Michael Hill sent us this article, as well the Interviews piece we published last month, for consideration for The Kirby Effect. We’re publishing it here in three parts with comments disabled – Rand. With thanks to Steven Brower.
Articles in this series:
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part one (you are here!)
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three
We don’t know. We weren’t there.
No one was there to witness the inception of the Marvel Universe but Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Oh, and Roz, Susan, Neal, Barbara, and Lisa, since Kirby worked from his home. A quarter century after Kirby’s most famous telling of his version of events, the question that needs to be asked is how is it that Stan Lee’s version was awarded the status of historical fact? Charles Hatfield in Hand of Fire: 1
It would be an exaggeration to credit Kirby with full authorship of his work at Marvel… Lee’s presence was sustaining, generative, and overwhelming; his verbal swagger and editorial cunning were definitive to Marvel, and documentary evidence suggests he was, early on, both Kirby’s guide and active collaborator in envisioning such properties as The Fantastic Four.
Hatfield’s take is one variation on the nearly universally-accepted doctrine regarding the Kirby/Lee relationship during the late ’50s and early ’60s. Even Kirby-centric historical narratives begin with the assumption that Lee fed Kirby ideas and plots during the formative years, and that Kirby’s claims of authorship are not to be taken seriously. Hatfield: 2
…in a sometimes-volcanic interview given to The Comics Journal in 1989, Kirby… disputed Lee’s share of creative contribution to the early Marvels, claiming sole authorship… “I used to write the stories just like I always did,” he said.
Hatfield cites what he calls “documentary evidence,” the Fantastic Four plot synopses, to prove the Accepted Version. He disputes Kirby’s version by saying, “Lee explicitly denied all this,” and quotes Groth saying, “most observers and historians consider Kirby’s claims to be excessive.” Hatfield qualifies the proof using the words “seemingly,” “reportedly,” and “under what circumstances and at precisely what stage remains unclear.”
In a recent Kirby Collector, John Morrow endorsed Lee’s version of events: 3 “In the early days before Jack started adding heavy margin notes for Stan, Lee was presumably providing scripts to Jack, and Kirby would leave blank areas for Stan’s dialogue.”
The Accepted Version is so thoroughly supported that even a lauded work of Kirby scholarship and a long-running Kirby publication embrace Lee’s version and dispute Kirby’s. Jack Kirby spoke very clearly on all of these issues. When asked specifically about Lee’s first-issue synopsis, he said, “I’ve never seen it, and of course I would say that’s an outright lie.” 4 He denied ever working from a Lee script.
Today, Lee’s creator credit for anything and everything is ubiquitous. Stan Lee and Marvel are synonymous, and reference to his creation of the characters is automatic. The recent settlement between Marvel and the Kirby family calls Jack a co-creator, a condition under which the truth of the matter is unlikely to come to light. In 2015, Lee and Roy Thomas continue to spread the Accepted Version. 5 They might be required to call Kirby co-creator, but they don’t let that interfere with them sticking to their story, and Thomas calls dissenters “crazy.” (There are cracks in the dam, however: shortly after Lee and Thomas appeared in print together, Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort revealed a character creation scenario that blatantly contradicted Lee’s sworn testimony.)
How did we get here?
After their 1968 purchase of Marvel, it would have been in the interests of Perfect Film & Chemical to minimize the contributions of a freelance creator. It was particularly important in Kirby’s case because Marvel had no contract, not even a paycheck, to document his working relationship with the company.
In 1974, Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics 6 committed Marvel’s authorized version of events to book form.
On numerous occasions in the ’70s and ’80s, Kirby spoke frankly describing his creative contributions (see the “Interviews” post). Rather than being permitted to set the record straight, he was attacked. Special acrimony was reserved for his 1989 interview, despite the fact that Kirby had made the same claims in many interviews for over twenty years.
In 2010, Lee was deposed in the suit brought by Marvel against the Kirby family. He testified that the Origins creation stories were not truthful, that any representation of Kirby participating in the creation of copyrighted characters and plots was only included to make Kirby feel good when he read the Origins book. One by one, Lee explicitly claimed sole credit for the creation of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, the X-Men, Nick Fury, the Avengers, Ant-Man/Giant Man, and the Rawhide Kid; even though he couldn’t claim he created the Silver Surfer, he had the seemingly more important “responsibilty” of making him a “separate character.” He also revealed that he was paid by the page for writing Kirby’s stories. 7
|1963||Steve created Doctor Strange.|
|1966||Jack created the Surfer.|
|1968||Jack created Ego… he needed no plot at all.||I created the Inhumans.|
|1969||I created the Hulk, too, and saw him as a kind of handsome Frankenstein.|
|1970||I was faced with the frustration of having to come up with new ideas and then having them taken from me.|
|1971||I’d tell Stan Lee what the next story was going to be, and I’d go home and do it. I created the Silver Surfer, Galactus and an army of other characters, and now my connection with them is lost.|
|1974||I must have gone through a dozen pencils and a thousand sheets of paper in the days that followed… But I kept coming back to the same ludicrous idea: the only way to top the others would be with Super-God. I created the FF, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Doctor Strange.|
|1982||The ideas were cooked up by me!|
|1986||All the concepts were mine.||I wrote the script and I drew the story.|
|1987||The Marvel outfit will give credit to nobody except Stanley, see?|
|1989||I wrote everything I did. When I went back to Marvel, I began to create the new stuff.|
|1990||I wrote the complete story. I drew the complete story.|
|1998||Jack tended toward hyperbole.|
|2010||I tried to write them to make it look as if he and I were just doing everything together, to make him feel good. I created Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, the X-Men, Nick Fury, the Avengers, Ant-Man/Giant Man, and the Rawhide Kid.|
We’ve lost sight of what we once knew about Stan Lee. Mid- and late-1960s satirical swipes in Sick magazine and DC’s Angel and the Ape presaged Kirby’s own Funky Flashman, painting Lee as the guy who signed his name to other people’s work. In the early ’60s he confided to Jerry Bails that Doctor Strange was Ditko’s creation (he later recanted in Origins). In 1986, Bails was under no illusions when he said, “Kirby should be advised to sign on the biggest legal guns and fight for the characters he created.” 8 It’s Lee who has charmed us into believing that Jack Kirby is a liar, and we’re convinced of it even while trying to work out when Stan Lee last told the truth.
The TCJ interview still draws fire, much of it from people who haven’t read it. The condemnation is mystifying, since there are dozens of earlier Kirby interviews ready to rise up to take its place, dating back to 1968. Meeting with Gary Groth in the summer of 1989 was not the first time Jack Kirby had been given the opportunity to dispute Lee’s widely-believed creation story: Kirby had been telling the same version for twenty years (see the “Interviews” post).
When Stan Lee speaks, his “recollections” are treated as history. Many of Lee’s pronouncements have proven to be false with no obvious effect on his credibility; Kirby has been labeled a liar simply because his story is at odds with what Lee says. What would it look like if we treated Jack Kirby’s account with the same reverence and awe given Lee’s? What if we were to give more scrutiny to Lee’s version, along with the accounts and motivations of those who corroborate it?
In 1998, Roy Thomas cautioned against putting stock in “Stan’s memory or Jack’s memory.” 9 Since he was one of the advocates of Lee’s version, Thomas was referring specifically to the old man memories Jack Kirby had shared with Gary Groth. Three decades earlier, Kirby and Lee were both interviewed for print; only one of them told a story that wouldn’t change.
Lee had credited Steve Ditko with creating Doctor Strange in a 1963 letter to Jerry Bails: 10
Well, we have a new character in the works for STRANGE TALES (just a 5-page filler named DR. STRANGE–) Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. Sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him– ’twas Steve’s idea, and I figgered we’d give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much. Little sidelight: Originally decided to call him MR. STRANGE, but thought the MR. bit too similar to MR. FANTASTIC– now however, I just remember we had a villain called DR. STRANGE just xxxxxx recently in one of our mags– hope it won’t be too confusing! Oh well…
In 1968, Kirby and Lee were in the midst of their professional relationship. Lee was hampered by his own credit boxes: he couldn’t say the “artists” were doing the plotting—it might come back to bite him in the wallet; he couldn’t reveal that, for more than a year, he’d had no inkling of what Steve Ditko was going to put in the next Spider-Man; he couldn’t admit that he never provided Jack Kirby with a plot. On the other hand, Kirby’s wording was only tempered by his employment situation.
Castle of Frankenstein, 1968 11
STAN: 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. And then he goes home and does it. He’s so good at plots, I’m sure he’s a thousand times better than I. He just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing… I may tell him that he’s gone too far in one direction or another. Of course, occasionally I’ll give him a plot, but we’re practically both the writers on the things.
Excelsior No. 1, 1968 . 12
Q: Who created the Inhumans, you or Stan Lee?
JACK: I did.
Q: Do you plot the Fantastic Four stories by drawing the basic story and then having Stan write the dialogue?
JACK: This is Stanley’s editorial policy. As a Marvel artist, I carry it out
WBAI Radio with Neil Conan, 1968 13
NC: Well, I can remember trembling with anticipation waiting for the next Thor during the period when you had Id, the Living Planet, or Ego, the Living Planet I think that was it.
SL: Yeah. That was Jack’s idea too. I remember I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” He said, “No, let’s get a living planet, a bioverse.” Well, I didn’t want him to think I was chicken. I said, “All right, you draw it, I’ll write it.” And, yeah, I think it turned out pretty good.
The year after the Excelsior interview, Kirby was still in Marvel’s employ when he told Mark Hebert what he was thinking when he created The Hulk. Roy Thomas should be pleased to learn that Kirby didn’t let his memories of uncredited work get old before getting them published, but did so while the memories were still fresh, still being made.
It was Lee’s story that changed over the years, and not because of a poor memory. He was aware that the claim often absolved him of criticism. “As you know, I have the worst memory in the world…” 14 One-time collaborator Ditko took Lee to task in a recent essay: 15 “Poor memory advocates — too often — want to be given a blank check for what comes out of their mouths. Can a man/mind with a claimed poor memory have any authentic, personal integrity? There are those who make reference to, justifications for, their poor memory but poor memory doesn’t stop them from still claiming facts, truth, credit.”
Thomas and the entire industry have been the enablers for Lee’s “bad memory” cover story. Thomas’s casual interview comment was meant to suggest both men were afflicted; Kirby denounced the idea in the Mark Borax interview: 16
MARK: Jack, even though each of you, in your own hearts, know who did what —
JACK: We know!
MARK: — do you think that time has obscured some of —
JACK: NO! It hasn’t obscured it. He knows it, I know it.
Six years after the Castle of Frankenstein and Excelsior interviews, Stan Lee published the first of his Official Versions, Origins of Marvel Comics. 17 Thomas told Jim Amash that any deviations from the truth in the tales told therein should be excused on account of Kirby working for the competition (Jack had left for DC in 1970): 18
ROY: I think once Jack left, there was a natural tendency to mentally downgrade his contributions… you don’t necessarily play up the guy who’s quit and gone to the competition.
TJKC: A lot of people were really upset about Origins of Marvel Comics, because it seemed like Stan had really downplayed Jack’s contributions a lot there.
ROY: The problem there may also have been the legalities…
Note that Lee later disowned his Origins tales, saying he had exaggerated when he credited Kirby. From his 2010 depositions: 19
So I tried to write these—knowing Jack would read them, I tried to write them to make it look as if he and I were just doing everything together, to make him feel good. And we were doing it together. But with something like Galactus, it was me who said, “I want to do a demigod. I want to call him Galactus.” Jack said it was a great idea, and he drew a wonderful one and he did a great job on it. But in writing the book, I wanted to make it look as if we did it together. So I said we were both thinking about it, and we came up with Galactus.
In a series of essays on Steve Ditko in 2012, 20 Stephen Bissette assessed the state of public perception regarding the company and its creators.
Let’s face it: Marvel and Stan Lee have controlled the mainstream dialogue about Marvel Comics since 1947 (and the article that year by Lee in Writer’s Digest). With the sole exception of [Dan Raviv’s] Comic Wars… every book about Marvel since Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics (1974) has been either a Marvel Comics and/or Stan Lee self-promotional confection. In fact, I’d date that love affair back to 1947, and the publication of Stan Lee’s chapbook The Secrets of Comics, which handily wrote Joe Simon and Jack Kirby out of the creation of Captain America (chalking it all up to publisher Martin Goodman).
Bissette goes on to ask why Stan Lee’s “account” is given credence, while Ditko‘s own account (“A Mini-History,” published in 16 parts in Robin Snyder’s The Comics), is ignored: 21
Why, oh why, continue to favor Stan Lee’s account, with so much self-evident conflict-of-interest as a benchmark of his entire comics and media career; so many conflicting self-accounts from Stan himself; and such a clear, public record of Stan’s profiting and profiteering for much of his life from sustaining and spinning his own self-aggrandizing accounts?
Ditko is still in the process of telling his story in new essays, and Jack Kirby left us with a wealth of his thoughts and experiences in dozens of interviews over the decades (see the “Interviews” post). When researching the events to which only the three men were party, is it too much to ask for the facts to be checked against the sayings or writings of the two the least likely to have misled us, the two who stuck to their story from the start?
1974’s Origins was a company-directed retelling of the creation of the Marvel Universe, with some of the principals relegated to minor roles. As if to give credence to the ridiculous tales, an authentic-looking synopsis for FF #1 turned up. At John Byrne’s insistence that Marvel editor Roger Stern discovered the synopsis in Stan Lee’s old desk, Patrick Ford asked Stern about the desk. Stern said it was David Anthony Kraft who found the synopsis. 22 If this discovery took place in the early ’80s, why was the synopsis not mentioned until the late ’90s?
Daniel Best: 23
…the veracity of this document has been called into question with such a degree that, as believable evidence, it appears to be about as genuine as Bob Kane’s 1934 sketches of Batman… Some claim that it’s not believable at all and are stunned if anyone, even Stan Lee, believes that this was written before Jack Kirby began to draw the first issue. Those who subscribe to that theory believe that it was written well after the event, possibly after the book was produced, perhaps in the 1970s or even the 1980s, in which event it’s not likely that Stan wrote this as a guide for Kirby to follow. It’s just too perfect to be true.
In 2013, Roy Thomas sent a brutally condescending letter 24 to Comic Book Creator in response to Jon Cooke’s first-issue article, “Kirby’s Kingdom.”
You make the mistake that a lot of rank amateur analysts make (even though you are obviously not one of those) in assuming that, if an artist draws pictures which tell a story and then writes out margin notes which clarify points and suggest dialogue to go with it, that necessarily means that the artist made up the story out of whole cloth… that he was not given any directions beforehand as to what the story was. You cannot honestly and reasonably assume that, simply because there is no paper trail of a plot from Stan Lee…
Like me, you’ve seen the plot pages done for portions of Fantastic Four #1 and #8. Jack made a lot of changes and additions to the plot of #1’s origin, most notably introducing the heroes dramatically before going into the flashback origin. That action was breathtaking and wonderful… but it didn’t create the characters or the main story, which was the origin. And in #8, as I pointed out while AE was still part of CBA, Stan’s plot even went into more detail about the actions of the Puppet Master and the F.F. than I would have imagined without reading that plot…
You start out with a defensible aim… to show that Jack did more than he was paid for… and turn it into not much more than a more sophisticated form of Lee-bashing… What’s done on pp. 48-49 of CBC #1 is not far from the kind of statement Jack himself made, during the years when he had first left Marvel, when an interviewer tried to pin him down and ask him what Stan Lee did in those stories. “Stan Lee was my editor,” was all Jack would say. Jack, who of course was and remains even years after his demise one of the greatest artists in the history of the comic book medium, was given at that stage to delusions of grandeur that went far beyond even his massive talents and contributions… and your garbled characterization of the early Lee-Kirby work merely contributes to the fog.
As he admits, Thomas was no more present during story conferences than was Cooke (only Lee and Kirby were). Cooke, who may not be a rank amateur analyst but sure behaves like one according to Thomas, shouldn’t be allowed to interpret the overwhelming evidence when Thomas’s take should be sufficient for anyone. Meanwhile it’s the rank professional historian who’s spewing fog: Thomas blindly supports the Lee version of events, knowing better than anyone the questionable reliability of its author. From his indefensible position, he joins Lee in making Kirby and others out to be the liars. Delusions of grandeur? It’s that grandeur that still provides the payroll, his portion of which allows Thomas to conveniently dismiss the truth while kicking dirt on Jack Kirby’s reputation.
Thomas’s certainty regarding the FF #1 synopsis has grown with age. In his 1997 Kirby Collector interview he wasn’t so sure: 25 “Later I saw Stan’s plot for Fantastic Four #1, but even Stan would never claim for sure that he and Jack hadn’t talked the idea over before he wrote this.” [emphasis mine]
The light was made to dawn on Thomas as soon as the interview saw print: Marvel recognized the misstep and persuaded him the synopsis was authentic. As soon as it could be scheduled in Alter Ego, Thomas printed the document along with a rebuttal of his comment by Lee and company: yes of course it was written before discussion with Kirby. The AE synopsis exposé 26 reads like an ad taken out by Marvel’s lawyers touting Lee’s new, improved memory. In it, Thomas revealed he had initially seen the synopsis in Lee’s office, “late-1960s,” making the timing of even the initial discovery suspect. That would place it at the time Perfect Film & Chemical were looking for documentation to prove Kirby wasn’t involved in creation. From then on, Thomas never waffled on the pedigree of the synopsis.
If the AE article weren’t convincing enough, Comic Book Artist #2 on the flip side contained an interview of Stan Lee by Roy Thomas. Lee needed to set the record straight following Kirby’s TCJ interview, and Thomas provided the avenue. He assisted Lee in giving birth to memories that refuted Kirby’s claims, some (again) of events that took place before Thomas was around to witness them. 27
Roy: By Fantastic Four #1, you had developed what later came to be called “the Marvel style.” But you were doing this all along for some monster stories, some time before this. How far back does that go?
Stan: You mean just doing synopses for the artists? Was I doing them before Marvel?
Roy: I know that you did it for Fantastic Four. [Stan’s synopsis for F.F. #1 is printed in Alter Ego, Vol. 2, #2, backing this issue of CBA.] So I figured with Jack as the artist—and maybe Ditko, too—in these minor stories that you mostly wrote, along with Larry Lieber, you must have been doing it since the monster days.
Stan: You know something, Roy? Now that you say it, that’s probably true; but I had never thought of that. I thought that I started it with the Fantastic Four, but you’re probably right.
If the FF #1 synopsis did not precede Kirby’s work on the issue, the other observations made by Thomas and Lee in the interview are clearly apocryphal. Mark Evanier was asked about the item in his 2010 deposition: 28
[ FF #1] feels an awful lot more like Jack’s earlier work than anything that Stan had done to that date. So I find it very difficult to believe that Jack did not have input into the creation of the characters prior to the – that synopsis, whenever it was composed. And, also, I have the fact that I talked to Stan many times, and he told me – and he said it in print in a few places – that he and Jack had sat down one day and figured out what the Fantastic Four would be.
QUINN. And they discussed the plot before they actually – the drawings were done?
A. They discussed the plot before the alleged synopsis was done also.
Did Jack Kirby have something to say on the subject of the synopsis? He was unequivocal: 29
I’ve never seen it, and of course I would say that’s an outright lie.
The second synopsis that surfaced is even easier to discount. In a 1964 issue of K-A CAPA-alpha,30 Jerry Bails reproduced a plot for FF #8 Lee had sent him. In the accompanying text, he wrote: “Stan writes a one-page synopsis of an entire FF story; then Kirby breaks down the whole story even before any dialogue or captions are written. Naturally then, there can be little in the way of real plot carried in the ‘script’. Captions must be limited largely to describing the action in the box, and dialogue must consist mainly of wisecracks, both of which can be added directly to the pencilled drawings.”
Aside from the spot-on assessment of Lee’s dialogue and captions, Bails has got it wrong, presumably because his information came straight from Lee. Perhaps Lee was asked for a script, and he scrambled to improvise. He grabbed an issue he had on hand and performed a little reverse engineering to create the synopsis. It was an unfortunate choice.
In Pure Images #2,31 Greg Theakston presented a transcription of the same synopsis, conspicuously missing the last page. He reserved comment while devoting a page of the article to comparing the last four panels of “Voodoo on Tenth Avenue” in Black Magic #4 (1951) to the nearly identical last three panels of Fantastic Four #8 (1962). Oops, Lee chose the wrong story to synopsize. Although it would be amusing to see how he would have outlined the plot on that “missing” last page, it’s safe to say he had no prior input into a story whose plot Kirby re-used from an eleven-year-old story in his own repertoire.
The charitable view on the synopses is that Lee wrote them for his own reference after Kirby related each story to him. Skeptics, however, will insist they were a device manufactured sometime after the fact to “confirm” the details of a history rewritten.
Stan Taylor uncovered a myriad of Kirby plots in early Marvel comics while researching his Spider-Man article. He began by detailing Jack’s re-use of his earlier work in The Shield and The Fly when plotting the first appearances of Spider-Man and Thor, and found a pattern: 32
This cross-pollination of a character from one story, and a plot from another is classic Kirby. Kirby’s touches are repetitive and easily identifiable. It appears that Kirby did not cross match the Fly and the Shield one time; he did it twice, and both simultaneously. For Spider-Man, Kirby took the basic character traits (insect), and the villain (petty crook) from the Fly, and the origin gimmick (scientific, older teen), and the dramatic ending (mourning a lost friend) from the Shield. For Thor, Kirby reversed himself, taking the origin element, (finding of a mystical artifact) and ending, (transformation back to hapless human) from the Fly, and the villain (rampaging aliens) from the Shield, plus adding in a hero from an earlier DC fantasy story. (Tales of the Unexpected #16).
Is this use of a Kirby plot, in a book not drawn by Kirby, unusual for Marvel at the time? No! Iron Man’s origin, from Tales Of Suspense #39, uses a Kirby plot, first seen in a Green Arrow story from 1959. (“The War That Never Ended”, Adventure Comics 255). Similarly, the origin of Dr. Strange is a reworking of the origin of Dr. Droom from Amazing Adventures #1.(Atlas Pub. June 1961). The idea that Kirby would plot the origin of a new character is the rule at Marvel in the early ’60s. It would actually be an anomaly if Kirby hadn’t provided the origin.
But it doesn’t stop there, for while I was cross-referencing the plots to see if any matched up with AF #15, I noticed another striking coincidence, and this staggered me! Not only does it appear that Kirby provided the plot for AF #15, it appears that he also assisted in plotting some of the following Spidey stories. The second and third Spider-Man stories have plot elements taken directly from the second and third Private Strong stories. That’s correct; the first three Spidey stories mirror the first three Shield stories.
Taylor went on to list earlier Kirby stories containing elements that resurfaced in Amazing Spider-Man #1 and #2: Kirby’s first Green Arrow story, the second Yellow Claw story, the third Doctor Droom tale, the second Fantastic Four story, the second Ant-Man, the third Thor story, Fighting American #7, the test appearance of Captain America in Strange Tales #114, Captain America #7, Headline Comics #24, the third Doctor Droom story, and Challengers of the Unknown #3, all fed elements into the two books. Taylor: 33
What are the odds, if Kirby didn’t assist on the plots, that the first three Spider-Man stories would mirror the first three Shield stories? Wouldn’t one think that Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko would have their own plotting patterns? So it seems clear that Kirby’s participation with Spider-Man extended further than just a rejected proposal. It appears that he not only created the character, he also assisted greatly in the origin and early story lines and added many early plot elements.
Again, is this out of character? No. Kirby helped Stan with the plotting of several characters even when not specifically drawing them. The plot to the origin of Iron Man, several of the early Thor stories, and some of the Torch stories from Strange Tales, not drawn by Kirby, have unmistakable Kirby supplied villains, plots, and dramatic elements. Daredevil showed some early Kirby involvement. Why wouldn’t Kirby assist Stan on Spider-Man? The early Marvel titles and characters were never considered private domains. Stan certainly had no compunction about Kirby doing the first 2 covers, or a back up story.
Marvel had a modus operandi also. Evidence shows that Kirby helped out on just about every new project, even the ones he didn’t draw.
You’ve seen them—Jack Kirby presentation pages for proposed titles. Examples have been published featuring Starman Zero from the ’40s; the New Gods in the ’60s; Kamandi, OMAC and Atlas from the ’70s at DC.34 Kirby’s concept page for Boomerang was printed in Tales to Astonish #81. Two ’60s Marvel presentation images (including one for the original Captain Victory) have been featured on covers of Jack Kirby Collector. Still others that no longer exist in presentation form may have been turned into covers (Iron Man’s debut, for instance, on Tales of Suspense #39) or Marvel Masterworks Posters.
According to Susan and Neal Kirby, Jack worked on new character pages for the FF and Thor in the basement.
From Susan Kirby’s deposition: 35
FLEISCHER: Do you have any recollection of discussing with your father the work he was doing for Marvel?
A. Yes. I was in his office a lot, because he had a vast library of books, because he was into everything. And I used to go down there and read, so I used to read his books, and stuff, and one day I was upstairs, and mom told me to go downstairs because Dad was creating some new super heroes. So I went downstairs, and he said, “I want you to see this.” He said, I named the female super hero after you, her name is Sue,” Sue Storm he was talking about, it was the Fantastic Four.
Q. What did you say to him? What did he say to you?
A. I said it looked great. There were three characters on the board, three of the four. And I asked about who they are, and he told me who each one was. And I said, “It looks great, they look great”.
Q. Did your mother ever discuss with you any other characters that were published by Marvel that your father created or didn’t create?
A. Well, the Incredible Hulk. I was there when he was creating him. He called me over, and said, “I want you to see a new super hero.” He said, “This is the Incredible Hulk. What do you think of him?” I said, “He is incredible.”
From Neal Kirby’s deposition: 36
FLEISCHER What story were you talking about?
A I believe it was when he was creating Thor.
Q And what do you recall telling Lisa at that time about Thor, its creation?
A Well, my father was always very interested, he loved mythology, he loved studying religion and history, just knew all about it, his bookshelves were just loaded with that kind of stuff, so as a kid I was always at that time more into history than I was science but we would have long discussions about it. But I kind of got into it, I guess you might say, on a more practical basis and I remember kind of standing by his drawing board as he was kind of doing the Thor character and he had the big, if I remember right, either Thor or one of the other characters that had big horns coming out of the helmet and I said a real Viking wouldn’t have big horns coming out of his helmet and we were laughing and that was about it. I think my father kind of laughed and made some statement that well, this isn’t, you know, Viking reality, it is a visual impact, so he gave me a little art lesson there.
Q And how did you, what is the basis for your belief that it was the first?
A I recall his – we were – we were talking about the – about Thor’s costume and he was doing it for the first time and, again, there were other things. I think I had made some comment about the big circles on the front of the character and, you know, again my father was, you know, jokingly, jokingly referring to visual impact other than possible reality of what a true Viking might have worn.
Q What led you to believe it was the first drawing your father was doing concerning the Thor?
MR. TOBEROFF: Asked and answered.
A Again, the same thing. The basic creation of the costume.
Q Did your father tell you that this was the first drawing he was making of Thor?
A He did refer to doing a new character, yes.
Q And was it the Thor character or some other character that became part of the Thor comic book?
A No, it was the Thor character.
Q And your recollection is that part of the costume that he was creating had a helmet with horns?
A I believe so, yes.
In almost all surviving cases, the presentation pages act as model sheets and describe plots and characters. The Starman Zero example and the DC pages suggest plots for one or more issues of the proposed title. This fits in with Stan Taylor’s observation that Kirby plotted, not just initial issues of a title, but succeeding issues as well. Jim Shooter held a Spider-Man presentation page (not the initial 5-page story Steve Ditko was asked to ink): 37
I saw, and held in my hand, exactly one such [Kirby Spider-Man] page. It was a page of design drawings. I remember that his version of Spider-Man had a “Web-Gun” and wore trunks, I think, like Captain America’s. He was far bigger and bulkier than Ditko’s version. There were no similarities to Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. I think he had boots with flaps. There were notes in the margin that described the character, again, nothing like the Ditko version. I think there was something about him being related to, or having some connection with a police official, which was how he’d find out about trouble going on. It was a long time ago, I can’t swear to that last item, but I can swear to the fact that it wasn’t similar to the Ditko version. I remember thinking, “This isn’t at all like Ditko’s.”
Kurt Busiek transcribed the Don Heck interview conducted by Richard Howell and Carol Kalish, originally for ARTFORM magazine (it was ultimately published in Comics Feature #21). 38 “What Don said was that any time you saw a Kirby cover with a nice clear shot of a new villain or costume design on it, it meant Jack had designed and more than likely created that character, and the cover was a way of getting him paid for the design job… When [Kirby] was doing interior layouts, he was surely plotting, and would include character sketches to show his intent. But on, say, the Swordsman and Power Man covers, those are basically dynamic-looking design sketches with a cover framed around them. And Boomerang being an ex-ballplayer was used.”
Despite Judge McMahon’s contention that teenagers shouldn’t have a say in court, the recollections of Susan and Neal Kirby, along with Shooter’s, indicate that Kirby gave to Lee (at a minimum) presentation pieces for the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man and Spider-Man.
Original art and chapter breaks
The Heritage Auctions website provides a great resource for examining comic art at high resolution. Forensic examination of these yields clues about Kirby’s workflow during specific periods of his work. On a Tales of Suspense #28 page, penciled by Kirby and inked by Russ Heath, Kirby’s penciled lettering is visible in the balloons. This often indicates that Kirby wrote the story, since Lee has stated that according to the Marvel Method, his dialogue and captions were added after he received the penciled pages.
Pages from X-Men #5 (1963), penciled by Kirby, inked by Paul Reinman, have Stan Lee margin notes. Does this prove that Lee wrote the plot on Kirby’s art board before the penciling stage? Of course not… Marvel did not supply Kirby’s materials; as a freelancer he supplied his own. Lee’s margin notes could only have been added during the story conference, confirming Kirby’s version of events that he finished the story, then told Lee what was happening.
In addition to these examples, Kirby is generally credited with writing the stories he did for Stan Lee in the period of 1956-57. The Grand Comics Database has writing credits for no one but Kirby on the stories he penciled. Lee never missed a chance to assert his writing credit: he signed everything he wrote, and as he admits, even things he didn’t. Speaking strictly of the fantasy line, Michael Vassallo wrote (with Vassallo quotes for emphasis): ‘in the post-code fantasy period Stan Lee wrote absolutely “nothing”. There are “no” stories signed by him and I’ve seen almost all of them.’ 39 Contrary to Lee’s minor stories “recollection” (above), Nick Caputo says the evidence indicates that Kirby wrote specific stories during the monster period: 40
In 1959, concurrent with his output on monster, western and romance stories, Kirby was assigned a number of interesting war stories. Based on a reading of many early stories, it appears that Kirby also scripted many early stories, especially pre 1960 (an examination of his possible scripts on other genre stories will appear at a later date). There are many similarities in style, tone, emphasis of words, phrases, use of quotation marks and sound effects that point to Kirby’s input.
Kirby’s trademark chapter breaks are well-known from his non-Marvel work, from Challengers of the Unknown and Bullseye to Kamandi, The Demon and OMAC. Curiously, they also show up in Marvel origin stories supposedly plotted by Lee (The Hulk, Fantastic Four) or scripted by Larry Lieber (Thor’s origin in Journey Into Mystery), as well as Kirby’s monster stories. If Lieber scripted chapter breaks, why did they not show up in stories Lieber scripted for other “artists”? Why do chapter breaks not appear in other origin stories supposedly plotted by Lee but drawn by Ditko or Everett? The exception, as Stan Taylor notes, is Spider-Man: the origin in Amazing Fantasy #15 has a “Part 2” splash, and the first story in Amazing Spider-Man #1 has chapter breaks. Mike Gartland: 41
About this synopsis: one thing that always bothered me was that stories weren’t done in chapters by Lee until Kirby came along and incorporated them in the monster stories. Jack was doing stories this way for years. I could be wrong of course, but if Lee wrote the synopsis without input from Jack, why would he break it down into chapters ala Kirby? To me this is a telling example that, if the synopsis is real, then Lee must have worked out the plot with Kirby, because the story is broken down the way Jack would do it. In my opinion if Kirby didn’t have any input, as Lee attests, then the synopsis was typed after the story was drawn; as Jack attests!
Articles in this series:
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part one (you are here!)
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three
Repetition for citations allows linking back to individual quotes.
back 1 Charles Hatfield, Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby. University Press of Mississippi, 2012.
back 2 Charles Hatfield, Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby. University Press of Mississippi, 2012.
back 3 John Morrow, “Ghost Writing,” The Jack Kirby Collector #62, Winter 2013.
back 4 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.
back 5 Brian Hiatt, “Stan Lee on the Incredible Hulk’s Path to ‘Age of Ultron’: Marvel Comics legend and writer/Ultron creator Roy Thomas offer history lessons on heroes and villains,” rollingstone.com, April 29, 2015.
back 6 Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974.
back 7 Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit I, and 8 December 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit J.
back 8 Jerry Bails, “We the Undersigned,” The Comics Journal #105, February 1986.
back 9 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 10 Stan Lee, letter to Jerry Bails, 1/9/63, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 27.
back 11 Castle of Frankenstein (Ted White, Bhob Stewart), 1968 [details]
back 12 Excelsior No. 1 (1968) [details]
back 13 Stan Lee interviewed by Neil Conan, WBAI radio, 12 August 1968.
back 14 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.
back 15 Steve Ditko, “Essay #34: Memory,” The Four-Page Series #5, February 2014. Published and © by Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko.
back 16 Mark Borax interview, Comics Interview #41, 1986.
back 17 Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974.
back 18 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 19 Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit I, and 8 December 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit J.
back 20 Stephen Bissette, “Digging Ditko, Part 3,” SRBissette.com, September 14th, 2012.
back 21 Stephen Bissette, “Digging Ditko, Part 3,” SRBissette.com, September 14th, 2012.
back 22 “Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four synopsis,” Byrne Robotics: The John Byrne Forum, 19 October 2008; “Roger Stern’s Superman (and more!) on Kindle,” DC Archives Message Board Forum, 24 May 2013.
back 23 Daniel Best, “Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al – Stan Lee’s FF #1 Synopsis & Jerry Bails,” 20th Century Danny Boy blog, 10 April 2011.
back 24 Roy Thomas, Letter to the editor, Comic Book Creator #3, Fall 2013.
back 25 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 26 Roy Thomas, “A Fantastic First!,” Alter Ego Vol. 2, #2, Summer 1998.
back 27 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.
back 28 Mark Evanier deposition, 9 November 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 8.
back 29 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.
back 30 Jerry Bails, “Agent X-ASOCTCRASIDCIWWS Reporting,” K-A CAPA-alpha #2, November 1964.
back 31 Greg Theakston, “The Birth of Marvel Comics,” Pure Images #2, Pure Imagination, January 1990.
back 32 Stan Taylor, “Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.
back 33 Stan Taylor, “Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.
back 34 Starman Zero and OMAC presentation pages, Kirby Unleashed, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2004. Boomerang, Jack Kirby Collector #13.
back 35 Susan Kirby deposition, 25 October 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit H.
back 36 Neal Kirby deposition, 30 June 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit G.
back 37 Jim Shooter, Writer. Creator. Large mammal. blog, Monday, March 21, 2011, and comment on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 post, left August 30, 2011.
back 38 Kurt Busiek, “Don Heck interview,” kirbyville (Internet mailing list), 28 November 2010.
back 39 Michael Vassallo, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 18 November 1999.
back 40 Nick Caputo, “More Kirby War: Battle,” Marvel Mysteries and Comics Minutiae blog, 30 November 2012.
back 41 Mike Gartland, in a comment to the Kirby Dynamics blog. Included by Robert Steibel in “My Interview Questions for Stan Lee Part 3: Chapter Breaks,” Kirby Dynamics blog, Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center, April 7, 2012.