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”?

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.