Knock Letters: Some Context

In The Jack Kirby Collector 72, Shane Foley did an investigative report called “The Great Kirby Kontroversy Letters.” He set out to read all of the letters printed in Jack Kirby’s titles during his final years at Marvel, from 1975 to 1978.

Foley: More than once we’ve heard that Jack Kirby felt the letters pages in his ’70s Marvel books were stacked negatively against his work, with disparaging and critical comments being given greater voice than the positive, supportive ones. And there are certainly staffers from that period of time (Jim Shooter and Alan Kupperberg, for example, both interviewed online) who have publicly stated they felt Kirby was right in his suspicions. However, I must admit that, while I knew there were many negative and critical comments on those pages, I had never felt that they were overly so, or that the opinions printed there were entirely unfair.

At the end of the exercise he questions whether they were really so bad.

Foley: Could those negative letters comments—fewer in number than might be expected, but certainly harsh at times—really have had a significant impact in this area? Really?

A year and a half after John Morrow printed Foley’s article, he published Stuf’ Said. Throughout the book, Morrow adopted the language of deniability when referring to verifiable facts.

Morrow: On January 9, the New York Herald Tribune article appears, causing a major rift in the Kirby/Lee relationship. Stan Lee receives an angry phone call this morning from Jack’s wife Roz Kirby, livid about her husband’s portrayal in the article. Every little jab or slight, real or perceived, up to this point could’ve played a role in this reaction. –Stuf’ Said p63, 69(2e)

“Every little jab or slight, real or perceived…” is an extremely poor choice of words. Is it possible that Roz Kirby “perceived” that Stan Lee was signing his name to her husband’s work, or just “imagined” that Lee was stealing his pay? Morrow joins Roy Thomas in minimizing what was an impossible situation for the Kirbys.

Morrow: Kirby feels that there are staffers in the Marvel offices who have been intentionally trying to damage his work and reputation—due to professional jealousy, loyalty to Lee, or resentment over Kirby’s refusal to draw other writers’ scripts.–Stuf’ Said p126, 139(2e)

“Kirby feels”? Why is it necessary to add the qualification? It’s not just an impression Kirby had. Some other impressions, including Morrow’s, are below.

shocking

In Stan Lee: A Marvelous Life, Danny Fingeroth wrote: “There were rumors that staffers were deliberately printing a higher proportion of negative letters about Kirby’s titles than were actually received and were making fun of his output with nasty annotated pages of his comics pinned up on the office walls.”

“Rumors”? Besides Kirby himself, Stephen Bissette, John Morrow, and Mark Evanier have spread those “rumors” as first-hand experience.

In the midst of Marvel’s lawsuit against the Kirbys, Scott Edelman had something to get off his chest.

Edelman: I’d thought enough time had passed that I could forgive Jack Kirby. But I just learned I was wrong.

I was on staff at Marvel Comics in the mid-’70s when the King returned and tried to pick up where he’d left off. At the time, as I sat there in the Bullpen with my blue pencil and proofread the original art for some of his initial issues of titles such as Captain America, which he not only drew, but wrote and edited, I was horrified. The art could still be the stuff of dreams at times, but the words that came out of his characters’ mouths seemed more like a nightmare.

The buzz from us kids in the office wasn’t kind. I’ll admit it. Kirby was a god to us for what he did during the ’60s, but what he was doing at Marvel in the ’70s made us wince, and we didn’t have the tact or maturity to say it appropriately. So we acted like ungrateful punks. But now that the years have passed, as I read some of those issues of Captain America over again, I’m wincing still.

It would be interesting to know if Edelman was responding to blog posts by Jim Shooter the same year.

Shooter: Jack’s titles got plenty of positive mail, too, especially early on, but because the people putting together the lettercolumns then used a lot of negative letters, that had the effect of generating more negative letters. In those days, it was a very cool thing to see your letter in print. Show the readers that negative letters are likely to get printed and you’d get lots of them.

I cannot imagine what the people putting the letter columns together were thinking. Were they trying to be “fair and balanced,” and show that some people were disappointed with what Jack was doing? Was it that they, themselves, were disappointed with what Jack was doing and weighted the lettercols to express their POV? Putting together a negative lettercol is stupid, amateurish and/or malicious.

In an earlier post, Shooter blamed David Anthony Kraft, and wrote, “We fired Kraft and got someone else.” Kraft disputes this. 1

The year after admitting to “us kids in the office” being unkind to Kirby, and being “ungrateful punks,” Edelman got hostile with his detractors.

Edelman: Where are those letters columns designed to turn fans into a torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding mob intent on storming the House of Ideas and demanding Kirby be fired? I just don’t see it.

And I’d like those who feel they do see it to back up their claims with some proof. Otherwise, all they’re doing is maligning folks like me who were doing their best to let readers have their say.

At the time of Kirby’s art battle with Marvel nearly thirty years earlier, Edelman had sung a different tune. 2

Edelman: I look back to the first few Bullpen Bulletins Pages of 1965-1966, and read: […] “Jack ‘King’ Kirby drops in loaded down with a new mess of masterpieces, once a week. Poor Jack! He’s so absent-minded that he usually goes home with someone else’s hat, portfolio, or train ticket! Stan wanted to put a label around his neck reading: ‘if found, please return to the Merry Marvel Bullpen!’ but he couldn’t—Jack had lost the label!”–and I think to myself, if I lied in 1975, what’s to say Stan wasn’t doing the same in 1965? Was it all really as good-natured as it seemed? Or did some of the joshing sting?

[…]

Alison Lurie, whose most famous novel is The War Between the Tates, wrote in her earlier novel Real Life (1969): “If nothing will finally survive of life besides what artists report, we have no right to report what we know to be lies.”

The terrible answer is that we are losing our real history. Losing it to people too anxious to collude in the Big Lie for the sake of being inside instead of outside as I once did, not even realizing the enormity of what we were doing. Losing it to those all too willing to say that the Emperor is fully clothed if that will keep them working in comics. Losing it to those for whom the incestuous nature of comics means: Never criticize those who might someday have the power to hire you.

The history of comics should be written by journalists, not by propagandists, and as those who can tell the truth about our past pass on one by one, I’m frightened by the thought that soon it will be too late to undo all the damage done by the propagandists.

SnyderBP

The knock letters are only controversial to people who believe the complaints therein were valid. Here’s part of the letter I wrote in response to the Foley article:

Excerpt from my letter of 5 October 2017, printed in TJKC 74

Contrary to the article’s title, the Marvel knock letters are not controversial. To expend so much effort to prove Kirby’s (and Shooter’s) impressions were wrong about the negative letters seems misguided. Shane’s hypothesis: “I’ve read every single letter and you know, they really aren’t that bad.”

Cut to the chase: show the brutal examples from Cap and Black Panther, and call the case closed. Ralph Macchio’s letter, printed a month before he joined the staff, portended the demise of the medium with the fanboy call for “continuity and verisimilitude,” and provided the template for many letters to come. Editor/publisher Robin Snyder, in his letter to Black Panther, asked for some respect for Kirby and an end to the knock letters.

This isn’t a question of balance, and a comparison to the LOC pages of other editors proves nothing. What Shane has left out of the discussion is that Stan Lee wouldn’t have printed a negative letter. The meaningful comparison would be with ’60s letter columns, with Lee writing and answering letters in FF and signing the names of Stan Goldberg and Sol Brodsky: “Your comics are a cut above!” and “Our readers are more intelligent than most!”

The knock letters were the tip of the iceberg of Kirby’s treatment at the hands of the “nest of vipers.” [sic] As we know from stories on the old Kirby mailing list, it was part of a coordinated campaign to discredit him, causing him to take the extreme step of wrestling control of the letters pages away from New York. (Foley significantly asks why the makeup of the letter columns didn’t change.) The campaign was orchestrated by young men of lesser talent who without a shred of gratitude wanted to ride Kirby to success the way Lee had. When Kirby declined, they showed a unanimous lack of class and belittled the guy who made their careers possible. His perception of negativity doesn’t bear contesting: it was Kirby’s perception, and calling him overly sensitive adds insult to injury.

Macchio
Macchio sets Kirby straight in Eternals #3.

Other points of view

John Morrow: Summer 1978: I attend my first major comics convention, the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, and pick up the Kirby Masterworks Portfolio from Jim Steranko’s Supergraphics table. I meet Stan Lee, and Jack’s new Silver Surfer Graphic Novel pages are on display. But I overhear some Marvel staffers make disparaging comments about how Jack has “lost it” and can’t produce decent work anymore. I am stunned, to say the least, as I’m still enjoying his work greatly at the time.–Stuf’ Said p140

Tom Brevoort: It’s been reported that people in the Marvel offices who weren’t enamored with what Kirby was doing on his titles (and who may have preferred it if he had been drawing stories of their design) filled up his letters pages with “knock letters.” In this instance, they have a point. The whole page is devoted to how divisive Kirby’s return to CAPTAIN AMERICA has been–and while there’s a balance of viewpoints presented, the very fact that the idea of a controversy is acknowledged and given credence plays into the situation. This is a far cry from the typically-laudatory fare that filled most Marvel letters pages. Sure, an occasional knock letter might be printed, but usually those were few and far-between.–blog post, 14 March 2020

Tony Isabella: Sadly, back in the day, staffers with their own agendas would take such cheap shots in letters page that were rarely supervised as closely as they should have been. Witness the letter column piling on Jack Kirby when the King returned to Marvel.–Facebook, 3 May 2020

Others’ perceptions aside, what was Kirby’s experience?

Stephen Bissette: I can only imagine how demoralizing this must have been for Jack; I was freelancing at Marvel around this time, and it was heartbreaking to see with one’s own eyes various photocopies of Kirby’s work posted around the offices with “satiric” overdrawings and sarcastic written comments scrawled on them. The utter contempt for and jeering at Kirby’s work for the company was mortifying, and a stern lesson for a budding freelancer working to (maybe) get one’s foot in the door.–Jack Kirby! group, 10 September 2019

Mark Evanier and Michael Vassallo had this exchange on the Kirby-L mailing list in October and November 1996.

Mark Evanier: Jack had a certain amount of autonomy in that his books were mostly self-contained. In fact, the reason Jack refused to do FANTASTIC FOUR or to guest other Marvel characters was that he didn’t want to consult with other creators, didn’t want to get involved with the office politics that surrounded the mainstream Marvel titles.

Archie Goodwin, whom Jack respected greatly, kept in touch with Jack and did do a little editing on the books, sometimes rewriting (or allowing his assistants to rewrite) a line or a caption. Jack once showed me a splash page to a CAPTAIN AMERICA where someone in New York had rewritten some of his copy. He asked me to explain what this had accomplished and I couldn’t; the rewritten text was not substantially better or different in meaning…it was just different. Some of the other editorial changes were more logical.

Jack’s feelings about this work (and his concern about his letters pages trashing him, which someone else mentioned) will perhaps make more sense if you know that there was at least one editorial staffer at Marvel at the time who was quite vocal in his dislike of Kirby writing, and who felt HE should have the job of doing the dialogue. Jack told me that this guy would phone him up and say, “Well, your new issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA just arrived, Mr. Kirby, and the artwork is breathtaking but everyone here in the office [a gross exaggeration] agrees that the writing is shit. Your books are all bombing, too. The only way you can save your career is to have one of us take over doing the dialogue.” Or words to that effect.

Michael Vassallo: You mean to tell me that some disrespectful moron at Marvel actually said to Jack personally that his writing was “shit”? You’d better keep his name a secret Mark. This is one livid Sicilian here!! Even 20 years after the fact I’m appalled.

Mark Evanier: It’s true and there were some worse incidents than that.

I misquoted Kirby in my letter to TJKC. Here’s the quote in context, from the interview conducted by Howard Zimmerman for March 1982’s Comics Scene #2:

Jack Kirby: “The health of a comic book can be manipulated by the staff alone. You fill up a book with knock letters [negative criticisms in the letters pages]. The reader who picks up the book and reads all those knock letters knows that the book he’s reading… well, it’s not so hot. And if you do it consistently, it becomes ‘a bad book.’ I haven’t seen anything like a bad book anywhere. I’ve seen a lot of guys trying. I’ve seen a lot of guys who’ll never get the chance to develop. And you can’t develop with two or three issues. You’ve got to give a man a chance to stay in there—either take his beating or succeed. And comics have not done this today.

“A guy will create a book, another will fill his book up with knock letters—he’s off in five months, or three months, and the other guy’s got his shot.” Until now Kirby has spoken in even tones. His voice quiet, firm. Now emotion breaks through. There is an anguished look in his eyes and a touch of bitterness in his voice as he says, “I see it as a serpent’s nest. And in a serpent’s nest, nothing can survive. Eventually all the snakes kill each other. Eventually they’ll also kill whatever generated them.”

Cap193Thomas

Kirby was attacked out of the gate. When he submitted the pages for his first issue of Captain America, Roy Thomas was permitted to pass judgment by annotating a set of photocopied pencils. On the first page, Thomas wrote, “NICE ART—lousy dialogue.” Someone saw fit to send the set to Kirby (the copies were found in his files). Morrow added it to the Thomas interview in TJKC 74, with this caption:

Morrow: Roy doesn’t recall this specifically, but someone at Marvel (Verpoorten, Brodsky, or Stan Lee perhaps) loaned him a set of pencil photocopies of Captain America #193 for feedback. After Roy wrote his honest assessment of the issue (though today he wishes he had used a slightly less opprobrious adjective than “lousy”), someone at Marvel mailed these in-house copies to Jack—a thoughtless move at best, and one that helped get Kirby’s 1970s Marvel tenure off to a rocky start.

Some background

Lee: In the 1960s, he took the transferable skills he’d developed during the previous twenty years writing teen humour and fumetti, 3 and wrote wisecracks for superheroes in situations devised by Kirby. He wouldn’t allow Kirby’s stories or characters to take themselves seriously. He used his position as family to exaggerate the work he did, and paid himself accordingly.

Kirby: His stories, concepts, and storytelling techniques were often over Lee’s head. Lee simplified them, dumbing down his audience in the process. As he did this, he told readers the opposite was true: where intelligence was concerned, they were a cut above the competition’s audience. He told them that he was the writer, and Kirby was the artist.

The audience: Lee raised up an army he called True Believers by befriending them through the editorial pages and captions. He made a connection with them, engendering a fierce loyalty; as their best pal, he was persuasive. They learned his wisdom was not to be questioned, but to be defended for the rest of their days.

Robert Beerbohm: Face Front, True Believer. Mark Seifert has me mostly all-in convinced this [the 1951 book, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer] (and similar) propaganda tools were used to mind control audiences. Stan Lee used this book “creating” all the levels & terms during his PT Barnum barn-storming days of daze back in the 60s 70s… Many of the creative types in the comics business [like Lee] had also been in the US Army Signal Corps. That is American Propaganda section sharpening melding molding young minds.—Marvel Method group, 16 November 2019

TheTrueBeliever

By 1970, a fresh narrative was being ushered in to protect the intellectual property of Marvel’s new owners; the revised history was unveiled in Origins of Marvel Comics and its sequels. The message was delivered by Lee, and its key purpose was to preemptively discredit Kirby’s side of the story. With no contracts to define the terms of his employment, if Kirby were ever to be taken seriously (by the Supreme Court, for instance), there would be financial ramifications. The living narrative, Lee, propounded the precept that Kirby couldn’t write, and later that Kirby was not to be believed.

Kirby had gone on to his Fourth World at DC, where his own words on the pages made it clear that his stories were serious. Gone were Lee’s wisecracks and constant winking at the reader about the ridiculousness of intelligent kids reading comics. Some True Believers felt out of their element and declared Kirby’s dialogue un-Marvel-like, and that, by extension, Kirby was washed up without Lee.

Nigel Kitching once told another Kirby lister why Kirby’s Fourth World was better for Kirby having left Marvel to do it:

Nigel: …some of the great ideas in the Fourth World stuff would have been quite beyond Stan Lee to articulate in a Marvel Style script.

Mark (looking for a fight) said: Like what?

Nigel: Stan’s massive features would never have cracked wide and laughed at the Cosmic Joke. He wouldn’t have understood at all. He’d just have climbed on his little soapbox and had Darkseid trot out some liberal banalities about the face of evil.

Stan would never have understood that Lightray’s benign smiles hid a cold and calculating heart.

The Justifier concept would have been too difficult for him – the idea of ordinary men being capable of evil acts because some authority figure is willing to take onboard the guilt.

Kirby had such depth to his characters but this fact was obscured by some unfortunate word skills. Actually I don’t even think it was unfortunate. I’ve grown to really like Kirby’s writing style on the whole. All the characterisation is there but Kirby requires that his reader finds it himself. He’s not going to hit you over the head with his characters’ personalities. Writers in the seventies were so heavy handed with their ‘characterisation’ and they would labour it to death until they were damn sure that the audience just couldn’t miss the point. They look stupid now in retrospect but Kirby’s writing continues to intrigue and subsequent readings still bring up something new. I read Himon recently – this is such an intriguing story. Himon isn’t a person he’s a symbol of independence in a totalitarian society.

Stan wrote good dialogue but this sort of thing isn’t his cup of tea (and maybe not yours). But I like characters who represent ideas rather than just being personalities in a story.

When I say that it wouldn’t work in a Marvel style what I mean is that Lee would have misinterpreted Kirby’s intentions. He was already doing this before Kirby left Marvel.— Kirby-L, 11 March 2000

DarkseidMassiveFeatures

After Kirby’s departure, Marvel was where failed artist fanboys flocked with the dream of adding the words to other people’s stories. Kirby had built the House of Ideas, but Lee built a system where some of the “writers” received the full writing page rate for filling in the words on finished stories. It’s unsurprising that Buscema, Windsor-Smith, and Adams consider themselves to be the authors of work for which someone else received the writing pay.

Roy Thomas likes to tell the story of acting as peacemaker when Kirby was considering a return.

Thomas: “Jack, Stan would really like you back. He obviously never wanted you to leave.” I wanted to point out that he wasn’t given any choice, but instead I just said, “He didn’t want you to leave. He’d be overjoyed to have you come back.” I said, “The only thing in the way, really—he was kind of hurt and bothered when you did that Funky Flashman stuff in that one title, where you made a character who was a rather vicious—.” You know, I’m just honest with Jack. I mean, I didn’t know him that well, but I’m going to tell him the truth, because I knew how Stan had felt about it. I said, “Now, you had this character called Houseroy.” I said, “I didn’t mind about that because I didn’t feel you were really aiming that at me. I was just Stan’s flunky and this and that.” Okay, so I am Stan’s flunky or whatever. And Houseroy is a clever name. I didn’t really mind that much. And I was almost a sympathetic character. But it was such a nasty lampoon of Stan.

And Jack gives this nervous little laugh and says, “Well, you know, it was all in fun.” And I had to pretend to let that go, because if there was one thing I was sure about, it was that Funky Flashman was not ‘all in fun.’ It was Jack, it was his repressed—as close as he had come to slugging Stan in the nose. But I just pretended to believe that it was all in fun and just let that go… 4

A couple of things to note: 1, (a critical cog in the Lee version of events), Lee was the injured party when Kirby finally got tired enough of Lee’s ongoing theft to quit ; and 2, Thomas didn’t mind being portrayed as Houseroy, but Kirby was just a big meanie and he hurt Lee’s feelings. In reality, Funky Flashman is probably the truest picture of Stan Lee the world is likely to see.

Mr Miracle_06_10b

Mike Royer: I loved working on this book, just loved it.

Tom Kraft: Did you laugh a lot?

Mike: I just thought it was a hoot! It was a hoot because it was so damn true. There are some people that think it’s vicious and overdone… well, I’m not one of them. 5

When Kirby returned to Marvel, he declined to revisit the Marvel Method charade, and never again shared the credit for his writing. The jilted wannabe “writers,” convinced of, or simply repeating, the mantra that Kirby’s work was nothing without an in-house Marvel writer, made their jealousy known.

Eric Stedman: All of this is nothing more than vilification of a mature genius–who is only one man–by greedy young dumbshits in order to try and justify theft of his creations. A total gang-gaslighting job and completely reprehensible.—Marvel Method group, 15 April 2020

My mother, an elementary school teacher, wouldn’t allow comics in the house in the ‘60s; we read books instead. Possibly intuiting the existence of a Stan Lee, she reasoned that comics were for people who couldn’t read. By the time I had a paper route and could buy my own comics, I came to Kirby by way of Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke; Star Trek, 2001, and Apes. Kirby’s dialogue grabbed me; Lee’s (all in the past by that point) was overwrought. Then, as now, Kirby’s writing stood as literature, and I discovered it before I could be told otherwise.

The idea that Kirby’s stories needed to be fixed is the sleight-of-hand at the heart of the Marvel Method. The reality is that Kirby’s work was self-contained, and a perfect balance of words and pictures based on his decades of experience. Lee’s changes and additions, in the name of justifying the appropriation of the writing pay, were simply vandalism. Lee was often lost when it came to Kirby’s intentions in a story, a character, or a panel, so he would pull it out by the roots and pave it over. When this couldn’t be achieved through dialogue alone, he demanded redraws.

Mr Miracle_06_22bot

Asked about the Fourth World in his recent TJKC interview, Thomas spouted the usual nonsense that Kirby needed to be reined in as he was with Simon and Lee. (This is another misrepresentation that’s essential to uphold the notion that Kirby couldn’t write. The truth is Simon was happy to stay out of Kirby’s way because his work sold comics; Lee’s “reining in” consisted of shitting all over Kirby’s work.) Thomas then admitted he didn’t get the Fourth World: “I was still in awe of Jack, you know? Despite the fact that I had hit the wall with that New Gods stuff and everything.”

Edelman’s rationalization (“we were ungrateful punks but Kirby couldn’t write”) might help him sleep at night, but it’s misguided. Kirby couldn’t write in a world where Lee, Thomas, and Englehart 6 are considered good writers; a very small world where the company line is still parroted, that the epitome of comic dialogue is Lee’s misogynistic teen humour. I was not a Marvel fan, I was a Kirby fan: I had no use for their writing, and have no use for their criticism. By Thomas’ own admission he didn’t understand Kirby’s writing, so he’s not in a position to judge.

Patrick Ford: The fact of the matter is that not only was Kirby a writer, he was a great writer in a medium where dreadful writing is common. One of the main reasons super hero comic book fans detest Kirby’s writing is because it isn’t anything like what they are used to reading. Kirby’s writing has been widely praised by novelists like Harlan Ellison, Glen David Gold, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, and Neil Gaiman. Comic book writer Grant Morrison has compared Kirby to William Blake, and commented comics fans who don’t appreciate Kirby’s writing simply don’t have Kirby’s “reading list.”—comments section, Deadline.com, 15 August 2011.

Marvel was envisioned and executed by Kirby, with added words and promotion by Lee. It’s no mystery why Thomas needs to attest to a backwards version, a Marvel envisioned and scripted by Lee and facilitated by Kirby: it’s the history in which he has invested everything. Thomas is treated as an expert witness in The KIRBY Collector, where Foley’s article is just a symptom of the decades-long process of discrediting Kirby.

Chris Tolworthy: So the quality of Kirby’s thinking matters. Just how right was he? I think he correctly predicted the future. So it matters the that he was not just well read, but a deep thinker of the absolute highest order. Because he may have all the answers. That is why I like Kirby. And why I study him like he is some kind of prophet. Because I believe he is.—Jack Kirby Dialogue group, 5 June 2020

ng8p21m

I wrote in a Jack Kirby Quarterly article, 7 “there’s extraordinary depth in Kirby’s work that not only invites but rewards a deeper reading.” This is clear to me, but I’ve had many online discussions with people who insist there is no deeper meaning, no great intellect behind the work. These same people will tell me Kirby’s work wasn’t complete without Lee’s teen humour dialogue.

These discussions leave me baffled: is it a question of someone’s reading level when they first encountered Kirby’s own words, or is it a matter of indoctrination? Kirby was predominantly a writer, and Lee’s narrative takes that away from him. The art of Kirby the writer necessarily grew more expressionistic as he aged, but he had increasingly more important things to say. (The Lee version tells us Kirby’s later work is a joke and that he had lost it.) Lee, in contrast, didn’t have anything to say through the work, even if any could honestly be attributed to him.

Eric Stedman: It’s a lot easier to add a silly word balloon and caption to a painting than it is to create a painting. It’s also easy then after you do that to decide that since you bought the rights to it and you “contributed” something to it that you “created” the final image.—Marvel Method group, 11 June 2020

Lee unflatteringly characterized his pre-FF readers as “drooling juveniles and semicretins,” and according to one of his revisionist anecdotes, he set out to reform them based on his wife’s advice to be a better writer. 8 Proof that the story was a fabrication is that a. his actual approach was to dumb down the smart stories that were turned in to him, and b. he failed dramatically: at the end of the process the readers were no wiser but Lee was wealthier. My mother might have been slightly off base suggesting comics were for people who couldn’t read. Lee’s marks pigeons dupes pals didn’t raise their reading level, but they did learn how to be told what to think, and how to defend a false premise to the death.

I can’t force someone to like or understand Kirby’s work, but it’s comforting to know that his portrayal at the hands of the propagandists will eventually die off with them. Future historians will actually read the work, not the fabricated history of the work, and they will think for themselves.

Footnotes

back 1 Asked to comment during the writing of this post, Kraft (an unrepentant Kirby fan) said it was safe to say Shooter was mistaken. “Take what he says with an entire mine of salt.”

back 2 Scott Edelman, “Stan Lee Was My Co-Pilot,” The Comics Journal 99, June 1983.

back 3 In the two-month period in 1961 leading up to the advent of FF #1, the Kirby concept that was green-lighted by Goodman, Lee signed stories in these titles: Rawhide Kid, Patsy Walker, Kathy, Life with Millie, Gunsmoke Western, Kid Colt Outlaw, Love Romances, Linda Carter Student Nurse, Millie the Model. When Lee realized that superheroes were starting to dominate the market to the exclusion of his bread and butter, he eventually stopped delegating the “writing” of their stories to his brother.

back 4 “The Terrific Roy Thomas,” The Jack Kirby Collector #74, Spring 2018.

back 5 Mike Royer with Rand Hoppe and Tom Kraft, Fourth World Summer, Special Episode, The Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center YouTube channel, 4 June 2020.

back 6 Adding to the chorus of ignorance, Robert Kirkman or the writers of his Secret History of Marvel felt the need to give airtime to Steve Englehart, of all people, commenting on Kirby’s writing: “The thing about Kirby is, he couldn’t write… we found out, for sure. He had a terrible ear for dialogue, just, you know, off-putting, clanky dialogue…”

back 7 “Drag Your Battered Bones,” Jack Kirby Quarterly #15, Winter 2008.

back 8 Joan Lee allegedly told her husband to “write stories that you yourself would enjoy reading.” Stan Lee, “How I Invented Spider-Man,” Quest Magazine, July/August 1977.

Knock Letters: Some Context