A Day In the Life (Facebook Comment 3)

A few people were discussing Kirby/Lee on the Kirby Museum FaceBook page. Here’s my reply to a recent post by Mike Cagle.

 Hi Mike,

Thanks to you and everyone else out there for discussing this with me. I know many people are bored by the topic, and it makes some people angry, so sorry to those of you out there who come here wanting to see Jack’s art. As for the length of the series being too long, if this had been an article for a magazine obviously I would have spent a month on it, then edited it, then published it as one long piece. But this series is something I did in bits and pieces on my lunch break, so that’s why it seems like it’s dragging on. Plus I wanted to break it up so people would read it — I think a lot of people skip really long articles. I also received a lot of comments on the subject that I tried to address along the way. I’ve done almost 900 posts here at Kirby Dynamics so far, and I’ve shown over 1000 pieces of Jack’s art, so I hope those of you who hate the Kirby/Lee topic will forgive me this brief detour.

I’m personally fascinated by the Kirby/Lee authorship debate. Who created the characters and who wrote the stories? It’s probably going to remain a mystery. But if you look at other creators, people like Lennon/McCartney for example, in separate interviews they confirm pretty much every single thing the other man has said about the writing process (except for a tiny handful of things — like I think Lennon said he contributed a line to “Eleanor Rigby” and Paul says he wrote the whole song, but Paul is still very gracious).

 

Even when John and Paul were angry at each other, they still were honest about their working relationship, and if you listen to the music and look at the patterns in their work, I think this also confirms they are telling the truth when they discuss who wrote what.

 

Kirby and Lee tell totally different stories. Lee claims he created everything; Jack claimed he pitched key ideas to Lee and created key characters. Which story is true?

Stan and Jack are behaving like the people you see on those court TV shows who are fighting over an X Box. They both say it belongs to them and they both really believe that.

Stan Lee may believe deep in his heart he created something like FF alone; he may have indeed wanted to quit comics in the early 1960s and write a novel; he may have really been about to quit working for Martin Goodman (a relative of Stan’s) who gave him and his brother Larry their first big break into the business world; Lee might have been about to walk off a job where he set his own hours, Lee might have been about to leave a job where he sat in an air conditioned office and typed up scripts, Lee might have been about to quit a job where he paid himself multiple paychecks every month (Lee paid himself as the editor, the writer on several books a month, and apparently he gave himself an art director check as well); maybe (as Greg Theakston told us, or maybe Greg was making a joke) Lee had tremendous money stashed away in his savings account and he planned to live on that as he wrote his novel.

Maybe Lee’s wife did approve of her husband walking off a job after 20 years with no real second job lined up; maybe she did tell him to do one comic he was proud of before he quit; maybe Lee did decide to take her advice (and Lee felt if this made Martin Goodman angry, he could just fire Lee, Lee was going to quit anyway); maybe his wife’s inspiration did light up a bulb over his head, and Lee did tell his first adult story: Fantastic Four # 1.

Lee’s wife’s inspiration was the key to the book’s success — Lee finally told a story his way, he created the first comic for adults and he wrote his first comic for adults. Lee consciously reinvented the superhero genre. In FF # 1 he created characters that fought with each other and had problems.

Or maybe that story isn’t true. If you compare the synopsis to FF # 1 to the published book, it looks like Kirby and Lee worked on the story together. It also looks like Jack threw out several of Lee’s ideas, and as I discuss early next week as I wrap this up, the story content that appears in pages 1 – 8, and pages 14 – 25 of the published FF # 1 book is not even in the synopsis.

So I don’t believe Lee. I think his story about his muse inspiring him to create the first adult comic book story makes zero sense. Not only do I find it unlikely Lee would really walk off his job (millions of people every day talk about quitting their job, few really do), Lee’s synopsis clearly is not for an “adult” comic (unless you want to argue that Lee’s rejected version of the Thing was “adult”), and FF # 1 is not “adult.” It is a typical superhero comic book. The only really unique thing about it is that the heroes don’t have goofy costumes. That’s not in Lee’s synopsis so that was probably Jack’s idea. And to repeat so we don’t forget, the FF characters and origin are the same as Jack’s first Challengers of the Unknown story.

Here’s the truth: the only real thing that separated FF # 1 and Jack’s other books from the stuff DC was cranking out was Jack’s distinctive visual style — a unique storytelling style that Lee tried to get everyone at Marvel to copy. Kids picked up Jack’s books off  the stands because his covers grabbed them. Because what he was doing was different. Jack Kirby was reinventing the superhero genre every month, and kids dug it.

And of course, yes, Lee’s hyperbole in his bullpen bulletins, letters pages, and in the captions was something many kids in the 1960s liked as well. That was the icing on the cake.

But I’m not buying Lee’s origin for FF. I think FF # 1 was just another day in the life for Kirby and Lee.

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for A Day in The Life (1967)

Or more specifically it was about 2 weeks in Jack’s life because that’s how long it took him to draw a book. Lee probably put a half hour into the synopis then maybe 4 or 5 hours adding text to Jack’s story.

Okay, here are Mike’s comments.

Mike Cagle: Here are my sources: Kirby Unleashed, p. 48: “Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean, I’ll just say to Jack, ‘Let’s have the next villain be Dr. Doom’ … or I may not even say that. He may tell me … he just about me

I think that quote is from around 1968, I’m not 100% sure where it first appeared, I recall someone mentioning it was in a Castle of Frankenstein magazine from 1968. This might be the cover. Castle of Frankenstein # 12 (1968).

If anybody has that interview please scan it. If the quote is also in Kirby Unleashed, I’d love to see a scan of that too.

So like the other quote we have from Lee in 1968 where he told the Excelsior fanzine that he conceived FF with Jack, we have another interview from 1968 where Lee confirms Jack played a key role in the writing process. As I mentioned in an earlier post though, there are two separate Stan Lee’s — There’s Stan Lee (1968) and then there is Stan Lee (1970 – 2012). The first Stan suggests Jack had a major role in the creation and writing process, the second Stan claims he created everything alone. This leads to another example we can add to my list of The Top 25 Stan Lee Solo-Creator Theories:

(28) Lee lied about Jack helping him conceive FF in 1968, and Lee lied about Jack writing stories with no plot in 1968, because Lee wanted to make Jack happy

This theory states that Lee was afraid if he didn’t pretend Jack had some input into the stories in interviews, Jack might have gotten upset, so Lee made up the story that Jack contributed plots. In reality, Lee wrote all the plots.

Mike Cagle: Also, it should be obvious that the invention of the “Marvel method” was not so as to be generous to the artists, but to save Stan time, and allow him to write all the comics he had to write (or script, or annotate, or whatever you want to call it), without having to hire more writers. It was a way to speed production. As side-effect, it led to the creation of some great (or really good) work, since they happened to have a few artists who were also good storytellers. Also good storytellers.

I think there is some truth to this, but it’s probably a little more complicated than that. First of all, if we believe Lee, Lee didn’t even want to do comics in the 1960s, he was bored, he wanted to quit, so why on Earth did he keep doing comics? My guess is because when Jack came onboard and the sales started to skyrocket, Lee was finally getting fan mail, the money was rolling in, so Lee was probably in heaven.

Obviously if Lee was too bored or too busy to do his job as a writer – a job that he credited himself for on all the books every week – he could have hired someone else to do it. So Lee didn’t have Jack write the stories JUST because he was busy, Lee had Jack write the stories because Jack was great at it and the stories were a smash. Sure, this did free Lee up to give more guidance to people like his brother Larry, Dick Ayers, Don Heck and Gene Colan, and the other Marvel staff and artists, but again, if Lee was too busy to give them scripts, hire somebody. New York was full of writers in the 60s who could have cranked out superhero schlock.

This actually leads to another item we can put in “The Top 25 Stan Lee Solo-Creator Theories”

(29) Lee gave artists like Dick Ayers plots, so Lee must have given Kirby plots

The problem is that Jack and Dick were different. Dick may have liked having some guidance. Or Lee may have felt his guidance helped Dick tell a better story. And Lee was (after all) getting paid as the writer, so at least giving the artist a plot makes the Marvel Method arrangement ethical. But Jack was different. Jack needed no guidance, and if you believe Lee’s “Jack Kirby needs no plot at all” comment, this suggests Jack worked on the stories on his own.

So sure, I think Lee “invented” his “Marvel Method” partially because he was too busy to write 20-page scripts for all his artists, but in the case of Kirby, I think Lee figured out immediately it was better to just cut Jack loose, unleash Kirby, and add text to Jack’s stories. Lee could have hired a writer to come in and do the stories if he was too busy. I think the main motivation for the “Marvel Method” was that Lee wanted that paycheck for spending 4 hours adding text to a story it took Jack 60 hours to write with visuals, plus once the fan mail started pouring in, Lee loved the attention he got from the fans as the writer of Jack’s stories.