The Great American
                Novel Act 1:
                the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1:
                the new danger

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby: who did what?

Answer: they each created the whole thing. On their own. It depends on how you define the question.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were the first and greatest creators of the Fantastic Four.

time line

For much of the early run, Jack Kirby did most of the work and Stan Lee simply added dialog to his stories. But who created the first issue?

The controversy

The early Fantastic Four said "written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby." Simple, eh? In "Origins of Marvel Comics" and other interviews, Stan Lee indicates that he came up with the ideas and Jack Kirby merely drew them. But there are several big problems here:

Jack Kirby was only paid as an artist, but he felt he should be paid more because he also contributed story ideas. He believed he had been promised payment and it never came, so he finally left Marvel. Years later, in the 1980s, Jack was fighting to get his original art back from Marvel, and the two sides became polarized. Some fans felt that clearly Stan did everything. Others felt that he had taken credit for Kirby's work. Still others felt that their contribution was equal. The battle rages to this day. So who is right?

The case against Stan Lee

Some people argue that Jack Kirby created everything. These quotes were assembled by Patrick Ford (see the comments section in the link):

Stan Goldberg:
” Stan would drive me home and we’d plot our stories in the car. I’d say to Stan,”How’s this? Millie loses her job.” He’d say,”Great! Give me 25 pages.” And that took him off the hook. One time I was in Stan’s office and I told him, “I don’t have another plot.” Stan got out of his chair and 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 down in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.”
[interviewer: ” Sounds like you were doing most of the writing then.”]
“Well, I was.”One time I was in Stan’s office and I told him, “I don’t have another plot.” Stan got out of his chair and 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 down in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.”

For contrast, Goldberg said this about Kirby:
“Jack would sit there at lunch, and tell us these great ideas about what he was going to do next. It was like the ideas were bursting from every pore of his body. It was very interesting because he was a fountain of ideas. One day Jack came in and had this 20-page story and proceeded to tell us he was having his house and studio painted. I asked, “Where did you draw the story?” Jack said,”I put my board on the stair banister, and drew it.”

Steve Ditko (letter to Comic Book Marketplace magazine published in issue #63)

"The fact is we had no story or idea discussion about 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."

The legendary artist Wally Wood goes even further:

Did I say Stanley had no smarts? Well, he DID come up with two sure fire ideas… the first one was “Why not let the artists WRITE the stories as well as draw them?”… And the second was … ALWAYS SIGN YOUR NAME ON TOP …BIG”. And the rest is history … Stanley, of course became rich and famous … over the bodies of people like Bill [Everett] and Jack [Kirby]. Bill, who had created the character that had made his father rich wound up COLORING and doing odd jobs.

Gil Kane's opinion of Stan Lee is apparently similar.

"On each page, from 1964 – 1970 next to every single panel Jack wrote extensive margin notes explaining to Lee what was taking place in the story. It took Jack about 2 weeks do do a single story, it may have taken Lee as little as 4 hours to add text to Jack’s art." (source)

The case against Jack Kirby

Some people claim that Jack Kirby's claim to have written everything could not be true, principally for three reasons:

  1. Kirby claimed to have created pretty much everything. Critics point out that the original script for Fantastic Four 1 still exists, and it's by Stan Lee.
  2. Kirby also claimed to create Spider-Man, but most people believe Spider-man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
  3. Kirby's description of how he came to join Marvel has been questioned.

Those claims will be examined in depth on this page.

The two accounts do not necessarily contradict each other.

Kirby arrived in late 1958, but the FF did not arrive until early 1961. Kirby only made the comics Lee told him to, because Kirby did not have the authority to start a new comic on his own. Stan Lee's account is that his publisher (Martin Goodman) told him to make a superhero team, and Stan decided it should be realistic. This is very likely: Stan had always wanted to be in Hollywood and considered comics to be silly. But Stan's version glosses over how "make a realistic comic book" translated into the exact details of the Fantastic Four. The usual pattern in creating a comic was this:

  1. Martin Goodman notices that something makes money, so tells Stan Lee "do that."
  2. Stan then has a meeting with Kirby and says "this is what we need." They discuss ideas.
  3. Kirby then comes up with the characters, the plots, and the art.
  4. Lee then adds dialog.

In the early days the initial discussion between Lee and Kirby might be half and hour or more. But as Lee it became busier the meeting became shorter, until Lee would say something like "bring back Doctor Doom" and Kirby would to the rest, then hand back the story with notes for Lee to add dialog.

How Kirby joined Marvel in 1958

Wikipedia sums up how Kirby joined Marvel:

"[Kirby] recalled that in late 1958,

I came in [to the Marvel offices] and they were moving out the furniture, they were taking desks out — and I needed the work! ... Stan Lee is sitting on a chair crying. He didn't know what to do, he's sitting on a chair crying — he was still just out of his adolescence [Note: Lee, born Dec. 28, 1922, would actually have been about 36.] I told him to stop crying. I says, 'Go in to Martin and tell him to stop moving the furniture out, and I'll see that the books make money'.

The interviewer, The Comics Journal publisher Gary Groth, later wrote of this interview in general, 'Some of Kirby's more extreme statements ... should be taken with a grain of salt....' Lee, specifically asked about the office-closing anecdote, said,

I never remember being there when people were moving out the furniture. If they ever moved the furniture, they did it during the weekend when everybody was home. Jack tended toward hyperbole, just like the time he was quoted as saying that he came in and I was crying and I said, 'Please save the company!' I'm not a crier and I would never have said that. I was very happy that Jack was there and I loved working with him, but I never cried to him. (laughs)"

Were they moving out the furniture?

The furniture anecdote was told decades later. At other times Kirby said it like this:

“Marvel was on its ass, literally, and when I came around, they were practically hauling out the furniture,” Kirby said. “They were beginning to move, and Stan Lee was sitting there crying. I told them to hold everything, and I pledged that I would give them the kind of books that would up their sales and keep them in business.” (Sean Howe, "Marvel the Untold Story," prologue)

Note the word "practically" and the context "they were beginning to move." The Wikipedia article on Atlas comics (Marvel's name at the time) noted that Kirby's first work was to freelance "on five issues cover-dated December 1956 and February 1957" but he did not do other work until he was formally hired in 1958, then his first published work was cover dated December 1958. Between those times the company lost its distributor and so its output crashed. The article quotes Stan Lee:

"[We had been] turning out 40, 50, 60 books a month, maybe more, and [now] the only company we could get to distribute our books was our closest rival, National [DC] Comics. Suddenly we went ... to either eight or 12 books a month, which was all Independent News Distributors would accept from us"

This led to many lay offs. The article quotes Joe Sinnott:

"Stan called me and said, 'Joe, Martin Goodman told me to suspend operations because I have all this artwork in house and have to use it up before I can hire you again.' It turned out to be six months, in my case. He may have called back some of the other artists later, but that's what happened with me.

So they went from needing enough people for sixty titles a month to needing nobody for a while, then needing a much smaller staff. Obviously fewer desks were needed, so Kirby was right about this general period: yes, they were moving out furniture.

Did Stan Lee cry?

Stan Lee was known to take it personally when he had to bring bad news to staff. He genuinely cared, and felt it deeply when bad things happened, as recorded in Howe's "Marvel the Untold Story" and various interviews. And one man's depressed sniffle is another man's "crying." So this may be just shorthand for how Stan was obviously feeling at the time.

In short, Kirby does not contradict Lee in any serious way. It's all a matter of interpretation.

Who created Spider-Man?

Kirby's credibility depends on Spider-Man. Kirby once added Spider-man to the list of characters he created, and this has been used as proof that Kirby exaggerated, because "everybody knows" that Spider-man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Well yes, but in the 1970s "everybody knew" that Stan Lee created Spider-Man mostly on his own. What "everybody knows" can be wrong: the argument from "everybody knows" is a classic logical fallacy, "argumentum ad populem". We need to avoid fallacies and look for evidence instead.

The question "who created" depends on how we define the word "created." Does it mean "who had the initial idea", or "who added the details", or "who made an idea popular"? Those are three different questions. Similarly "who wrote a story" can mean different things. Does it mean "who had the plot idea" or "who broke it down into a detailed story" or "who added the dialog"?

With that in mind, let's look at how Spider-man was created and where Kirby was probably involved. Here is the order of events, according to Wikipedia plus the exhaustive article by Stan Taylor.

  1. In 1954 Kirby and Joe Simon (mainly Simon) developed the Silver Spider, but did not use him. It featured an orphaned boy living with an old couple finds a magic ring that granted him extra strength, including the ability to leap.
  2. Their publisher then suggested some changes: "a tall thin wiry person with long legs and arms." and he "could accomplish great acrobatic tricks, an almost flight, by use of silken ropes that would enable him to swing ala Tarzan, or a Batman.   The silken threads that the spider would use might come from a special liquid, from some part of his costume that would become silken threads in much the same way as the spider insect.  These threads would also be used in making of a web, which could also be used as a net."
  3. "Simon had rejected a working title 'Spider-man' for his Silver Spider project, and showed a logo to Kirby, leaving little doubt as to which of the three people involved with Spider-Man would have been the source for the name." Eventually the Silver Spider idea was shelved, never used.
  4. In 1957 Kirby drew the story "The Ant Extract" in which a meek scientist discovers a serum that gives him the proportional strength of an ant.  Because of his new power, the scientist is feared and ostracized by authorities."
  5. In the late 1950s Kirby proposed a strip called "Chip Hardy" - a college freshman on a science scholarship. "Moose Mulligan, the campus jock, teased young Chip about why he didn't try out for football, instead of 'hiding behind a mess of test tubes'.  Other students followed suit and mocked the youngster, labeling all science majors as "squares". Eventually, this taunting escalated into a physical confrontation between Moose and Hardy, with young Chip getting the better of it, mimicking exactly the character template and early relationship between Peter Parker, Flash Thompson, and the other school mates."
  6. At the same time Kirby created a character for another strip named 'Peter Parr'.
  7. In 1959 Kirby and Simon created the Fly, who clings to walls, senses danger, and is super strong (he could also fly). "The first use of his powers is to bring to justice, a petty crook that had assaulted his guardian."
    "Contrary to what Lee wrote in Origins of Marvel Comics, the real reason Kirby's version of Spider-Man was rejected was not that his Spidey looked 'too heroic' but that, as Ditko pointed out to Lee after perusing Kirby's first few pages, it too closely resembled The Fly, a character co-created by Kirby and his previous partner, Joe Simon (and the Fly was originally the Silver Spider)." - Fred W. Hill
  8. The Fly issue 1 had an enemy called "Spider Spry" with thin legs and a bulbous head, who "walks up thin silken lines, traps the Fly in a web-like net, and wears a colorful costume complete with a spider icon."  
  9. In 1958 a Charlton comic that Ditko either drew or was familiar with had webbing patterns like on Spider-Man's costume. So was it all Ditko? Probably the webbing was. Spider-man's spider image on the back does not look like the one on the front, and looks more like a tick than a spider. Just like the emblem on Spider Spry.
  10. In 1959 Kirby also created "Lancelot Strong, aka The Shield, is an orphaned high school senior, and like Peter Parker, his surrogate parents were gentle, compassionate, and supportive.  His powers were the result of a scientific experiment, in this case, genetic engineering." "While rushing off to test his new-found powers against a rampaging alien monster, The Shield, (Lancelot Strong), in his teen exuberance, ignores and leaves his best friend Spud in harms way.   After defeating the brute, the Shield returns to celebrate his triumph only to learn that the monster has killed Spud. The distraught Shield blames himself, and vows that it will never happen again."
  11. In 1961 Kirby draw "I Dared to Battle the Crawling Monster" It was possibly dialogged by Larry Lieber (not his brother Stan Lee).  "The hero is a high school student, a skinny, dorky, academic sort, laughed at by the jocks for his lack of athletic ability, and taunted by the girls.  Typically, by the end of the story, it is the bookworm, not the jock who saves the world.  Even the visuals of the lead character strongly resemble the Peter Parker character as shown in AF#15."
  12. Neither Stan Lee nor Steve Ditko had anything like these.
  13. In 1963 Goodman asked Stan Lee for a new superhero. Lee had a meeting with to Kirby. Kirby showed the Spider character to Lee, who liked it.
  14. Goodman approves the name and "ordinary teen" concept
  15. Kirby then drew the first six pages, and Ditko was going to ink it. Lee decided it looked too heroic, and asked Ditko to re-do it.
  16. Ditko says he only saw five pages from Kirby: they did not show Spider-man after the transformation.
  17. At some point either someone said to drop the magic ring element. The Kirby art that Ditko saw did not include the transformation so nobody knows who said this.
  18. Lee did not like Ditko's cover, so got Kirby to pencil it.
  19. Lee is definitely responsible for one thing: the dialog that's filled with self doubt. Self doubt was a Stan Lee thing, not a Kirby thing.
  20. The first three issues (Amazing Fantasy 15, and Amazing Spider-man 1 and 2) are full of elements from Kirby stories (see the Stan Taylor article) and typical Kirby elements like spaceships and aliens. The stories then settle down to the kind of cerebral plots that Lee and Ditko used to do on their own.
  21. Lee and Ditko then did the rest up to issue 38. Toward the end Ditko did not speak to Lee at all, but delivered the pages ready for dialog. This is important. Nobody disagrees that after issue 1 Spider-man's is Steve Ditko's baby. The character changed and evolved. Ditko was a creative genius. Spider-man 1 to 36 is a tremendous story in its own right, with a beginning, middle and end (for his last two issues Ditko seemed to just "phone it in" as they say.) But "who created Spider-man" is a different question, a very narrow question about who got him to the first issue.
  22. Ditko later claimed to have designed the iconic costume. But the official Marvel publication FOOM (issue 11, 1975) said it was Kirby. It was normal for Kirby to create character designs for other artists.
  23. Ditko's memory can be unreliable, just as anyone's can. He says he gave Spider-man soft soled shoes for climbing, and others have claimed that Kirby always used full boots. But issues 1-3 of Spider-man show him with hard soled shoes. Meanwhile Kirby did not give hard shoes to his climbing characters (e.g. Spider Spry, Toad, Cobra, the Beast).
  24. During this time Kirby's costumes tended to have belts and shorts. Ditko's costumes (e.g. Captain Atom, Vulture, Mysterio, Kraven) tended not to have either. Spider-man has a belt (it's where he kept spare webbing) but not shorts, so this is inconclusive.
  25. A key claim is the full face mask that Ditko says he chose to hide the fact that Spider-man was young. But many of Kirby's characters had full masks (from his first ever character, the Lone Rider, through to Iron Man, Dr Doom, Mr Miracle, etc.) so this is not conclusive either, though Ditko has no reason to lie.
  26. In 1968 (long before the issue of who created what became a hot topic) Kirby mentioned that he created the pre-Marvel Vision's costume with big white eyes, "the fore-runner of the Spider-man and silver surfer eyes", perhaps implying that he created all three. We know for certain he created the other two.
  27. In 1976 the law on work for hire changed, so suddenly Kirby was able to sue if it could be proven that he created the characters. If he won, Marvel would have to pay millions of dollars (today, billions) in royalties owed.
  28. Jim Shooter says he saw Kirby's costume proposal in the 1970s, but since then it mysteriously disappeared.
  29. In 1977 Stan Lee published an article entitled "How I created Spider-Man".

This raises some questions:

  1. Was the costume the key? The genius move was to make it simple, and covering everything. Just as Kirby did with the Black Panther or Black Bolt or... the Fantastic Four (apart from the hoods). The Panther's mouth was only covered at the inking stage: with Ditko as the inker perhaps the same would have happened.
  2. Was self doubt the key? This is just one aspect of the character, and perhaps the only unique thing Lee added.
  3. Can Kirby not do teen stories? He and Simon invented the romance genre, and some of his best work is about his boyhood on the streets. Yes, he can draw teens.
  4. Was Ditko's skinny style essential? No, Kirby did the first two covers, and after 38 issues of Ditko, John Romita took over, made Spider-man look more like a Kirby hero, and sales went up.

Jim Shooter on the Kirby Spider-Man costume

"RE:  Kirby Spider-Man pages: I saw, and held in my hand, exactly one such 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 he 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."

P.S.  I must have seen that page when I was in Sol's office and he was going through the rejects stack looking for pages for me to try inking.  I don't think I ever got to look through those pages again.

P.P.S.  Years later, 1986, I had occasion to talk with Jack at the San Diego Con. He insisted that he created Spider-Man. I told him that I'd spoken to Steve Ditko, Sol, and other people who were there at the time, including Stan, obviously, and that they all agreed that Steve's version was the one that was used, though Jack did his version first. I reported everything I'd seen and heard. We talked about the costume -- the bib and belt combo, the stripes down the arms, the mask, the symbols, a very Ditko-esque design. Jack was having some problems with his memory by then, but he thought about it for a minute, then said that maybe Steve should get the credit. He'd be okay with that. A little later, he was onstage and clearly had forgotten our conversation. He and Roz did, however, come to Marvel's 25th Anniversary Party that evening, which made me very happy. There's a story about that, too, but it will wait for another time."

Steve Ditko on who created Spider-Man (link may not work properly, but happy Googling - it's out there somewhere, or you can always buy the book in the link)

Critics of Kirby's claim make two other points

  1. Why did Kirby not claim "I created Spider-Man" until he came into dispute with Marvel? Because it was not relevant. Most people were only interested in the characters he actually drew, and in any dispute they were the obvious place to start.
  2. Why did Kirby have trouble with Spider-Man's costume? So did Ditko, changing the web pattern from frame to frame. Kirby was a penciller, not an inker, so did not bother with some details. Also, he very seldom drew Spider-Man and when he did he tried to mimic Ditko's style. Kirby's own characters varied from frame to frame and issue to issue - just compare the robot in FF7, or compare the Watcher or Galactus in different frames and different issues.

In conclusion, Steve Ditko provided:

  1. Most of the costume, probably including the web pattern, lack of shorts, the front spider, and the idea to cover the whole face, not just part of it.
  2. Everything after Amazing Spider-man issue 2. But that is a different topic: this page is about the narrow technical point of whether Kirby created the initial character.

Stan Lee provided

  1. The self-doubting dialog
Jack Kirby provided
  1. the name
  2. the powers
  3. the set up
  4. the characterization
  5. the rest of the costume
  6. the first plots
  7. the first art

So on balance, yes, Kirby created Spider-Man as well. So Kirby was a reliable witness on key claims.

The evidence that Kirby created the Fantastic Four is even more compelling. I would argue that the FF is eighty percent Jack Kirby. But the 20 percent from Stan Lee, mainly the dialog, is what makes it accessible. Kirby is like a god, and Stan Lee adds the humanity. Crucially, Stan Lee also made the business work. This is not a minor thing: Kirby tried to do this with Joe Simon, and failed. Stan Lee is the genius who created 80 percent of the comics business. The rest would be his genius boss Martin Goodman: a ruthless and sometimes deceptive businessman, yes, but without him none of this would exist.

Lee created Marvel Comics.
Kirby created Marvel comics.

In conclusion, Stan Lee was the genius who created most of Marvel Comics: the industry, the billion dollars of brand value, the fact that you and I have even heard of the Fantastic Four and can relate to them. That's all Stan. Without him it would just be one more forgotten indie business, full of talented people who make no money and only historians know about them.

It is equally true that that Jack Kirby was the genius who created most of Marvel comics (small "c", the printed stories).

Stan Lee, big "C". Jack Kirby, small "c". Simple.

How FF 1 was created

Mark Andrew makes an argument that I find compelling: FF issue 1 was two new stories added to an existing (unused) monster comic story. 

Here is his evidence, plus some of my own:

the original FF1?

The conclusion is obvious: when they designed FF1, Lee saved some time: the intro is new, the origin is new, and he got Jack to adapt an existing 8 page monster story into a 12 page first adventure.

Add up the pages: 8 pages for the intro, 5 pages for the origin plus 4 pages added to the monster story, and the original 8 page monster story: Stan got a 3 story book by taking 1 old story and adding 2 more.

This isn't proof, but I find it compelling.

Who plotted the Mole Man story?

The excellent Baxter Building podcast points out that the ending makes no sense (without a lot of interpretation). How could they trap the Mole Man underground? He had monsters who can dig through solid rock! but take the dialog away and you see a completely different story:

It seems clear that the original story had the Torch do something that caused an explosion. The podcast sees this as evidence that Stan changed the story: Jack Kirby drew a story where the Torch destroys the island, and Stan changed it to make the team look less violent. The "Marvel Method" was Stan's normal method when dealing with an artist who could plot: see the earlier notes.

The synopsis to FF 1

The written synopsis to issue 1 still exists. it's very brief, just 2 pages in the copy that is printed in FF358, and 4 pages in the copy printed here. This synopsis is sometimes used as proof that Stan Lee came up with all the ideas.

synopsis 2

The synopsis was written after the initial discussion

Stan Lee talked with Jack Kirby about the Fantastic Four before this summary was produced. According to Mark Evanier, Kirby's long time assistant:

"It [FF issue 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."

Stan himself said in Origins of Marvel Comics,

"After kicking it around with Martin and Jack for a while, i decided to call our quaint quartet The Fantastic Four.  I wrote a detailed first synopsis for Jack to follow, and the rest is history." (emphasis added)

Steve Sherman, assistant and friend to Jack Kirby, wrote that "I asked Jack about that synopsis. He told me that it was written way after FF #1 was published. I believe him." It is possible that Jack said that simply because he never saw the synopsis: it may have been just Stan's recollection of their story conference, written up for reference and then filed away. Basically, a kind of informal minutes of a meeting. It's standard practice to type up summaries for meetings, in case disagreements arise. But most people at a meeting never read the minutes.

The synopsis only covers the origin, not the whole book, and that origin sounds a lot like Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown. So what's going on here? We need a closer look.

A closer look


The above synopsis is a re-typed copy. See the XXXs: originally those had words underneath. Stan typed Xs to delete a word. But this version only has the Xs. Another version has no XXXs at all. So neither is the original. I have seeen a third that claims to be the original, but none of them were public until the 1980s, over 20 years after FF1 appeared. Roy Thomas, (in his book "The Stan Lee Universe") mentions seeing the synopsis in "the late 1960s." It must have been 1968 or 1969, as Roy said the cover price had just gone up to 15c and he wondered if Stan was calling him to talk about another price rise. But Stan instead showed him this synopsis he had just found. Stan said he did not keep his other typed instructions, and it was pure luck that this one survived. In the book Roy also refers to one other early script (for issue 8). Like this first one it was not a script in the usual sense. 

"I remember seeing that synopsis (to FF 8) in Jerry Bails’s house when I came to Detroit to visit him. I said, 'This is a script?!?! You just give the artist some sort of synopsis and then the guy goes off and draws it and then he adds balloons? What a crazy way to do comics!' Now of course I think the fact that they’re not done that way anymore is one of the things that’s wrong with comics." - Roy Thomas

Apparently none of these early synopses survive, despite the hundred of comics written in the early 1960s, and the interest of fans such as Roy Thomas and Jerry Bails. Presumably "scripts" were very sparse, if they were written at all.


Much of the synopsis contradicts the final version. For example, about Sue being permanently invisible, Johnny not throwing fireballs, Reed feeling pain when he stretches, and the emphasis on the Ben-Reed-Sue love triangle.

Similarity to Challengers of the Unknown

Many have noted the similarity to Jack's earlier comic for DC, Challengers of the Unknown: a s similar origin, four friends who roughly represent the four elements, etc. The Challengers even got super powers in issue 5, including one like the Human Torch.

Three references to Mars

Fantastic Four 1 was planned for July 1961 (though cover dated November: that was normal at the time). This means it would be planned in April, the exact same month that the Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. But it was inspired by the success of Justice League, which first went on sale cover date March 1960. So they were thinking about superheroes before April, and from April the space race suddenly hots up. Note the changes between the published issues 1 and 2. Issue 1 is vague about merely going "to the stars" and actually gets no further than the atmosphere. But in issue 2 they refer specifically to Mars. Before April 12th, when the news broke, the fear was just that the Russians would get into space. After April 12th the concern was for the next step: to the Moon, and if the Russians got there quickly, then to Mars. This hints that FF 1 was plotted before April 12th, or certainly before the significance of the news had sunk in over the following weeks. FF 2 was of course written after the Russians "next step: the Moon" was well known. It may be important then that the synopsis mentions Mars three times. It suggests that the synopsis was written after FF was drawn and scripted, but not long enough after for "relax, the Russians are nowhere near the moon yet." This is consistent with the normal course of events: writing a synopsis of a meeting after the meeting.


The tone is verbose, even chatty. He gives reasons for creating ideas. Why give these in a script? Why not just say "make the guy flame on" - why the need to say "here is proof that the ideas are all mine, and this is my reasoning"? If he is just chatty then why not chat about the other parts of the story?

The smoking gun

The "synopsis" only covers the origin. The finished comic is in three roughly equal parts, and the synopsis acknowledges that, but dismisses the first part in a single line and does not outline the final part at all. Even if we go with the theory that this was the original script, with no input from Kirby, that means Kirby wrote two thirds of the book on his own, and the rest was greatly changed from Stan's idea.

Timing and legal implications

At the exact same time the comic was being written and drawn, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. The news broke on April 12th 1961. This was HUGE news. The space race was already hot, but this made it WHITE hot. Stan's "first into space" comic was suddenly topical. This had legal implications, because Stan was planning to slip the book under the radar of his competitors.

Marvel was planning a superhero team, but DC distributed their books (they lost their own distributor in 1957 in the Frederick Wertham anti comics crusade). DC was happy to take their money because Marvel at the time didn't produce any superheroes that might compete for sales with Batman and Superman. Worse, FF 1 looks like Challengers: it might look like Marvel had taken Kirby, formerly a DC artist, and got him to copy his own DC title! The distributors would not be happy. The synopsis seems designed to be insurance against these claims:

This need not be a conscious decision. Stan just had a gut feeling that he should have a written copy. It's a common feeling in any business. It does not require any conspiracy.


The famous synopsis was probably written a few hours (or at most a few weeks) after the initial discussion, but Kirby never read it.

The synopsis is minutes of a meeting, presented after Kirby gave his input.

It only deals with those elements that might cause legal trouble later, and tries to show that DC has no reason to complain. In short, this is not a synopsis, it's a defense against DC.

Years later it became useful in the legal battle against Kirby. Stan searched for it, and found it in 1969 when Kirby was grumbling about deserving more pay. it then became widely published in the 1980s when Kirby was talking about suing Marvel




A Personal note: when monsters collide

So the Fantastic Four was a monster comic. I just realized something else...

My love of the FF is influenced by my early love for monster comics. but they had to be mind expanding - like the FF.

The first comic I ever bought, as a six year old child, was Britain's "Monster Fun", an anthology of mostly comedy monster stories. The only ones I remember had a serious mind expanding message. Like when "Major Jump, Horror Hunter" received an urgent plea for help against giant monsters: he traveled half way round the world in search of these giants but could not find them. In the end he discovered that the warning was from very tiny people under his own feet - the monsters they were hunting were themselves. This could have been an American "weird tales" story. I also remember the tiny people who live under apple trees, and every apple that falls causes an earthquake, so they plan a major engineering project and one day the apple tree is lowered into the ground in front of the shocked farmer. Shades of the Mole Man.

Monster Fun was most famous for the Badtime Bedtime Books, mini comics notable for being better than other comics. Like the FF, the Badtime Books were the country's greatest comic creator deciding to do his best ever work before retiring. Like the FF, it was the first comic (for that publisher) to attract adult fan mail. My favorite Badtime Bedtime books were the weird concept stories, like a Traffic Island, an overgrown island in a traffic roundabout  that was so busy almost nobody could get on or off. It had it's own Ben Gunn in a Treasure Island scenario. Loved that stuff. (And now I'm thinking of parallels between Ben Gunn: lonely, weird looking, the victim of a journey in a ship that went wrong; the rock on which others rely, strong guy with a heart of gold...)

This web site and and my weird take ion the FF is a collision between Monster Fun and the Fantastic Four. It is frightening how you think of yourself has having free will, as being able to create new ideas, but really all your ideas are collisions of random ideas from elsewhere. The Fantastic Four in turn  was a collision between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Stan Lee was a collision between wanting to write movies but having an uncle in the comics business. Movies are a collision between theater and photography. And so it goes on.

Stan, the genius, the founder of the modern industry

The following is by lornelb of the FF forum, and reprinted by permission. Somebody asked why we see so much negativity about Stan Lee among fans.

"The reason you don't find any negative blogs about Kirby is that this whole "Lee vs Kirby" debate arises because of the perception that Lee has somehow cheated Kirby and made himself rich, while Kirby died penniless.

The whole narrative rises from that notion.

Stan is portrayed as the Hollywood Huckster, who had little to no input in the comics that made him rich, beyond "signing his name larger than everyone else's".

Jack is portrayed as the true genius who conceived, drew, and wrote everything with little to show for it at the end of his life. Under those circumstances, there wouldn't be much sense to an anti-Kirby blog.

Even Kirby's stories about coming into the Marvel offices as the furniture was being moved out and Stan crying at his desk, untrue though everyone else has stated them to be, doesn't generate much anti-Kirby sentiment, because he is, by far, the more sympathetic of the two.

Kirby can claim to have written everything and Stan, nothing, and be contradicted by the writers and artist working at Marvel at the time, and still not be vilified, because his creative genius is beyond question.

The way the industry was set up then, the work for hire credo insured that most creative types would have little more than their contracted pay rates to show for their work.

The problem for me is that vilifying Stan for the way the comics industry existed while the two worked together, is completely misguided.

Stan's vision and innovations (including non-innovations like copying EC's style of promoting it's artists) completely changed the comic book publishing industry forever. Without Stan's editorial vision and scripting, the Fantastic Four (nor ANY of the Marvel comic characters that he scripted, including Spider-man) doesn't create the sensation that they did amongst comic book readers.

In a world without Stan, the average comic book reader is an 8-14 year old boy who stops reading comic books when he discovers either girls or porn; the artists who fall into comics would still be largely working under pseudonyms (Check with Jacob Kurtzburg about that [Jack Kirby's real name]); working until their eyesight failed because a lack of medical or financial retirement benefits in an industry that probably wouldn't have lasted past the first huge hikes in paper and ink costs in the early 70s.

There certainly wouldn't be any websites like these, created by educated fans who retained their love of the medium and were confident enough in the attractiveness of the medium that there would exist like minded fans with whom they could communicate.

There are any number of far more talented creative types who have worked in comics than Stan Lee, including Seigel, Shuster, Kane, Kirby, Eisner, Moore and dozens of others. But not one of them can claim to have had as great and far reaching an effect on the medium overall as Stan Lee did. With his innovations to comic book scripting (I think far too little credit is given to Stan for his skill at writing dialogue, which not only included biblical and Shakespearean elements, but included an great ear for being able to distinguish one speaker from another in the same panels) and his vision of a unified, continuous comic book universe, Stan Lee changed the entire industry.

It is also Stan's idea of a unified universe and continuity that created the modern notion of comic book collecting. With the use of the footnote (Something Stan used copiously to reference previous storylines and character appearances), constant references to previous adventures, continued storylines, and cross-overs, Stan created a necessity for readers to retain their prior issues for reference. This was never the case before, where comic book stories mostly, outside of the same characters appearing in the same outfits, were written as if each new story had no connection to any previous storylines. Stan's use of continuity also created the desire in newer readers to find those referenced issues so that they could see what was going on. In this way, Stan pretty much took comic book collecting out of the province of eccentrics and rich Arabian child princes and made it a common practice. From this arose stores dedicated to comic books and back issue mail order companies.

None of the forgoing can be attributed to Steve or Jack. They had been plying their skills in the same manner for some years before the so-called Marvel Age. It wasn't until Stan expanded the EC model of fan inclusion and artist recognition using his own breezy, accessible editorial voice (His detractors call this "hucksterism"), that comic book fandom took off. As a case in point, seven years after Stan and Jack first published FF#1, Jack's name was known to even the most casual of comic book readers. Could the same be said for Graham Engels, or Johnny Craig, two of EC's mainstays?

In the final analysis, Jack will always be seen as the person who was ill-served by the industry and the very Publishing House that he helped promote from a ill-regarded, lowest rate paying, shady publisher having, juvenile delinquent catering cesspool, into a billion dollar industry worthy of being owned by Disney.

But, because Stan managed to help change that perception and also appears to be prospering at the end of his life, doesn't mean that he is the villain of the piece, or even somehow responsible for Jack's circumstances.

Jack was bursting with ideas, but he was also impatient, bitter and distrustful (rightfully so). Jack also knew the nature of the industry he chose to work in. Had Jack been able to hold out against Goodman's "promises" long enough, I believe that, when the company was sold, jack would have found himself in a far better position with respect to the new management. Jack would have been seen as an "asset" to the company's continued goodwill, and probably treated as such. Unfortunately for Jack, by the time he returned to Marvel, he was too bitter, combative and distrustful to allow that to happen.

Meanwhile, everyone is seeing Stan move to California, glad-handing movie stars and living "the life".

Sympathy for Jack and jealousy for Stan leaves us with exactly what we have now; a bunch of people lined up to tell us what a dishonest snake Stan is for prospering while Jack languished.

So now we get a bunch of stories about how Stan took credit for everything while stealing office pencils, from everyone who managed to pass by Stan in the offices, because that's the narrative everyone wants to hear.

I imagine that, upon Stan's passing, some of the acrimony will die down.

More links

These links were recommended by Richard Gagnon. The web being a dynamic thing I can't guarantee that all still work.

Mark Evanier's Jack FAQ (link may be dead, but it's a famous page so should be around somewhere: Evanier is the world authority on Kirby)

Larry Leiber on early Marvel work (short version: says nothing about Stan's method, but Larry Lieber always provided full scripts for Kirby)

Conclusion: what did Stan do?

To summarize, the Fantastic Four could not exist without Stan Lee. Stan organized and promoted and polished it, while Kirby provided most of the ideas and all the art. Lee was the middle management boss (Martin Goodman was the real boss, but he was usually absent). Throughout all history, most people think bosses are overpaid and do not do "real" work. But if being a boss is so easy, why don't artists start their own comics? Kirby (with Joe Simon) tried to run his own comics business and it failed. Also, Stan did improve the comics themselves, and this is crucial: Stan and Jack comics are superior to Stan Lee alone or Jack Kirby alone. Here is a summary of what Stan added:

  1. Easy to read dialog that entertains, draws the reader in, and gives each character a unique voice.
  2. Personal touches to the stories, based on great experience of what sells and what connects with readers.
  3. Plot changes to connect with and interest readers (Stan had read a lot of comics and knew what sold).
  4. Tireless marketing, so the comic sells.
  5. A successful comic company. Stan Lee is also probably the best comics editor in history (according to "Stan Lee and The Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book"). No other comics publisher, and certainly no other Marvel Editor In Chief has achieved so much.
  6. Creative freedom (at least before merchandising provided significant revenue).
  7. He commissioned artists to create new characters and also brought back old characters.
  8. He created the links: the continuity that we call the Marvel Universe. He created the footnotes, encouraging people to buy back issues. This created the back issue industry, which allowed the comics industry to ride out the bad times and increased the profile and earning power of the best talent.
  9. He gave publicity to previously ignored people: inkers, letterers, office workers, etc. Without Stan the artists would still be largely unknown and penniless.
  10. By conquering the media and being so likeable he made comics respectable. Remember that in the 1950s comics were treated as either harmful or kids' stuff. He changed this.
  11. He increased reader loyalty.  The Hucksterism, brand loyalty, freedom to artists and relaxed letters pages came from EC comics and their "usual gang of idiots." The only unique innovation was to link it into one big story, the Marvel Universe. This was thanks to Kirby's characters who were powerful enough to maintain long, complex stories with distinct personalities. But still it was Stan who chose those elements and Stan who connected them. This is no small thing.

The Fantastic Four without Stan Lee would be like Kirby's Fourth World: hard for non fans to follow or connect to, never connecting with no-comics readers, and soon cancelled. Except that Fourth World would never have been created if Stan had not put Kirby's name so prominently, so that DC would offer Kirby freedom to do whatever he wanted. Yes, maybe Stan should have split his writing fees with Kirby. But that process was unheard of. Either way, Stan's vanity was his great weakness. but it was also his great strength: his tireless self promotion built an industry from which all writers and artists benefit.

Stan was not a creative person in terms of art or plot, but he was creative: he created (or re-created) an entire industry.

Every artist, every writer, has a better chance of earning a living, and sometimes a very good living, because of Stan. The heirs to Kirby are the modern artists who have jobs because of Stan. They have heard of Kirby because of Stan. Every artist and writer has a chance of being remembered forever, because of Stan. Millions of adults (rather then just kids) enjoy comics, because of Stan. And I am one of them.

The Great American Novel