It’s one of the big, fundamental questions that lies at the heart of the origin-myth of perhaps Marvel Comics’ most popular single character, and its one that has been discussed and debated at length by those with some degree of insider information: how much did Jack Kirby have to do with the development of Spider-Man, and how much of the final product was based on his ideas.
As is typical in these instances, I think the actual answer amounts to: Jack was definitely involved, and Spider-Man would not have existed without his involvement. But I also think the version of the character that was published owed relatively little to his conception and what he put forward–even though it was ultimately derived from those ideas.
A lot of this history has been covered elsewhere in a variety of places. I’m going to attempt to put everything that I know together here in one place. As I’m certain that there are details and nuances that I’m either forgetting about, misremembering or simply wasn’t aware of, I welcome any and all corrections and alternative viewpoints. But this is what I’ve managed to piece together over the years.
The saga of Spider-Man actually begins almost a decade before Peter Parker would make his eventual debut in AMAZING FANTASY #15. In 1953, the studio of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby was providing work to a number of different comic book publishers, but one of their main accounts was Harvey Comics, published by Simon’s friend Al Harvey. 1953 is noteworthy in that it is the year that Fawcett Publications decided to pull the plug on their own comic book line, facing continuing legal challenges from DC/National Comics in the form of an ongoing lawsuit claiming that their Captain Marvel was an obvious infringement on Superman. With the marketplace becoming more difficult and the outcry over the content of comic books on the rise, Fawcett chose to leave the field–and this left the talent pool who had made Captain Marvel an enormous success looking for work.
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had worked on the first issue of CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES back in 1940 and liked the character. They also liked the work of C.C. Beck, the artist most closely associated with the character. Accordingly, Simon got in touch with Beck and suggested that they work up a new series that Beck could work on through the S & K Studio. Jack Oleck was also involved in these conversations and he would wind up writing the eventual script and story springboards, regardless of which man came up with what ideas along the way. The character that they devised was called the Silver Spider.
Beck’s sample pages for the Silver Spider proposal still survive, and have been reproduced above. From what we can see here, the series is very reminiscent of Captain Marvel, with a young orphan boy, Tommy Troy, finding an old ring with a spider’s crest on it that contains a strange genie. The genie endows Tommy with the ability to transform himself into the Silver Spider when he rubs the ring. The Silver Spider himself isn’t especially spidery, though–he seems like just a typical big, strong guy in the Captain Marvel mold, without any of the attributes we’d associate with Spider-Man particularly.
In any event, Simon pitched the concept to Harvey, and a young editor named Sid Jacobson wrote a blistering critique of what he had been shown, over the course of two memos to his bosses. His overall criticism was that there wasn’t anything about the Silver Spider that was new or different, that the strip was “strictly old hat” and wouldn’t work. Jacobson went on to suggest that the character’s spider-motif should be played up further:
Physical appearance- The Silver Spider should be thought of as a human spider. All conclusions on his appearance should stem from the attributes of the spider. My first thought of the appearance of a human spider is a tall thin wiry person with long legs and arms. He should have a long bony face, being more sinister then handsome. The face of the Submariner comes to mind.
Powers: The powers of the human spider should pretty much correspond to the power of a spider. He therefore wouldn’t have the power of flight (author’s note: something hinted at in Simon’s proposal) but could accomplish great acrobatical tricks, an almost flight, by use of silken ropes that would enable him to swing ala Tarzan, or a Batman. The silken threads that the spider would use might come from a special liquid, from some part of his costume that would become silken threads in much the same way as the spider insect. These threads would also be used in making of a web, which could also be used as a net. The human spider might also have a “poison” to be used as a paralyzing agent.
The Silver Spider didn’t sell, and C.C. Beck went into retirement from the comic book industry.
At some point, as they were continuing to develop series both for other publishers and for their own efforts in their self-owned publishing venture Mainline, Simon and Kirby considered trying to make something out of the Silver Spider material. Accounts differ depending on whether you were speaking to Simon or Kirby, but one or the other of them suggested retooling the idea as a series called SPIDERMAN. Regardless of which man came up with the new moniker, Joe Simon went ahead and worked it up into a prototype logo. But nothing further happened with the project and so the logo and everything else wound up in the S & K files.
During this same time, Simon and Kirby also were developing a series called NIGHT FIGHTER that also never came to fruition. This is noteworthy in that Night Fighter was intended to be a scientific adventurer who used a number of high-tech gadgets to carry out his adventures–one of the most basic of which would be magnetic boots which would allow him to walk up the sides of buildings–like a spider. It’s impossible to say whether there was any point in which these two concepts converged, even tangentially, but we know that Simon and Kirby were working up both during the same period.
But the 1950s were a rough time for would-be comic book publishers, and Simon and Kirby experienced a downturn in their fortunes which wound up severing their partnership. The specific details of the falling out have never been completely disclosed, but the end result was that Joe Simon largely left the field of comic books behind, while Jack Kirby was left to make the rounds on his own to other publishers, looking for work. Their combined assets were divided up among the two men, with Kirby apparently getting title to CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, another series the pair had innovated that never quite made it pas the planning stage (and which Kirby would wind up selling to DC/National) as well as the SPIDERMAN logo. Simon, however, kept the Silver Spider presentation pages and notes.
A few years later, in 1958, Joe Simon had the opportunity to develop a pair of super hero comic books for Archie Comics. Super heroes seemed like they were poised for a comeback based on a few things that were starting to gain traction in the marketplace, and Simon was able to capitalize on that. He called in Jack Kirby to work alongside him on these two series, though there were also other hands involved as well in the manner of the S & K Studio, especially when it came to stories and issues after the first. One of the two books the pair produced was THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG, which was an extensive reworking and updating of the 1940s MLJ/Archie super hero character The Shield. DC/National, though, thought the character veered too close to Superman and threatened legal action if the series continued beyond two published issues, and so private Strong mustered out.
The other book they produced, however, was the Silver Spider. Except that, in the years that had come since, the monster movie THE FLY had been a runaway hit at the box office. Wanting to disguise the provenance of the character, knowing that John Goldwater would blow his top if he found out that Simon was peddling Harvey Comics rejects to him, he and Kirby reworked the original story–turning the genie into the otherdimensional fly alien Turan, and Tommy Troy’s costumed alter ego into The Fly.
The story was the same, but the script was different. Additionally, the Fly incorporated a number of insect-based gimmicks into his arsenal, including the ability to walk up walls, the power of flight, a sting-like “buzz gun” and the ability to see in all directions at once. He was also vulnerable to direct bright light, which made him lose his equilibrium. But like Captain Marvel, he was still a kid who transformed into an adult super hero. Simon and Kirby instead made a spider the Fly’s first major villain, Spider Spry
Kirby only worked on the first two issues of THE FLY before moving elsewhere, and Joe Simon himself only lasted four before being ousted by Archie. Once he had departed, the new creative team aged up Tommy Troy, making him an adult litigator and eventually bringing in a female Fly Girl to be his partner. Nevertheless, THE FLY lasted for a good portion of the 1960s, transitioning into FLY MAN towards the end in an ill-considered attempt to draft off the popularity of Spider-Man.
Kirby, meanwhile, migrated to Martin Goodman’s Atlas Comics–“washed up there”, as one account put it, without anywhere better to go. Kirby knew that Goodman had cheated Simon and he out of Captain America royalties back in the early 1940s, but that that moment he needed the work. And he was anxious to do super heroes. According to Kirby, he campaigned to start doing some regular super hero series for months before Goodman heard from one of his contacts at his distributor that DC’s JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was selling enormously well on a percentage basis, and this led him to instruct his editor Stan Lee to begin trying some new super hero titles, the first of which was FANTASTIC FOUR.
At some point early on, either after FANTASTIC FOUR had proven to be an immediate hit or even before, Kirby continued to pepper Lee with ideas, and many of these grew out of the material he had developed with Joe Simon but had never reached fruition. It’s impossible to say for certain which man hit on the notion of doing a series called SPIDERMAN, but it seems more likely that Kirby was the one who pitched the idea to Lee. He described it the way Joe Simon and Jack Oleck had conceived it: a young man who gets super powers and becomes a super hero. Again, it’s difficult to know what was going through everybody’s mind at any given point, but at least according to Lee’s accounts (which always need to be taken with a grain of salt given his tendency to mythologize events) his take-away was that Spiderman was still going to be a young scrawny-seeming guy even after his transformation.
Regardless, the strip was slated to run in AMAZING ADULT FANTASY and the decision was made to have Steve Ditko ink the strip. And that’s where the trouble first started, it seems–because when he received the first batch of pages for the job (representing five penciled pages, apparently–no idea whether they had been scripted and lettered, though if they had been given to Ditko to ink then they almost certainly would have been) Ditko recognized how close to THE FLY this new series was veering.
Kirby’s SPIDERMAN pages have never surfaced in all the years since then. Will Murray did find a quote in an obscure interview with Ditko that implies that Ditko threw them out once he was done with them, which is entirely possible. But Ditko did give his recollections as to what Kirby’s SPIDERMAN was like in the article posted above. He described the hero only being seen on the opening splash page, the other four pages that had been drawn were all set-up to the adventure. Kirby’s Spiderman was one of his typical powerful fighting heroes in the Captain America mold. He wore a cowl and carried a holstered “web-gun”. In the opening pages, we meet the young hero, who is an orphaned teen living with his Aunt and Uncle. Ditko describes the Aunt as being maternal and kindly, whereas the Uncle, a retired police captain, is gruff in the manner of Thunderbolt Ross and gives the kid grief. Elsewhere in the city, a scientist is beginning to work on an experiment, and in the final panels drawn, the kid is heading to the scientist’s lab, where he will eventually be turned into Spiderman.
Kirby had also apparently produced at least one and more likely a number of presentation boards that detailed his ideas for the character. These too have not been seen publicly–but one person who does remember having seen and held one in 1969 is former Marvel EIC Jim Shooter. On his blog, Shooter described the contents this way:
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.” http://jimshooter.com/2011/03/my-short-lived-inking-career.html/
In fact, what both Shooter and Ditko’s description of Kirby’s Spiderman design sounds the most like is the eventual design for Ant-man once it was decided to launch that character as a super hero series. In particular, this very first image of Ant-Man, before Kirby simplified the details of his uniform over time. If you take away the helmet and replace it with the Night Fighter’s cowl, I think you’d wind up with a fair approximation of Kirby’s Spiderman.
At this point, either at the behest of Stan Lee or Martin Goodman or both, Jack Kirby exited the project and Spiderman (soon to be Spider-Man) was handed over fully to Steve Ditko. Lee and Ditko focused on excising any elements that were reminiscent of the Fly–they threw out the idea of the magic ring causing the transformation, and they went ahead with Lee’s notion to keep Spider-Man scrawny in his costumed identity as well as in his civilian form. Very late in the game (late enough that it’s only used infrequently in the earliest stories) a dash was added to the name Spider-Man
Ditko also designed an entirely new costume for Spider-Man, possibly with some input from his studiomate Eric Stanton. There’s one other wrinkle that I feel the need to mention here–and that’s the Ben Cooper Spider Man Halloween costume. In the 1950s, beginning in 1954, Ben Cooper offered this costume as one of its yearly releases, and it has some definite similarities to the costume Ditko eventually settled on. That said, I tend to believe that this was a coincidence, parallel development and nothing more. There are only so many avenues to go down when creating a character called Spider-Man, and employing a web motif is one of the most obvious ones. So you never know what may have been an influence, but I don’t think there was any deliberate correlation between Ditko’s Spider-Man design and this earlier costume. The one thing it did do was to open the door to Ben Cooper acquiring a very early license to produce Amazing Spider-Man Halloween Costumes, possibly the first such license of Marvel hero merchandise.
So with all of that said, how much of Jack Kirby exists in Spider-Man? It’s undeniable that he was an important link in the chain of causality that led to the creation of the character. And it’s entirely possible that story ideas that he had suggested in his pitch presentation boards were used in some of the earliest Spider-Man stories, as has been conjectured by knowledgeable comic book scholars. By that same token, there’s also a bit of Joe Simon and Jack Oleck and Sid Jacobson and C.C. Beck in there as well. And truly, the factors that made Spider-Man the success it became were primarily the work of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan. And nobody cared about the Silver Spider until Spider-Man became such an enormous hit. That said, there is also plenty of credit to go around, and so I think we need to view each of these gentlemen as being in some small part in the journey to the creation of Spider-Man.
43 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby & Simon & Ditko & Oleck: The Spider and the Fly”
Interesting that Jacobson’s take on what a spider-themed character should look like sounds quite similar to the later UK villain character The Spider, whose long-running series would be written for a while by Jerry Siegel.
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I thought that. Jerry Siegel also wrote The Fly for Archie Comics in the 60s too.
That pretty much gibes with what I’ve been able to piece together over the years…
Always interesting to revisit this, and we’re very luck Ditko spoke up in his articles as it provided the crucial link between the incomplete accounts from Lee and Kirby (which were subsequently buried amongst other, seemingly less accurate or fanciful versions as time went on). Without this input we would have been in a similar situation to almost all the other Lee/KIrby creations. Ironically Ditko wrote his article (updated for Alter Ego) as a response to Kirby’s claims of sole creation – and in particular Kirby’s claims that he created the Spider-Man costume – hence Ditko’s quite detailed explanation of the thought he put into the design. I’m not sure we have any other examples of creators (apart from Lee and Joe Simon) challenging Kirby’s claims.
I personally suspect that Spider-Man fell into the same pattern as other early Marvel characters in that it began as a response to DC, possibly as part of Goodman srategy. Goodman liked to jump on the bandwagon, and had initiated the Captain America character created by Simon/KIrby when he told that team that he wanted a patriotic super-hero who could be Timely’s response to the popular ‘Shield’ character. The FF was a team book developed in response to the success of Justice League, Ant-Man had a parallel to the Atom, Iron Man came soon after the success of the Metal Men, Thor was kind of Superman. Ditko recalled Lee saying he liked the Hawkman name, but that DC already had it. Perhaps this is why Lee responded positively to Kirby’s suggestion about using the Spiderman name. Of course ‘Spiderman’ had already appeared numerous times in comics – including Atlas comics – so we can’t entirely rule out the possibility that Lee suggested it and Kirby simply said ‘hey, I worked on a character with that name with Joe’ and trotted out the Fly-like character with the magic ring. At any rate, it seems really odd for Kirby to pitch an idea with such obvious similarities to another (fairly recent) character…I’m surprised Lee didn’t recognise it.
I don’t discount the suggestion that Kirby wanted to bring back superheroes at the same time.
Kirby had been in contact with Joe Simon in relation to superhero strips and, let’s face it, superheroes were obviously a big thing following the National revivals. I would think everyone in the industry was considering how to benefit from this as they all wanted to sell more books.
Adding to the confusion about Spidey are the later stories by Lee and Kirby about the creation that seem contradictory with their other accounts. For example, at the Vanderbilt University appearance Lee asked Kirby in public where the costume came from and Kirby said he didn’t remember…but in his later years Kirby was adamant it was his design (something he would surely remember? Or had he created so much it was simply confusing?). Jim Shooter mentioned talking to Kirby at a convention in the 80s and seemingly swaying Kirby back to the realisation that it was Ditko’s design…only for Kirby to start talking the crowd and taking credit for it again (Shooter felt Kirby’s memory was compromised at this point). Kirby also insisted at some points that the character he worked on was essentially the same as the one that saw print…yet in at least one interview plainly states that he didn’t create Spider-Man (giving full creator credit to Steve Ditko as, unlike Ditko, he could not bring himself to acknowledge Lee’s input).
The reason Ditko’s view was particularly informative because he viewed creation in a similar way to how he viewed original art – acknowledging it was the work of diverse hands and not entirely his – hence he freely acknowledged the input of others (a stark contrast to Lee or Kirby). He was adamant that the Spider-man which saw print was a Lee/Ditko co-creation, since Lee was the one he directly worked with. Lee provided the new synopsis and script, discussing/reviewing the art etc. In his article Ditko described how all his early stories with Lee were based on Lee’s plots…how he would then break it down and have notes in the margins ‘merely as a guide’ for Lee etc. (In a similar vein Ditko free acknowled his Tales to Astonish Hulk stories were a mix of his and Lee’s ideas).
It is worth pointing out that, unlike the version Ditko recalled seeing in Kirby’s pages, the AF15 story that saw print was very much in line with the O.Henry / Twilight Zone tales that were appearing (courtesy of the Lee/Ditko team) in Amazing Fantasy. And while it has been pointed out that the Uncle Ben (i.e. Ben Bart) name was used before in the Rawhide kid for a character who also died in the origin tale, there is no similar O.Henry ‘twist’ with the revelation of the killer. In any event, Aunt May and Uncle Ben characters both appear (looking pretty much the same) in the 1962 ‘Goodbye Linda Brown tale by Lee/Ditko so they safely seem the more obvious progenitors of what made it to the story.
Ditko did say he didn’t know what Lee/Kirby discussed prior the synopsis that Lee provided…only that it discarded all the elements he’d seen before that made the strip reminiscent of the Fly. He then went to note that if Kirby could claim that Thor was ‘his’ creation (despite being based on the mythological Thor) then it was equally valid for Ditko to state that the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man was ‘their’ creation (even if there was a link to unused Simon and/or KIrby ideas) since in both cases the final version that actually appeared in print as a realised feature was new in itself.
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I think what muddies the waters a lot about who did what are Kirby’s later claims that he created everything and Stan did nothing, yet here we have an example of Spider-Man being pretty much a Ditko/Lee creation, with none of Kirby’s ideas used in there. I’ve seen it said many times in the past how Stan took it from Jack because it wasn’t what he wanted (too ‘heroic’), and gave it to Ditko, and then we see that confirmed in Ditko’s own words. In the very beginning, Kirby it seems would be given an idea from Stan and just use something from his earlier work to make it fit (as your article above shows with him using an earlier idea rather than something new) – no one knew how successful these books were going to be so the artists just knocked them out ready for the next one. A lot of artists did that – how many times have we seen Ditko draw an Uncle Ben and Aunt May prior to AF 15 for example? In the margins of those first early books, you would see Stan’s writing suggested changes if he didn’t like what was on the page (AF15, FF10 come to mind because those have been visible in recent years). Later as the work increased the artist would get more freedom and write info in the margins for Stan instead.. In Sean How’s book, he writes a comment from Joe Simon how he once confronted Jack after he had suggested that Joe had created or co created Spider-Man, and Jack said it was because he needed to put bread on the table (hoping to get the Spider-Man work). That wouldn’t be the first time Jack had done something like that, and had taken work from other artists in the past (Dick Ayers for example – see his drawn autobiography The Dick Ayers Story). Luckily, Stan knew what he wanted and what would more likely sell, so gave the work to Ditko, and the rest is history, thank goodness.
>> with none of Kirby’s ideas used in there.>>
I dunno, the character’s called SPIDER-MAN, is an orphan, has spider-powers, a web-shooting weapon and is a youngster, and all of those things are from the SILVER SPIDER/SPIDERMAN history.
Ditko reworked it a lot, but the idea that there are none of Kirby’s ideas in there is inaccurate. How many of those ideas originated with Kirby and how many of them originated with Simon, Oleck or Jacobson, I don’t know, but some pretty foundational elements of what Kirby apparently brought in to Marvel are still there.
Agree with most of this, though it reads as a little misleading (unintentionally I’m sure) to say that ‘Ditko reworked it a lot’ without giving any credit to Lee, given that Ditko himself was adamant that the new synopsis provided by Lee was so different to the original pages he saw. And while we can never rule out that Kirby may have helped with the new synopsis, Kirby himself never spoke of providing any ideas for a second version to Lee. As mentioned earlier, it is also very difficult to overlook the fact that the crucial twist ending was in complete accordance with all the other tales Lee plotted for Amazing Fantasy.
With regard to being an orphan, I’m not even sure if Peter was actually intended to be an orphan in the original story (or simply raised by his Aunt/Uncle or an elderly couple). In any event, the lack of actual parents was pretty common in old adventure stories and fairy tales for reasons I’ve never really looked into. Lee may well have viewed it as a pretty natural element to run with.
(As for Ditko’s additions, we can never be sure where all his ideas came from either. it is worth noting that Ditko’s studio partner, who inked some of Ditko’s Spidey work, once mentioned coming up with the suggestion of having web-shooters on the Spidey’s wrists – though Ditko obviously opted to use it if that was the case. What I find interesting is that a web gimmick is such an obvious thing for a spider-based character…but Lee apparently never mentioned it. But I guess it really had no bearing on that first story).
Perhaps Kirby himself summed things up best when he once said that “ideas can never be traced back to one source. they are tossed back and forth between people until the decision makers step in and choose what they think is a successful formula”. Wise words. If, as an editor/writer, Lee chose to go with a name that was suggested to him, sought approval from Goodman to give the character a shot, took some existing ideas while discarding others (for whatever reason), added a twist ending, edited/reviewed the submitted art and wrote the perfect script (complete with some of the most famous lines in comic book history) then I’m personally more than happy to agree with Steve Ditko on this one and call the final version a Lee/Ditko creation.
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I wouldn’t bank on Kirby having had any input to speak of into the Lee-Ditko Spider-Man revision. (I know you didn’t suggest he did, just allowed for the possibility.) Contrary to the “Marvel Bullpen” myth, Kirby worked at home & not in the offices. I think he was living on Long Island at the time, & if I remember Jack’s description of the era correctly, commonly went into the city to deliver work & pick up assignments/checks only once per week or so. Ditko’s value in the moment wasn’t just in being a good artist; he was immediately available & close at hand, & Stan, who was probably already in schedule mode on the book, most likely needed a replacement concept/story Right That Second. So Ditko was good, he was available, he was fast & he was there. I would guess most of this went on in between Jack’s visits & Jack was likely already drawing the next issue of FF or whatever by then anyway…
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If Kirby was using a concept where the kid was an orphan, and Ditko reports the kid living with an aunt and uncle in the Kirby pages, I think it’s reasonable to assume he was an orphan, rather than that the orphan part was removed and then Ditko and Lee put it back by coincidence.
But that adds another bit from the Kirby version that was kept — “living with his aunt and uncle.”
Ditko did mention that the Kirby version had a web gun (which tracks to Sid’s suggestions), so the web-weapon was one of the ideas that was preserved, and Ditko or Stanton’s refinement of it was to put it on his wrists — which was a great idea.
I think Ditko and Lee were majority creators, but I think it’s absolutely worth noting the history of it all.
But my note wasn’t to say Kirby did it all himself, it was to say that the claim that “none of Kirby’s ideas” were used is untrue.
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I’m struck by how much this part of Jacobson’s critique is found in the eventual Spider-Man:
“… but could accomplish great acrobatical tricks, an almost flight, by use of silken ropes that would enable him to swing ala Tarzan, or a Batman. The silken threads that the spider would use might come from a special liquid, from some part of his costume that would become silken threads in much the same way as the spider insect. These threads would also be used in making of a web, which could also be used as a net.”
That’s the special web fluid, not having it be like a gun, the swinging around, and the multipurpose rope/net aspect. Would Ditko ever have seen this? Maybe Kirby showed it to Lee as part of the pitch, and Lee then talked about it with Ditko?
No way to say for sure, of course. I’d guess Ditko never saw those notes, & somehow I doubt Jack would be showing those notes (if he even still had them) to Stan if he were proposing the hyphenless Spiderman (& adding that hyphen was a stroke of genius on whoever’s part, b/c it immediately separated him from the superhero flock) as an original character & not a hand-me-down…
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Yeah, there’s no way Ditko would have seen Sid’s letter — if those ideas made it to Ditko, it would have been in the form of Kirby’s pages and design sketches and notes.
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Steve, according to the job number for the 1962-06-05 Amazing Fantasy #15 (V-789 (Spider-Man), V-790, V-791, & V-792), this work was done two months ahead of deadline schedule. That title was far ahead of work on most other titles, according to their job numbers. For example, the job number for the 1962-04-10 Fantastic Four #5 is V-735 and the job number for the 1962-05-01 Incredible Hulk #2 is V-781. These three jobs were assigned sometime between January 15 and February 15, 1962.
“Stan took it from Jack because it wasn’t what he wanted (too ‘heroic’), and gave it to Ditko, and then we see that confirmed in Ditko’s own words.”. That isn’t at ALL what Ditko confirmed. The “too heroic” nonsense was concocted by Stan in the 70’s. Stan was perfectly happy with Jack’s version – he accepted it and PASSED IT TO DITKO TO INK. Editors don’t hire inkers for rejected work. The ONLY reason Jack came off Spider-Man is because Ditko recognized it as largely swiped from The Fly story, and Kirby could’ve gotten them sued. Further evidence is that Stan later rejected Ditko’s own AF15 cover because it didn’t look heroic ENOUGH, and had Jack redraw it. The “too heroic” story was designed to save face for Jack, who has recently returned to Marvel in the 70s when Stan started telling the story, and probably to not air any clouds over the characters origin legally as he grew in value in the 70s.
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Besides the possibility they might get sued – which probably wasn’t that great a possibility, given the conditions of the business at the time – suspect what really motivated Stan was he was savvy enough to know it wouldn’t reflect well on the company in general to be knocking off some other company’s character, esp. at a moment when he was (if you believe his biographers) trying to do something readers hadn’t seen before. Starting out with an imitation of a relatively minor character no one really cared about much in the 1st place wouldn’t’ve been a good look, once discovered, & if Ditko picked it up on sight Stan must’ve figured it wouldn’t be terribly hard for other people to figure out… (Stan, like most of the rest of the comics business of the day from what I understand, didn’t look much at other companies’ output, so had never heard of The Fly. Martin Goodman reportedly didn’t look at other companies’ books, just at their sales charts…)
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I wonder if “too heroic” was Stan’s memory of Kirby drawing his original idea as a bulky adult, heroic in the Captain America mode, in contrast to the slimmer, younger Ditko version, which Kirby drew just fine on the covers to AMAZING FANTASY 15 and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 1?
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My only correction is linguistic: when you wrote “providence”, the word you were looking for was “provenance”.
Great article, Tom! Never saw those pencilled pages or the costume ad before.
Just FYI, the phrase, “…C.C. Beck went into retirement from the comic book industry” should be amended to add the word “temporary.” He and Otto Binder created and worked on Lightning’s “Fatman The Human Flying Saucer” three-issue series in 1967, and he drew DC’s revival of Captain Marvel for the first nine or so issues of “Shazam!” in the mid 1970s.
Bottom line is that none of us were there and we’ll never know until we die. So I like your reasonable conclusion (though that won’t stop the haters and sycophants from making their own opinions reality, lol).
Question: Anyone know what issue(s) of Robin Snyder’s “History Of The Comics” contains the Ditko essay?
PS. Always got the sense there wasn’t a “falling out” between Simon & Kirby per se so much as just a realization that in the rapidly changing comics market of the mid-’50s the studio/packager/sub-publisher operation that had supported them for a decade just was no longer economically viable, & to continue to earn livings it made sense of cut expenses & go their own ways. Kirby doesn’t seem to have held any grudge against Simon, or vice versa; as you mention, they’re working together again by ’58. The way Kirby told it, his “exclusivity” with Marvel (which he left the Fly for) was predicated on a handshake deal with Martin Goodman that he’d share in the profits from anything he created for Marvel, if the company managed to pull itself up from its post-suspension slump of the ’50s (Kirby having demonstrated his worth by anchoring the monster comics that pulled the company back from the grave). Goodman’s failure to come through on the deal is allegedly a key factor in Kirby’s late-’60s departure from the company.
(NOTE: I’m not validating the Jack version. I have no idea what the unadorned facts are, whether there was ever a deal, if Jack misunderstood what he was told by Goodman, or if it’s something his memory concocted in later years. I know from personal experience his memory could be… creative; once when I met him, he asked what I’d worked on& when I said “The Punisher,” he said “I created that.” No, he wasn’t talking about the throwaway robot in an FF story that Stan lifted the fallow name from when he rechristened The Punisher, b/c I brought that up, & Jack very explicitly said no, he meant the guy with the guns & the skull on his chest. I knew all about the origins of the Punisher, & I knew that wasn’t right b/c I knew all about the charater’s genesis, but I didn’t see the point in arguing w/Jack. He clearly was convinced he had created him. It may’ve been he took the viewpoint that b/c he introduced the name he deserved credit for any subsequent usage, or his mind may’ve been playing tricks on him (I knew he was already suffering to some extent from Alzheimer’s by then; this was the late ’80s) but he was convinced. It’s not a good idea to take everything anyone says as gospel, not even Jack. In the absence of corroborative evidence, the best we can do is report, caveat & speculate.)
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Do you remember where Jack said he quit the Archie work to go exclusive with Goodman?
Not offhand. (I’m vaguely thinking it was somewhere in The Kirby Collector or Alter Ego, but I don’t catalog this stuff.) I don’t think it was an ultimatum or anything, but Goodman & Stan were throwing a lot of work at him; he was anchoring their monster, war, cowboy & romance books, & I suspect it was a grass-is-greener thing, though if Goodman did “sweeten the deal” by agreeing to Jack eventually getting a piece of the action if things took off sufficiently (or, as I said, Jack somehow perceiving that was the case), I can see where that would provide some incentive. Did Jack ever actually have a contract with Marvel?
From what I recall reading, although I forget where now, Kirby had already left Archie, willingly or not, years before he started working for Marvel again and had been working for DC but had a falling out with one of the bigshots there which was why he went to work for Atlas/Marvel, just after Joseph Manelly had died and when Lee was anxious to get another top artist on his depleted roster. Lee & Kirby needed each other at that time, unless they were willing to leave the comics industry altogether and try other fields, about which they likely felt uncertain as to their chances of success. And Kirby never had a written contract with Goodman on a share of profits but a “verbal” contract, which was legally exactly worth the paper it wasn’t written on and Kirby should have known better but Kirby didn’t have many other options at the time. Yeah, at the time Marvel paid much less than DC, but still Marvel paid better than any other companies that might have been willing to hire him at the time. It was only due to Kirby’s success at Marvel that DC was willing to take him back in 1970 and let old bygones be bygones.
What strikes me as a bit curious is all the attention paid on what went into the creation of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, but very little about the Hulk. Actually, I don’t recall reading any deep discussion about what went into creating the Hulk, aside from Lee’s intro in Origins of Marvel Comics, which I wouldn’t trust as particularly accurate as based on the known inaccuracies on his other intros in that and the follow-up collections. If the FF were unusual for a super-hero title in 1961, the Hulk was even more out there and could easily have been taken as Marvel’s first mag starring a monster rather than another superhero title. And as with the FF in their first 2 issues, the Hulk didn’t have a costume.
Seems Lee was testing to see what he could get away with in edging back into superhero mags and only a bit later went all out, with the Torch in a solo series and then coming out with new series starring Ant-Man & Thor and Spider-Man’s debut in Amazing Fantasy all in the same month. Supposedly, the story featuring Hank Pym had sold well enough that Lee decided to put him in a costume and make him a star, although I’m sure the success of DC’s Atom likely was a factor as well, and maybe it was Kirby who made the suggestion to create the Ant-Man. As to Thor, Kirby had done several stories inspired by the old Norse god, including one for DC that had a similar set-up to the one featured in Journey into Mystery #83, and even Ditko had drawn a Thor story years earlier with some echoes in Marvel’s version, so that was another idea that had been percolating for some time before the Marvel series came to be, just as with the idea of a Spider-Man.
And if Thor can be taken as Marvel’s answer to Superman (as well as Fawcett’s Captain Marvel) then Spider-Man could be regarded as Marvel’s parody version of Batman — both based on “creepy” animals, both very smart, and both become crimefighters after losing close relatives while fairly young. But Bruce had no scientific-mutation-borne superpowers, only the great wealth left to him by his parents, and trained and educated himself to become an expert crime-fighter, seeking vengeance for their murder which he personally witnessed but could not have prevented, while Peter, despite obtaining superpowers from a freak accident, had little money at all, and while he did not witness his Uncle Ben’s murder, he learned that he could have prevented it and was driven by guilt to fight crime even while still a callow youth with little experience and while also having to go out and earn money as best he could to support himself and his doting aunt.
Maneely died in June 1958, and Kirby’s work starts showing up in quantity at Marvel in September 1958. The Archie work happened in 1959, so it wasn’t years earlier; he worked at Marvel and Archie simultaneously, for a fairly short time.
The “DC bigshot” he had a falling out with (a court case, in fact) was Jack Schiff. Schiff retired sometime before June 1967, so Carmine Infantino didn’t have to consider bygones in getting Kirby to come back — the Marvel success made him even more attractive, but Kirby’s past success at DC would have been reason enough to want him back.
It was Martin Goodman who directed Stan to bring back Hank Pym in an ongoing series — which undercuts the idea, claimed by Stan at times, that he’d have resisted a Spider-Man series because he didn’t like bugs.
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Wow, I’d never heard that before, that it was Goodman who told Stan to bring Pym back as a superhero, although it makes sense. Ant-Man’s origins have always been a mystery to me. Stan often/usually said that The Man in the Ant Hill sold well (leading to Pym’s return as a superhero) but how would he know that it was that particular story that was the hit? Because it was the cover story?
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>> how would he know that it was that particular story that was the hit? Because it was the cover story? >>
Yes. Goodman thought the cover was the most important factor in selling a comic, and at that point in Marvel’s history, he was probably right.
And the sales bump on ASTONISH 27 must have been impressive, because not only did Marvel turn Hank Pym into a superhero, they also did “The Man in the Beehive” as the cover story on TALES OF SUSPENSE 32, seven months after the “Anthill” story and just before Pym returned.
Goodman seems to have been convinced that bugs sold comics. After the success of “Anthill,” we saw a knockoff story, a sequel and an unrelated story about a kid with spider-powers all in the space of a month.
It may even be that, far from thinking bugs were something to avoid, Goodman had been so excited about “The Man in the Anthill” that he wanted lots of bug stories from Stan, and Stan telling Kirby they needed more bug stuff may have been why Kirby brought in the logo and concept of “Spiderman” that got turned into the hero we all know today.
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And was Ant-Man transformation into Giant-Man just a month after the first Avengers issue at least in part to avoid the most glaring similarity between the Avengers and the JLA, namely both teams having a tiny male super-hero who couldn’t fly? But then, less than two years later, Lee added an archer and a speedster to the team, although at the time Hawkeye’s and Pietro’s personalities differed considerably from Green Arrow’s and the Flash’s, not to mention that Pietro’s speed powers rather paled compared to those of the Flash.
I think they kept messing with Ant-Man because it wasn’t selling very well, and Goodman didn’t want to cancel it. I doubt any of the modifications were because of Goodman not wanting the Avengers to seem like the JLA — Goodman was happy to try to coattail on other company’s successes, which is why Lee, Kirby & company started in with superheroes again in the first place.
Goodman seems to have liked Ant-Man a lot, though, which may be why Marvel kept trying to fix the series rather than just giving up on it. Eventually, though, they needed a berth for a new Namor series, and poor Hank got booted out of ASTONISH to make room.
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Did they mess with Ant-Man before they introduced the Wasp? She might have been created simply to fill out the ranks of the Avengers. They messed again with Ant-Man by turning him into Giant-Man, which they did as soon as they could, in Tales to Astonish, after My Greatest Adventure #80 hit the stands.
>> Did they mess with Ant-Man before they introduced the Wasp?>>
She was the first major reworking of the series.
>> She might have been created simply to fill out the ranks of the Avengers. >>
The Avengers wasn’t created with a lot of advance planning time, as I understand it. The Wasp debuted about four months before AVENGERS 1, so it’s unlikely that they’d decided to do the Avengers book when they were cooking up the Wasp.
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Pretty sure The Wasp was introduced just to try to make Ant-Man a bit more interesting. A handful of adventures in, the limitations of “he’s really small with the proportionate strength of a human” (to paraphrase John Belushi years later) “who can talk to ants” were already making themselves pretty obvious…
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To my understanding, Goodman also really liked the Human Torch. I presume maybe he insisted on reviving the concept at least for the FF and later spinning off the new Torch into his own series, but not one that Lee appeared to have put minimal involvement in producing, leaving Larry Lieber to do the scripting. Even as Lee was expanding Marvel’s superhero line, he left a lot of scripting to Larry on several series, including Thor and Ant-Man. I’d guess Lee wasn’t too excited about the solo Torch series but kept it going on Goodman’s orders, at least until he got the go ahead to replace it with a new, modern Nick Fury as super-spy series.
Have never heard anything about Goodman insisting on using The Human Torch, but Stan himself was clearly not above poaching Timely’s known properties. In the ’50s the company already tried to revive the original Torch, The Sub-Mariner & Captain America in their own series, so it probably wasn’t far from anyone’s mind when they went back to superheroes in the ’60s. Suspect the soloing of the Human Torch in Strange Tales may’ve come from a decision to spotlight teenagers – Amazing Fantasy #15 debuting Spider-Man came out just the month before – the same way DC added Snapper Carr to Justice League supposedly to goose an audience. The replacement of the Torch with Nick Fury came roughly simultaneously with Sub-Mariner replacing Giant-Man in Tales To Astonish, & other characters debuting in other books; it seems to have been part of a general move to freshen & expand the line where possible, as Marvel started getting wider publicity in the mid-’60s.
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Probably one of the wisest things Lee did at the outset was not to go rely solely on the old Timely roster and I’d guess that was in large part due to their failure to catch on again when revived in the 1950s. I’ve never read a discussion or interview with Lee or Kirby about that particular decision or what thoughts went into creating the new characters, although I’ve read speculations as to very likely inspirations. Despite Goodman’s alleged directive to come up with something like the JLA, in execution the FF wasn’t much like the JLA at all, other than being a team of super-powered characters.
They did bring “The Big 3” back at the earliest opportunities, though the first “Captain America” was a fraud (& an otherwise immensely generic villain, the Acrobat). Certainly Spider-Man ended up a stroke of genius, but probably the biggest draw originally was The Thing, the link between the Marvel Age and the Kirby monster books that preceded it. Which I’m sure was no coincidence, as the Kirby Monster books saved Atlas’s bacon in its darkest days, & while I have no objective proof of it, I can quite imagine Goodman ordering that they hedge their bets with THAT audience while going after the burgeoning superhero revival audience, evidenced by a Kirby Monster besides The Thing dominating the cover of FF#1.
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Your understanding is the old fan myth that served Marvel’s interests. No hard data (job numbers, inhouse advertising or news from fanzines) supports that supposition.
Oh, and thanks for the corrections/clarifications to my previous post, Kurt. With so many unknown factors and conflicting stories, it’s good to have the verifiable details sorted out at least.
I recently read Abraham Riesman’s bio of Stan Lee, True Believer. Doesn’t paint a pretty picture of Stan, but seemed a very credible and reasonably fair account, although Riesman doesn’t go too deep into who really did what and what can be proved but he does discuss the many controversies that arose over crediting who really “wrote” the stories and came up with the concepts. Ditko’s input on the issues strike me as the most honest and least self-serving, just providing the relevant facts as he knew them and admitting to what he didn’t know. With Kirby, seems his anger at Lee as well as at Goodman, may have clouded his memories, while Lee’s was too keen to promote his perceived genius as well as to further his financial interests.
As an adolescent in the 1970s, I much admired Lee as he seemed a wise, friendly, fair-minded uncle type. I still admire him for the genuine contributions he did make to comics, but I also wish he had been more honest with his fans about the creative process and the contributions of the artists involved in crafting the stories, as well as more committed to promoting more just and fair conditions for the various creative collaborators who made all those comics. Sometimes, he seemed willing to do those things, but then he’d back away as if he’d be giving too much away and he wasn’t willing to accept the cost.
And the star of their next “superhero” mag, the Hulk, was likewise a monster. And when Namor came back, it was as a villain with monsters at his call. Even the Miracle Man story involved monsters while the Skrulls were monstrous invaders. Not counting the Thing himself, the first 4 issues of the FF, as well as issue 7, were all variations of the monster/alien invasion tales Lee, Kirby, Ditko, et al, had been doing for the previous few years.