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Honoring A Fallen King, Part 3
What of the Wings of the House That Steve Built?
Bear with me, now, as we pursue the meat of the matter—creatively, legally, morally, ethically.
Let’s table conjecture for a time, and just talk about facts—or, at least, one set of facts as set out by two co-creators of a number of comicbook characters.
What goes into co-creating a character, when a writer and artist collaborate?
Taking the first of two calculated risks for this single post, let me take the plunge and offer two examples from my own personal experience that seem relevant, especially since they were characters co-created in 1992 to quite specifically echo and honor the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee and Steve Ditko/Stan Lee creations of 1962–1963 (along with a few favorite characters of that era by other co-creators, and from other publishers).
Bear with my seeming coy, however, since the prominent co-creator of these characters has formally insisted his name never be cited, his credit never again lettered or printed.
Funny folks, these creators.
As with all creator rights, I honor and defend his right; hence, his name will never appear in conjunction with these characters again in any venue I have control of, until such time as he either changes his mind, or they cease to appear in any media, or such time as I or my heirs are dead and gone.
Let me also add that I’ve decided to introduce this material because both of these characters are part of a legally-settled division of co-created characters/properties. Both are in fact characters that were legally deeded and assigned to the artist co-creator by the co-creator quite consciously in Stan Lee‘s seat—the writer, who in this scenario was also satirically embracing the “Stan Lee” persona with intent to evoke and provoke fond memories and not-so-fond memories for comics fans of the 1990s.
These are characters I have fully and legally owned since 1998 because once it became clear the 1992–1993 team could no longer function, and the property as it had existed in 1993 could no longer be built upon, exploited, extended, reprinted, or in any way continue to “live” as a creative property co-owned by its original co-creators, I demanded the original co-creative team deal with the legal division of the property. After initial reluctance, the entire team (or legal representative, in my case, since I wasn’t permitted to speak to or communicate with the writer), the writer insisted that I should and must own these three (and their respective supporting characters/titles/concepts). We all respected his wishes in this regard, and we all co-signed the legal separation of properties.
In 1992, I co-created a handful of characters with he-who-must-not-be-named. In the case of two of those characters, I took a major hand in determining, as artist, what they ultimately would look like, and “who” these characters would be.
First off, consider N-Man.
The only instruction I was given by N-Man‘s co-creator was that he was the result of a fusion of vertebrate man and invertebrate (of an undetermined species, at that time), and, literally, “he should look good coming through a wall.”
Here, via the original N-Man ashcan (1992), are excerpts from my sketchbooks with my hand-lettered brief of how N-Man became N-Man (note the blanks where the original co-creator’s name was erased, except for “Aff” in two captions):
So: the writer originally intended N-Man to be named H-Man; while I drew up design concepts, another artist in the threesome (Rick Veitch) also proposed a design that wasn’t used; the writer didn’t know what N-Man should look like, but knew what he shouldn’t look like; the writer finally suggested “he should look good coming through a wall.”
You see, this “character design stuff” isn’t so straightforward, folks. It rarely is.
With the Fury, I actually drew the co-creator’s original design concept, in rough form, just as it was described to me via telephone conversation in the summer of 1992. I quickly decided it just didn’t work. I took the initiative to propose something radically different from what the co-creator had pictured and suggested verbally, via phone conversation:
Now, I am not doing this (though I’ll no doubt be accused of doing so) to shamelessly promote my own work or characters amid this tragedy. I proffer these in this context because:
(a) we were consciously working in the classical so-called “Marvel Method,” primarily to save the writer time. Said writer/co-creator was in fact squeezing this planned 6-issue-plus-Giant-Annual project in between a crushing workload, and the “Marvel Method” indeed streamlines the timeframe so that the artist is dedicating more time and energy to the venture, freeing up the writer to work on multiple characters, titles, projects.
And, also because:
(b) with the exception of a single character—the Hypernaut—none of the characters we co-created ended up looking in any way like they had been described, unless you count “he should look good coming through a wall” a valid and cohesive verbal character design conception capable of being copyrighted, merchandized, and put to paper without input from another hand or two.
(In fact, back in 1998 while negotiating the legal division of all the characters, I initially refused Hypernaut, as that character was, in fact, wholly created visually as well as conceptually by the writer co-creator; at least I felt I had a legitimate stature with N-Man and the Fury as the member of the collaboration who had proposed and defined the final visual form of both characters. The writer/co-creator insisted absolutely upon the character being turned over to me, and I conceded, since I really wasn’t permitted to converse, much less argue the point.)
I would love to show you that original sketch by the Hypernaut co-creator, but since he has made it quite clear I cannot and should not ever name him or present his work in any context again regarding these characters/properties, I won’t.
Suffice to say, for those of you who own copies of the original 1992 ashcans from this project, the sketch did see print there, and be found there; and those of you who do will see and verify that Hypernaut, conceptually and visually, was completely the original creation of the writer. While there was no written description of Hypernaut, he topped that with a full-blown and detailed character sketch that was sufficiently detailed to serve as a proper model sheet!
Now, that is a writer who can claim to wholly creating a character, conceptually and visually.
Furthermore, I share this information and these graphics because
(c) Stan Lee, Marvel Comics, and John Byrne (among others) continue to cite a document that was reportedly discovered by writer Roger Stern in an old desk at Marvel‘s offices that is a written plot outline for Fantastic Four #1.
If this document is available in print or online, I’d love to see it, if only as a historian, scholar, fan, and teacher!
To the point, though:
Writing alone—sans any character sketches—is not by any stretch of the imagination the full creation of a character in comic books.
That FF #1 document would perhaps have been something that could have been registered or copyrighted, as a script or plot outline, in some venue (though likely not the U.S. Copyright Office, circa 1961 or 1962), but it does not invalidate Jack Kirby’s legal and moral claim to have been the co-creator of the Fantastic Four—creating the full and visual expression of Stan Lee‘s concept, and all that was in fact copyrighted by Marvel Comics—and it does not verify Stan Lee‘s claim to somehow being the primary (hence, the dominant) co-creator, legally, morally, or ethically.
Until and unless Marvel or Stan or somebody comes up with a Stan Lee sketch of the Marvel characters under dispute—one as fully realized as that the co-creator/writer of Hypernaut presented via FAX in 1992 to me, the co-creator and artist of Hypernaut—or so detailed a written description of all four characters that they would be drawn in the same way by more than one artist without significant deviation, I’m sorry, I just don’t buy the argument that Jack Kirby doesn’t have a legitimate co-creator claim, status, and moral, ethical, and legal claim to all that entails, which should also belong (by inheritance) to his rightful legal heirs.
Now, many have argued, in the plethora of online posts over the past week-and-a-half (has it only been that long?), we must take Stan Lee‘s deposition at face value.
They bristle and/or argue with anyone asserting some or any merit to the Jack Kirby family’s lawsuit, or anyone asserting the primary importance of Jack Kirby to the co-creation of the characters Kirby had a hand in creating and co-creating, almost always arriving at the dismissive phrases, “how do you know? Were you there?”
Leaving aside, then, the hard reality of Stan Lee‘s position—as a co-creator who has asserted himself as a primary creator of Marvel’s stable of character, titles, and concepts since at least 1964; as a co-creator historically and in fact enjoying favored status in that role since 1962; as a Marvel Comics employee rather than freelancer (Jack Kirby was never an employee, in fact; he was a freelancer, working outside the offices sans employee weekly payment or benefits, completing the majority if not all his work at home or in a studio he owned/rented/subsidized out of his own pocket, and delivering work to his editors at the Marvel offices); as a Marvel Comics figurehead of public renown since at least 1964 (and arguably as far back as 1947, as author of Secrets of Comics!); as a man paid annually by Marvel Comics to publicly and, since at least 1972, legally assert Marvel Comics as the sole legal proprietor of those characters, titles, concepts, and properties; as a paid shill of Marvel Comics in all its incarnations from 1947 to the present.
Leaving that aside—a leap the judge in the Kirby/Marvel judgment apparently made without much difficulty, given the court record—let’s hear from someone who WAS there.
First of all, let me make something clear, up front: I have not yet cleared permission to quote the following materials with either the author (Steve Ditko) or the editor/publisher (Robin Snyder).
I am in touch with Robin in hopes of doing so, but taking the plunge regardless; if this post is gone or truncated later this week, you’ll know why.
For now, though, on faith—let’s soldier on.
And please, pay attention.
Someone who was there, from the late 1950s until his departure from Marvel in the mid-1960s, is sharing his memories and perspective of key events; in fact, despite his reputation for being a recluse, Steve Ditko has shared them numerous times, for the record and in great detail from 2001—2004, if nowhere else… almost a full decade ago.
This is hardly news, folks.
And yet, it still is.
Don’t strain your eyes, please. You’ll be able to read the key passages below.
I offer the above just to verify what I say has existed now for quite some time does indeed exist; was in print; and is accessible to serious researchers, scholars, biographers (hint), and fans, in the permanent collections of the Center for Cartoon Studies Schulz Library (White River Junction, VT) and The Stephen R. Bissette Collection at HUIE Library at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. I personally purchased triple sets of these issues years ago and donated them, in editor/publisher Robin Snyder‘s name, to both libraries. Those are the only two libraries I have such privileges with; surely, some other serious comics librarian is also a subscriber, and has ensured this historic text is preserved for future generations?
both from 2008.
I’ll post a quote or two:
From the latter post: “For those who don’t have $200 to drop in these troubled economic times, allow me to steer you to the primary texts, depending upon your particular orientation to Ditko’s work:
* The August 18, 1999 letter from Stan Lee (on Stan Lee Media letterhead) stating, “I would like to go on record with the following statement… I have always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man’s co-creator,” (ellipses are Stan’s), was originally published in The Comics, November 1999, and is reprinted in Steve Ditko’s 32-Page Package, Volume 5 of the Ditko Package Series (May 2000; 2nd printing, December 2002), pg. 31. This saddle-stitched volume reprints Ditko’s comics-format discussion of creator’s rights that were originally published in various issues of The Comics, July 1999-March 2000.
* The Avenging Mind is another 32-page (plus covers) saddle-stitched collection of Ditko’s essays and comics-format discussions of creator rights, these very specifically addressing Ditko’s body of creative work for Marvel Comics. These originally appeared in The Comics, various issues (2007), including Ditko’s written essay “Toyland” (from The Comics, September-October, 2007), prompted in part by Marvel’s Joe Quesada saying, “These toys are meant to be broken… they’re meant to be thrown against a wall, smashed together, and built back up again…” (Joe Quesada, interview at Newsarama.com, September 10, 2006).
Even more essential to those with an interest in sorting out the various claims over the years proffered about who did what at Marvel in the early 1960s, Ditko’s “Roislecxe,” “Creator or Co-Creator?,” “He Giveth and He Taketh Away,” “Lifting and the Lifter,” “Revealing Styles,” “Martin Goodman/Stan Lee,” “They Are The…,” and “The Mark and the Stain” (pp. 8-28) spells it all out in rigorous detail. As Ditko says from the first sentence of this series of essays, these were written “in response to claims in Stan Lee and George Mair’s book, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee…”, and represents Ditko’s most public airing of his experiences at Marvel Comics and most intensive analysis of the various claims Stan Lee and others have made over the decades (as codified in Lee’s semi-autobiography).
* Equally — more — essential are the back issues of The Comics featuring Ditko’s essays specifically addressing the Spider-Man years, which incorporate more insights on his work on The Hulk and Dr. Strange. …you need these issues — all of them, as this is Ditko’s own 15-chapter autobiographical account of his relationships at Marvel, with Stan Lee, Martin Goodman, Spider-Man and its supporting cast, and Ditko’s incredibly detailed introspective analysis of all that went down, under greater ethical scrutiny than anyone involved has ever offered. I can only compare this, really, to reading Dave Sim’s accounts of self-publishing. Why hasn’t anyone properly ballyhooed this incredible work? Let’s make up for that right now!
Until Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder collect these in an upcoming volume of the Package series, these back issues of The Comics are what you need:
The Comics Vol. 12, No. 5 (May 2001) launches the series with “A Mini-History: Some Background”, which functions as an introduction; “A Mini-History” was composed of “1. The Green Goblin” (Vol. 12, No. 7, July 2001); “2. Amazing Fantasy #15″ (Vol. 12, No. 10, October 2001); “3. The Amazing Spider-Man #1″ (Vol. 12, No. 11, November 2001); “2. The Amazing Spider-Man #2″ (Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2002); “5. The Amazing Spider-Man #3″ (Vol. 13, No. 4, April 2002); “6. Spider-Man/Spider-girl” (Vol. 13, No. 5, May 2002); “7. The Amazing Spider-Man #4″ (Vol. 13, No. 8, August 2002); “8. Others, Outsiders (OOs): Complainers and Complaints Against Betty Brant” (Vol. 14, No. 2, February 2003); “9. The OOs and Aunt May” (Vol. 14, No. 4, April 2003); “10. The OOs and JJJ” (Vol. 14, No. 5, May 2003); “11. Further Complaints and Influences of the OOs” (Vol. 14, No. 6, June 2003); “12. Guest Stars: Heroes and Villains” (Vol. 14, No. 7, July 2003); “13. Speculation” (Vol. 14, No. 8, August 2003); and “14. The Mistrial” (Vol. 14, No. 9, September 2003); “Wind-up” (Vol. 14, No. 11, November 2003).
In this masterwork, Ditko lucidly spells out his every memory of these years, comics and core issues, based on “a rough record of my early involvement with” the characters the Ditko wrote for himself back in 1966 (“Some Background,” The Comics, V. 12, N. 5, May 2001, pg. 35). Ditko winds up with a pretty (justifiably) caustic assessment of fandom’s role in all this — what should have been done, what was left undone, and the myths that spun as a result of both action and inaction. It’s the most direct imaginable communication from Ditko himself, and a final accounting for anyone who cares…”
There’s plenty more; as you can see, I wrote at length about this way back in 2008; Robin Snyder published this work from 2000 to the present. Why it remains relatively “unknown” material, especially in light of this past week’s Kirby/Marvel judgment, is anyone’s guess.
(I mean, Robin Snyder has been steadily publishing the newsletter now for well over a decade, and remains the primary publisher of Ditko‘s new work (also for well over a decade); Diamond won’t carry any of it, and Robin doesn’t engage with the internet. What options are left to him? He’s happy with what it’s grown into, Ditko‘s obviously still satisfied working with Robin, and it’s almost willful ignorance on the part of so-called Ditko fans when such an ongoing body of work—including a complete serialized book-length ms. on Ditko‘s own years at Marvel!—has been made available. Nobody’s banging on Robin‘s door to subsidize, fund, or get this work out there. When he can afford the money and time, he tells me the book will see print as a book, and let’s hope that’s soon. I drop a couple hundred dollars with Robin every two-three years to re-up and order copies of the in-print work. You want to read this stuff, order it, support it. Self-publishing is always an uphill struggle; and it’s a miracle folks like Robin continue plugging away. Here’s another notification it exists; act on it, if you’re interested!)
In any case, in the opening paragraphs of Part 2 of “A Mini-History,” entitled “Amazing Fantasy #15,” published and available to the interested world in October of 2001—almost a full decade ago—Steve Ditko wrote:
As of today, I’ve personally scoured over 22 Stan Lee books, interviews, tapes, etc., and this still pretty much sums it up: the Stan Lee interview from Jonathan Ross‘s BBC documentary In Search of Steve Ditko:
Now, there’s more—much more—that Steve Ditko has to say. Much more.
Jack Kirby is no longer here to speak for himself. For some, that cinches it: Marvel and Stan Lee outlived him, Jack‘s signatures are on documents damning Jack, and that’s that.
But Steve Ditko is still with us.
“Why wasn’t Steve Ditko called to testify?,” some have asked this past week.
I don’t know.
I haven’t asked.
It’s none of my business, really. None of this is.
But I don’t have to wonder for long, knowing as well as I do what each of these three men—Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko—have chosen to share with us publicly over the decades.
Having read every Jack Kirby interview I could get my hands on all my life, having read every stitch of anything Steve Ditko has ever written or drawn about his comics work, I think it’s fair to say that the two men were philosophically light years apart.
Let me put it to you this way, to make sense of why I brought N-Man and the Fury into this at the start:
Would I, or my heirs, rationally call the co-creator of the Fury and N-Man to the stand, given the differences so great between us since the mid-1990s that I am banished, exiled, from his life and world, real and imaginary?
I wouldn’t advise it. Ever.
Now, I don’t know of any similar infraction, upset, or division between Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko—I don’t believe there was any such split between the men—but I do know that Steve Ditko has stated things in print that were contrary to Jack Kirby‘s statements, revealing fundamental divisions of their personal philosophies, how they worked, how they saw their work, how they saw their relationships with the editors and publishers, and so on. (More on that next installment, later this week, as time permits.)
I think it fair to say, too, with no slight intended or inferred, that Jack, even if he were here, and of the soundest mind and soundest body he ever had, was never as articulate a man or creator as Steve Ditko has been in dissecting, detailing, or presenting as carefully constructed a written or verbal argument as Steve Ditko did and does in “A Mini-History” and its related texts.
Jack spoke, wrote, with his hands, with his pencils, via his stories.
That was the coin of the realm—what Jack could do with his imagination and with those incredible hands of his—and, arguably, that was all that was of value to Jack, to his collaborators, to his editors, to his publishers.
That was all that was of value to Stan Lee and Marvel Comics…
[To Be Continued....]
The Comics! title © and TM Robin Snyder; “A Mini-History” excerpt ©2001, 2011 Steve Ditko. The Fury™ and N-Man™ are TM and ©1993, 2011 Stephen R. Bissette, by contractual arrangement with the original co-creator; all rights reserved.