Yesterday I wrote about Joss Whedon -among others- who are well known creative individuals who are reckoning with some pretty negative stories regarding how they are as individuals. (You can read that post here)
With regard to Mr. Whedon, the negative stories, rumors of which were around for years but the flood of stories seem to have been breached in the last couple of years, may make fans of his work, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, The Avengers, etc., rethink their feelings for the artist, if not the art they produced.
Over on Salon.com, there is an excerpt from the novel True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Reisman.
Before I offer a link to the excerpt, let me say the following: Most people today view Mr. Stan Lee in very glowing terms.
In recent years and before his passing in 2018 and thanks to a series of cameos in the Marvel movies, among others, he became the genial grandfather, the kindly face of the Marvel Age of Comics, of which he was one of the big movers and shakers of the company since its first big successes in 1961 with the release of The Fantastic Four and in 1962 with the release of Spider-Man.
In both cases, Stan Lee was listed as the writer of these -and a lot of other!- Marvel books.
In reality, there has existed for many years curiosity as to how much Stan Lee actually did with the individual comic books he was reported to have written.
The above individual is Jack Kirby. His name may not be as well known as Stan Lee, at least among those not as familiar with the comic books which became the basis for the spectacularly successful Marvel films, but it should be.
Jack Kirby (1914-1994) was the artist and, at the very least, co-plotter/co-creator of The Fantastic Four and had a hand in virtually all of the Marvel books created in the 1960’s. Black Panther? Jack Kirby. Captain America? Jack Kirby and Joe Simon (another name which should be better known today). Sgt. Fury? Thor? Hulk? Iron Man? The X-Men? Kirby, Kirby, Kirby, and Kirby. If he didn’t outright create these characters, he had a hand in their creation.
Further, he produced literally thousands of pages of comic books for Marvel until he left the company in the later 1960’s. And not on very good terms.
The other very big character to come out of Marvel in the early 1960’s, which I mentioned before and which was arguably Marvel’s most successful property is Spider-Man.
While Jack Kirby created an early version of the character, it was not used. Instead, Spider-Man was co-plotted and drawn by one Steve Ditko, who also created or co-created Dr. Strange…
And her we come to the excerpt from the novel I mentioned above.
Read it here:
While you’re at it, check out this article by Jillian Steinhauer which also explores Stan Lee, the person and the myth…
The bottom line of both articles is this: Stan Lee was a showman. He was a man who loved to promote Marvel Comics as well as himself.
He did this incredibly well and deserves a great deal of credit for the success of Marvel Comics.
He worked well with many creative people. He also wound up alienating and losing the two people who should be, like Stan Lee, the face of Marvel Comics. Yup, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
Without getting too far into the weeds of comic book writing, Marvel had a method to the “writing” of their books which was different than the standard full script writing method. Basically, in the Marvel method, the writer would not write a full script but rather a general, perhaps even very general, plot idea. Theoretically this would be enough for the artist to then draw out a full issue, pacing the pages and panels as the artist sees fit. After the artist was done, the writer would get the pencilled pages and write captions and dialogue for the book. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were incredibly imaginative people. While there’s no doubt Stan Lee wrote some really great dialogue/captions in the various books he was listed as the “writer” (his style is quite unique and one can see the difference in books he had a hand in versus those which were completely done by either Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko), there is a great deal of argument as to just how much of the plot of the various stories -and the character creations- he actually had a hand in.
Jack Kirby, in particular, created character after character after character while working for Marvel. The story goes that one day when he dropped off a batch of pages of the latest issue of Fantastic Four, Stan Lee asked him who this one character flying on a surf board was.
“The Silver Surfer,” Kirby reportedly told him, indicating it was solely a Jack Kirby creation… yet one that Stan Lee would later on take from Kirby’s hands and control his stories over the objections of Jack Kirby. Reportedly, this was yet another of the many issues which infuriated Jack Kirby and eventually led to his leaving Marvel Comics.
On the other side, Steve Ditko was known to have clashes with Stan Lee as well regarding the direction of Spider-Man. Ditko, a man who was almost the very opposite of Stan Lee in terms of how he carried himself (introvert versus a very extroverted Stan Lee!) reportedly left Spider-Man and Marvel when he could no longer take Stan Lee’s attempts to put his fingerprints on Spider-Man’s stories.
In the end, we’re talking about things that happened in the 1960’s, now fifty plus years ago. We don’t know the whole of the ins and outs of their situation but do know this: Marvel Comics was blessed with three very talented individuals: Stan Lee, the fun loving carnival barker who drew in fans to the fledgling company. Jack Kirby, the titan of ideas who could release a mind-bogglingly large number of quality pages/stories each month. And Steve Ditko, another titan of ideas who, while not as quick as Kirby, arguably created/co-created Marvel’s seminal character in Spider-Man.
And also not arguable is the fact that of this trifecta of people, both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko left this company and in doing so shared very much the same complaints regarding Stan Lee.
It’s a fascinating story, and one wonders if, had they been able to work together better, would they have created even more spectacular works into the 1970’s?
That’s something we’ll never know.