A few days back I posted (you can read it here) about the biographical novel True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Reisman, which was released and has been promoted quite a bit.
This biography has opened up some old debates on just how much Stan Lee did with regard to the books/characters released through Marvel Comics and which have become these days a multi-billion dollar mega-juggernaut what with the success of the various Marvel movies… all of which, until Stan Lee’s passing, featuring amusing cameo appearances by him.
Roy Thomas, a Stan Lee protege who started working at a very young age at Marvel in 1965, was there for a little over half of Stan Lee’s tenure as editor/writer of the material (he left the position in 1972) pushes back against the biography and some of its conclusions. He argues the biography is a little too quick to take the word of Jack Kirby over Stan Lee and diminishes his work there. You can read the article for yourself at this link to thehollywoodreporter.com and is written by Mr. Thomas himself:
In my last posting, I noted that many years have now passed since that epoch, which lasted a little less than 10 years in total, basically from 1960 to roughly 1970.
Further, over the years since that point it was clear that memories were hazy, not just for Stan Lee, but for Jack Kirby as well, something that Mr. Thomas notes when stating the biography seems to come down harder on Mr. Lee’s fuzzy memory versus Jack Kirby’s.
If true (I haven’t read the book), that’s a fair point to make.
Further, Mr. Thomas does provide some solid written proof in the form of a couple of early plot drafts by Stan Lee which survive to this day and do indeed suggest/prove he did have a hand in plotting the first, and another earlier, Fantastic Four story.
Mr. Thomas provides this fascinating bit, taken from that column (I highlighted the part I thought was the most fascinating):
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. I myself, back in the ’80s when I wasn’t working for him, had a friendly argument with him on that score over lunch. I soon realized that, as much as he respected the talents and contributions of artists (Riesman would say “artist/writers” and he’s right, at least in one sense) such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to the characters introduced in the 1960s, he could never really bring himself, in his own mind, to think of them as “co-creators.” The two of us had to agree to disagree, and I never saw any use in bringing it up again.
This, to me, is the crux of the argument many have with/against Stan Lee: He took credit for the “creation” of all these characters and one can’t help but wonder how much he subsequently felt he was the sole writer of the stories as well.
I don’t doubt that in the early going of Marvel Comics Stan Lee had a much more involved hand in writing/plotting the stories. There may well be several stories, including some of the earliest ones, that Stan Lee had a big hand on.
But based on the voluminous photocopies of pages released in more recent times, one gets the feeling that Jack Kirby at least and perhaps a little later on, was doing most of the actual story plotting via drawing the actual pages and putting notes on the sides as to what’s going on. Stan Lee would then write in his dialogue/captions (and, to be extremely fair, they were often dynamite!) but to say that Stan Lee was the “sole” creator of these works, especially after the first few years, feels like taking a glory that wasn’t entirely his.
Interestingly, Mark Evanier, who one could look at as a protege of Jack Kirby (he was around/working with him following his leaving Marvel Comics), was interviewed for the biography but had no opinion about it because he hadn’t read it yet. Nonetheless, he had this to say about the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creative relationship (the full post which I took this excerpt from can be found on his website, News From ME – Mark Evanier’s blog):
But my conclusion is that the comics we know to be created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, not necessarily as 50-50 efforts and certainly not with Jack supplying only the visuals. I think Jack did a lot more than Stan — at least on the pages — and until fairly recently, got a lot less credit; likewise, Stan and Steve Ditko, Stan and Don Heck, Stan and Bill Everett, etc. The disparity in financial reward was even greater.
But that doesn’t mean Stan did nothing or did nothing well. I have witnessed way too many Stan/Jack debates in my life and I think all are dead wrong if they lead to the conclusion that either contributed zero. This view has occasionally made me feel unwelcome on Stan Lee forums and in Jack Kirby chat groups. And just as I reject that notion, I reject the argument that neither would have amounted to anything post-1961 without the other. They were two men of extraordinary skills…just not the same skills.
A lot of folks don’t want to hear about the battles and the quarrels and the screwings. They just want to enjoy the body of work…and I sometimes wish I could stop there. Instead, I think I’ll stop here…for now.
Perhaps that’s the best summary of these extraordinary men and their extraordinary place in entertainment history.