A reasoned response to internet bile…
Back in January, we ran an EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT from John Morrow’s Kirby & Lee: Stuf’ Said, an exhaustively researched exploration of just who deserves credit for what in the Marvel Universe – whether it was Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, other creators or some combination thereof. (Click here to check it out. You’ll want to.)
As you might imagine, reaction to the 176-page book – which doubles as The Jack Kirby Collector #75 — was powerful, and not always in a good way.
So, Morrow has decided to address the fallout in his opening column of The Jack Kirby Collector #76, due out May 22. Given our role in getting that excerpt out there, we’re presenting it here in full, right after we present the issue’s table of contents so you can see what else the ish has to offer:
By JOHN MORROW
In the early 1960s, during the dawning days of comics fandom, there was an informal group called the Illegitimate Sons of Superman, of which future comics pros Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Mark Hanerfeld, and others were members. There was no internet back then, so these guys shared their opinions in person, and through mimeographed fanzines they’d produce for a much smaller audience than this magazine reaches each issue.
It’s a very different world now, and thanks largely to today’s technology, last issue’s Stuf’ Said book edition elicited tremendous response from comics fans, as I’d hoped. Online, I’ve seen comments from all across the spectrum of fandom. It’s been overwhelmingly positive, and you can read just a few of the responses in this issue’s letter column.
But while I try to keep as positive a tone as possible with this publication, I’m about to delve into the dark side (Darkseid?) of Kirby fandom.
With internet discussion comes inevitable controversy. I hesitate to repeat some of what I’ve read in light of Stuf ’ Said, for fear of giving it credibility, but I think it needs to be addressed. Some
(I assume well-meaning) Kirby fans online are putting forth the notion that Stan Lee and his wife Joan cheated Kirby out of credit to support an extravagant lifestyle.
Another painted partner and friend Joe Simon as one of the most unscrupulous people to ever work in comics, who swindled Jack out of money and credit. Still another says Roy Thomas doesn’t have any value to a publication about Jack Kirby, because he’s nothing more than a mouthpiece for Stan.
The problems here are many, but the most glaring is: They present no real proof to these allegations, only limited quotes with no context, and often from third parties), innuendo, and deflections of “well, so-and-so over at this other web- site said… .” And when well-reasoned historians like Marvel’s own Tom Brevoort try to rationally and calmly dissect those accusations, these kneejerk reactionaries start up with more unsubstantiated claims.
We’re better than this, Kirbyheads.
This was not what I had in mind for Stuf ’ Said (or The Jack Kirby Collector in general), and it’s not what my book promotes or concludes.
I exhausted myself last issue, trying to present as clear a picture as possible of how the Kirby/Lee relationship evolved, from its earliest days to its end. I wanted readers to see what I saw; that you need to get a full view of events, not just a single moment in time, before you render a verdict.
There have been plenty of submissions I’ve rejected over the years for taking things too far, with a few people taking me and this magazine to task for not “going for the jugular” against Lee, and dismissing me as a wimp for staying as positive and pragmatic as I could. To those who think I’ve been too soft on Stan, I encourage you to go back and re-read Mike Gartland’s Failure To Communicate series, or Mike Breen’s article in TJKC #61 about the likelihood that Kirby dialogued Fantastic Four #6.
I’ve also gotten a fair amount of heat over the years for a perceived “anti-Stan Lee bias.” For any of you readers who think I’m anti-Lee, I’d only ask you to review all the articles I personally have written for TJKC and see what my view is and has always been.
Don’t judge me based on articles others have written. As editor, I have to decide as fairly as possible, what gets published and what gets rejected, and try to be as objective as I can, even when I
don’t agree with what’s written.
Sometimes you just can’t win; but I also have to accept that comes with the territory of producing a publication like this. Some fans get so blinded by their loyalties and prejudices, they can’t see that every pancake has two sides, even if you prefer the way one is cooked over the other.
I think all the good this magazine has done in promoting Kirby since 1994, at a time when Jack was receiving no creator credit and little public recognition, has proven my approach is the correct one. By trying to give a forum to fans on all sides of the Kirby/Lee spectrum, I’m confident I’ve contributed to the greater good these last 25 years, rather than burning bridges for the sake of someone’s short-term visceral gratification.
But that must be done professionally, and without taking personal shots at those no longer around to defend themselves.
I once was a bit of that kind of reactionary, back in the late 1980s, during Kirby’s battle to get his original art back from Marvel. When I read that Stan wouldn’t step in to help, I was so disillusioned, that I destroyed the autograph I’d gotten from Lee back at the 1977 Atlanta Fantasy Fair where he was the guest of honor. I was naive and uninformed about what challenges Stan would’ve faced by getting involved at that point; and whether it was craven for him to make that choice, or shrewd, I’m now at a more mature point in my understanding of the details of that conflict. Much like my view of Vinnie Colletta’s inking shortcuts, I’ve evolved to have a clearer picture of what Lee was facing, whether or not I would’ve made the same decisions he did.
In a sense, we are all illegitimate sons of Jack Kirby — and of Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko, for that matter. We obviously don’t share a common mother, and through no real choice of our own, fell backwards into our appreciation of their work. We read it, and it just happened.
As this magazine has progressed, I’ve evolved in my views. Growth is part of life, and just as a plant will wither and die if it fails to absorb the water and nutrients around it, so will people if they refuse to soak up the knowledge and insight that surrounds them. It’s what’s wrong with the political discourse in our country right now, as people are so entrenched in “their side” (and afraid of “losing”), that they won’t take a minute to try to understand where the other person is coming from.
There are moments where you have to take a stand for what’s right, and I’ve always tried to do so. But there are other moments where it’s prudent to step back, take a deep breath, and make doubly sure you’re doing what’s right before you act — or more accurately, react.
To be clear: I love Kirby fans’ enthusiasm and respect for Jack and his work, just as I appreciate Lee’s devotees for theirs. But I can keep learning from both sides, and so can you. And we can maturely discuss the success and failures of both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee here, both creatively and personally, as long as it’s done in a respectful manner.
So, if you want to take potshots at either man’s friends or family, look somewhere else, because this ain’t that type of publication.
The Jack Kirby Collector #76 is due May 22. You can get it at your local comics shop or directly through TwoMorrows. Click here.
— LEE, KIRBY and the Case of Who Created the Marvel Universe. Click here.
— THE KING 101: Comics Pros Pay Tribute to JACK KIRBY. Click here.
— A VISIONARY: Comics Pros Pay Tribute to STAN LEE. Click here.