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?

Stan LeeJack Kirby

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.

The world's greatest editor:
Without Stan Lee we would not have the Fantastic Four or all those other characters. Without him we would probably never have heard of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, etc., and they would have made a lot less money. And if we did stumble on them we would probably find the dialog harder to read. Stan Lee built the empire and he made it work: if anyone thinks that is easy, or requires less than a creative genius, then I invite you to try it.

Stan Lee created the connected Marvel Universe. It was his idea for everybdy to meet everybody else, and refer to past stories, so readers would buy more comics. By doing so, Stan Lee created the largest story in the history of the world. Nobody else can compete. While Jack's stories do fit together (e.g. New Gods follows from Thor, Captain Victory follows New Gods), he preferred not to have constant cross overs. Because heroes are more heroic if they "the only one who can save us" instead of picking up the phone and calling one of a dozen super teams. So the gigantic cast with interwoven stories are down to Stan.

The world's greatest promoter:
Stan Lee particularly inspires me because I am slightly autistic, so his superb people skills wow me. Kirby didn't have those skills, and Ditko definitely didn't. I feel more affinity with Kirby and Ditko, but they needed Lee. Also, my main interest is economics, so anyone who can revolutionize an industry has my deep admiration. Again, Kirby couldn't do that and Ditko couldn't do that: they needed Lee. I cannot overstate my admiration and gratitude for Stan "The Man" Lee.

What about Jack?
I want to start with that because the "Stan versus Jack" controversy can become very bitter. Like many people who study these comics in detail I conclude that Jack Kirby created and wrote most of the Fantastic Four. But he could not have done it without Stan Lee. He tried, with numerous comics companies before and since, but everyone remembers his work with Stan. Stan found the new readers, by linking stories and making the dialog super easy and fun. Stan gave Jack the work. Stan made Jack's name famous. Stan ensured Jack could make a good living off this. Stan's changes made Jack accessible to beginning comic readers like me. And Stan did that for countless other creators: he built the modern superhero industry.

Jack Kirby created Marvel "comics" (small "c", the pictures and stories) but Stan Lee created Marvel "Comics". Lee created the connected universe and global empire. Anybody who has ever run a business, or followed the lives of great entrepreneurs, knows that this is just as creative, just as difficult, as writing and drawing great stories.

Stan Lee could write some good stories too, but in my opinion he was no Jack Kirby. The more Kirby there is in a comic, the better it is. In my opinion. Stan Lee provided the roads, the land, the finance and the paint, but Jack Kirby built the house.

OK, now for the details.

The controversy

The early Fantastic Four said "written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby." Nice and simple. In "Origins of Marvel Comics" and other interviews, Stan Lee indicates that he came up with the ideas and Jack Kirby 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)

Controlling the message

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.

Captain America

So the casual fan is most likely to think that Stan Lee created the character:

"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)

Captain America

In 1985 an advert in Variety magazine (the same ad?) said Stan Lee created the character.

"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:

John Arcudi

"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?" (

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.

"Secrets Behind the Comics"

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.

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 [1947]. 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.

"The 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 altogether.
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.

When did the Marvel Method begin?

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:

1947 book

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?

What were those story conferences like?

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):

Nat Freedland article

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 closer:

From this we learn that:

  1. Stan did not know what was going on
  2. Whatever Stan said, Kirby ignored most of it or deliberately did the opposite
  3. Kirby had no interest in what Stan was saying and did not like being there
  4. Stan's plans for this issue interrupted the normal issue flow
  5. Stan greatly exaggerated his writing ability (e.g. about winning a writing competition three times)

So this meeting was almost certainly expanded because the journalist wanted it. After all, if you're planning  a major newspaper item then 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..."

The bottom line: Jack ignored Stan as far as possible
The bottom line is that yes, Stan would meet with Jack before a story, and Jack ignored everything Stan said. Or at least as far as he could: Stan was the boss so Jack couldn't ignore it completely). So Jack was correct when he said that Stan did not write the stories, and that he (Jack) never saw the synopsis to issue 1.

When did Kirby begin writing the FF?

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)

"Also, on other pages of original art from pre-1964, no notes are found (other than editorial notes left by Stan). So sometime during 1964 Jack begins the process of leaving notes in the borders of the artwork." (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:

top of page

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. 

more notes 

This example shows
how the pages were
trimmed before printing:
the surviving page
only shows part of
what Kirby wrote.   

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.

Evidence from FF 3

Here is the earliest evidence I can find for how the Marvel Method went at the beginning of the FF. This is an original page from FF 3. Unusually it has a "please turn over" mark, and notes from Stan on the back.


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.

The case against Jack Kirby

Kirby said he basically created everything, more or less. Some people say he exaggerated. This is their case:

  1. Kirby never said it at the time?
    The best known Kirby interviews are from the late 1980s, when he was bitter about not getting his art back. Critics say that there was none of this bad feeling in the 1960s, when Stan and Jack got along fine.
  2. Kirby's memory
    Kirby's description of how he came to join Marvel and how the FF were created has been questioned
  3. Creating Spider-Man
    Kirby also claimed to create Spider-Man, but most people believe Spider-man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
  4. The synopsis to issue 1
    The original synopsis for Fantastic Four 1 still exists, and it's by Stan Lee.
  5. The synopsis to issue 8
    The synopsis to issue 8 also exists, and it's by Stan Lee.

Those claims will now be examined in depth.

Kirby never said it at the time?

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.


These changes are there right from issue 1. 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:
Ff 1 end

Kirby's art in the final panels shows the Torch filling the tunnels with flame, which suggests that they cause the explosion. But Lee can't have a hero doing that, so his dialog says that the Mole Man destroyed his own base, so ending the threat (which confuses readers, as clearly he would get away first: whereas blowing him up, as the art suggests, would have stopped him).

So the comics themselves conform what Kirby and others said: right from the start Kirby was creating his stories, with Lee then added dialog.

But Kirby was fine with that?
Kirby did not become angry until later when he felt promises had been broken (and he was treated as replaceable). He did not say anything very negative about Stan until around the very end of the 1980s. But as this interview (from 1986-88) implies, the feelings there before that, and his wife had to step in and stop him. So he made an effort to be nice.

"PITTS: What input, then, did Stan Lee have in creating Spider-Man and these other characters?
KIRBY: Stan Lee had never created anything up to that moment. And here was Marvel with characters like the Sub-Mariner, which they never used. Stan Lee didn’t create that; that was created by Bill Everett. Stan Lee didn’t create the Human Torch; that was created by Carl Burgos. It was the artists that were creating everything. Stan Lee– I don’t know if he had other duties… or whatever he did there…

ROZ: Maybe we shouldn’t get into… too much characterization. I mean–
Kirby: [...] Actually, we were pretty good friends. I know Stan Lee better than probably any other person. I know Stan Lee as a person… I never was angry with him in any way. He was never angry with me in any way. We went to the cartoonists’ society together." (source)

Kirby's memory

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"? Kirby was clear that Steve Ditko deserves the credit for Spider-man's success. but simply as a matter of historical record, he was deeply involved in the initial creation.

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)

So 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. The Silver Spider
    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. Web fluid
    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. The name "Spider Man"
    "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, and never used. 1954 was the same year that Ben Carson, the biggest Halloween costume designer in America, began selling a "Spider man" costume (the surviving versions are all in yellow, not red). So that lends credibility to the date.
    mask photo with eyes
  4. The full face mask
    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. The Halloween costume had the same concentric web pattern, iconic black around the eyes (in some versions), and spider logo on the chest, though there is no proof that Ditko saw it.
    1954 costume
  5. The big white eyes
    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.
  6. Origin
    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."
  7. Peter Parker
    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."
  8. Peter Parr
    At the same time Kirby created a character for another strip named 'Peter Parr'.
  9. The Fly
    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
  10. Spider Spry
    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."  
  11. The emblem
    In 1958 a Charlton comic that Ditko either drew or was familiar with had webbing patterns like on Spider-Man's costume, as did a Halloween costume available at the time. 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.
  12. Uncle Ben
    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."
  13. The bookworm
    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."
  14. Lee and Ditko's earlier work
    For comparison, neither Stan Lee nor Steve Ditko had anything like these.
  15. Kirby showed Lee
    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.
  16. Goodman's decision
    Martin Goodman approves the name and "ordinary teen" concept
  17. The first six pages
    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. Ditko says he only saw five pages from Kirby: they did not show Spider-man after the transformation.
  18. The magic ring
    At some point someone said to drop Sta's idea of using a magic ring to gain the powers. The Kirby art that Ditko saw did not include the transformation so nobody knows who said this.
  19. The cover
    Lee did not like Ditko's cover, so got Kirby to pencil it.
  20. Lee's dialog
    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.
  21. The first three stories
    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.
  22. After those three issues
    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.
  23. The costume
    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.
  24. The shoes
    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).
  25. Belt, but no shorts
    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.
  26. 1976 changed everything
    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.
  27. The missing costume proposal
    Jim Shooter says he saw Kirby's costume proposal in the 1970s, but since then it mysteriously disappeared.
  28. Stan takes credit
    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 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."

Steve 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

  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 penciler, 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, possibly influenced by the Halloween costume of the time.
  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 (his spider man predates the Halloween costume)
  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 cross-overs, 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 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 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)

But years later, in 1991 when Marvel was in legal conflict with Kirby, Stan gave a different version of events:

"I 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.

"I even 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 no-prizes!" (source)

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.

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 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.

Why was the synopsis written?

Stan Lee understood the business of comics. So he would know that this particular issue had legal implications, so he needed a paper trail.

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.

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

The synopsis to issue 8

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.]

"There, he showed me an item Stan Lee had recently sent him: the 'script' for Fantastic Four #8."

[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:


What did Jack add to the story?

It is fascinating to compare Stan's synopsis to Jack's finished art. Jack's version of the story is...

What did Stan add to the story?

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.

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 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.

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.
  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 likable 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, and hence soon canceled. 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