Here’s something fun I found surfing the web yesterday.
Here’s a link to the web page: http://fantasticsoap.tumblr.com/
Here we have someone who took the published work for Fantastic Four# 1 (1961) and added their own text to the illustrations. Looks like they also adjusted the color. It’s not very professional looking lettering, and by no means brilliant dialogue, but I do think the exercise itself is worth commenting on.
I’ve joked in the past that Stan Lee could probably have brought a homeless person off the street and had them add text to Jack’s illustrated stories, and the comics still would have been dynamic and easy to follow because of Jack’s visuals, so I guess here we have a chance to see if I’m right. Could anyone dialogue Jack’s comics as well as Stan Lee?
In the past I’ve been accused by Jack’s critics of what they call “Stan bashing” because occasionally I joke around about Stan Lee, but I’ve always felt the self-proclaimed “Fearless Leader” is a public figure and there’s nothing wrong with poking fun at him in the same way we all poke fun at someone like Tiger Woods or Paris Hilton.
And of course when I say something like “you can’t spell ‘steal’ without ‘Stan Lee’,” I’m making a joke. Lee never actually stole anything from Jack’s house, although I do think that Stan taking all the credit for all the characters and stories Kirby clearly played a pivotal part in creating is wrong, and I think Stan’s false mythology damaged Jack’s reputation and made it more difficult for Jack to operate from a position of strength when he dealt with the Marvel lawyers while he was alive. Personally, I think Lee did do a pretty good job adding text to Kirby’s art, I simply wish Lee would have made the true division of labor clear in his books like the Origins of Marvel Comics (1974).
For those of you unfamiliar with the Kirby/Lee authorship debate: many comics historians believe Kirby was the principal writer of his 1960s Marvel stories, Jack either worked from a brief Lee plot (which could be a sparse as “have Doc Doom be the bad guy this week”) or Jack came up with the entire story on his own. Jack did this by providing Lee with a 20 + page story and a cover. On each page, from 1964 – 1970 next to every single panel Jack wrote extensive margin notes explaining to Lee what was taking place in the story. It took Jack about 2 weeks do do a single story, it may have taken Lee as little as 4 hours to add text to Jack’s art.
So today we have an example of someone playing the Stan Lee role in the process. Here’s another page from FF # 1 with the new text. There was an f-bomb on one of the pages, I hope that Russian lettering doesn’t have any offensive words.
Honestly, this text is not very good, is it? I suppose it’s cute; obviously it’s satire. I think it shows that Stan did do a competent job adding the captions to Jack’s stories (and Lee may have been more involved in the plotting process on the early 1960s books like FF # 1), but putting aside the Kirby/Lee debate for now, I think this type of reworking of a published story opens a fascinating can of worms.
For example, what are the copyright ramifications of something like this? Obviously this writer is violating Marvel/Disney’s copyright of the material, but would Disney/Marvel care? Would they bother to crush this webcomic creator by sending a cease and desist?
For that “You can’t spell ‘steal’ without Stan Lee” gag, I pulled that photo off the net after a quick google image search for “Stan Lee,” and added a caption with the Comic Life program. Is what I did there inappropriate? I suppose the photographer who took that picture or the owner of that image could tell me to remove it from this site. Maybe some might consider that joke libelous or slanderous? Is what I did there really that different than what this writer is doing with the new FF captions?
And is this kind of thing fair to the Kirby/Lee legacy? Is it a good idea to have other writers adding text to an old comic? For example, if Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman were willing to add new captions to an old Kirby story, would readers have a problem with that? Apart from the inevitable debate about the ethics of such a project, I for one would actually be curious to read that.
Is this reinterpretation of FF # 1 pure homage, which actually celebrates the Kirby/Lee legacy? I think it might be. This might encourage people to buy the original book. Plus I think this kind of exercise keeps the old stories relevant. It gives new creators a way to interact with the material. If I was Marvel I’d published all the old comics with empty balloons and let new writers add text. Why not?
If I was a Comics 101 teacher, I probably wouldn’t give this new writer an A + for the endeavor, and I’m sure many people will understandably object to this type of graffiti on a published comics masterpiece, but I do think this kind of reworking or re-imagining of an old comic at the very least raises interesting questions about the future of digital storytelling using old or copyrighted artwork.