My Interview Questions for Stan Lee, Part 2

Part 2 or my hypothetical interview with Stan Lee 

Today I’m going to go through the so-called FF synopsis (or “synopses” as he calls it) with Stan Lee. Several people over the years have contended this document proves Lee created FF alone. A couple notes, I’m not 100% sure of the history behind this document. I’ve heard a Marvel staffer found it in a drawer at some point, not sure what year, so certainly we can’t be 100% sure when in the process this document was written.

“Mr. Lee. Thanks for participating in part two of the interview. Let’s look at your FF synopsis. Did you give this to Jack at the Marvel office, and he took it home and read it? Did Jack call you and you discussed it, or did he drive into NYC and you two discussed it in your office or perhaps over lunch?”

“I assume this is the original document you saved for your records, and you gave Jack a copy of the document? Was it standard practice for you to make multiple copies of documents for your files? How do you think such an important historical document from 1961 ended up in some Marvel staffer’s desk in the 1980s?  Do you recall writing any other documents pertaining to FF # 1? What did Jack think of your synopses? Did he have any ideas or comments?”

“Let’s look at page 1: The story is going to use chapter breaks, very similar to Jack’s Challengers of the Unknown series. Was that your idea, or did Jack come up with that approach?”

“The list of the 4 characters is polished and decisive, then in the next section immediately you are is indecisive. You wrote: ‘Story might open up with a meeting of the Fantastic Four.’ How could you go from confidently naming each character and describing each character in detail to not even being able to tell Jack where to begin the story? This suggests to me that this document started off as (phase one) a polished synopsis of a previous Kirby/Lee meeting where you discussed the main characters and the origin, then (phase two) that segued into you brainstorming, even making a few typos as you cranked out some ideas for FF # 1. Am I correct? Are these really two separate documents? That would explain you using the plural form of synopsis: ‘synopses.’”

“You gave the members of the FF names which is an important part of the creative process, but your descriptions of each one are very short. Did you verbally give Jack more information to help him flesh out the characters, or did Jack contribute all the additional elements to the FFs personalities and their visual design?”

“Don’t you think it’s at least possible that in your previous discussions with Jack (in the late-1950s and 1960) where you bounced ideas off of each other, some of Jack’s ideas from those jam sessions may have ended up in those 4 FF charter’s personalities?”

“The story starts off the same as the first appearance of Jack’s Challengers of the Unknown which appeared in DC Showcase # 6 (Feb 1957). A flight where 4 adventurers representing the 4 elements encounter problems in flight, come crashing back down to earth, and are transformed into a team of 4 heroes intent on helping mankind based on the experience. Yesterday I showed a comparison of the Kirby art from the first 3 pages of DC Showcase # 6 (Feb 1957) and the mirror-image Fantastic Four # 1 origin (Nov 1961). Do you think maybe Jack contributed those elements to this synopsis, or are you claiming you came up with the exact same premise, and the exact same origin on your own, totally alone without any input whatsoever from Jack Kirby?”

“Page 2: Notice how conversational and indecisive you are, Stan. You wrote: ‘Maybe we better make this a flight to the stars instead of just to Mars.’ ‘Maybe?’ Which is it? Who made the final call on that? Does Jack have to make these types of story decisions when he works from a Lee-plot? Wouldn’t that make Jack a ‘writer’ on this story if he has to make these types of fundamental story decisions?”

“Is this document the single, solitary FF synopsis, or does this represent one phase in a collaboration where both you and Jack were exchanging ideas throughout the process verbally and via memos like this? I call this a memo because it does not contain the plotline for FF # 1, it is not really a synopsis of FF # 1, and it certainly does not contain the story in FF # 1, except for the aforementioned 4 elemental astronauts transforming into heroes ala COTU. Is it safe to say this is more like a memo to Jack than a synopsis of FF # 1? Or do you consider this a synopsis of FF # 1?”

“Did you write this document because you wanted Jack’s input, you valued it? You cared what Jack thinks. You didn’t want to give Kirby a laundry list of directions, you wanted to work with your partner to come up with the best story. Right? You were collaborating on the creation of FF. Together. This was your way of getting his feedback? Plus you were very busy running Martin Goodman’s comics line? A polished, professional 20-page script would have taken you quite a bit of time to put together. Better to give Jack some ideas and let him decide where to go with the story?”

“Notice your comment in parenthesis about not having the FF go to Mars because as you wrote, ‘by the time this mag goes on sale, the Russians may have already made a flight to Mars!’ It seems here you are joking around with Jack, right? Sort of a little playful aside on what was happening in current events and in science and technology, kind of like your blurbs in your comics. Obviously you didn’t literally think the Russians were going to land on Mars in the next 3 months back in 1961, or did you? Isn’t this you being friendly, and even playful with Jack?”

“What you or Jack seemed to realize at some point is that a long trip to Mars wastes time. If the FF simply go into space, get hit by the cosmic rays, then come back down to earth,  the story can start sooner. This is how stories evolve. This is how collaborations take place. That is what this document is, right? One step in the process of you and Jack working together to create the FF?”

“Notice the material about Ben lusting after Sue and piloting the ship based on that did not make the final cut. Was that your revision or Jack’s? Notice too, the paragraph about them being warned about the comic rays also doesn’t make the final cut — in the published version, they just run to the ship and take off. Was that your revision or Jack’s? It seems like Jack threw out a lot of your ideas to make the story play faster, then you were able to insert some of your ideas into the story via dialogue balloons.”

“You then wrote, ‘maybe we’ll change this gimmick somewhat.’ We? Again, this suggests to me you two were working together in this very early phase of the creation of the Fantastic Four. Jack is helping you create the characters and write the story. You are relying on Jack to figure out how to handle the Invisible Girl, you know you can count on Jack to figure out whether to make her invisible with clothes on or without clothes, and you clearly are asking for his input. Right?”

“And isn’t that one of the hardest things about telling a story. Sometimes you run into a brick wall. You want an invisible character, but you realize having her get naked might be a problem with the comics code. You could have spent all day trying to solve that problem, but luckily you just state the problem in your synopsis — then leave things like that up to Jack, right? He’ll figure it out. “

“As the document continues, notice Sue has a mask at one point – an idea that would be discarded. Who discarded that, you or Jack? Later, you, wrote to your collaborator Jack Kirby: better talk to me about it Jack, better change this gimmick somewhat.’ ‘Talk?’ ‘Change?’ You talked to Jack about FF? Jack’s input might cause you to change something? I thought you created FF alone! When did you talk? What did you change?”

(Note: I think clearly what we are witnessing here in this document is one step in a communication process that had already been taking place over time. And this is when Lee and Jack were meeting regularly, from 1964 – 1970 Jack was pretty much on his own.)

“Continuing on page 2: notice you only want the Torch’s flame to last 5 minutes — that later gets discarded. Did you discard that or did Jack? Also excitement causes him to flame on. I guess he better avoid women! That idea – also discarded almost immediately. Did you do that or did Jack? You say the Torch can only burn ropes and doors. That got discarded. Did you do that or did Jack?”

“I hate to say this, Stan, because you are widely acknowledged as a creative genius by many comics fans, so no disrespect meant here, but a female superhero character that has to get naked to be invisible, and a flaming superhero character that only can burn ropes and doors — how in the hell did you expect this to be a successful comic book? In fact, it’s as if you have no idea how to create a dynamic, compelling superhero comics character looking at this. Don’t you think maybe Jack was the one who threw out those awful ideas?”

“Notice you were playing the role of editor: clearly telling Jack the comic code rules on what a flame character can do. Think about it — why did you need to tell Jack this if you wrote the story? Just write a story where the torch never burns anything. Again, this clearly suggests to me Jack is going to be coming up with significant parts of the story if you need to convey this type of information to him. Do you disagree?”

“Page 3: You give Jack directions for the segment of FF # 1 where the FF discover their powers in this section. And I think that proves you absolutely deserve to be recognized as one of the creators of the FF property and one of the writers of the first FF story. It looks like Jack used your ideas here. But why not pay that same courtesy to Jack for his contributions? Other than this sequence, almost nothing from your synopsis appeared in FF # 1.”

“You mention the Torch can’t throw fireballs, that was discarded soon afterwards. Did you discard that or did Jack? In the next paragraph, you wanted it to be painful for Mr. Fantastic to stretch, that is discarded almost immediately. Was that your idea or Jack’s? You then describe the ‘shapeless Thing’ (as an artist, imagine your editor telling you to draw a character that has no shape!). Then you write: ‘here’s a gimmick I think we might play up to advantage.’ Notice you said ‘we’ here as if — you guessed it — you and Jack were collaborating: you were creating the Fantastic Four characters and writing the first issue of the Fantastic Four — together! Right?”

“You wanted the Thing to be a creep with a crush on Sue Storm. This is another idea discarded immediately. Did you reject that idea or did Jack? You go on to waste about a page describing this Reed/Ben/Sue triangle. What a creepy concept for a superhero book to begin with, and what a waste of your time — spending an hour or so typing up ideas that Jack would not use. No wonder you started working Marvel Method!”

“Where is the story, Stan? Is this an example of the kind of plot Jack had to try and come up with a story out of? Your soap opera with Grimm lusting after Sue is meaningless and none of this makes it into the final story. Sure, Ben Grimm is irascible at first, but ultimately you or Jack or both of you must have realized a gentle giant with a heart of gold underneath the gruff exterior is far, far superior than what you propose in this FF synopsis, a document many feel made it clear that you created FF alone.”

“Stan, your idea for the FF is: a superhero who can stretch, but it hurts. A female superhero who has to strip totally naked to be invisible. A flame superhero character that only can burn  for 5 minutes and can only burn ropes. And a creep superhero who is a monster (visually and literally) who lusts after his best friend’s girlfriend! That’s the Stan Lee Fantastic Four? That’s what you created by yourself?”

(Note: Thank god for Kirby…)

“Page 4: Finally you get back to the ‘story.’ The FF want to help mankind. But they fight each other along the way.”

“Did you later revise this document and make all the changes that made it into the published version of FF # 1 or did Jack help out with that? Did you give Jack another ”synopsis” (a part 2) that directed him what to do for the rest of the book, or did Jack write that material? Is it possible that hypothetical ‘FF synopsis Part 2′ document may have been just like this one — it contained a large number of story elements that Jack ended up not using.”

“Is it even possible this document is all you gave Jack to work from, and this was your main creative contribution to FF? Finally, is it possible that maybe you never even gave this to Jack? Maybe these were some notes, and you verbally gave him some brief directions, then Jack was the one who forged ahead on the project — he did most of the problem-solving, wrote the bulk of the story with visuals, and you added text to his visual story?”

“Maybe Jack even pitched the FF to you, and that haphazard ’synopsis’ of unused ideas was part two of the process?”

That’s it for my questions for Stan on his “synopsis.”

Stan mentioned that’s “11 pages of  story.”  I challenge any comics artists out there to do 11 pages of comic book art based on that synopsis without feeling they deserve a writer credit. He or she would have a lot of work to do. They’d have to decide on a lot of things. How are they going to logically string all these ideas together? How are they going to make the Grimm/Reed/Sue triangle work and not seem like lame melodrama that slows the story? And what happens next? Could Jack Kirby expect this same sort of all-over-the-place, wandering, rambling plot most of which didn’t make it into the final story from Stan Lee for the next half of the FF plot?

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at FF # 1 and ask Stan a few questions about it. I’m sure most of you have a copy of it somewhere, Marvel has probably reprinted it 1000s of times. Compare FF # 1 to Lee’s “synopsis.” You’ll see that aside from the character names and the COTU origin sequence, all of which I suspect were decided upon by Kirby/Lee before this synopsis was written, aside from the transformation scene, there is virtually NOTHING from Lee’s synopsis that made it into the published FF # 1 book.