Kirby Zealots?

My main goal is to focus on Jack’s art here at Kirby Dynamics, but sometimes it’s fun to respond to something Kirby-related I see online. Here’s an interesting thing I came across surfing the interweb. Here are some excerpts from his post: “Hot Lead and Lightning.” The weblog is called Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing. I put Mr. Isabella’s blog comments in block quotes.

Tony Isabella:

Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are two of my all-time favorite artists. You would expect I’d love talking about them with other Kirby and Ditko fans. However, increasingly, that’s not the case. Instead, I avoid quite a few online conversations.

I’ve seen this debate strategy a million times on the interweb. An individual claims they don’t talk about certain things online because they want to take the high road, then literally in the very next breath they contradict themselves: they take the low road and begin a rant on the topic they claim to avoid. I wonder if that’s what we are about to see here?

Tony Isabella:

The source of my discontent is that small but loud group of Kirby and Ditko fans who mistakenly believe that they must express their love for these great comics creators by diminishing, disparaging, and even viciously insulting other comics creators who collaborated with Kirby and Ditko.

To me this type of rant is the ultimate form of hypocrisy: an individual claims he avoids discussing Kirby and Ditko, then launches into a discussion of Kirby and Ditko. If someone doesn’t want to discuss Kirby and Ditko or deal with inevitable criticism those comments will receive, please practice what you preach — avoid talking about Kirby and Ditko if it is a “source of discontent.” You claim you love talking about Kirby and Ditko: then start a private Yahoo or Google forum and moderate it — don’t allow people with viewpoints different than your own to join. Why would you not discuss a subject because 2 or 3 people disagree with you on it? There are over 7 billion people on earth: you’re going to let a “small and loud” handful of people stop you from discussing your beloved Jack and Steve?

I would also love to know who these “zealots” are who Isabella claims are out there “diminishing, disparaging, and even viciously insulting other comics creators who collaborated with Kirby and Ditko.” Is Tony Isabella talking about anonymous people on comic book chat forums using wacky pseudonyms? Who cares what those people say. Does Tony follow anything other than comics on the interweb? Read any online article then go to the comments section: you will see all sorts of outrageous comments. C’mon Tony, enough of the whole “Kirby Zealots” shtick. You got Stan Lee fans and Kirby fans, they tend to disagree on some things. Isn’t the name-calling from you rather elementary school? Or did a 10-year-old hack into your computer?

When I first started looking at Jack’s work in about 2002, I noticed Isabella’s rhetorical strategy was a common tactic Stan Lee’s defenders used — they claim anyone questioning Stan’s version of the history is “diminishing, disparaging, and even viciously insulting” Stan Lee, and any remark that doesn’t defend or promote Stan Lee is, as Isabella calls it, a “viscous insult.” Then these folks make up insulting names for the people they claim insulted Stan (the hypocrisy!). Trying to demonize Jack’s fans, they act like Jack’s fans are these awful, satanic people whose only goal is to destroy Stan Lee’s reputation — the so-called “Stan-Bashers.”

I don’t think this is fair or accurate. Stan Lee is a public figure. People can make fun of him in the same way they goof on Tiger Woods or Lady Gaga; Stan Lee isn’t Jesus Christ and questioning his veracity is not a sin. What’s wrong with a few Stan Lee jokes. My favorite one is this one:

This is a joke; a gag; a bit of comic book insider humor. Surely every one of you reading this gets this joke. This isn’t libel or slander — this doesn’t “diminish, disparage, or viciously insult” Lee, it’s satire protected by our right to free speech.

Millions see Stan Lee as a legend, an icon, his place in comic book history is guaranteed; you really think this first grade gag will hurt his reputation? And Stan didn’t literally steal anything from Jack Kirby. Right? Uh, right? 🙁 Feel free to make a gag about Jack if you want to. Who cares. It’s the interweb. Have fun! If other people upset you, either stop running your mouth online, or ignore your critics. To me, these people who see Kirby “zealots” hiding behind every grassy knoll are delusional. Most of the kids who post hate mail online are just lonely dudes on the net who have fun arguing. That’s called “someone at home who is bored,” not a “zealot.” Ignore them.

And, yeah, there are some people out there who question Stan Lee’s version of the history. Is that so bad? Is Stan’s account of events meant to be taken literally like the Bible, and as Tony says “woe befall any who do dare to question?” My hypocrisy alarm is going off again.

My hypocrisy alarm

What about all the folks like Tony Isabella out there who call Jack’s fans derogatory terms like “zealots?”  That strikes me as rather rude. Tony, if you read this: you complain about people who “disparage” people like Stan Lee then you YOURSELF disparage Jack’s fans, labeling them as “zealots.” Do you or do you not see the extraordinary hypocrisy of this kind of behavior.

One other quick thing, I know I’m bouncing around a lot, when Tony Isabella mentioned the “other comics creators who collaborated with Kirby and Ditko,” I assume Isabella is referring to Stan Lee. I’m not sure why he didn’t just say “Stan Lee,” and of course my apologies if he meant someone else.

Tony Isabella:

Any word said by Kirby or Ditko in anger or frustration becomes unquestionable truth to these zealots and woe befall any who do dare to question.

I totally disagree with this. I’ve seen virtually every Kirby expert, fan, and scholar admit Jack said things in the past that were not factually true, that Jack got facts wrong sometimes, and Jack forgot a lot of things. Jack probably told a lie or two in his life, we all do. I’ve never read anyone say “any word Jack Kirby said is unquestionable truth.” Could Tony provide us with the source for that comment?

Of course, you will have those out there who believe Jack when he says something like (I’m paraphrasing) “I came up with Spider-man,” but you also have (what I have jokingly called) the “Lee-Literalists” out there who take something like Lee’s “How I Invented Spider-man” article as gospel. So you have people on both sides who believe one side over the other, but I don’t think that makes them crazed zealots. Think of a common event we are all familiar with: like the OJ Simpson trial. Some folks believed OJ, others did not. Just because you don’t believe OJ doesn’t make you a “Nicole Brown Simpson Zealot” or a “Ronald Goldman Zealot.”

And let’s be honest, Stan Lee’s account of the history is so flat-out hilarious, my God, how can we not laugh at him. Or are we supposed to take everything Lee says as (what Tony Isabella calls) “unquestionable truth?” Is a critical analysis or satirical parody of Stan Lee taboo, like questioning the historical accuracy of everything in the Bible? Last time I checked we have free speech here in the USA and there is no constitutional law against poking fun at Stan Lee’s fairy tale version of the Kirby/Lee working relationship.

Tony Isabella:

Larry Lieber is one of the nicest and most modest comics creators I know. He has always been unfailingly honest in relating the how and why of his comics work. Yet I’ve seen a Kirby zealot call him a liar because he refused to believe that Larry wrote full scripts (from Stan Lee plots) for the giant monster stories Kirby drew in the 1960s.

How about sharing the anecdote where in the early 1960s (since his own brother Stan didn’t feel Larry’s art was up to snuff) Jack sat down with Stan’s brother Larry and give him drawing tips. Larry Lieber’s 70s stuff is so similar to Jack’s art, I’ve seen Heritage Auctions list 70s Larry Lieber Kirby homage as “by Jack Kirby.” Why not talk about how “unselfish and generous” it was of Jack Kirby to literally teach Larry Lieber how to draw using Kirby Dynamics. Jack was also one of “the nicest and most modest comics creators” — so why is Tony Isabella ranting and raving about how Jack’s fans are “zealots.” Shame on Isabella. He is being disrespectful to Kirby fans, many of whom are trying to examine the real history, not the propaganda in Lee’s Origins books.

As far as the unnamed “Kirby zealot” Isabella refers to in the quote above (Let’s call him Mystery Kirby Zealot # 1), in reference to the Lieber monster scripts, I think I chatted with  Mystery Kirby Zealot # 1 online on the old Kirby-l (I won’t use his name). I have met a total of zero people who agree with Mystery Kirby Zealot # 1 on the “giant monster” topic. All the comics experts I know agree Lee and his brother Larry gave Kirby some monster story scripts early on. Most also agree once Lee saw Jack needed very little guidance, over time, Jack contributed story elements uncredited and uncompensated; Jack may have even contributed concepts that would merit him a “writer credit” and a writer paycheck if he had been working with an editor that had some integrity. Jack also may have written parts of some of those stories  on his own. Jack may have written many of the stories alone using images, especially later on. But we don’t know, all we can do is look at all the evidence, and speculate as to what took place.

Although I disagree with the unnamed Kirby fan (Mystery Kirby Zealot # 1) on many Kirby topics, I don’t think it’s fair, or classy, or respectful for Tony Isabella to be calling an unnamed comic book fan who throws out a theory a “Kirby Zealot” (I’ll start capitalizing the term now since I guess it’s a group like the NAAACP). I also think it’s ignorant to lump this so-called Kirby Zealot with a bunch of other so-called Kirby Zealots. Let’s call ’em the KZ! Sheesh. The comic fan is entitled to his opinion; if you disagree with him, post your evidence and let it speak for itself instead of demonizing the guy with a goofy catchphrase like “Kirby Zealot.”

And why not give his name and give us a link to his zealotry? Seriously. Are you guys working for the NSA or something and this is classified? Give us a link so we can see whether you are quoting Mystery Kirby Zealot # 1 out of context.

As for the actual history, I doubt Larry Lieber “lied” about giving Jack some monster scripts, I’m sure Lieber gave Jack a few monster scripts. I think this was Stan Lee’s way of making it clear to Kirby that he (Stan Lee) wasn’t going to allow Jack to add captions to his artwork; then once Jack realized he had no choice other than to work “Marvel Method” (Lee captions the art) Lee phased his brother out … but it’s the internet, people say all sorts of things. Maybe Stan’s brother Larry and Stan DID NOT give Jack a full script for every single giant monster story, which means there is a grain of truth in what the Kirby fan (Mystery Kirby Zealot # 1) is saying. Just because someone is wrong or doesn’t necessarily present an effective argument doesn’t make them a Kirby Zealot.

By the way, where did this “Kirby Zealot concept” come from anyway? Did Tony Isabella create this concept, or is there some other comic book fan who made that up. I recall seeing Mark Alexander use the term at the end of his Wonder Years book (I’ll discuss his book in the future — out of respect for Mark and his family I’ll let some time pass before I do that). Is Wonder Years where Tony got the term or did someone else come up with it? I’d love to cite the source.

Tony Isabella:

I’ve seen a so-called comics historian base wild speculation after wild speculation on an alleged phone conversation with Steve Ditko decades ago. A conversation of which he has no recording or transcription. In his case, because he once interviewed me for a book on the direct sales market, and subsequently tried to twist facts to give himself a pivotal role in the creation of that market, I tend to disbelieve anything he claims.

What’s up with the secrecy? Who is Tony Isabella accusing of “twisting facts to give himself a pivotal role in the creation of that market?” Let’s call this person Mystery Kirby Zealot # 2. If you’re going to slam people online, at least name them, and why not email them first and give them a chance to debate you on your blog. Give us a link to Mystery Kirby Zealot # 2’s zealotry. Or if these exchanges happened on a top secret comic book chat forum, then why are you bringing this stuff up in public?

If Mystery Kirby Zealot # 1 or Mystery Kirby Zealot # 2 wants to refute Isabella’s accusations, please send them to me at and I’ll post them at Kirby Dynamics. I’m sure we’d all love to get to the bottom of this or at least see both sides of the story. And of course, Tony Isabella has an open invitation to send in anything in here as well.

Next, Tony Isabella rants about another unnamed Kirby Zealot (Mystery Kirby Zealot # 3) and something that took place on a Gene Colan chat forum where apparently MKZ3 (Mystery Kirby Zealot # 3) wasn’t a Don Heck fan? What is Tony Isabella talking about? Why is MKZ3 being lumped in with the Kirby Zealots for Don Heck comments? Or is MKZ3 a different kind of zealot? An Anti-Heck Zealot perhaps? I have no idea what Isabella is going on about here so I did not include those quotes.

Tony Isabella:

I just don’t want to listen to the zealots anymore. In their mad fervor, they do no justice to the memories of Kirby, Ditko, or any of their other favorites. Thankfully, their petulant little rants cannot diminish the greatest of Kirby, Ditko, and all those other beloved comics creators.

More inflammatory rhetoric: “zealots,” “mad fervor,” “petulant little rants.” How rude.

Tony Isabella:

Those guys made those great comics. The zealots are just flapping their gums in the vain hope of being part of that greatness.

I have a question for Tony Isabella. Maybe one of my readers out there can pass a link to this post along to him. First of all, Tony, I hope you aren’t offended by my comments, er, I mean my “gum flapping.” I’m sure you are a nice guy and you probably mean well, but you posted some stuff on the interweb so I’m sure you won’t be surprised that people comment on that kinda stuff. I’m wondering: since you have set yourself up as the judge and jury deciding who the Kirby Zealots are — am I a Kirby Zealot? I’d like to know. Email me here and I’ll be more than happy to address any and all of your comments and criticisms.