Answer: they each created the whole thing. On their own. It
depends on how you define the question.
Stan Lee created Marvel Comics as we know it, and was (and is) a creative genius of the first rank.
Both before and after the early 1960s, Stan Lee was not known for producing great new ideas. Jack Kirby, on the other hand, was always producing big ideas, such as Captain America (co-created with Joe Simon) and the Fourth World series for DC (entirely on his own, immediately after leaving Marvel).
Stan Lee was just too busy to write everything, and would often just deliver the faintest outline for a script. In this letter from 1965 (printed in the book "The Stan Lee Universe") he outlines what became known as "the Marvel method:
Stan would often would just phone in a suggestion and Jack
would do the rest, delivering the pages for dialog to be
added. For example, Stan said something like "this month have
the Fantastic Four fight God" and Jack then created the
Galactus saga, perhaps the greatest comic story ever.
Famously, when Stan first saw the Silver Surfer he asked
"who's this guy?"
"Very often," Lee has said, "I didn't know what the hell [Kirby] was going to give me. I’d get some pages of artwork, and I wrote the copy and turned it into whatever story I wanted it to be ... It was like doing a crossword puzzle. I would try to figure out what the illustrations meant and then I would put in the dialog and captions.” (Source)
Kirby would even add blue pencil notes for dialog. Stan would then add the actual dialog (which often contradicted what Jack wanted, but Jack seldom had time to read the finished comic).
In 1968, the magazine "Castle of Frankenstein" #12 published a Stan Lee interview where he said “Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean I’ll just say to Jack, ‘Let’s let the next villain be Dr. Doom’… or I may not even say that. He may tell me. And then he goes home and does it. He’s so good at plots, I’m sure he’s a thousand times better than I. He just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing… I may tell him that he’s gone too far in one direction or another. Of course, occasionally I’ll give him a plot, but we’re practically both the writers on the things.” (emphasis added) In interviews such as that it seems that when Stan says "writing" he means adding the dialog to the finished art, but when Jack Kirby says "writing" he means deciding what happens from panel to panel, and adding notes in the margins as needed.
Almost everything in the early FF has similarities with other
Jack Kirby creations. In particular, the FF has many parallels
with Challengers of the Unknown, a series Kirby had just
produced for DC. It was about four friends who survived a
plane crash and dedicated their lives to the good of mankind.
Even the suits were the same. Issue 2 featured one of them
crashing in a space ship and gaining various super powers. For
full details see Dial B For
Blog, probably the greatest comic blog ever.
In later years, Kirby stated plainly that he created it all.
Stan openly admits to having a notoriously bad memory, so how
he remembers it may not be as others remember it.
Stan has a powerful motive for claiming credit: copyright law
means that if Kirby created it then he (or his estate) would
now be due hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties. But
Stan is always the consummate company man, so as long as he
claims credit (and takes his million dollar a year salary)
Marvel is legally safe.
Kirby ignored most of what Stan wrote. This is from John Romita Sr: "I heard them plotting in other instances! [laughter] Jack would say, 'Stanley, I think I’ve got an idea. How ’bout this?' Stan would say, 'That’s not bad, Jack, but I’d rather see it this way.' Jack would absolutely forget what Stan said, and Stan would forget what Jack said. [laughter] I would bet my house that Jack never read the books after Stan wrote them; that’s why he could claim with a straight face that Stan never wrote anything except what Jack put in the notes. He was kidding himself; he never read them.
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
Some people argue that Jack Kirby created everything. These
quotes were assembled by Patrick Ford
(see the comments section in the link):
” 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.”
"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
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)
Stan Lee is superb at self promotion. So his name is strongly linked to the characters he worked on. Take Captain America for example. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, yet "Many fans -- and even Lee himself, once -- have erroneously credited Lee with having created the character" (source, emphasis added)
The recent Captain America movie has Stan Lee in the credits, but
there are no references to Simon and Kirby. The movie has a cameo role
for Stan Lee, but not for anyone representing Simon or Kirby. In big
letters the movie calls Cap "The First Avenger", referring to the
characters closely associated with Stan Lee. The movie set features a
shop called "Excelsior Cigars", a reference to Stan's catch phrase. Stan
is often photographed with Captain America imagery, and signing Captain
America comics. And so it goes on.
"I have this really bad habit, though I do it out of love and pride for my grandfather. Whenever I see someone wearing a Captain America t-shirt, I like to first compliment them on their stellar choice, and then I ask, “Do you know who created Captain America?” Answers have varied. Some may say they don’t know, few say Simon and Kirby, and many say Stan Lee." - Megan Margulies, granddaughter of Joe Simon. (source)
This is not new. In 1984 the planned Captain America movie advertised Cap as "Stan Lee's Character". (source)
"1985 March 6: A Cannon Films ad in Variety magazine erroneously credits Stan Lee as the creator of Captain America. The Kirbys’ attorney contacts Marvel Comics about the error." (source)
Thirty years later Marvel Studios still linked Stan Lee to the name
Captain America, without mentioning Simon and Kirby. Prominent fans encouraged a movie boycott.
"Jack Kirby's co-creator credit appears nowhere in the promotion of 'The Avengers.' His fans have expressed outrage over the way his contributions to the movie's very existence are being swept under the rug. Stephen Bissette (co-creator of 'Constantine,' and noted 'Swamp Thing' artist) called for a boycott of Marvel comics and merchandise, while James Sturm, co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, also published an essay explaining his decision to boycott the movie." (source)
Marvel was afraid to admit credit because the Kirby family wanted a share of the profits. But with so much money at stake Marvel finally offered the Kirbys an undisclosed sum to resolve the dispute. So from 2015 Kirby's name will sometimes appears alongside Stan Lee's. But Stan Lee's name and likeness are far more prominent in general publicity. Kirby's supporters still have to be on guard for claims like this:
"Stan Lee did not co-create "Captain America" as is stated in his biography on Comic Con International's website. How can we get this fixed?" (source)
So while Stan does not actively say "I did it" his name is generally the one in the credits. Alan Moore put it bluntly:
"Alan Moore [...] was scathing about Lee, who he accused of falsely claiming responsibility for the creation of Captain America during his panel" (source)
But Stan Lee's dominance of the message is so complete that readers replied that Alan Moore was "full of BS" and "Stan-bashing"
"I don't think I have heard or read anywhere that Stan Lee ever said he created 'Captain America'. [...] I get a bit tired of the Stan-bashing."
"I love Alan Moore's work but dang... He is so full of BS opinions" (source)
Captain America is a clear cut case. Stan had nothing to do with the
character's creation, yet he was the only one credited on screen.
Stan Lee's concept of creation was illustrated (literally!) back in 1947, in his book "Secrets Behind the Comics".
In the book, Stan states that the name on the book is not necessarily the person who actually wrote or drew it:
Stan then showed us who he thought was the real creator behind a strip. He used the example of, you guessed it, Captain America.
It is clear that Stan Lee thought that publisher Martin Goodman was the genius, the only name that mattered. Stan did not even mention Joe Simon or Jack Kirby. Yet Simon and Kirby had already created the character before offering it to Goodman. As long time comic reader Kurt F. Mitchell explains:
"According to Joe Simon's 'My Life in Comics,' he and Jack had created the entire first issue of Captain America before Simon was hired to be Timely's first in-house editor. Had he not been hired just then, Cap might well have wound up at Centaur or Novelty Press and became THEIR million-copies-a-month cash cow instead of Goodman's."
There is no reason to doubt either man on this. Simon and Kirby ran their own comic publishing house and routinely produced new characters. They are among the most prolific comic inventors in history. Goodman in contrast was a magazine publisher, who cared little for comics: he was far more interested in the bigger and more lucrative men's magazine section. Goodman was famous for two things: ruthless business practices (which were the norm back then) and copying trends created by other people. To suggest that he worried about the comics or came up with original comic ideas is, shall we say, an interesting slant on history. Reader "Ish Kabbible" suggests why Simon and Kirby were not mentioned by name.
"By this time . both creators had long left Marvel and in fact might have already been in competition with Marvel as the publishers of Prize Comics. Of course Marvel would not jeopardize their claim over what those two had created for them in the past by giving them credit at this stage of the game. Martin Goodman was well aware of what was going on at that time between DC and Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster."
Siegel and Shuster are relevant to this story: in 1947 they had just
been fired for trying to get the rights to the character they created.
This was the year when Stan Lee published "Secrets Behind the Comics",
which argues that the publisher of a comic (e.g. Martin Goodman) is the
real creator of the characters. Comics historian Jamie Coville gives the
background. Siegel and Shuster sold Superman to DC when they were both
young. They were then both drafted into the war. When they came back
they found that not only was DC making millions from their creation, but
were also making millions from a derivative character, Superboy,
without paying Siegel or Shuster an extra dime. So in 1946 they hired a lawyer.
two of them would also lose their jobs in 1947 because of this legal
battle. [they finally settled oput of court ion 1948]. The two of them
would briefly give comic strips another try with a Funnyman character.
But it wasn't successful. Afterwards Joe Shuster would quit comics
Jerry Siegel and his family were broke, their economic status had gotten so bad that Siegels wife Joanne, visited Jack Liebowitz at DC and told them how bad things were. She asked him 'Do you really want to see in the newspaper-Creator of Superman Starves to Death?' Jack Liebowitz did not, so DC gave Siegel some writing assignments in 1958. At a price, Jerry would receive no credit or special privileges for his work. But sometime in 1964 Jerry made a comment about wanting to be treated better, and he was immediately fired for it." (source)
Stan Lee's view of creation was that the publisher hires the writers and therefore the publisher is the creative force. This seems a long stretch for Martin Goodman, who thought so little of comics that he hired his teenage cousin (Stan Lee: writer at 16, editor at 17)
to run the entire line. But perhaps it was more true of Stan himself?
After all, Stan was intimately involved with every stage of production. This leads us to "The Marvel Method", where an artist would write his own stories, after a discussion with Stan Lee, and Stan would then shape the final dialog. Let's look at The Marvel Method in more detail.
The "Marvel Method" was in place long before Fantastic Four issue 1. This is from "Secrets Behind the Comics", where Stan talks about scripts, and also about artists who like to write:
Note the picture of the script: panels on one side, dialog in the margins. Compare this to the pencils of the Fantastic Four, elsewhere on this page. This is exactly what Jack Kirby produced for Stan Lee, except that instead of describing each picture he drew it. He put the dialog is in the margins, and Stan then approved or changed it. Exactly as Stan describes it.
Later we will look at the story conferences, and the document for FF
issue 1 that Stan called a "synopsis". The synopsis refers to the
meeting between the writer and Stan Lee, whereas the script refers to
the frames and dialog, such as Kirby produced. Now let us look at how
Stan described the life of a writer-artist:
This is exactly how Jack Kirby described the process: Jack had the ideas, then Stan would approve or change them and add his own ideas. But Stan was in overall control. He especially needed to show his control in the case of Jack Kirby, because Kirby had previously created a multi-million dollar idea, then left to work for rivals. Besides, Stan Lee was genuinely better at dialog than Jack was. So when Stan changed Jack's dialog he usually improved the result.
This is not to say that Stan never wrote scripts. Stan wrote a lot of scripts! A lot of artists didn't want to do plotting, or weren't good at it. At these times Stan wrote a full script, and al the ideas are his. For a comparison of Stan's scripts and Jack's scripts click here.
Stan's book mentioned that a writer-artist always discussed the story synopsis first. What were these meetings like? How detailed was he discussion?
We have seen that later story conferences were often nothing more than Kirby telling Lee what he planned. But everything hinges on the early story conferences. Is that where Stan provided the key ideas? We only have one direct eye witness account of a full story conference (Flo Steinberg reports hearing them in the early days, but they were behind closed doors so we can't know who came up with what) . In late 1965 the reporter Nat Freedland visited the Marvel offices for an article published in the New York Herald Tribune, January 9th 1966. In part of it he reports on a "weekly Friday morning summit meeting with Jack 'King' Kirby". This is what Freedland wrote (as reprinted in the Collected Jack Kirby Collector, Volume 4):
The date and content indicates they are planning FF55. At first this
supports the idea that Stan Lee came up with all the ideas. But look
From this we learn that:
So this meeting was almost certainly expanded because the journalist
wanted it. After all, if you're planning a major newspaper item
you want to report that you have seen the inner workings. So Stan
played the part. However, when this story was published it made Kirby
look weak. Roz
(Jack's wife) was mad. This article was a major contributor to Jack's
disaffection with Marvel. Flo Steinberg has reported that in the early
days Jack used to come in weekly or even more, and their story
conferences could become noisy, with stories acted out. But after this
we were more likely to have Jack's recollection of him just coming to
the office every two weeks or so to drop off his work, and the story
conferences being little more than a brief phone call.
The very first conference
The most important story conference of all is discussed further down the page: the conference before issue 1. We will see the same pattern: Stan wrote it, and Jack ignored most of what Stan said: Jack didn't even see the typed up notes.
Two thirds of the finished comic was not in the synopsis, much of what Stan did say was ignored, and the parts that did end up in the comic reflected Jack's earlier work. E,g, Jack had created many creature called "The Thing", he was familiar with the earlier Human Torch from his work on Captain America, and so on. In short, nobody is denying that Stan and Jack spoke before each issue, or that Stan could write comics, or that Stan liked to be in control. But Jack did not think much of Stan's ideas and ended up using his own.
John Romita's recollection
John Romita recalls times where Stan and Jack planned a story:
"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. John Buscema actually did his plotting by phone, because he lived two hours away from the city."
So "plotting session" could sometimes meant just a phone call. This is how it went:
"One guy would make a suggestion, Jack would say, 'that’s not a bad idea, but what if we did it this way,' and then Stan would say, 'okay, but only if we did it that way' and 'only if we did it this way.' They were both talking different plots and it’s -and the reason I know it is because when Stan and I would plot, I foolishly did it from memory. I never recorded it."
So Stan and Jack
were "both talking different plots". Romita gives more detail in another interview
"CBA: In the past, you’ve told that great anecdote about realizing they weren’t listening to the other!
"John: I knew that even when I heard them plotting in other instances! [laughter] Jack would say, “Stanley, I think I’ve got an idea. How ’bout this?” Stan would say, “That’s not bad, Jack, but I’d rather see it this way.” Jack would absolutely forget what Stan said, and Stan would forget what Jack said. [laughter] I would bet my house that Jack never read the books after Stan wrote them; that’s why he could claim with a straight face that Stan never wrote anything except what Jack put in the notes. He was kidding himself; he never read them." (source)
Romita then mentioned Jack's (mainly Roz's) reaction to the Herald-Tribune article:
"CBA: Did you see any of the problems Jack was having?
"John: I had heard all of the inside stuff, like from the Herald-Tribune article that insulted Jack, that he thought Stan was a part of. Stan could not convince him of that, and certainly could not convince Roz that Stan hadn’t encouraged the writer to make fun of Jack. I know for a fact that Stan would rather bite his tongue than say such a thing, because Jack’s success would’ve been his success. There’s no reason to run Jack down. Stan had the position; he didn’t have to fight Jack for it. I don’t think Jack ever wanted the editorial position; if he wanted credit, he deserved credit. Stan used to give him credit all the time; he used to say most of these ideas are more than half Jack’s. Why they would think Stan would try to make him look bad in print is beyond me; but from that time on—which is very close to when I started there in the middle ’60s—when the Herald-Tribune article came out, there were very strained relations, and I thought it was a matter of time before Jack would leave..." (source)
We know that Kirby was adding notes by issue 20-something. But some people think he did not write the first 20 or so issues:
"The earliest Fantastic Four page scan that I can find with Kirby’s notes is from F.F. Annual #2, appearing in the summer of 1964. Comic Book historian, Nick Caputo concludes that the Jack Kirby’s margin notes first appear in The Avengers #6, dated July 1964. If one looks at the notes in the upper margin, it is clear that it is Kirby’s lettering. Thus we can probably date the beginning of the Marvel Method to this approximate period." (source)
However, other collectors do have evidence of earlier notes. James Robert Smith refers to Hulk 4, which has the same cover date as FF issue 8:
"It was when I was collecting Silver Age artwork in the late 1980s that I realized that it was Jack Kirby all along who was writing the books Stan Lee claimed to have written and created. My earliest pages were from Incredible Hulk #4 and it was obvious from the hand written notes from Kirby that he was writing the book and Lee’s only contribution was in sometimes pumping up the dialog. Lee was an editor. A very good editor, but nothing more than that." (source)
Inkers would of course erase the pencils, so any notes within the panels (and sometimes the others) would be gone.
"I have a
Kirby / Romita Daredevil page where a prior owner erased Jack's pencil
notes. Kirby's notes sometimes differed from Stan Lee's final balloons/
captions and it's fun to see how the match or don't." (source)
But Kirby's writing is mainly through his
art. Most pages in the early issues did not need additional notes: you
can remove the dialog
and still see what is going on. But as Kirby's stories became more
cosmic then additional notes were needed.
Here's a good example of the earlier issues needing fewer notes: the last page of FF 40:
Noe that the notes have been erased. But in this case they still show through a little, so I have enhanced them:
Compare this story to the page shown earlier. This story is from an earlier year, is less cosmic. So it is easy to follow even without notes.
This example shows
On a tangent, I saw this page on an auction site. The current bid is $15,000, and there are still three days to go.
How much was Kirby paid for this page? What fraction of that $15,000?
According to John Romita, the page rate at the end of the 1950s was cut
to $24 (see Icons of the American Comic Book" p.412). It may have gone
up a little by 1965, but probably not by much. That's all Jack Kirby's
family ever saw.
It looks like Stan was asking for a change. Note the big arrow: he
wants something moved. And note the pencil writing on the original frame
the arrow referred to: it's hard to make out what the original dialog
was supposed to be, but the last word is definitely "Thing" - a word
that now appears in the first frame. So it seems most likely that, for
that arrow, Stan was just asking for the last panel to become the first
one. It also looks like Stan added the whole sequence at the top.
The pacing in the top half of the finished page, ans the bottom half of the previous one, is odd. Lots of jumping around without it being clear how each image leads to the next. Kirby generally drew like a movie, where each frame leads to the next. So here is what I think happened:
If we start from the premise that Kirby's art tends to move smoothly from frame to frame, then page 4 somehow got the team from the fight at the theatre to the new headquarters on page 6. So I presume the headquarters diagram on page 5 was originally there, and the two half pages in between somehow got us from the fight to the headquarters. The sequence probably focused on Ben's anger: Kirby tends to fill his stories with action, and Ben's anger was a big deal in the early issues.
Stan would have looked at this and thought "we are five pages in and haven't seen a clear direction with a clear hero and villain". He wanted to emphasise the Miracle Man as an individual, and make a contrast with Reed as an individual. So in his changed version we get close ups of both men: Reed sums up the conflict (the one foe they could not defeat), the Miracle Man has a monolog, we get a foreshadowing of the monster, and it ends with Sue saying how wonderful Reed is. That's all classic Stan (in my opinion, based on Stan's solo comic writing).
I think this was a good change, and illustrates what Stan added to the the story: he made it clearer and more personal, All of Stan's stories are clear and they are personal: as people often say, Jack provides the divinity, Stan adds the humanity. With Stan we always know who the good guys and bad guys are, we always feel close to them, and we never get lost.
Contrast this with what we know of Kirby's solo work. On usual monster stories (Jack's previous work) we don't have time to get to know the characters very personally (the whole thing has to be over in 8 pages). When we look at Kirby's later Fourth World stuff it's the same: all cinematic action, but sometimes hard to follow, and readers don't feel an intimate connection with the characters as friends.
I think Stan's changes here are a good example of why he was needed, even though the changes break the smooth flow. Kirby created the story (after a chat with Stan, were Stan was the boss). Then Stan sometimes asked for changes. Then Stan scripted the dialog, just as he explained back in 1947, and just as we see from the notes on later pages.
Kirby said he basically created everything, more or less. Some people say he exaggerated. This is their case:
Those claims will now be examined in depth.
In researching this page I tracked down every Kirby interview I could
find, and he has always been consistent: he created the plots, and
always did it that way (at least with regard to Marvel). the best early
interview I can find is from the 1970 comic convention a few months after he left Marvel. It's only available in audio, but it is good to hear Kirby's own words, so I clipped out a couple of relevant pieces. Click to hear Kirby say it himself:
Kirby in his own words: he always created his own stories
(the audio is poor at the start, but Kirby's answer is clear)
Kirby is fair. He implies that Stan did have some input, at least in the earliest issues days. In this clip he simply says that he (Kirby) simply "had a hand in" creating Doctor Doom:
Kirby in his own words: on creating Dr Doom (and not creating the Red Skull)
(He also refers to Edward Herron, who co-created Captain Marvel Junior.)
The comics tell their own story
Even if Kirby had said nothing the comics speak for themselves. Right from the start it is clear that Lee's dialog often contradicts Kirby's art. That is, Kirby is not drawing what Lee wanted, but Lee is adding text afterwards.
We see this most clearly with Sue Storm. Kirby draws her as an equal partner, able to defeat enemies on her own. But whenever Kirby does that, Lee adds dialog saying that really it was Reed's doing, even though it makes no sense in context. I mean, since when was Reed a world class judo expert? But Lee seems to be thinking of old style superhero stories where the male lead is always The Greatest Hero and everything must be by him. Kirby's respect for strong women is inspiring, but Lee's sexism now looks very dated.
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:
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
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:
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.
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"?
PITTS: You say you created Spider-Man. How different was your initial concept from the Spider-Man we all know?
KIRBY: My initial concept was practically the same. But the credit for developing Spider-Man goes to Steve Ditko; he wrote it and he drew it and he refined it. Steve Ditko is a thorough professional. And he an intellect. Personality wise, he’s a bit withdrawn, but there are lots of people like that. But Steve Ditko, despite the fact that he doesn’t disco– although he may now; I haven’t seen him for a long time– Steve developed Spider-Man and made a salable item out of it." (source)
This raises some questions:
Shooter on the Kirby Spider-Man costume
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
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 on stage 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."
Ditko on who created Spider-Man (the 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
In conclusion, Steve Ditko provided:
Stan Lee provided
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.
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.
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.
Stan Lee talked with Jack Kirby about the Fantastic Four before this summary was produced. According to Mark Evanier, Kirby's long time assistant:
[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)
But years later, in 1991 when Marvel was in legal conflict with Kirby, Stan gave a different version of events:
didn't discuss it with jack first. I wrote it first, after telling Jack
it was for him because I knew he was the best guy to draw it." (source: an interview with Roy Thomas in Alter Ego, the Comic Book Artist Collection)
Did Stan remember accurately? Probably not. His poor memory is notorious. It was always bad, as he admits himself.
had a bad memory when I was young. I'd call him "Bob Banner"
instead of "Bruce Banner," etc. I hadda give out a heap of
Steve Sherman, assistant to Jack Kirby, said:
"I asked Jack about that synopsis. He told me that it was written way after FF #1 was published. I believe him." (source)
Why would a synopsis be written after the event? That is normal in
business. The boss discusses something with the workers, and it is
written up as a series of instructions. Let's take 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 seen 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
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
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.
Stan Lee understood the business of comics. So he would know that
this particular issue had legal implications, so he needed a paper
He knew the comic might be noticed
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.
He knew that National (DC) had reason to complain
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:
The synopsis looks designed to cover his back
The Synopsis would come in useful if either Martin Goodman changed his mind or DC found out and were not happy.
Ben is a monster who is angry and lashed out at his friends - this is a monster trope, not a superhero trope.
Sue is always invisible, with an emphasis on masks and changing clothes, clearly based on H.G.Wells' The Invisible man, not a superhero. (Incidentally, Wells was a socialist, and the invisibility that drive him mad is widely seen as a metaphor for the invisible underclass. Note the later parallels with Sue: the most powerful member yet seen as the weakest.
Reed is in pain when he stretches, like a horror character, not a superhero.
Finally, Johnny cannot control his flaming, it only happens when he's excited and then dies down. And he does not throw fireballs. Like the others he fits in a weird tales book, not a superhero book.
It was no big deal
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. Stan understood business, this would be an automatic response, the work of a few minutes. It does not require any conspiracy.
"We should discuss"
The synopsis says "we should discuss this" - does this imply it was before the meeting? It was before any lengthy meeting, certainly. But most of these elements (the love triangle, how easily they changed, etc) were vague in issue 1. They were not set in stone until later issues. Is it dishonest to say "do this" after it is already being done? No, these are minutes, a paper trail. It's a faithful record of what was said, from Stan's point of view. And a record of the same event from Jack's point of view would have had the same general ideas but in a different way.
Does "do this" and "do that" prove it was all Stan's idea? No, that's just good business. You have to make actions crystal clear. I sometimes make web pages for others, and the synopsis reminds me of the emails I get later: "you will do this, you will do that" - those emails reflect meetings where I actually made the suggestions, as I was the one with the expertise: the client was the one wanting "a web page," but then took my advice at every point about what was possible, what would work, etc. But he was the one signing the check, so the final document had to say "you will do X". I was the creator, but he was the master.
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
We know of just one other early synopsis: for issue 8. Roy Thomas
refers to it in the book "Alter Ego, the Comic Book Artist Collection". Here are Roy's words and my comments.
"As I said earlier the synopsis for #1 wasn't the first FF plot I'd seen."
[ Roy was Stan's right hand man since 1965, yet this was worth him commenting on: apparently he only saw two written FF synopses in all his years there.]
"Over Thanksgiving weekend in 1963, while the nation mourned the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the week before, I took a train from St. Louis to Detroit to spend a subdued holiday with Jerry balls, college-prof founder of Alter Ego."
[Jerry Balls pretty much invented fandom as we know it: he kept writing letters to the comics asking for information. He was probably the first person to ever ask for a script.]
[Why so old? In November 1963 Stan would have just finished FF 25 or 26. Why send such an old script? Was it the only one he had? Or the only one that was worth sending?]
"'Knowing' that comic book artists always worked from a script as detailed as a Hollywood screenplay, I was surprised to see that what Jerry had received was merely a plot, its first page covering the initial 13 pages of the comic, and that it was clearly meant as a blueprint from which the artist would break down the tale into pictures. 'Marvel artists work from this?' I asked. Jerry said apparently so: Stan added dialog and captions later. I shook my head. it seemed to me like a helluva way to run a railroad. (Yeah, as it turned out - a good one!) Evidently Stan trusted artists like Kirby, Ditko, et al, to both pace out and flesh out the story."
[So this is never in question: the artists did most of the "writing" work.]
"Truth to tell, neither Jerry nor I can recall whether he ever possessed the entire synopsis, or merely the first of two pages - [because] he retyped and printed only page one. Jerry feels that, if he'd had the whole synopsis, he probably would have printed both pages.
[So the only two synopses we have only deal with the key 11 or 13 pages, and are highly compressed. This agrees with Kirby's memory that when a person suggested a comic to a potential client they only roughed out the first few pages.]
Now let's look at that synopsis in detail:
It is fascinating to compare Stan's synopsis to Jack's finished art. Jack's version of the story is...
We do not have audio of the original story conference so we cannot know how much Stan came up with.
We do have his dialog, but that generally just states what is already clear from the art. Stan is very good at making the story simple and obvious: this is clear in Kirby's later Fourth World books. They are wonderful to study, but without Stan's easy dialog they are too intense for most readers.
In my opinion, Stan was excellent at turning out comics quickly. His
stories had familiar tropes (the hero always wins, the woman always
needs rescuing). His stories were very easy to follow. But they were
"just comics": a throw away, undemanding medium. Jack added the depth
that made the comics something more.
In conclusion, Stan's stories and dialog were very easy to follow. Beyond that it is difficult to say what he added. However, his fame does not (or should not) rest on his stories, but in his abilities as an editor and promoter. Nobody else has ever done it like Stan did it. That is Stan's real genius.
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 dialog, 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.
These links were recommended by Richard Gagnon. The web being a
dynamic thing I can't guarantee that all still work.
Leiber on early Marvel work (short version: says nothing
about Stan's method, but Larry Lieber always provided full scripts
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: