Roy Thomas, 2019 response

Printed in Alter Ego #161, November 2019.

Yeesh—where can I start? Maybe it’d be better to… but what the hell…

Lessee… first off, both Will Murray and I were simply trying to see what (if anything) we could prod Stan into remembering about “Fin Fang Foom,” a monster story notorious mostly for its title. Neither of us was successful, but we had no nefarious motives as you suggest.

In days since, by the way, Stan has convincingly staked his claim to that yarn, thank you very much. He revealed at a 2005 recording session in Hollywood (for a book we were both working on), with no prompting whatever from Yours Truly, who was there, or from the two non-comics people present, that he’d named “Fin Fang Foom” after the rhythm of the title of a [1934 British] movie called Chu Chin Chow. No, that doesn’t prove he plotted “Foom,” but it’s well known that, circa 1961, he wrote synopses for most if not all of Timely/Marvel’s “monster epics,” which his brother Larry Lieber (and perhaps occasionally others) then turned into full scripts to be drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, et al.

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.

It may well be true, as you say, that Jack would’ve preferred to write the actual scripts to some (if not all) of the stories he and Stan did. If so, it doesn’t seem he often (if ever) broached that subject to Stan, or I’d have probably heard about it in 1965 or after. But I won’t deny that, as the editor, responsible to publisher Martin Goodman for the contents of the comics, Stan really never felt that Jack’s dialogue would deliver what he wanted in a Marvel comic. Rightly or wrongly (and I submit he was basically correct), Stan believed his own way of scripting Marvel’s comics was every bit as important as the art during that first Marvel decade… and he wanted to keep that winning combination going. Not in order to rob Jack of credit, but because the system was working—had worked, indeed, from the first issue of Fantastic Four—and he didn’t want to mess it up.

Sure, he 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. 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.

Nor do I necessarily accept that Jack quit Marvel in 1970 specifically “over the issue of writing credit and pay for the writing he always did.” I’m not saying it may not have been a factor. Still, during the preceding decade, he’d received several pay raises—and while they were officially for his work as “artist,” that doesn’t mean that Stan, who was pushing the publisher to get him those raises, didn’t personally count Jack’s plotting/storytelling input as partial justification for them, even if Jack didn’t see it that way. 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. In 1970 Stan let Jack dialogue the “Ka-Zar” and “Inhumans” 10-pagers, because he didn’t have time to write the script himself and he knew Jack didn’t want to work with any other Marvel scribes; in his own mind, Stan was mostly just trying to keep Jack happy—though it was clearly too late for that.

In the mid-1960s, Stan was desperately looking for writers. If not, he’d never have hired, in short order in 1965, first Steve Skeates, then myself, then Denny O’Neil. If he’d felt Kirby or Wood could’ve delivered the kind of scripting he wanted, I’m dead certain he’d have found a way to utilize them in that capacity. (Admittedly, in Jack’s case, I’m sure he’d have been torn, because he wanted Jack to *pencil* as much as possible—and writing scripts, like inking, would’ve made him less productive in the area wherein Stan primarily valued him. But the fact remains: rightly or wrongly, he just didn’t care for Jack’s actual dialogue-writing, only his plotting and storytelling.)

Should Stan perhaps have made some additional accommodation with Jack? The point can be argued—in retrospect, I wish he had—but remember, Stan had reason to believe the matter had been settled to Jack’s satisfaction when the two of them agreed that future stories would be credited as “a Stan Lee & Jack Kirby production,” the phrasing Jack reportedly chose himself. I don’t recall ever hearing that Jack broached a further complaint in that area—at least not to his face, which is basically all that counts; if Jack didn’t bring it up, Stan can’t be faulted for not reading his mind. Stan thought things were back on an even keel—right up to the day he received that fateful phone call from Jack telling him that he was quitting and indeed had already begun working on new projects for DC.

Yes, there was definitely a failure to communicate—and it’s a real pity that there was—but it was a two-way street. One further point: While Jack’s experience briefly drawing The Double Life of Private Strong and The Fly for Archie might indicate to some that Jack was always pushing Stan to do super-heroes, don’t forget that it was more likely Joe Simon as editor who initiated the idea of doing such characters to the Archie people.

Contrary to what you write, Stan didn’t think of Jack as “just an artist.” There are numerous references in the 1960s Bullpen Bulletins and elsewhere to Kirby’s contributions to story, including at least once or twice the bald statement that Jack would draw entire issues after just the briefest of story conferences.

The “crying time” episode Jack recounted in the late ’80s may indeed have come about very much as Doc Vassallo postulates—i.e., less because sales were down (whatever the state of the office furniture) than because Stan’s artist friend Joe Maneely had died only a couple of days before. Small wonder Stan didn’t recall the episode as Jack did: his motivation for any tears, whether gushing or stifled, might well have been largely different from what Jack assumed.

Nor is it likely that it was Jack’s supposed predilection for super-heroes that led to Timely reviving them (more than two years after the crying/furniture event Jack refers to). Not only Stan’s own various accounts, but also the 1960 success of DC’s new Justice League of America and related comics, gives credence to the greater likelihood that the 1961 Timely super-hero title was developed at the behest of the *publisher*. There’s no proof—and not really much probability—that Stan ever even mentioned to Martin Goodman that Jack Kirby thought the company ought to try putting out super-heroes again. If Jack felt it should, he was clearly correct, but that doesn’t mean his wishes had any more effect on Goodman than my own fannish musings, from nearly a thousand miles away. That wasn’t the way Goodman (or Stan Lee) operated, and I submit that it’s willfully naïve to believe it was.

As for your final insult, aimed at Stan and/or myself—well, I left it in, because I wanted to remind readers (and myself) that being a fan of a particular comics talent can be carried so far as to become almost a vice. As for myself—well, I’ve been a fan of Jack Kirby since probably you were less than a gleam in your father’s (if not your grandfather’s) eye, so I hardly need certification in your eyes as what I indeed am: a great and lifetime admirer of both men. I’ve written more than once that I find it impossible to imagine Marvel Comics as it ultimately evolved without the two of them being on the scene at the time, with each doing basically what he did. If you feel differently… well, I know a good eye specialist I could recommend.

If anybody else wants to pick a fight—or send a bouquet—please address messages to:

Roy Thomas

Monster Masterworks

That was the title of the 1990 Marvel-published trade paperback that reprinted 18 or so mostly-Kirby-penciled giant-monster epics from the late 1950s and early ’60s—behind a new Kirbyesque cover by Walt Simonson. Naturally, Fin Fang Foom made the cut (he’s the big orange guy at top left, in case you didn’t recognize him)—as did Groot, on the back cover. And whoever would have imagined, nearly thirty years ago, that one day the latter would be virtually a household name, while Fin Fang Foom would still be largely an in-joke amongst aging fanboys? Incidentally, Jack Kirby scribed a one-page introduction to the book, but alas, shed no light on any part beyond penciling that he might have played in the generation of any of those Godzilloids. [TM & © Marvel Characters, Inc.]

The Right To Re-Write

The “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” splash page, with layouts by Jack Kirby & finished art by Don Heck, from Strange Tales #148 (Sept. 1966). Although the credits say Stan Lee merely edited this story (and “in absentia,” yet, since he’d gone on a brief vacation and had Jack script as well as rough- pencil and of course do much of the plotting), 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. Thanks to Barry Pearl for the scan. [TM & © Marvel Characters, Inc.]