Roy Thomas and the physical evidence

This was done as a sidebar to my earlier post, but required an extra click. Here it is as its own post.

Some Roy Thomas statements from the recent past that are contradicted by the physical evidence…


Thomas: Sure, [Lee] 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.1

Arrangement? Thomas seems to believe that Ditko and Kirby were consulted on having their writing pay extorted. Wood made it clear to Lee that the “arrangement” Lee had with Ditko and Kirby was not acceptable to him, and he had his pencilling assignment removed by Lee.

Wood told Mark Evanier, “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.”2

Thomas needs to familiarize himself with the physical evidence before repeating this fairy tale. The original art to several pages of the story is visible at the Heritage site, and it’s obvious that the changes Lee ordered were minor.

Nick Fury

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.”3

Vocally unhappy? Let’s take a look at the evidence…

Jim MacKay: Artie Simek did the [front page] bottom caption and credits (“SAM ROSEN” was lettered by Simek), 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.”4

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

Don’t take Jim MacKay’s word for it… the pages of the SHIELD story (Strange Tales #148) can be viewed online.

Black Panther

Thomas’ editorial in Alter Ego 118 introduces Arlen Schumer’s Black Panther piece, responding to Arlen’s implication that Kirby created the character.

“Still, as I’ve told Arlen, I feel obliged to state up front that I have reservations about one of his key assumptions—namely that, because Jack Kirby’s drawing of a Panther-like character called The Coal Tiger (probably) pre-dates FF #51, it can be inferred that the idea of introducing a black super-hero into Marvel’s flagship title was necessarily Jack’s rather than Stan’s… To presume that Jack rather than Stan was the initiator of The Black Panther ignores the fact that Stan had long been instructing Marvel’s artists to include African-Americans in crowd scenes. I’ve no proof the impetus for a black super-hero came from Stan—but one can’t automatically assume it came from Jack, either. It’s equally possible that Stan came up with the idea, maybe even the name “Black Panther”—and if and when he did, there right in front of him was Jack with his very un-African “Coal Tiger” concept drawing (since there ain’t no tigers in Africa)…”

I’ve detailed elsewhere how Kirby came up with Coal Tiger based on current events: Patrice Lumumba, the Katangan Tigers. Thomas’ portrayal of Stan Lee the civil rights pioneer is belied by the fact that the initial cover appearance was altered from Kirby’s original partial mask to a full mask to conceal the character’s race, his skin was coloured grey inside the book (lampooned by Alan Moore in the series 1963), and Kirby’s greatest storyline was cancelled because of someone’s discomfort with the character (see Chris Tolworthy’s The Lost Jack Kirby Stories, p 54). Thomas may also want to check out the April 1969 Stan’s Soapbox, with Lee’s shout-out to the Jolly John Birchers.

John Romita: I remember asking [Jack] about The Black Panther. He said that was from some storyline he’d worked on for years, that he loved the idea of a black hero like that. He loved mythology. So if there was an African mythology, then he was going to latch onto it, just like he practically lived in Norse mythology. When he did the “Thor” stuff, he was in his own backyard. He loved those characters so much. He lived and died with them. African mythology was one of his pet projects, and he told me he loved the idea of The Black Panther being a royal African with a 500-year history, and things like that.5

Romita reveals that Kirby had developed a backstory, which Tolworthy covers in detail in Lost Stories. This calls to mind John Severin’s late ’50s discussion with Kirby about the roots of Sgt Fury. Stan Lee never spoke in terms of motivations of the characters he allegedly created.

Thomas’ most telling comment on the creation of the character came in 1986, before his conversion experience to Team Lee: “I came in at the beginning of what I consider the height of the ’65 period when Jack Kirby was introducing the Inhumans, the Black Panther and others.”6


That Stan Lee was the co-creator, and not the sole creator, of the key Marvel heroes from the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man through Daredevil and the Silver Surfer can hardly be in dispute at this late stage.

Caption: Roy recalls, however, that it was Stan who turned the black-&-white-penciled entity (called by Jack simply “the Surfer” in his margin notes) into The Silver Surfer when he dialogued the issue.7

That Stan Lee was the co-creator (or less) needed to be restated every time Lee or Thomas opened their mouths. The Surfer was an unfortunate choice to illustrate this.

Daniel Greenberg: Lee made a stab at actually writing a comic with the Silver Surfer title he had promised to Kirby (before backstabbing the actual creator of the Surfer by taking it from him).

Despite all the elements for success—Marvel’s hottest new character in the Silver Surfer, Marvel’s best new artist in John Buscema, Marvel’s most prestige format, and Stan Lee’s alleged gift for hype, the book was a huge disappointment to fans and a failure on the newsstands. Why?

The writing.

Surfer stories written by Jack Kirby are flashes of brilliance so intense they erupt from the page, from his clashes with Doom, Quasimodo, etc. Marvel caught lightning in a bottle.

Surfer stories written by Stan “Shakespeare” Lee turn the Surfer into a mopey, petty, inconsistent, vacillating, emo whose soliloquies reveal nothing about his inner world other than odious self-pity.

No wonder the fans rejected the book. Simply imitating the form of a Hamlet soliloquy means nothing without Shakespeare’s penetrating look into the human psyche.8

Greg Theakston wrote in Jack Magic, Volume 2 that Kirby phoned him on the occasion of what might have been the last straw. To add insult to the injury of starting a Surfer solo book without its creator, Lee had taken the Surfer away from Buscema so he could bring Kirby in for an issue to try to save the title. Buscema insisted on doing Thor to replace the hole in his schedule and Lee capitulated, again ripping something away from Kirby that he’d created without asking.

Thomas was the witness to Kirby’s sole creatorship of the character.

ROY: Yet from the very beginning, he’s always been clear that Jack invented the Silver Surfer, and just tossed him into a story where Stan had not suggested any character like that. I know for a fact, having seen the pages in pencil when they came in, that the character was just called “The Surfer” in the border notes, not “The Silver Surfer.” The name “Silver Surfer” at the very least was Stan’s, and the speech patterns.

TJKC: In that period, when Marvel introduced the Inhumans, Galactus, and the Black Panther, would you say those were all co-creations, or did Jack come in like he did with the Silver Surfer and say, “Stan, I have these characters”?

ROY: From what little I heard talking to Stan and Sol Brodsky, the Silver Surfer was kind of an exception, although there may have been a few villains that were created by Jack. I think Stan had an initial idea for quite a few of them, but I wouldn’t say that there couldn’t be some individual characters that Jack didn’t come up with the idea for.9

If only Jack…

In his Alter Ego 161 response to my letter, Thomas called into question the existence of statements by Kirby and Ditko.

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 the “received history.” In fact, Kirby himself did comment, and here it is.

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.10

It seems odd that Thomas is unaware of Kirby’s claim in the TCJ interview, since the Stan-Roy “interview”11 was scripted to address, point by point, the TCJ interview, and Kirby’s monster claim in particular.

If only Ditko…

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.12

Ditko was forthcoming and transparent: Thomas might want to make note of his essays in Robin Snyder’s The Comics, including a 15+-part Mini History of Marvel, the 2008 32-pager, The Avenging Mind focusing on Marvel, Lee, and Goodman, and “WHY I QUIT S-M, MARVEL” in Four Page Series No. 9, September 2015 containing these words of Ditko’s: “Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material, for a man who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me?”


back 1 Roy Thomas, response to my letter, Alter Ego #161, November 2019.

back 2 Mark Evanier’s interview with Wallace Wood, posted to Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997, published in The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood Volume 1, edited by Bhob Stewart and Michael Catron, Fantagraphics, 2016.

back 3 Roy Thomas, response to my letter, Alter Ego #161, November 2019.

back 4 Jim MacKay, Marvel Method group, 15 December 2019.

back 5 John Romita interviewed by Jim Amash, John Romita… And All That Jazz!, TwoMorrows Publishing, July 2007.

back 6 “Roy Thomas: Looking Back on the Golden Age,” Comics Feature 44, May 1986.

back 7 Roy Thomas, ‘“There Are Lies… And Damn Lies…” And Then, Apparently, There’s STAN LEE! A “Book Report” On The Controversial Biography By ABRAHAM RIESMAN,’ Alter Ego 171, September 2021.

back 8 Daniel Greenberg, Marvel Method group, 7 Sep 2021.

back 9 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 10 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 11 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 12 Roy Thomas, response to my letter, Alter Ego #161, November 2019.

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