Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee created an incredible Superhero entertainment franchise in the 1960s, however there were claims of who created what, and controversies of stolen credit that have tainted their work in the decades since. Let’s go down our timeline for each of the two crowning achievements of the 1960s Marvel Age, Fantastic Four (with Kirby and Lee) and the Amazing Spider-Man ( with Ditko and Lee).
As shown in previous episodes, Jack, Stan and Steve co-created the Marvel Universe in the 1960s, but there have been differing accounts since of who created what and tension between all 3 creators that are interesting to examine. What blurs the waters even more is the Marvel Method which claims that Stan Lee gave them an idea, they’d flesh and plot it out and give it back to him to dialogue. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee co-created Fantastic Four 1, 1961 which started off the Marvel Universe and the credit for that first issue reads like this on the right side:
Steve Ditko and Stan Lee co-created Spider-Man in 1962, and the credit in his first appearance Amazing Fantasy 15, 1962 reads like this on the bottom of the first page:
So the credits of the creative team appear very straight forward in these panels. Now watch as the credits “change” over time. Let’s start with the Fantastic Four. Fantastic Four 9, 1962 shows the creative credit change to, Stan Lee as scriptwriter and Jack Kirby as artist:
In Fantastic Four 17, 1963, the credit changes again to Stan Lee for the “Story” and Jack Kirby for “art.”
Then in Fantastic 18, 1963 the credit changes to the story being “written” by Stan Lee and again, Jack Kirby for what is “drawn.”
On the Spider-Man credits, the credit from Amazing Fantasy 15 shown earlier changes quickly in the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, 1963 to Stan Lee for the “Script” and Steve Ditko for “art.”
The credit changes again in Amazing Spider-Man 3, 1963 to “story” by Stan Lee and then “art” by Steve Ditko.
The credit changes again in issue 5, 1963 to “written” by Stan Lee and “drawn” by Steve Ditko.
So on both books, which were the corner stones of the Marvel Universe in the 1960s (Jack and Steve worked on other books too), the credits were quite collaborative and as the books became popular hits, the credit for story and ideas there-in flow more toward Stan Lee. So what does Stan mean in 1963 when it says “written by?” In 1967, Daredevil Annual 1, a 3 pager by Gene Colan and Stan Lee of an encounter between them, Stan shows that “written” means he fills in the dialogue boxes left for him by the penciler who mapped out the story in picture panels. It also shows Stan having a hard time coming up with an original story idea. This satire could be solely in jest, or funny because it’s true. who knows.
By some accounts, Stan Lee and a few others have said that he would give them an initial idea, the artist mapped it out and he filled in dialogue bubbles after. Other accounts have said that there was never an initial idea, and that Stan would received pages with story and art panels originated by the artist and Stan would fill in the dialogue bubbles later. At this point it is a game of he said/he said and there is no way to prove it, however it is interesting to see published accounts of what some depict versus others in this controversy. So let’s travel further down the time line to what is published regarding credit over at Marvel in the 1960s in relation to Stan Lee. In SICK magazine 48, 1966, there are satire pages written by Joe Simon (Jack Kirby’s ex-partner of many years) discussing Stan’s credit grabbing at Marvel.
Angel and Ape 2, 1969 mimics Roy Thoms and Stan Lee. Inks by Wally Wood. They made Roy look like Stan (and called his character, Stan Bragg) and Stan look like Roy discussing signing work that isn’t theirs in “Most Fantastic Robbery in History.” Script by Sergio Aragones and Bob Oksner, pencils by Oksner.
Stan Lee was on the To Tell the Truth show in 1971, at this time he was Editor of Marvel and soon to be Publisher.
It is possible that his old creative partner Jack Kirby saw this 1971 episode, and satirized Stan Lee, toupee and all in Mr. Miracle 6, 1972. This issue was made after Jack left Marvel and went over to DC, and satirized Stan Lee as “Funky Flashman” as a verbose user and abuser of artistic talent, working as a driver of slaves in a happy “Marvel” family.
Dick Ayers wrote and illustrated his autobiography in 2005 as the Dick Ayers story, and depicted their relationship.
Now that we have the timeline of depiction of how credit worked in Marvel out of the way, let’s look at some interviews. In 1966, Stan Lee had an interview for the New York Herald Tribune and they portray a Marvel Method plotting session between Jack Kirby and Stan Lee:
Later on in 1966, Stan Lee had another interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Midwest where in a couple separate paragraphs (assembled here) he said,
Note that he said the term “we” denoting a collaborative group creation effort which is admirable compared to what he says later in life. However on the sidelines the magazine editor or writer wrote:
In this magazine’s caption, they write that specifically “HE” created those characters. This seems to be a common theme in his interviews where he says something, and the media says another. Did he tell them HE created or was that the interpretation of the magazine writer because he was socially charismatic in his discussions? who knows, but that sort of thing rubs the pencilers/plotters like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko the wrong way. In 1970, Jack Kirby said in an interview with Blast Comic Collector 81, 1970 that he created the Fantastic Four.
In 1973, Stan Lee had been publisher for a year by then, and Kirby had been at DC for 3 years at this time and in FOOM 1, 1973 Marvel would turn up Stan’s sole creatorship claim up a notch by writing that Stan Lee created “The Marvel Age of Comics.”
In 1974, Stan Lee’s personal language on the creation of the FF changes where he claims sole creatorship of the characters that he gave co-creatorship to in both prior interviews and early issue credits.
So there is a definite change in Stan’s recollection in creator credit compared to his 1966 interview where he uses the term “WE.”. At the same time, he discusses how it was his wife who inspired this sudden urge to create in his comics after 20 years in the business.
In 1974, Jack Kirby returned to Marvel, a few years after he depicted Stan Lee as Funky Flashman and said this about his time with Stan in the early 1960s as a couple of guys who “shared ideas.”
In FOOM 11, 1975, Kirby had already now been back at Marvel and the language at FOOM changes from Stan’s sole creatorship to a co-creation shown here, speaking with Kirby.
Later on in this interview, Jack discusses how happy he was at Marvel as if it was an old family.
This is also an interesting change in language from Jack when he was back at Marvel compared to his sentiments that he expressed in Mr. Miracle 6, 1972 when he was at DC comics. In 1975, Stan Lee was interviewed over in the United Kingdom working on Marvel UK duties when he said this regarding Jack Kirby in Fantasy Advertiser International, April 1975 edition: which can be found here, http://forbushman.blogspot.com/2017/06/a-serious-interview-with-stan-lee-april.html :
In 1978, Jack Kirby said this about his “collaboration” with Stan Lee in FOOM 19, 1977. He speaks positively about his time with Stan Lee writing I’ve always enjoyed working with Stan – we’ve been a successful team. In the collaboration, something good comes out.”
This is clearly a far more positive tone by Jack Kirby regarding Stan Lee than what we will read later. Since Roy Thomas was mentioned in the satire panels, what did he think about Jack and Stan’s co-creation of the Fantastic Four? In 1978, Roy Thomas said in Collectors Dream Fanzine that the Fantastic Four’s spirit derived from Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown 1957 which is different than what Stan wrote in 1974, but more in line with the early credits that Stan once gave Jack in the early FF issues and the aforementioned 1966 interview.
Here is a short visual comparison of 1957 Jack Kirby/Dave Wood’s Challengers of the Unknown vs Jack Kirby/Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four.
Massively more in depth discussion regarding Jack Kirby character precursors to 1960s Marvel are found in a previous CBH article, Jack Kirby: Co-creator of the Marvel Universe, http://www.comicbookhistorians.com/jack-kirby-co-creator-of-the-marvel-universe/ .
Jack Kirby left Marvel in 1978 to work in Animation, then does some work with his Darkseid character in the 1980s, meanwhile struggling with Marvel in the 1980s to get his original art back, as well as try to delineate once and for all that he co-created the Fantastic Four which didn’t occur for a while. He had some encounters with John Byrne as well which is discussed in the previous episode, and then in 1987, it was Jack Kirby’s 70th birthday and he was interviewed on a radio show. Roughly 18 minutes into the interview, Jack Kirby says he had a deep role in the creation of Spider-Man and that all the comic book art pages he turned during his 11 years at Marvel in were all creatively his except the dialogue in the balloons.
Stan Lee calls in a couple minutes after that and they discuss a positive tone of working together with an acknowledgement of it being difficult to know for sure who did what. At 33 minutes, Stan later says that “every word of dialogue is mine, every story” and then Jack says “I wrote a few lines myself,” and “it was the action I was interested in.” In 1990 he had an interview in the Comics Journal 134 with Gary Groth. At this point in his life, Jack is older and four years from death, with a large amount of disappointment of what little credit or money he received for his Marvel co-creations. That interview can be found here, http://www.tcj.com/jack-kirby-interview/ . Here are some snippets from that interview:
First Jack establishes that Stan Lee wasn’t a writer or creator, but only an editor.
Jack then establishes that it was he that created the Fantastic Four, and the other characters and created all the stories, while Stan was more of a desked organizer of talent.
Jack then tells Gary that Stan did not create the Fantastic Four.
Jack Kirby also discusses that he couldn’t ever talk to Stan about his concerns with the application of credit on their Marvel issues, and further says that Stan was the editor of Marvel, had all the influence, and was the point man, so Stan could do whatever he wanted with the pages. Jack goes on to say that he would word the pages as well before handing them in. Jack has mentioned that he continued to go along with the process because he was blackballed from DC as discussed in an earlier episode, and needed the freelance fees to support his wife and family.
Take in mind that Roz corrected Jack on the placement of the words in the above quote, showing that he misremembered a detail in this interview, so there is a chance he misremembered other details. Jack also says that he solely conceived the stories for the pages, and explained how Stan flattered him to take more of his ideas. Jack then warns Gary of ever working with that sort of personality. Roz Kirby, Jack’s wife even asks the question, what did Stan actually create before Jack came along and after he left?
This 1990 interview with Gary Groth is an imprint of the type of emotions that he probably took to his death. It lays a despondent picture of someone who feels exploited. In 1991, Fantastic Four 358 prints a letter from Stan Lee describing that the following 2 pages are 2 out of 4 pages of his original script which plotted the first issue of the Fantastic Four dated July 1961.
This document was not seen until the 1980s. Jack died in 1994 and Stan Lee was seen at Jack Kirby’s funeral. In Fantastic Four 400, 1995, Stan Lee writes again on the origins of the Fantastic Four and it differs significantly from his 1974 Origins book. He specifically writes that “Jack Kirby and I created the Fantastic Four” in a more collaborative effort similar to his 1966 interview.
In 1998, Roy Thomas said that Stan Lee wasn’t sure if he wrote the Fantastic Four 1 synopsis before or after speaking to Jack Kirby first in Jack Kirby Collector 18, 1998.
In 2014, the Jack Kirby estate/heirs and Marvel/Disney settled and finally gave co-creator credit to Jack Kirby along with Stan Lee, oddly enough it took 53 years for the current Marvel credits (shown bottom) to finally reflect the original credit shown in Fantastic Four 1, 1961 (shown top).
Regarding Steve Ditko, he had some contention with Stan Lee and a particular point of contention with Jack Kirby both regarding Spider-Man. The creation of Spider-Man takes a circuitous route based on many sources, so lets start off a few years after Stan is finished with finetuning the credits in the Amazing Spider-Man comic book. Steve Ditko starts to get plotting credit on both Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange in 1965.
In January 1966, Stan Lee has his interview with the New York Herald Tribune and give his take on Steve Ditko at this time, saying that he doesn’t plot Spider-Man anymore and that there is schism going on in the direction of Spider-Man’s personal life. He also discusses that they argued over plot lines, and that Ditko thinks he is the genius of the world that needs to ink his own pages..
Steve Ditko was evidently unhappy with his working arrangement with Stan Lee and left Marvel later that same year in 1966, then did some work at other companies like Charlton and DC. After Steve’s departure, there was now a vacuum at Marvel to tell the story of how Spider-Man was created so Stan Lee wrote this in his 1974 Origins book, that he wanted a teenage character with a name kind of like Superman, and that he loved the idea of a Spider character because he read the Spider pulp when he was younger, and convinced his publisher Martin Goodman, a cousin in law to go forward with his Spidey idea.
Stan also wrote that he originally gave his Spiderman teenager idea to Jack Kirby who drew the character too heroically, and felt he wanted a realistic grounded approach from Steve Ditko and gave the project to him instead. In 1975, Stan was asked about the circumstances around Steve Ditko leaving Marvel in Fantasy Advertiser International, and he answered that Steve got more socially withdrawn, professionally demanding, more impossible to work with and then left the company.
Steve continued to work at other companies, and then worked at Marvel again starting 1978. In 1979, Fireside publishing released a reprint of Dr. Strange with 80% of the art by Steve Ditko with a final story at the end by Barry Windsor Smith. There were some pages written by Stan depicting the history of Dr. Strange, the other main Ditko Marvel co-creation, and Stan wrote that Steve Ditko dreamed up the story and the art, and that his own job was to fill in the dialogue balloons. To be clear, this is in regards to Dr. Strange only, and Spider-Man is not mentioned in this Fireside book; however I bring it up here in the context of Steve Ditko and his time at 1960s Marvel.
Throughout the 1980s creating various characters like Captain Universe and Speedball. In 1982, Jack Kirby had an interview with Spirit creator Will Eisner who said, “Spider-Man was discussed between Joe [Simon] and myself. Spider-Man was not a product of Marvel.” What did Jack Kirby mean by this? Joe Simon adds more to this story in his 2003 comic history text, the Comic Book Makers which we discuss later. In 1986, Comics Interview 45 Jack Kirby says that Ditko developed Spider-Man and that it was the artists that come up with the stories and art, and Stan was essentially a production coordinator.
Stan Lee married Spider-Man and Mary Jane on TV claiming sole Spider-Man creatorship in 1987.
Based on a 1988 interview, Greg Theakston writes in The Steve Ditko Reader Vol. 1, 2002 a quote from Eric Stanton (a fellow artist in the same one room Studio as Ditko at the time of Spidey’s creation) says he helped come up with the idea for wrist web shooters.) , “My contribution [to] Spider-Man was almost nil. When we worked on storyboards together, I added a few ideas. But the whole thing was created by Steve on his own.” He continued, “The whole thing was Steve Ditko. I think I added the business about the webs coming out of his hands, and we talked about the characters, and in turn, he helped me with my stuff.” In 1990, Joe Simon stated in the Comics Journal 134, 1990 that his co-creation the Fly from 1959, eventually became Spider-Man published 1961.
In 1990, during Jack Kirby’s Gary Groth interview, Jack specifically said he created Spider-Man, the costume and the first cover.
Steve Ditko replied to this that this was a factually wrong statement from Jack Kirby, and had this to say about who created the costume in 2001.
Here is the unpublished first cover of Amazing Fantasy 15 penciled by Steve Ditko that was passed over by Stan in favor of the second published cover that Jack penciled and Steve inked. This unused cover is featured on the back of Marvelmania 2, 1970.
In a 1990 Steve Ditko article shown again and discussed in Alter Ego, 2001, Steve Ditko contests Jack Kirby’s claim of creating the costume, saying that he received a sketch of Jack Kirby’s costume which was more like Captain America, and also saying that Steve himself created the costume, look and movement, webshooters, etc. Steve Ditko also discusses the 5 page synopsis that he received from Stan which was a product of a conversation between Stan and Jack, which went mostly unused including a penciled splash picture of the Jack Kirby drawn Spider-Man. He also wrote “Stan said Spider-Man would be a teenager with a magic ring which could transform him into an adult hero-Spiderman. I said it sounded like the Fly, which Joe Simon had done for Archie publications…. Kirby had penciled five pages of his Spider-Man. How much was pure Kirby, how much Lee, is for them to resolve.” This early version reminded Steve Ditko of the Archie comic by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby called the Fly, and he has written that he pointed out the similarity to Stan Lee, so Stan (wisely) chose to give Ditko the project, likely to make it different from the Fly and add his own Ditko flair to the character.
In 1990, Steve Ditko discussed his creative input into the Spider-Man character in “An Insider’s Part of Comics History.” He mentions what part of Spider-Man’s creation was from Stan Lee and what parts were from Steve Ditko to prove that no one person created Spider-Man, and that he had the most visual and kinetic input into the character’s genesis.
This is meant to illustrate from Steve Ditko that everything we love seeing in Spider-Man came from himself. Stan Lee wrote in 1999 that he always considered Steve Ditko, Spider-Man’s co-creator.
Here is Steve Ditko’s response to that and a few other inconsistent Stan quotes on both Spider-Man and Dr. Strange’s creation that he collected and published in 2001, A Mini-History as well as Stan joking that he will take “credit for anything not nailed down.”
Steve Ditko had this to say in 2001, showing that the two names at the end of the first Spider-Man story in Amazing Fantasy 15, 1962,
“Stan Lee + Steve Ditko” does not necessarily indicate creator status.
So what did Jack Kirby mean in 1982 when he said Spider-Man was a product of him and Joe Simon? Joe Simon wrote in his 2003 book, Comic Book Makers, “In 1953 I created a superhero, a young man with spider-like qualities. I put the character in a presentation for a publisher and entitled it Spiderman. I had [C.C.] Beck do the penciled sketches. He was the predominant artist for Captain Marvel, the man who gave Captain Marvel its special comic style, and I believe he came out of semi-retirement to work with me on this. At the last minute, I changed the name from Spiderman to the Silver Spider. I thought at the time there were just too many ‘man’ titles around — Superman, Batman, that stuff. I took the presentation up to Harvey Comics, where it languished.” Here is a 1 page 1954 affidavit from Joe Simon to describe to the letter’s recipient his vision for the Silver Spider (1950’s Joe Simon Spider Man) as having the powers of a spider who web swings and has gadgets.
Here are 2 pages from the Silver Spider which was originally published in Pure Images 1, 1977 originally made 1953.
It is further explained, that this 1953 boy finding a ring to turn him into the Silver Spider is the same scene used by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1959 in the Fly Comic.
To further see how the first 1959 Fly comic panel choreography matches with Amazing Fantasy 15, 1961 make sure to read or watch the Spider-Man section of a previous CBH episode, Jack Kirby: co-creator of the Marvel Universe episode, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdtU9ugL2E0. Although Joe Simon claimed that he came up with the name Spiderman first in 1953 in relation to Captain Marvel’s artist, CC Beck, there was a Captain Marvel villain named Spiderman in Whiz Comics 89 by publisher Fawcett Comics which would to me seem more likely why Simon didn’t use the name, to possibly avoid a legal conflict.
This Spider Man that Joe Simon may have known wasn’t the first comic Spider Man. In 1934, Ed Wheelan made his detective serial titled “Spider Man.”
So the name “Spider Man” was used a couple times before; however, back to Joe Simon, he also published what his original 1953 Spiderman logo looked like in his 2003 book.
This is what Jack Kirby is likely referring to in his 1982 quote on the Spiderman that he and Joe Simon worked on, and then he goes further on to say that he brought that to Stan Lee.
In 2005, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, Lee says “Much later, I asked Ditko if he would ever consider coming back to do one final Spider-Man story. To my surprise, he said, ‘Not until Goodman pays me the royalties he owes me!’ I had no idea what he was talking about, as Martin usually kept me apprised of such things.”
Jonathon Ross interviewed and confronted Stan Lee on who created Spider-Man in 2007, he shows that although he considered Steve a co-creator, he still feels he dreamed it up himself because he came up with teenage character with the name, Spider-Man.
Joe Simon died in 2011, but before he died, he painted a picture of what his 1950s Spiderman looked like which appears to be a combination of his Fly character and a Fly villain, Spider Spry.
In 2012, Stan Lee says in an interview that he came up with the idea for Spider-Man, “And then I saw a fly crawling on a wall. And I said, ‘Boy, it would be great if I could get a superhero who could stick to walls like an insect.'”
In 2015, Steve Ditko gives his perception of why he quit Marvel which is interesting to compare to the 1975 Stan Lee version above. Here is a couple paragraphs from his 2 page explanation. Generally when Steve Ditko turned in his Spider-Man pages, Stan Lee would go through a feedback session with him. That seemed to change after Ditko argued and got plotting credit for both Spider-Man and Dr. Strange in 1965. At this point, Stan Lee stops talking to him and has his assistant Sol Brodsky be intermediary.
Steve felt that he was not being treated well because Stan stopped talking to him, and later decides to quit Marvel, and mentions here that Stan never asked him why he left.
Some interpret this as Stan didn’t want to engage in any plotting discussion if Steve’s pay and credit was upgraded as plotter so focus on other things that need his attention in a busy office. Others look at it as a passive aggressive retaliation from Stan against Steve for taking some plotting money that used to go to him. Who knows. Either way, Steve Ditko felt ignored and left according to his own accounts. Here are two comic pages put together to review both versions of Spider-Man’s creation according to Stan Lee vs a composite version based on Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
Regardless, Ditko and Disney/Marvel settled credits a while back and now the creator credits read just like they did back in Spider-Man’s first appearance.
So in the end of the day, who created what in Marvel 1960’s between these three men? That’s subject to how people interpret what is in writing on the topic, which is collected above. Some say that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created characters before their time with Stan Lee as well as after their time with Stan Lee, whereas Stan Lee didn’t create as many raw characters before and after. Others say, well the ones that Jack and Steve created with Stan shine the very brightest. At one point in both Jack and Stan’s career, they say they were sole creators, then they also say it was a co-creation. At most Steve Ditko says he created what was important, the visual character of Spider-Man, but still says it was a co-creation, whereas Stan has gone from considering it a co-creation, to claiming sole creatorship for the whole thing, and at the same time, Jack Kirby claimed sole creatorship at one time as well, although not as many times as Stan. Some say the artists created the characters and that Stan exploited them for money and credit, others say he was an editor that brought all the pieces together under one Marvel Universe, and that the dialogue was important characterization. Some go further to say that the words in the dialogue boxes were the “voice” of Marvel, and attribute that solely to Stan. Some focus on the characters, visual and action and don’t care about the voice. As the dust has settled, and the lawyers and estates, individuals have testified or written, the final credits have emerged as co-creations. What really happened back then is up to interpretation, but common sense tends to guide many on who they feel is correct. Try getting into an online debate and both sides will vehemently defend their point of view. Where do you stand on this issue? That’s up to you. Alot of it depends on what and who you value.
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Use of images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but merely used for academic purpose.
Fantastic Four © Marvel, Amaziing Spider-Man © Marvel. Dr. Strange © Marvel, Steve Ditko articles © S. Ditko, Gary Groth interview © Comics Journal, Stan affidavit 1999 © Stan Lee Media, Origins ©Marvel, FOOM © Marvel, Dick Ayers Story © Dick Ayers.