Expressions, Ideas, & Stan Lee

Stan’s Ideas; Steve’s Expression (Even Sans Stan)

This continues a serialized essay I launched last week. If you’re new to the blog, or just tuning in today, here you go:


They were a little daunting, a few (and they were only a few) of the reactions I read (on Facebook) and/or received (via email) when I first posted on Facebook my glee with Sean Howe‘s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

“Nothing new here,” I got from a handful of trusted folks, and the insistent query “what about Kirby and Dikto?,” via FB comments and emails.

Well, as to the latter, Sean Howe has gone above and beyond in presenting and contrasting, via their own words, both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s accounts of “what happened” as Marvel—and I’ll get into the Ditko chronology in this and my next post.

As to the former, my argument—which was accepted by damn near everyone I conversed with—is that what diehard comics scholars/academics/fans consider “nothing new” after a lifetime of reading Comics Feature, Comics Interview, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Journal, TCJ special issues, etc. is bullshit.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is, to the mainstream world, just that: Sean is telling the untold story.

Again, I go back to Richard Schickel’s The Disney Version (1968) for a similar single-tome event in the pop culture’s perception of a real-life creative pop icon (while Gerard Jones’s excellent, comprehensive Men of Tomorrow arguably did much the same for DC Comics history, it must be noted that Jerry Robinson, Neal Adams, and all who worked to get Siegel and Schuster’s story into the mainstream starting in the 1970s had done a pretty effective job of making the public at large aware of a gross injustice done to those creators, if not their entire generation).

Mind you, I don’t intend to present my discussion of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story as a defense of a book that has somehow been dismissed before it’s even seen publication—or, by doing so, inadvertently shape perceptions of the book before it’s available. It hasn’t been dismissed, and has in fact prompted some lively online discussions already.

I am, however, using Sean Howe‘s excellent book to articulate some of the points it raised for me, digging into an advance reading copy. The emails I’ve received to date (prompting my jumping on an offer to read your book from an advanced copy) have been occasionally ludicrous in their claims about the book (sight unseen, in some cases). Nor did I intend to disparage, in the context of the wider discussion, the Jordan Raphael/Tom Spurgeon biography of Stan Lee as just being a hagiography (though it is, in part, that; more on that another time).

To my mind (and no personal offense intended to anyone), the initial comments my FB enthusiasm for Sean Howe’s book prompted were rather myopic and reflect the stake we all (rightly or wrongly) bring to any discussion of Marvel Comics, specifically Kirby, Lee, and Ditko. Most folks I’ve called on their initial comments immediately about-faced and realized yes, it’s true: this is new information for the world at large. Most human beings haven’t read any, much less every, interview with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Marv Wolfman, Jim Starlin, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, or Len Wein and others over the past four decades or more—and I also hasten to point out the vast amount of fresh interview and first-hand accounts Sean has woven beautifully into the tapestry of the whole book. From cover to cover, Sean folds fresh interview material in with carefully annotated, previously published sources (interviews, editorials, articles, press releases, radio and TV material, etc. from the mainstream and comics press). This was and is a daunting task, to say the least, and Sean has done an admirable job, casting a wide net while maintaining a tight focus on what Marvel was, step by step, in those New York City office spaces, boardrooms, and studios (and, later, in Los Angeles, as Stan decamped West to cultivate Hollywood connections), in every stage of its corporate career.

We’ve arrived, with the publication of Sean‘s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, at a turning point in the public published mainstream accounts of Marvel‘s history. In conjunction with the Raphael/Spurgeon biography of Stan Lee, and the revised (sadly out-of-print) Gerard Jones/Will Jacobs The Comic Book Heroes: The First History of Modern Comic Books – From the Silver Age to the Present (1996 edition), we now have (or will, in October, once Marvel Comics: The Untold Story hits bookstores and online venues) at least three comprehensive, publicly accessible accounts of Marvel‘s interior creative, corporate, and legal life. These three books are complimenting one another, and in many ways, Sean Howe‘s book is trumping and completing the Raphael/Spurgeon and Jones/Jacobs books.

That’s high praise from me, but a case I hope to build (before I get to sharing/posting the full Gene Colan/Joe Sinnott legal depositions to move into fuller analysis of the current status of Kirby v Marvel) is that Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is also a key corrective to Marvel‘s and Stan Lee‘s media domination and procession of tomes.

In that arena, it’s more than a start, and as such, quite essential.

Yes, there’s a lot here that’s familiar to diehard readers (like me), but much new here, too (i.e., Sean quotes a 1969 recording of Stan Lee telling Alain Resnais that he wanted to leave comics for good—and take Kirby to Hollywood, fresh material complimenting a New York Times entertainment section story I still have in my clipping files). In fact, it was a shock to find reading Sean‘s book in fact brought into sharp focus (and finally made sense for me) moments in my own career when I worked with (and was offered work by) Marvel—providing the broader context I previously lacked of what was going on at Marvel, behind closed doors, which was by and large kept from lowly freelancers like me—and that’s pretty astonishing, in and of itself. Kudos to Sean!

Look, let me put it this way: I am planning on assigning Sean‘s book as an essential text for the 2nd semester of my “Survey of the Drawn Story” class at the Center for Cartoon Studies, starting this January. My assigned reading for first semester every year is Gerard Jones‘s Men of Tomorrow. You don’t get much better company than that!

Let me also note that what’s seen publication in The Untold Story had to pass publisher Harper Collins‘s legal department’s scrutiny, and that also must have determined passages of Sean‘s text. I vividly recall my own legal process with St. Martin’s Press, their legal department, and the Todd McFarlane section of the book I co-authored with Christopher Golden and Hank Wagner on Neil Gaiman (Prince of Stories, 2009)—a process Chris Golden pulled me in to, and I’m proud to say my full text and references stood up to St. Martin‘s legal department’s scrutiny.

I have no idea what kind of legal restraints existed for the Marvel book Sean has written, but especially given the fact that Disney now owns Marvel, I suspect it might not have been that different from those Richard Schickel faced with The Disney Version back in 1967 and 1968.

(By the way, Sean has shared a considerable body of artwork and artifacts on the Facebook page for Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,

 It’s a worthy compliment to the book itself.)

On the other hand, my gradual posting of this review/discussion—especially in the context of discussing Steve Ditko‘s work, The Creativity of Ditko book, and more—also has certain liabilities. This serialization process, dealing with bite-sized chunks of a discussion rather than the whole, is painful, and my apologies on that. It’s a necessarily fragmenting and fragmentary process. I write/post all I can in digestible installments, but it frustrates me, too.

That said, let me proceed.

Sean Howe lays out the primary thematic and creative issues with remarkable economy in his prologue. In terms of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby accounts of how they, together, rescued a faltering comicbook company with the creation of The Fantastic Four, Sean opens the book with their contradictory accounts (pp. 1-2), and that is in many ways the primary narrative thread to the very end of the book. It’s a narrative Sean cannot really conclude, as the Kirby v Marvel lawsuit continues (now in appeals), but he finds appropriate, if non-conclusive, grace notes (i.e., Stan‘s memory of Jack‘s last words to him; etc.); in that, I think Sean has done a magnificent job telling the story.

Steve Ditko and Spider-Man are introduced almost as promptly (pp. 2-3).

The so-called “Marvel Method”—Stan Lee’s methodology of leaving much (arguably all) of the visual narrative storytelling to the artists, and arguably then much (in some cases, all) of the plotting to them, too—is also placed under instant scrutiny in the prologue. Sean writes,

“… ‘It seems to work out well,’ Stan Lee once wrote in a letter describing Marvel’s working methods, “although it’s not a system I’d advise anyone else to try.’ The arrangement did have its drawbacks, especially as Lee ceded more and more of the plot development to the artists, some of whom began to feel they were doing the heavy lifting for less credit than they deserved. Steve Ditko, who’d imbued Spider-Man with melancholy soul and Doctor Strange with hallucinatory verve, left the company; Spider-Man and Doctor Strange stayed behind.” (pg. 5).

As Sean notes (on pg. 46), adhering to Stan Lee’s own initial account of events, Steve Ditko single-handedly developed the arrogant-surgeon-turned-benevolent-magician Doctor Strange for a backup feature in Strange Tales,” and—well-grounded in not just Marvel history, but all mainstream American comicbook history, as the entire book is—thoughtfully adds the footnote, Stephen Strange was part of a Ditko tradition that carried back to the 1950s: the glory-craving bastard whose journeys in a snowcapped East lead him to a comeuppance from a wise and ancient mystic.”

To my two full readings of the book, Sean does a fine job acknowledging, and articulating for the casual (and attentive) reader, all that Ditko brought to the table in every stage of Marvel’s history, and of Ditko’s history with Stan Lee. Again, no mean feat, this.

Cutting to the chase, let’s jump right into the biggest elephant in the room: the creation of Spider-Man.

I go back to my last installment of this essay, in that the biggest complaint I have with Sean’s book, and every Ditko book to date, is that everyone seems intent upon essentially ignoring Ditko’s own lengthy, in-depth account of his relations with Marvel Comics and Stan Lee in the 1960s. As previously cited, Sean does footnote a single statement from Ditko‘s lengthy, 15-chapter serialized book-length account (which is more than others have done).

That (major) caveat aside, let’s also consider what is in Sean’s book.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s all there in Sean’s account of events in 1998, as work in earnest began on what became Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movie. Note, too, Stan Lee‘s statement:

“…After Stan Lee reminisced in Comic Book Marketplace about his inspirations for writing an acclaimed late 1965 issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Steve Ditko broke his long silence. ‘Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories,’ the artist wrote to the magazine’s editors, ‘until I took the penciled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.’ [this letter was published in Comic Book Marketplace #63, October 1998] A few months later, after Lee was identified in Time as the creator of Spider-Man, Ditko popped up on that magazine’s letters page, too: ‘Spider-Man’s existence needed a visual concrete entity,’ Ditko wrote. ‘It was a collaboration of writer-editor Stan Lee and Steve Ditko as co-creators.’ [this letter appeared in Time, December 7, 1998] This time Lee picked up the phone and called Ditko, for the first time in more than thirty years.

Steve said, ‘Having an idea is nothing, because until it becomes a physical thing, it’s just an idea’,’ Lee recalled. ‘And he said it took him to draw the strip, and to give it life, so to speak, or make it actually something tangible. Otherwise, all I had was an idea. So I said to him, ‘Well, I think the person who has 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 that was really, after he said it, I saw it meant a lot to him that was fine with me. So I said fine, I’ll tell everybody you’re the co-creator. That didn’t quite satisfy him. So I sent him a letter.’

But wording of the open letter that Lee sent out in August 1999 was a stumbling block. ‘I have always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man’s co-creator,’ it read, and Ditko quickly pointed out that ‘ ‘Considered’ means to ponder, look at closely, examine, etc. and does not admit, or claim, or state that Steve Ditko is Spider-Man’s co-creator.’

‘At that point,’ Lee said, ‘I gave up.’…” (Howe, pp. 400-401; the Lee quote is from the 2007 Jonathan Ross TV special—and remember that I posted this passage last week—In Search of Steve Ditko.)

Now, many say Ditko (like Dave Sim, another articulate, idiosyncratic, ethics-intent creator who comes to mind) is difficult reading, particularly when he writes in essay form. I believe that is in part because Ditko is very precise in his dealing with words—as precise as he is, arguably, dealing with lines.

Ditko is correct, and it’s Stan Lee, not Steve Ditko, who is playing word games and with semantics here.

Stan, clearly, wishes his “considering” Steve Ditko to be the “co-creator of Spider-Man” as a gesture, specifically a kind, conciliatory gesture: Stan giving up something that was and is his to give up. Deeding something to Ditko, as it were.

Steve Ditko is pretty damned clear, from 1998 to the present, that he wants a simple admission of FACT. Steve Ditko co-created Spider-Man, period.

“Otherwise, all I had was an idea”—the great unspoken truth is legally, as well as morally and ethically, DITKO IS DEAD RIGHT.

Above: Steve Ditko’s own editorial cartoon from Ditko Package #5 (1999, Robin Snyder, publisher, cover below); ©1999, 2000, 2012 Steve Ditko

What is lacking in all mainstream published discussions of this matter is twofold:

1. The legal definition of copyright, and what it protects;
2. Any discussion of “idea” vs. “expression,” the lack of which continues to lend an illusory credence and weight to Stan Lee’s (and, hence, Marvel’s) framing of the discussion.

Articulation of point #1 is essential if we, or a reader, is to make any sense of point #2.

Alas, to date, no comics historical tome available in the mainstream book market has tackled point #1—leaving it to the legal textbooks, unfortunately—which ipso facto allows point #2 to dangle in the breeze, unchallenged except in the vaguest terms, leaving Stan’s arguments seeming sensible in and of themselves. It creates and extends the illusion that there are “two sides” to the legal argument: that, somehow, Stan Lee is “correct,” and Steve Ditko is “correct,” and that can be sustained as a simple difference of opinion.

Thus, every mainstream published comics history plays into Marvel’s, Disney’s, and Stan’s hands, banking on the public’s feeble grasp of “idea” vs. “expression”—which I tackled in another context altogether in another pair of essays here back in 2011,

Look, I fully understand the challenge for a writer like Sean Howe. He’s written a populist mass-market history of Marvel Comics, not a copyright treatise. Where, and how, to frame such a legal pretext? I’ve no doubt most mainstream book editors would shun the notion, and actively campaign to remove it from the text.

Such discussion, however succinct, would prompt glazed eyes and skipping pages for most casual readers: discussing points of law, however relevant to what follows, is rare (essentially non-existent) in most mainstream pop cultural texts, including historical texts.

Just as Sean doesn’t go into the nature of “junk bonds” to frame his passage on Ron Perlman acquisition—and Carl Icahn’s battle with Perlman over the ownership—of Marvel Comics in the late 1980s and the 1990s, or Ron Perlman’s application of “junk bond” principles to the entire management of Marvel (and fleecing of its customer base) in the 1990s, Sean doesn’t go into the particulars of copyright law. The presumption, in a populist book like The Untold Story, is that the reader will bring something to (or look up) “junk bonds.”

That is the eternal presumption about copyright, which most creators don’t even understand. Howe doesn’t get into copyright law at all, even when he gets into how the 1976 Copyright Act upended and revised Marvel’s ways of doing business (a period I experienced first-hand, as a Kubert School student and as a freelancer). Sean sensibly addresses the issues in the context of a history of Marvel Comics, and how the disruption was dealt with by management and freelancers, and leaves it to the reader to sort out further interest or comprehension of the legal issues involved.

And few mainstream book publishers are going to handily take on the Disney empire, which Marvel is now part and parcel of.

So, that’s what blogs are for. If your eyes glaze over, hey, your loss.

I’ll make this as direct and “entertaining” as I can, but the law is the law, and we’ve got to get into it a bit.

Here goes:

* What’s missing, in Sean’s book and all comics historical texts, is even the most basic articulation of what makes an idea something that can be published and owned as a copyright.

What follows was articulated in the 1976-1977 Copyright Act and thereafter, but it is absolutely applicable to the entire 20th Century of US Copyright Law (I’m happy to be corrected on this point, true legal professionals and/or scholars, but I’m on pretty firm ground here).

From the US gov’t's own copyright office description of copyright:

“Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. …Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed…Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be.”


“Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work….Publication is not necessary for copyright protection.”

 And—this is the last citation, bear with me, now:

“Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device….

What Is Not Protected by Copyright?

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:

• works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
• titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
• ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration…”

I think that covers it.

Idea sans “tangible expression” is meaningless and cannot be published, licensed, or trafficked.

An idea without expression is NOT anything that can be copyrighted; hence, not an IP a corporation or publisher can do ANYTHING with.

A stated, or written, idea conceived for a visual media (comics, in this case) only gains tangible expression once it is drawn.

With the notable exception of text stories and text editorial pages, Martin Goodman, and all incarnations of Timely/Atlas/Marvel comics, never published an editor or writer’s notes or scripts in lieu of a comicbook cover or a comicbook story, fully-illustrated.

Sans Steve Ditko, there would be no Spider-Man as we’ve known Spider-Man since 1962.


Steve Ditko has, quite eloquently and repeatedly over the past decade+, demonstrated that Spider-Man, as Spider-Man was manifest in his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, and is manifest today, only is Spider-Man because Steve Ditko drew, and defended (against Stan Lee, editor and dialogue-writer) Ditko‘s method of drawing (again, see last post), that particular expression of that particular idea of Spider-Man.

To me, this is pretty cut and dry, especially since Stan Lee and Marvel has never, in over a half-century of publishing and legal activity, produced a single “expression” of Stan’s “idea” of what Spider-Man was or is that shows a costumed character.

In fact, this may be the only Stan Lee drawing of anything I recall seeing in print (from “Notebook: Hands Off!,” Time, November 27, 2000, Vol. 156, No. 22, pg. 25):

Legal authorities may still adhere to outmoded and completely inaccurate misperceptions of how writers and artists work in the comics medium, and Marvel and Disney attorneys may forever bank on that inherently skewed (to favor, historically, writers) misperception and misunderstanding of how the comics medium works.

But I know otherwise, having worked in comics professionally since 1977, including working “the Marvel Method,” including published work for Marvel Comics (from 1978-1983).

I state the following with absolutely no bias towards writers, being a writer myself and having worked on characters in which the writer—Alan Moore—left it to me to design the characters, visually (The Fury, Sky Solo, N-Man), and which in other cases Alan Moore (who is a much, much more accomplished and skilled cartoonist than he pretends to be) fully visually designed (The Hypernaut), with the sketches FAXed to me to work from.

So I’ll just come right out and say what no mainstream book publisher’s legal department would let any author say, given the might of Disney and Marvel hanging over their legal department’s head.

What I’ll say is based entirely on Stan’s own repeated accounts of what happened in 1962, and the published Spider-Man stories and comicbooks, and nothing else save a fundamental grasp of North American Copyright Law:




Above: Back cover of the 1963 ashcan for The Fury, which included the original Alan Moore character design sketch of The Hypernaut (bottom, right). Now, this is an example of a comicbook writer fully designing a character. As the artist, I worked from Alan’s sketch (you can see my slight revision of the basic design, above, left). I hasten to add that, despite the existence and publication of Alan Moore sketches of N-Man and The Fury, those were created after my own designs of both those characters were submitted and accepted by Alan, so he was drawing from my designs at that point. Of the four super-hero characters Alan and I co-created for “1963,” only The Hypernaut was fully designed visually by Alan (and the main reason, when we divided up the legal 1963 properties in 1998, I didn’t want to accept The Hypernaut; Alan insisted, and so that’s how it is). Click the link, above, to see the process on N-Man and The Fury.

To Be Continued…

All images are ©original year of publication, and 2012 their respective creators; all book images ©their respective years of publication, including 1962, 1963, 1996, 2000, 2006, 2009, 2012, their respective publishers; all images are posted for archival, educational, and review purposes only.

Discussion (35) ¬

  1. patrick ford

    Anyone see the problem with this quote from Lee (it’s a 500 pound gorilla)?

    STAN LEE: Steve said, ‘Having an idea is nothing, because until it becomes a physical thing, it’s just an idea’,’ Lee recalled. ‘And he said it took him to draw the strip, and to give it life, so to speak, or make it actually something tangible. Otherwise, all I had was an idea. So I said to him, ‘Well, I think the person who has the idea is the person who creates it. And he said, ‘No, because I drew it.’

    See what Lee does? He gives the apperance of generously crediting Ditko (or Kirby as the case may be). He isn’t crediting them at all though. What he is doing is describing them as “artists.” He puts words here in Ditko’s mouth which I very seriously doubt Ditko ever said. The words “I drew it.” Who drew the stories was never at doubt. Constantly crediting Ditko (or Kirby, or Wood) as a “great artist” is a ploy to “draw” attention away from the fact they were writing everything but the dialogue. And in many cases they were even writing dialogue which was used in whole or in part by Lee. It’s amazing to me people continue to fall for this simple bait and switch game. In Ditko’s case there isn’t even an argument Ditko was writing the stories with zero input from Lee for a very long time. Most likely this occured around issue #13, and maybe earlier. It isn’t praising or crediting a man to praise half the man and pretend the other half of the man does not exist. Lee has been so successful in doing this to this day his fans will furiously insist Lee lavished praise on “his artists.” But you see that’s just it…”his ARTISTS.” Artists, pencilers, that’s what they are. According to Lee the “artists” did a great job illustrating his creations, his ideas. They were co-creators only in the sense they illustrated his stories, his characters. And yet a Lee fan would read what I just wrote and say, “What do you mean Lee never credited Wally Wood? He put Wally Woods name on the cover of Daredevil.” You know as if Wood never had a greater thrill in his life.
    Wally Wood’s letter to John Hitchcock.
    Dear John;
    I want the credit (and the money) for
    everything I do! And I resent guys like Stan Lee more than I can say! He’s my one reason for living… I want to see that no-talent bum get his…

  2. BlowingInTheWind

    Hand in hand with what is discussed here, might I add in a few thoughts I have had on the subject condensed here: which also lends to the concepts I agree with above.

  3. david branstetter

    Is Ditko asking for ownership of Spider-Man? While it’s true that he co-created him, I think ownership is at the heart of the question. Obviously Stan had some spider character ideas and he did manage a successful company that built solid marketability for the characters Marvel published. Under a work for hire situation, do creator rights include ownership? If this was a joint venture between two businessmen (one having a specialized ability and the other capital), wouldn’t both the specialist and the capitalist both be at risk? The specialist commits his time and his trust to the capitalist and the capitalist invests his funds on the specialist for a certain quality of performance. The business venture would not survive without the other. When it comes to the commissioner /artist relationship I believe that all parties responsible for the initial design, writing, and publication are all owners because everyone that worked on the material was involved in taking the initial risk. Just because one party supplied the financial equity that does not necessarily mean that they should reap all financial benefits from it. Similar to when two parents conceive a child, when two creative people work together there is an implied partnership that can never dissolve. The “child” will all always be the product of those original creative people no matter if the parents are MIA, unemployed, or dead.

  4. patrick ford

    Here is why Steve’s copyright argument got no traction when Disney/Marvel recently sued the Kirby heirs. Lee testified (under oath) that he alone created every character and plot. The judge also accepted Lee’s sworn testimony that he provided “his artists” with detailed plots before they did any work, and that he (Marvel/Goodman) “always” paid for rejected work. The judge ruled because Lee created the first concrete expression of the characters in the form of scripts and detailed written synopsis’ he was the creator, and everything the “artists” (she fully accepts Lee’s language) did was done based on Lee’s crerations, and at Lee’s behest. Therefore it was not a “matter of fairness” it was simply work for hire. Lee very carefully included Kirby’s Spiderman idea (spider powers, web shooter, teen orphan, aunt, uncle) as a specific example of rejected ideas he had purchased. Lee also testified that Kirby’s Spiderman, which was very similar to the S&K origin of The Fly (this was pointed out to Lee by Ditko), was based on a plot Lee gave to Kirby, although Lee also claimed he had never seen, or even heard of The Fly. Lee has always claimed he rejected Kirby’s Spiderman only because the character was “too heroic” looking. This makes little sense when you consider Kirby at the time was still drawing rather thin elongated figures nothing like his later work. The early Don Blake, Reed Richards, and Bruce Banner, were all “pencil neck geeks.” Further Lee had Kirby draw the first two cover appearances of Spider-Man after rejecting covers completed by Ditko. In addition Ditko was going to ink Kirby’s Spiderman story and that is why he saw it. According to Ditko Lee never mentioned anything about the character being “too heroic looking” and was ready to pass the pages along for inking until DITKO pointed out the similarities to the Harvey character The Fly.

  5. Dave Kopperman

    Although I agree that Lee’s word-mincing and general dancing around the subject is distressing, Ditko also stacks the deck unfavorably in his two panel presentation above – by not printing Lee’s ACTUAL synopsis, and instead just having a generic paragraph of text, and having the illustration side be a pretty involved (and pretty full, for late Ditko) Spider-Man.

  6. srbissette

    Dave: It’s an editorial CARTOON, as labeled. Cartoon=shorthand.

    Ditko fully discusses what he worked from in other venues, including those I’ve exhaustively cited. I don’t reproduce/present ALL his arguments, as they are Ditko’s property—I worked only with what I secured permission to work with.

    Besides, how do you cram the whole of what Lee did (which maybe would fit, reduced, into one panel), and what Ditko did, into single panels? Get real, please. It’s a statement of Ditko’s views, not an exhaustive deposition. It’s shorthand. In this context, I presented it not as a document, but as a snapshot of Ditko’s stated view on the matter.

  7. patrick ford

    If you narrow this to just Ditko and Spider-Man then based on Ditko’s comments (seen above) Marvel would be the clear legal owner of the Spider-Man copyright. That’s because Ditko affirms Lee gave him a “1 or 2 page synopsis.” In the eyes of the judge that indicated Lee created the character and assigned the task of illustrating the character to Ditko. Nothing Ditko added (including the costume design) mattered legally once Ditko entered into a work for hire situation by accepting Lee’s assignment to illustrate his character.

    It isn’t quite that simple though. While Ditko says Lee gave him a synopsis for the story drawn by Ditko, Ditko has also said where the ideas in the synopsis originated is between Lee and Kirby. Ditko takes no stand on that, because he doesn’t know. What Ditko also tells us is he saw Kirby’s five page Spiderman origin story. Ditko has pointed out the costume was unlike the one he designed, and the origin was nearly identical to the S&K origin story for The Fly. Former Marvel editor Jim Shooter confirmed he saw Kirby’s original Spiderman pitch page in 1969 while visiting the Marvel offices.

    Jim Shooter: RE: Kirby Spider-Man pages: I saw, and held in my hand, exactly one such page. It was a page of design drawings. I remember that his version of Spider-Man had a “Web-Gun” and wore trunks, I think, like Captain America’s. He was far bigger and bulkier than Ditko’s version. There were no similarities to Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. I think he had boots with flaps. There were notes in he margin that described the character, again, nothing like the Ditko version. I think there was something about him being related to, or having some connection with a police official, which was how he’d find out about trouble going on. It was a long time ago, I can’t swear to that last item, but I can swear to the fact that it wasn’t similar to the Ditko version. I remember thinking, “This isn’t at all like Ditko’s.”

    While both Ditko and Shooter have said Kirby’s Spiderman was “nothing like the published character” the fact is there are great core similarities. The most obvious is the name Spiderman (no hyphen). And there is an orphaned teen living with his aunt and uncle. The teenager gains spider based super powers including wall crawling, and has mechanical web shooting device. Those basic ideas sound just like a very boiled down definition of Spider-Man.
    There is also the fact that in Ditko’s case he did create many characters completely on his own, and brought them to Lee. Lee himself said in the early ’60s Ditko created Dr. Strange and since after a short time Ditko was writing Spider-Man with no participation from Lee all the characters in those issues of Spider-Man written by Ditko were created by Ditko alone, and that’s using Lee’s definition of creation which is carefully tailored to fit the copyright law, and work for hire definitions. For example a character like the Green Goblin is entirely Ditko’s creation because Ditko had no communication with Lee. Ditko created the character, wrote and illustrated his own story and then left it with Sol Brodsky who took it to Lee. Ditko had no contract of any kind, and Marvel was under no obligation to purchase Ditko’s characters, script, and artwork.

    The lawsuit Disney/Marvel filed against the Kirby heirs boiled down to who created the characters. The idea an artist should own a portion of the copyright for illustrating characters created by Lee was never an issue in the lawsuit. The heirs defense was Kirby created characters on spec in his basement studio and then used the presentation drawings as a sales pitch. Kirby had been doing this since the ’40s, and continued to do so all through the rest of his career.

  8. patrick ford

    In the first paragraph above “In the eyes of the judge” should be understood as the judge in the Disney/Marvel vs Kirby heirs case. So just to be clear while Ditko was not involved in the case, her language covered all the work done at Marvel and she extended her ruling to cover any “artist” illustrating characters and scripts created by Lee. She said Lee’s deposition testimony that he created all the characters and then presented them to “his artists” to illustrate made the work done by “Lee’s artists” work for hire.

  9. Henry R. Kujawa

    Patrick Ford:
    “Lee also testified that Kirby’s Spiderman, which was very similar to the S&K origin of The Fly (this was pointed out to Lee by Ditko), was based on a plot Lee gave to Kirby, although Lee also claimed he had never seen, or even heard of The Fly.”

    All of Marvel “history” is packed with contradictions, mysteries, “coincidences”, and things that just plain don’t make sense. Except, THEY DO… if you accept one single, simple concept: “Stan Lee never plotted anything.” Accept that, and suddenly EVERYTHING about Marvel histpry makes perfect, and CONSISTENT, sense.

    “Ditko was going to ink Kirby’s Spiderman story and that is why he saw it. According to Ditko Lee never mentioned anything about the character being “too heroic looking” and was ready to pass the pages along for inking until DITKO pointed out the similarities to the Harvey character The Fly.”

    Someone (most likely, Ditko) was probably aware that DC had already sued Harvey over PRIVATE STRONG being too similar to Superman, and didn’t want to see Harvey sue Marvel for Spider-Man being too similar to THE FLY. I mean, why be sued for ripping off something that wasn’t that good to begin with?

  10. N Savory

    Steve, I think someone need to make plain that when people talk about ‘credit’ and jokingly talk about Stan Lee taking taking credit, that Credit=Money. When the artists are denied ‘credit’ they are being denied payment for work they did.
    With so many artists of that era needing organisations like The Hero Initiative, Stan Lee taking ‘credit’ isn’t funny at all.

  11. Richard Caldwell

    I’ve just finished (and still processing) this article series in one sitting, but I am giving you a standing ovation, Stephen.

  12. R.S. David

    An open question, there is no doubt to me that Ditko did the heavy lifting in the creation and plotting for Spider-Man, but I am curious as to the extent of Lee’s involvement during John Romita era. Is there any idea or writing on if Lee became more involved or was Romita doing same amount of work as Ditko had been? (excluding of course the creation of the character)

  13. Henry R. Kujawa

    I’ve read several interviews with John Romita over the last 15 or so years. In each consecutive interview, he seems more open, more forthcoming. He says he suffered from severe low-self-esteem for decades, and deeply regrets not being able to stand up for himself against Stan (I can relate to this, with regard to my father and other bullies, so much it hurts even now).

    Years back, Romita made it plain that the 2-part “Vengeance In Viet Nam” was ALL his, much of it inspired by Milton Caniff. Later, he admitted HE was the one who decided (when several people were trying to figure out a new direction for the series, and who, if anyone, they might kill off) to KILL Gwen Stacy. Again, he was inspired by an earlier Caniff storyline. (Please note, when it was later still reprinted in a Masterwork– Gerry Conway– who ALWAYS maintained it “wasn’t his fault, wasn’t his idea” when the fans wanted to lynch him– wrote the book’s intro and tried to take FULL credit for it!) In the most recent interview I read, Romita said he was plotting the series from the word go. “Layouts were always the most difficult part” he aid, over and over. Sure. In his case “Layouts” equals “WRITING”. (In the 60′s, that also went for Kirby, Ditko, Ayers, Goldberg, Everett, Orlando, Wood, Colan, Marie Severin, Dan Adkins… did I miss anybody?)

    It is very telling that the moment Conway replaced Lee, the credits suddenly place ROMITA first. I had never noticed this before, but it indicates to me that, for at least a year (maybe two), “all” Conway did was wreite the dialogue– JUST as Stan had done. But Conway would never admit to this, because if he did, it would suggest that it was also true for Stan. When you read enough, you can begin to identify writers and their styles and work. My belief is, because the style of the writing changed, that Gerry Conway began plotting the stories with issue #126. That was Ross Andru’s 2nd issue, and the FIRST which Romita DID NOT INK. Also, an old villain is brought back, and NEEDLESSLY killed off in violent fashion. “Pure” Conway. The rest of Conway’s run contains “imposter” characters– Vulture, Green Goblin, Mysterio, Gwen Stacy, and finally, Spider-Man. And I realized, on re-reading my collection, that Conway was pulling this SAME stunt earlier, in his DAREDEVIL and CAPTAIN AMERICA stories.

    Stan did not “plot” so much as “interfere”. It was Stan who insisted Gwen should be drawn “prettier”, and become “nicer”, neither of which was her. When I re-read these stories a few years ago, it suddenly hit me that Steve Ditko’s Gwen reminded me of Lauren Bacall– who I never liked!!! But Stan wanted to turn her into– oh, I don’t know, somebody more like Melissa Joan Hart (only from the 60′s– any ideas?). Stan’s wife Joan was a blonde, Stan wanted Pete with a blonde, he wanted Pete to get serious with Gwen. Never mind that MJ clearly liked Peter from the first moment they met. Those two got along so well, so fast, having Pete & MJ NOT get together is what you get when some writer or editor lets their ego get in the way of a plot unfolding “naturally”. When you’re a writer (a real writer), you can usually tell when a story is going the “right” way, it practically writes itself. It’s when a story is mis-directed because of egos or outside forces that things go wrong. Romita, in an earlier interview, also told how HE preferred MJ, the fans preferred MJ, but Stan insisted it be Gwen, and even had Romita change MJ’s hairstyle so she’d look “ugly” (and in one story, he drew he rather trashy– she almost looked like a hooker!). But STILL the fans preferred MJ. Too bad. Stan leaves the book, Gwen gets OFFED. I’d say, Romita saw his chance and took it. Damn shame he didn’t stick around long after (except for maybe half the covers– LOVED those, hated the Gil Kane ones).

    There has been, on the yahoo groups I frequent, the suggestion that, just like on AVENGERS, and IRON MAN, that Jack Kirby was designing villains and suggesting plotlines early-on. There does seem to a different “feel” to the first dozen issues– until Mysterio, and then the Green Goblin, show up. I’d say there were 3 main writers before Conway– Kirby, Ditko & Romita. (Gil Kane also “contributed”– he and Romita both agree on this. You can always tell when Gil Kane is on a book– characters lives are thrown into nightmarish turmoil, or somebody gets KILLED, or both.)

    I apparently offended quite a few of the “MMMS” crowd at the Masterworks board every time I use the phrase “credit AND PAY”. It even goes beyond “mere” money in payment for actual work done. By stealing the CREDIT as well as the pay, Stan Lee was making these cartoonists– who were both writers AND artists– look less than they were, as “JUST” artists. Which had to be hurting their reputation. Who would hire them to WRITE, when “everybody” knows they ONLY draw the pictures?????

  14. patrick ford

    Although I’m not a fan of Lee’s it is not accurate to say he did not plot. Based on a whole bunch of comments by Stan Goldberg, Joe Orlando, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, and others, it’s apparent to me Lee gave very little or nothing in the way of plots to the creators just mentioned. Even his frequently mentioned synopsis’ were very likely generated after meetings with writer/artists like Kirby. The FF #1 synopsis was found in Lee’s old desk at Marvel. In the Origins book Lee implied the plot was worked out with Kirby. In The Jack Kirby Collector #13 Roy Thomas said the synopsis was likely written after Lee spoke to Kirby. Thomas also said “Even Stan would never claim for certain the synopsis was not written after he talked with Jack.” It was more recently that Lee began saying the synopsis was absolutely written before he ever spoke with Kirby. Mark Evanier has a long interview with Sol Brodsky where Brodsky confirmed it was Kirby who proposed new characters, after Goodman suggested bringing back the Golden Age heroes. In Lee’s recent deposition he gave an explanation for his old interview statements and comments in the Origins books, which credit Kirby with playing a major role in the creation of plots and characters. Lee now says he credited Kirby as a creator of plots and characters to (this is a direct quote) “Make Jack feel good, like we were doing it together.”
    Lee no doubt made occasional suggestions and orders to people like Kirby. He would not have been able to do so with Ditko after a point, because Lee cut Ditko of and refused to even see or speak to him.
    Where Lee plotted was after Orlando, Wood, Kirby, and Ditko were finished. Lee would rewrite the stories, sometimes radically.
    I think the best way to understand Lee’s role is to see it very much like this. Kirby gave Lee GOJIRA without consulting with Lee. Lee then took GOJIRA and turned it into GODZILLA.
    I think people often are confused by this process. When they hear Kirby, or one of Kirby’s fans say Lee had nothing to do (or next to nothing) with Kirby’s stories, they don’t follow that Kirby was talking about what he gave to Lee…NOT the published stories which had Lee’s fingerprints all over them. John Romita pointed this out in several interviews where he said, “Jack never read the printed book.” When Kirby said “Stan Lee never wrote anything.” What he was saying was. “Stan Lee never wrote anything for me.” When Kirby said he wrote the dialogue, it’s true. The majority of those border notes are dialogue.

  15. Henry R. Kujawa

    I would say, based on his general style & attitude (and the finished results), and I know this may be nit-picking, that it would be closer to what happened on KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. People often repeat the (FALSE!) story that the film (ALLEGEDLY!) had 2 endings. Not so. What happened was, the Japanese wrote the film as a comedy. The Americans surgically removed all of the comedy, and added a newscaster doing a “play-by-play” of important events in the film, leaving some of the original on-screen characters looking idiotic in the middle of a (SUPPOSEDLY!) “serious” monster movie.

    Fans who believe Stan’s B.S. have a habit of repeating (verbatim) the line about how Stan “contributed” more in the early days, less at time went on. But what we’ve seen in evidence suggest the reverse. Early-on, Stan was just trying to get the books out. After meeting with some success, his ego compelled him to (AHEM) “contribute” more (ALWAYS, AFTER-THE-FACT). He has said in several interviews that he “saw it as a game”, trying to rewrite the stories at the dialogue stage. Allegedly, this was to bring the stories “back to what he originally wanted”. If this were so, it would indicate that Stan was working with some really INCOMPETENT “artists” (ahem), all of whom were incapable of following his simplest instructions. What a nice guy he must have been to keep using their talents, when, presumably, nobody else would hire them.

    The bigger Stan’s ego got, the more changes he’d make to the stories (OTHER PEOPLE’S STORIES), so that he could put his mark on them, and “prove” to his fans what a “great writer” he was (since he’d been telling them that for years by then). I keep being reminded of how someone will build a house, and then some punk kid comes along and defaces it with a spray-paint can, then have the nerve to call it “graffitti art”. Or how someone will lay down a fresh cement sidewalk, and some IDIOT comes along and just “has” to leave their footprints in it before it dries.

    There’s an episode of the English sitcom “AS TIME GOES BY” where Lionel & Jean go to Hollywood to meet with a producer who wants to turn Lionel’s book into a TV mini-series. At the meeting are a pair of “script doctors”, who, to justify their paychecks, feel compelled to “contribute” ideas and changes, which have nothing to do with the intent of the book, and totally pervert the story. Worse, Lionel had to point out to the producer that the script doctor’s ideas were swiped from an earlier, and well-known film. Had the studio taken the advice of their paid chimps, they would have laid themselves open to a Copyright infringement lawsuit.

    Ever since I saw that episode, it’s really hit me how much Stan is a “Hollywood kinda guy”. Hasn’t he spent most of his career saying he wanted to get out of comics and get into the movie biz?

  16. patrick ford

    It is part of the “official story” that Lee contributed more to the plots during the early Silver Age. Where that idea comes from I have no idea. It doesn’t seem to come from Lee as far as I’ve noticed.
    My guess is it has to do with the lack of border notes on the early material (1958-1963). No one with the exception of Lee, Kirby, and Sol Brodsky knew what was going on at Marvel during those years, because there was no one there. It is assumed Kirby went to the Marvel offices more during the early years. And the border notes may well indicate not that Kirby took greater control of the plots, but that since he was no longer going to the office he left detailed plot descriptions on the art boards since he wasn’t in the office to explain page by page to Lee what was going on. On the early pages you can see where Lee has written a few border notes on the finished artwork. Logic would say he did that as Kirby was explaining the plot.
    The fact is even after Kirby began leaving border notes, and began visiting the office more rarely no one knows what went on between Lee and Kirby except again Lee, Kirby, and Brodsky. No one else was ever in the office with Lee and Kirby. In The Jack Kirby Collector #13 Roy Thomas mentions the one time he was in the office with Lee and Kirby was during the interview for the New York Herald which so irritated Kirby when it was published. Thomas says, “For some reason I was called in as a witness, or whatever, because I took no part in it.”
    Beyond that Thomas gives a second hand account of Lee and Kirby sitting in John Romita’s car and talking, but Thomas is telling the story via Romita. When asked further about Lee and Kirby Thomas says he recalls them speaking briefly, but that he wasn’t involved, and never was asked to take notes, and he assumes the reason is Kirby was doing much of the plotting.
    Beyond Thomas, Romita, Severin, Flo Steinberg, etc. have all said they were never part of any meeting between Lee and Kirby in Lee’s office. Romita has mentioned the same conversation in Romita’s car he described to Thomas.

  17. Henry R. Kujawa

    Remember the “NEW GODS” thread at Captain Comics? Remember what I said about some people “having” to leave their footprints in someone else’s fresh wet cement?

    Robin Olsen wrote:
    ((“it’s possible MANHUNTER was a watered-down variation on common Kirby themes, as he struggled to find something LESS ambitious that the small-minded powers-that-be at DC might have found more “acceptable”.))

    ” I just can’t help thinking that Kirby’s sales figures didn’t help his cause any, either, and maybe not enough READERS were “accepting” Kirby’s more ambitious stuff, I know I liked his Marvel stuff better, but it tailed off in quality (although I understand he was unhappy) the last few years he was at Marvel, and even though he went on to create some GREAT characters I think the whole ambitiousness of his work at DC probably did him in, too. I always preferred him pre-Galactus and Silver Surfer, before he went all “cosmic”, and I think he was never the same after that, doing more and more “his way” when he needed a good strong collaborator, even if it WASN’T Stan Lee, there were PLENTY of good writers out there who were probably dying to work with someone of Kirby’s caliber, he needed someone to bring him down to Earth a little and smooth out the rough edges in his scripting. I know his most hardcore fans consider his work perfect in every department, but I was still buying a lot of different comics regularly, and I’d just lose interest in Jack’s books, it always felt like something was missing to me. I felt the same way after the Beatles broke up, NONE of them were as good on their own as they were as a group. I don’t feel like I was being smallminded for not buying all of their solo records, and I don’t feel like I was being smallminded when I would wish that Kirby would come to his senses and work with some good writers. Again, let me stress, IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE STAN. That’s the last time I’m going to try to make that point. I don’t want to get “in a firefight”,but I don’t think it’s right to place the blame on everyone EXCEPT Kirby because his books didn’t sell good enough. Bye.”

    Robin Olsen… IS AN IDIOT.

    I don’t think that requires anything further. But feel free.

  18. Robert Stanley Martin


    1. As I stated in my tweet, Ditko isn’t making a legal argument for copyright. He’s making an aesthetic/moral/ethical argument why he is the co-creator of Spider-Man and why Stan Lee should not be considered the character’s sole creator.

    2. You write, “What follows was articulated in the 1976-1977 Copyright Act and thereafter, but it is absolutely applicable to the entire 20th Century of US Copyright Law (I’m happy to be corrected on this point, true legal professionals and/or scholars, but I’m on pretty firm ground here).” While I’m just as much a legal layperson as you, this premise is demonstrably incorrect. Works produced before 1978 are governed by the 1909 Copyright Act. Works produced in 1978 and afterward are governed by the 1976 Copyright Act. See pp. 25-26 of the decision in Marvel v. Kirby (click here), p. 23 of the decision in Wolfman v. Marvel (click here), and paragraph 17 of the Playboy v. Dumas decision both cases cite as precedent (click here). However, if anyone can point to standing court rulings that unambiguously say otherwise, I’ll be happy to concede it’s a debatable point.

    3. If I’m not mistaken, your thesis is that Steve Ditko should own the Spider-Man copyright under the legal standard. If the 1909 Copyright Law is what determines this, then no, I don’t think he has any claim to it. As near as I can tell, Ditko would clearly meet the criteria of an instance-and-expense freelancer in Marvel’s employ with regard to Spider-Man. Those criteria are outlined in the cited rulings. If Ditko took legal action, he’d likely lose for the same reasons the Kirby estate, Marv Wolfman, and the Patrick Nagel estate (“Dumas”) did.

  19. srbissette

    That’s NOT my thesis.

    My overall argument is, work-for-hire or not, Marvel/Disney needs to do the right thing:

    (1) Restore full and proper co-creator credit to all involved,
    (2) pay incentives or some form of income stream to the co-creators comparable to that which Stan Lee receives.

    Stan Lee’s status is simply incomprehensible in the context of all comics history. There is no other writer, editor, or writer/editor in comics history to have earned millions upon millions of dollars in income over decades of a career.

    Lee has prevailed in legal action at least two times with Marvel (to be covered in a later installment of this serialized essay). Whatever the basis of those victories, it was not concerning Lee owning copyrights; it was based on something else involving income he argued (and won) was his due.

    The co-creators of the core Silver Age Marvel characters/properties deserve proper overdue credit and compensation.

    I raised the copyright issue to address, in legal terms, the ongoing Lee claims for sole creator status on Spider-Man. Copyright ownership was not an issue in this particular post—I made it clear that I introduced the legal definition of copyright to articulate where and why Lee’s ongoing arguments are false, and Ditko’s application of terms like “tangible expression” are absolutely appropriate and correct.

  20. Henry R. Kujawa

    It annoyed me for some years when I noticed that on the 3rd season of the 60′s SPIDER-MAN cartoons (the ones where they totally ran out of money & Bakshi & Morrow slapped together 13 more as they could just to get the syndication package up to the magic number of 52), that they added a credit at the very end of the credits which read…

    “Based on a character creation by Stan Lee”.

    Just “Stan”, huh? This was in 1969.

    You know, it makes me wonder if there wasn’t really some alterior motive behind, when Bakshi & Morrow did their 1st episode (ep.21– “The Origin Of Spiderman”), it was based– VERY CLOSELY– not on the 1963 Ditko-Lee version, but instead, on the then-recent 1968 redo by Lee, Lieber & Everett (which appeared in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1, only a few months before the cartoon version aired). I used to wonder, why did they change so much of the dialogue for the cartoon, until I re-read that comic and realized they adapted it almost WORD-FOR-WORD. And the thing is, it’s a noticably INFERIOR remake. But now I’m wondering if it wasn’t done specifically to “distance” the show from… you know… Steve Ditko.

  21. patrick ford

    It is certainly a possibility there were efforts to distance the character from Ditko. In the instance of Ditko it’s a matter of record Lee refused to speak to Ditko for a substantial period of time. This probably dates to at least Amazing Spider-Man #13. Aside from Ditko, both Roy Thomas, and John Romita have said in several different interviews it was well known “in the office” (really only four or five people at the time) that Lee would not speak to Ditko. Ditko would seem to have a very strong case for claiming the copyright on any characters he created during the time Lee would not speak to him. Ditko had no contract, and Lee had no idea what was in Ditko’s script (Ditko supplied a script along with his artwork) until Ditko gave it to Sol Brodsky, who then showed it to Lee.
    According to Roy Thomas (TJKC #13) in 1968 Joe Simon filed to regain copyright on Captain America. Carl Burgos also made a claim on the copyright for The Human Torch, and Martin Goodman paid Bill Everett $2000 in the form of a “loan” to secure Everett’s goodwill.
    It’s said Burgos filed a lawsuit against Marvel in 1966 (Steve, Is this mentioned in the Sean Howe book?) in an attempt to claim the copyright on the Human Torch. According to an interview with Burgos’ daughter in Alter Ego magazine #49 when Burgos lost the lawsuit Burgos threw out many pages of original artwork he had saved over the years. “The day my father threw out that comic material,” Burgos’ daughter recalls, “he mumbled comments about Stan Lee under his breath.” Burgos’ daughter describes her father’s state of mind at the time as an “I’m going to get rid of everything and no one’s going to make money off my back again” Burgos never forgave Lee for the role Lee played in depriving Burgos of the copyright.

  22. srbissette

    Yep, ALL the above (your last comment, Patrick) is most certainly in Sean’s book. Well done.

  23. patrick ford

    BTW. I checked Alter-Ego and Sue Burgos wasn’t sure if her father had filed a lawsuit or not. It may be he only threatened a suit? I’ll be very interested to see if there was a suit. It would be possible to find the dockets if they exist, but it would require greater resources than I have.

  24. Peter Urkowitz

    Great post and great comments! Henry Kujawa, your analysis of the Romita/Conway period of spider-stories was really interesting and novel to me! Thanks!

    As for the main argument, I agree that the Marvel artists should have been given more credit and pay for plotting and writing. I agree that Steve Ditko was the co-creator of Spider-Man. I agree that Stan Lee has taken too much credit, and that his legal testimony in defense of Marvel is the main commodity that keeps Marvel paying him large sums to this day.

    But, I can’t go along with the opinion that Lee deserves no credit for what he did write even if it was just dialogue (and I have heard some good arguments that some of the plots bear his authorial stamp as well).

    And I can’t go along with the idea that Ditko’s objection to the word “consider” was not hair-splitting semantics. Sure, Ditko is demanding facts rather than opinions, but in any argument over art, opinions are the best we can do. Even when there’s legal authority behind a particular opinion, art is just too gray an area for there to be facts on the order of 2+2=4, or A=A. And beyond that, Ditko was rudely slapping aside Lee’s attempt to be polite. Sure, Ditko’s whole philosophy rejects politeness, so he is being consistent if nothing else, and more power to him for that.

  25. Henry R. Kujawa

    What might come as a shock to the rabid “MMMS” crowd is that, for several years on the infamous “Kirby-L” yahoo group, I was one of the few people actually praising Stan’s work. I still say my favorite dialogue of his was in STRANGE TALES, both on Dr. Strange and Nick Fury Agent Of SHIELD. Perhaps ironically, those 2 series were the first ones that convinced me, even before I began reading account after account from the (ahem) “artists”, that they were the creations of Ditko & Kirby (respectively) on their own, as they were simply so different from anything else being done at the company at the time. In addition, they also seem to have been the most difficult for anyone to do following their departure. (Let’s face it, Jim Steranko relied more and more on visual pyrotechnics than coherent writing… at least, until NICK FURY #5 and CAP #110-113, which were probably his best-ever comics.)

    On Dr. Strange, Stan “played it straight” for once, only rarely injecting any humor, and then, where it was called for (such as Doc’s exchange with the cop who told him how 2 guys that had robbed Doc’s house turned themselves in, while raving about a “purple dimension”, and Doc replied, “Who can fathom the deviant mind?”). Comparing the dialogue of Lee, Don Rico, Roy Thomas & Denny O’Neil, all during Ditko’s run, and it’s clear Stan blows the other guys totally out of the water!! This really bothers me in a way– Stan should be praised for what he did, and did right, not for what he didn’t. But I also wish he’d been doing his job, instead of letting his ego get in the way and inspire him to totally re-write other people’s stories, which always led to logical contradictions and plots that just didn’t make any sense.

    Also, he could have used a real editor, to avoid some all-too-obvious bonehead mistakes. These include never mentioning that “Mordo’s Demon” in ST #132 was the SAME “Demon” Doc had fought solo only a few issues before in ST #128… or the scene-change in ST #141 where one story ends and the next one begins. By saying “Elsewhere in the complex” instead of “two weeks later”, it not only makes it look like Nick Fury came back after a long, strenuous mission, and jumped straight into the next one without even having a chance to grab a cup of coffee, but (because Stan really wasn’t paying attention), it makes it look like Nick was in TWO different places at the same time. See? This is the sort of thing that simply could NOT happen if the guy writing the dialogue was the one who wrote the story!

    At any rate, I’ve heard Stan’s dialogue described as being “one-note”, that note being “adolescent smartass humor”. It works for SPIDER-MAN (when the rest of the strip isn’t getting too “soap-opera” depressing to stand it at all). It may work for DAREDEVIL (at least, when Wally Wood & Gene Colan were on the book, it had a sense of humor about it). But to me, it really does work on NICK FURY. Let’s face it– the guy is an MANIAC! In all these years, I hadn’t read more than a handful of SGT. FURY stories, and so, it never quite sank in that by the time he joined SHIELD, Nick had actually MELLOWED! The running joke of the series, for me, is how you’ve got all this hi-tech gear, and complex world-threatening situations, but they put someone almost totally out of control in charge, because HE’s the only one who stands a chance of stopping the bad guys.

    Later writers distorted, perverted and virtually destroyed Fury, in their attempts to play him more “serious” and “realistic”. A shame. As someone said, “SHIELD is not the CIA, nor ever should be. They’re the GOOD GUYS– period!”

  26. Robert Stanley Martin


    Thanks for clarifying. I couldn’t tell if you were using the legal language to support a non-legal moral argument, or if you were setting the stage to second-guess the legal reasoning in the Marvel court decisions. The bit I quoted from the post in my above comment really threw me off.

  27. Allen Smith

    It’s not by coincidence that Stan got those millions. He earned part of it, but part of it he received by being the one who got to write the credits on every Marvel comic for quite a long time. Which meant that he positioned himself as the sole voice of Marvel, and in his own eyes, the sole creator of Marvel. He did like the way the artists drew, though.

  28. Henry R. Kujawa

    Just found another Jack Kirby story online in its entiretly– the one from OUR FIGHTING FORCES #159. Will be commenting on it later.

    Right now, I wanted to pass on the following comment I posted at the “Out Of This World” blog…

    “Wonderful blog. Thanks for giving me the chance to read this story, as until I find a new job, I can’t afford anything.

    My one criticism is, there is no call to bring Stan Lee into it. Stan never wrote any of Jack Kirby’s stories, except for where he tampered with the plots and made things confused, after-the-fact. Also, Lee’s dialogue vs. Kirby’s is a matter of taste. Further, I just spent the last 16 months re-reading Kirby’s early-70′s work for DC, and my mind continued to be boggled by the amount of completely uncalled-for negative criticicm it’s gotten. One thing I have found, and this is consistent, across the board. All the negativity is coming from STAN LEE FANS. I think that says more about the comments than it does about the relative merits of the stories and the writing.”

  29. Mark Mayerson

    It’s important to remember how long Lee was a failure. While he worked for a relative, Lee could never get beyond Martin Goodman’s comic books. While he had the examples of Mickey Spillane graduating to paperbacks and other Goodman writers like Bruce Jay Friedman and Mario Puzo graduating from Goodman’s magazines into novels, plays and screenplays, Lee could’ve even get promoted to the “men’s sweat” magazines that Goodman published. During the 1950s when comics were being vilified, that must have been particularly painful.

    And there was that incident where Goodman found an entire closet full of unpublished inventory and laid off the comics staff as a result. That was gross mismanagement on Lee’s part, damaging the company’s cash flow. I don’t doubt that if Lee hadn’t been family, he would have been fired too.

    When Marvel finally took off on the ’60s, Lee had 20 years of pent-up hunger for success driving him. He wasn’t about to share credit with anyone. Admitting that Kirby and Ditko were the cause of his success, even partially, would only confirm Martin Goodman’s low opinion of him. And Goodman was right. There are dozens of examples of comics writers and artists who became prose authors, illustrators and fine artists. Lee is still milking the superhero genre even though he hasn’t created any successes in the last 40 years and never did without Kirby and Ditko.

    Once Lee passes on and his reputation can no longer rely on the force of his personality, he’s going to be reduced to a footnote in the careers of greater creators than himself.

  30. Mark Mayerson

    That should be “Lee couldn’t even get promoted.”

  31. Henry R. Kujawa

    “But it’s a disservice to Kirby to try and raise the opinion of him or his work by trying to tear down someone else.”

    Stan performed a dis-service EVERY tme he referred to his employees as “artists”, hiding the fact that they were writing the stories he was writing dialogue for.

    “In later years he has started to give more credit to Ditko and Kirby”

    Except in his courtroom statements where he is now giving LESS credit than he did in the past, saying he gave credit in the past “to make them feel good, as if they were part of it”.

  32. patrick ford

    1956 Kirby begins selling stories to Marvel.

    1957 The Atlas Implosion (Goodman’s comic book business is devastated by a series of business related events)

    1958 Kirby again begins selling art and story to Goodman.

    Drew Friedman: My dad actually worked at Magazine Management, which was the company that owned Marvel Comics in the fifties and sixties, so he knew Stan Lee pretty well. He knew him before the superhero revival in the early sixties, when Stan Lee had one office, one secretary and that was it. The story was that Martin Goodman who ran the company was trying to phase him out because the comics weren’t selling too well.

    Jack Kirby: They were moving out the furniture.

    Dick Ayers: Things started to get really bad in 1958. One day when I went in Stan looked at me and said, “Gee whiz, my uncle goes by and he doesn’t even say hello to me.” He meant Martin Goodman. And he proceeds to tell me, “You know, it’s like a sinking ship and we’re the rats, and we’ve got to get off.” When I told Stan I was going to work for the post office, he said, “Before you do that let me send you something that you”ll ink.”

    Larry Leiber: It was just an alcove, with one window, and Stan was doing all the corrections himself; he had no assistants. Later I think Flo [Steinberg, secretary] and Sol Brodsky [production manager] came in.

    Flo Steinberg: After a couple of interviews, I was sent to this publishing company called Magazine Management. There I met a fellow by the name of Stan Lee, who was looking for what they called then a gal Friday…. Stan had a one-man office on a huge floor of other offices, which housed the many parts of the magazine division…. Magazine Management published Marvel Comics as well as a lot of men’s magazines, movie magazines, crossword puzzle books, romance magazines, confession magazines, detective magazines….

    Romita: There was a huge bullpen when I worked there in the 50′s. And this was even after he’d laid off a lot of people. Gene Colan, John Buscema, John Severin (who had all been on staff). They were gone by the time I got there.
    When I went back (1965) there was no bullpen at all. There were only three people there Stan, Flo, and Sol.
    When Flo was hired 1964 it had been only Stan with Sol working in the office part time as freelance production help.

    Kirby: I had to make a living. I was a married man. I had a home. I had children. I had to make a living. That is the common pursuit of every man. It just happened that my living collided with the times. Circumstances forced me to do it. They forced me. There wasn’t a sense of excitement. It was a horrible, morbid atmosphere. If you can find excitement in that kind of atmosphere it was the excitement of fear.

  33. patrick ford

    Mark, Logic dictates Lee’s original motivation for taking credit for the writing was because he was paid a page rate for writing apart from his salary for editing. If Kirby and Wood, and Ditko, had been credited with writing (or plotting) they would have been paid instead of Lee. Ever notice that Lee was always careful to credit himself with plotting stories which were actually plotted by Jack Kirby?
    I doubt credit was even much of an issue at the time, the primary motivation was Lee being paid his page rate. If Kirby had been paid even one dollar a page for plotting in the ’60s there were many months where that would have added up to $100.

  34. Henry R. Kujawa

    Mark– GREAT post. Don’t know how I missed it the other day.

    Some guy calling himself “DaveCG” has once again gotten intensely rude & insulting trying to tear down anyone and anything who isn’t Stan Lee or one of his fans. It’s sad…

  35. Jim Moore

    Steve, just wanted to drop a quick note to thank you for this series…I was not aware that Mr. Ditko was still out there producing material. As soon as I found out, an order was placed to Robin Snyder for some reading materials. I’m anxiously awaiting your next installment.

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