Answer: they each created the whole thing. On their own. It
depends on how you define the question.
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: from Captain America (co-created with Joe Simon) to the Fourth World series for DC, 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).
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)
Some people claim that Jack Kirby's claim to have written
everything could not be true, principally for three reasons:
Those claims will be examined in depth on this page.
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
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.
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"?
With that in mind, let's look at how Spider-man was created and
where Kirby was probably involved. Here is the order of events,
according to Wikipedia plus
the exhaustive article
by Stan Taylor.
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 onstage and clearly had forgotten our conversation. He and Roz did, however, come to Marvel's 25th Anniversary Party that evening, which made me very happy. There's a story about that, too, but it will wait for another time."
Ditko on who created Spider-Man (link may not work properly,
but happy Googling - it's out there somewhere, or you can always
buy the book in the link)
Critics of Kirby's claim make two other points
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.
Mark Andrew makes an argument that I find compelling: FF issue 1 was two new stories added to an existing (unused) monster comic story.
Here is his evidence, plus some of my own:
The conclusion is obvious: when they designed FF1, Lee saved some time: the intro is new, the origin is new, and he got Jack to adapt an existing 8 page monster story into a 12 page first adventure.
Add up the pages: 8 pages for the intro, 5 pages for the origin plus 4 pages added to the monster story, and the original 8 page monster story: Stan got a 3 story book by taking 1 old story and adding 2 more.
This isn't proof, but I find it compelling.
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,
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
Steve Sherman, assistant and friend to Jack Kirby, wrote
that "I asked Jack about that synopsis. He
told me that it was written way after FF #1 was published. I
believe him." It is possible that Jack said that simply
because he never saw the synopsis: it may have been just Stan's
recollection of their story conference, written up for reference
and then filed away. Basically, a kind of informal minutes of a
meeting. It's standard practice to type up summaries for meetings,
in case disagreements arise. But most people at a meeting never
read the minutes.
The synopsis only covers the origin, not the whole book, and
that origin sounds a lot like Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown.
So what's going on here? We need a closer look.
The above synopsis is a re-typed copy. See the XXXs: originally those had words underneath. Stan typed Xs to delete a word. But this version only has the Xs. Another version has no XXXs at all. So neither is the original. I have seeen a third that claims to be the original, but none of them were public until the 1980s, over 20 years after FF1 appeared. Roy Thomas, (in his book "The Stan Lee Universe") mentions seeing the synopsis in "the late 1960s." It must have been 1968 or 1969, as Roy said the cover price had just gone up to 15c and he wondered if Stan was calling him to talk about another price rise. But Stan instead showed him this synopsis he had just found. Stan said he did not keep his other typed instructions, and it was pure luck that this one survived. In the book Roy also refers to one other early script (for issue 8). Like this first one it was not a script in the usual sense.
"I remember seeing that synopsis (to
FF 8) in Jerry Bails’s house when I came to Detroit to visit
him. I said, 'This is a script?!?! You just give the artist some
sort of synopsis and then the guy goes off and draws it and then
he adds balloons? What a crazy way to do comics!' Now of course
I think the fact that they’re not done that way anymore is one
of the things that’s wrong with comics." - Roy
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
The tone is verbose, even chatty. He gives reasons for creating ideas. Why give these in a script? Why not just say "make the guy flame on" - why the need to say "here is proof that the ideas are all mine, and this is my reasoning"? If he is just chatty then why not chat about the other parts of the story?
The smoking gun
The "synopsis" only covers the origin. The finished comic is in
three roughly equal parts, and the synopsis acknowledges that, but
dismisses the first part in a single line and does not outline the
final part at all. Even if we go with the theory that
this was the original script, with no input from Kirby, that
means Kirby wrote two thirds of the book on his own, and the
rest was greatly changed from Stan's idea.
Timing and legal implications
At the exact same time the comic was being written and drawn, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. The news broke on April 12th 1961. This was HUGE news. The space race was already hot, but this made it WHITE hot. Stan's "first into space" comic was suddenly topical. This had legal implications, because Stan was planning to slip the book under the radar of his competitors.
Marvel was planning a superhero team, but DC distributed their books (they lost their own distributor in 1957 in the Frederick Wertham anti comics crusade). DC was happy to take their money because Marvel at the time didn't produce any superheroes that might compete for sales with Batman and Superman. Worse, FF 1 looks like Challengers: it might look like Marvel had taken Kirby, formerly a DC artist, and got him to copy his own DC title! The distributors would not be happy. The synopsis seems designed to be insurance against these claims:
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.
This need not be a conscious decision. Stan just had a gut
feeling that he should have a written copy. It's a common feeling
in any business. It does not require any conspiracy.
The famous synopsis was probably written a few hours (or at most a few weeks) after the initial
discussion, but Kirby never read it.
The synopsis is minutes of a meeting, presented after Kirby gave
It only deals with those elements that might cause legal trouble
later, and tries to show that DC has no reason to complain. In
short, this is not a synopsis, it's a defense against DC.
Years later it became useful in the legal battle against Kirby.
Stan searched for it, and found it in 1969 when Kirby was
grumbling about deserving more pay. it then became widely
published in the 1980s when Kirby was talking about suing Marvel
A Personal note: when monsters collide
So the Fantastic Four was a monster comic. I just realized
My love of the FF is influenced by my early love for monster comics. but they had to be mind expanding - like the FF.
The first comic I ever bought, as a six year old child, was
Britain's "Monster Fun", an anthology of mostly comedy monster
stories. The only ones I remember had a serious mind expanding
message. Like when "Major Jump, Horror Hunter" received an urgent
plea for help against giant monsters: he traveled half way round
the world in search of these giants but could not find them. In
the end he discovered that the warning was from very tiny people
under his own feet - the monsters they were hunting were
themselves. This could have been an American "weird tales" story.
I also remember the tiny people who live under apple trees, and
every apple that falls causes an earthquake, so they plan a major
engineering project and one day the apple tree is lowered into the
ground in front of the shocked farmer. Shades of the Mole Man.
Monster Fun was most famous for the Badtime
Bedtime Books, mini comics notable for being better than
other comics. Like the FF, the Badtime Books were the country's
greatest comic creator deciding to do his best ever work before
retiring. Like the FF, it was the first comic (for that publisher)
to attract adult fan mail. My favorite Badtime Bedtime books were
the weird concept stories, like a Traffic Island, an overgrown
island in a traffic roundabout that was so busy almost
nobody could get on or off. It had it's own Ben Gunn in a Treasure
Island scenario. Loved that stuff. (And now I'm thinking of
parallels between Ben Gunn: lonely, weird looking, the victim of a
journey in a ship that went wrong; the rock on which others
rely, strong guy with a heart of gold...)
This web site and and my weird take ion the FF is a collision
between Monster Fun and the Fantastic Four. It is frightening how
you think of yourself has having free will, as being able to
create new ideas, but really all your ideas are collisions of
random ideas from elsewhere. The Fantastic Four in turn was
a collision between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Stan Lee was a
collision between wanting to write movies but having an uncle in the
comics business. Movies are a collision between theater and
photography. And so it goes on.
The following is by lornelb of the FF forum,
and reprinted by permission. Somebody asked why we see so much
negativity about Stan Lee among fans.
"The reason you don't find any negative blogs about Kirby is that this whole "Lee vs Kirby" debate arises because of the perception that Lee has somehow cheated Kirby and made himself rich, while Kirby died penniless.
The whole narrative rises from that notion.
Stan is portrayed as the Hollywood Huckster, who had little to no input in the comics that made him rich, beyond "signing his name larger than everyone else's".
Jack is portrayed as the true genius who conceived, drew, and wrote everything with little to show for it at the end of his life. Under those circumstances, there wouldn't be much sense to an anti-Kirby blog.
Even Kirby's stories about coming into the Marvel offices as the furniture was being moved out and Stan crying at his desk, untrue though everyone else has stated them to be, doesn't generate much anti-Kirby sentiment, because he is, by far, the more sympathetic of the two.
Kirby can claim to have written everything and Stan, nothing, and be contradicted by the writers and artist working at Marvel at the time, and still not be vilified, because his creative genius is beyond question.
The way the industry was set up then, the work for hire credo insured that most creative types would have little more than their contracted pay rates to show for their work.
The problem for me is that vilifying Stan for the way the comics industry existed while the two worked together, is completely misguided.
Stan's vision and innovations (including non-innovations like copying EC's style of promoting it's artists) completely changed the comic book publishing industry forever. Without Stan's editorial vision and scripting, the Fantastic Four (nor ANY of the Marvel comic characters that he scripted, including Spider-man) doesn't create the sensation that they did amongst comic book readers.
In a world without Stan, the average comic book reader is an 8-14 year old boy who stops reading comic books when he discovers either girls or porn; the artists who fall into comics would still be largely working under pseudonyms (Check with Jacob Kurtzburg about that [Jack Kirby's real name]); working until their eyesight failed because a lack of medical or financial retirement benefits in an industry that probably wouldn't have lasted past the first huge hikes in paper and ink costs in the early 70s.
There certainly wouldn't be any websites like these, created by educated fans who retained their love of the medium and were confident enough in the attractiveness of the medium that there would exist like minded fans with whom they could communicate.
There are any number of far more talented creative types who have worked in comics than Stan Lee, including Seigel, Shuster, Kane, Kirby, Eisner, Moore and dozens of others. But not one of them can claim to have had as great and far reaching an effect on the medium overall as Stan Lee did. With his innovations to comic book scripting (I think far too little credit is given to Stan for his skill at writing dialogue, which not only included biblical and Shakespearean elements, but included an great ear for being able to distinguish one speaker from another in the same panels) and his vision of a unified, continuous comic book universe, Stan Lee changed the entire industry.
It is also Stan's idea of a unified universe and continuity that created the modern notion of comic book collecting. With the use of the footnote (Something Stan used copiously to reference previous storylines and character appearances), constant references to previous adventures, continued storylines, and cross-overs, Stan created a necessity for readers to retain their prior issues for reference. This was never the case before, where comic book stories mostly, outside of the same characters appearing in the same outfits, were written as if each new story had no connection to any previous storylines. Stan's use of continuity also created the desire in newer readers to find those referenced issues so that they could see what was going on. In this way, Stan pretty much took comic book collecting out of the province of eccentrics and rich Arabian child princes and made it a common practice. From this arose stores dedicated to comic books and back issue mail order companies.
None of the forgoing can be attributed to Steve or Jack. They had been plying their skills in the same manner for some years before the so-called Marvel Age. It wasn't until Stan expanded the EC model of fan inclusion and artist recognition using his own breezy, accessible editorial voice (His detractors call this "hucksterism"), that comic book fandom took off. As a case in point, seven years after Stan and Jack first published FF#1, Jack's name was known to even the most casual of comic book readers. Could the same be said for Graham Engels, or Johnny Craig, two of EC's mainstays?
In the final analysis, Jack will always be seen as the person who was ill-served by the industry and the very Publishing House that he helped promote from a ill-regarded, lowest rate paying, shady publisher having, juvenile delinquent catering cesspool, into a billion dollar industry worthy of being owned by Disney.
But, because Stan managed to help change that perception and also appears to be prospering at the end of his life, doesn't mean that he is the villain of the piece, or even somehow responsible for Jack's circumstances.
Jack was bursting with ideas, but he was also impatient, bitter and distrustful (rightfully so). Jack also knew the nature of the industry he chose to work in. Had Jack been able to hold out against Goodman's "promises" long enough, I believe that, when the company was sold, jack would have found himself in a far better position with respect to the new management. Jack would have been seen as an "asset" to the company's continued goodwill, and probably treated as such. Unfortunately for Jack, by the time he returned to Marvel, he was too bitter, combative and distrustful to allow that to happen.
Meanwhile, everyone is seeing Stan move to California, glad-handing movie stars and living "the life".
Sympathy for Jack and jealousy for Stan leaves us with exactly what we have now; a bunch of people lined up to tell us what a dishonest snake Stan is for prospering while Jack languished.
So now we get a bunch of stories about how Stan took credit for everything while stealing office pencils, from everyone who managed to pass by Stan in the offices, because that's the narrative everyone wants to hear.
I imagine that, upon Stan's passing, some of the acrimony will die down.
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: