My Discussion with Greg Theakston on FF # 1, Part 1

I was discussing the Kirby/Lee authorship debate and the history behind the FF # 1 on the ditkokirby forum. Greg Theakston was nice enough to respond to some of my comments. Greg is one of my favorite Kirby Historians, he’s always been very generous in terms of answering questions and sharing his opinions on Kirby history. I agree with Greg on hundreds of other topics, if not thousands, but I totally disagree with him about the creation of Fantastic Four # 1. I think it’s at least possible Jack might have pitched some ideas that resulted in the core 4 FF characters and their origin, and I think the FF # 1 synopsis proves Jack contributed significant story ideas which helped to shape the FF characters and the first FF story.

Despite the fact that Greg and I have had pretty heated arguments about this subject in the past, Greg was nice enough to answer my questions. He was also nice enough to give me permission to use some of his quotes. So thanks again to Greg for sharing your knowledge on the subject. Below is my dikokirby posting from yesterday, tomorrow I’ll post Greg’s reply to this post which he just sent me via email.

Hi Greg,

I’d like to post this at Kirby Dynamics tonight, because I only have so much time in the day, and I don’t want to type this out and waste it in a private members-only forum. I only used a few of your quotes. If you have a problem with me doing that just let me know and I’ll change your exact words to paraphrasing.

First of all, thanks for answering my questions and for sharing your research. As I’ve told you many times before, I have a lot of respect for you and I consider you to be one of the best Kirby Historians (and comic historians) on the planet.

I do humbly disagree with you about the creation of FF because unless you can provide some hard evidence (a document, a memo, or a quote from an interview) that proves some of your various theories behind the creation of FF, in my opinion some of your conclusions are just that — theories. You’re a great comic historian, your books are full of well-researched information, but on this topic, I think you are giving us a lot of assumptions.

I’d like to ask you some follow up questions based on our conversation on ditkokirby last night, if you don’t mind.

(1) Do you have any evidence (a document, a memo, or a quote from an interview) that proves Martin Goodman told Stan Lee to give him a book-length comic book, and the result of that was Fantastic Four # 1 (Nov 1961)? Or is this your theory? It’s a logical theory, because you say book-length comics were not the norm for Goodman/Lee at that time, but if you don’t have any hard evidence it’s just your theory.

(2) You mentioned “Stan was at the end of his rope” around the time of Fantastic Four # 1. Why? Lee had a great job working for his relative Martin Goodman. He was able to give his brother Larry work. And Jack Kirby walked in the door full of ideas. Why would Lee suddenly want to quit getting a regular paycheck in 1961 and write a novel at this point? Do you really think his wife would support Lee giving up his income so that he could try and write this novel? Where would they get money for food and for rent? If Lee wanted to write a novel, why not do like everybody else, set aside 2 – 4 hours at night and work on the novel?

Sure, maybe Lee wanted to quit comic books because he was ashamed of doing 20 years of Archie and EC rip-off material, but I do not believe that was the inspiration for FF # 1. I also don’t understand why you think Lee wanted to use FF # 1 to “impress” his boss or his wife or why Lee would feel compelled to do so with FF # 1.

Also, Lee told the exact same story about wanting to quit comics and reinvent the superhero genre in his “How I Invented Spider-man” (1977) article. Spider-man came out 9 months after FF # 1 and by this point weren’t the Marvel books becoming more successful? Why would Lee quit then?

Here’s my theory: I think this story is fiction. Stan made this story up to give the creation of properties like FF and Spider-man some drama. Some pizzazz. In reality, it was just another day at the office for Lee. He worked with Kirby on these stories and Jack played a significant role in coming up with the main characters and Jack contributed significant story elements to the final product.

(3) You mentioned “Goodman had asked for a super-hero book with no costumes. That idea defies Kirby’s take on heroes.” Do you have any evidence (a document, a memo, or a quote from an interview) that proves Martin Goodman told Stan Lee to give him a comic book, featuring superheroes without costumes? Or is this your theory?

(4) You wrote of FF # 1: “A whole lot of stuff went on before the idea hit Kirby’s hands and I believe that Stan Lee created the Fantastic Four.”

I replied: “The synopsis makes it look like Lee needed a lot of help, and he got it from Jack.”

You responded: “Yes, and in stating so you infer that Lee created it.”

I disagree. I don’t think Lee giving Jack a synopsis proves Lee created FF alone or that Lee created FF first. I think the synopsis proves Lee and Jack were working together on FF, therefore they both created FF together. Jack may have even pitched some of the ideas to Lee before the FF synopsis.

(5) Another reason you mentioned for you theory that Lee created FF alone was: “the first issue sucks so badly.”

I replied: “Greg, is this the foundation for your theory Lee created FF alone? Because you personally think FF # 1 ‘sucks?’ What kind of comic book scholarship is that?”

Your response was: “I know when Jack is jazzed on a job and this was a decade-long low point. If you don’t think FF #1 sucks I can’t help any more.”

I disagree totally. I think FF # 1 is a masterpiece and it is one of the most important comics in the history of the medium. I contend that thinking FF # 1 sucks is a personal opinion, not evidence proving Lee created FF alone.

(6) You also mentioned “Kirby didn’t care” about his work on FF # 1. You added that it was “probably his worst work in years.”

Again, I think this is your opinion, not a fact proving Lee created FF alone.

(7) You also wrote: FF  “…was a chance to do something new and a lot of time to do it. Also, this is the first instance of Stan having Jack launch a book and you would expect more from Jack if he’d had a hand in the concept.”

Looking at the FF synopsis, it is true that at this phase of the story, Lee’s suggestions are not very strong. Lee’s FF has 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 monster superhero who lusts after his best friend’s girlfriend. Fortunately Jack (or Lee made) changes resulting in what I and many FF fans think is a very dynamic team of four complimenary heroes.

Sometimes that’s the mark of a great creator, Greg. Taking something like Lee’s synopsis that is full of weak ideas, and making the concept work despite that — I think FF # 1 proves Jack did a great job of that, and I suggest the impact of that book on the history of the medium supports my theory.

I don’t think the fact that you personally feel Jack did not do a good job on FF # 1 proves Stan Lee created FF — Jack did a great job taking Lee’s synopsis, throwing out all of the bad ideas, and turning that synopsis into a compelling comic book. We also have to keep in mind that in the same way you think Lee created FF alone, it is also possible Jack pitched the idea of four elemental astronauts/adventureres traveling into outer space and being transformed into heroes to Stan Lee.

In fact, to address a point earlier, I’d argue the FF do have costumes. They wore those purble jumpsuits and the blue baseball caps.

Fantastic Four # 1 (1961) Pg. 17, panel 5

Wasn’t it the readers who wanted a costume like Superman with some kind of logo, so that’s why Lee had Sol Brodsky design the “4” logo?

The back of Fantastic Four # 3, pg. 16

Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me posting this on Kirby Dynamics. I think you raise some valid points, I’d like for your opinion to be out there so that other people can think about the points you’ve raised. And if you would answer some of these questions, that would be great. I realize you are busy so I thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me.

You may well be right about this, I just don’t think you’ve presented enough hard evidence to convince me Lee created the FF 100% alone. Unless you can give us some new evidence, based just on the FF # 1 synopsis, I think Jack Kirby helped Stan Lee create the FF and Kirby helped Lee write the origin story.

Thanks.

(Note: Greg recently published 2 books on Jack’s life: Jack Magic Vol. 1, and Jack Magic Vol. 2, I encourage you to check them out.)

Jack Magic Vol. 1 (2011) by Greg Theakston

Jack Magic Vol. 2 (2011) by Greg Theakston