ditko_bannerI love the way the history of the comics industry is “debated” on the internet.

Proclamations are made. Decisions about who created what are boldly and confidently made. Judgments about individuals involved in said creations are passed.

“Great Artist is a god!”

“Legendary Writer is evil!”

“Famously Eccentric Artist is crazy!”

“Seminal Silver Age Editor was a scumbag!”

“Creator Guy was screwed by Evil Corporation!”

All being furiously pounded out in righteous indignation…by righteously indignant posters who weren’t there, don’t know anyone who was there, who are largely ignorant of how the comic book business worked then and currently works now, and who derive their information (and, in a lot of cases, their opinions) from the disgruntled victim or their designated sycophants, who themselves often have a vested interest, selling a book, pushing their blog, or merely basking in the creator’s reflected glory. They, like me, are entitled to their opinion. Excuse me…entitled to their informed opinion! Of course, that raises the question of what exactly is informing it to begin with

Of course, a lot of that has to do with the nature of the internet itself. I recently posted on Facebook this definition: “Facebook- The place where no statement goes unchallenged and no punch line is left unstepped upon.” And, I could add, “where no umbrage is left untaken, even for people you’ve never met.”

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DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger

I have seen threads where total strangers work themselves into frothing rages over, say, who deserves the credit for the classic Superman stories of the 1950s, an era for the character which saw the introduction on a majority of the bits and pieces of lore which we now identify with the Man of Steel. The rainbow array of Kryptonite, the bottle city of Kandor, Brainiac, Supergirl, life on Krypton, etc., all introduced under the editorship of Mort Weisinger. It’s generally agreed among those who knew and worked with him that Weisinger was, to put it mildly, a bit of a tyrant. He verbally abused creators, played them against one another, and even took story ideas pitched by Writer A (to whom he would declare they were not good or above Writer A’s ability to successfully pull off) and gave them to Writer B, presenting them as his own ideas. Mort’s best friend since they were teens was fellow DC editor Julius Schwartz, who shortly after Mort died, told me that Mort’s tombstone was going to read, “Here Lies Mort Weisinger…And Lies And Lies And Lies!” If that’s what your best friend is saying about you…yikes!

For many years during the 1950s and early 1960s, Superman co-creator, writer Jerry Siegel was back writing Superman stories for editor Weisinger. Siegel’s history with DC, both creatively and legally, is complex, but suffice to say, he and artist Joe Shuster, after repeatedly signing away their rights to Superman beginning in 1938 when they sold it to the corporate entity that was to become DC Comics, went to court to try and retrieve those rights, and lost, which saw them effectively exiled from DC and costing them the (considerable) money they earned during the 1940s for lawyers. Siegel and Shuster had hit hard economic times, so in the 1950s DC and Weisinger threw him a bone and he was allowed to once again write his own creation…under, of course, the iron fist of Weisinger. And (at the time) anonymously.

A recent thread that started innocently enough about the fun of reading a 1960s Superboy Annual quickly descended into a rancor-filled, name-calling exchange over whether Weisnger or Siegel deserved the credit. One poster rhapsodized over the editor’s influence on the strip, crediting him with making the Superman family of books the brilliant, kid-magnets that they were. Another took umbrage at that, citing all of Mort’s faults, declaring him evil, and insisting it was Siegel who deserved all the credit, for creating the character and for writing those stories that Weisinger edited. The first poster responded that he shouldn’t have to, and indeed didn’t, care how the sausage was made; it was delicious, he loved it, and was going to keep eating it.

Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel

Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel

DC Comics of that time consisted of individual editorial fiefdoms. Writers and artists didn’t work with editors; they worked for editors. And, then, as today, nothing saw print that wasn’t approved by the editor (with the editor carrying out the policies and restrictions of the publisher)! Jerry Siegel wrote the great stories he wrote because he was either spoon-fed the stories by his editor, or shaped them under Weisinger’s strict scrutiny. And, don’t forget, Siegel wasn’t the only writer in the Weisinger stable turning out similarly great stories. Mort had half a dozen writers working for him, including the very talented Alvin Schwartz, Otto Binder, and Edmond Hamilton. But no matter how good any or all of these writers were, everything that saw print in the Superman books had to first pass though Weisinger’s (i.e. DC Comics’) editorial filter. Good or bad, like it or not, it was Mort Weisinger who shaped the tone of those Superman books because, once more and with feeling:

Nothing saw print that wasn’t approved by the editor!

I was once accused of “forcing” DC Comics to put a Mature Readers label on Vigilante by using the word “shit” in my script…as if a single stroke of the editorial red pencil eliminating the word wouldn’t have also removed the need for the label. That accusation was made by people in the comic book business, who of course, know better. But I don’t care if your name is “Joe Schmuck,” Paul Kupperberg, or Neil Gaiman, in a company-owned property (as opposed to creator-owned, which didn’t exist in the 1950s or 1960s)… nothing sees print that isn’t approved by the editor!

Elsewhere (everywhere!) is the Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby (or Steve Ditko) debate. Who “created” Marvel Comics? One side stands firm: it was Jack Kirby (and/or Steve Ditko), but Jack (and Steve) got screwed by Marvel and now Stan has stolen all the credit! The other side is equally certain: it was Stan Lee, who wrote practically every story in every issue (with some help from Larry Lieber and a couple of other scripters who popped up here and there) during those early Marvel years. He, not Jack or Steve, had (or ultimately developed) the overarching vision of the Marvel Universe because only Stan, as writer and/or editor of the entire line, had the perspective to do so.

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

So was Jack screwed by Marvel? He was disgruntled with his situation there so he went somewhere else, leaving of his own accord. Jack had a history of disgruntlement and fights with editors leading to his walking away. Hey, the man was a survivor, a Lower East Side New York street kid and a soldier who was involved in some of the fiercest battles of World War II. He didn’t suffer bullshit gladly but, apparently, his reaction to it wasn’t so much to try to settle the disputes as it was to punch his way through them. Every creator has an “avatar character,” someone they’ve written or drawn somewhere along the line that they identify with and see as reflections of themselves. In Jack’s case, I think his avatar was Ben Grimm, the uncompromising and pugnacious Thing of the Fantastic Four, another fighter and a survivor.

Before I go any farther, let me state here and now and loud: I love Jack Kirby’s art. I think he’s one of the most important creative forces to ever work in the comics field. I believe he created the dynamic visual vocabulary of comic books and influenced, in some way, just about everybody who came after him. There’s a reason why Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were among the very few Golden Age creators to be given a credit on the stories themselves as well as on covers, a rarity in those days, as a sales tool. What they created sold and sold on the strength of their work! When Jack was about to go off to serve in World War II, DC made sure it had as large an inventory of S&K stories as it could stockpile to see them through his absence.

Stan or Jack? The truth–which we’ll never know, with Jack no longer with us and Stan set in his version of what happened–lies somewhere in between. Yes, Stan thought up the main concepts but it took Jack to bring them to life. Of course, if Stan’s favorite artist to work with in those days hadn’t died a couple of years earlier in a fall from a commuter train, Fantastic Four #1 would likely have been a Stan Lee/Joe Maneely production.

Why is it that the mere mention of Stan Lee online brings an immediate stream of invective aimed his way, even from people in the industry? Stan’s not a villain and, as astute as he seems to be in using his fame to promote himself and his work, I don’t think there’s much guile in him at all. What you see is pretty much what you get, on camera or off.

Those who work in comic books know how it works. Or should…and if they don’t, shame on them! Sure, there are publishers who will try to take advantage of creators, but if you sign on with a publisher knowing their terms are unfair, then you have no right to complain to when they hold you to that contract, however unfair. Jack Kirby drew all those Marvel Comics under the same work-made-for-hire deal that Stan and everybody else was laboring under. Was that fair? Nope, absolutely not, but he did keep taking the work and cashing their checks. Does he deserve more credit and money for those labors? Legally: I wish it was otherwise, but…no, he doesn’t. He was working on a simple, straightforward Work-Made-For-Hire deal as it was then defined. Jack drew his pages, received his paychecks, and the deal was done, requiring nothing further legally due him from Marvel Comics.

Does Marvel have a moral obligation to further compensate Jack Kirby (and the others) in the wake of the multi-billion dollar success of their media franchises based on properties he had a hand in creating?

Therein lies the trickiest of questions. As someone who labors in the same fields (and perhaps has it better than Jack and his coevals had because of what they went through), I want to say absolutely, yes! But, when I look at the situation from a cold, legally objective point of view, I can’t be so certain. Artist promises to deliver X pages by this date in exchange for Y compensation. Period. Was that standard met? If so, what are we talking about?

There’s no question in my mind that Marvel’s handling of the Kirby situation was clunky and heavy handed. They held him to a separate legal standard over the issue of the return of his original art than was being offered other creators because the legal and fiscal consequences to them of a successful reclamation of rights to the characters he worked on would have been disastrous. Jack wanted and deserved to have his art returned on the same terms they offered everybody else.

However…where was Jack on this issue when he was a publisher? Jack and Joe Simon headed up more than one comics publishing company in the late-1940s and early 1950s. All those issues of Fighting American were signed “Simon & Kirby,” even if they were drawn by George Tuska or Bill Draut. When those stories were reprinted in a 1989 hardcover, over thirty years after they were originally published, Jack and Joe’s names were the only ones to be found in the credits and the respective introductions they penned for the volume. And I never did ask George Tuska if Jack and Joe’s Prize Group Comics company ever returned his original art for the stories he drew for them or if Jack made sure he got a royalty check for the reprints, but I’m willing to bet damn near anything that neither of those things ever happened.

Why? Because that was the way the comics industry worked. Writers and artists went into the business knowing it was that way and either accepted the terms or found some other way to make a living. I’m not saying it was right or it was fair. It was just what was. Some creators tried to change the system from within, while others, including Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, were active participants in perpetuating the system.

I’m not judging, really. I entered the comic book industry in 1975, when to cash my check from Charlton or DC Comics, I had to endorse it under a paragraph of rubber-stamped legalese that stated by signing it I waived all rights to my work and acknowledged DC Comics as the sole author of it. But I wanted to work in comic books and that was the way the comic book industry worked, so I signed.

Again, I admire and respect Jack Kirby and do indeed believe he was and will always be the King of Comics. One of the high points of my career was when Jack penciled a six-issue Super Powers miniseries I wrote, based on the 1980s action figure line of the same name. Me getting to share a credit box with Kirby?! Hell yes! I had written the miniseries as full scripts, not knowing who the artist was to be, and when editor Andrew Helfer presented me with Kirby, I did a happy dance that gets repeated every time I look at that project.

But…several years later, Jack and Roz gave an interview to, I believe, The Comics Journal, in which Jack stated that he had been the writer of everything he ever drew. Stan was the dialogue man, but the stories came from Jack. Everything…including, apparently, my fully-scripted Super Powers miniseries, which he followed to the letter. When you know one thing a person claims is the absolute truth isn’t, how can you not be suspicious of all their similar claims on the same subject? But he was Jack Kirby and I wasn’t, so I kept it to myself and didn’t bother pounding out an indignant letter to set the record straight.

(Nor is Jack the only creator to state a case for creating characters after the fact. Later in life, an embittered Carmine Infantino, famous for his Silver Age-creating run as the artist of The Flash, began claiming that he, not writers John Broome and Gardner Fox, had created the Scarlet Speedster’s Rogues Gallery; like Jack with Marvel, Carmine and DC had not parted on the best of terms and time with its frustrations and hard-learned lessons can alter memory.)

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The typewritten synopsis for Fantastic Four #1, written by Stan Lee, exists, showing that Stan created the basic characters and outline for the story. Did Jack Kirby add layers and dimensions to the mix? Absolutely! But I have also seen enough pages of Jack’s original art from 1960s Marvel Comics he drew with his margin notes still discernible to know that the ideas and directions he jotted down for Stan to consider when writing the dialogue were, as often as not, nowhere as good or as nuanced as what Stan ended up writing. I think it’s easy enough to take any run of the FF or Thor by Stan and Jack and compare them with Jack’s own solo efforts on New Gods or Jimmy Olsen or Captain Victory. And this isn’t a jab at Kirby! He was a brilliant idea man…hell, an idea factory with one of the most fertile imaginations to ever labor in this or any other entertainment field. He just wasn’t a very good writer…and what law said he had to be brilliant at everything? His characters lacked depth, were pretty much interchangeable, and he didn’t seem to have much more than two or three different voices/speech patterns to assign to any of his characters. But so what? Even if all (!!!) he ever did was work in creative partnership to complement the talents of better writers like Joe Simon and Stan Lee, that’s still one hell of a legacy that deserves the highest honors and a spot in the very forefront of the Comic Book Hall of Fame.

Someone once posed the question that put the whole Evil Stan Lee/Poor Jack Kirby debate in perspective for me: If Stan had left Marvel and Jack had stayed on, who would today be considered the Evil Marvel Daddy and who would be the Good Marvel Daddy?

Think about it.

There’s also the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko “Who created Spider-Man?” debate. Dare to type the name Stan Lee in a Facebook post and you can be sure it will be followed by some variant of “Stan sucks! He robbed Jack/Steve!” It’s become as reflexive as a kick following a tap to the knee.

In Jonathan Ross’s 2007 BBC documentary, “In Search of Steve Ditko,” the host sits down with Stan to talk about the creation of Spider-Man and his complicated relationship with Ditko. At first, Stan is full of his usual bombast (I don’t even think he knows he’s doing it anymore), trying to remain noncommittal, but Ross keeps pecking away at the question of who created what until, finally, the bombast falls away and Stan responds in as honest a tone as I’ve ever heard him use:

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Stan: He (Steve) had complained to me a number of times when there were articles written about Spider-Man which called me the creator of Spider-Man, and I always thought I was because I’m the guy who said “I have an idea for a strip called Spider-Man”…Steve had said, “Having an idea is nothing because until it becomes a physical thing, it’s just an idea.” And he said it took him to draw the strip and give it life, so to speak, or to give it something actually tangible, otherwise, all I had was an idea. So I said to him, “Well, I think the person with the idea is the person who creates it.” And he said, “No, because I drew it.” Anyway, Steve definitely felt that he was the co-creator of Spider-Man, and after he said it and I saw it meant a lot to him, that was fine with me, so I said, fine, I’ll tell everyone you’re the co-creator. That didn’t quite satisfy him, so I sent him a letter, I put it in writing (in a letter dated 8/18/99), “To Whom It May Concern, this is to state that I consider Steve Ditko to be the co-creator of Spider-Man, along with me,” something like that. And I sent it to him and said you can show this to anyone you want to. And I found out that Steve still objected to that because he felt I used the word “consider”–I “consider Steve to be the co-creator.” Apparently he felt that wasn’t definite enough, so at that point I gave up, I mean, we just…I haven’t spoken to or heard from him since.

Ross: But do you yourself believe he co-created it?

(And it’s here that Stan’s façade falls away and, instead of giving one of his pat, rehearsed answers, he pauses, and you can see that this subject pains him and that he’s struggling to find some middle ground.

Stan: I’m willing to say so.

Ross: That’s not what I’m asking you, Stan.

Stan: No, and that’s the best answer I can give you.

Ross: So it’s a no then, isn’t it?

Stan: No, I really think the guy who dreams the thing up created it! You dream it up and then you give it to anybody to draw it.

Ross: But if it had been drawn differently, it might not have been successful or a hit…

Stan: Then I would have created something that didn’t succeed.

Ross: Valid point.

Stan: But I don’t want to…you made me say that in this documentary that you’re doing and I’m sorry I said it because I’m happy to say I consider Steve to be the co-creator.

Ross: But you can see…

Stan: I think if Steve wants to be called the co-creator, he deserves to be called the co-creator because he had done such a wonderful job.steve_ditko1

Again, I bow before no one in my admiration of Steve Ditko and his work; one of the first half-dozen stories I ever wrote for the Charlton Comics horror comics was drawn by Steve and, like my the Kirby-drawn Super Powers, it (and a later Legion of Super-Heroes back-up for DC which I wrote and he drew) stands out as career highlight and major fanboy moments of gibbery.

But…

As much as Steve wanted validation from Stan and Marvel Comics, it wasn’t and isn’t Stan’s to give. Marvel Comics owns Spider-Man, not Stan. Stan was/is an employee of Marvel, not its master; he worked for Martin Goodman, he worked for Ike Perlmutter, he worked for whoever, but his was never the last say on anything to do with the legal issues we’re talking about. He has no legal standing to make so definitive a statement as “Steve Ditko is the co-creator of Spider-Man!” To do so would be a breach of his fiduciary responsibility to his employer and would have opened him up to world of trouble and the loss of his job. A statement like that from Stan could be used in court by Steve (were he the suing kind; he’s not, preferring to look forward rather than dwell on the past…I know, I’ve tried to engage him in a discussion about the olden days) to advance a legal claim.

And I do understand Stan’s point. I’ve had properties I’ve created in full–a story bible, complete with characters and their back stories, a history of their world, and stories for the launch, including a full script for the first issue–end up with me sharing “co-creator” credit (and equity) with an artist who was brought on board after all that was in place. Does coming up with a visual make the artist my equal partner (because by this time, publishers were giving creators equity in their characters)? Like Stan, I don’t really believe it does, especially when the artist is working off a full written plot or script. But, again, that was the way the business worked and I had the choice of signing the contract or taking my character and walking away. It wasn’t the optimum situation, but it was the best deal then being offered, so I signed with eyes wide open and lips clamped shut.

We seem to have arrived at a time in history where every story needs to have a hero and a villain. In the case of the Marvel story, Stan’s been made the villain because he’s the most visible of all the people who worked on those comics. Stan became the face of Marvel Comics because he had the personality for the job, one which the reclusive and private Ditko wouldn’t have taken on and for which the gruff Kirby wasn’t really suited. But that visibility–Stan Lee is the only figure from the comic industry that anybody outside the industry can name–makes him the biggest and most obvious target. Stan has given credit where it was due (I seem to remember his Origins of Marvel Comics introductions from that 1970s book were quite evenhanded on that subject but I don’t have them available to check), but is he obligated to state a belief he doesn’t himself hold just because it’s what’s popular? And does believing that as the person who first had the idea, he is the actual creator make him the bad guy or just human?

I know this post is going to get me slammed; remember my definition of Facebook, “The place where no statement goes unchallenged, no punch line is left unstepped upon, and where no umbrage is left untaken, even for people you’ve never met”? I expect this will be read as my being a “company man” while all I’ve tried to do is look at these events from some middle ground, based on the realities of the world in which they took place. Context is key, but context doesn’t seem to have a place on the internet.

As I said, we’ll never know the absolute truth, but I’m fairly certain that neither side has it absolutely right. Those who actually have a dog in the fight are, naturally, constrained by their self-interest. And those of us standing around the ring watching the fight have, as is our wont, chosen sides. But because nobody knows the truth, I don’t see any use in the viciousness of some of the spectators. You’ve got your opinion, I’ve got mine, but bottom line, we don’t know and no amount of screaming is going to change that. As a friend of mine recently said in a discussion about religion (he’s pro; I’m not), “Do you really think that after I’ve been a practicing Catholic for almost 60 years that you’re going to convince me there’s no god in a ten minute conversation?”

He was right. But that we don’t agree doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. And that some of us have different views on who deserves the credit for the creation of this comic book character or that favorite story, well, in the end, it takes two to tango and Stan Lee without Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko and Jerry Siegel without Mort Weisinger would have lead to the creation of some very different stories than those we got.

And then what would we have to fight about on Facebook?

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35 Comments on Stan and Jack and Steve and Mort and Jerry and Joe

  1. Julie told me a couple times that when Mort died, he, Julie, was his only friend left on the planet. Julie also introduced me to “his boss” Irwin Donenfeld, DC publisher 1953-1968, who was “the” source proving gorilla covers sold “best”

    I totally agree that those who vilify Stan Lee ownership issues over the early 60s Marvel comics are blowing air cuz Stan never owned any part of Marvel. However, he did enable each successive ownership wave to perp creative frauds by lying for decades in efforts to maintain his own job(s) there.

  2. An excellent essay, Mr. Kupperberg. Fair, reasonable, balanced and, because of all that, almost certain to catch holy hell in some circles. Comics fans are particularly invested in the concept of origins, whether it be the fictional backstory of the characters we adore, or — upon reaching an age where we realize that people actually had a hand in making these books — the real circumstances behind that character’s creation. Back in the day before a thriving industry press, that discussion on the latter was little more than speculation. Thus, “X-Men ripped off Doom Patrol because they cribbed the guy in a wheelchair and the Brotherhood of Evil (Mutants)!” Alternatively, “Swamp Thing ripped off Man-Thing!” (Or was it the other way around? I can’t remember which one appeared by a nanosecond first.) The fan press, first in print and then via internet, pulled back that green curtain on the industry to those of us in Fandomland, but rather than revealing Mighty Oz warts and all, it seemed to just focus on the warts. And so, our speculation became a devalued currency and was replaced by the superior (mis-)informed speculation, the new coin of the realm. No need for critical thinking or using the skills of a historian to suss out the truth from multiple sources when you can point to an interview or URL link and proclaim “Artist X with an axe to grind says this, so it’s got to be true, and Writer B should be boiled in oil! Boycott company Q and all their movies until they do the right thing!” I recall the extreme consternation that arose when I dared suggest that I had greater sympathy of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (whom you can argue were taken advantage of in their youth) as opposed to Jack Kirby (whom you can argue was “taken advantage of” as a middle aged man, a former publisher and someone who knew the rules of the game, hence the use of quotes.) With a limited historical record, scant documentation, and the key players either dead or extremely aged, there is little left available to the partisans but bluster and ALL CAPS in their efforts to persuade and dissuade, something which neither entrenched camp will find all that convincing.

  3. Rich Meyer says:

    Grrr! Arrgh! Stan! EVILLLL! DARRRR!

    Great post, Paul. It’s easy to see both sides of the argument when you lay it out this succinctly.

    I think Stan gets the polarization because a lot of folks view him as playing both sides of the table, as both management and creator. Sure, a lot of folks have done that, but as you pointed out, not many people on the street will be able to name Jim Shooter or Roy Thomas or anyone else. Stan, through his own penchant for promotion (self and company) has inadvertently made himself this big target.

    People look at Jack Kirby’s legal problems, and Steve Ditko’s virtual hermitage from the mainstream and grasp at the simplest solution: The little guy being screwed over by the Big Company Man. Usually, that’s the case (and often has been to some extent in the comic industry from what I’ve seen). It sure beats actually researching the facts and you can get more internet steam out of jousting for the underdog. Kirby himself has reversed his position on several occasions, I think simply because his memory was better on some days than others. Like anyone of us.

    As for the creation points, I would think it would be a level of degree of participation that should determine who is the creator of a particular property. If an artist comes into a project and thinks your character should have blond hair or pouches on his belt, that’s nothing that should rate co-creatorship (and please, kick Liefeld to the street before he starts drawing those pouches). If he comes in and just draws things with no real input, I can’t see how that would warrant co-creator anything. If that’s the sort of thing that happened to you, I think you got rooked. With Lee and Ditko, I’m still leaning toward the Ditko side. But that’s just me.

  4. John Leasure says:

    A great commentary and so very true. In film and TV the “creator” is the director even if the idea and original script was the work of a writer– working alone. Even in the credits, by contract, the director’s name is the last credit you see on screen in the opening and the first name if end credits are only used. Why so many writers end up directing.

    • Scavenger says:

      In Television, it’s actually the exec producer or show runner, often (these days at least) the head writer, who’s the “creator” and final voice of a show. Directors tend to be hired guns who do an episode or two.

      Director is still the last name in the credits, cuz I guess the DGA just has that much sway.

  5. Graham Nolan says:

    Excellent article, Paul! I agree with all of your conclusions except one. I think as writers you and Stan can agree on the assertion that if the writer comes up with the idea or treatment or full script or all of the above that he is the sole creator because you have a singular viewpoint. As primarily an artist but also someone that has worked on the other side as a writer, I would disagree with this point.

    A treatment or script no matter how detailed is just ideas on a paper. Comics by very definition is the “marriage of words and pictures”. One without the other is either prose or illustration. The artist not only visualizes the look of the characters/places etc, they also create the visual language that defines the comic. The way Spider-Man moves has been copied by every artist since Ditko created that look.
    Unless the writer is the artist, or the writer draws up the look of all the characters and places and designs himself to pass on to the artist , I don’t see how they can take sole credit in a visual and collaborative medium.
    Thanks again for a great read!

    • Ed Flores says:

      Paul… Do you mind if I share this article on FACEBOOK’s JACK KIRBY’s page? Excellent, and as you say written from amiddle ground…

    • Philip Frey says:

      I will disagree with that. You’re point is accurate in the sense of who is the co-creator of *that comic* or *that story*. But if I come up with a character and all I really need is a costume design, *I* still created the character.

      George Lucas created Darth Vader, not George Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie, no matter how pivotal Ralph’s designs were.

  6. Michael Ray Moore says:

    what would we fight about? the weather…makes me wonder about our true propensities

  7. Gene Reed says:

    This is a well thought-out piece of writing, Paul. Unfortunately, a lot of fandom will dismiss it because it does not fit their pre-conceived notion of how they think it should be. I can sympathize with a corporation being given credit for something you did. Back in the 80s and 90s I designed and wrote financial software for a large corporation that did not allow me (or my fellow programmers) to take individual credit. We were highly compensated for our work, and in some cases we were glad that no one knew who was to blame if a program bombed.

  8. Bill Thinnes says:

    Great analysis and article. I left a Kirby FB page because I dared to insinuate Kirby couldn’t write realistic text/dialogue, that the wrong words were always stressed in most sentences, and that this was why Stan was so invaluable: he wrote funny, dramatic, REALISTIC [usually] dialogue. Boy, was I vilified! I basically told them to go to hell and went elsewhere. The truth often lies in the middle, and I have less and less time, as I get older, for the radical ends of any argument/discussion. I agree with Graham Nolan, though: the person who creates the costume/look/atmosphere of a comic character/book is certainly the co-creator with the writer, legally or not. I would argue that comics are more than 50% a visual medium, and the initial visual designer of a comic character has to be considered cocreator.

    • Allen Smith says:

      Glad you said “usually” when refering to Lee’s dialogue. As far as the quality of that dialogue, opinions will differ. Stan could be funny, and dramatic, true, but all too often he was repetitive, self referential, preachy,redundant, obvious, and ego driven. Like someone who wants to be known as a great writer but doesn’t have the talent to hack it.

  9. Neil Martin says:

    The idea that a person who designs the look of a character is the co-creator SEEMS, on the surface of it, legitimate. Then I remember novelists. William Shakespeare CREATED Romeo And Juliet. No amount of visualizations take that sole credit away. James Patterson created Alex Cross. Regardless of how many different versions of the character appear on film, his sole credit remains. The writer , unless he collaborates very closely with the artist from the gestation of the character, is the SOLE creator. Designing a costume is not co-creating. I LOVE Kirby and Ditko’s work, really LOVE, but talents are often known to be egotistical, and I’d include Stan in that group with them. I can argue with myself over this but, as someone who writes more than he draws, I value the IDEA most!

  10. R. Maheras says:

    Nice work! You echo most of my own sentiments about the “who did what” conundrum at Silver Age Marvel, which has been rolling around in my head now for more than 45 years.

  11. Well handled, Paul! I believe you cleverly pointed out that the real villain in the comics industry is the professional corporate culture that has been allowed to exist and has been perpetuated by publishers and creators alike since the very beginning of the industry simply by their willingness to accept the conditions of the not-so-great agreement. All involved are guilty. Attempts to change this culture have existed since the undergrounds and the independents of the ’70s and ’80’s but the lure of glory to work on established characters always seems to have a stronger appeal. If we put as much energy into reforming for the future as we put into arguing about the past maybe we will finally see some change.

  12. Bob Budiansky says:

    Excellent essay, Paul! One small bit of embellishment to something you wrote–“They held him (Jack Kirby) to a separate legal standard over the issue of the return of his original art than was being offered other creators…”. This was true, and Marvel certainly looked like the bad guy to the public as a result. But there’s a bit more to the story, at least based on what I heard (this would be called “hearsay” in a court of law, no doubt): I was working at Marvel when a lot of this warfare between Jack and Marvel was going on, during the late 70’s-early 80’s. One thing I heard then-Marvel EIC Jim Shooter say was that Marvel wanted to give back the artwork to Jack, but because Jack was making all these legal claims on ownership, Marvel’s lawyers had to get involved and draw up additional paperwork for Jack to agree to before the artwork could be returned. So, in other words, Jack’s own actions are what brought on the “separate legal standard” as you put it. I’m not saying how true what Jim said was–I wasn’t at any of the meetings with Marvel’s lawyers or any other upper management involved with this–I’m just reporting what I heard. Like I said, hearsay.

  13. Travis says:

    Thanks for a well-thought out article on a very polarizing topic! I’m sure there are so many other examples along these lines that one could come up with, but another it reminded me of was Batman/Bob Kane/Bill Finger/Jerry Robinson, etc. another factor that I think is sometimes easy to forget is people were working collaboratively and didn’t necessarily have an idea of the level of fame or popularity their character would achieve–and looking back after the fact can cause even the parties originally involved to have conflicting recollections of involvement. I think balancing actual legal responsibility with a well-intentioned moral responsibility may be the best balance we can find.

  14. Jerry Berger says:

    Great article, PK…

    BTW, would be great if all would be forgiven… send me a FB message. Had breakfast with PL earlier this month. Covered a lot of ground.

    Note to Rich Meyer: Are you the same Rich Meyer who attended Syracuse U around 1972-73 and was a part of the early days of SCAS along with other residents of Marion (among others) such as Dave Petrie and Mike Pardo?

  15. Robert says:

    Easily the best commentary on creator credits I’ve yet read. Very balanced and fair to all, in my opinion. Unfortunately, many Kirby fans cannot even hear Stan’s name being said without foaming at the mouth, somehow believing that they were there and know who did what. Stan and Jack were/are both geniuses and both contributed a huge amount to Marvel’s success. Sadly, we can’t even get agreement on that. Thank you, Paul, for your insightful and erudite essay. Now, off you go and get your tin helmet!

  16. sharonna says:

    Excellent article, very fair. Re Simon and Kirby as bosses/publishers, coincidentally I just read Joe Simon’s A Life in Comics and he mentions that the early Silver Age Tales of Suspense Cap stories that were retellings of Simon’s and Kirby’s Golden Age Cap stories were credited to Lee and Kirby…with no Simon mentioned. And didn’t Stan and Jack both “borrow” the idea/visual appearance of the FF’s Human Torch from Carl Burgos? 😉

  17. James Van Hise says:

    I think it’s clear that Stan Lee came up with the basic concept of Spider-Man, even to rejecting Jack Kirby’s early attempt at the character and turning to Steve Ditko. But Ditko clearly developed the character, adding nuance and ideas all his own. Ditko’s writing of the book was obvious. In, I think it was issue #31 a character refers to their boss as the Master Planner when in fact it was someone else because Stan didn’t know what Ditko was leading up to. The style of writing then (not just the art) in Ditko’s issues was so singular that I remember in the issue after Ditko left I was amazed at how completely different the writing style of the book suddenly was. If Stan had really been writing it all himself then the transition would have been seamless with only the art being different. For years thereafter, the Spider-Man books mined what Ditko had done because he established the identity of the series. As for Stan writing everything, in the 1960s the books Stan worked on must have created a hundred new characters (heroes and villains), but when the other shoe dropped and Jack left Marvel, Stan’s creativity came to a sudden halt. He created She-Hulk and then. . . no new major characters from Stan. Wolverine was Len Wein, and other major characters were from other writers. Not Stan. Stan and Jack were an important synthesis of talent, but Jack’s solo work for DC, Pacific and others was clearly different. Unlike Stan, Jack did keep creating, but it was quite different. But at least Jack showed that the imagination was still there.

    • Philip Frey says:

      You are talking about how the character *developed*. It’s clear (and I don’t think that anyone disputes it) that the stories were co-created and later mostly created by Steve.

      But the *character* was created by Stan, then give to Jack, taken away and given to someone who could visualize the character Stan had created.

  18. That Jack signed away the rights to the characters is clear. Where Marvel is lacking in ethics, is when they reprint his stuff without compensation. Also as far as I know Kirby never authorized Marvel to use his name. Apparently Kirby didn’t have the foresight to realize his own name (not just his graphic creations) was valuable. Don Rosa copyrighted his own name (at great expense) but Disney, who had reprinted his stories for years without compensation, now can’t use Rosa’s name without compensation. Alan Moore also forbid the use of his name by Marvel in the Miracleman reprints.
    So that’s what the Kirbys should concentrate on: deny Marvel’s right to use Kirby’s name for free on covers and promotion when selling their characters.

  19. Van Reid says:

    Thanks for this. A keeper.

  20. Mark me down as another yea-sayer to the above essay. Where all are the virulent voices people have been expecting? Paging all Kirby-Kultists!

    I’m not any happier than anyone else that comics-creators have frequently signed away valuable properties to earn their daily bread, but I don’t see any justification for calling it “theft,” as do so many others (paging Alan Moore…) It’s no more theft than getting lowballed by a hock shop owner who only gives you the minimum on your merchandise. It’s not always ethical, but it’s not theft. A larger question might be: if fans expect contracts to be set aside when they’re disadvantageous to the artists, what stops the company from setting aside contracts when they are disadvantageous to the company? (Not that there isn’t a lot of undercover finagling anyway…)

    I’ve always thought Stan gets the bad rap he does because for most fans, he’s become the epitome of the Bad Boss: the guy who takes credit for his underlings’ accomplishments. Paul’s completely correct that Stan did more than kibitz or erratically change things he didn’t like. Stan could take extremely weak or unfocused Kirby stories and make them compelling thanks to the dialogue. Kirby had many, many gifts, but an attention to fine detail was not one of them.

    Ditto Jerry Siegel. While I will say that I don’t know if DC let him come back in the 50s out of the goodness of their corporate hearts– Gerald Jones alleges other motives– Siegel somehow produced better stories under Mean Mort than he did at any time, at least to my knowledge. I noted in one of my essays that Siegel didn’t even keep up the quality shortly after he departed DC in the 60s:

    ‘A story like “Superman’s Return to Krypton” shows a far greater organization of story elements– including symbolism– than anything Siegel had done in earlier eras. Yet it doesn’t seem that this was Siegel’s normal mode of operation, for after he severed relations with DC in the mid-60s, his scripts became pretty wild-and-woolly once more, as one can observe from his output at the Archie imprint Mighty Comics.’

    http://arche-arc.blogspot.com/.....plate.html

    So it would seem obvious that sometimes editors have creative input, no matter how nice or even-handed they are. But then, there are a lot of genuine artists who do great work without being particularly nice either.

  21. Forgot to add this: also very much agreed with your statement on Stan’s fiduciary responsibility. I think just last year some asshole fan ambushed Stan at a con and tried to corner Stan into making a categorical statement re: creativity that, as you note, Stan cannot legally make.

  22. Jim Thomas says:

    Hhhhmmmmpppph! If Fox News were really as “Fair and Balanced” as you have been in this post Mr. Kupperberg, I would probably watch them.
    No, Really.
    And for those who may claim you have not been “f&b”, hey life’s too short to argue about somebody else right?
    Seriously, I enjoyed the post [came upon it by accident] and as a “creator” or radio commercials [in a work made for hire situation] understand things a bit more clearly now.
    And I thank you for that!

  23. Scavenger says:

    Thought I had posted this here, but my thoughts ultimately go to something Peter David said in But I Digress in CBG once (paraphrased): With Stan Lee, Jack Kirby created the Silver Surfer…without Stan he created the Black Racer. (and conversely, without Jack, Stan created Solarman.)

  24. nick caputo says:

    Paul,

    It’s rare to read a well-balanced and thoughtful essay on the issues regarding comic books and creators, but you’ve succeeded with flying colors. There will always be strong feelings on either side, but to discuss them without vitriol is becoming increasingly rare. Too many choose to lump every issue into a pot and mix it together, turning it into sludge.

    Having been lucky enough to speak with many in the industry over the decades I’ve discovered that some fans have little interest in reality. They take sides, and blindly defend the person they advocate for, which usually leads to shouting and name calling.

    Mainstream comic books have often been the product of a combination of talent:writers, artists and editors, along with letters and colorists, and – of course – the publisher and other executives who had a say in matters. I’d agree with Ditko that Spider-Man wasn’t a solo creation (although others who “advocate” for him want him credited as sole creator). Ditko was instrumental in creating the visual vocabulary of Spider-Man; designing the rouges gallery of villains and some of the most diverse and intriguing supporting characters in superhero comics. Co-plotting with Lee and later plotting on his own, Ditko brought a lot to the table. Lee’s skills were also essential and shouldn’t be downplayed, although they often are.

    The turmoil that erupts over comic industry credits, compensation, rights and other hot button issues is often repetitive and self-defeating. Many repeat the same proclamations over and over and gleefully batter their opponents as if they were WWF wrestlers. I greatly appreciate your tone and hope more follow in your path.

  25. Vernon Sanders says:

    Mr. Kupperberg, Thank you so much for the light that you shined in this area. My introduction to you was as a writer of the second volume of Doom Patrol in 1987, when I was 17. For years, I had simply assumed from reading how the Marvel Method of writing comics worked, was that Stan Lee would deliver a basic idea of what he wanted to have happen between the covers to the artist. The artist would draw the story out, fleshing out parts if necessary. I imagine that at this point there would be a lot of communication back and forth about the details of the story. The most common story about an artist creating a character for a story was the introduction of the Silver Surfer. Then the artist would return the story to Stan to fill in the word balloons and editorial boxes. At SDCC 2006, Stan said that when he got the work back from the artist, he would sit at his typewriter and would type out the dialogue. He would then hand the pages to his editor, who happened to also be himself, and he always liked what he typed, so he would then approve the book. I kind of viewed Stan as a salesman, and the product he sells best is himself. You have given me more to consider and think about. Thank you, Sincerely, Vernon Sanders

  26. Aaron Noble says:

    Paul writes: “Yes, Stan thought up the main concepts but it took Jack to bring them to life. Of course, if Stan’s favorite artist to work with in those days hadn’t died a couple of years earlier in a fall from a commuter train, Fantastic Four #1 would likely have been a Stan Lee/Joe Maneely production.” –This is crazily problematic. BOTH parties claimed to have brought the FF concept to the table. No one can prove the case. The Kirby argument is not without circumstantial support. Why do you accept Stan’s claim as factual?

    • Briefly: the less than circumstantial existence of Stan’s typewritten plot to FF #1; I’ve spoken to or read accounts from numerous people who were there; I know how the comic book industry worked in those days; and I’ve been on the receiving end of Jack’s claims of credits where perhaps not so much was due when he claimed in an interview to have written everything he ever drew, including the mid-80s SUPER POWERS miniseries that I wrote full script before knowing who would be drawing it, and following it to the letter. I’m not saying the latter negates all of Jack’s claims about his input into the creation of the Marvel Universe, just that he often made assertions of proprietorship based more at the urgings of others; Roz was not shy about speaking her mind during those interviews. In the end, it may be a “he said/he said” situation, but my experience and instincts lead me to side more with Stan’s version of events.

      • Aaron Noble says:

        I really appreciate this answer, and I think your arguments here deserve a place in the main article. The question of who was the “first mover” is really the main controversy among thoughtful and informed people. No one serious doubts Stan’s involvement and influence over the books as they developed from the first issues. Likewise, no one serious doubts Jack’s heavy involvement in plotting. With respect to the FF 1 (partial) plot, it doesn’t prove much, having been written after an unknown number of discussions with Jack. According to Stan: “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.” Against that I would put the prior existence of Showcase 6 and COTU 3, which together contain almost all the origin elements common to both the “synopsis” and the published first issue.

  27. Bart Mixon says:

    “After kicking it around with Martin and Jack for a while, I decided to call our quaint quartet The Fantastic Four.” I think it has been pretty well documented that Stan wanted to call the book the FABULOUS Four and it was Martin who insisted on FANTASTIC Four – point being that if Stan’s memory is “faulty” here then it is reasonable to assume it is faulty elsewhere.

    If Stan having the “idea” means he “created” the character then does not Goodman deserve some creator credit since it was his “idea” for a super hero team book, a new Daredevil and Captain Marvel, etc.

    I think a plausible and even likely scenario for the birth of many of these characters is Stan turning to Jack and saying Martin wants super heroes – got any ideas?

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