Michael Hill sent us this article, as well the Interviews piece we published in June, for consideration for The Kirby Effect. We’re publishing it here in three parts with comments disabled – Rand Hoppe. With thanks to Steven Brower.
Articles in this series:
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part one
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two (you are here!)
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three
The story conference
There were no outside witnesses to a Kirby-Lee story conference; they happened behind closed doors. There was one staged for a reporter, and there were one or more car rides where the two men threw out ideas but ignored each other’s. Still, the real story conferences had only two eyewitnesses, the participants. Flo Steinberg is considered a witness, but she really only heard things.
FLO: 1 Jack would come in and sit around and talk.; then he’d go into Stan’s office and they’d go over plots, make sound effect noises, run around, work things out. Then he’d go back home to work some more.
Steinberg’s testimony is often used to confirm Lee’s make-believe version of his story conference with Kirby, but in an earlier interview she had qualified her observations. “I did not see what came out later. The hostility. I did not see them like that. I saw them working very closely and creatively together on all this great stuff, the Hulk, FF and Thor. I don’t know who actually created what – I wasn’t privy to that.” 2
Jim Amash made a point of asking his interview subjects who chose to speculate on the Lee/Kirby workflow if they had ever actually seen it in progress. (Marc Toberoff needed a similar tack during the 2010 depositions, repeatedly reminding Thomas and John Romita that they were not present during the years covered by the suit.)
1997 [Thomas by Amash] 3
TJKC: Were you around when Stan and Jack were plotting together?
ROY: I remember times where they’d talk briefly, but I wasn’t around for much of that. I remember Stan talking about how he and Jack had been in a car stuck in traffic and had plotted an issue that I think became the first Diablo story, one of the ones he most hated. I was called in more for him and John Romita, to take notes.
2002 [Goldberg by Amash] 4
JA: Were you ever around when Stan was plotting with Kirby or Ditko?
GOLDBERG: No. I was usually at that front desk making corrections when they came in. Stan had that desk at the back in that long, narrow room we worked in, and there were things going on and I didn’t pay much attention to any of that.
Romita, starry-eyed at the idea of witnessing the actual creation process, characterized a couple of car rides as Lee-Kirby plotting sessions. On occasion, he revealed the fact that he knew Jack Kirby was the creative powerhouse (“I don’t consider myself a real creator in a Jack Kirby sense.” 5 ). Most of the time, however, he brought Kirby down to his level, just another artist like him, lacking in confidence, receiving assignments and plots from Lee. From his 2010 deposition: 6
SINGER. Do you know whether Jack Kirby was working from – do you know how he would get his stories in the 1960s?
A. No, no, he was plotting them the same as I was. With Stan.
MR. TOBEROFF: So my objection is vague as to time. Calls for speculation. Calls for opinion testimony.
A. I was present at at least two plotting sessions of John – Jack and Stan Lee. They were the same as my plotting sessions and the same as Gene Colan’s and Herb Trimpe’s and John Buscema… Jack Kirby would come in, I was at the office, we would plot in Stan’s office, and with Stan and Jack, most of the time – some of the times Jack would – Stan would drive both of us home on a Friday night or whatever night he was in plotting. They would finish or almost finish and then Stan would say, “come on, I will drive you guys home.” He would drop me off first and then he would take Jack, who lived about twenty minutes past me in the same general area of Long Island. So I was in the back seat of Stan’s Cadillac on two occasions that I remember distinctly, maybe more, where they were continuing what they had not finished in the office, continued plotting.
Romita misrepresents the extent of his knowledge on these two occasions. Kirby would invest a day to take the train into the city to meet with Lee privately in his office. It’s unlikely that he would chance leaving any part of the real discussion for the ride home. Thomas’s car ride story featured the creation of Diablo, an event that occurred in early 1964. Thomas wasn’t present at the time, so Diablo’s creation may or may not have actually involved Lee, or a car.
The car rides were an example of Lee playing to an audience, in this case Romita. The most egregious example of this is the Nat Freedland Herald Tribune article. Freedland wrote that he witnessed Lee’s “weekly Friday morning summit meeting with Jack ‘King’ Kirby.” At this point, Kirby’s trips to the office were nowhere near weekly in frequency since this was after he began using margin notes. The article’s portrayal of Lee’s act 7 presumably convinced Lee to incorporate it into his “workflow,” because it became a trademark.
“Suppose Alicia, the Thing’s blind girlfriend, is in some kind of trouble. And the Silver Surfer comes to help her.” Lee starts pacing and gesturing as he gets warmed up.
“And meanwhile, the Fantastic Four is in lots of trouble. Doctor Doom has caught them again and they need the Thing’s help.” Lee is lurching around and throwing punches.
“The thing is brokenhearted. He wanders off by himself. He’s too ashamed to face Alicia or go back home to the Fantastic Four. He doesn’t realize how he’s failing for the second time… How much the FF needs him.” Lee sags back on his desk, limp and spent.
As with the car rides, Lee’s act is purely for the audience. As with the FF #8 synopsis, it’s not hard to imagine Lee pretending for the sake of his audience that he was “plotting” one of the stories Kirby had already turned in. Thomas knew it wasn’t a story conference. He stated that he didn’t attend Lee-Kirby story conferences, but on this occasion was invited to attend what he called an interview: 8
There was a big article in the New York Herald-Tribune, where some reporter came in and interviewed Stan and Jack. For some reason, I was called in to be a witness or whatever, because I certainly took no part in it.
Steve Sherman: 9 Jack told me the details of that famous interview with Nat Freedland. Jack said that Stan basically put on a show. As Jack said, “Stanley was jumping on the desk, waving his arms like a crazy man. I just sat there on the couch and watched him. It was nutty. When it was over, I said a few words and went back to work. The article comes out and the guy writes what an amazing writer Stanley is. Who could work like that? By the time he was through jumping around, I had three pages done.”
1987 [Earthwatch] 10
REECE: But Jack, what about these legendary story conferences of you and Stan, or Stan and whomever, acting the stories out, in the office, jumping up on the desks and so forth, making things considerably more lively than when it was just an office consisting of Stan and Fabulous Flo Steinberg, having people stick their faces in the door, from Magazine Management, going, “Hurry up, little elves, Santa will be coming soon!”
KIRBY: Uh, I’d have to disagree with that. It wasn’t like that at all. It may have been like that after I shut the door and went home.
Lee used the Freedland article to lay the groundwork for a disinformation campaign against Ditko. 11 At the time of the interview for the article (December 1965), Ditko (and Wood) had already left the company.
I don’t plot Spider-Man any more. Steve Ditko, the artist, has been doing the stories. I guess I’ll leave him alone until sales start to slip. Since Spidey got so popular, Ditko thinks he’s the genius of the world. We were arguing over plot lines, I told him to start making up his own stories. He won’t let anyone else ink his drawings either. He just drops off the finished pages with notes at the margins and I fill in the dialogue. I never know what he’ll come up with next, but it’s interesting to work that way.
Shortly after Ditko’s departure, Lee’s disinformation campaign was taken to the fan press by John Romita. In the fanzine Web Spinner, 12 he told Bob Sheridan a number of reasons why Steve Ditko had not been the best employee. Some of the assertions were things that could only have been known by Lee, and they were false.
Roy Thomas did his part to disseminate the Lee mythology by claiming Romita made Spider-Man Marvel’s best-selling title: 13
[Romita] was also the man to whom writer/editor Stan Lee turned at the beginning of 1966 when Steve Ditko forsook the Amazing Spider-Man title he’d co-created, and the one who quickly helped Stan turn it from Marvel’s second-best-selling comic into its undisputed #1 seller.
This is almost certainly false. Spider-Man was Marvel’s “undisputed #1 seller,” as Thomas put it, before Steve Ditko left. 14
Neal Adams on the story conference: 15
Arlen: After your run on the X-Men ended, you did a couple of issues of Thor immediately following Kirby’s departure from Marvel; how did that come about?
Neal: I don’t know quite when it was. Stan asked me, “What would you like to do next?” I said, “Y’know, Stan, I would love to work on a Thor with you.” He said, “Really?” So then Stan asks, “What do you think you want to do?” I said, “Well, do you have a story?” Stan would go, “What do you think you want to do?” (rather than say no). So I said, “I’d like to change identities between Thor and Loki.” He said, “Oh, that’s fine. Go ahead and do that.” I said, “I’d like to do that for two issues. Is that okay?” He said, “Yeah, sure, sure. Go ahead and do it.” So that was pretty much the story conference.
2002 [Goldberg/Jim Amash] 16
GOLDBERG: One time I was in Stan’s office and told him, “I haven’t got another plot.” Stan got out of his chair, walked over to me, looked me in the face, and said very seriously, “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t think of another plot.” Then he walked back and sat in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more. After that, I could think of a plot in two seconds.
JA: Sounds like you were doing the bulk of the writing then.
GOLDBERG: Well, I was.
Larry Lieber was witness to the aftermath of one story conference. From his 2010 deposition: 17
(break in testimony)
LARRY LIEBER: Well, this must have been a Hulk story and I have the originals at home. I don’t remember when I first got them. I don’t remember the year, but I obtained them when they were discarded.
TOBEROFF: Can you tell me how you came into possession specifically of these drawings?
LARRY LIEBER: They – I was in the office, the Marvel office. It probably was at – no, it must have been at the – on 57th Street when they were there on Madison, and Jack Kirby came out of Stan’s office from – and from the direction of Stan’s office. He may, probably, he had come out of Stan’s office, and he seemed upset. And he took the drawings, he had these drawings, he took them and he tore them in half and he threw them in a trash can, a large trash can.
And I, since I was such a big fan of his, I knew that at the end of the day, they would be discarded, you know, and would be trash. And I – I saw it as an opportunity to have some of his originals to keep, to look at and study, and so I took them out of the trash can.
And there were other people in the office, but nobody else seemed to have noticed this, which I was glad about, and I just took them, walked over to where I was sitting and put them in my case. And I took them home and I taped them together, you know, I taped them all, and I kept them and I’ve kept them all these years to look at them and, as I say, to study them.
Q: What was your understanding of why or your impression of why Jack Kirby was upset when he tore these up and threw them in the trash?
LARRY LIEBER: I didn’t know. I didn’t speak to him. I assumed, seeing a man walk out of the office and tear his artwork up, that – or I thought probably they were rejected and he was annoyed or disgusted. I didn’t, you know, and I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t hear anything, so I just – that was my first assumption, but I didn’t know.
(Lieber Exhibit 6, an excerpt from Jack Kirby Collector Forty-One, marked for identification, as of this date.)
Stan Lee’s credits worked as a voucher system
In December 1962, when Stan Lee’s credit boxes took effect, Lee was already receiving the writing page rate. The credits for the very first story, “Prisoner of the 5th Dimension!” in Strange Tales #103 show Lee as the plotter, remarkable on a story that so obviously bears a Kirby plot.
It’s the beginning of a pattern: Lee is credited (and paid) for writing stories that come to him already written by Kirby. The credits worked as a voucher system in the absence of any other accounting records. Mark Evanier: 18
Marvel kept no records of this stuff. In fact, every time there’s a reprint fee due on FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #5 — inked by Giacoia but credit to Sinnott — they pay Sinnott.
Lee disclosed his writing page rate when he was deposed in 2010: 19
STAN LEE: I received a salary which paid me as Editor and Art Director, but I got paid on a freelance basis for the stories that I wrote.
Q. And when you say you were paid on a freelance basis, how were you paid? On what basis?
STAN LEE: The same as every other writer. I was paid per page, so much money per page of script.
Barry Pearl reported on a visit to the home of Dick Ayers: 20
Dick told us how Stan called him one day and said, “I can’t think of a story for Sgt. Fury #23. We won’t have an issue unless you think of something!” A worried Dick could not sleep that night and kept Lindy awake too. They talked about story after story until, in the middle of the night, Lindy came up with the idea of the Howlers saving a nun and her young charges. Dick said, “Stan will never go for that, he wants nothing about religion… But I’ll ask him.” When Dick did, Stan said, “What a great idea, I’ll use it.” So they put together a terrific story. When Dick’s finished pages were shown to him, he saw the credits where he was only listed as artist. He went to Stan’s office and asked if he could also be listed as co-plotter. Stan yelled, “Since when did you develop an ego? Get out of here!”
The credit boxes had multiple facets. The public-facing side told the readers that Stan Lee gave credit to his collaborators. For many, this perception obscures the overwhelming evidence that Lee was misappropriating the pay of the “artists,” and Kirby and Ditko are cast as ingrates. The same credit boxes told the writer-artists that they were being denied credit; the writing credit was only for adding dialogue and captions. Stan Taylor: 21
I think that Stan’s singling out and praising the artists actually upset the artists, more than making them happy. Stan was quick to tell everyone how his artists not only pencilled, but plotted also, yet they knew they were only being paid for pencilling, and at a rate less than the competition, and getting nothing for plotting, while Stan was getting all the glory, and the big bucks for simply putting the finishing sheen on the artists stories. If it was me, I would get pretty mad about doing the work of one and a half people, while being paid less than the competitor paid just for pencilling, and then someone else takes the credit for my stories.
Steve Ditko: 22
Lee started out early with his self-serving, self-claiming, self-gratifying style, of giving credit and then undercutting the giving by taking away or claiming most or all of the credit.
Martin Goodman was evidently under the impression that the plotting credit was part of writing. When this credit was granted, the accompanying page rate was deducted from the writing rate. To keep this from dividing his page rate, Lee concealed his arrangement by spinning it as the Marvel Method.
1982 [Eisner] 23
KIRBY: I’ll tell you from a professional point of view. I was writing them. I was drawing them.
EISNER: But you do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of someone else, regardless of who it is, putting balloons in on a completely penciled page. I have a prejudice on it but I want to get your opinion.
KIRBY: My opinion is this: Stan Lee wrote the credits. I never wrote the credits.
In early 1965, Steve Ditko requested and received plotting credit on Spider-Man. Lee took the hit directly in the wallet, and stopped speaking to him: 24 “Stan Lee claimed (in Comic Book Marketplace, July 1998) that he gave me that ‘idea’ for that ‘famous’ Spider-man lifting sequence (issue #32). I responded (CBM Sept-Oct 1998) that he couldn’t have because he had chosen to stop communicating with me before issue #25 and that I alone was creating the story line and all panel ideas.”
Steve Ditko’s letter to Comic Book Marketplace: 25
In your Comic Book Marketplace #61, July 1998, page 45, Stan Lee talks about “…a very famous scene…” of the trapped Spider-man lifting heavy machinery over his head.
The drama of that sequence was first commented on and popularized by Gil Kane.
Stan says “I just mentioned the idea…I hadn’t thought of devoting that many pages to it…”
I was publicly credited as plotter only starting with issue #26. The lifting sequence is in issue #33.
The fact is we had no story or idea discussion about some Spider-man books even before issue #26 up to when I left the book.
Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories until I took in the penciled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.
Steve Ditko, New York
Steve Skeates: 26
It was during one of these frequent visits of mine to the offices that I took note of the fact (it would have been hard NOT to notice) that Stan was fuming and saying he was really gonna have it out with Ditko this time! I asked somebody what was up, and whomever I asked (Marie or Flo or maybe even Roy) explained the whole thing. As you undoubtedly know, the way the Spider-man comic was put together back in those days was that Ditko would turn in his pencils and his plot, Stan would write the dialogue and the captions and make various instructional notations in the margins of the artwork, next the story would be lettered, and then it would be given back to Ditko so he could ink it! It was the finished inks that Stan was fuming about – in the panel I previously spoke of, even though the dialogue was obviously that of Spidey, Ditko had drawn the villain, forcing Stan to either rewrite the dialogue or have the panel redrawn (probably by either Sol or Marie) and I really can’t remember which course of action he chose! I of course have no way of knowing whether Steve simply forgot he was supposed to change the figure while at the same time failing to read the dialogue and missing the notation in the margin, or if he purposely drew the villain because he (Steve) was being obstinate, but I am positive that Stan THOUGHT that the latter was the case! Needless to say, I wasn’t privy to Stan “finally having it out” with Steve! Still and all, the next thing I knew, Ditko was outta there!
Ditko’s Spider-Man creation account is often used to refute Kirby’s creation claim. Strangely, an actual reading of Ditko’s essays reveals statements like, “The ‘original idea’ for S-M was in Jack Kirby’s five pencilled pages and Lee told me that S-M is a teenager with a magic ring that turns him into an adult S-M.” 27 He also makes one thing perfectly clear (something he’s compelled to add because of what he knows of Stan Lee): 28 “Stan never told me who came up with the idea for SM or for the SM story Kirby was pencilling.”
1975 [Sherman] 29
SHERMAN: About your drawing. At your fastest, during that time, do you have any idea how many books you were doing?
KIRBY: I felt, for a while, like I was doing them all. The stuff I wasn’t penciling, I was doing layouts on. I got the books going–I think that was mainly my function–so that, as Marvel acquired a top-notch staff, they could keep them going.
Beginning in 1964, Kirby was writing books for other artists in the way of breakdowns or “layouts,” roughly sketched action broken down into panels with extensive margin notes. Even these figured into Lee’s scheme. Ostensibly the process was designed to show new artists how to work Marvel Method. The small layout page rate was deducted from the penciller’s rate, and Lee was able to retain the full writer’s rate without having to plot for new pencillers. Mike Gartland wrote a detailed article for Kirby Collector: 30
As has been noted on other occasions, Stan never wanted his other artists to draw like Kirby, but to learn his abilities at dynamic storytelling, which is probably why with the border notes/directions, Jack was requested to do the pencil layouts… The artist would do 75% of the work, but only be paid the standard page rate for penciling; Lee, on the other hand, would be paid for writing, editing, and dialoguing a story already fleshed out and drawn. Jack, of course, received a better rate as a penciller, but never as much as he was promised or felt he deserved. The layout work he did just added insult to injury, as Jack was only paid 25% of his usual page rate; near the end it may have been moved up to around a third, but he still felt it was terrible pay. And as with FF and Thor during this period, it also increased the number of comics per month where Jack was contributing story ideas and plots to comics that were published with sole writer credit going to Lee.
Kirby layouts were designed from the start to give Lee more Kirby-written pages for which Lee could be paid the writer’s rate. (Incidentally, the Gartland article was accompanied by page 29 of Tales To Astonish #73, with the caption observing, “A good example of Stan dialoguing almost verbatim from Jack’s notes.”)
John Romita described Kirby being invited to lay out Daredevil for him: 31
[Lee] said, “Wanna help me out? How about penciling this Daredevil story?” Like a dummy, I said, “Okay.” [laughter] I did it, and when I came in with the first four pages, he loved the splash page, but the next three pages he said were very dull, like romance pages. He said, “I’ll tell you what; just to get you rolling…” He calls up Jack Kirby right there and says, “Listen Jack, how quick can you do 10 pages of breakdowns?”
Ultimately an increase in Kirby’s page rate enabled him to say no to Lee’s abusive practice of making him do layouts.
The Marvel Method
Stan Lee has said he created what he called the Marvel Method to keep his “artists” busy while he dialogued multiple books, and that the happy result was that it gave them more freedom. It’s advertised as an assembly line approach to comics production (something that didn’t originate with Lee). Story conference, synopsis, sometimes just the “germ of an idea” passed from the writer/editor to one of the interchangeable artists. In reality, it was having the writer/artist do the plotting without pay to the benefit of the editor’s income.
From Lee’s depositions: 32
QUINN: Okay. Why don’t you describe the Marvel method.
A. There was a time when I was writing so many stories that I couldn’t keep up with the artists. I couldn’t feed them enough work. And, you see, the artists were freelancers. Now, for example, if Jack was working on a story, and Steve was waiting for me to give him a story because he had had finished what he had been doing –
Q. Jack being Jack Kirby?
A. Jack Kirby.
Q. And Steve Ditko?
A. Right. Or it could have been any of the artists. But just using them as an example, if one of them was waiting for a story while I was still finishing writing the story for the other one, I couldn’t keep him waiting because he wasn’t making money.
No mention is made of how the “artist” would continue to not make money for the plotting that now fell to him because Lee wasn’t doing it. Marvel was pretty much the bottom of the barrel, page-rate-wise, so the people applying for work were desperate. Kirby being blacklisted by Schiff at DC forced his return to the company, and John Romita had to be let go by DC in 1965 before he would consider returning. 33 Even under those circumstances, Lee managed to attract and keep some talented writer/artists.
2002 [Goldberg/Jim Amash] 34
JA: Was Stan writing full scripts for you when you started drawing Kathy, your first humor work?
GOLDBERG: He was at the very beginning. Then things started exploding at Marvel, and Stan needed to cut some corners at his end so he could come up with new ideas. That’s when he developed the “Marvel Style” of writing stories, where the artist did most of the plotting and he did the dialogue. He didn’t trust too many other writers, and this was a good way to keep control of the stories. Some people weren’t happy about it, because Stan was putting work on the artist for no extra pay. Some artists resented it, but that was how it was done. I wasn’t happy about it at first, but I learned how to do it.[emphasis mine]
When Thomas interviewed Lee in 1998, they backdated the Marvel Method into the ’50s and portrayed it as something that ultimately brought happiness and fulfillment to everyone involved: 35
Roy: You probably didn’t write full scripts for Jack for “Fin Fang Foom.”
Stan: I did full scripts in the beginning, but then I found out how good he was just creating his own little sequence of pictures—and I did it in the beginning with Ditko, too—but when I found out how good they were, I realized that, “Gee, I don’t have to do it—I get a better story by just letting them run free.”
Roy: The amazing thing is, not only could you get Jack and Steve to do it, but that other artists who had always worked from scripts—Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and others—could also learn to do it and be quite successful with a little training from you.
Stan: I will admit that a lot of them were very nervous about it, and very unhappy about being asked to do it. But then they loved it after a while.
Mark Evanier’s unpublished interview with Wallace Wood: 36
WW: I enjoyed working with Stan on DAREDEVIL but for one thing. I had to make up the whole story. He was being paid for writing and I was being paid for drawing but he didn’t have any ideas. I’d go in for a plotting session and we’d just stare at each other until I came up with a storyline. I felt that I was writing the book but not being paid for writing.
ME: You did write one issue, as I recall…
WW: One, yes. I persuaded him to let me write one by myself since I was doing 99% of the writing already. I wrote it, handed it in and he said it was hopeless. He said he’d have to rewrite it all and write the next issue himself. Well, I said I couldn’t contribute to the storyline unless I got paid something for writing and Stan said he’d look into it, but after that he only had inking for me. Bob Powell was suddenly pencilling DAREDEVIL.
ME: I believe Powell pencilled an issue before the one you wrote.
WW: Oh? God, you know this stuff better than I do. Well then, I think I complained about it before. That’s right. I complained about not being paid for writing and suddenly I was inking Powell but I managed to talk him into letting me write one… I guess Stan Lee couldn’t stand having me do the whole thing. I do remember that that was his way of dealing with me asking for writing money if I was pencilling. He had me ink other guys who didn’t want to share the writing money. He said it was because the book was going monthly and he didn’t think I could pencil and ink both but I think it was just because I wasn’t going to write the book for nothing. Actually I wouldn’t have minded if their page rate for pencils hadn’t been so awful.
ME: So you wanted to write and pencil?
WW: Yes. I got to do some of that for Tower. But remember that issue of DAREDEVIL I wrote? Stan said it was hopeless and that he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. Then I saw it when it came out and he’d changed five words, less than an editor usually changes. I think that was the last straw.
John Romita had an amusing take on the Marvel Method: 37
It was very difficult for me, very hard, but it turned out to be the greatest thing for the industry and for me, because the comic – the comic medium had been a script first and visual second and this made it visual first and script second, which was probably the greatest innovation, completely done for expediency sake… when [Lee] was behind, when he couldn’t keep up with the artists and he did not want the artists to stay idle, because the deadlines were looming, he would give them a descriptive verbal or written – quickly-written synopsis of what to do. And that’s how the plot first and script second, script third came about, which was called the Marvel method, which I believe made the comic industry what it is today.
Romita has just ascribed to Stan Lee an “innovation” that Jack Kirby and many other cartoonists practiced for their entire careers, and it’s the very definition of cartooning. In his solo work and as part of the Simon & Kirby Studio, Kirby first laid down the pencils, then returned to add the words (“visual first and script second” as Romita described it). The difference at Marvel was that Kirby did everything as usual up to the point where, instead of writing in the captions and balloons himself, he wrote margin notes before turning the pages over to Lee.
Larry Lieber was credited for writing scripts for a number of early Kirby stories. In addition to giving Lee a way to send a little income in his brother’s direction, Larry’s scripts were another mechanism to suggest Kirby wasn’t doing the plotting. Lee was actually feeding Kirby’s own plots, not only to Ditko, but to Lieber so he could script the Kirby stories. There’s no reason to question the assertion that Lieber wrote scripts for Kirby, but why would Kirby even look at a script for a story he had already described to Lee in a story conference?
Roy: 38 The story has often been told of this infamous, legendary golf game with Martin Goodman and [DC President] Jack Liebowitz in which Liebowitz bragged about the sales of Justice League of America, and Goodman came back and told you to start a super-hero book. Was that story really true?
Stan: That’s absolutely true. He came in to see me one day and said, “I’ve just been playing golf with Jack Liebowitz”—they were pretty friendly—and he said, “Jack was telling me the Justice League is selling very well, and why don’t we do a book about a group of super-heroes?” That’s how we happened to do Fantastic Four.
Mark Alexander: 39 That’s a great story. In any case, it’s entirely false. The legend of Martin Goodman hearing about JLA‘s impressive sales on a golf outing with Jack Liebowitz has been floating around since the mid-1970s. It’s impossible to determine who fabricated the anecdote. The best guess would be that Stan came up with it. In 2002, Lee was still repeating the story as gospel in his autobiography.
Mark Evanier: 40 Mr. Lee has told this story on many occasions. Mr. Leibowitz, when he was interviewed, said he never played golf with Goodman in his entire life.
“I just don’t know why they left”
Stan Lee has gotten tremendous mileage out of playing the injured party in his dealings with Ditko and Kirby. Evidence indicates, however, that he knew precisely how they felt about his treatment of them. Tom Crippen: 41
Meanwhile Stan was having fun, but having fun with other people’s work can be dangerous. He should have recognized that the Surfer was Kirby’s, since Kirby had drawn him up based on no suggestions whatsoever. But Stan was entranced by his own creativity and had to shanghai the Surfer idea for the sake of Norrin Radd. He was grabby, and I would bet he saw no reason not to be grabby. He never figured out why Kirby left. “I don’t know much of what Jack is talking about these days,” he says grimly in 1981, when the art and credit disputes were heating up. “I don’t know what his problem is.” The same for Ditko: “it was all on Steve’s part. I mean, I felt the same, but he got angry.” Yeah, go figure.
In the title of the seventh installment of “A Failure to Communicate,” Mike Gartland asks, “How could he not know?” 42 The answer is simple: Stan Lee couldn’t not know Kirby would leave, having had a role in driving him away. Lee was complicit with Perfect Film & Chemical in establishing himself as The Creator of The Properties, making Kirby’s continued presence an inconvenience at best, a threat at worst. According to Mark Evanier, after Kirby spent months trying to secure a contract (with nary a good word from his longtime collaborator), what was ultimately offered in the way of a contract was an insult. 43
Putting a spin on Kirby’s departure was on Lee and Thomas’s agenda for the Comic Book Artist interview. Lee: 44 “I think [the relationship] certainly could have been salvaged if I knew what was bothering him. He never really told me, nor did Steve Ditko when he left. You can’t salvage something if you don’t know the cause.”
The imminent event seemed to be common knowledge around the Marvel offices as early as 1968. In a story in Not Brand Echh #11, John Verpoorten drew a gag note pinned to the bulletin board next to Kirby’s drawing board. 45 It reads, “All is forgiven,” and is signed Carmine. Roy Thomas is listed as the writer.
Kirby became a casualty of Lee’s ambition, just as Chip Goodman would a couple of years later. Lee also maintains he knew nothing about Ditko’s reasons for leaving, yet according to Ditko, Lee stopped speaking to him when he demanded plotter credit, over a year before he actually left. From Ditko’s essay about why he quit: 46 “Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material, for a man who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me?”
John Romita revealed that before Ditko quit, Lee intended to replace him on Spider-Man. 47 “Stan asked me to use Spider-Man as a guest star in Daredevil for two issues, number 16 and number 17, I believe, and I put Spider-Man in and drew him as well as I could and it turned out that he was feeling me out as a possible replacement.” Having already taken the plotting pay out of Lee’s pocket for Spider-Man, Ditko’s continued presence might have had a bearing on Kirby’s tolerance for the status quo. In the same way that Kirby would become a threat to the ownership of the properties, Ditko had become a threat to Lee’s arrangement to collect Kirby’s writing pay.
How could Lee not know? It was impossible, since he knowingly drove away Kirby and Ditko. His playing the wronged partner in both cases engendered much rage at the two “ungrateful artists” who abandoned Stan Lee and his Marvel Method.
We weren’t worried about the credit…
The concept of creator/writer/plotter credit is typically given the same treatment as the original art issue. “It wasn’t important back then” may be true of original art, with notable exceptions, but where credit is concerned it doesn’t hold water.
John Romita: 48 Originally nobody thought about plotting credits, except Ditko.
Roy Thomas: 49 They’re really Ditko’s plots, not mine; it’s just the way we did it, and we didn’t question it at the time. Neither did Jack or Ditko. We weren’t worried about the credits, because there wasn’t any money involved. It’s only later you begin to say, “Hey, why didn’t I take credit for this or that? Why didn’t I put my name down as plotter?”
Romita and Thomas misapply the experience of their time at Marvel to earlier events. They profess knowledge regarding the motivations of the three principals, but produce only hearsay. Credit was vitally important to Kirby, Ditko and Lee in the early ’60s: one man went to extreme efforts to appropriate that which didn’t belong to him, and the other two ultimately left their jobs over it.
Thomas’s remark that “there wasn’t any money involved” suggests either that he was complicit in Lee’s system, or unaware of the way it really worked; for Stan Lee, credit was money. If Lee’s assistants, including Thomas, Romita and Goldberg, were fed a constant diet of misinformation, it would explain statements like, “I know Jack was getting detailed outlines even when they started doing The Fantastic Four” (Goldberg); “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 [the Marvel style] since the monster days” (Thomas); and “[Kirby and Lee’s plotting sessions] were the same as my plotting sessions and the same as Gene Colan’s and Herb Trimpe’s and John Buscema” (Romita).
The Great American Novel
In Origins, Stan Lee described the original motivation for his pseudonym: 50
Myself when born was christened Stanley Martin Lieber—truly an appellation to conjure with… So happy was I being S.M.L., and so certain that I would one day write the great American novel, or the great American motion picture, and so young and witless was I at the time I started writing comics, that I felt I couldn’t sully so proud a name on books for little kiddies.
Lee claims he always intended to leave comics and become a writer of serious literature, and he happened to rub shoulders at the office with a number of people who lived this reality. Bruce Jay Friedman edited fiction magazines for Martin Goodman, and wrote fiction in his spare time. Eventually he left his position at Magazine Management (Goodman gave him an elaborate going-away party), and became a highly successful author. Mickey Spillane, Mario Puzo and Martin Cruz Smith followed the same career path.
Lee himself didn’t make the transition. He continued to write for an audience he described as “drooling juveniles and semicretins.” 51 In 1961, it all changed, as the Lee version has it: Joan Lee told her husband to “write stories that you yourself would enjoy reading.” Lee, concluding that he was above the reading ability of his existing audience, says he then began writing to his own level. His assertion is belied by the fact that throughout the decade, he was editing the greater meaning out of Kirby’s stories, and turning the strong female characters into damsels in distress and submissive housewives. What really happened to change it all in 1961 was Lee hitching his wagon to Jack Kirby.
Lee fomented his own novel throughout the ’60s, What I Did (with help from some artists under my direction). It would never be published, but it was at his fingertips for interviews, and excerpts in the Origins books. He began by establishing a narrative in the Letters of Comment pages… fictitious letters at first (signed S. Brodsky and S. Goldberg), then fictitious responses to real letters. First he planted the germ of the idea that Marvel readers were a cut above average intellectually, a mantra that will be chanted by his acolytes into their sixties.
Fantastic Four #3 LOC page, March 1962 [cover date]
Are you the same one who also puts out STRANGE TALES, TALES TO ASTONISH, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, TALES OF SUSPENSE, AMAZING ADULT FANTASY, and a lot of Westerns like KID COLT, OUTLAW, and teen_age titles like, PATSY WALKER? If so, how do you do it?
S. Brodsky, Brooklyn, New York
With great difficulty!
P.S. – We’ve just noticed something… unlike many other collections of letters in different mags, our fans all seem to write well, and intelligently. We assume this denotes that our readers are a cut above average, and that’s the way we like ’em!
Then he laid claim to the innovation of squabbling teammates (easy since none of his readers are old enough to have experienced the Newsboy Legion). Throw in the suggestion that it will take intelligent readers to appreciate it…
Fantastic Four #4 LOC page, May 1962
Are you kidding?? What kind of super-characters are these? They’re always fighting among themselves! They have the same jealousies and personality clashes as real people! Have you flipped your lids?? Do you think comic mag readers are intelligent enough to appreciate all that good writing jazz?? If you want my opinion – you’re darn right!
S. Goldberg, Forest Hills, New York
Too many letter writers seemed to wonder if maybe Kirby was doing the writing, so let’s institute those credits, not to be forthright regarding the breakdown of work, but to have Lee on record as writer.
Hulk #5 LOC page, January 1963
Regarding the art work, Lee, here’s what happened. Jack Kirby draws the strips in pencil and Dick Ayers usually inks them. But Dick was busy inking another strip at the same time as the second ish of the HULK came due, so Steve Ditko helped out by inking that one. To save any future confusion, you have probably noticed that we are starting to name the writer, the artist, and inker (when there IS a separate inker) of all our feature strips from now on. Hope you fans like the idea.
Fantastic Four #11 LOC page, February 1963
Dear Stan and Jack:
Do you mind telling us who wrote the story for FF #8? It was probably the greatest one we’ve ever seen.
James Barnhill & Larry Berry
Thanks, guys. But you must be the only two readers left who don’t know that Stan Lee writes the stories and Jack Kirby draws them.
The mastermind behind the Marvel Method, which he established to keep his stable of “artists” busy, hasn’t received the next issue’s pages yet from Kirby… Oops, I mean hasn’t thought up a plot for the next issue.
Fantastic Four #23 LOC page, February 1964
Can we level with you? We can’t tell you what the next FF will be because we haven’t decided on a plot yet. So we won’t say “Don’t miss the greatest, most thrilling, etc. etc.” All we’ll say is – we’ve got to dream up a story in the next couple of days, and have it drawn pronto if we wanna make out deadline! So to find out if we succeeded, and how well we succeeded, don’t miss FF #24, on sale around the beginning of December.
Avengers #5 LOC page, May 1964
That’s it for this ish! See you when we present AVENGERS #6! Can’t tell you what the plot is because it’s loaded with surprises, but with Stan writing it, and Jack drawing it, we sort of suspect it will be worth watching for!
Wood begins plotting Daredevil with #5, and Lee gives battle, attacking Wood on the letters page. First he lays the groundwork for explaining any confusion that arises because the copy writer doesn’t understand the plot…
Daredevil #6 LOC page, February 1965
Now before we close, one of the guys in the bullpen gave Stan an idea for a new D.D. story. The plot is so complicated, so off-beat, so utterly impossible to make any sense out of, that Stan immediately decided to adapt it for a script! So, if you want to see either the greatest magazine saga of the century, or the biggest fizzle Marvel’s ever come up with, don’t miss D.D. #7!
Wood quits writing for free, and Lee slags him to the readers. At the same time, he appeals to the audience for insight into understanding Wood’s plots.
Daredevil #10 LOC page, October 1965
Well, if you’ve ever seen a more complicated, mixed-up, madcap mystery yarn than this one, you’ve got US beat a mile! And now, here’s the payoff—Wonderful Wally decided he doesn’t have time to write the conclusion next ish, and he’s forgotten most of the answers we’ll be needing! So, Sorrowful Stan has inherited the job of tying the whole yarn together and finding a way to make it all come out in the wash! And you think you’ve got troubles!
Daredevil #11 LOC page, December 1965
Well, that finally wraps that up! If you understand what these last two ishes were all about, clue us in sometime!
His appeal is answered… a young reader comes to the rescue. Huh, the “writer” doesn’t even remember leaving that clue. To top it off, let’s get one last dig at Wood.
Daredevil #12 LOC page, January 1966
Dear Stan, [it had been “Dear Stan and Wally” up to #10]
If Mr. Jonas isn’t the Organizer, I’ll eat this issue of DAREDEVIL.
It’s a funny thing, Dave—literally hundreds of our fantastic fans discovered the Organizer’s identity—but you’re the only one so far who figured it out because Jonas introduced Deb! We didn’t even realize we had left that particular clue in the yarn! So, we’re printing your letter first, because you did it the hard way, lad!
Glad you liked Wally’s story, but we’ll let you in on a little secret—Stan the Man couldn’t keep his hands off the script, and when Our Leader got through editing it, about the only thing left that Wally himself had written was his name!
It’s not about the credit, it’s about the money.
Daredevil #8 LOC page, June 1965
Credit! Credit! Everyone’s always giving us credit! When’s someone going to ante up a little cash around here?
When Perfect Film & Chemical needed Lee to provide a narrative minimizing Kirby’s involvement in property creation, the elaborate groundwork was already in place. He had prepped the “witnesses,” Bails, Goldberg, Lieber, Thomas and Romita among others: they thought they were attesting to the accuracy of his accounts with their second-hand knowledge, but the great American novel they were endorsing was What Stan Said. Lee’s original motivation for building a parallel history had been his need to rationalize the writing credit and accompanying pay, but in the end, just a single critical detail needed to be added for it to perfectly suit the company’s purposes: the claim of “my idea.”
The artist who created…
From books on how to draw “the Marvel way” to court documents sporting shoddy research by judges to a CNN blog trumpeting a book by his daughter, Stan Lee is known as “the artist who created…” followed by a list of Marvel’s most precious properties. In “Digging Ditko, Part 3,” 52 Stephen Bissette drew a comparison between Marvel and the Disney of Richard Schickel’s The Disney Version. Here’s a bit from page 33 of Schickel’s book: 53
Among unsophisticated people there was a common misapprehension that Disney continued to draw at least the important sequences in his animated films, his comic strips, his illustrated books. Although his studio often stressed in its publicity the numbers of people it employed and the beauties of their teamwork, some very unsophisticated people thought he did everything himself—an interesting example of the persistence of a particularly treasured illusion and of the corporation’s ability to keep it alive even while denying it.
These days, Disney similarly keeps the Tale of Stan Lee alive. In Lee’s case they don’t take the trouble to deny it.
Articles in this series:
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part one
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two (you are here!)
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three
Repetition of citations allows linking back to individual quotes.
back 1 Flo Steinberg interviewed by Michael Kraiger, The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 2 Flo Steinberg interviewed by Jim Salicrup and Dwight Jon Zimmerman, Comics Interview #17, November 1984.
back 3 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 4 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.
back 5 John Romita interviewed by Tom Spurgeon, “Spider-Man At 50 Part Four: A John Romita Sr. Interview From 2002,” The Comics Reporter, 10 August 2012.
back 6 John Romita deposition, 21 October 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 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.
back 7 Nat Freedland, “Super-Heroes with Super Problems,” New York Herald Tribune, 9 January 1966. Reprinted in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 8 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 9 Steve Sherman, by email, 25 February 2015.
back 10 Robert Knight’s Earthwatch, Jack Kirby radio interview conducted by Warren Reece and Max Schmid, WBAI New York, 28 August 1987. Transcript posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.
back 11 Nat Freedland, “Super-Heroes with Super Problems,” New York Herald Tribune,9 January 1966. Reprinted in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 12 Bob Sheridan, “Rambling with Romita,” Web Spinner #5, 1966.
back 13 Roy Thomas & Jim Amash, John Romita… And All That Jazz!, TwoMorrows Publishing, July 2007.
back 14 In Marvel’s first published Statements of Ownership (Spider-Man #47 and Fantastic Four #61, April 1967), filed on 1 October 1966, Spider-Man had an average total paid circulation of 340,155 for the 12 months preceding the filing, and 362,760 for the single issue nearest the filing date. Fantastic Four had an average total paid circulation of 329,379 for the same period, and 361,460 for the single issue nearest the filing date. John Jackson Miller, Curator of ComiChron, said this in a 7 April 2015 email: “I would tend to suspect the numbers would have probably reflected September-ship to August-ship books, or even August-to-July. That would work out to December 1965-to-November 1966 cover dates, or November-to-October.” Steve Ditko’s last issue had the July 1966 cover date, meaning John Romita was responsible for the last three to four issues, and Ditko was responsible for two-thirds to three-quarters of the average. The numbers for “single issue nearest filing date” show that Fantastic Four had closed the gap substantially by the end of the twelve issues tallied.
back 15 Neal Adams interviewed by Arlen Schumer, Comic Book Artist #3, Winter 1999.
back 16 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.
back 17 Larry Lieber deposition, 7 January 2011, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 4.
back 18 Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby Fan Group Facebook Group, 12 August 2013.
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 Barry Pearl, “The Yancy Street Gang visits Dick & Lindy Ayers,” Alter Ego #90, December 2009.
back 21 Stan Taylor, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 6 November 1999.
back 22 Steve Ditko, “Creative Crediting,” The Avenging Mind, April 2008.
back 23 Shop Talk, Jack Kirby interviewed by Will Eisner, Will Eisner‘s Spirit Magazine 39, July 1982.
back 24 Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History: Wind-up,” The Comics, v14n11, November 2003.
back 25 Steve Ditko, letter to the editor, Comic Book Marketplace #63, October 1998.
back 26 Steve Skeates, “drawing straws, the raw truth…,” Wood-L (Internet mailing list), 15 October 1999.
back 27 Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away,” The Avenging Mind, April 2008.
back 28 Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History 13: Speculation,” The Comics, v14n8, August 2003.
back 29 Steve Sherman, 1975, The Jack Kirby Collector #8, January 1996. (Originally presented in the 1975 Comic Art Convention program book.)
back 30 Mike Gartland, “A Failure to Communicate: Part 6, The Best Laid (Out) Plans…” The Jack Kirby Collector #29, August 2000. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.
back 31 John Romita interviewed by Jon Cooke, Comic Book Artist #6, Fall 1999.
back 32 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 33 John Romita deposition, 21 October 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 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.
back 34 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.
back 35 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.
back 36 Mark Evanier’s unpublished interview with Wallace Wood, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997.
back 37 John Romita deposition, 21 October 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 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.
back 38 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.
back 39 Mark Alexander, “The Wonder Years,” The Jack Kirby Collector 58, December 2011.
back 40 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 41 Tom Crippen, “Stan,” The Hooded Utilitarian, 30 September 2008 (originally ran in The Comics Journal, February 2008).
back 42 Mike Gartland, “A Failure to Communicate: Part 7, How could he not know?” The Jack Kirby Collector #36, Summer 2002. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.
back 43 Mark Evanier, Kirby: King of Comics, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, NY, 2008.
back 44 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.
back 45 “Auntie Goose Rhymes,” written by Roy Thomas, drawn by John Verpoorten, Not Brand Ecch #11, December 1968.
back 46 Steve Ditko, “Essay #45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel,” The Four-Page Series #9, September 2015. Published and © by Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko.
back 47 John Romita deposition, 21 October 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 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.
back 48 John Romita interviewed by Jon Cooke, Comic Book Artist #6, Fall 1999.
back 49 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
back 50 Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974.
back 51 Stan Lee, “How I Invented Spider-Man,” Quest Magazine, July/August 1977.
back 52 Stephen Bissette, “Digging Ditko, Part 3,” SRBissette.com, September 14th, 2012.
back 53 Richard Schickel, The Disney Version, Elephant Paperbacks, © 1968, 1985, 1997.