Robot 6

When comics history attacks: Read Gary Groth’s controversial Jack Kirby interview

“Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did.”

“It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things — or old things for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories. Stan Lee was a guy that knew where the papers were or who was coming to visit that day. Stan Lee is essentially an office worker, OK? I’m essentially something else: I’m a storyteller.”

“On The Fantastic Four, I’d tell him what I was going to do, what the story was going to be, and I’d bring it in — that’s all.”

“I created Spider-Man. We decided to give it to Steve Ditko. I drew the first Spider-Man cover. I created the character. I created the costume. I created all those books, but I couldn’t do them all.”

If you listen closely, you can still hear comics’ collective jaw dropping upon reading the above quotes, and many more like them besides, from Jack Kirby’s bombshell 1990 interview in The Comics Journal, conducted by editor and publisher Gary Groth. And now that the Journal has posted the interview online in its entirety, jaws will likely drop all over again.

It’s a fascinating document. Here you have the King of Comics himself, angry and exhausted from years of feuding with Marvel over credit and access to his original art, feeling personally slighted by the company’s other guiding light and figurehead Stan Lee, lashing out with the kind of bombast usually reserved for his spectacularly cosmic comics. In the course of recounting his career (with a little help from his wife Roz), Kirby basically takes sole credit for the creation of the entire Marvel Universe, from the Fantastic Four to Thor to the Hulk to the Avengers to even Spider-Man, relegating Lee to the role of an office boy and credit thief whose only contribution to most of the comics for which the pair shared billing was slapping his name on them and collecting checks.

Kirby’s boldest claims here have proven tough for even his most ardent defenders to swallow — and indeed he goes much further here in asserting sole authorship of the Lee/Kirby co-creations than he ever had in the past — but what his recollections may lack in historical accuracy they gain in evincing the passion he still felt for the work, the degree to which Marvel and Lee’s treatment of him hurt, and, as always, the astonishing imaginative power with which he infused every character he touched. Read the whole thing.

News From Our Partners

Comments

29 Comments

Strange how the stuff that we generally believe to have been done by Stan AND Jack (X-Men, Avengers, FF, Hulk), have been beyond successful, and the stuff that Jack did himself has been at best, moderately successful (Darkseid and the New Gods) or beyond awful (all the late-career stuff he did for smaller companies). Methinks Stan had a hand in the Marvel stuff.

long live the king

To be fair Zach, if one tries to follow that line of logic, then we should also take into consideration Stan’s output sans Kirby post-60s: Ravage 2099, anyone?

What Zac said. There is a definite difference, for example, in the scripting of a Lee/Kirby collaboration and Kirby’s solo work.

Pollux Dioscuros

May 23, 2011 at 10:31 am

I do believe as well that Stan has a hand in the Marvel properties, but it would be interesting to see how much of the credit it isn’t really credited to The King.

Deep down, in this interview, we see a difficult time to be an artist, and not the best of the professional relations between co-workers.

Zach…

The same could be said about Lee in his later years. It’s always been obvious that Stan’s 10% storyteller and 90% huckster. But what concepts has he created by himself that had any staying power or longterm success?

It’s simple: The Marvel Method worked. Stan was more charismatic, did the interviews, and alot of people didn’t care to worry about how much input his artists had. I’m a HUGE Kirby fan but to act like Stan road his artist’s coattails and took all the glory is wrong.

One word, Stan-fans: Stripperella.

Kirby wins.

Kirby’s insistent gloating reminds me of a parodic controversy comic that was probably inspired by this interview. In the comic, it claimed that Manga influences that were penned by Osamu Tezuka were first originated by Jack Kirby, whose experimental style was deemed too alien for an American audience, and was told to tone it down and create stuff that would be more familiar to a contemporary market.

Panels of multiple scene-to-scene transitions, emphasis on backgrounds and cartoony iconic characters were all supposed to have been created firsthand by Jack Kirby, but an obscure cartoonist in Japan stole these unwanted techniques and used them for his own purposes. Thus, the credit went to Tezuka, and not the true pioneer.

I’m really sorry that I lost the link a long time ago – It was in 1997 or something.

I know it’s become almost accepted practice to bad mouth Stan Lee – maybe it’s the fact that Jack isn’t around anymore and it’s easier to deify our heroes when they are no longer here, but they are both legends to me.

(I’m speaking generally here by the way – I’ve yet to sit and read this interview through properly)

Don’t get me wrong, I understand completely why Jack was bitter towards Marvel and took a lot of that out on Stan in particular. I don’t blame him for feeling betrayed. But collectively they were better than the sum of their parts. Stan’s output without Jack was hit and miss. Likewise Jack’s without Stan.

But they are both legends and heroes of mine. It saddens me to see either of them belittled, or to see their input waved away or revised into insignificance.

Stan and Jack forever!

“…but what his recollections may lack in historical accuracy they gain in evincing the passion he still felt for the work, the degree to which Marvel and Lee’s treatment of him hurt, and, as always, the astonishing imaginative power with which he infused every character he touched.”

Wow, I get tired of this kind of white-washing. Kirby told straight-up LIES in this interview (not “recollections lacking in historical accuracy”), egged on by obsequious provocateurs like Gary Groth and his fellow travelers. Kirby was a gigantically talented man, but his list of slights and grievances (real or imagined) is as tiresome now as it was in 1990. Rest in Peace, Jack….despite a professional life plagued by bitterness, self-pity, and perpetual victimhood.

Sean T. Collins

May 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Regarding the quality of their post-partnership work, the Kirbys make that exact point in the interview. If Stan had this much input in all the Marvel characters, they say, then where are all his big post-Kirby creations? Meanwhile, post-Lee Kirby was an idea factory, though certainly many readers feel some humanizing element was lost without Lee’s presence. Basically, sub out Kirby, Lee, and Marvel with John, Paul, and the Beatles and you could have a virtually identical argument.

Shorter Mark Engblom: “Rest in peace, jerkwad.”

Sean and Wesley:
Obviously Stan and Jack both created some great stuff, particularly when they worked together. But the idea that Jack did it all or mostly solo, is pretty ridiculous. Without Jack, Stan created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange (granted both were with Steve Ditko, this isn’t to say that Stan deserves all the credit, merely to say that he managed to create great comics without Jack), had lengthy and well received runs on Spidey (with Romita Sr.), Daredevil (with Wally Wood, right?), and probably a few other things I’m forgetting.

Stan is definitely better at self-promotion than Jack ever was, and I’m sure he’s probably taken credit for stuff that was more Kirby than him. But Jack’s assertion that Stan was an office worker more than a writer is just unfair.

Stan Lee has spent decades taking undue credit for his part in creating the Marvel Universe, and everybody is supposed to get bent out of shape because Kirby does it once? Jack Kirby created Stan Lee! Without Kirby, Lee would be an unknown used car salesman somewhere.

Those who doubt Kirby’s input on all and more of Marvels creations need to read the Kirby Collector to find out who created what.The Black Panther,Silver Surfer,Galactus,The Kree,Him/Adam Warlock were all Kirby creations and The Inhumans were Kirby also.Spider-man was at least half kirby.Ditko was brought in to draw,though he was always trying to insert his ideas which were not that good.His last issues of Spidey show that to be true,lots of it was his plots and Stan words.The last 3 issues of Ditko Spidey were yawners.Kirbys estate deserves alot more from Marvel on their co-creations.What was Lee in the 40′s-60′s….a company man.Kirby was a superstar creator.He and Joe Simon created the Romance genre,Captain America along with many other G.A. heroes.The facts are there,dont make up your own.

Sean T. Collins

May 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Zach: “Jack’s assertion that Stan was an office worker more than a writer is just unfair.” Absolutely — I didn’t mean to give the impression that I thought it was anything BUT unfair.

Stan Lee gets way too much credit for creating the Marvel Universe and has been claiming it forever. Look at all the characters Kirby created when he left Marvel for DC : New Gods , Forever People, Mister Miracle ,Demon, Kamandi ect.. How many characters did Stan Lee create when Kirby left ?

Kirby claiming his drawing the cover to Amazing Fantasy 15 proves his being the creator of Spider-Man doesn’t hold water worth beans when we’ve since seen Ditko’s original cover to AF 15.

@Zach: DD was with Bill Everett (Ditko and Brodsky inks on that first ish thanks to — surprise! — Everett being late with the pencils). Also in that period, Iron Man came from Stan, kid brother Larry Lieber and artist Don Heck.

@Rob D.: Stan tried like crazy to credit Jack at the time in interviews (radio and print). For whatever reason, though, Jack was unwilling to talk much with the press (even with Stan present, pressing him to participate) until long after his creative pairing with Stan had gone to dust, so Stan became the go-to media figure almost by default (it wasn’t like Steve Ditko was itching to do pressers either, after all).

Jack… just doesn’t seem like he was the kind of guy to talk much about himself or his work unless deep into his comfort zone. Talk to him in his studio (the Evanier technique), get him at home with Roz to hold his hand (Groth’s obvious ploy), then yeah, you’d get something out of him. (May not have any relation to reality, but it’d be =something=.) But with ESQUIRE? It was like pulling teeth to get anything from the King.

@Twin1todd: Jack brought in pages from an unsold Joe Simon/C.C. Beck effort called THE SPIDER. He didn’t do anything new for the Spider-Man AF issue, nor were any of the ideas from the unpubbed work used in AF. Jack’s sole contribution was tight layouts for a second cover that changed the perspective somewhat from Ditko’s rejected original (with The Sturdy One providing the finishes on the published cover).

@KIng: I’ll see your STRIPPERELLA and raise you a SATAN’S SIX. I know Primus taught us they can’t all be zingers, but Jack came up with more than his share of jaw-dropping awfulness, just as Stan did.

Jack created Darkseid, probably the 2nd best villian in the DC universe.
Stan created Stripperella.
Jack for the win.
Anyway the court case is going to decide what really happened, cant wait.

I’m a little surprised at the lack of respect toward Kirby in these comments.

Sure, this interview wasn’t his finest hour, but as Sean said, you have to consider where Kirby’s mind was at when he gave it. He had watched all of his co-creations become very very lucrative while he was financially left out. Stan, on the other hand, was very well taken care of. Marvel wouldn’t even give Jack his old artwork back so he could sell it and make money that way.

And money aside, he wasn’t even getting credit for his part in creating these beloved characters! Remember those late ’70s Fireside books (Origins of Marvel Comics, Bring on the Bad Guys, etc)? It was mostly Stan and Jack work, but only Stan’s name on the front. And this still continues on; Marvel as a company has never given Kirby his proper due. “Stan Lee Presents…” Really? A fabricated Fantastic Four #1 outline to make it look like Jack just drew what he was told? Really? I’ll bet you 3 out of four people you ask on the street would tell you that Stan is an artist too. If you asked them about Jack Kirby they’d say, “Who?”

We all know they were best together; Jack provided the pure creative force and Stan molded that into something marketable and readable. It was a very complimentary partnership. But after they “broke up” Stan successfully marketed the “Stan Lee” brand based on past achievements, while Jack kept creating, writing, and drawing great volumes of very intriguing, if not always successful, work

So if anyone is seriously making the argument that Stan is more important than Jack, then you’re saying that business saavy and self-promotion is more important than pure artistry, and, at least when it comes to comics, I completely disagree.

Paul – no one is disrespecting Stan. I think the consensus is just that Jack’s statement is full of hyperbole, similar to how a lot of Stan Lee’s statements over the years have been.

I think that the artist does have a little bit more claim over a character more than a writer because we see the character since its a visual medium. The writer makes us care about the character. If the writer has sketches of what they want the character to look like, then that changes things a little. I just don’t believe that you give Stan or Jack more credit one way or the other. They BOTH created these characters as far as I’m concerned.

If comics were movies, and credits had to be signed off on by the various guilds, this is how I think the Marvel Comics credits for the Lee/Kirby stuff would have read:

Directed by Jack Kirby.
Produced by Stan Lee.
Written by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

Substitute Ditko’s name for Kirby on the features he did.

One might also compare Kirby and Lee’s output in the twenty years prior to their decade together, during which Stan’s work was consistently mediocre and forgettable (though invariably prominently bylined).

If I recall correctly, Mark Evanier and Roz were supposed to be able to scan the transcript of the interview to take out anything that would have been ‘bombastic’, as Jack could get at times.
Reportedly, Groth didn’t bother to send them the transcript and just published the interview as is.

Somebody get both of the Big Two to come up with something that could prevent rants like Kirby’s in the future. Something like a-uh-uh-A COMIC BOOK CREATOR’S CONSTITUTION!!

Canuck Comic Guy

June 20, 2011 at 5:56 pm

All you bloggers are seeing this as too black and white. One thing no one has mentioned is the fact that Kirby’s style looked dated by the 1970′s. His style was much more suited to the 60′s. The only book that sucked without Jack’s pencils was Kamandi; also the only decent DC title he worked on; and to this day I’m shocked DC wasn’t sued by 20th Century Fox (Planet of the Apes). Remember, DC gave Jack writing (scripting) credits and his dialogue on his DC titles compared to Stan’s stuff from the 60′s was embarrassing and/or plain bad. Something else that Kirby’s DC years revealed was that he wasn’t interested in traditional superhero comics. Most of Jack’s DC title creations were action/adventure/sci-fi not superhero. If Jack created all these Marvel heroes from ’61 to ’68, then why did he all of a sudden abondon the conventional superhero genre at DC? I’m sure when Stan gave Jack an idea for a new hero, Jack probably came back with three or more sketches of costumes, etc. and Stan picked the best and/or suggested changes. Collaboration is a messy game. I found Jack’s return to Marvel a sad thing. His work on Captain America, around ’76, revealed how his style was out-of-step with guys like Sal Buscema, John Byrne and George Perez. Don’t get me wrong, Kirby was amazing. But his style was of it’s time in the 1960′s and it looked outdated by the mid-1970′s.

Leave a Comment

 


Browse the Robot 6 Archives