What does Funky Flashman tell us about Stan Lee?

Enterprise

In Mister Miracle #6, Kirby unleashed a brilliant send-up of Stan Lee called “Funky Flashman.” It was the most accurate and incisive portrait of Stan Lee ever, by a master caricaturist who knew the inside story. No one was ever better positioned or equipped to give Lee the treatment.

Roy Thomas, as a Marvel staffer, might have gotten to know Lee even better than Kirby did as a freelancer. Thomas didn’t arrive on the scene until 1965, however, and he never broke into the exclusive club of those who addressed Lee by his full given name.

In 1961, with the comics division on the brink of shutdown by Martin Goodman, Kirby presented a stack of concepts to Goodman and was given the green light for the Fantastic Four. Lee’s brother Larry Lieber said “When Stan saw that the strips had potential [ie when they were approved by Goodman], he started writing them.” 1

Kirby had a different take: Lee saw Kirby’s paycheque for the writing and penciling page rates on the “monster” stories, and Kirby was forced to “render unto Caesar.” 2 To achieve this, Lee first added his signature to stories that Kirby wrote. He then added fraudulent plot credits to Kirby stories for which writing credits were given to others (for example “Prisoner of the 5th Dimension!” in Strange Tales #103, Lee’s first “plot credit”). Lee then redefined “writer” for the Marvel Method as “the person who fills in the dialogue,” while at the same time redefining his actual writers as “artists.”

Kirby told Mark Hebert in 1969 that the early superhero work, when Lee inserted himself as Taker of the Writing Page Rate, “was a back-breaking job.” Kirby finally got some relief when he was given a page rate increase for pencilling in the mid ’60s. 3

Stan Taylor: I think that Stan’s singling out and praising the artists actually upset the artists, more than making them happy. Stan was quick to tell everyone how his artists not only pencilled, but plotted also, yet they knew they were only being paid for pencilling, and at a rate less than the competition, and getting nothing for plotting. Stan was getting all the glory, and the big bucks for simply putting the finishing sheen on the artists stories. If it was me, I would get pretty mad about doing the work of one and a half people, while being paid less than the competitor paid just for penciling, and then someone else takes the credit for my stories. 4

For the purposes of this assessment, I’ll use “Funky” and “Stan Lee” interchangeably.

villain

Funky Flashman: “…the opportunistic spoiler without character or values…”

“…he lives… in the decaying ante-bellum grandeur of the Mockingbird Estates!” Martin Goodman built his publishing empire by mimicking, mockingbird-like, his competitors’ successes.

shadow

In the opening sequence, Funky is taking “bread” out of the mouth of a bust that resembles Kirby. Lee was at the mercy of the number of pages Kirby was writing, including layouts. When Kirby received a page rate increase in the mid ’60s, he reduced his output, and stopped doing layouts: Lee was deprived of the writing rate on the pages Kirby was no longer doing. Ditko had a similar effect on Lee’s income when he demanded and received plotting credit on Spider-Man: the plotting page rate was deducted from Lee’s writing rate.

Mr Miracle_06_01

Funky likes it when the Little People hear his words of inspiration, and Houseroy tells him what he wants to hear.

pathos

Houseroy plans to take over when Funky leaves.

valet

Kirby examines Funky’s attitude toward the talent. Officially, the freelancers were interchangeable and expendable. In practice, Kirby provided Lee with something no other collaborator did: thousands of pages of writing pay.

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Roy Thomas once remarked, “Stan is always ‘on’,” 5 meaning Stanley Lieber was always immersed in his Stan Lee persona… except when he wasn’t, occasionally leading to “shocking results.”

shocking

That shifty master of mobility, Funky Flashman, is a bit of a misogynist. Lee repeatedly gutted Kirby’s strong female characters to allow them to demonstrate traditional gender roles to an impressionable audience. Kirby portrays a typical Funky-female interaction.

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This Kirby woman, like many of Kirby’s female characters based on his wife Roz, isn’t having it.

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Funky is a classic: ego, ignorance, and hostility! A real powerhouse!

MM6Classic

For panel after panel, Kirby gives us an intimate view of a Kirby-Lee story conference.

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“I tell you, I tested that phrase on my man, Houseroy… and the beggar literally cried! But call me Funky, sir! I prithee! For what is a name… but the opening gun of mutual enterprise?!”

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Folksy to a fault Funky in his “Uneasy Rider” outfit (and cleaning his ear).

UneasyRider

Funky is enamored of recordings of his own voice. In the Pitts interview, 6 Kirby cited the night he found Lee speaking into a recording device as a catalyst for his decision to leave Marvel.

voice

Don’t paw me, Houseroy! I know my words drive people into a frenzy of adoration! I’m preparing for my establishment stage! When the press notices build to fever pitch, I’ll…”

establishment

Throwing Houseroy to the wolves.

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Funky makes good his escape.

Mr Miracle_06_23b

After causing the estate to go up in flames, Funky heads for Hollywood. Kirby injects another comment regarding the treatment of the talent at the family-run operation.

The colours present a Marvel of Contrast. Cyclopean black is a reference to Robert E. Howard’s short story, “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales, November 1931). 7

cyclopean

Scott is not ignorant of Funky’s devices.

MM6Anybody

Footnotes

back 1 Larry Lieber in conversation with Roy Thomas, Alter Ego v3#2, 1999.

back 2 GROTH: Did you find that fulfilling?

KIRBY: Of course it was fulfilling. It was a happy time of life. But. But, slowly management suddenly realized I was making money. I say “management,” but I mean an individual. I was making more money than he was, OK? It’s an individual. And so he says, “Well, you know…” And the old phrase is born. “Screw you. I get mine.” OK? And so I had to render to Caesar what he considered Caesar’s. And there was a man who never wrote a line in his life — he could hardly spell — you know, taking credit for the writing. I found myself coming up with new angles to keep afloat. I was in a bad spot. I was in a spot that I didn’t want to be in and yet I had to be to make a living.

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

back 3 TCJ: How were you able to draw five strips at once during the “Marvel Age’?

KIRBY: I forced myself. It‘s not very easy, especially when you’re in a field that’s picking up momentum and there isn’t too much of a staff to take the burden off you.

TCJ: What do you mean, there wasn’t a staff?

KIRBY: There wasn‘t much of a staff. So I had all that to do and it was a back-breaking job. But, like I said, my generation adjusted to it.

TCJ: Is it smoother-going now?

KIRBY: Yes, it‘s eased off a bit. I’m grateful for that because I can read a newspaper occasionally.

TCJ: Would you like to do another strip, even after all that work?

KIRBY: If they‘re ready, I’m always ready. I never refused a job. I‘ve always been ready to do a job; that’s my bag. I’ll do a job for Stan. I’ll do a job for someone else. I’ll do a job for my family. It‘s the type of person I am. If I have a job to do, I‘ll do it. I‘ve got to do it.

Kirby interviewed by Mark Hebert, conducted early 1969. Appeared in The Nostalgia Journal #30, November 1976, and #31, December 1976.

back 4 Stan Taylor, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 6 November 1999.

back 5 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 6 PITTS: Why did you leave the F.F. and Marvel that first time?

KIRBY: Because I could see things changing and I could see that Stan Lee was going in directions that I couldn’t. I came in one night and there was Stan Lee talking into a recording machine, sitting in the dark there. It was strange to me and I felt that we were going in different directions.

Leonard Pitts, Jr., conducted in 1986 or 1987 for a book titled “Conversations With The Comic Book Creators”. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 7 What’s Cyclopean: For a prototypically pulp writer, Howard at first keeps his adjectives thoroughly under control. Probably not accidentally, the prose gets purpler in proximity to the monolith (“lurid tongues of flame,” etc.). And in the midsummer moonlight, the cliffs around it appear like “cyclopean and Titan-reared battlements jutting from the mountain-slope.” Then later, the stone is “like a spire on a cyclopean black castle.” —review of “The Black Stone” by Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth.

What does Funky Flashman tell us about Stan Lee?