Saturday, 11 April 2015

LIGHTNING STRIKES ONCE...


Image copyright DC COMICS

Who created SUPERMAN?  JERRY SIEGEL & JOE
SHUSTER, wasn't it?   What about CAPTAIN AMERICA?  JOE
SIMON & JACK KIRBY we're told.  BATMAN?  BOB KANE &
BILL FINGER it's said.  How about SPIDER-MAN?  That's surely
an easy one - STAN LEE & STEVE DITKO.  There are other
characters we could consider, but these four iconic super-
heroes will do for now.

I seem to recall reading an account by Jerry Siegel, many
years ago, that he dreamt up the concept of Superman overnight,
then rushed around to his pal Joe's family apartment and described
his creation to the young artist, who sketched out the character de-
scribed to him.  It's interesting to note that while Siegel denied being
influenced by PHILIP WYLIE's 1930 pulp novel, GLADIATOR,
Superman wore gladiator-type thonged footwear in his earliest
appearances in DC's ACTION COMICS.)

When it comes to Captain America, Joe Simon claimed he'd
created the character and designed the costume, and the earliest
existing sketch of Cap is indeed by Joe.  As for Batman, Bob Kane's
vision of the Dark Knight was someone wearing a domino mask and
bat wings - it was Bill Finger who recommended the pointy-eared
cowl which imbued the character with the element of mystery
we all know and love.

Spider-Man is a slightly more complicated - if we believe
Jack Kirby's claim that he created the character.  However, we
can quickly dismiss the idea;  even if Jack had suggested the outline
to Stan, he was recycling an idea by Joe Simon and JACK OLECK
that had evolved into THE FLY.  Funny thing about the poster boy for
the 'hard done to' brigade.  He was never slow to diminish his collabor-
ators' contributions when recounting his career years later.  According
to Jack, on the few occasions he deigned to mention him, Joe Simon
was mainly the guy who cut the deals for the duo and did the book-
keeping, and Stan Lee was merely an editor who never created
or wrote anything in his life.

So let's accept Stan's account of creating the concept for
Spidey, and give Steve credit for the costume design and adding
the web-shooters and various other details.  That's something all of
those characters had in common - someone dreamt up the initial con-
cept, and someone else was responsible for realising the visual aspect
of that concept.  That surely means that when the readers first saw
the finished article in published form, it was the result of at least
two co-creators - to some degree or other.

One could argue that, as Shuster mainly drew what Siegel
described, then Siegel was the primary creator and could have
used any other artist, without much difference to the end result -
apart from one of style.  Same goes for the good Captain:  Joe
Simon came up with the idea and the look, Jack 'merely'
drew the comic.  

What we forget after all these years is that, back in the day,
when a book was a hit, those who produced it (writer and artist)
were described as the 'creators'.  However, this mainly referred to
their status as joint 'authors' of the published comic, not necessarily
joint creators of the original idea for the character.  It wasn't in-
tended to accord equal status to both parties in coming up with
the original concept - except in cases where they had!

Although Steve designed the Spidey outfit, it's not unlikely
that Stan had said something along the lines of "Put some spider
webs on his costume and make him look sorta spidery."  If so, Stan
could always claim that Steve was only following his suggestions for
the costume, but as we all well know, suggestions can be interpreted in
different ways.  (I should stress that Stan, as far as I know, has never
attempted to claim credit for Spider-Man's outfit.  Jack Kirby did
'though, several times, until it was pointed out to him that he
was wrong and actually hadn't.)

So imagine this scenario:  Someone dreams up an idea
 for a character which is pretty complete.  He gives an outline of
the costume design, but it's the actual artist who interprets it - even
although one or two other people may suggest minor revisions which
are incorporated into the finished look as illustrated by the artist.  As
comics are a visual medium, the published article as seen by the public
is mainly a collaboration between two people, even if others (editors,
for example) had some input along the way.  What the reader gets is a
combination of what the writer wrote and the artist drew in the pages
of the printed comic.  Surely it would be wrong for the architect of
a house to deny the builder his right to claim he built it?  Not
a perfect analogy by any means, but it carries the
essence of the matter.

It's on that basis Joe Shuster was given credit as
co-creator alongside Jerry Siegel, Jack Kirby alongside
Joe Simon, Bill Finger (retroactively) alongside Bob Kane, and
Steve Ditko alongside Stan Lee.  At least, that's the way the readers
view things.  It seems only fair then, that on that same basis, TREVOR
VON EEDEN, whether he wants it or not, can legitimately be regard-
ed as co-creator on BLACK LIGHTNING - as the published mag, and
the character, looked the way they did as a direct result of his artwork.
And, unless the writer gave him a sketch (even a poorly drawn one)
that was unmistakably the costume that Trevor ended up drawing,
his interpretation of any instructions or suggestions given to him
carried his stamp.  Another artist, given the exact same de-
scription, may well have come up with something
quite different.

Disagree?  Well, as everyone knows, I'm not the
  dogmatic type.  The floor is yours - if you want it.  

12 comments:

Phil said...

I never liked the Black part of Black Lightning because hie lightning wasn't black.
However, much like Spidey, unless the design was described by the writer, then it's fair to say the look was created by Von Eeden. The difference is that Ditko was definitely writer of many of the early Spider-Man stories. DC artists usually worked on a script this the contribution of the artist was far less.
However....by the time Black Lightning was created I don't know how much of the so called Marvel method was being used at DC.

Anonymous said...

He he you scallywag Kid. Black Lightning was created by T*** I*******.

Kid said...

Steve Ditko does admit (the last time I looked) that Stan took more of a hand in the early issues, and suggested the plots, etc., although Steve would've added his own bits, which was par for the 'Marvel method'. And Stan admits that, later, Steve plotted the books. However, TVE can be considered the co-creator of BL in the same way that Joe Suster is of Superman - even 'though the idea was thought up by someone else.

******

...and T***** V** E****, Anon.

John Pitt said...

And let's not forget George Tuska as the equally as important co-creator of Black Goliath, or the much better-named Goliath [ Mk. III ]

DeadSpiderEye said...

Obviously I'm aware of a context for this question, that aside it's an interesting subject, which could probably prompt a comments section a mile long. Collaborative creative effort, is something that is replete with false attribution and overlooked contribution. In this instance though, I'm willing to accept the received wisdom on the subject, which I think probably justly reflects the effort Isabella put into the character. Of course you could always ask him, something like: 'Hey Tony -- me old mate, what's the gen on the creation of Black Lightning?' I think it might prompt some -- er controversy though. Joking aside, it would great to get his candid account, unfortunately candour is rare in such instances because the of the need to protect reputation and associated rights. Those needs are something I have a certain sympathy for, they put bread on the table.

Kid said...

Indeed, JP - let's not forget.

******

He's quite clear that he sees himself as the sole creator of BL, DSE. He says he described the costume to TVE, and then others suggested revisions. However, that's pretty much what happened in the case of Siegel & Shuster. So Siegel created all the essentials of Superman, but they were both described as 'the creators of Superman' because it was the finished result (published comic) that was regarded as the 'product', not the idea alone. In the exact same way, TI & TVE are 'the creators of BL' - as the comic buying public first saw him.

Colin Jones said...

Kid, I'd never even heard of Black Lightning till you mentioned him a couple of days ago but that's because he was DC - I'm clueless about DC characters (except the really famous ones of course). Most superheroes must have been created by more than one person but we never seem to hear any arguments over who created Thor or the Hulk or the X-Men etc.

Kid said...

Actually, we DO, CJ. Stan Lee says he came up with the idea for each of the characters you mention, Jack Kirby claimed it was him. However, in the case of Thor, it was Larry Lieber (Stan's brother) who scripted Thor, and he says he wrote full scripts (he came up with the names Don Blake and Uru). That casts doubt on Jack's claim to have taken the idea of Thor to Stan fully formed.

(Or were you being ironic?)

DeadSpiderEye said...

I kinda remember Black Lightning, it's a bit hazy though, my interest in US publications was on the wane at the time I encountered him. I regard him as an iteration in DC's effort in habituating black characters which would make his original form, which If I recall correctly was a bit Shaft with fancy panjams, necessarily dated. Cyborg comes along a few years later, with that iteration, things have moved along quite a bit, they don't have to massage sensibilities quite so vigorously, so we get something a little more mature. In fact, I remember Cyborg being quite gritty, I'll havta dig him out again.

Kid said...

I just recently discovered that BL's mask had an attached afro wig, DSE, which he donned when he went into action. That alone makes the character ridiculous in my estimation. It wasn't something the artist was too impressed with either.

Anonymous said...

Not content with hammering Isabella in previous posts your now denigrating his most well known character. Your such a bully Kid.

Kid said...

You mean, surely, that after standing up for myself in previous posts I'm now expressing my opinion on his most well-known character. The fact that Mr. Isabella's most well-known character is a third-rate one is hardly my doing.

And how does someone who knows a big word like 'denigrating' not know the difference between 'your' and 'you're'?

Normally, I don't publish comments from people who are too cowardly to identify themselves, but this time I made an exception. Keep taking the medicine.

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