Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Page from The Fly.  Art by Jack Kirby, images copyright relevant owner

Okay, this is a difficult one, so bear with me.  Everyone knows that STAN LEE has a pretty poor memory, something which he himself readily acknowledges, so I'm not saying anything with which he'd disagree.  Stan's not the only comicbook icon who suffered from this 'handicap' though, as his long-time collaborator JACK KIRBY was similarly afflicted.  This, of course, has sometimes led to discrepancies between both men's accounts in the 'who created what?' arguments that have raged for decades.

I'm of the opinion that Stan is basically an honest man, who - whenever his memory fails him - fills in the dots with whatever seems probable in order to make sense of events.  True, in the best storyteller tradition, he sometimes hyperbolically embellishes his reminiscences to make them more entertaining, but I don't believe he deliberately distorts anything out of a selfish intent to deny others credit.

Page from The Fly.  Art by Jack Kirby

That doesn't mean, though, that distortion doesn't sometimes inadvertently happen.  Case in point:  SPIDER-MAN first appeared in AMAZING FANTASY #15, which was the final issue of the mag.  It now seems clear that, at the time of preparation, it wasn't actually intended to be the last issue, but rather the first ish of a 'new direction'.  Publisher MARTIN GOODMAN, however, noticed the low sales figures for previous issues of AF and ordered its immediate cancellation - despite Stan's 'rescue' plans for the title.

In Stan's mind, looking back after the fact, all he remembered was that Spidey appeared in AF's final issue.  Relating events years later in ORIGINS Of MARVEL COMICS, Stan tells what seemed to him at the time the most likely account of why things happened as they did, perhaps even unknowingly confusing the details with a similar situation involving another character and title.

C.C. Beck's earlier pencils for The Silver Spider.  Compare to Kirby's page
at the top of the post

We've all done it - remembered things as we think happened, rather than as they actually occurred.  A good example of this, as related in a recent blog post, is that I recall two RONNIE HILTON songs from my childhood as being sides A & B of the same 45 rpm record.  When I decided to hunt down and re-acquire the record a few weeks ago, I discovered that they were, in actual fact, two separate singles - not the one, as I'd seemed to recall.

Now consider the creation of Spider-Man.  In Stan's account, he came up with the character, gave it to Jack Kirby to draw, saw the first few pages - then thought "Nah, not what I'm looking for!"  So he turned the job over to STEVE DITKO and the rest is history Jack's recollection of events is different, but first, let's backtrack a few years.  According to JOE SIMON, he and his brother-in-law, JACK OLECK, had come up with a hero called Spiderman (no hyphen), later changed to the SILVER SPIDER, which was given to former CAPTAIN MARVEL artist C.C. BECK to pencil.  (Before the name change, Simon had already lettered a large Spiderman logo for the proposed strip.  This was around 1953.)

Spiderman/The Silver Spider.  Art by C.C. Beck

The idea never got off the ground 'til around six years later, by which time the insect-hero had metamorphosed into The FLY, drawn by Jack from Simon's original Spiderman script, and published by MLJ/ARCHIE COMICS in 1959.

Now, here's where it gets interesting.  Steve Ditko recalls seeing Jack's first few pages of 'Spider-Man' and noticing that they bore an amazing resemblance to The Fly.  He informed Stan of the fact, who jettisoned JK's version and reworked the concept, which he then had Steve draw.  For years now, fans have dreamt of seeing Kirby's rejected Spidey pages so they could compare them to Ditko's, but so far, they remain undiscovered.

Or do they?

Logo by Joe Simon

In Jack's account, he took Simon's Spiderman logo to Stan and suggested the idea for the character.  The pages he showed to Lee may well have been redrawings of the Spiderman/Fly pages, as they were essentially based on the same script, which may have been why Ditko mentioned to Stan that they were too close to Archie's The Fly, resulting in the reworked concept that became MARVEL's very own Spider-Man.  (It's interesting to note that, if Jack did indeed take the idea to Stan, in later claiming that he had created the character, he never mentioned Simon's, Oleck's or Beck's involvement in the original process, thereby depriving them of their rightful credit.)

So - have we actually already seen versions of the Kirby Spider-Man pages of which legend tells?  And if so, does it discredit Stan's account of the creation of the ol' Web-spinner?  Not necessarily.  Even if Jack had suggested the name to Stan and shown him some pages, the finished product by Lee and Ditko bore no relation to the character that Jack may have presented (and which was dreamt up by Simon & Oleck, remember).  And, of course, Stan may have come up with the idea, and Jack submitted uninked stats or redrawn pencils of his earlier pages, thinking that they would serve what Stan had roughly in mind.

Apparently, Kirby's Spider-Man looked similar to the above figure

Alas, it seems that nobody will ever know for sure.  Even if Kirby were still alive, his memory seems to have been no more reliable than Lee's, so the issue would doubtless remain unresolved.  However, it's an intriguing notion, don't you think?  Regardless of whether Stan first approached Jack, or Jack first approached Stan with the idea, you may now be looking at something very close to the rejected pages which Stan himself mentioned in his Origins book back in 1974, and for which comics historians have been searching ever since.

Feel entirely free to register yout thoughts, theories and fancies in our ever-lovin' comments section.


John Pitt said...

Stan the man doesn't help matters by giving conflicting versions of Spidey's origin over the years - first it was a nod to pulp hero The Spider, master of men ,then it was because he saw a fly climbing up the wall and thought what if a man could do this, but now this is even more intriguing...

baab said...

Good article.
Nice theory.

The teaser heading got me excited but I was not disappointed.

I wonder then, who designed the costume?
Could it have been someone else?
Did Jack Kirby draw the cover based on Steve Ditko's interior work or vice-versa.

Kid said...

I don't think that he so much gives conflicting versions as expands on them, JP. I think the spider on the wall story is perhaps a fanciful embellishment (although Stan maybe thinks that he remembers it happening), but supposing it did, he could then have thought back to The Spider radio programme he's referred to before. One led to the other, if you know what I mean. My point being that both accounts are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but complementary.


Steve Ditko designed the costume, Baab, contrary to what Kirby once claimed, then subsequently retracted when it was pointed out to him that Ditko's unpublished cover (and the contents of AF #15) were drawn before his.

cerebus660 said...

On the subject of Stan's memory I always love his stock phrase in interviews: "I've told this story so many times it might even be true..."

Anonymous said...

My inclination (based on very little other than I like Ditko lol) has always been that it was Ditko that was mostly responsible for the creation of the Spider-man look we all know (the full face mask' the web under the arms, Aunt May etc) but with healthy input from Lee. I agree I think it was also planned that Amazing Fantasy 15 would NOT be the last issue of that book as in the original comic the final panel blurb (rarely reprinted )said continued in Amazing Fantasy 16 etc. For me at any rate the Spidey we know just doesn't look or feel like a Kirby character, although I know Jack (and Joe) created a character called Spiderman (as you note) and he may have done breakdowns on some of the AF pages (although its more likely if Kirby did breakdowns it was on Spider-man issue 1) as he did for some early Hulks and DD etc. But if he did do any breakdowns it looks to me like Jack simply left the character after a few pages to do something else kiv Marvel were creating a lot of new books with Kirby's input like FF, Thor, Hulk etc so he would have been really busy. On the cover I thought Kirby was asked to re draw Ditkos original cover (to me the figures look like Ditko) as Jack was considered the more commercial artist and it would sell better with his name/style - I would have loved to have seen CC Beck's work as I think he was a great artist (sadly forgotten by a lot of todays comic book fans) - Another great wee article - McScotty

Anonymous said...

Kid, you presented the majority of this article, as if it was newly discovered, but I had read much of what you wrote and saw the Kirby and CC Beck scans nearly 20 years ago, from Joe Simon's "The Comic Book Makers" book, published in 1993! I am just saying that much of this evidence has been available for decades, in print and online, but I appreciate that many people are not aware of it, so it needs to be out there.
I think Stan Lee is in many ways just another Bob Kane. Kane signed the contract with DC and his signature was on the splash page for years, so he fooled most of the kids who read Batman comics, that he was responsible for virtually all the creative input, until he was finally rumbled. But, when others started to air a different version of events in Marvel's birth, it seemed that a majority still preferred to believe the charismatic Stan Lee's account. Stan is the writer, a great orator, a man of words, a salesman and boy, he has sold one great version of how the Marvel Universe was born and his version is the Gospel. Kane was just an artist, a good businessman too, but he did not have the wordsmith skills to fight off someone like Bill Finger, a great writer, when he began to reveal his contribution to Batman's development. When it comes to a war of words, who is going to win? Anyway, in the end, the truth must be that Batman would not have existed without Bob Kane and there would have been no Spider-Man without Stan Lee. These are the pivotal players, sure there were other catalysts, other writers and artists. I believe Kane and Lee's egos really just saw themselves as the legitimate fathers of these creations. I cannot blame them or dislike them for feeling this way. Still think Bob Kane was a great guy and so is Stan!

Kid said...

Marko, I'd disagree with you that I present the article as if the information is 'newly discovered', but I do write it from the perspective of not many people being aware of it. (And Joe Simon's book was first published in 1990, not '93.) I've thought, since 1975, that Stan's story of Spidey being 'tried out' in AF #15 because it was the last issue, so what harm could it do?, didn't gel with the cover blurb or final caption, but I didn't get around to writing about it 'til 2002, in an issue of Comics International.

I'd also say that there were huge differences between Stan Lee and Bob Kane. Kane never really created anything else of merit other than Batman, and it was his father's business acumen that secured Kane a 'sweet deal' with DC, not Kane Junior's. Also, I've never read any accounts of a fan having met Kane and coming away liking him - most say that he was completely 'up' himself. Reading interviews with him, he comes across as an unsophisticated, rather simple soul, who lucked out with Batman. It gives me no pleasure to say any of that because, hey - we're talking about Batman's originator, but that's the way he comes across.

Stan Lee, on the other hand, is - on the whole - well-liked by just about everybody, even those who think he has exaggerated his input into the creation of the Marvel Universe. However, I think it's significant that neither Kirby nor Ditko achieved anything like the success they did in collaboration with Stan Lee, and when you look at the earliest interviews, Stan was always extremely lavish in his praise for both men's contributions to the comics they worked on. Stan was the editor and scripter, therefore the most obvious person to interview when Marvel began to take off. Ditko was a recluse even then, and Kirby just didn't seem to come across well to reporters - hardly Stan's fault.

Having met Stan back in 1991, I have to say that he is a completely charismatic force of nature and deserves all the accolades and success which life has delivered to him. Jack and Steve deserved it too, of course - even if they didn't get it. However, I don't think that was Stan's fault 'though. The 'King' wouldn't even have been crowned if not for Stan Lee.

Thanks for the interesting comments.

Anonymous said...

Re: "...The pages he showed to
Lee may well have been redrawings of the Spiderman/Fly pages.."

The Night Fighter drawing you showed is a reworking of a drawing of Kirby's earlier character Fighting American, which gives Kirby a record of reworking past drawings when trying to sell something new.

David Simpson

Kid said...

What strikes me about that Night Fighter drawing is how 'Ditko-ish' it is. Change the costume to Spider-Man and it displays a fluidity of movement that Jack could never quite capture whenever he drew Spidey.

Comment originally posted on:
30 October 2013 12:17

John G. Pierce said...

No wonder Spider-Man is a great character. He has some of the greatest names in comics in his background: Simon, Beck, Oleck, Kirby, Lee, Ditko.

Kid said...

I'd say the two most prominent names there in regard to Spidey's success are Lee & Ditko, though your own preferred sequence may differ.

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