Reader Steven Thompson asked me a question about this recently, so this piece exists entirely due to his interest–you can thank him if you find anything here of value. There was a time-honored tradition of writers and artists inserting themselves into their stories, and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were no different. In general, the first appearance of Lee and Kirby in a Marvel Universe story is considered FANTASTIC FOUR #10, where they are even cover featured. This coincides with the point where editor Lee decided to switch the salutations on all of the letters he ran on the Fantastic Four Fan Page from Dear Editors to Dear Stan and Jack. It’s also just after the point where regular credits began to appear on the stories, at least the super hero ones.
The appearance by Lee and Kirby in this story is relatively minor, and after three pages they’re dispensed with completely from the plot. In fact, it’s very much in keeping with the manner in which Joe Simon and Kirby would sometimes insert themselves into their Golden Age work. And for whatever reason, in this story pains are taken to avoid showing either Lee or Kirby’s faces–an approach that would continue in the third FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL among other places. I’m not sure why all the secrecy–it could be that either man simply found the idea of appearing in a comic book at this point in their careers embarrassing (especially after the comic book Senate witch hunts of the 1950s, which weren’t that far gone in 1962.)
Here’s the thing, though; FANTASTIC FOUR #10 isn’t the first appearance of Jack Kirby in a Marvel comic. He appeared once even earlier–and in a series he wasn’t even working on at the time. In MILLIE THE MODEL #107 (which hit newsstands on the same day as FANTASTIC FOUR #3 just to provide some timeline context) the lead story “A Monster For Millie” features a full-blown guest appearance by the artist Jack Kirby.
The story is signed by Stan Lee, so we can presume that he scripted it at the very least. The artist was Stan Goldberg, who was also coloring most of Marvel’s super hero and monster titles at this time. In it, Millie and her crowd peruse a copy of STRANGE TALES and find the story’s monster, drawn by Jack Kirby, to be especially revolting. Coincidentally, a call comes in for a modeling job for Millie: Kirby wants her to pose as the heroine for his next story. Chili is, of course, jealous, and she tags along to try to steal the gig out from under Millie’s nose. But both girls wind up creeped out by the monster models and masks that Kirby uses for inspiration that they wind up running off scared. It’s a simple little six-page story. The question is, why use Kirby’s name at all?
Looking over the art for the story, Stan Goldberg doesn’t seem to be drawing the actual Jack Kirby at all–his version of the story Kirby is daffier and dopier than his real-world counterpart. For that matter, Lee’s characterization of Kirby in this story is probably closer to Lee himself than his workmate. It’s honestly not impossible that this story was originally conceived with a nameless artist working on STRANGE TALES and Lee simply decided while scripting the job to use the name of the actual artist, Jack Kirby. I would guess that this wasn’t a terribly considered decision–and I would also guess that Kirby wasn’t aware of it until it saw print. What he made of it is anybody’s guess.
The thing is–this isn’t the only time that Kirby was used as a character in one of the girls magazines. A few months later, in the pages of PATSY AND HEDY #88, there’s a second example. (That book went on sale at the same time as FANTASTIC FOUR #15 for those who are keeping track.) In this instance, the story in question is signed by Stan Lee and Al Hartley, and in it, Jack Kirby, the artist of LOVE ROMANCES, is coming to Centerville in search of the typical American Girl to feature on his next cover. Patsy and Hedy both compete for Kirby’s attentions, but they’ve fastened onto the wrong visitor entirely, and it’s their quiet friend Nan who winds up meeting Kirby and becoming his cover model.
Again here, as with Goldberg Al Hartley isn’t drawing the actual Jack Kirby. His version in this story is just a good looking guy who happens to be named Jack Kirby. As in the MILLIE instance, it’s not out of the question that Kirby’s name was added entirely in the scripting, and what Hartley had drawn was simply a generic artist. And again, I have no idea if Kirby was consulted (I would expect not) or what his reaction was when he became aware of this use–if, in fact, he ever did; both of these stories are innocuous enough that they might have flown under his radar. On the other hand, if Lee was using these appearance in an attempt to butter up his main artist, you would imagine that he’d make sure to mention them to him once the books had been printed.