Stan Lee was interviewed again recently by that well respected highbrow journal Playboy and yet again, like so many articles over the years, he was down as the “creator” not “co-creator” of an impressive list of superheroes- The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Spider-Man, The Hulk, The Avengers etc. etc.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Lee didn’t create these characters on his own, some would argue the lions share of creation belonged to artists like Jack Kirby, who would come up with the costumes, ideas, plots and sometimes dialogue of the comics Stan “wrote”.
The really interesting snippet though was picked up on by the Comic Alliance website where Lee says-
“There was never a time when it just said ‘by Stan Lee.’ It was always ‘by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’ or ‘by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.’ I made sure their names were always as big as mine. As far as what they were paid, I had nothing to do with that. They were hired as freelance artists, and they worked as freelance artists. At some point they apparently felt they should be getting more money. Fine, it was up to them to talk to the publisher. It had nothing to do with me. I would have liked to have gotten more money too. And twice, not once, I offered a job to Jack Kirby. I said to him, ‘Jack, why don’t you work for Marvel with me?’ I was the art director at the time. I said, ‘You be the art director. I’ll just be the editor and head writer, and you’ll have that security.’ He wouldn’t do it. He didn’t want a staff job. With him, as with Ditko, I don’t see where they were unfairly treated. Jack was a great guy and so is Steve. I’m sorry anybody feels there’s any acrimony. I loved them both.”
Stan tells us “it had nothing to do with me”. He washes his hands of the matter, he was a hired hand, so were they, both battling against some faceless corporation. The little guys, trying their best to make good. Good for you Stan. Excelsior.
OK. So what Kirby got paid had “nothing to do” with Stan? Stan was in a position to offer Kirby a job. Not once, apparently, but twice. Yet his position in the company meant he had “nothing to do” with how Kirby was treated or what he got paid. Kirby built the Marvel universe from the ground up, you’d think maybe he deserved a little recognition for this, sure he got paid as a “work for hire”, but the work for hire he did was the backbone of the entire company, and he was treated like another disposable employee.
Stan is “sorry anybody feels there’s any acrimony.” There was acrimony, Kirby felt bitter at the way he was treated, his family still feel that bitterness, and they heard firsthand from their dad how he felt. Kirby continues to not get media recognition for having co-created the vast majority of superhero characters that are the stars of so many recent and upcoming Marvel/Disney films.
Lee says he loved Ditko and Kirby. Of course he did, they made him a lot of money by feeding him year upon year of ideas that he still makes a living from while the Kirby kids resort to trying to sue Marvel as the Kirby estate doesn’t see a cent of the billions of dollars Kirby characters have made over the years.
Maybe Stan believes everything he says in this article, he just doesn’t get why Kirby and Ditko felt aggrieved at the way they were treated. Maybe he’s incapable of imagining how it feels to see other people make a fortune from your creations and art, from merchandise and action figures based on your designs and ideas. Maybe he’s just Stan Lee and he imagines everyone else thinks like Stan Lee and can swallow their pride and take the money.
It’s such a shame. When I was a boy Stan Lee could do no wrong, he created the best club on earth, he used long words that all started with the same letter, he was cool. I wish it had been like it was portrayed in the FF anuual when Stan and Jack tried to crash the wedding, two pals, no animosity, watching each others backs.
I wish he’d be cool again and make a stand for Kirby, he could speak out and say his buddies Jack and Steve don’t get enough recognition; he could make sure he isn’t credited as the “creator” of Captain America when he had nothing to do with his original creation, or the “artist” on Thor when he just filled in the speech balloons, he could refuse to appear in Marvel films until a CGI Jack stands next to him. Instead Stan Lee, one of the world’s finest self promoters, the smiling survivor, continues to do what he does best, promote Stan Lee. Jack turned down the art director job, I did all I could, it's nothing to do with me.
I don’t want to be down on Stan though, he has done so many amazing things in his life, he brought me a lot of joy as a kid, without Stan we wouldn’t have had the Marvel Universe as we know it today, I’m glad he’s alive and enjoying life, I just wish he’d try to understand why there still is acrimony and take a stand to even the scales. It’s not too late. Jack died 20 years ago, but Stan is still here, if he lost that “It had nothing to do with me” attitude he’d be able to redeem himself in the eyes of comic book history and not be the guy who spent the last years of his life promoting himself over the men whose shoulders he stood on.
Kirby said “comics will break your heart.” It’s such a shame that the greatest creative force we’ve ever seen in comics was paid in heartbreak instead of dollars, but we’re left with a legacy of characters and ideas that still burn as bright as they ever did. As Stan says “Jack was a great guy”. If Stan won’t, then make sure you let people know Jack Kirby existed, use social media (#jackkirby), use conversation, be crazy and use an actual pen, let them know he did such astounding things, that it wasn’t just Stan that created these modern myths.
It’s the last, best thing we can do now.