I read most of Mark Alexander’s book Lee and Kirby: The Wonder Years. If you are new to the subject, there is a lot of great information in the book, specifically about the Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four series. The book has plenty of great Kirby artwork. The screen cap at the top of this post is from page 1. I encourage all of you out there to pick up a copy of The Wonder Years — please support John Morrow’s wonderful Jack Kirby Collector and support Kirby scholarship.
I wanted to comment on a couple things at the end of the book. At first I wondered if it would be appropriate since the author Mark Alexander passed away recently, but I decided that in some ways the best compliment we can pay someone is to acknowledge their work by discussing it — this keeps their words, their ideas, and their memory alive — so I’ll say a few things. That being said, I tend to look at the world through the eye of a satirist – and some segments of comic book fandom tend to, shall we say, not share my brand of humor — so I’m going to work very hard not to be disrespectful towards Mark or his opinions when I make my comments.
And I’m not really commenting on Mark’s interpretation of the history per se, but (for this post especially) my remarks are directed more towards the very tiny handful of folks out there who have over the years perpetuated the false myth that there is some kind of Kirby cult in existence who is hell bent on denying Lee credit for his input into something like the Fantastic Four comic book (one klever komic kollector kalled it the “Kirby Kult,” ain’t that Kreative?). I’m mainly using some segments from Mark Alexander’s book as a springboard to discuss some of the fariy tales I’ve seen out there concerning Kirby — I’m not criticizing Mark as the writer of the article, I’m commenting on the concepts and anecdotes themselves — so if anyone thinks I’m being disrespectful to Mark or his work, just email me, and I’ll weigh your words carefully when I consider discussing his book in the future.
The first thing from Lee and Kirby: The Wonder Years I want to briefly touch on is Mark’s list of what he calls his: “Top Ten Reasons” to Acknowledge That Stan Had Substantial Input on Fantastic Four’s Storyline During the Entire Lee/Kirby Run (pgs. 147 – 148).
First of all, I think that title is a bit misleading because I have found that virtually all the comics experts I have discussed the “Kirby/Lee authorship debate” with agree that early in the working relationship, Lee gave Jack more direction than he did towards the end of the collaboration, so I think making a blanket statement that Lee had substantial input during the “entire” run is probably not historically true (that being said, Mark Alexander may define “substantial” differently than I do). Secondly, who are the people out there who have contended Stan Lee did not have “substantial input” into the Fantastic Four storyline during the Lee/Kirby run? Can someone introduce me to this person or persons so I can talk to them? I’ve been studying Jack for almost 10 years now and I never have encountered anyone who said Lee did not have substantial input on the 1960s FF comic books. So I’m not sure who the target audience is for this Top 10 list. I personally think it’s possible (and probable) that Jack wrote most of the FF stories (specifically from 1964 – 1970) with visuals and margin notes, but Lee’s input (in the form of giving Jack a simple plot, making editorial changes, and adding dialogue) was very, very important to the process — therefore “substantial.” Because of that, this Top 10 List strikes me as somewhat Quixotic.
Now granted, there is a fringe group of Kirby fans out there I’ll call the “Kirby Purists” who claim Stan Lee destroyed all of Jack’s 1960s work — ruined it, and radically altered it, resulting in work that is an utter abomination, only solo-Kirby is pure and untainted — but I suspect even they would acknowledge Lee had “substantial input” into the Kirby/Lee FF run in terms of that “destruction.” For the record I disagree completely with the Kirby Purists on that topic.
In his book, Mark Alexander also mentions “adamant Anti-Stan Legions” who have a “warped view of reality” (pg. 154) and “Lee-bashing Kirbycentric zealots” (pg. 154). It may be true that these “legions” and “zealots” are out there, all I can say is I have yet to meet one who claimed Lee did not have substantial input into FF.
Sure, I’ve met a few people who make fun of Stan Lee, some are not fans of his work, and others feel Jack deserves SOME credit for helping to write the bulk of his Marvel stories, but is it fair to call that very small group of Kirby fans, experts, and historians “Adamant Anti-Stan Legions” and “Lee-Bashing Kirbycentric Zealots” if they criticize Lee? I hope those concepts are a bit of Lee-esque hyperbole on par with “Merry Marvel Madmen.”
That being said, after 50 years of Stan Lee claiming he created all the Marvel 60s characters alone, I think it’s fair to argue Jack’s contributions were ALSO substantive, and making that argument does not try and take credit away from Stan Lee — Lee is already, as Mark Alexander calls him, “a national treasure” (pg. 154). What a handful of Kirby fans are trying to do is to add Jack Kirby to our list of national treasures so that Jack can stand beside a legendary icon like Stan Lee. Wouldn’t it be great if Jack one day is acknowledged as a co-writer on something like the Fantastic Four books? And I think that’s beginning to happen. 10 years ago if you had said Jack helped write FF stories you would have been relentlessly reproached and ridiculed (how’d you like that bit of Lee-alliteration) — Stan was considered to be the sole-author of those books. Now after several comics experts have examined the subject and published their work, many agree Kirby and Lee both had “substantial input” into books like FF.
Let’s remember folks, in the 1960s, this was a typical credit:
Stan Lee Writer/Editor.
Jack Kirby: Pencils.
Who on earth guessed in 1965 Jack was helping to write those stories? Even after Lee explained what he called “Marvel Method” in his later books and interviews, did anyone really think Kirby helped to shape the storyline? Who would have guessed that in the last few years some comics historians would examine the history, conduct interviews, examine source documents like the original artwork and conclude maybe that “Stan Lee Writer/Editor. Jack Kirby: Pencils” credit was inaccurate, or at the least misleading: in reality, maybe it should say:
Writer/artist: Jack Kirby.
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee.
See? I’m not trying to erase Lee from history, I’m just trying to give a more fair and accurate account of what actually took place chronologically and historically in terms of the writing process. Why must someone questioning Lee’s version of the history (that Lee created everything alone) be labeled as a member of some fictional “Anti-Stan Legion” or accused of being a ”Lee-bashing Kirbycentric zealot?” Is sharing research that proves Kirby also played a substantial role in the creation of the 1960s Marvel empire really that terrible?
And of course, Mark Alexander might be joking, maybe he’s composing satire. One of my favorite comics historians at one point called Stan Lee the “True Deceiver,” and I’ve called some of Lee’s fans “Lee Literalists” and “Lee Apologists,” to poke fun at them — we all tend to invent silly catchphrases or goof around about how there are these fictional irrational, unreasonable groups out there when we are in a debate — but the truth is, as far as I know, just to let you all know you are safe — there are no ”Anti-Stan Legions” or cadres of “Lee-bashing Kirbycentric zealots” trying to erase Stan Lee’s substantialness (if that’s even a word) from the history of the Fantastic Four. Just an FYI.
And again, I hope commenting on his book isn’t looked upon as disrespectful to Mark’s memory. My prayers go out to the loved ones Mark left behind, and I respect Mark Alexander for taking the time to write a book about one of my favorite artists. The Kirby/Lee authorship debate is one of my favorite subjects. And if anyone else out there wants to comment on the book or my comments, send your remarks to me at email@example.com and I’ll post them here.