was likely based on Kirby’s notes or rough versions anyway most of the time. And asking Jack Kirby or any other artist to come up with an entire story in pictures including original characters and costume designs and everything else is NOT “collaboration,” it’s commissioning the preliminary version of a work which is in essence complete and just needs to be embellished by others. This interview definitely included some tough talk by Kirby but I don’t doubt a word of what he said.

Though my opinion may be viewed by some as non-objective, I can say that my father spoke the truth in this interview. 6
—Neal Kirby

UneasyRider

Evanier cautioned that there are actual Kirby quotes, ready to be used to entrap someone inclined to call Lee a liar, that prove that not everything Kirby said was true. Kirby once talked about doing work for Filmation, when he actually worked for DePatie-Freleng. Mark suggested that, by my standards for the TCJ interview, his disbelieving that Kirby worked for Filmation meant he was calling Kirby a liar. He has a similar example in the FAQ on his website: But for all the things Jack did well, he was not great at being interviewed. He occasionally got carried away or confused. There was one interview where, without realizing what he was saying, he said he’d created Superman. Needless to say, he never really believed that but somehow, that’s what came out of his mouth. 7

I responded with a comparison: Mark, I see what you’re saying. You’re saying that Lee accidentally misspoke when he said…

“the characters’ concepts were mine.” 8

“I would have to think [Kirby has] either lost his mind or he’s a very evil person.” 9

And (under oath): “In the 60s, the ideas for the new characters originated with me because that was my responsibility… And I dreamed up the Fantastic Four, and I wrote a brief outline.” 10
—Stan Lee

Kirby misspoke on occasion, by accident. Lee’s falsification of history was deliberate and pervasive.

In another FB thread recently, Mark and Steve Sherman both stated unequivocally that they’d never known Kirby to lie. Kirby did have something to say regarding the writing in the monster stories, and instead of looking at the evidence through the lens of Kirby’s claim, Evanier has dismissed the claim. Among that select group of people who have actually heard of Jack Kirby, Evanier’s Kirby biography has been much anticipated for over two decades. Kirby now finds himself in the unenviable position of battling for credibility in its pages with the world’s most beloved serial liar.

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Rewriting Comics History: Stan Lee has been positioning himself in the public consciousness as the living embodiment of the Marvel spirit for so log now he’s actually managed to make people believe in his megalomaniacal view of history. The fact of the matter is that Lee had a lot less to do with the vaunted “Marvel Philosophy” and the revolutionary Marvel approach to comic books than either Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. It was Kirby who created unworldly epics in Fantastic Four and it was Kirby who spun morality tales in Captain America. It was Ditko who made Spider-Man the “everyman” comic book and it was Ditko who created the unmatched fantasy in Dr. Strange.—Joe Brancatelli, 1980.

Lee exited the 1960s, in the eyes of some, as the industry’s buffoon. With a remarkable media biltz that began after Kirby’s departure, he laid claim to the writing and the creation of the properties; subsequent comic histories are infected with his account. The current situation exists because Lee was a master of manipulation of public sentiment, and used his power to dilute the concept of truth. As I asked Mark Evanier in the Steve Ditko exchange, why does Stan Lee get to be interviewed at all? Mark chose to bring politics into the discussion, so the obvious comparison is an illegitimate president taking credit for, or attempting to abolish, the achievements of his predecessor. With no creations Lee could legitimately call his own, he was intent on taking credit for Kirby’s.

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One thing that tripped me up previously was Jack’s 1989 Comics Journal #134 interview, since back in the day, Kirby came across to me as a little nutty-sounding with some of the bitter recollections he brought to light. The most egregious is when he said, “Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did.”—John Morrow, Stuf’ Said, First Edition, p 158[Second Edition p 173]

In the final chapter of Stuf’ Said, “The Verdict,” John Morrow revealed that despite the nice things he’d said about Kirby in the previous 150 pages (how it was a revelation to him that Kirby had disputed Lee’s ‘70s disinformation campaign consistently, early, and often, and not just to Gary Groth), he concluded that it was Kirby’s words that were “egregious.”

Morrow: I may not like this explanation, but I don’t have any evidence to prove it’s wrong. So I have to give Stan a pass, like I gave Jack on his 1989 “Stan never wrote anything” comment.—158[173]

This is false equivalence: the red letters in Morrow’s book consistently represent untruth, often baldfaced. Kirby’s comment will eventually prove to have been based in truth, but is not given the same benefit of the doubt that’s always given to Lee’s claims, for instance the tale about JLA sales. 11

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Morrow: I will say that, ignoring a few minor discrepancies, I found both men have been pretty consistent in their accounts over the years. So no, I don’t think either man is a liar by any stretch of the imagination.—158[173]

Based on the evidence in Stuf’ Said, surely a judgment could be rendered on the content, not just the consistency, of Lee’s account. When it’s obvious that Lee is lying, Morrow decides that we don’t need to call it lying.

Morrow: Lee usually does more than just reword Kirby’s margin notes, sometimes changing Kirby’s meaning to make the story more in keeping with his own tastes. He views that dialogue creation as “writing” the story.—8[8]

Morrow determined that, solely based on Lee’s “unorthodox” definition of writing, Lee didn’t lie. The definition itself was a lie, arising from the necessity for Lee to redirect the writing page rate from Kirby’s pocket to his own. Lee took the stories Kirby had written, with suggested dialogue penciled into the balloons or margins, and added dialogue. In some cases Lee took his cue from Mort Weisinger and passed off plots from Kirby story conferences as his own. 12

As is now well documented, Mort made a habit of enticing writers to give him plot ideas which he would turn around and give to other writers as his own. He was addicted to the thievery of ideas.—William Woolfolk, 1978.

Morrow: Jack is also guilty of taking too much credit, even if it’s only in reaction to Lee’s grandstanding.—159[174]

This statement is the most deserving of the book’s “egregious” label, but even amidst a relatively comprehensive collection of six decades of Lee’s misdirection, Morrow could only find against Kirby. He is willing to look at writing from Lee’s point of view, but studiously avoids looking at creation and writing from Kirby’s. Examination of the completed work Kirby turned in to Lee, as was done in a series of Mike Gartland articles Morrow once published, shows Kirby could never be guilty of taking too much credit.

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When the one thing used to cast Kirby’s words as lies is the fact that his account contradicted Lee’s, it’s time to look more critically at Lee’s account. Lee’s record of lying should trigger an automatic fact check, but instead his words are used as the only measure of Kirby’s truthfulness. Instead of Kirby’s accounts in interviews being dismissed wholesale for that one reason, they should be taken on their own merits as an accurate representation of aspects of Marvel’s history.

From the time he opened the lines of communication with his readers and with Jerry Bails, Lee misrepresented the situation. The foundational “truth” of his fabricated persona is a falsehood: “I created the characters and wrote the stories.” Everything that followed built on that falsehood, and was therefore false.

The problem here is not that we don’t have eyewitness testimony, it’s that we have conflicting eyewitness testimony. The people involved disagree. If we can’t rely on first-person testimony, what can we do? I think The Confessor, in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City said it best, “Look at the facts, look at the patterns, and look for what doesn’t fit. Base your deductions on that.” 13
—Stan Taylor

In this, Lee has succeeded spectacularly: Ditko and Kirby were reliable witnesses, but Lee’s ability to falsify history has caused even historians like Taylor and biographers like Evanier to conclude that all are unreliable. Richard Schickel has passed on, but his assessment of Disney’s control of the narrative remains spot on.

Disney

Mark Evanier and John Morrow, with the help of Stan Lee, are assembling the Jack Kirby chapter of The Disney Version. It’s time to look at Kirby’s story in light of the physical evidence, rather than validating it against a fictitious account that’s never subject to the slightest scrutiny.

Bonus link: When I started my response to Stuf’ Said, part of the motivation was to present some of the information that was left out of the book. I included it as the last installment of my multi-part review, and it rarely gets accessed. Here’s a direct link to Further Information.

Footnotes

back 1 Here are parts of Mark Evanier’s two depositions, excerpted by Marvel (Filing 65, Attachments 8 and 9), and the Kirbys’ lawyer Marc Toberoff (Filing 95, Attachments 2 and 3), and his declarations (Filings 74, 88, and 90). Exhibit A (Attachment 1) at Filing 90 is his Expert Report. This is Mark’s Amicus Brief for the Supreme Court case.

back 2 Digging Ditko Part 4 has links to the first three parts.

back 3 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 4 In 1974, Lee wrote that “Jack and I were having a ball turning out monster stories” (Origins of Marvel Comics, p 15), and in TJKC #77 Will Murray cited a 1995 interview with Larry Lieber saying he wrote scripts for Kirby’s monster stories. Lieber’s version was endorsed by Alter Ego in 1999.

back 5 Possibly conducted shortly before Lee was fired by Marvel, Lee and Thomas resumed the propaganda initiative begun with Origins by ridiculing Kirby’s TCJ interview.

back 6 Comments section, “TCJ Archive: Jack Kirby Interview,” The Comics Journal website, 2 June 2011.

back 7 From the FAQ at Mark Evanier’s website.

back 8 Janet Bode, A Comic Book Artist KO’d: Jack Kirby’s Six-Year Slugfest with Marvel, The Village Voice, December 8, 1987.

back 9 Steve Duin, “The Back Story on Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby,” The Oregonian/OregonLive, 26 June 2011.

back 10 Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Filing 65, Exhibit 1.

back 11 The JLA discussion continues to resurface, even after the apocryphal golf element was discredited, with even Evanier weighing in against Kirby. The current reasoning goes, “Well, it could have happened that way, so it must have.” No one mentions that the timing doesn’t work, or the Challengers elephant in the room, or the fact that the JLA sales story was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, not in 1961, but in 1974.

back 12 Evidence of Lee making Kirby plots his own to distribute to others shows up in the early issues of Spider-Man, Thor, and Iron Man. Larry Lieber’s belief that he was writing scripts for Kirby based on Lee’s plots could also be explained by this sequence of events: Lee “devising” a plot based on Kirby’s finished pages; Lee passing along the plot to Lieber to be scripted; then Lee and Lieber invoicing for plot and script respectively. Lee chose to start claiming plot credit in 1962 on a Strange Tales story that was plotted by Kirby; he also signed every splash page of FF #6 even though it was plotted, dialogued, and penciled by Kirby.

back 13 Stan Taylor, Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby, 2003.

False Equivalence

2 thoughts on “False Equivalence

  1. Michael Shipley says:

    Nice point by point refutation of Evanier ‘s statements.
    Another thing that could be done is researching every time Lee contradicts himself. There are plenty.

    Like

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