Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Kirby/Lee/Ditko Spider-Fly

I don’t usually do too many text-heavy pieces here because I want this site to be more of a fun art gallery of Jack’s work where a new fan or old fan can stop in and enjoy Jack’s art, but since this week HiLobrow is running the kind of stuff I usually post here, I figured, I’d take a moment and make a few comments on Stan Lee’s recent deposition in the Disney-Marvel vs. Kirby case. Here is a link to bits and pieces of Lee’s testimony pieced together on “21st  Century Danny Boy,” Dan Best’s weblog:

Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al – Stan Lee Speaks

Over time, I’ll pick more excerpts to comment on because for better or worse, this will probably be Lee’s last definitive “interview” where he discusses his working-relationship with Jack.

Sadly, there really is nothing new in the testimony: Lee has a terrible memory, yet he claims he clearly recalls creating 100% of the major Marvel characters, 100% alone, and I doubt anything short of a dose of sodium pentothal is going to get him to admit maybe Jack did contribute some ideas to the genesis of the major Marvel properties… unless the Kirby lawyers get to question Lee which could be interesting, but I suspect Lee is going to stick to what I call his “I Created Everything Alone – Solo-Genius” mythos.

Here’s one very brief excerpt I thought worth looking at because as far as I’m aware, this may be the first/only time I’ve seen an interviewer ask Lee about the similarities between Jack Kirby’s Spider-man and the Simon/Kirby Fly character. This is at the very end of the interview.

Q. And to your knowledge, was the idea for Spider-Man something that Kirby brought to you based on his previous work on something called “The Fly”?
STAN LEE: No.

Here’s Steve Ditko’s comments on Spider-man & The Fly from a 2002 article Ditko wrote called “An Insider’s Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man,” followed by Ditko’s recollection of what Jack’s original Spider-man costume looked like.

Steve Ditko

In an earlier post  Hot Box & The Fly, I pointed out that Jack clearly worked on The Fly, so Ditko’s comment, “I don’t believe Jack was involved,” appears to be wrong.

In Ditko’s article which you can read here: Comics History: Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man, Ditko goes on to assert that he doesn’t feel any of Jack’s ideas were used for the final character — aside from the character being an awkward teenager, who was living with an Aunt and Uncle, who develops Spider-powers like the ability to crawl along walls and swing from a web, has a web-shooting device, etc. — which strikes me as kind of funny because obviously those are some of the most important aspects of the character. 

Ditko deciding to change the Uncle from a hardened cop to a lovable guy does add a sense of irony to the random murder of Uncle Ben, whereas if that’s how the story played out in Jack’s tale, the Spider-character may have become a crime-fighter more in the tradition of Batman — where he was an angry, bitter vigilante seeking vengeance, so that is an important Ditko contribution. Plus Ditko’s atmospheric illustrations and his ectomorphic teenagers all made Spider-man unique, and there is no denying Ditko’s re-design of Kirby’s original costume — specifically the webbing and the fact the mask covers the whole face — were pivotal changes to Jack’s initial design. Still, it’s amazing to me that first Lee and now Ditko feel they deserve all the credit for creating Spider-man. Surely both men have to admit, at least Kirby was part of the process.

Mainly I posted this excerpt from Ditko’s article because Ditko clearly contradicts Lee’s assertion in his testimony above. Lee suggests that Jack’s first Marvel Spider-man story  & Jack’s first Marvel Spider-man costume design were not similar to that of Fly — obviously according to Ditko they were. Ditko probably pointed this fact out to Lee, and in order to avoid possible copyright issues, Lee may have decided to simply trash Kirby’s first 5 pages and have Ditko do a reboot of Jack’s Spider-man. I suspect Kirby was also buried with work and Lee realized instead of Ditko inking the new book, why not have him draw it.

Of course Lee’s assertion that he gave Jack’s Spider-man to Ditko because Kirby’s characters were “too heroic” is preposterous. They had this nifty invention back then called the eraser.

Surely Jack or Ditko could have quickly erased the “heroic” faces off the characters in a few minutes, whereas it took Jack about 2 days to do the 5 pages of artwork which were rejected. Kirby probably was not paid for the first 5 pages of Spider-man  story/art which must have been infuriating to Jack. Imagine your boss telling you, “I’m not paying your for your last two days work.” Especially when there were plenty of pencils with erasers onhand at Marvel which would have enabled Jack or Ditko or an office assistant to easily make any changes demanded by the editor, Lee.

Regardless of the logic behind Lee’s decision to give Ditko Jack’s spider-character, Jack’s first Spider-man story and those 5 first pages of Spider-man art were the spring-board which resulted in the new Lee/Ditko version of Spider-man, and I think that’s worth pointing out. It’s also worth mentioning Jack may have done more than just draw the first Spider-man story and design the first Marvel Spider-man costume; Jack may have also pitched the name “Spider-man” to Lee since many comics historians agree this was a concept Simon and Kirby had in their files since the 1950s. Jack also may have come up with all or most of  the major story/plot elements since that is how Lee/Kirby worked throughout their collaboration in the 1960s.

Now, I am not saying we should add Jack Kirby to the list of Spider-man creators. I’m not saying we have to put “Spider-man: created by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby” on the next Spider-man film — all I’m saying is that I think it’s pretty interesting that in addition to all the other characters Jack created for Stan Lee, Spider-man appears to be another one he worked on. It’s one more amazing thing we can add to the history of Jack Kirby’s extraordinary career.

How I Invented Spider-man

StanCapSpideyElektra

I have a request. Does anyone out there have a scan of Stan Lee’s “How I Invented Spider-man” article?

It used to be in the archives of the old Kirby-l Discussion forum, but those archives are no longer available, and I never made a copy of it. I have a few posts on Kirby/Lee and the creation debate coming up for July 1 – 2, and I wanted to refer to that article if possible. My email address is on the sidebar. robsteibel@yahoo.com

Thanks a lot. You can have the first official Kirby Dynamics No-Prize if you send it in.

Kirby on HiLobrow

This week HiLobrow is running an article called “Btoom! Kirby vs. Lee” where I talk a little bit about the Kirby/Lee collaboration by looking closely at a single piece of Kirby/Sinnott original artwork. Here is the introduction:

06.27.2011
Btoom! Kirby vs. Lee (intro)

http://hilobrow.com/2011/06/27/btoom-kirby-vs-lee-intro/

Here is the first episode:

http://hilobrow.com/2011/06/28/btoom-kirby-vs-lee-1/

Here is a scan of the whole page I discussed:

I encourage you to check out HiLobrow. They have a great series called “Kirb Your Entusiasm” featuring a  series of 25 posts, by 25 authors, each analyzing a single panel from a Jack Kirby-drawn comic book.

Time Magazine voted HiLobrow one of the “best blogs of 2010.” Here is an excerpt from the Time article: “There seem to be few boundaries as to where HiLobrow’s conversations can go, but that’s a big part of its charm. It is a potpourri of intellectualism, culture trends, unexpected artistic creations and out-of-the-box personalities.”

Sounds a lot like Jack’s imagination, so it’s an honor to have the article on HiLobrow. Special thanks to editor Joshua Glenn for his work on the piece. There’s a lot of other great content on the HiLobrow site, so please check it out.

“Lost” FF Art

Yesterday I talked a little about the “lost” FF art — the entire Kirby story Lee inexplicably rejected — and I wonder if conceivably Stan Lee saw this archaelogist character above as a possible Stan Lee caricature by Jack, and that is why in the cannibalized version appearing in FF #108 this character has been totally removed from the story by Lee.

How ironic would it be if a rejected Kirby caricature of Stan Lee  was the final character “co-created” by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee?

A visually similar character would appear later in Jack’s Mister Miracle series: Funky Flashman from Mister Miracle # 6 (1972).

I know some of Jack’s really hardcore fans get upset when Funky Flashman is discussed because they see Jack’s satire of Stan Lee as somewhat cruel and even mean-spirited — and that was the antithesis of Jack’s character — but to me this is what artists do: they look at the world and comment on it, and even if Jack did regret making a couple of visual jokes about Lee here, certainly no one is above satire, and I think lampooning associates and coworkers is not only very, very common amongst artists, but it can also be much more insightful and revealing that straight fiction.

Mister Miracle # 6, pg. 2, panel 4 (1972)

Unpublished Fantastic Four Pencils

Some unpublished Fantastic Four pencils, most of which ended up cannibalized in FF # 108.

As far as I’m aware this is the only entire story Jack ever turned into Stan Lee where Lee rejected the entire book. I recall Lee saying at some point over the years that he thought the book was “undialogueable” (if that’s even a word) or something along those lines, I don’t have Lee’s exact quote. This led many Marvel fans and comics fans to believe maybe Jack had turned in a poor effort; many fans assumed  maybe Jack was bitter and angry as he left Marvel in 1970, so he gave Lee a poor, unusable story that made no sense: a comic without any margin notes where Lee would be forced to figure out Jack’s story on his own.

I’ve also read that at this point Jack may have demanded Lee give him a full written story or even some semblance of a script since Jack wasn’t getting a writer credit, so Lee gave him this tale then somehow Kirby botched it — failing to deliver an acceptable translation of his Fearless Leader’s vision. I personally suspect Jack wrote this story himself — if Lee had given Jack a type-written script, Jack’s liner-notes would have been unnecessary and superfluous — obviously Jack could have had Lee refer to his own copy of his own script instead of supplying liner notes re-explaining the action.

And I’ve heard other scenarios as to why Lee rejected this Kirby masterpiece wholesale, but all of this is speculation since only one person — Stan Lee — knows why he turned down an entire Kirby story. I doubt we’ll ever know for sure what took place here, but one thing is for sure, it’s pretty clear from looking at this unpublished piece of FF art that you can see Jack was telling a very straightforward and professional story — Jack included extensive margin notes, and looking at these fragments it’s obvious to me that the story made sense, which leads me to believe Lee may have rejected this story for other reasons.

 

My best guess is that possibly Stan Lee wanted to make it very clear to Jack that he (Stan Lee) was the boss, and if Jack didn’t start acting more like a team player — for example by turning in new characters again — there would be consequences. Maybe Lee wanted to show Jack how lucky he had been to have so much freedom over the last decade; Lee could’ve rejected any of his stories at any time, but Lee allowed Jack tremendous Leeway (if you’ll excuse the pun) and creative freedom to tell whatever type of story he wanted and go wherever his imagination led him.

Of course this freedom came at a price: Jack received no writer credit on books where he clearly came up the story and new characters on his own, plus Lee was beginning his life-long propaganda campaign where he would take sole-credit for creating all of Jack’s 1960s characters, so Jack had to make a change — he was about to leave Marvel — and I think all of these factors — the Kirby/Lee tug-of-war taking place — was the real basis for this story being turned down by editor Lee. It also may be that Lee could have caught wind that Jack was leaving Marvel and this was some kind of punishment. Who knows, Lee’s apologists say Lee simply hated Jack’s story and that’s that.

Either way, it’s certainly crystal clear that this story was indeed “dialogueable” and rejecting a Kirby masterpiece wholesale makes no common sense especially considering the crushing deadlines Jack worked under. In fact, for Stan Lee to even suggest Jack turned in a half-hearted effort is a fairly rude suggestion, considering Jack never missed a deadline the entire time he worked for Lee/Goodman, and frequently Jack would bail other artists out of deadline jams to help Lee keep books on time.

Ironically, years later, Lee would miraculously figure out how to add captions to this art and Marvel would release the collected pieces of this book as the so-called “Lost FF book.” I was glad to see Sinnott finally add his beautiful inks to that art, and glad to hear Jack’s family finally got a few bucks from Marvel, but more than anything, I think this art literally symbolizes the breaking apart of the Kirby/Lee collaboration, and when you see that Jack put in what looks like 100% of his time and talent into this book, I think it raises questions as to why Lee really rejected this entire story.

FF # 102 Splash

FF# 102 splash. Kirby/Sinnott. Cleaned-up scan of the original artwork.

Looking at this old FF art, I’m surprised by how many FF splashes Jack drew where there is no action. This may have been due in part to Jack’s attitude during his last years working with Lee at Marvel that he wasn’t going to give Lee/Goodman any new characters from about 1969 – 1970, and maybe Jack was also toning down his dynamics a little bit to emphasize the point to Lee that his storytelling contributions were important and merited a writer credit.

At the same time, these splashes tended to be very charming and humorous. Also a great way to start a story — a sort of calm before the storm moment where we see the main characters not just as superheroes clashing ad infinitum, but as real people living the same lives as many comics readers. Several comics historians over the years have written that it was Lee who gave the pathos and personality to Jack’s 60s Marvel characters, and this is true to an extent, but I think an example like this splash and the one I posted yesterday from FF # 101, shows that Jack and his inker Joe Sinnott were the ones heavily responsible for injecting the humor, beauty, personality, passion, and compassion into these four-color fictional characters.

Gene Colan 1926 – 2011

Sorry to hear that the great Gene Colan passed away yesterday. Gene’s work was wonderful, as if he was painting contemporary renaissance masterpieces with a pencil. His passing truly marks the end of a golden era in comics art.

Here’s a brief excerpt from an article published yesterday:

The Sacremento Bee. “Comic book artist Gene Colan dies at 84.”

By MATT MOORE and ULA ILNYTZKY
Associated Press

http://www.sacbee.com/2011/06/24/3724901/comic-book-artist-gene-colan-dies.html

Colan’s impact on the industry was undeniable, developing a style both subtle and emotional that imbued characters he drew with a sense of vitality that seemed to leap off the pages. His work drew him the nickname Gene “The Dean” Colan.

“He was a mighty craftsman, with such a strong style of his own that he avoided entirely working under any of the popular house styles, even the mighty Jack Kirby one that roared through Marvel in the 1960s,” comics historian and editor Tom Spurgeon told AP on Friday. “He was his own chapter in the history of comics.”

Colan’s art was a staple of the Silver Age era of comics, and his 70-issue run on “The Tomb of Dracula” that was written by Marv Wolfman in the 1970s remains critically lauded for returning horror to the pages of comics, along with creating the character, Blade.

Wolfman told AP that Colan’s art work was stunning and that Colan was “maybe the only artist I know in comics who nobody else tries to mimic. Everyone tries to do superheroes like Jack Kirby or war books like Joe Kubert or Spider-Man in the Steve Ditko style.”

With Colan, though, “they simply cannot do it.”

Mark Evanier, a comics historian, said Colan’s work on “Tomb of Dracula” was defining.

“It came to the point that Gene was so involved in that comic, there was something organic about the book,” he said. “The moods were set by Gene’s skill as an artist. He drew such rich characters – people who had flesh and blood in them and had recognizable human emotions.”

Colan also worked on Marvel’s satirical “Howard the Duck,” written by Steve Gerber, and did art for other publishers, including DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Archie Comics and Eclipse.

Dan DiDio, DC’s co-publisher, called the artist “one of the great draftsmen in the industry, and his work is a fond part of some of my best comic book memories.”

Colan’s time at DC was recorded in the pages of “Detective Comics,” “Wonder Woman,” “Batman,” and the “Legion of Super-Heroes,” as well as the “Phantom Zone.”

Jim Lee called Colan a unique artist and unrivaled in his generation.

“His ability to create dramatic, multi-valued tonal illustrations using straight India ink and board was unparalleled,” said Lee, also DC’s co-publisher. “The comics industry has lost one of its true visionaries today.”