Monthly Archives: May 2012

My Take on Jack’s Text

Led Zepplin Live (1973)

When I first started discussing the topic of Jack’s text via private email with Scott Edelman, here are a couple comments I made to him explaining why I think Jack deserves some respect as a writer:

Re: Jack’s text

Again, I hate getting off the subject of the history, but for the record (and I’ll edit this below and use it as a future Kirby Dynamics post on the subject of Jack’s text): I’m not a huge fan of Jack’s text either. But I don’t like any comic book text, really. I see comics as a visual medium. I like the pictures.

So even though I think a lot of comics text is superfluous — it’s mainly there to fill space at the top of the page and make the reader feel like they got their money’s worth — I do respect what Jack was trying to do with his text. He was trying to show people he could draw 3 books a month (about 60 pages total) plus covers, plus the Annuals, plus the various Treasury editions, plus his commission work, and other side projects — and he could also add dialogue to his stories. He was proving a point: “I can write and draw 3 stories a month just as I did in the 60s, PLUS I can easily add the text (the “blurbs” as Jack would call them).”

Could Jack have used an editor or a collaborator? Sure, anyone can use a trusted confidante to proofread their work and give them constructive criticism, but Stan Lee put Jack in a position where Jack felt he had to prove he could do it alone (and don’t forget folks like Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman let him bounce ideas off of them in the early 1970s, and I have examined a lot of late 70s Kirby originals where I do see changes in the text that were done in NYC by Marvel editors and proofreaders, so there were other hands working on that material).

You also have to remember Jack spent about 4 hours tops adding dialogue to a book. So although I didn’t love Jack’s text (or any comics text) when I was a 10 – 16-year-old (in the late 70s/early 80s), now in 2012 that I know the history behind Jack’s work — the context, the story behind his stories — I have tremendous respect for Jack’s ability to churn out a fairly high quality product: 3 books with captions, plus multiple covers and special projects every month.

Remember what Jack was up against — his back was against the wall: he had no health insurance; he’s getting older and still putting in 60 – 80 hour weeks; his health was starting to fail him; he had no savings to speak of; he was getting badmouthed by people who worked for Marvel and the fans were turning on him; Lee was parading around the country doing lectures pretending he created all of Jack’s characters, Lee was pretending he wrote all of Jack’s 60s stories in his “Origins” books — books where Lee got a sole author credit; Jack realized he may never recieve proimised royalties from Martin Goodman; apparently the retail sales were not great on his new books; Kirby/Royer was a little too harsh for fans that loved Kirby/Sinnott so that was hurting his sales; Jack should have been doing a monthly Silver Surfer book, but Lee had claimed that property as his own and had designated it as one only he could “write”; Jack’s 60s Marvel originals were startng to surface at conventions which meant they are being stolen; he realized he may never be able to leave his children a nestegg after he passed on, which was always one of his goals; and Jack was also dealing with a lot of other things: the devastation and terror of the great depression was always in the back of his mind, I’m sure World War II and the European battlefields haunted him, I’m not sure how old his kids were but he probably wanted to send them to college, etc., etc., etc…. but … Jack still cranked out all those wonderful 70s stories and art. Probably about 100 pages a month.

So if you look at the big picture, I think what Jack did was pretty extraordinary, and that’s how I look at his text now in 2012 — I forgive the occasional awkward moment because of the crushing deadlines he was working under and the backbreaking pace at which he had to crank out that text. It’s like seeing a band live — sometimes they screw up, they get a lyric wrong, a guitar string breaks, but there is an energy and excitement to it. I just watched Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same film for the first time on Palladia yesterday.

I just had never seen the whole thing before. It’s kind of a mess. There are some lame camera angles, a lot of the non-concert footage is boring, Jimmy Page’s solos go on way to long and some of them are sloppy, but there are incredible moments in that film. Those guys were truly young gods.

The slick studio produced Zeppelin stuff is wonderful, but there is still something fun about watching a great band kick it live, and that’s how I see Jack’s 70s comics. The 60s stuff is heavily produced, the 70s stuff is KIRBY LIVE!

Could that 70s stuff have been “better” if you or Stan Lee or someone else could “reign Jack in” in terms of the storylines, or could Jack’s stuff have been “better” if somebody like Stephen King or Alan Moore or whoever added glimmering, shimmering text to his 70s word balloons? That’s subjective. It’s like saying: would John Lennon’s solo stuff have been better if Paul McCartney worked on every track with him, added a middle 8, and sang background vocals? Or would solo-Lennon have been better if Elton John collaborated with him on each track?

Whether you like or dislike something is a matter of taste.

For me, when it comes to Kirby, I respect Jack’s solo stuff in the same way I respect Lennon’s solo stuff.

Solo-Lennon is not as pretty and slick and toe-tapping as the Beatles stuff, there’s a darkness to John’s solo work (like “Mother” for example, talk about heart-wrenching), there’s an ugliness and dirty, almost reckless sloppiness to Lennon’s solo material, especially all the great bootleg outtakes. That’s how I see Jack’s solo stuff. Not literally dirty, but raw and unfiltered. If you prefer the Beatles, I can understand that. But Lennon’s solo stuff still moves me because of the man behind the music and the circumstances the music was produced in.

Same with Kirby: I enjoy Kirby text because it’s impromptu full speed ahead runaway train comics-making at it’s best.

Aside from some of those artists who can crank out piles of Manga comics, I doubt anyone will ever come close to the quantity and quality of Jack’s solo run.

You prefer Kirby/Lee? A lot of kids did. Some still do. I get it. But I’m in awe of what Jack accomplished in the 70s. Mainly I just like Jack’s art. I like his style and his decision making. Yeah, the 70s stuff is a little wacky, and the text at times could use some work — but Jack didn’t have time to dwell on his text and tinker with it and perfect it the way a novelist can dwell on a line of dialogue for an entire year. And Lee had burned him big-time so Jack couldn’t take a chance on trusting another collaborator.

Honestly regardless of how much a lot of fans hate Jack’s text, I say Jack didn’t need a collaborator — his 70s stuff is fine. I mean, can you imagine the horror of Lee doing his “Forsooth verily methinks” Thor babble for New Gods? Get out your barf bags. Jack’s 70s stuff “is what it is.” To use the Beatles analogy again, in the Anthology documentary Paul addresses critics of the White Album, some say it should have been two albums (Ringo jokes it could have been the White and the Whiter Album) and Paul talks about how there are some great songs on it, it is what it is, and Paul dismisses the debate, he waves his hand and says something along the lines of “It’s the bloody Beatles White Album, shut up.”

That’s kinda my take on 70s Kirby. Get over the fact that Lee didn’t dialogue it. Jack’s 70s stuff is fine, in fact it’s great. I’m sure it influenced every major player who works in comics.

To wrap up this little monologue on Kirby text: I think Jack’s 70s work is visually some of the greatest comics ever made. If you put the work in it’s historical context, Jack’s text is just fine, it’s not Shakespearean great, but it is good soild workmanlike comic book dialogue — which is a reflection of who Jack was. I guarantee those books have brought a lot of people a lot of joy over the years. So I don’t get the hatred or the “revulsion” some feel for Jack’s text. It just seems like a waste of time.

Donald Duck Comic Book Touts Holocaust

Here’s an interesting piece that relates a bit to our discussion of comics dialogue:

In Screw-up, Donald Duck Comic Book Touts Holocaust

By Mary Papenfuss
Posted May 30, 2012

(NEWSER) – It was just a mistake, says a comic book publisher, but no one found it funny. In the latest version of a German comic book based on Disney characters, a duck dignitary in Duckburg uses the word “Holocaust” as a congratulatory term to express kudos to hero firefighters. “Awards to our brave and always-alert fire lookouts! Holocaust!” says the top-hatted duck.

Apparently, the 1972 English version of the story used the word as a synonym for something firefighters extinguish, and it was inadvertently and inappropriately left in the German version, according to the publisher. Donald, Mickey, and gang would be horrified. They were mobilized during World War II to issue anti-Nazi messages, and Donald achieved the rank of sergeant for his wartime work, reports Der Spiegel. All the comic books have been recalled, and will be reissued with the H word blacked out by hand.

Marvel’s Treatment of Jack in the 70s

Here’s a recent reader email comment on Marvel’s treatment of Jack in the 1970s:

In Greg Theakston’s Jack Magic vol 2, he talks about Jack’s treatment when he returned to Marvel. He says that people sent anonymous letters on Marvel stationary to Kirby’s home saying he should retire. Apperantly Roz kept at least one from Jack and told Theakston. Theakston also talks about the stacked letters pages and that Jim Shooter demanded dialogue changes, something that NEVER happened at DC. People with the least talent are the most jealous.

Thanks for the email. I’ve wanted to pick that book up for awhile. I just found a copy here: copacetic comics. I’m looking forward to reading this.

The Silver Lining – My Comments for Scott Edelman, Part 3

Here is another link sent in by Scott Edelman:

“Three cheers for, and long live, the King!”

Thanks again to Scott for sharing this stuff. It’s fun to get a glimpse behind the scenes at Marvel in the 1970s. Here’s a few comments from Scott at the end of his post.

Where are those letters columns designed to turn fans into a torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding mob intent on storming the House of Ideas and demanding Kirby be fired? I just don’t see it.

And I’d like those who feel they do see it to back up their claims with some proof. Otherwise, all they’re doing is maligning folks like me who were doing their best to let readers have their say.

I don’t think I recall anyone claiming Marvel letter columns “were designed to turn fans into a torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding mob intent on storming the House of Ideas and demanding Kirby be fired.” It sounds to me like 70s Marvel staffers did badmouth Jack verbally, so that rumor is probably true. And it sounds like Marvel staffers did post negative letters in Jack’s books, so that rumor is probably true (again I haven’t read any Marvel letters pages so I don’t know). Was this done maliciously by Marvel staffers who wanted to to try and fire Jack as a writer? If they had their way would these ambitious Marvel staffers have allowed Kirby to keep penciling comics, but did they want to take that writer paycheck away from Jack and his family, and have someone else (like themselves) write the text in Jack’s books, which means they would get Jack’s writer paycheck and they would get that important “Writer/Editor” credit? Scott seems to be suggesting that was not the case. It would be interesting to know what his associates from that era had to say.

Are we ever going to know what really motivated the Marvel staffers decisions? Probably not. I doubt someone is going to raise their hand, and come right out and say, “I wanted to get Jack fired as a writer. I wanted someone else to write Jack’s books. And if the job had been offered to me, I sure as hell wouldn’t have turned it down.” I suspect that is probably the truth for at least somebody who was working on staff at Marvel during the 1970s, but that’s pure speculation on my part. And based on the flat-out fierce contempt he expressed in his “Shame on you Captain America” article, it sure as heck sounds like if Jack had been fired as a writer and someone else had been paid to add captions to Jack’s books, Scott Edelman wouldn’t have had too much of a problem with that.

Anyway this is all much ado about nothing. Nobody is accusing anybody of “torch-bearing,” or “pitchfork-wielding” or of being a “mob intent on storming the House of Ideas and demanding Kirby be fired.” When people start hurling accusations that use lynch mob metaphors, clearly we are veering off-topic. Please try and keep things in perspective. We’re just geeks on the internet discussing rumors and discussing first person recollections of what took place at Marvel comics in the 1970s. This is not the Nazis vs. the Allies: it’s people discussing comic book history and interpreting various accounts of that history. Let’s agree to disagree and shake hands.

I always look for the silver lining.

I’m glad Marvel staffers verbally badmouthed Jack. I’m glad Marvel staffers printed negative fan letters about Jack. And I’m glad Jack got the @#$% out of that incredibly unhealthy situation at Marvel, and got a job in animation where he had health insurance and by all accounts his associates at that job were incredibly kind, gracious, and supportive of Jack. Getting that animation gig was probably the best thing that could have happened to Jack other than Martin Goodman giving Jack the royalties he promised him.

I love Jack’s 70s stuff. We’re damn lucky to have that material. In a perfect world Jack would have been retired, sitting by the beach spending time with his family, but the guy had to keep working to put food on the table, so I appreciate the hard work he put into those books If you don’t like Jack’s 70s text? Quit whining and go read Lee’s Thor babble.

Re: The Wrap-up

To take a step towards wrapping this thread up, let’s review: I remain stunned by the ferocity of former Marvel associate editor Scott Edelman’s scathing criticisms of Jack Kirby’s writing; I told Scott Edelman in a private email some of the rumors I’ve heard about Marvel staffers badmouthing Jack in the 1970s; Edelman said he had never heard any of those rumors before (although he admits he personally verbally badmouthed Jack); since then, he’s done some online reading of his own; he discovered the rumor about the “fake fan letters”; and he has sworn to dispel these rumors. I hope that Scott read Jim Shooter’s comments posted here yesterday and today which were sent in by some Kirby historians that discuss the letter columns; and I hope Scott will consider contacting folks like Jim Shooter or Tom Spurgeon via email if he want’s to dispel the “Marvel Myth” as he called it, and maybe they will be able to tell him what they know about the subject; plus several of Scott’s 70s Marvel associates are probably easy to access via email, and there are plenty of other great historians who might answer his questions.

I still hope Scott, as a fellow member of the fraternity of writers, will consider telling us what (if anything) he respects about Jack’s writing to balance out the vicious things he said about Jack’s work in his “Shame on You Captain America” article, but more than anything I hope Scott will consider shining the light of his writing talents on his memories of working at Marvel in the 1970s.

What was a typical work day like for an associate editor at Marvel in 1976? Do you show up at the office at 5:00 am? 9:00 am? Is it an 8 hour day? What was the atmosphere like? Was it hard work? Fun? I’d guess it would take maybe an hour or so to proofread one of Jack’s books, so what else would an associate editor do for the rest of the day? Go to meetings? Pitch story ideas? Proofread other books? Work with the writers and editors? How many fan letters did Scott have to read in a typical week? 100? 1000? Who were the other staffers who worked with Scott? What were they doing all day? Did they go to lunch and hang out? I think Scott met his wife working at Marvel. A love story! Did the Marvel staffers hang out at night and party? What was the scene like in New York City at the height of the disco craze?

To me the topics of Kirby, his text, and the letters columns are interesting, but if Scott has nothing further to add on that subject, I do hope maybe he’ll take a moment to discuss that period at Marvel — first-hand accounts like that can have tremendous value to comics historians in the future. And again, thanks to Scott for discussing this with us.

More Comments About Jack’s Text

This from Facebook:

Tony Hunt: Attack seems to be the best form of defence, and your comments sure are defensive. Sheesh (to quote the Thing)!

Jack’s artwork and stories, in the 60’s were what got me into comics in the first place, and I think he’s still the best there is, however: I agree with Scott Edelman in that his dialogue could be quite stilted at times. That’s my opinion (doesn’t mean I think Jack was in any way, bad) and I’m entitled to have it, so is Scott Edelman, even if he worked there . In fact, as someone working there as some kind of editor, he should most definitely should have an opinion. If he thought that the dialogue was poor, it was his duty to say so, and to try to get an improvement, regardless of who had written it. I’m not privy to the conspiracy theory about the letters page, and I didn’t work there, so I’ll not comment on that. Sometimes work isn’t a nice place. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and take it!

Here’s a comment Patrick Ford just posted on tme Museum Facebook page that addresses the rumors about the letters columns.

Patrick Ford: Here is a comment from Jim Shooter.

http://www.jimshooter.com/search?q=Jack+Kirby+

Shooter comments: “Marvel paid creators, usually the writer of the series, to go through the fan mail, choose letters to print and write replies. Because Jack was in California and didn’t want to do the lettercols, David Anthony Kraft was assigned (before I became EIC) to write the lettercols for Jack’s books. DAK chose largely negative letters. Jack called me and complained. We fired Kraft and got someone else. Kraft’s excuse was that he was writing an “honest” lettercol, reflecting the general tenor of the mail. Horseshit. A lettercol shouldn’t bash the book it’s in.” Mark Evanier says Kirby’s dialogue NEVER came under attack while Kirby was at DC in the early ’70s.

Rumors – My Comments for Scott Edelman, Part 2

Rumors, Fleetwood Mac (1976)

I was going to run this tomorrow, but I figure it’s better just to hash this out now, talk about if for maybe a day or two more, then move on.

First of all, to all the writers who have sent in guest articles and other various pieces of art and commentary I promised to post soon, my apologies because I’m going to have to push all that stuff back again. I think the subject of how Jack was treated by his fellow Marvel employees during the 1970s, and the topic of Jack’s prose, are two really interesting subjects so I want to spend a little time on them especially since we have Scott Edelman, a person who was there at the time, who is willing to discuss this with us. Again, I want to thank Scott for the comments. I’m really enjoying reading what he has to say. Here’s the link to a follow up comment from Scott Edelman. Please read that first then I’ll make my comments.

Please Help me dispel a Marvel Comics myth, by Scott Edelman, posted May 29, 2012.

My comments:

First, a couple things, in our private emails, I tried to clearly tell Scott that the stories I heard about Marvel staffers badmouthing Jack, and planting stories in the letters pages that painted Jack in a negative light were rumors. To me, those anecdotes are hearsay. I personally have no evidence in my K-files that proves these rumors are 100% true. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think I have ever discussed this topic on Kirby Dynamics, and it’s the reason I mentioned this to Scott in a private email. Do I care that Scott is paraphrasing something I emailed to him privately and he’s twisting what I said all around? No. Who cares. Scott can write whatever he wants to write. All I can do is apologize that a rumor I mentioned privately is now public. I can also add this statement from Scott is not true:

Scott Edelman: (Steibel) claimed that Marvel staffers were weighting the letters columns against Kirby in an attempt to orchestrate a campaign within fandom to get The King kicked off the books he was writing at the time.

No. I didn’t claim that. I didn’t “claim” anything. I told Scott that I heard a rumor. Plus Scott’s statement is a bit of an exaggeration. He’s using hyperbole insted of my own words. (Sigh) I’ll go back to my email account and pull the email I send Scott to see exactly what I wrote:

Here’s what I wrote, and again, this was a private email, I didn’t “claim” these rumors were facts in a public forum, but it’s no biggie, it’s not like I said anything that was top secret. I just don’t post stuff like that here because I don’t want to spread rumors.

My private email comment to Scott:

I agree 100% about this comment: “I think it’s important to do my best to record what actually went on at Marvel in the ’70s, rather than what people _think_ went on at Marvel.”

I’ve heard some pretty harsh rumors about what went on during this time-frame: rumors that basically several bullpen staffers wanted Jack fired, or at least they wanted someone else writing his books; they tried to make this happen using the letters pages, and through comments in comics fandom and at conventions; and “Jack the hack” was kind of a running gag at Marvel for a while among staffers and this spread to fandom — and all of this got back to Jack, hurt him deeply, and played a part in him deciding to quit comics. But that’s hearsay. So if you give your genuine recollection of that period, that actually would be fantastic. I’m with you: I’m much more interested in the actual history whether it is good or bad.

So in our private email, clearly I said these were rumors and hearsay. There’s a big difference between an off-the-record private email where I tell someone a rumor I have heard from several sources over the years, and a public “claim” where I discuss a fact. Is this a big deal to me? No, but Scott is misrepresenting what I said and the context I said it in. Here’s another comment from Scott: in my opinion, he is twisting things around again.

Scott Edeman: I’d never heard such an accusation before, but when I searched online, I found that he didn’t originate the concept, that it had been comics hearsay for quite awhile, and that some even claimed staffers were creating fraudulent letters to make the Kirby backlash seem even worse. For example, Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon reported on this in their 2003 biography, Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book.

Of course I didn’t “originate the concept.” Did Scott think I made that rumor up? Sheesh. And Jack’s fans are the ones who are supposedly paranoid about conspiracy theories? Here is the article excerpt Scott found online, I assume he probably googled “Jack the Hack” or something like that: Superheroes in Court: continued

Article excerpt: “Staffers seeded the letters columns of Kirby’s books with negative comments – some of which were fake – in a seeming attempt to spite him,” Raphael and Spurgeon say in their 2003 Lee biography. “They referred to him as ‘Jack the Hack’. Some editors scrawled derisive comments on copies of Kirby’s pages and pasted them on their office doors. [...] On more than a few occasions, Kirby was aggravated by the ingratitude of the company he had helped build. Stan had to step in to smooth things over.” Kirby stuck it out at Marvel only until May 1978, when he quit and moved into animation work, sometimes on Marvel projects like The Fantastic Four’s TV cartoon, sometimes for other clients such as Disney.”

One of the reasons I called this a “rumor,” even though I’ve heard it many times from many different sources, is because as far as I know,  no one has ever raised their hand and said “I did it.” Spurgeon is probably the best comics historian on the planet and Raphael is also very good, but I’m always careful to have an open mind which is why even though Raphael and Spurgeon reported this, I still clearly called it a rumor in my private email because I don’t personally know the source. This makes it doubly ironic that Scott is saying I “claimed” this anecdote took place when I have gone out of my way to call it a rumor. Here’s a suggestion for Scott: if you really want to get to the bottom of this, why not email Tom Spurgeon and ask him who his sources are for the anecdote. Here’s his email:

tom@comicsreporter.com

Maybe Tom will tell you his sources are (1) off-the-record, or (2) he’ll name his sources, or (3) he’ll tell you he is reporting a fairly popular comics urban legend that has been circulating for decades. Tom’s research is pretty impeccable if you ask me. Instead of complaining somebody “dissed” you, email Tom.

A personal aside: I had almost zero in involvement in comics, I basically got some books off the spinner rack at the local 7-11 in the 70s. I think I maybe went to a couple conventions, in the very early 80s. I remember one where I entered a comics art contest and Chris Claremont was a judge and I won some John Buscema pencil roughs. I only knew a couple kids who read comics and only chatted with a few fans at conventions and at comics shops, and although I do not have a photographic memory — I’m pretty sure I had heard the “Jack the Hack” rumors as early as the 70s. I heard that Jack sucked so bad, even the people who worked with him at Marvel hated what he was doing. His own co-workers had turned on him — that was the level of contempt they felt for his work. And that did influence my opinion of Jack a bit.

Since about 2000 when I started to study Jack, I know I’ve heard this “Jack the Hack” rumor a hundred times. So how could Scott Edelman have never heard this rumor? I guess he had his walkman on? :-)

Here’s more from Scott:

Wait a minute! I was the one who wrote many of the letters columns that appeared in Kirby’s books. I’m the one being accused of fakery!

Scott, take a deep breath and calm down. Nobody “accused you of fakery.” You’re overreacting. The rumor I’ve heard is that somebody at Marvel during that period (no one said it was you) posted negative mails in the letters columns in order to paint Jack in a negative light. I know nothing about the fake mails. Notice I never brought that up. You brought that up. You brought up the rumor there were fake emails, not me.

Regardless of whether the fan letters were fake or not, don’t you think painting Jack in a negative light as a writer in the letters columns may have influenced the negative reaction to Jack’s work in fandom, and this may have opened up the door for some of you wanna-be writers to walk through and become writers yourselves?

You guys all did fancy yourselves as writers, correct? If Jim Shooter, or whoever was in charge had come up to you and said, “Hey Scott, boy, Jack’s comics are getting a lot of bad fan reaction, and your suggestions to improve Jack’s prose are very good, I’m going to have you write the book.” Jackpot! Captain America: written and edited by Scott Edelman and penciled by Jack Kirby.

That possibility never occurred to you blue-lining the stories Jack wrote? Or did you want Lee to come back? Who is the “scripter” you thought would make Jack’s work “shine?” Would you have turned that offer down? Would your fellow staffers have turned that down? You don’t think even unconsciously you guys might have been trying to climb the ladder a little by criticizing Jack? There was never any, “I could write better dialogue than Jack if given the chance” comments from you folks? Ever? And you have a photographic memory so you remember every single conversation you had in the 1970s, so you are positive you never said anything negative about Jack that could have been overheard and picked up by fandom?

Plus did you do every single letter column on every single 70s Kirby Marvel book? If not, what are you talking about? This rumor may be about someone else. You were there, who else at Marvel in the 1970s worked on Jack’s letter columns? What were their names? Are they alive? Maybe email your former associates and ask them what they recall.

Scott goes on to write:

So … if you do have copies of those comics I mentioned above, and would like to help tickle my memory by putting copies of the letters columns from those issues in front of me, I’d greatly appreciate it. I’d like to see these letters I supposedly cooked up to derail The King’s career.

I gave away most of my comics, so I don’t think I have any of those, and the scans I have don’t include the letters pages. Hopefully someone out there will email Scott the letters pages he is requesting. I think it would be interesting to read his recollections. To my Kirby Dynamics readers, please if anyone out there can send them to me or send scans of the letters pages Scott worked on to him, please help us out. I’ll give you a Kirby Dynamics no-prize. :-D

More from Scott:

Keep in mind, though—just because a letter was negative, doesn’t mean it was faked. I printed plenty of negative letters in the Captain Marvel columns when I was writing the book, because I’ve always believed all opinions should get fair representation, even when they diss me.

Oy vey, next thing you know Scott is going to be saying “talk to the hand.” Nobody is “dissing” you, Scott. In fact, you just gave us another great fact. You personally did post negative emails in Marvel columns because apparently you felt an ethical obligation to print mails that were critical. So maybe you did post negative mails about Jack because of this ethical obligation you felt.

Here’s a quesiton for Scott:

Let’s say Stan Lee was writing Captain America and he was right across the room from you in his office. You think you would have posted a lot of negative letters criticizing Lee in the letters pages of one one his comic books because you “believed all opinions should get fair representation?” Seriously, give that one some thought. And do you think Smilin’ Stan would have approved of you running negative letters that criticized him because of your “beliefs?” Isn’t it possible that because Jack was in California, and you didn’t have to see him every day and work beside him, and as you’ve admitted you felt utter contempt for his prose, maybe that made it a little easier for you to embrace your letters page philosophy where  maybe you felt printing letters criticizing Jack was your ethical obligation?

That being said, I’ve never read any of those letters pages so I personally don’t know if they were positive or negative. On a 1 to 10 scale, when I was 10-years-old my interest in what some comic book fan has to say about Jack’s comics was a zero. So for all I know, maybe the letters pages were full of glowing praise for Jack. He certainly deserved it if you ask me.

This is how rumors get started, Scott. A fan may have said, “Wow, why is Marvel running criticism of Jack Kirby in their own comic books?” Stan never ran stuff like this before, the new people must really hate him.”

If I had read negative fan letter comments in Jack’s comics? Being an impressionable 10-year-old? I would have said to myself: “I ain’t buyin’ no more Kirby books, this letter writer is right-on, now that I think about it — Jack does suck.” I was a blank slate as a kid. Positive letters probably would have reinforced the positive things I saw in the books, that’s how the human mind works. Letters praising Jack probably would have encouraged me to check out the next issue. I would have said, “Yeah, I love this about Jack’s comics too, I’m gonna find the next issue!”

So to Scott: not only do I question your so-called ethical obligation you felt to run negative letters in a comic book from a business standpoint, I also wonder if you would have felt the same ethical obligation if Stan Lee was the writer and he had been sitting next to you breathing over your shoulder when you selected the letters to run in a book he dialogued.

The rumor about Marvel staffers badmouthing Jack Kirby and the rumor that Marvel staffers who hated Jack’s dialogue expressed this by their choice of the letters they posted on the letters pages in Jack’s books may not be true, but I hate to tell you Scott — it sure sounds like (1) you were one of the Marvel staffers who hated Jack’s dialogue, (2) it sounds like you may have been one of the people badmouthing him verbally (and this leaked out into fandom), and (3) you and your fellow associate editors (or whatever your titles were) might have consciously or unconsciously expressed your contempt for Jack’s work by your choice of the letters you posted on the letters pages. You may have had the best intentions, but clearly your first person account suggests there does seem to be some truth in those rumors. You’ve basically corroborated them. And we still have not discussed your fellow staffers.

The rumor about the so-called fake letters you brought up? I know nothing about that. Maybe email Jim Shooter. He is very nice about answering any question. Maybe Tom Spurgeon will give you a source. Evanier may have some info.

So again, before I wrap up this post, I’d love to ask you: why don’t you take a moment to tell us about your associates, your fellow Marvel staffers, did they also have similar negative feelings about Jack’s work, did they also express these feelings as you did verbally, and did they also feel an ethical obligation to post letters from fans that were critical of Jack?

From: Kandou Erik

Here’s a post from Kandou Erik on the discussion with Scott Edelman.

Jack Kirby’s Writing, Scott Edelman Captain America Debate

by Kandou Erik

I was interested to read about this debate going on, over Scott Edelman’s apparent dislike of Jack Kirby’s writing and dialogue. I feel like I have a somewhat in-the-middle perspective about this, as getting to know Kirby’s history – I can see what Edelman is talking about, but I whole heartily disagree. It’s true that Jack’s writing was more stiff than Stan Lee’s scripting — but Jack always wrote the characters honestly and truthfully. For example, his work on New Gods, I noticed that while the dialogue was sometimes unnatural and clunky, over time I developed another perspective of it: just like his art, it’s straight, clean, with exacting edges, and a powerful feel — which might not make for natural dialogue, but it’s honest dialogue. For years having Stan Lee sometimes miss the real point of the dialogue or plot points Kirby was giving him, I think the subject of Jack’s writing, or perceived faults, is a touchy subject.

Regarding so-called Kirby Kultists – who think the King could do no wrong; it’s not that Jack didn’t make errors, or sometimes have off-panel or pages — but, for fans of Jack Kirby, I think those faults invariably become a piece of the overall artistic fabric of his work. His work on Jimmy Olsen, for example, where Jimmy and Superman’s faces where re-drawn; while it was never right to do that to him, those alterations still make a comment about Jack’s art, and the kind of struggles he went through.

Whether this is me giving Kirby “a pass” or not, I don’t care. I simply think if you like the art and the stories, and the power and meaning he brought to them – then you also have to take his faults as well. It’s just my opinion, though. I don’t mean to attack Mr. Edelman’s opinion, either. I just think there has to be a middle-ground between dismissing Kirby’s writing, and praising his art. Especially for comics – the two are pretty inseparable. Plus, really, being raised on the comic-book formula of people stating their actions, thinking out loud, and phrasing things in ways no one actually talks like – Kirby’s writing isn’t that much different from Stan’s. I know many people see a vast difference in their two styles – but I just don’t see it. Yes, with Stan the dialogue is more smooth. For Kirby his dialogue is more direct and matter-of fact. Beyond that, their writing doesn’t seem that much different to me.

From: Kenn Thomas

Here’s an email from Kirby historian Kenn Thomas on our conversation with former Marvel associate editor, Scott Edelman.

From Kenn Thomas:

Hi, Rob,

I guess Scott Edelmen’s view of Kirby’s Marvel work in the 70s is typical, sad to say. It’s reflective of the small world comics fans often keep themselves in. It’s just absurd that someone would regard Kirby’s “text” as somehow inferior to the butchering he received from Lee all those years.

That Captain America run was way ahead of its time. It came out when conspiracy theory material was only beginning to become popular. It’s really clear that Kirby was way ahead of the curve with the “Madbomb” arc. He even plugged Kissinger in there. It would not surprise me if one day we discover that Kirby read the writings of Mae Brussell, the conspiracy maven who also lived in Kirby’s home state.

I have no reason not to believe that Edelmen was, as he says, more incompetent than conspiratorial. He clearly doesn’t know his own mind, though, saying in one sentence that he’s no partisan and in the next that Kirby needed Lee. But he’s clearly not a judge of what is “satisfactory” when it comes to Kirby. He can barely write intelligible commentary.

Suffering through it, though, I’m not surprised that a defacto “conspiracist” raises his hands and says “not me!” The man protesteth too much, just before giving the contradictory proposition that it was his “job” to do corrections but he did them in the hopes of scripting for Kirby. I guess that’s not a conspiracy–it only involves one guy. But it sure is an internal dialectic, isn’t it? Edelmen’s opinions are nonsense, of course, that Lee did anything other than butcher Kirby’s prose. Issues of TJKC are filled with examples, the original Galactus trilogy being the most egregious example.

It’s a pity that people with that kind of petty envy and delusions about their own talent had to play a role in Kirby’s work. It does show you what Kirby was up against, though.

(And his parenthetical aside was funny. I have had upwards of three paid interns in my office on and off for twenty years. That’s a perfectly appropriate use of the term. The unpaid ones we call “volunteers”. We don’t call them “assistant archivists”. No, Edelstein isn’t paranoid. Haha!)

It doesn’t seem to matter how much evidence is given to Scott Edelmen about the manipulations behind Kirby’s last stretch at Marvel. He’s bound and determined to turn a blind eye to common industry practices. People who write about conspiracies call that coincidence theory.

It’s a pity that Kirby had to deal with small minded folk from top (Lee) to bottom (Edelmen). I’m sure they’re sincere in thinking that whatever they did–petty distortions of the great man’s work–it was done with good intent. However, that’s the proverbial path to hell. Obviously, I don’t care for Edelmen’s opinion about Kirby’s work and I think he did harm to the effort. The lesson here is that he should have kept his worthless opinions to himself instead of contributing whatever he did to undermining Kirby at that time.

And that last garble about Kirby inventing his childhood so he forgave him for the inferior later work. That’s the real garbage. Edelmen has a long way to go to find any real humility or to say something meaningful about Kirby’s work in the 70s. Let’s put it plain: Edelmen was just another Marvel hack.

Kenn Thomas

From: Jim Shooter’s Weblog

In that last posting, Stan Taylor was discussing some comments on the 70’s Marvel letter columns from Jim Shooter’s weblog.

Here is the link:

http://www.jimshooter.com/search?q=letter+columns

Here’s an excerpt:

Letter Column Rant and A Few Observations

Tom commented on the post “Reminiscing About Jack Kirby”

I think that in the 70’s, people were so used to having Jack around that they took him for granted. I’ve read the letters pages in some of his 70’s Marvel titles like Cap, Eternals and Black Panther and he definitely gets a lot of negative feedback. It seems to me like a case of too much of a good thing. These guys had grown up on his stuff and his style at Marvel was kind of omnipresent, and if it wasn’t him drawing a book in a lot of cases it was someone drawing just like him, and then in the 70’s you had guys like Starlin and Barry Smith which for the fans were a new style and a kind of a breath of fresh air, and they didn’t want to go back. They were like teens who’ve gotten do drive and have some freedom for the first time, and now they don’t want to go to grandma’s house every sunday with the rest of the family. I didn’t get into Kirby until the early 90’s when I was in my early 20’s. I ate up his 70’s stuff. The time was right for me to discover and fall in love with it. I understand how the kids didn’t want it at the time, but I wish they hadn’t been so mean about it. Anyway, I see every Kirby issue as gold.

ANSWER:

Jack’s titles got plenty of positive mail, too, especially early on, but because the people putting together the lettercolumns then used a lot of negative letters, that had the effect of generating more negative letters. In those days, it was a very cool thing to see your letter in print. Show the readers that negative letters are likely to get printed and you’d get lots of them.

I cannot imagine what the people putting the letter columns together were thinking. Were they trying to be “fair and balanced,” and show that some people were disappointed with what Jack was doing? Was it that they, themselves, were disappointed with what Jack was doing and weighted the lettercols to express their POV? Putting together a negative lettercol is stupid, amateurish and/or malicious.

Lettercols in commercial, entertainment publications are PROMOTIONAL INSTRUMENTS (and entertaining, if done right). Like it, don’t like it, or whatever. If you’re a professional with the brains God gave a goat, you know this and you act accordingly. This isn’t journalism.

Ideally, you select letters positive letters, especially thoughtful, thought-provoking letters, including some, OCCASIONALLY that express thoughtful criticism along with positive comments. A critical letter that is clearly biased or dumb enough to incite the readers to rebut it, if only in their own minds, works too. Publishing 101.

Stan told me that when John Romita replaced Steve Ditko on Spider-Man, the mail was overwhelmingly negative. Stan ran only the rave letters, almost without exception. Soon, the mail became overwhelmingly positive. And, P.S., people got used to John’s style and sincerely started grooving on it. This happened, in part, because the lettercols promoted the new look. That helped to start a movement.

P.S. That wouldn’t have worked if John’s work wasn’t really good. Trying to promote in a lettercol something that’s really lousy usually is a non-starter.

A possibly interesting fact: though Jack’s books did not sell well on the newsstands, because, I think, to casual readers they seemed old-fashioned and un-hip, they sold gangbusters in the nascent direct market, as well or better than the X-Men, and far more than all other titles. I remember noticing that a couple of Jack’s books were selling upwards of 30,000 copies — just about enough to break even all direct — at a time when Spider-Man, the Avengers, etc., were selling closer to 10,000 direct. That observation was part of the genesis of the first major all-direct book, Dazzler #1. So, it wasn’t that Jack’s books were universally hated. The more comics-sophisticated/collector direct market patrons liked the stuff — enough of them, anyway. I wonder how many copies direct Jack’s books would have sold when the direct market had developed a little more and X-Men was selling several hundred thousand direct each month.

From: Stan Taylor

I asked Kirby historian Stan Taylor if he would share a few thoughts on the current discussion of the 70s Marvel letters columns.

Stan Taylor:

Scott Edelman was a low-mid level assistant editor at Marvel. At this time Marvel’s sales were in free fall. Like most stupid corporations when faced with falling sales – rather than improve their product they simply filled up with mid-management lackeys. So at Marvel we saw Edelman, Groenwald, Macchio and the like.

Jim Shooter talks about the letter column page on his blog, and all but says that Macchio was the worst offender, since he was letter happy to begin with. Even before he started working at Marvel he wrote a negative letter to Cap’s column, and after he started, there were many examples of clone-like letters added in.

Shooter claims he wasn’t aware until Jack personally called him to complain at which time he apologized and put a halt to the practice. Shooter’s words are even more passionate than yours. The sales at Marvel did not begin to improve until they went full force into the direct market, and Shooter says that Kirby’s books were good sellers at the direct market–outselling Spider-Man and X-Men. It seems that all the “hot” artists like Miller, Byrne, Perez, etc. did nothing for sales.

Stan