Monday, 11 February 2013
JACK KIRBY - SAINT OR SINNER?
Much has been made over the last twenty-odd years in certain quarters about JACK 'KING' KIRBY not receiving either the credit or remuneration he deserved for his undoubted contribution to the success of MARVEL COMICS. In fact, Jack - along with JERRY SIEGEL and JOE SHUSTER - is almost a poster boy for the 'hard-done to creators' school of thought, and it would be all-too easy to believe that he indeed fell victim to the evil machinations of corporate big business.
I don't believe it's as simple as that, but on the matter of credit, Jack was every bit as shy as anyone else in sharing the glory of his accomplishments with those who fully deserved equal billing. I'm struck by the fact that, when later relating his career in the comicbook biz, Jack usually neglected to mention his longtime collaborator JOE SIMON, instead preferring to airbrush him from the history of the many titles they both worked on when he could get away with it.
In Kirby's one-page essays in some of his 1970s DC mags, I can't remember Joe Simon being mentioned once, and the backup tales (reprints from the '40s) are labelled 'A Kirby Classic' on every page. Also, in a summary of his comics career written in 1966 and printed in FOOM #8 in 1974, there is again no acknowl-edgement of his erstwhile art and business associate. I guess it's human nature to believe that, in any partnership, we bring more to the table than the other guy, and it seems that Jack was as prone to this as anyone else you care to name.
Take SPIDER-MAN for example. Jack claimed for years that he had created the idea of Spidey and even designed the costume - however, the facts (as I understand them) are different. Apparently, Joe Simon, JACK OLECK and C.C. BECK were responsible for producing a strip called The SILVER SPIDER, which had developed from an earlier idea by Simon for a character called SPIDERMAN (no hyphen). The idea languished in limbo until it was revised and appeared as The FLY for RED CIRCLE COMICS (ARCHIE) in 1959.
According to Jack's version of events, he showed a Spiderman logo (lettered by Joe when he first came up with the idea) to STAN LEE, and pitched to him Simon and Oleck's original concept before the character had been renamed and revised. However, Jack claimed the idea as his own and failed to mention his former partner's involvement, taking sole credit in the matter. Jack later recanted his claim about the costume when it was pointed out to him that STEVE DITKO's unused cover for AMAZING FANTASY #15 was drawn before his own (published) version, but not before perpetuating his mistaken account of events in numerous fanzine and convention interviews over a period of time.
Don't get the wrong idea - this isn't meant as an attack on Jack's honesty or integrity, but his memory was every bit as bad as Stan Lee's is reputed to be. And it seems that, on the matter of creators feeling deprived of credit or money, very often the determining factor seems to be "How rich did someone else get off an idea I worked on?" To me, this is akin to someone freely selling a silver teapot for £100 (and believing they got a good deal), and then seeing it on television in The ANTIQUES ROADSHOW five or ten years later valued at £1,000.
You can bet your boots that the seller will be kicking himself and cursing the other guy's luck - but feelings of bitterness or frustration (however understandable) from missing out on something hardly entitles anyone to a share of an increased value from something they underestimated the potential worth of at the point of sale. Regardless of whether it's property or ideas, the principle is surely the same.
When it comes to the matter of credit for who did what, it seems that more creators than you'd realise are in the exact same boat as those they point the finger at. Thus has it been, thus shall it ever be. As I said - it's human nature. So, to answer my own question - saint or sinner? Neither. Jack was just as human (though a lot more talented) as the rest of us.
Got any thoughts on the matter? Feel free to express them in the Comments Section. Go on - you know you want to.
Posted by Kid at Monday, February 11, 2013