Roy Thomas, 2013 letter to Comic Book Creator

Printed in Comic Book Creator #3 (Fall 2013).

Comic Book Creator is a handsome package. To no one’s great surprise, you’ve shown us all once again how to put together a great-looking magazine with a lot of substance. I haven’t had a chance to read all of it yet, but I look forward to doing so.

Unfortunately, the one article I turned to first was the cover-featured piece of Jack Kirby. And I was disappointed — that’s the politest word I can come up with — to find that, in your understandable and certainly defensible zeal to paint an image of a Kirby screwed over by Marvel and related entities, you succumb on page 48 to a litany of wrong statements and half-truths (I don’t mean “lies”— I mean, literally, statements that I believe are half-true and half-false).

So eager are you to give the “lion’s share of storytelling” to Jack as artist, a statement that grew increasingly true as the 1960s went along, that you seem willfully unaware (and this surprises me, since I know your scholarship of the field) of Larry Lieber’s repeated statements over the years, perhaps first made in the Alter Ego Vol. 3 that grew directly out of your Comic Book Artist, that he never ever just “fill[ed] in the word balloons after receiving the penciled page.” From an almost certainly written-out Stan Lee plot, Larry wrote a full script for the origin of Ant-Man (and probably “The Man in the Ant-Hill,” earlier) and of Thor and of Iron Man. A full script is not “the skimpiest of direction, if any,” as you label it. Sure, it’s true that Stan has said numerous times that guys like Kirby and Ditko needed little if any guidance to plot a comic book story. But the fact remains that the origin stories, and other early stories, of several of Marvel’s key heroes were fully scripted by Lee and Lieber. You have somehow managed to backdate the later practice of Jack delivering penciled pages with “the artist’s margin notes clarifying the action and suggestion speech” from the date a year or two or several later when it actually happened to 1962, when it clearly did not.

You make the mistake that a lot of rank amateur analysts make (even though you are obviously not one of those) in assuming that, if an artist draws pictures which tell a story and then writes out margin notes which clarify points and suggest dialogue to go with it, that necessarily means that the artist made up the story out of whole cloth… that he was not given any directions beforehand as to what the story was. You cannot honestly and reasonably assume that, simply because there is no paper trail of a plot from Stan Lee. Some, or even many, of the plot elements might have been given to Jack by Stan, or at the very least worked out by the two of them in the conferences they often had. You weren’t privy to those conferences any more than I was, so you don’t know what happened, and you are jumping — nay, space-warping — to conclusions that may well be unwarranted.

Like me, you’ve seen the plot pages done for portions of Fantastic Four #1 and #8. Jack made a lot of changes and additions to the plot of #1’s origin, most notably introducing the heroes dramatically before going into the flashback origin. That action was breathtaking and wonderful… but it didn’t create the characters or the main story, which was the origin. And in #8, as I pointed out while AE was still part of CBA, Stan’s plot even went into more detail about the actions of the Puppet Master and the F.F. than I would have imagined without reading that plot. Sure, details in both cases were changed when Stan wrote the dialogue… but some of those changes are changes that weren’t forced by Jack’s art. Sue Storm could have remained an “actress/model” or whatever it is that Stan precisely called her in the plot, with a couple of words. They could have been heading for Mars or the moon as easily as simply for outer space in #1.

Your statement that Kirby (and Ditko) “are assuredly more than mere plotters. They are writers — only not being paid for it” obscures the point. First, it assumes (as they were not, always, especially in the beginning) that they were the plotters, pure and simple, rather than co-plotters… something more an article of faith (yours) rather than a provable fact. It’s not untrue, of course, that they can also be considered “writers” — because plotting, or co-plotting, is a part of writing. But the way you word it, you don’t leave much room for Stan (or for that matter Larry) to be even co-writers. You start out with a defensible aim… to show that Jack did more than he was paid for… and turn it into not much more than a more sophisticated form of Lee-bashing. You never say much of anything negative about Stan directly… you simply keep chipping away at anything and everything he may have contributed to those early stories, until the reader who accepts your point of view is left with little to believe but that Stan did little or nothing. What’s done on pp. 48-49 of CBC #1 is not far from the kind of statement Jack himself made, during the years when he had first left Marvel, when an interviewer tried to pin him down and ask him what Stan Lee did in those stories. “Stan Lee was my editor,” was all Jack would say. Jack, who of course was and remains even years after his demise one of the greatest artists in the history of the comic book medium, was given at that stage to delusions of grandeur that went far beyond even his massive talents and contributions… and your garbled characterization of the early Lee-Kirby work merely contributes to the fog.

You’ll do more for the cause of Kirby and his family by making reasonable and fact-defensible assessments of their relationship than by the half-true, half “Alice Through the Looking-Glass” account that you allowed yourself to slide into for several paragraphs in CBC #1. Other than that, good show!