Monthly Archives: March 2012

My Response to Barry Pearl’s Comments

Thanks again to Barry for the comments.

After being mercilessly ridiculed by several of Stan’s fans over the years (not Barry, he’s always been very friendly), let me tell you I found Barry’s responses a tremendous breath of fresh air. And I hope this exchange is a great example of how you can’t (or I don’t think you should) lump all of Stan Lee’s fans into one category, in the same way you really shouldn’t lump Jack’s fans all into one category.

Barry raised a couple points and asked a few questions I’d be happy to respond to.

Rob, I have no problem adding Kirby’s name anywhere, but I do have a problem erasing others. On this site, that is exactly what has been proposed, (The Kirby Museum, see Into the Jaws of AIM) even taking Stan off the editing credit.

Here is what Barry is taling about:


Printed credits given as:

“Face it, faithful one… Stan (The Man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby were BORN to bring you Captain America! Aided, of course, by Joe Sinnott, inker and Artie Simek, letterer!”

But the printed credits aren’t helpful, or fair.

Below is my current attempt at portraying the tasks performed, in a chronological order, as fairly as is currently possible:

Plot by Jack KIRBY with Stan LEE
Story drawn by Jack KIRBY
Editing, titles, dialogue, captions by Stan LEE
Lettering by Art SIMEK
Ink art by Joe SINNOTT
Color art by unknown

– Rand Hoppe, Kirby Museum

“Into The Jaws Of… A.I.M.!” Tales of Suspense, New York, New York, USA: Vista Publications, Inc. (Marvel Comics Group), September 1967 (93), p1-13.

Here’s my take on this: I think Rand is being fair here. Stan’s name is listed twice. Stan is credited with doing one, two, three, four, five different things. So it does look to me like Rand is giving Lee plenty of credit, and Lee is indeed listed as an editor.

What I think Rand is doing here is the same thing Arlen did with his “Kirby: Auteur” article, that I did with my “Kirby: Principal Author,” posting and you did with your “comicteur” concept — which is we are all trying to find some way to describe the very unusual, almost unheard of method for making comics that accurately describes the division of labor when discussing the Kirby/Lee 60s collaboration. So I think Rand has done a solid job here.

I don’t expect Marvel to ever revise the credits in their reprints, although they did give Jack a “plot” credit or a “plotter” credit in some of the Essentials books at one point — I assume someone along the chain of command nixed that one after awhile for obvious reasons (the Kirby vs. Marvel lawsuit) — but I see nothing wrong with comics experts and historians trying to find a better credit methodology than the one Lee used. Lee giving himself a “script” credit first on a book then Jack a “pencils” credit is misleading. It makes the reader think Lee wrote a script and Jack penciled that script. That’s not what took place chronologically.

Barry went on to write:

Rob, I also have trouble with credits. You suggested, not me, that I wanted Kirby’s name be erased from the X-Men. I don’t want his name erased, I want others added! Let me give you an example. Would you want every issue of the Fantastic Four to read:

The Fantastic Four created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

But what if it read:

The Fantastic Four created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
The Human Torch created by Carl Burgos

I have no problem with that. I think that would be great. It wouldn’t hurt anybody if Kirby, Lee, and Burgos had their names on an FF comic — Marvel sure as hell ain’t gonna pay them. It would just be a nice gesture on the part of Marvel. Seeing Burgos name on the list wouldn’t bother me at all, but I’m sure people would debate that — the argument being maybe the creator of the Invisible Man deserves a credit for helping to create Invisible Girl, therefore FF, etc., etc., etc.

We still have to remember though, Lee claims he created FF alone… but he is willing to give Jack a “co-creator” credit. My argument is that Jack and Lee created FF together so they were both authors of the first FF book, they both created the 4 core FF characters and all the core villains,  and they both were authors of the entire FF run. I think there’s a pretty big difference between what Lee says and what I’m saying. Lee makes it seem like giving Jack a “co-creator” credit is a kind of charity, I say Jack was one of the creators of FF… period.

How about The Avengers created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby With characters co-created by Larry Lieber and Don Heck.

Sure, why not. And I’ve said many times X-men should have a Wein/Cockrum credit, and a Claremont/Byrne credit in the movies and on the books. Why not? I think they all contributed significant elements to that property. Especially the last X-Men movie with the Hellfire Club. Did I miss a Claremont/Byrne credit in that flick? I think they deserve at least a mention in the credits. The damn guy in charge of the port-o-potties probably got a credit for X-Men First Class, there were about a thousand people listed.

Many disagree with me, and understandably so, but I’ve said many times I’d like to see John Romita’s name in the final credits of the Spider-man movies. Just give him an “honorable mention” credit or something. I think Romita did wonders for that character and the guy is the ultimate class act. Again, Marvel isn’t going to pay them anyway, so why not put a little box somewhere next to the table of contents on the comics or in the movie credits with that credit in it.

Obviously we could argue endlessly about whether Larry Lieber deserves a creator credit for something like Avengers (Larry worked on the first Thor story) and Heck deserves a credit for Avengers (Iron Man), but I personally don’t care. I think the credits would be fine like that. My guess though is someone at the top at Marvel decided it would be a good idea not to promote the creators of the intellectual properties in the comics, so I would guess you won’t be seeing an “Avengers created by by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with characters co-created by Larry Lieber and Don Heck” any time soon on whatever new Avengers comic book they put out. Although I could be wrong and would love to be proven wrong on this. I haven’t picked up a Marvel comics since that “Secret Wars” rip-off in the 80s so have no idea what they are up to at Marvel. Does Marvel credit those guys in the comics?

On the old Kirby-l, I used to argue with Tom Brevoort — my contention was that Marvel was consciously marginalizing Jack’s contributions by denying him credit in the comics, and Marvel was consciously denying Jack compensation for fear such a gesture would make Marvel seem like they were admitting Kirby was a creator, which could affect a future lawsuit. Brevoort told me I was a “conspiracy theorist,” and that Marvel does indeed work very hard to promote Jack “by keeping his work in print.” Brevoort went on to call me “The Head of the Evangelical Church of Kirby” for daring to question Marvel’s treatment of the Kirbys. Maybe Brevoort was right and they are crediting Jack now on the Marvel comic books and working to promote Jack’s legacy? I don’t know. I hope they are because Jack sure made them all a lot of money.

I know sometimes Kirby gets a credit or a thank-you in the movies. Jack got a creator credit and a thank-you at the end of the Thor movie in the credits which I thought was nice (and well-deserved), but as I mentioned recently, Jack received no credit (that I saw, I might have missed it) in the last X-Men First Class movie. My reaction to that omission?  Disney/Marvel (or whoever produced that film) are like school on Sunday, no class…

Ironically, one day you may see Stan Lee’s credit disappear from the comics and movies.

Once again, my thanks to Barry for the interesting conversation. Tomorrow I’ll start what I think will be about a 4 or 5 part series of interview questions for Stan Lee, then I’ll get back to showing Jack’s art.

The Kirby/Lee Division of Labor: Comment

Here was a comment from the ditkokirby Yahoo forum I figured I’d quickly address:

You assume that the division of labor remained the same throughout the 60s. I think it’s unfounded.

First of all, we will never know for sure what took place and there are a lot of theories out there. For example, Greg Theakson, who I think we all agree is a terrific Kirby historian, at one point suggested Stan Lee gave Jack layouts for the early 1960s comics. Greg saw stick figures on the back of 1, or possibly 2 or 3 pieces of Kirby original art from the early 1960s, Greg concluded those stick figures were drawn by Lee, so Lee must have provided Kirby with visual layouts for that story, and possibly Lee provided Kirby with visual stick figure layouts for many more early 1960s stories. Greg can always email me and correct me if I misrepresented his POV on that.

So maybe Stan Lee did layouts on Jack’s early 1960s comics. Maybe that was the division of labor early on — Lee gave Jack a script, Lee laid out the book with visuals, then Kirby traced Lee’s drawings, following his script.

I doubt it, because Jack did about 10,000 pages for Lee, and I don’t think 2 pages with stick figures on the back strikes me as much of a pattern. Plus Lee giving Jack layouts on the back of a piece of large artboard does not make common sense. Jack would have to turn the page over and over to see Lee’s layouts. Why not give Kirby layouts on a piece of typing paper? And Lee wouldn’t give away a thumbtack for free. Why would he give Kirby 20 free pieces of large artboard? Or did he call Jack and tell Jack to lug in a stack of artboard to NYC so Lee could do his stick figures layouts? Plus Jack had been working in comics for 2 decades, did he really require Lee stick figure layouts? Isn’t that kind of insulting to Jack?

Anyway, my point is that we can never know for sure what took place. I do think the division of labor was pretty consistent throughout the 1960s — I think Jack wrote the stories with visuals, at first Jack would discuss his stories with Lee verbally (1960 – early 1964), later Jack directed Stan with margin notes (early 1964 – 1970).

I do suspect Lee was more involved early on, but that’s a total guess, we simply don’t have enough Lee scripts, Lee plots, or Lee outlines to prove this. All we have is Stan’s word which conflicts with Jack’s version of events. If you look at something like the “FF synopses” you’ll see virtually everything in that document (except for the 4 elemental characters traveling into space and being transformed into heroes ala Jack’s COTU) ended up being thrown out during the illustration phase, suggesting to me even if Lee did give Jack a “plot” (either verbal or a few paragraphs typewritten) Jack may have ignored Lee’s suggestions. Or Lee’s “plots” could have been the result of a Kirby/Lee brainstorming session. Again we will never know for sure what took place.

I’d surmise that Jack decreased his pencil work because he had to increase the plotting work.

I think Jack “plotted” as he went along. He probably thought about the storylines while hanging around the house, then when he started penciling, he just rolled along and “made it up as he went along.” So I don’t see any lack of production in the late 1960s because Jack had to “plot.” In fact, Jack proved with 4W and all his 70s stuff he had no problem knocking out 3 books a month without a “Lee plot” to guide him. If Jack did decrease his workload in the late 60s (and remember doing 3 20-page books with a cover a month is still pretty remarkable) the reason for that was probably that Stan was paying him a pretty nice salary in the late 1960s, and Jack was comfortable with the money he was making, so instead of doing an additional 4th book a month (a workload incomprehensible to any modern comics artist), Jack was able to shoulder a somewhat reasonable workload, (3 books a month!) and instead of slacking off like most normal humans would do, Jack ended up spending more time on his pencils — which you can see are a lot more detailed than when Jack had to crank out layouts for all the other Marvel artists when Lee was having Jack teach them “Marvel Method” in the early 1960s.

So I think plotting and drawing were pretty much one process for Jack (although as I said, Jack probably would think about his stories during the day). Mark Evanier told me Jack would draw an entire 4W book, then when the illustration phase was over, Jack would spend “the better part of a day” adding captions to the finished art, so this suggests to me Jack told the story first with visuals, then adding text was the final phase, very similar to the Kirby/Lee working method in the 1960s.

From: Stan Taylor

One more comment on the Auteur series, from Kirby Historian Stan Taylor:

Hi Rob.

Nice sequence of posts. Personally I fall somewhere in-between, to me proportionality is most important. Credit as author depends upon how much is contributed, and contributions aren’t always of equal importance. I do like your use of silent movies which are certainly more closer to comics than sound flicks. They even share the use of prose balloons to express ideas and context. Yet I have never heard anyone say that the guy who wrote the text blurbs in silent movies should be called the author. It seems to me that a chicken or egg test should be applied, Before the text blurbs came the Chaplin bit of lunacy, not the text blurb and the film made around it. Obviously before Stan Lee wrote the text, he first had to see Kirby’s pages in which to add his touches. You are right that Kirby’s art came before Lee’s, words. Too many times Stan couldn’t even keep the story straight and mismatched the text to the story. One only needs to see Neil Gaiman’s script for a Sandman story and compare it to Stan’s admitted offer of a paragraph or short synopsis. Especially when we see just how different the story becomes from the synopsis. John Romita’s anecdote about Lee and Kirby talking at cross-purposes and Kirby ignoring Lee’s imput shows the creative process at work at Marvel.


Comments From Barry Pearl

Thanks to Barry Pearl for sending in a couple emails responding to my comments on his “Jack Kirby Takes an Auteur Detour” postings. I commend Barry for handling my comments, some of which were fairly critical, with class. I’m personally very impressed with the way Barry handled this.

I could have eliminated some of the pleasantries in his 2 emails, but I included all the text to show how much grace Barry had under fire. And of course Barry rightly pointed out that I misunderstood some of the things he said, which is why I think conversations like this are great. We give our opinions, clarify them and then leave it up for you all to reach your own conclusions. Thanks again to Barry for tackling the “Kirby Auteur” subject, and for being nice enough to respond to my comments.

Email 1 from Barry Pearl:


Thanks for going out of your way to be polite on your Kirby as auteur pieces. I would like to clarify something. And it is something I did not make clear, or clear enough. Maybe I should have elaborated on this point more.

I mentioned that TV was a producer’s media, with him basically in control of many of the items that a movie director has. That means the TV producer is handling the hiring of personal, including the writer and the showrunner, the casting and so forth. So the TV director is most often like the Director of photography, rather than the movie Director who put the entire project together. You wrote that I wrote that the penciller was most like the director of photography for a TV show. Let me be clear, I did write that, but it’s really out of context, (And not your fault) because I described what I meant.

I should have been more careful at the end and written that a penciller was more like a TV director, (after I described a TV Director’s limitation) where the publisher and producer have a larger role in the creation of the story. And I certainly consider Kirby a writer on most of what he did for Marvel.

Now, changing the definition or updating the word “auteur” so it fits comics is not what I would do. I would simple invent a new term and I posted that. And please never say I dismissed Jack Kirby in any way, even if I disagree with you on other matters.

And you can see by making your points, I see where I could have done something a bit better. I appreciate that. It’s still good to hear from you. That CD I sent you has morphed into my book.

Be seeing you!
Barry Pearl, F.F.F.

Email 2 from Barry Pearl:

Rob, it’s just really good to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to say hello every now and then! Or maybe we can have a point counterpoint on the different sites! That would be funny.

We disagree strongly on many issues, but we prove that posting does not have to be a contact sport. I only want to discuss with you what you and I have said and don’t want to draw in anyone else’s material because I haven’t read everyone else’s!

I think we both agree on is that the word “auteur” is not necessarily the best “fit” to use here. I proposed, if you recall, using perhaps something like, “comicteur” rather than altering the original definition of auteur. Heck, if we are going to make up a word let’s go all the way! The word auteur took five years to be accepted as a term for a director, from 1954 when Truffaut first used it, until 1959. I want instant gratification.

Even now, if we disagree, we emailed each other. And nowhere am I referring in my posts to you at all, but you know who I mean when I say Kirby activists. If you prefer the name “fan” that’s OK and it fits me too. Kirby is the reason I started reading comics, I read Challengers of the Unknown and loved it. And he was the reason I stopped, when in 1977 he stopped creating them, I stopped buying them. Boy, do I miss him now.

Rob, I have no problem adding Kirby’s name anywhere, but I do have a problem erasing others. On this site, that is exactly what has been proposed, (The Kirby Museum, see Into the Jaws of AIM) even taking Stan off the editing credit.

Believe it or not, I agree with you that Kirby was part of the process in creating Spider-Man, he let Ditko know what not to do, but Ditko took off on his own. This is an exact point I mention in my book, that creating a comic is a process that involves a lot of people. This is one reason I cannot called Kirby an Auteur. But, I would also not be able to call him a co-creator of Spidey either. That was Ditko’s pencils.

Rob, I also have trouble with credits. You suggested, not me, that I wanted Kirby’s name be erased from the X-Men. I don’t want his name erased, I want others added! Let me give you an example. Would you want every issue of the Fantastic Four to read:

The Fantastic Four created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

But what if it read:

The Fantastic Four created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The Human Torch created by Carl Burgos

How about The Avengers created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
With characters co-created by Larry Lieber and Don Heck.

I am trying to get the Kirby lawyers to represent Irving Forbush. Even though he is listed on the splash you show from Captain America, he has never received royalties or been mentioned in a movie!

Be seeing you!
Barry, F.F.F.

Auteur Comments, Part 2

I’m going to make a few more comments on Barry Pearl’s, “Jack Kirby Takes an Auteur Detour” article, because what I call the “Kirby/Lee Authorship Debate” is one of the main reasons I started studying Jack in 2002. And when I say “study” I mean I read some of his comics, collected his art, and spoke to some of his associates while reading  TJKC and other publications about Jack — so I’m by no means a Kirby expert like a Mark Evanier or a John Morrow. I love the topic, so pardon the detour, I’ll get back to posting Jack’s art soon enough. And there is a pretty awesome example up above, you’ll see why I put it there later.

And I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m picking on Barry. In fact I commend him for going on the record with his comments and using his own name. I’ve met probably hundreds of people who are critical of Jack (or critical of Jack’s fans, or of comics historians like Arlen Schumer) and several of these individuals are cowards — they hide behind pseudonyms, or they rant and rave like lunatics on private comics chat lists where they can hide from the public eye. But Barry was brave enough to sign his name to his words, and he makes some interesting points — from what I know of Barry online, I respect him and his opinions — but his comments are on the internet and to me they are indicative of some misconceptions about Jack and his fans I’ve seen in various closed, members-only forums, many of them moderated by censors who won’t even allow Kirby vs. Lee to be discussed, so I’m going to use Barry’s comments as  a springboard to say a few things since they are in public. Barry’s comments are in block quotes:

Comic book fans agree that Jack Kirby was a great comic book artist and storyteller.

That is one thing I’m glad many comics fans do agree on. 🙂 I have seen many fans though who hate Jack’s art, they hate his stories, they think he was a terrible artist who drew blokish square fingers, and his squiggles were a sign of laziness. I’ve also seen many say Jack ruined comics with his unique approach towards fight scenes. But as Pearl says, I am glad a significant number of people do seem to agree Kirby was a comics legend.

His accomplishments will not be diminished here. Having failed in their legal efforts to have him declared the creator and original copyright holder of most Marvel Comics, many Kirby activists are now trying to modify or remove the writing and editing credits of Stan Lee and marginalize his work, without providing any evidence for doing so.

I don’t know about other comics or Kirby fans, but I don’t consider myself a “Kirby Activist.” I’m just a Kirby fan. I’m personally not trying to “remove” the Stan Lee writing credit from a comic book. How could we remove the “editor” credit — Lee was the editor. Lee also wrote the text so he was a writer. So this statement, for me at least, is simply false.

It is true that out in the world, in public, on the historical record, some of us are trying to “modify” the credits to include Jack, not to exclude Lee. To me, this debate tactic of dismissing Jack’s side of the story because it will “marginalize” Lee is not fair to Kirby. If Kirby helped Lee create the 1960s characters and write the 1960s stories, then what is wrong with putting that evidence out there for all to see? The goal is not to drag Lee down, it’s to lift Jack up to where he belongs — Kirby was not just Stan Lee’s penciler but one of the creators of all the Marvel characters and one of the authors of his stories.

That being said, I do think Stan Lee’s story is full of holes, and I don’t think Lee is telling the truth in many cases. I say that not because I’m some “Kirby Activist” but because that’s what my research suggests to me. If I am a “Kirby Activist,” my criticism of Lee is not the result of me being a Kirby Activist, me becoming a Kirby Activist is the result of me learning that Stan Lee’s story simply does not hold up to any kind of logical historical scrutiny and I’d like to see the record set straight. In fact, I’ll spend the next few days showing you one single book, FF # 1, and I’ll show you hundreds of holes in Lee’s “I was the one who created the Fantastic Four” mythology.

Much of this seems to come from the fact that Stan was a Marvel employee for 70 years and as a result ended up financially better off than Kirby, who was a freelancer.

It is ironic that Stan tried to create a kind of Horatio Alger rags-to-riches mythology about himself and he became a multimillionaire, while because of his false witness his former collaborator Kirby may never see another penny from Marvel. But that is not the cause of people criticizing Lee. Lee’s behavior is the cause. His exorbitant wealth just adds another level of irony to his “with great power comes great responsibility” shtick. If Lee was penniless on a street corner I’d still criticize his version of the history because I don’t think it’s true, so to me Lee’s wealth is irrelevant when it comes to trying to figure out the real   history behind the Kirby/Lee authorship debate.

It also annoys the Kirby advocates that Lee is still alive and gets attention and publicity from the movies.

If I am what you call a “Kirby Advocate,” I can tell you I’m glad Lee is alive. I just wrote a post on that for tomorrow that will explain why I feel that way. My god, what sort of creep would be “annoyed” that another person is alive? Statements like this are just utterly baffling and untrue. If there are nutcases out there who are annoyed by Lee being alive, shame on them.

And who cares if Lee gets lots of attention? I don’t. But he is a public figure so I see nothing wrong with joking about the fact that he got a Producer credit on the last X-Men movie when I doubt he did any producing at all. Jack received no credit on that film and he helped create the characters.

Currently, they are advocating the view that Kirby was the auteur, the actual and sole creator of the core characters of Marvel Comics.

I think Arlen Schumer is trying to move the Kirby authorship debate forward. He used the term “auteur” to describe what he thinks Jack accomplished. If Pearl disagrees with the term, fine, but as far as I know no one is “advocating the view that Kirby was the auteur, the actual and sole creator of the core characters of Marvel Comics.” No one said Jack is the “sole” creator. All some of us are saying is Jack was one of the creators/authors of the 60s stories (with Lee). All people like Schumer calling Jack an “auteur” and someone like me calling Jack “the principal author” of his stories are trying to do is develop a terminology to describe Jack’s unique role in the process. People are bound to disagree with terms but this is a step towards hopefully developing a language we can agree upon and use to analyze comics in a professional way — that way we can celebrate and analyze comics as literature.

Hypocritically, the “Kirby as auteur” theory takes credit away from other creators, something the advocates claim happened to Kirby.

It does not. It clarifies the true division of labor. What is hypocritical is defending Stan Lee’s version of the history at all costs when we know Lee’s version of the history does not appear to be historically accurate. Jack is the one who literally had credit taken away from him by Lee. Should we bury that fact because a few Stan Lee fans are afraid Lee’s reputation will be tarnished?

Spider-Man, Marvel’s most successful creation, is by Lee and Steve Ditko. It is not the unseen variant of the “Fly” version that Kirby suggested.

Yes it was. Read Ditko’s own account of events. Ditko himself claimed Jack’s Spider-man was so similar to the Simon/Kirby Fly, Ditko was compelled to point this fact out to Lee, and Lee soon after gave the book to Ditko and asked for a new costume design. Did Ditko create Spider-man? Sure, but Kirby was also part of the process and we know this because of Ditko’s account of events.

The X-Men only came into their own years after Kirby left it, after the title had been restocked with new characters.

So should Jack’s name be erased from the credits because others added or subtracted characters from Jack’s X-Men? I was watching one of those old X-Men movies on cable, and all Jack’s characters were there: Professor X, Magneto, Cyclops, Iceman, Marvel Girl, Beast and Angel. All of them! Just because someone added Wolverine to the mix, why should Jack be marginalized?

Rather than supporting the concept that all creators should receive recognition for the actual work they did, here they say only Kirby—not Ditko, not John Buscema, not John Romita, certainly not Stan Lee was the sole auteur of Marvel.

I don’t believe Schumer said Jack was the “sole” auteur of Marvel. If he did, I disagree with him. But surely you can argue Jack was the auteur of his stories in the pencil phase. Jack wrote the bulk of them with visuals and margin notes.

In Marvel’s formative years, the late fifties, which included the monster era, and early sixties, Stan Lee did a lot of the plotting, maybe most of it. We have evidence of this in his giving the plots to his brother, Larry, to script. And there are some written plot outlines. Even Kirby’s early interviews have him stating how much input Stan had in plotting the stories. But those interviews are often ignored by the “Kirby did everything” campaigners.

Not true. First of all, who are the “Kirby did everything” campaigners? Secondly, who aside from a couple notoriously wacky Kirby Purists ever said Jack did everything. Don’t let a couple rotten eggs spoil the whole batch.

“Kirby did everything campaigners?” Do you all still reading this see how people online keep making up nutty names for Jack’s fans, and accusing them of thinking and saying things they do not.

Yes, as time went on there is evidence that Kirby did more plotting.


But there is no evidence to show he did it all by himself.

No, not “all by himself.” But it does appear Jack wrote stories and created new characters uncredited and uncompensated. That’s all people like me are trying to say. I wish folks like Pearl would stop making things up. Only one or two wacko Kirby Purists (who are for the most part ignored) have ever said “Kirby did it all by himself.” No one agrees with them so kindly stop lumping all Jack’s fans together.

To compare a comic book artist to a director, is a huge fallacy. Often, when people try to make such analogies, they jump to incredible conclusions. For example, football fans will often compare a game to a “war” and the game becomes an actual battle. Therefore, they believe, anything is fair. Your opposition becomes the enemy and there are no rules. They’ll want to kill the opposing team. Well no, there are rules and a sporting event is not a war, but people use that analogy all the time.

I addressed this with my last two posts.

Comic book artists come into a situation with much less freedom than auteur movie directors. Artists are dealing with established characters, necessary formulas (there has to be a five-page fight scene, you have certain characters, Superman’s face must always look the same) and a great deal of continuity. They are not creating a separate, unique and personal project; they are creating another installment in a series.

Jack’s relationship with Lee was unique. It was far different from other writer/artist collaborations in comics, therefore I think it’s great folks like Schumer are trying to move the dialogue forward and come up with a better set of terms to describe Kirby/Lee. In the comics it said “Script/Editor: Stan Lee,” then “Pencils: Jack Kirby.” I believe Jack did more than just pencil Lee’s stories and that’s what people like me are doing by calling Jack the “Principal Author” (Lee was the Secondary Author).

My God, must we live frozen like Captain America in that block of ice in the 1960s where we believed every word that came out of Stan Lee’s mouth in his Soapboxes was the gospel?

Must we believe every credit in every Lee edited comic book is historically accurate? Can’t we join here in the year 2012 and try and objectively look at the Kirby/Lee relationship not as some romantized marriage, but an employer/employee relationship? Let’s melt the ice and move on…

I addressed the rest of Barry Pearl’s comments in my last two posts.

I doubt we are ever going to see all the sides come up with an agreed-upon terminology that accurately describes the Kirby/Lee 60s collaboration, but at least we are trying, and my thanks to comics historians like Arlen Schumer and Barry Pearl for taking the time to weigh in on a subject that I think many of us find fascinating.

The characters Jack created with Stan Lee are incredibly successful, they resonate with millions if not billions and may do so forever. I find it fun to try and take a glimpse into the true story behind that genesis and I thank all of you out there for participating in the Kirby online dialogue.

Thanks to Barry Pearl

I wanted to quickly say: I just got a very gracious email from Barry Pearl. I am so used to getting these vile, hateful vindictive emails from certain individuals when I criticize Stan Lee (never an email like that from Barry though), so when I saw Barry’s email in my letter box I thought, “Oh no…” But Barry handled my comments on his posts with class and character. So my hat is off to you Barry.

With Barry’s permission, I’ll post his email tomorrow because he rightly points out I may have taken some things a little out of context and he clarified some of his points. And I hope Barry doesn’t get mad at me tomorrow when he sees I commented on some other aspects of his article. 🙂

So thanks for handling the debate with some humility, Barry. Real breath of fresh air. And of course thanks for writing your comments, they gave me a lot to chew on and helped me come up with my own way of trying to decide how to describe the Kirby/Lee collaboration. Here’s one of the things I emailed in my reply to Barry that sums of my philosophy on online debate:

And I hope I made it clear throughout, I don’t disagree with some of your comments on a personal level, I’m addressing them as the work of a comics scholar. And this is all part of the process, we throw theories out there, and debate them, hopefully resulting in something stronger. Glad to hear from you and wish you all the best.

Kirby: Auteur? Or TV DP? Comments

I got a bunch of emails on the “auteur” post. Hopefully I clarified my stance on the topic with today’s posting.

Here is a post from one reader I thought I’d address briefly:

Of course you can use the word auteur with respect to Kirby, but I don’t think it applies to his Marvel work, at least as pertains to the tone of the stories. The power of the art dominates, as comics is a visual medium, but the stories, dialogued by Stan, convey a certain tone also. I’d say that at times the story carries the day, and at times the art does. So neither Stan nor Jack were auteurs in the Marvel work. No man’s approach dominated. But, that’s just my opinion, anyway. Of course, I simply may not know the true meaning of the word auteur. Best wishes.

— Allen Smith

I don’t see Kirby as what I call a “pure autuer” on his 60s Marvel stuff either — because Stan wouldn’t let him add text to his stories. Caniff was a “pure autuer.” Eisner was a “pure auteur.” Schultz was a “pure autuer.” Those guys wrote, drew and inked their work. In fact, I prefer “author” to describe the process — the term “auteur” sounds a little pretentious and I can see a lot of people define it differently — so for me, I say that Jack was the author of the 20-page penciled stories he gave Lee, and after Lee dialogued it, Kirby was the principal author, and Lee the secondary author. To me that seems like a fair way to describe the division of labor.

The problem is that “author” is a term associated with text, so using a term like “autuer” takes us more into the realm of describing literature combining text/images when we try to describe the division of labor in comics. In reality, I don’t know if anyone has ever really figured out a perfect way to describe the Kirby/Lee relationship, mainly because we will never really know how substantive the plots Lee gave Jack were. I’ll take a stab and it and revise my terminology a little to say:

Jack Kirby was the Principal Author (Visuals) — Jack did the story using visuals/ margin notes BEFORE text was added. Lee was the Secondary Author (Text).

I doubt there are very few people who will ever work that way again, because it’s really not fair to the artist — Jack and just about any artist worth their salt are more than capable of adding dialogue to their own visual stories. Jack just worked in a unique situation. Lee didn’t have time to give Jack a 20-page script for 3 stories each month; Jack didn’t need a script; Lee wanted that writer paycheck each month on Jack’s 3 books; Lee liked the prestige of seeing his name up top in the credits, and the adulation he got from fans as “the writer” and the “genius” behind all of Jack’s wonderful stories and art — so Jack was in a strange position, Jack wrote stories with pictures/margin notes and another man came in and added text. But I think Jack handled the situation with grace, class, and I think Jack’s style and his artistic sensibilities shine through in his 1960s stories and art.

To me, if you want to accurately put credits in the Kirby/Lee books this is how it would read:

Writer/Artist: Jack Kirby

Writer/Editor: Stan Lee


The Kirby/Lee Division of Labor (Kirby)

Principal Author (Visuals): Jack Kirby

Secondary Author (Text): Stan Lee

The real problem is that this is what Lee’s supporters think is an accurate depiction of the division of labor:

The Kirby/Lee Division of Labor (Lee)

Principal Author (Plot): Stan Lee

Secondary Author (Visuals): Jack Kirby

Tertiary Author (Text/Edits): Stan Lee

And I could see some validity to this argument. It just appears to me, for most of his 1960s work, Jack was responsible for the bulk of the storytelling in phase one, and I think my way of describing the division of labor is the one that comes closest to describing what took place over the entire 1960 – 1970 run. We’re just never going to know how much of a plot Lee gave Jack to work with, sometimes Lee gave Jack nothing to work from, so chances are the Kirby/Lee authorship debate will never be resolved. In the end, I certainly see nothing wrong with someone like Arlen Schumer calling Jack an “auteur” or me calling Jack the “Principal Author” of his 60s stories. We’re all just trying to give Jack some credit for being more than Lee’s penciler and I think most agree that was the case.

Kirby: Lee’s TV DP? Part 2

Yesterday I was discussing Barry Pearl’s posts:

Jack Kirby Takes an Auteur Detour
By Barry Pearl, on March 15th, 2012

Kirby the Auteur Part II
By Barry Pearl, on March 18th, 2012

Pearl wrote, “To compare a comic book artist to a director, is a huge  fallacy.” Pearl went on to make this analogy: “The comic book penciler is more analogous to TV’s director of photography.”

As I said yesterday, I think Pearl is wrong. Kirby was more than Stan Lee’s TV DP. I  would say Jack Kirby was the “author,” specifically what I call the “principal author”  or principal auteur of his 1960s Marvel stories. I discussed my definitions for the terms here:

Jack Kirby: Auteur? Part 2
Posted on September 17, 2011


(1) Pure Auteur – Artist controls all aspects of storytelling

(2) Principal Auteur – Artist controls all aspects of storytelling, but changes and additions are made later in the process.

(3) Visual Auteur – Artist works from a full script and adds elements to the final product

If Pearl wants to make film/TV/comics analogies, here is another one that I’ve been making for years: Jack was the writer and director and editor of a silent film.

That’s Phase One. Then in Phase Two, Stan Lee added narration to that finished Kirby silent film. In Phase One, Jack is the prime mover. The catalyst. The mastermind behind his stories — therefore, the Principal Auteur. If a Producer tells Charles Chaplin to do a  funny movie with a dog, that Producer is not the auteur behind A Dog’s Life.

You have to give weight to each part of the process. Stan giving Jack a one sentence plot doesn’t even begin to compare to the two weeks Jack spent figuring out to how to make that sentence into a story, IF Jack even used Lee’s plot. Obviously Jack had tremendous LEEway to do whatever he pleased (AKA: “Marvel Method”). Plus Barry Pearl’s analogy of a comics artist/TV DP assumes Lee played a significant role writing the story in Phase One. But that is not what happened. This is what happened:

Stan Lee described the Kirby/Lee 1960s division  of labor by saying: “Some artists, of course, need a more detailed plot  than others. Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean,  I’ll just say to Jack, ‘Let’s let the next villain be Dr. Doom’… or I may  not even say that. He may tell me… he just about makes up the plots for  these stories. All I do is a little editing.”

Now I realize the argument put forward by a few notoriously pro-Marvel comics historians is that early in the relationship (1960 – 1964), Lee was far more involved — Lee would give Jack bigger plots sometimes, maybe a paragraph or two (or maybe not). The problem is that’s what I call an editor handing out a job assignment. Unless Lee gave Jack a 20-page script with the whole story clearly spelled out, in my opinion that makes Jack the writer and artist of the story making Jack arguably the  auteur/author of all of his 1960s Marvel stories (except the few where Lee gave his brother Larry a plot, Larry typed up a script, then Jack followed the Lee/Lieber script). Later on (1964 – 1970), most comics experts I’ve met agree Kirby did the bulk of the principal storytelling  using visuals and margin notes.

Here’s the 1960s Kirby/Lee working relationship chronology:

Step One: Assignment. Sometimes Lee gives Jack a plot; sometimes Lee gives Jack no plot at all. So in this step, Lee either gives Kirby a springboard such as “Let’s let the next villain be Galactus,” or Lee gives Jack nothing and Jack is on his own to make up 100% of the story with visuals and extensive notes in the margins.

Step Two: Story/Art. Kirby writes and draws the story. Jack sits at home and spends about two weeks writing and drawing a story with images and margin notes. It takes Jack around 100 hours or so to  write/draw the story from scratch.

Step Three: Lee Reads Jack’s Story: Stan Lee receives Jack’s art and reads Jack’s 20-page story for the first time. This is where Jack Kirby is the auteur. What Stan Lee is reading is a 20-page story completely written with visuals and margin notes by Jack Kirby. In this phase Jack is the author of that story. That 20-page penciled story was written and drawn by Jack Kirby — alone.

Step Four: Captions, Letters, Inks, Colors, Printing: Lee takes a few hours and adds text to Jack’s art, then the art goes to the letterer, inker, colorist, then back to Lee for final edits, then off to the printers. So the final printed product is indeed a collaboration. It could be argued that Jack wasn’t the “auteur” of that published book. So I use the term  “principal auteur” or “principal author” to describe Jack’s part in the entire process (from conceptualization to publication) because I think that is an accurate way to describe the history — the actual division of labor.

Stan Lee would be the “secondary author” using my terminology. Kirby and Lee both are authors of the story. Jack wrote it first with visuals and text, Lee added his part next. Here’s an analogy: a band composing and laying down an instrumental track, then the singer writes lyrics and sings them. So I’m not marginalizing Lee at all here. Hell, you could argue Lee was the “auteur” of the entire Marvel Comics publication run in the 1960s since Lee controlled so much of the production, my point is that if you look specifically at Jack’s stories, Jack is the uncredited and was the uncompensated author (auteur) of those stories in phase one.

Think of it like this. Let’s use Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life again to make one more analogy. The film is an absolute masterpiece: a brilliant little piece written and directed by Chaplin. I say that film is the equivalent of a 20-page Jack Kirby story in the pencil phase. In the same way Chaplain was the auteur behind A Dog’s Life, Jack Kirby was the auteur behind his penciled epics of 1960s Marvel comics art.

Is Charlie Chaplin no longer the auteur if someone like Stan Lee adds dialogue to the silent film A Dog’s Life? If Lee added dialogue to Chaplin’s story, does that make Lee the ONLY writer of A Dog’s Life? Doesn’t Chaplin deserve SOME credit for what he contributed to this panel above.

I humbly disagree with Barry Pearl; Jack was far more than a metaphorical TV DP (who points the camera at some TV actors), and I’d love to see more Marvel experts admit that Jack’s side of the story might be true — that Jack Kirby helped create all the major 60s characters and Kirby did the bulk of the writing on his stories.

I contend that Jack Kirby deserves to be recognized as (1) the auteur of his penciled stories and (2) the principal auteur of his published 1960s stories.

I see that more and more people are beginning to realize Kirby was far more than Stan Lee’s penciler, and I know many of Lee’s devoted fans find this upsetting because they think this might tarnish Lee’s legacy, but I still say Lee’s reputation as a comic demigod  is set in stone. All a few of us who have studied Jack’s life and work are saying is: why not add a “writer” credit next to Jack’s name in the record book when discussing  the 1960s Marvel comics? I think Jack deserves at the very least to be  discussed as “ONE OF” the writers of his 1960s stories. And despite comics historians like Barry Pearl dismissing Jack as nothing more than a TV director of photography, I say the evidence suggests Jack wasn’t just ONE of the writers, Jack was the PRINCIPAL WRITER of his 1960s stories, Stan Lee being the secondary writer adding text to Jack’s images.

Jack Kirby: Lee’s TV DP? Part 1

Thanks to several comics fans for passing along a link to these recent posts about Jack Kirby by Barry Pearl.

Jack Kirby Takes an Auteur Detour
By Barry Pearl, on March 15th, 2012

Kirby the Auteur Part II
By Barry Pearl, on March 18th, 2012

I don’t know Barry personally, but I did chat with him a few times online. He put together a CD about Marvel comics years ago and he was kind enough to send me a copy of it which I thought was very nice of him. Barry seemed like a goodhearted person to me, and he is very knowledgeable about Marvel comics, so I certainly hope no one thinks I’m slamming Pearl on a personal level with the comments I’m about to make. I’m simply addressing some online public comments about Jack Kirby.

I mention this because sadly, many comics fans/historians take internet debate way to personally. To me, comics scholarship is never going to get out of the high school phase unless comics fans and comics historians can learn to discuss this material objectively, without resorting to name- calling and personal feuds. So my comments below are directed at Barry Pearl’s analysis of the history, not Barry as a person.

One more note: there’s a couple comics fans out there who get very upset when I use their last names when discussing their comments — they think when I use their last name I’m being disrespectful. To me, when you discuss the writings of William Shakespare for example, you don’t say, “William wrote: ‘to be or not to be,'” you write, “Shakespeare wrote, ‘to be or not to be.'” So since I’m trying to discuss Barry’s comments in what I think is a non-personal way, I’m just going to say “Pearl wrote” when I address his quotes. In my opinion this is just a professional way of addressing a comics historian’s quotes. This is how comics scholarship is going to have to evolve if it’s going to grow and flourish. We need to move past personal squabbles and flame wars and focus on trying to address the actual content of the arguments, not the character of the person who wrote them.

I want to address Pearl’s argument that Jack Kirby was not the autuer of his 1960s Marvel stories. Pearl is addressing Arlen Schumer’s recent lecture which I posted a segment of earlier today so you can have some context. Here is how Pearl starts his argument.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “auteur” as:
A film director whose personal influence and artistic control over his or her films are so great that he or she may be regarded as their author, and whose films may be regarded collectively as a body of work sharing common themes or techniques and expressing an individual style or vision.

Obviously we can pick apart the word “auteur” and give the term itself all sorts of interpretations — and when we place a term within a new context that also changes the meaning of the term or the reader’s perception of the term — so I think we need to understand that we all tend to define terms differently. For example, I recently saw the last X-Men movie on cable. Stan Lee was listed in the credits as a “Producer” of that 2011 motion picture. Does anyone out there think Stan Lee produced X-Men First Class in the same way someone like David O. Selznick produced Gone with the Wind? 

If Barry Pearl wants to take the literal dictionary definition of a film autuer and say that Jack Kirby was not the autuer of his 1960s comics, that’s fine. But I think that Arlen Schumer is giving the term a new definition within the field of comics, and Schumer is arguing that in the comics medium, Jack Kirby was the auteur of his 1960s comics. Schumer used the film autuer as a springboard to discuss what he considers a comics auteur.

I’ve used the same term in the past to describe Kirby as well because the term literally means “author” in French. Film theorists don’t own the term “auteur,” and I see nothing wrong with Schumer using the term for the purposes of comics scholarship. So I think Pearl trying to apply the literal definition of a film auteur to comics, and then judging Schumer’s argument based on his interpretation of that definition really sort of destroys Pearl’s argument before it even gets started. I think a comics autuer and a film auteur are two totally different topics that would require a completely different method of analysis.

Here are a couple of Pearl’s comments from his first post that I wanted to discuss: Pearl wrote:”To compare a comic book artist to a director, is a huge fallacy.” Pearl goes on to make this analogy: “The comic book penciler is more analogous to TV’s director of photography.”

I think that analogy is fair for some comics artists. If a comic book artist is working from a full script, which I would consider to be a 20- page type-written story where every detail is provided by the author (the scenes, each individual shot, the characters in the shot, possibly the angle of the shot, the dialogue, the motivation of the characters, and any other important story elements), then sure, I could agree with Pearl’s contention that a comics artist is the equivalent of a television DP. But I’m surprised that based on his incredible knowledge of 1960s Marvel Comics history, Barry Pearl would say this is a fair way to describe Jack Kirby’s role in the Kirby/Lee 1960s Marvel collaboration. Jack was nothing more than a TV show DP?

Jack was far more than Stan Lee’s TV Director of Photography. Jack designed all the costumes of all the major characters (aside from a few exceptions like Ditko’s redesign of Jack’s original Spider-man costume). Jack created the dynamics of the so-called “Marvel Universe” — Lee had Jack teach the artists how to use Kirby dynamics. Jack gave artists like Romita and Heck layouts so they could learn the basics of Kirby Dynamics. Kirby even took Stan Lee’s brother Larry aside and gave Larry pointers. Larry’s style is so similar to Jack’s I’ve seen 1970s Larry Lieber Marvel artwork sold at auction listed as “illustrated by Jack Kirby.” Jack was the one who gave the New York City of the “Marvel Universe” it’s own unique heartbeat. Jack created alternate universes like the Negative Zone where Marvel writers and artists still play to this day.

And that’s just the beginning. I could go on and on and on. In every single story Jack worked on for Stan Lee in the 1960s, Jack introduced new characters, and Jack did a significant amount of the problem-solving in terms of fleshing out the story and bringing the characters to life. Jack’s 1960s stories were a visual roller coaster that had readers on the edge of their seats waiting to see what Jack would come up with next.

Remember, Stan Lee described the Kirby/Lee 1960s division of labor by
saying this:

Stan Lee: “Some artists, of course, need a more detailed plot than others. Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean, I’ll just say to Jack, ‘Let’s let the next villain be Dr. Doom’… or I may not even say that. He may tell me… he just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing.”

Imagine a filmmaker being selected to write and direct the next Fantastic Four movie. Imagine the filmmaker  saying to his director of photography, “Let’s let the next villain be Dr. Doom,” and that’s all the DP has to go on! Now the DP has to make an entire film based on that sentence! And remember Lee said, “or I may not even say that. He (Jack Kirby) may tell me… he (Jack Kirby) just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing.”

So I think that Barry Pearl making a film/television analogy and comparing an artist like Jack Kirby in the 1960s to a TV DP is simply not an accurate depiction of the true working relationship, and quite frankly I’m stunned that someone with Barry’s knowledge of that era would make such a statement. It’s not fair to Jack and I think these types of analogies do not paint an accurate picture of the real working relationship between Kirby and Lee. The Kirby/Lee collaboration was very unique — Jack drew about 60 pages of story and art every month (plus covers) uncredited as a writer, and uncompensated as one of the writers of that material. All Arlen Schumer is doing is trying to set that record straight, and I see nothing wrong with using the term “auteur” as one way of making the argument that Jack’s pivotal contributions to all the 60s Marvel stories he worked on were important and deserve to be noted.

I don’t want this post to go on too long, so I’ll make a few more comments tomorrow.

“The Auteur Theory of Comics” by Arlen Schumer

“The Auteur Theory of Comics” by Arlen Schumer
Text adapted from the visual presentation at the New York Comic Con panel, Saturday, October 15th, 2011.

The recent court loss for the Jack Kirby estate in its battle with Disney, Marvel’s corporate owner, over copyright/ownership of the Marvel characters, revealed Stan Lee’s testimony as being the usual lynchpin in deciding the case in his, and Marvel’s, favor, that testimony essentially promulgating the same misconception that he, not Kirby, was the true author of the Marvel Universe by dint of his salaried role as editor and writer, and Kirby’s professional status as a work-for-hire employee. This misconception ignores the actual role Kirby played in the actual creation of those seminal comic books, as the auteur—author in French—of their stories. “Auteur” in the way Franco-cinemaphiles in the 1950s—first Francois Truffaut in the journal Cahiers du Cinema, and then American counterparts like The Village Voice’s film critic Andrew Harris—postulated their Auteur Theory of Film, that a film’s director, and not the screenwriter, as was previously thought, was a film’s true author.

So too can the Auteur Theory of Film be accurately applied to the “Marvel Method” of comic book authorship, innovated by Lee, who gave his artists (originally and primarily Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) anything from a typed synopsis of a story to a verbal springboard of an idea—the equivalent of the screenplay in film—and the artists drew out/plotted/staged/paced the story visually to fill the page count given, using two-dimensional versions of the same tools and devices a movie director uses to craft a film: casting, editing, lighting, sound, choreography—after which Lee would add the dialogue and captions to the artists’ work.

Stan’s interviews from the ‘60s, which stand in contrast, and somewhat of a contradiction, to his testimony in this case, were submitted in documents—eventually thrown out by the judge—during the testimony of Kirby experts John Morrow (publisher of The Jack Kirby Collector) and Mark Evanier (Kirby’s biographer); here’s an example:

“I would tell Jack the main idea that I wanted, and then we would talk about it, and we’d come up with something. I would give him the outline for the story. As we went on, and we had been working together for years, the outlines I gave him were skimpier and skimpier. I might say something like: ‘In this story let’s have Dr. Doom kidnap Sue Storm, and the Fantastic Four has to go out and rescue them. And in the end, Dr. Doom does this and that.’ And that might have been all I would tell him for a 20-page story. If the book was 20 pages long, I’d receive back 20 beautifully drawn pages in pencil which told a story. Jack would just put in all the details and everything. And then it was—I enjoyed that. It was like doing a crossword puzzle. I get the panels back, and I have to put in the dialogue and make it all tie together. So we worked well together that way for years.”

Ergo it was the artists who were the actual storytellers, not “just” the artists, with Lee, of Marvel Comics, like the directors of films have been considered the true authors of their films for over 50 years now, entitled to the benefits of credit and copyright protection of their films.
At the same time, this is not to deny Lee’s co-authorship and creatorship of Marvel Comics—he deserves exactly 50% of the credit, for his absolutely crucial contributions as editor/writer/art director/salesman and spokesman—but not a percent more or percent less. The sad fact of the matter is that Lee has successfully campaigned throughout his post-working relationships with Kirby and Ditko to create the perception—and therefore the “reality”—that he was the 100%, primary, sole creator of the Marvel Universe, relegating Kirby, specifically, to the historically demeaning role of the artist as merely a “pair of hands,” a “wrist” who robotically drew up Lee’s scripts, the only “theory”/process of comic book creation the judge was presented with.

(Comic creators like Will Eisner and Jm Steranko, who both write and draw their own work, are not germane to this discussion; they’re already 100% creators of their works. The Auteur Theory in both film and comics, as I’m applying it, pertains to those directors and comic artists who did/do not write their movies or comics, but collaborate with screenplay writers or comic writers; by dint of the act of directing a film, and drawing a comic book story, the director and the artist are the true authors/auteurs of their respective final product. The comic book works of writers like Alan Moore and Harvey Kurtzman are trickier to evaluate; for who is the auteur of Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen? Who is the auteur of Two Fisted Tales/Frontline/Mad? Because both Moore and Kurtzman functioned as much as art directors as writers—Moore verbally with his notorious panel descriptions and Kurtzman visually with his layouts—they’re legitimate exceptions. The overarching concept of the Auteur Theory of Comics is that it applies to any artist who does the visualizing of a comic book story, because the act of illustrating a comic book script—whether old-school full-script “DC style,” “Marvel style,” or whatever style—makes that artist a de facto auteur of the final “product” and therefore a de facto 50/50 co-creator of the work.)

The Marvel Method comic-creation working relationship of Lee & Kirby operated, in actuality, more like the Beatles’ Lennon & McCartney songwriting team; just as the early Lee/Kirby Fantastic Fours were closer to true 50/50 collaborations (see Lee’s 1960’s interview recollections and typed script/synopsis for FF #1), so too were Lennon/McCartney’s initial songs together. But as the years went on, Beatles songs became more often de facto solo projects, like McCartney’s “Yesterday,” or his “Hey Jude,” in which Lennon’s lyric, “The movement you need is on your shoulder,” is his sole contribution—essentially no different than Lee suggesting to Kirby in ’65 to have the FF fight a really big villain, and Kirby coming up with the entire Galactus/Silver Surfer trilogy (as in penciling the entire story out, and writing dialogue bits and notes in the margins). Since every Beatle song could never be perfectly quantified as to who did what, John and Paul decided early on to credit their Beatles songs to an across-the-board 50/50 split, “Lennon & McCartney,” making it easier to share in the real world of publishing credit and royalties. That’s how Lee should’ve worked with Kirby, who did the heavy lifting of actually “telling” the stories so that Lee could “write” multiple comics—the practical, economic imperative behind perhaps the greatest storytelling breakthrough in comic book history.

“That whole thing that he and Jack started was strictly for expediency because he didn’t have the scripts ready. That’s the reason. It was not done out of any stroke of genius, it was done out of expedience. Jack would call up and say, ‘Stan, I didn’t get the story yet, or the script” and Stan would say, “Ok, what I’m going to do is describe the first five or six pages in action for you, do them without words and when you send them in I’ll put the words in.’ That’s how it grew into the Marvel method of art first and script second. It was like sunlight had come into the room because this was a visual medium that had become a verbal medium for fifty ears, and suddenly it was the visual medium that it had intended to be in the first place. I think that the biggest thing Stan and Jack contributed to the industry was that. Visual first was a huge step forward; it was like a quantum leap.”
—John Romita

Yet despite this grand recollection, Stan always took full writer’s pay, while artists like Romita were never remunerated for their co-plotting and de facto writing. The most egregious example of this practice taken to an absurd degree is the famous Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1 (June ’68) opening sequence written and illustrated by Jim Steranko, whom Stan didn’t want to pay as a writer because, according to Steranko, “…there were no words on the pages”! This myopia of Lee speaks not only to the primacy of word over image in both the lay public’s and the average comic reader’s—and creator’s—minds, but to the misunderstanding of the entire process of visual storytelling in comics, where the artist has control over sound as well as lighting and staging of a writer’s words; If he feels a sequence in the story can best be told silently, as in film or television, he has that paint in his palette. Theoretically, if Stan himself had written that SHIELD story—even traditionally, in full-script, with the dialogue he would’ve preferred—the auteurship of that sequence would still be Steranko’s!

Because the artist in comics has always been the auteur of the comic book reading experience, due primarily to the primacy of the visuals themselves; or, as artist Gil Kane put it once: “The only thing that makes comics worth reading is the art.” And Gene Colan said: “Every story I ever drew was like being the director of a film.” These simple statements are part and parcel of the Auteur Theory of Comics, the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge: that in the verbal/visual medium known as comic books, the visual creation of a story is a de facto act of co-creation (and therefore morally and ethically entitled to all the legal benefits of co-creatorship).

Take the origin story, probably the most important component establishing the legal provenance of a comic character. Lee has always maintained, in court and out, that he created the character concepts first, and thus “created” them fully. But there was a little-known “character concept” bandied about for 15 years, called “Spiderman,” that didn’t become a copyrightable/trademarkable/successful character until artist Steve Ditko put pencil to paper and created the “Spider-Man” we know of, of stage, screen, comics, merchandise and de facto logo of Marvel, as the mouse ears are to Disney. As Ditko’s iconic Spider-Man “self-portrait” implies, a comic book “creation” isn’t fully “created” until an artist visualizes his own or a writer’s idea/synopsis/script. Which begs the question: was Stan Lee’s verbal origin story of Spider-Man more “important” in the overall/eventual success of the character than the greatest costume design in the history of comic book superheroes by Steve Ditko?

Are Gaines’ and Feldstein’s overwritten captions and word balloons to those classic EC Comics more “important” to their renown than the golden-age-of-illustration artwork that conformed to their prepared panels? 

Are Bob Haney’s great 1968-69 Brave & Bold stories more “important” than the auteurism of Neal Adams’ artwork/storytelling, in which he changed all of Haney’s daytime scenes to night, just as a director of a film might alter the screenplay to more effectively work on the screen, not the printed page as the screenwriter wrote it?

Are Marv Wolman’s Tomb of Dracula concepts/writing/dialoguing more “important” to that ‘70s success story than the auteurist, atmospheric artwork/storytelling of Colan/Palmer? 

When I was reading those Batman reprints from the ‘50s in those eighty-page annuals during the ‘60s, I was entertained by a raft of reprints, all uncredited, as was the DC policy then. So why did the stories illustrated by (we later found out) the great Dick Sprang stand out from the surrounding hackwork of Bob Kane ghosts? Because, despite working from complete scripts and tight editorial control (just like that of the Hollywood movie studios) Sprang’s confident, direct, exaggerated qualities that we came to love about Sprang made every story he illustrated a “Dick Sprang story,” no matter whether Edmond Hamilton or Bill Finger or whomever wrote them, because Sprang was the auteur of those Batman stories—just as the great film directors Hitchcock, Hawks and Ford, who worked from others’ screenplays within an extremely collaborative/edited/oft-censored medium, with producer control no better or worse than comic book artists had to deal with (and are still dealing with), were later declared auteurs of their films by the French film theorists.

Like film, comics are a synchronistic collaboration of words and pictures, ergo any form of a verbal script is only half of the art form known as the “comic book”—whether it’s as brief as Lee’s capsule directives to Kirby, or as extensively detailed as Alan Moore’s panel exegeses for Gibbons to follow in Watchmen.

To those who still damn Gibbons with faint praise for Watchmen’s success because, to one online poster, “a raccoon could have drawn that story and it would have been awesome,” Watchmen is, indeed, a 50/50 collaboration no matter how you parse Moore’s and Gibbons’ individual contributions, and good luck to you if you’re going to try—it’ll always be purely subjective. Moore’s Watchmen script is only worth what someone’s willing to pay to read it in its original form, just like screenplays to films are available to those who want to read them—but neither are complete artistic entities on their own. Moore himself would be the first one to admit that all of his comic book collaborations, with a who’s who of artistic greats like Eddie Campbell, Brian Bolland and Bill Sienkiewicz are equivalent in their contributions of words and pictures (hence Moore’s equitable sharing of both the legal and financials of each property). And to further diminish the line of “reasoning” that Gibbons’ “contribution” to Watchmen was somehow minimized by Moore’s gargantuan talent, imagine what a less-cerebral 2000 AD artist than Gibbons would’ve done with Moore’s Watchmen scripts—or what an average Marvel artist like Don Heck would have done with Lee’s “Have the FF fight a really big villain” idea, or what kind of costume artist Larry Lieber would’ve designed for Spider-Man!

There is a reason that Alan Moore gets more credit from the general public for Watchmen than Gibbons does; it’s why Stan also gets more credit than Jack. Literary criticism far outweighs visual/art criticism in terms of both column inches and overall impact and ubiquity, with far more literature courses taught in universities than art history. And because the graphic novel and serious criticism of comics as a visual/literary hybrid are still relatively recent—and even then, because most comics fans are not visually literate enough to actually discuss the artistic merits (and faults) of comic book art to the same degree that they discuss story/character, comics criticism pretty much follows the standard story/characters discussion, with a backhanded compliment of the “art chores” usually falling to the penultimate paragraph of most comics reviews. Combined with the fact that both the lay and comic audiences know far more about traditional “art”—painting and sculpture, and now computer graphics—than they know about how comic book art is actually produced, and you have the current situation, in which Stan Lee is thought of as both the writer/creator and the artist of Marvel Comics! Want proof? From a recent issue of Comic Shop News (#1259), by Cliff Biggers & Ward Batty in cooperation with

“Comics icon Stan Lee, creator of the Mighty Marvel Universe and characters such as Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, X-Men, and Iron Man…”

Think of this Auteur Theory of Comics being the testimony in defense of Kirby that could have/should have followed Lee’s entirely self-serving testimony, enlightening the court, the media covering the trial, comic book readers and the general public to truly understand, maybe for the first time, the role of the artist in the de facto co-creation of a comic book work, and to the truth of the Marvel Method in actual practice, asserting an artist of the magnitude of Jack “King” Kirby his morally and ethically rightful place as the auteur of the Marvel Comics Universe.