Not STAN's Soapbox, But STAN’s JACK-In-The-Box!
“The Man” Talks About “The King”—1961-2014
Roy Thomas: The two comicbook professionals with whom Jack Kirby’s name will be forever linked, of course, are the late Joe Simon and Stan Lee—the one his official partner for a decade and a half during the 1940s and the first half of the ’50s, the other his boss but also his de facto “senior partner” for a little over a decade in from the late 1950s through 1970 (with a considerably more distant relationship during the latter ’70s Barry Pearl, spent the past few decades collecting and collating material about the Lee-coined “Marvel Age of Comics,” put together a compilation of at least the major instances in which “Smilin’ Stan” spoke about “Jolly Jack.” And he did so most capably, with a bit of help from his friend Nick Caputo….
Essentially Roy gave me an assignment:
Good Afternoon, Mr. Pearl:
Stan Lee spoke or wrote about Jack Kirby many times over the years. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to write an article gathering these statements and quotes.
As always, should you or any of the Yancy Street Gang be caught or clobbered, Ben Grimm will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Please dispose of this message in the usual manner. Good luck, Barry.
Overstreet: At one time you were an assistant to Simon and Kirby at Timely… What were they like?
STAN: Oh, that’s the way I started… They were fine. They were funny. Joe Simon was apparently the boss, and he walked around puffing a big cigar. He talked in a very deep voice and he was great. I liked him, he had a lot of personality. And Jack would sit hunched over the drawing board and do most of the actual art work, also puffing a big cigar. I liked him, too, and it was great watching him draw. They were terrific! In those days, everybody was real busy doing their work. There was a lot of pressure to turn those things in on time, and there wasn’t too much time for anything else.
STAN: Jack was about the best. He was really the most creative artist of all, because he was more than an artist. I call him a great conceptualizer. He could conceive of stories and follow them through. All I would have to do with Jack is give him a very brief outline on what to do, and he would just do the whole story. After a while when we were rushed, I didn’t even give him an outline, he just did whatever story he wanted and I’d come back and put it in the copy. He also was an incredibly fast artist, and he had great integrity. Everything he did was his best. He never did less than his best. [i] (About Kirby’s speed, Stan states in Marvelmania Magazine #1 that Kirby is a speed demon, drawing three pages a day!)
Mike Hodel: Do you think that Simon and Kirby were better than Lee and Kirby?
Cal Caputo [1964 interview]: Do you think that Simon and Kirby were a better team than Lee and Kirby?
STAN: Much as I hate to admit it, I didn't produce our little Marvel masterpieces all by myself. No, mine was the task of originating the basic concept, and then writing the script—penning the darling little dialogue balloons and cuddly captions that have been such a source of inspiration to scholars and shut-ins everywhere .. Heading the list of such artists who have helped create what has come to be known as the Marvel Age of Comics is Jolly Jack Kirby. I originally dubbed him Jolly Jack because it was impossible to tell if he was smiling or not behind the massive cigar which formed a protective smoke screen around him while he worked. However, to prevent you from worrying needlessly, I'll hasten to add that he did eventually come up for air, and later on, because of his cataclysmic creativity and countless contributions to our Marvel mythology, I hung the sobriquet of King before his last name. Thus today, readers everywhere refer to the jolly one as Jack King Kirby.[iii]
STAN: [quoting Martin Goodman] “‘You know, Stan, I’ve just seen some sales figures for this DC [Justice League of America] magazine. It’s doing pretty well.… Let’s do a team like the Justice League.’ And I said, ‘Fine.’ I went home and wrote an outline a synopsis for The Fantastic Four. I called Jack [Kirby], handed him the outline... and said, ‘Read this. It is something I want to do. And you should draw a team.’ Jack, of course, contributed many, many ideas to it and I would venture to say Jack and I created The Fantastic Four, in a way, although the name was mine, the characters were mine, and the concept was mine, originally. But he never pushed me to do super-heroes. Jack was at home drawing these monster stories.”[iv]
STAN: It was natural for me to choose Jack Kirby to draw the new superhero book that we would soon produce. Jack had probably drawn more superhero strips than any other artist and he was as good as they come. We had worked together for years, on all types of strips and stories. Most importantly, we had a uniquely successful method of working. I had only to give Jack an outline of a story and he would draw the entire strip, breaking down the outline into exactly the right number of panels replete with action and drama. Then, it remained for me to take Jack's artwork and add the captions and dialogue, which would, hopefully, add the dimension of reality through sharply delineated characterization.... After kicking it around with Martin and Jack for a while I decided to call our quaint quartet The Fantastic Four. I wrote a detailed first synopsis for Jack to follow, and the rest is history.[v]
STAN: Jack is the greatest artist in the world. He also is a great story man. He does all the breakdowns and basic plots and I provide the dialogue. He didn’t start that way but Jack and I think so much alike. [vi]
Cal Caputo : Who conceived the Fantastic Four, you or Jack?
STAN: Both—’twas mainly my idea, but Jack created characters visually.
STAN explained: “Some artists, of course, need a more detailed plot than others. Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean, I’ll just say to Jack, ‘Let’s let the next villain be Doctor Doom’... or I may not even say that. He may tell me... he just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing.[vii]
STAN: After we had discussed the plot for (are you ready for this?) "The Galactus Trilogy," Jack spent the next few weeks drawing the first 20-page installment. When he brought it to me so that I could add the dialogue and captions, I was surprised to find a brand-new character floating around the artwork—a silver-skinned, smooth-domed, sky-riding surfer atop a speedy flying surfboard. When I asked ol' Jackson who he was, Jack replied something to the effect that a supremely powerful gent like Galactus, a godlike giant who roamed the galaxies, would surely require the services of a herald who could serve him as an advance guard.
I liked the idea. More than that, I was wild about the new character. It didn't take long for us to christen him with the only logical appellation for a silver-skinned surfboarder—namely, The Silver Surfer.[viii]
STAN: [about laying out a story for a new artist] I can call Jack… I can say, “Jack, make it a 12-page story, and, roughly, this is the plot.” Jack can go home, and the next day he has the whole thing broken down. He gives it to the artist, and the artist just has to worry about drawing his work on the breakdowns. They’d rather have Jack break it down for them once or twice until they get the feeling of it.[ix]
STAN [in a 1962-63 letter to Alter Ego founder Jerry Bails]: ...As for Jack starting strips and then turning 'em over to less talented artists—well, it's not quite that simple. The poor guy only has two hands, and can only draw with ONE! I like to have him start as many strips as possible, to get them off on the right foot—but he cannot physically keep 'em all up—in fact, I sometimes wonder how he does as much as he does do. At present he will concentrate on FF and our new war mag. SGT. FURY—as well as pinch-hitting for other features if and when needed. AND he does almost all of our covers, of course.
FF is easily our favorite book at the Marvel bullpen. It's my baby and I love it. People have asked for original scripts—actually we don't even HAVE any. I write the story plot—go over it with Jack—he draws it up based on our hasty conferences—then, with his drawings in front on me, I write the captions and dialogue, usually right on the original art work! It seems to work out well, although it’s not a system I'd advise anyone else to try... .[x]
COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE: During the Silver Age, you worked a great deal with Jack Kirby. How much of a collaboration actually existed between the two of you?
STAN: A tremendous amount. In the beginning, I would give Jack the idea for the character. I would describe the characters and give him an idea on how I wanted them to be. Jack would then draw the story and give me the exact rendition that I was looking for in the character. After a while he was so good at it that I only had to tell him a few words. I mean I would say something like, “In the next story let’s have Dr. Doom capture Sue and have the other three come and get her.” I would tell him a couple more things, and that was about it. He would then draw the whole story and add a million things that I hadn’t even told him. I would get the story back, and some of the things in it I would have liked, and some other things I would have felt he shouldn’t have done. It didn’t matter, though, because it was fun—even the parts that he drew which I felt weren’t quite right for the story. I would try and figure out a way when I was writing the story to make it seem as if I wanted those parts included from the start. I made them seem as if they fit in perfectly. I think we had a great collaboration. Whatever he drew, I was able to write and I was able to enjoy writing it. [xi]
For Marvel Age readers, the beginning is in The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. At that time, it was not common to have an artist’s name on the splash page, but Kirby’s was there near the border, and by issue #11 it was part of an actual credits list. In Fantastic Four #3’s Fan Page, Stan writes: “Considering that our artist signs the name JACK KIRBY on everything he can get his greedy little fingers on, I think we can safely say that’s his name.” In issue #4 (May 1962), a (supposed) writer to the letters page, Jim Moony, asks Stan for a picture of Jack Kirby. Stan’s reply, “Every time Kirby poses for a picture, the camera lens breaks.” [NOTE: Jim Mooney—with an “e”—was a longtime comics-artist associate of Stan’s, so it’s not unlikely that Stan wrote both letter and answer.]
FF # 10 not only shows Lee and Kirby on the cover, but on page 5, panel 1, Lee's caption reads: “…And that, dear reader, is as far as Jack Kirby and I got with our story…” Then the panel displays “the offices of Kirby and Lee.” (It is probably the only time that Stan put Jack's name first!) Then, atop the “Fantastic 4 Fan Page” in that issue, Lee writes: “Look, enough of that ‘Dear Editor’ jazz from now on! Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (that's us!) read every letter personally, and we like to feel that we know you and you know us!..."
From that point on for the next several years, missives on the letters pages for books the two men worked on together were almost always addressed “Dear Stan and Jack”—even, one suspects, on occasions when the reader may have written “Dear Editor” or some other salutary phrase. As Lee said on a Los Angeles radio program in 1967:
STAN: When [fans] write a letter, they don’t say “Dear Editor,” they say “Dear Stan and Jack,” “Dear So-and-So.” They call us by name, and we give ourselves nicknames. We started this as a gag and they’ve caught on. Uh, the fellow here at my right isn’t just Jack Kirby, he’s “Jolly Jack” or… or Jack “King” Kirby.[xii]
In another issue Stan, responding to another letter, writes: “You must be the only reader left who doesn’t know that Stanley writes the stories and Jackie Kirby draws them.”
Stan plays the credit box straight until Fantastic Four #24, when he begins to write comments along with the credits. He now writes: “Tenderly Drawn by JACK KIRBY,” followed in the next issue by “Astonishing Art by JACK KIRBY”… then “Powerfully Drawn in the Heroic Manner by JACK KIRBY.” Importantly, it seems that in Fantastic Four #28 (July 1964), Stan refers to Kirby as “The King” in the credits, the first use of that future regular nickname… though he still calls him “Jolly” in #32. Beginning in #56. individual credits disappear from FF; henceforth that comic (plus Thor and their other collaborations) is said to be “Produced by STAN LEE & JACK KIRBY.”
Mark Evanier: Stan told me something interesting. There was one point in the Spider-Man books when the credits changed from “Art by Steve Ditko” to “plotted and drawn by Steve Ditko…” Stan said that simultaneously he offered the same thing to Kirby— to give him a co-writing credit—and Jack, instead, asked that the credits read “Produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” or some variation of that. If you look at the credits, very rarely after that did it say “Written by Stan Lee.” Jack asked to keep it ambiguous, and Stan went along with it.” [xiii]
Marvel’s regular “Bullpen Bulletins” page began in issues dated December 1965, although Stan had been writing a “Special Announcements” section in the letters columns since October 1963. Most often, when Jack Kirby was mentioned in the earlier format, it was regarding a particular comic he was working on. Beginning in October 1964’s letters section/Special Announcements in FF #30, Stan would often refer to Kirby as “Jack (King) Kirby,” picking up on the splash-page credits reference two issues earlier.
Bullpen Bulletin: The Fantastic Four… Drawn as usual by Jack (King) Kirby… inked by Chic Stone who seems to have become everyone’s favorite almost overnight.”[xiv]
Bullpen Bulletin: Everybody’s been clamoring for a sample of JACK (King) KIRBY’s inking as well as his pencilling. So, if you’ll remind us next spring, we’ll try to get him to pencil and ink a special pin-up page for one of next year’s annuals. Of course, it will mean our buying him a brush, but no sacrifice is too great to make for you Marvel madmen[xv]
Both the above items, of course, were written by Stan.
STAN: It’s a funny thing with Jack’s artwork. You never know just how good Jack really is. If he gets a good inker, he looks good. If he gets a bad inker, he looks bad. But Jack Kirby’s penciling is so magnificent no inker can really do it justice.[xvi]
WILL MURRAY: Did you have a preferred Kirby inker?
STAN: I liked all of our inkers. Dick Ayers was very good on Kirby’s stuff. Sinnott I felt was wonderful. I liked Sinnott, Ayers, Paul Reinman, and Sol Brodsky even, because all four of them could also pencil. Reinman was good because he was also a painter and he inked in masses like a painter. Most of the plots, [Kirby] had much more to do with them than I did. When he did give me the artwork, a lot of times the plots were not the way I would have wanted to do it. So I would change them in the copy and the story ended up not being what I’m sure Kirby expected. It was fun doing them. But I don’t miss the sitting and dreaming up the plots.[xvii]
In an answer to a letter-writer in Fantastic Four #35 (Feb. 1965), Stan says, “We honestly feel that Chic [Stone]’s inking is perfectly suited for Jack’s penciling, and that the ‘King’ has never been better.”
Bullpen Bulletin: DIDJA KNOW that most of our amazin’ artists work at home and sometimes don’t visit the bullpen more than once a month!... And JACK “KING” KIRBY drops in, loaded down with a new mess of masterpieces, once a week. Poor Jack! He is so absent-minded that he usually goes home with someone else’s hat, portfolio, or train ticket! Stan wanted to put a label around his neck reading: “If found, please return to the merry Marvel bullpen,” but he couldn’t—Jack lost the label![xviii]
Stan would often imply that Kirby was okay with changes in artists:
Bullpen Bulletin: Dashing DON HECK takes over the pencilling chores on Agent of Shield for this ish, after which JACK KIRBY, the king himself will carry on in following issues.[xix]
Bullpen Bulletin: JACK (KING) KIRBY himself insisted that Jazzy JOHNNY ROMITA was the only logical illustrator to handle Capt. America in the master’s own style.[xx]
Bullpen Bulletin: Jolly JACK KIRBY’s ears must be really burning. Every comic mag fan has his own personal favorite among all the artists employed by all the different companies—but, when it comes to the opinion of the pro’s [sic] themselves—when it comes to naming the ARTISTS’ ARTIST, there isn’t even a contest! Every time the conversation here at the Bullpen gets around to artwork (and what ELSE is there to talk about?), you should hear the top men in the field lower their voices on the name of King Kirby comes up. It’s generally agreed that, when you talk of super-hero illustration; of action drawing; of imaginative conceptions; of dynamic, double-barreled drama; Marvel’s many-faceted master simply has no peer! There is hardly a pro pencil-pusher in the field today who hasn’t been influenced by Jolly Jack’s memorable masterpieces—or by the constantly shattering impact of his creativity. Don’t be embarrassed, Jack—this is just Stan’s cornball way of telling you that it’s been a ball all these years, pal—and the best is still ahead.[xxi]
Bullpen Bulletin: If STAN (The Man) LEE and JACK (King) KIRBY happened to meet the street, they might not recognize each other! The two characters have been so busy lately that they haven’t seen each other in weeks. Can you imagine producing sensational strips like theirs by collaborating over the phone? Well, you better believe it![xxii]
Bullpen Bulletin: All of Marveldom assembled sends best wishes to Jolly JACK and ROZ KIRBY on their 25th wedding anniversary! We’re beginnin’ to suspect that these two have a good thing going.[xxiii]
STAN: Philosophically, there was another thing, and I had a big argument with Kirby about this once. We were being interviewed by Barry Gray in New York. He had a talk show. Jack and I went up there. He wanted to talk to us about Marvel and how it was selling. This was in the middle 1960s. Barry said, “I understand you people are starting to pass DC.” And I said, “Well, we’re doing the best we can, but they’re such a big company and so rich, and we’re just this little company.” And Jack said, “That isn’t true, Stan! Why don’t you tell him we’re better than them? And bigger than them.” And I’m trying to shut him up. I said, “Jack, nobody likes anybody who’s bigger and better. Let them think we’re Avis. We’re just trying harder.” And Jack never understood that. You’ve got to use a little psychology.[xxiv]
Bullpen Bulletin: Jolly JACK KIRBY won three “Best Artist” awards from different fan groups in just one week.[xxv]
Bullpen Bulletin: This we’ve gotta tell you! The world-famous Society for Comic Art Research and Preservation, the largest group of comic-book fans in the nation, recently completed their annual International Convention of Comic Art at New York’s famed Statler-Hilton Hotel…. [Among the awards it handed out were:] Best Editor: STAN (The Man) LEE; Best Writer…Smilin’ STAN, again!... Best Pencil Artist: JACK (King) KIRBY… Best Inker: Joltin’ JOE SINNOTT.[xxvi]
On a more personal note, the Bullpen Bulletins for Jan. 1969 (in, e.g., Fantastic Four #81) announced that “JOLLY JACK KIRBY’s handsome son Neal has just announced his engagement….”
Bullpen Bulletin: Here’s an announcement we make with mixed emotions. JACK (King) KIRBY and family are leaving New York and moving to California. In fact, by the time you read this, the King will already be settled on the shores of the blue Pacific! But don’t panic, pilgrim—he’ll still be doing his bit for the Bullpen, same as ever. It’s just that he’ll be spending most of his extra cabbage on air-mail stamps rather than those king-size cigars he loves to sport. Actually, it’s a terrific deal for the Great One, who certainly deserves his place in the sun; but poor ol’ Stan has conniptions every time he thinks of the long-distance phone bills is going to run up each month when he calls his pantin’ partner to discuss their latest plots! Hooo boy![xxvii]
Bullpen Bulletin: Speaking of JOLLY JACK, many longtime fans have been writing to say that THE FANTASTIC FOUR is getting better with each issue—with the stories reading more like the memorable masterworks of the FF’s early years. This kinda breaks us up, because it’s beginning to seem as though we have to take a few steps back in order to surge forward!
Incidentally, on the same Bullpen Bulletins page, Stan mentions that Kirby has done the costume designs for the Vera Cruz University Theatre’s Shakespeare production of Julius Caesar.[xxviii]
Bullpen Bulletin: And how’s this for an eye-opener? JACK (KING) KIRBY has done both the script and the pencilling for a dynamite thriller in the current issue of CHAMBER OF DARKNESS! For those of you who never knew that the Jolly One is as gifted a writer as he is an artist, this will be a real serendipity. And, speaking of J.K., he and his radiant Roz are now building their own home in sunny California. He should worry about how much we have to spend on postage stamps![xxix]
Bachelor: To what do you attribute Jack’s loyalty throughout all these years?
STAN: Basically, Jack’s a loyal person. He’s had a hand in so many of these strips. I know the way I feel about them. To leave would be almost like abandoning your children. If you are happy and doing well somewhere, there’s never any reason to leave.
Bachelor: How would you feel if Jack Kirby ever left?
STAN: I’d cry a little.
Bachelor: Do you feel Marvel Comics would quite be the same if he did leave?
STAN: Fortunately, I don’t think any one person’s holding the whole place up. For example, Spider-Man with John Romita is one of our best-selling books… Daredevil with Gene [Colan] is doing well, and down the line we do have others. But I think there is no doubt that Jack has set the pace.[xxx]
STAN: Jack is the greatest mythological creator in the world. Well, we—we kicked Thor around and we came out with him. And I thought he would just be another book. And I think that Jack has turned him into one of the greatest, uh, fictional characters there are. Somebody was asking him how he gets his authenticity in the costumes and everything. And I think a priceless answer Jack said was, “They’re not authentic. If they were authentic, they wouldn’t be authentic enough.” But he draws them the way they should be, not the way they were.[xxxi]
STAN: When you talk about Kirby, you really run out of superlatives. Jack was a writer as well as an artist (as many of the legends were). He was incredibly imaginative, and he did his most important writing with his drawing. When I say that I mean, if 1 gave Jack a very brief idea of what I wanted for a story, he would run with it. I could say, “Jack in this next story, I think I’d like to have Dr. Doom kidnap Sue Storm and bring her to Liberia, then the Fantastic Four have to go after her, and in the end Dr. Doom may promise that he won’t hurt Sue if they do something, and Reed says, OK, I agree, and the Thing would say, how can you trust him, and Reed would say, despite all of his faults Doom is a man of honor, he would never lie.” I would discuss the idea with Jack like that and that was all I had to do. And then Jack would go home and he would draw the story and he would add a million elements that I hadn’t told him about, so he was really writing in pictures and dreaming up ideas along the way. And then when I did write the copy [the words, dialogue, and captions], it was such a joy, because all 1 had to do was look at the illustrations that Jack had done and each picture gave me a thousand new ideas. Jack never did a dull panel. Every drawing of his contained an expression the character’s face that almost told me what kind of dialogue to write. Jack could get more drama into a few lines than any artist I knew. His imagination and the things he came up with were wonderful… and on top of all that, he was fast! I don’t know how anybody could have been that good and that fast…. There was only one other artist I knew who was as fast as Jack, perhaps even a little faster… that was Joe Maneely.
…When Jack drew, you had the feeling that Jack had the entire drawing in his mind, and when he put the pencil on the paper, he was just “tracing” what he already had in his mind. Most artists would draw a circle for th head and a circle for the body, and then they’d start filling it in, but Jack would just start with the head and he would draw it, and every line was right there from the start. He didn’t make little rough drawings first… it was the most eerie feeling, watching him draw—you felt he was tracing what was already in his head. Jack Kirby… he was the most dependable artist in the world. He never missed a deadline. He never did a bad job… all his jobs were great. It’s hard to talk about Jack without sounding as if you’re exaggerating, because that’s how good he was.
A sad part of the relationship between Lee and Kirby was ignited by a newspaper article by Nat Freedland of the New York Herald-Tribune, published at the turn of 1966. In explaining Marvel’s success, he just concentrated on Lee, whom he called “an ultra-Madison Avenue, rangy look-alike of Rex Harrison.” But notice how Freedland puts down Jack Kirby even while making a nod to Kirby’s contribution to Marvel’s success:
Here he [Stan Lee] is in action at his weekly Friday morning summit meeting with Jack “King” Kirby, a veteran comic book artist, a man who created many of the visions of your childhood and mine. The King is a middle-aged man with baggy eyes and a baggy Robert Hall-ish suit. He is sucking a huge green cigar, and if you stood next to him on the subway you would peg him for the assistant foreman in a girdle factory.
Mark Evanier: “That article did enormous damage to Jack, personally and professionally…. It convinced Jack he couldn’t get the proper recognition there [at Marvel]…. “[Stan would] say, ‘I never fully understand why Jack or Steve [Ditko] left.’ Steve’s reasons were pretty obvious, and so were Jack’s, and I’d explain them to Stan. He would nod. And then three months later he’d say, ‘Can you explain to me what Jack is upset about?’”[xxxii]
It was not Stan’s fault that newspapers wrote what they wrote, and he was always trying to get the most publicity possible. From my personal point of view, the writers of these newspaper stories knew nothing of comics and mostly never read one. Here are just a few of the articles that ignored the artists, which will give you some insight as to why Kirby was upset:
Dallas Times Herald : In the beginning was Stan Lee. And Stan Lee created the Fantastic Four. And he saw that it was good. And the Fantastic Four begat the Hulk and Spider-Man.
New York Times Magazine [May 2 1971]: The turnabout came in 1961, when Stan Lee metamorphosed the Marvel line and very likely saved comic books from an untimely death.
The Press Telegram Newspaper of Long Beach, CA [Aug. 19, 1977]: First he begot The Fantastic Four, a cosmic powered quartet… and the Fantastic Four begot The Hulk and The Hulk begot Spider-Man, who begot a whole lot of success for Stan Lee.
Newsday, of Long Island [June 8th, 1978]: It was Lee’s fertile mind that created the many superheroes who were eventually to make Marvel mighty.
There was an unexpected “hail and farewell” in the September Marvel Bulletins when Jack Kirby left Marvel in 1970. As late as the Bullpen Bulletins page in Fantastic Four #100, a mere two months before he decamped for DC Comics, the following item appeared: “We just had a visit from JACK (KING) KIRBY, who winged his way eastward from sunny California to rap it up with Stan about the new INHUMANS series the Jolly One will be producing in the forthcoming AMAZING ADVENTURES. Sly ol’ Stan not only conned Jack into doing two yarns at once, but even cajoled the King into doing the script as well as the penciling for this great new series.” There’s another reference to this upcoming series by “King Kirby” in the following issue of FF.
Some comics readers (most of whom didn’t read fanzines, the only real source of comics news in those days) must have been confused when not only did John Romita rather than Kirby pencil Fantastic Four #103 (Oct. 1970), but the lead-off paragraph on the fan-page that issue read:\
Bullpen Bulletins: ITEM! Let’s face it—this is probably mighty Marvel’s proudest and most crucial hour! Even here, at the world-famous House of Ideas, we’ve never made so many sudden, cataclysmic changes, or taken so many unexpected, unprecedented gambles! Never before has any leading magazine company dared to switch the artist line-ups of some of the world’s best-selling mags! But, despite our countless other faults, we’ve never been accused of being timid… and the announcements that follow will show you why—
The rest of the page (which appeared in all Marvel comics that month, of course, not just FF) reveals that Romita is now the penciler of Fantastic Four, with Gil Kane relieving Romita on Amazing Spider-Man, while Neal Adams will be drawing Thor (the only full comic besides FF that Kirby had been regularly illustrating at that point). But there’s nary a mention of Jack Kirby amid the Bulletins, as there had been when Steve Ditko had departed, or in any of the magazines’ letters pages. So far as we could find, Kirby was not mentioned again on the Bullpen Bulletins page until he returned to Marvel, five years later. Marvel’s then associate editor Roy Thomas says that, while Stan Lee never discussed the matter specifically with him, he suspects his boss didn’t know quite how to tell readers that Jack had left—because it had been so totally unexpected by him at the time, unlike Ditko’s exit several years earlier—so Lee decided not even to mention it, but just to deal verbally with all the changes and artistic musical-chairs that Kirby’s departure had caused. The reader had to puzzle out the rest for himself.
Kirby’s leaving Marvel in 1970 was, however, a question Stan was often asked about in the days and years to come. Here is his fullest reply:
STAN: I hated losing Kirby. To me, the FF has never been the same since Kirby left… I really don’t know why he left. I think it was a personal thing. Jack never told me. I think it could be as simple as that he got sick of everything he did saying “by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” Maybe he just wanted to do his own thing and have the book saying “by Jack Kirby.” But as far as I was concerned, if he had told me he wanted to do his own book, I’d have said fine and let him write it and draw it, but he never said it to me.
I’ve heard that he was tired of doing things that he never owned a copyright on, shares of the prophets, and so on. I wish I had the same thing, I don’t blame him. But what surprises me is that he doesn’t have any copyright now at national as far as I know. So, I really don’t know why he left. And I will say in all honesty that I’d like Jack to come back, I want him to come back eventually. I sort of half expect that he’ll come back when his contract ends, I think he’d be making a mistake not coming back. I say he did his best work at Marvel his style is pure Marvel. I also must admit that he has so many books at national that have failed whereas if they had been for Marvel, I think they still would be published, especially New Gods.
The thing about Jack is that though he’s a very good story manning good artist he tends to get too wrapped up in what he wants to do that he forgets what readers might want. I think his material was a little better with us because we exercised some control. I remember on the very first issue of the Fantastic Four I suggested the synopsis of a monster and Jack drew 100 red monsters I said quote Jack it’s more dramatic to have one monster that the reader worries about 100 monsters unquote the trouble with Dracula is that is so imaginative he tries to put every idea he can think of on every page. He tries to make every page a whole no original thought and action. That isn’t a good story. You have to build up a mood. You’ve got to take one idea and stretch it over a few pages and milk the utmost drama out of it. It’s a matter of pacing, Jack goes too fast you don’t have a chance to catch her breath reading his stories. [xxxiii]
STAN:[xxxiv] I really don’t know, why [Jack Kirby left]. We really never had an argument of any sort. I think Jack thought he wasn’t getting paid enough. And of course that was not up to me; that was up to the publisher who paid him. And I did not want Jack to go. I said at the time, “Jack, instead of being a freelance artist, why don’t you join the staff? I’ll tell our publisher to make you my partner”. You see, I was the editor and art director and the head writer. “I’ll make you the art director. I’ll be the editor we will work together as a team, you’ll make the same salary as I do and we’d be a team.” I would have loved that. He didn’t want to do it. He said that he wanted to be a freelancer. He thought he could make more money, I think, at DC. And he worked there. I don’t think it worked out; he eventually came back to us.
STAN: The one thing I remember and felt bad about when Jack left was that I had been thinking about—and maybe I even talked to him about it—that I wanted to make Jack my partner in a sense; I wanted him to be the art director, and I thought that he could serve in that function and I would serve as the editor. Maybe this was way earlier, but I was disappointed when he left, because I always felt that Jack and I would be working there forever and doing everything.[xxxv]
Lee and Kirby had actually said similar things about collaborating on comics and with each other:
Comics Journal: “Would you ever do a book all by yourself… do the pencils, inks, story, everything?”[xxxvi]
KIRBY: “Not necessarily, no. I don’t feel that I should do everything myself... you know, everybody has that feeling, that ‘boy, if they could let me by myself.’ Nobody does anything by themselves; nobody ever does. When a guy comes out and makes a statement ‘I did this,’ you can be sure 50 people helped him. It’s true. The only time you do something by yourself is when you’re in trouble.”
STAN: “Comic books are a collaborative medium. Had I not worked with artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko... all those guys… my stories would not have looked as good. OK, I might have had the first idea for the characters, but after I would tell Jack about it, or Ditko about it, or John Romita, I didn’t have time to write fully fledged scripts. So I would tell them roughly what I wanted the story to be and they would draw it any way they wanted to. I didn’t give them a script that said, “Panel one, draw this, panel two, draw that.” I just said, roughly, “This is the story I want to tell, go to it, guys. These guys were writers themselves. But they would write with pictures. And they would give me the artwork. I would put in the copy, I’d write the dialogue and the captions. It was a total collaborative affair and sometimes I feel a little guilty, you know, “Stan did this, Stan did that.” I did it, but I did it with them. And they really deserve as much credit as I ever get.”[xxxvii]
STAN: I think if he comes back I’d like someone else to write the stories the way we always did. I’d like Jack to plot them—he’s great at plotting them, breaking them down—but I’d like someone else to put in the dialogue and so forth. We can’t have people doing their own thing, because in the Marvel world, everything meshes with everything else, so it all has to tie in.[xxxviii]
Bullpen Bulletin: This month’s news is too big to hold off for another minute! Jack Kirby is back! Yup, that’s right! All King Kirby (and don’t forget, it was at Marvel that he got that sobriquet) has returned to the bosom of the blushing bullpen. This is where his heart is—this is where it all started—and this is where one of the greatest talents and comics belongs…. And, just to prove the master’s hand still hasn’t lost its touch, he’ll be taking over the strip he started more than three decades ago—the one and only CAPTAIN AMERICA! Jack’ll be writing and drawing the whole magilla by his lonesome…. But, as soon as Jack and I get a breather and when you least expect it, watch for gigantic special edition of—you guessed it—THE SILVER SURFER! Anyway, one of the most dramatic moments at the Mighty Marvel Con, which was held at Easter time, was when most of the Bullpen was on the stage for panel discussion of The Fantastic Four, and I mentioned that I had a special announcement to make. As I started telling about Jack’s return, to a totally incredulous audience, everyone’s head started to snap around as Kirby himself came waltzing down the aisle to join us on the rostrum. You can imagine how it felt clownin’ around with the co-c…………..reator of most of Marvel’s greatest strips once more….[xxxix]
STAN LEE, interviewed by Jules Feiffer : Nobody drew like Jack Kirby. He was not only a great artist, he was also a great visual storyteller. I would say, “Look, Jack, here’s the story I want you to tell.” And Jack would bring back the story that I had given him, but he would also add a lot of imaginative things of his own. He should have been a movie director. He knew when to make a long shot, a close-up. He never drew a character who didn’t look interesting or excited. In every panel there was something to look at. (Reprinted in Dr. Jeff McLaughlin’s Stan Lee: Conversations, 2007, from Civilization, June-July 1998.)
STAN: Jack was about the best. He was really the most creative artist of all, because he was more than an artist. I call him a great conceptualizer. He could conceive of stories and follow them through. All I would have to do with Jack is give him a very brief outline on what to do, and he would just do the whole story. After a while when we were rushed, I didn’t even give him an outline, he just did whatever story he wanted.[xl]
In August 1987, on WBAI Radio in New York, Stan phoned in to a talk show hosted by Robert Knight on which Jack Kirby was the major guest, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, also via phone. Likewise present, in the studio, was 1970s Marvel staffer Warren Reese. By this time, Kirby had left Marvel and, for the most part, the comicbook field:
LEE [to Kirby, via phone]: You know, you were talking earlier about your drawing and people sometimes criticized your figures and so forth. I always felt that the most important thing about your drawings—I remember when I was a kid and I first saw Captain America, it wasn’t the correctness of the anatomy, but it was the emotion that you put in. To me, nobody could convey emotion and drama the way you could. I didn’t care if the drawing was all out of whack because that wasn’t important. You got your point across and nobody could ever draw a hero like you could. And I just want to say without getting too saccharin that one of the marks I think of a really true great artist is he has his own style. And you certainly had and still have your own style and it’s a style that nobody has even been able to come close to. And I think that’s something you can be very proud of and I’m proud of you for it.
KIRBY: I have to thank you for helping me to keep that style, Stanley, and helping me to evolve all that and I’m certain that whatever we did together, we got sales for Marvel and I –
LEE: I think it was more than that, Jack. We got the sales, and no matter who did what, and I guess that is something that will be argued forever, but I think there was some slight magic that came into effect when we were working together and I am very happy that we had that experience.
KIRBY: Well, I was never sorry for it, Stanley. It was a great experience for me and certainly if the product was good, that was my satisfaction, and I’ve, I’ve felt like that and I, I think it’s the feeling of every good professional. And it’s one of the reasons I respect you is the fact that, you know, you’re certainly a good professional and, and you’re certainly fond of a good product, and I feel that’s the, that’s the mark of all of us.
At one point, Reese made a statement that ended by voicing in passing an uncertainly about whether the dialogue in Galactus’ “exit speech” in Fantastic Four #50 had been written by Stan or Jack… and Stan’s quick response (followed by Jack’s response to it) soon made it clear the pair had quite different views on how they had done their comics, and even about what they had done in them. The following exchange is virtually verbatim, omitting only a few short remarks interjected by Reese and/or Knight, which were basically ignored by the other two, who at one point were talking over each other as well:
LEE: Oh, I’ll say this: Every word of dialogue in those scripts was mine. Every story.
KIRBY: I can tell you that I wrote a few lines myself above every panel …
LEE: They weren’t printed in the books. Jack isn’t wrong by his own rights because—Jack, answer me truthfully—
KIRBY: I wasn’t allowed to write…
LEE [continuing from previous]: —did you ever read one of the stories after it was finished? I don’t think you did. I don’t think you ever read one of my stories. I think you were always busy drawing the next one. You never read the book when it was finished.
KIRBY: [continuing from previous] …dialogue, Stanley… my own dialogue. And that, I think that’s the way people are. So whatever was written in them was—well, it, you know, it was the action I was interested in.
LEE: But I don’t think you ever felt that the dialogue was that important. And I think you felt, well, it doesn’t matter, anybody can put the dialogue in, it’s what I’m drawing that matters. And maybe you’re right. I don’t agree with it, but maybe you’re right.
There was a bit more of an exchange—without any sort of agreement or meeting of the minds—and Lee made his exit from the phone call thus:
STAN: I just want to say that Jack has, I think, made a tremendous mark on American culture if not on world culture, and I think he should be incredibly proud and pleased with himself, and I want to wish him all the best, him and his wife Roz and his family, and I hope that ten years from now I’ll be in some town somewhere listening to a tribute to his 80th birthday and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to call at that time and wish him well then too. Jack, I love you. [xli]
That was the last time that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby ever spoke on the same forum.
And, from a 2005 interview with Stan Lee:
DAN EPSTEIN: Are you sorry you were never able to patch things up with Jack Kirby before he passed?
STAN: We did patch things up. Everything was fine. I met him at a convention and we talked for a while. I even spoke to his wife. In the later years, people had been telling Jack that he had been cheated and not treated him well, so he sort of lumped me in with the rest of management. But at the end, he realized I wasn’t management in those days. [xlii]
Finally, from a Playboy interview that Stan Lee gave in 2014:
STAN: I’ll tell you, the last thing Jack Kirby said to me was very strange. I met him at a comic book convention right before the end. He wasn’t that well. He walked over and said, “Stan, you have nothing to reproach yourself about.” He knew people were saying things about me, and he wanted to let me know I hadn’t done anything wrong in his eyes. I think he realized it. Then he walked away. [xliii]
Barry Pearl was awarded the status of being a “Fearless Face Fronter” by Stan Lee himself for his book The Essential Marvel Age Companion: 1961-1977… a 1400-page interactive volume covering every single Marvel comic and story during that period… a total of more than 5000. A full blog is at: https://forbushman.blogspot.com/. He has written for The International Journal of Comic Art; 75 Years of Marvel (Taschen); The Stan Lee Story (Taschen); The Jack Kirby Quarterly; The Stan Lee Universe (TwoMorrows); Kirby, King of Comics; The Art of Steve Ditko; Alter Ego; and Ditkomania. He has also written introductions for editions of Marvel Masterworks and for PS Artbooks’ Pre-Code comics reprint series.
[i] Overstreet Comic Book Quarterly #4, June 1994
[ii] Excelsior (fanzine) #1, 1968
[iii] Bring On the Bad Guys, Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (October 1, 1976)
[iv] New York Times, May 2, 1971
[v] Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon & Schuster/A Fireside Book; (September 30, 1974)
[vi] WFMU-FM Radio, 1967
[vii] Castle of Frankenstein #12, 1968
[viii] Bring on the Bad Guys, Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (October 1, 1976)
[ix] Castle of Frankenstein #12, 1968
[x] The Comic Reader #16, February 1963.
[xi] Comics Interview, 1999
[xii] Stan Lee & Jack Kirby interviewed by Mike Hodel on WBAI FM, NYC, 1967
[xiii] Comic Interview
[xiv] “Special Announcements” section on letters pages in Amazing Spider-Man #15 (Aug. 1964)
[xv] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: December 1965
[xvi] Crusader (fanzine), 1964
[xvii] Will Murray, 2000
[xviii] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: February 1966
[xix] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: January 1966
[xx] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: May 1966
[xxi] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: April 1967
[xxii] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: May 1967
[xxiii] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: December 1967
[xxiv] Interview with Will Murray, 2000
[xxv] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: November 1968
[xxvi] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: December 1968
[xxvii] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: June 1969
[xxviii] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: January 1970
[xxix] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: April 1970
[xxx] Bachelor College Magazine, 1968
[xxxi] WBAI Radio, 1967
[xxxii] “It’s Stan Lee’s Universe,” article by Abraham Riesman for Vulture online magazine, 2016
[xxxiii] Great Britain’s Fantasy Advertiser #55, 1975
[xxxiv] Video of Stan Lee, October 1, 2008
[xxxv] Interview with Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, 1998
[xxxvi] Comics Journal, 1975
[xxxvii] The Comic Art Professional Society (newsletter), 2008
[xxxviii] Comic Book Marketplace [date uncertain – CHECK]
[xxxix] Marvel Bullpen Bulletins: October 1975
[xl] The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide [date uncertain]
[xli] “Earth Watch” with Robert Knight, WBAI radio, 1987
[xlii] Exclusive interview by Daniel Robert Epstein, 2005
[xliii] Playboy, November 2014