Monday, 15 October 2018

WHO CREATED DOCTOR STRANGE? STAN LEE, STEVE DITKO - OR BOTH?



Take a look at the above extract from a letter by STEVE DITKO in response to a fan.  In it, Steve candidly admits that his memory is not perfect and that there are some strips he drew (and maybe even wrote) in the 1960s that he can't even remember doing.  Yet, when it comes to his written reminiscences about SPIDER-MAN and DOCTOR STRANGE, rabid Ditko fans (I mean the ones who are usually equally rabid STAN LEE haters), never question his accounts of his work on, arguably, the two most famous characters he collaborated on.

Why is this?  Is it possible their critical faculty is blunted by their antipathy towards Stan Lee, in the same way that rabid JACK KIRBY fans take anything that Jack said as gospel, while dismissing everything that Stan says as an utter lie?  For proof of the latter half of that sentence, check out this link.  Read it?  I'd say it's compelling evidence of Jack's memory being at least as unreliable as Lee's.  So why do some people regard Steve's memory as being infallible when he himself never claimed it to be, and allowed for the exact opposite in fact?

It's a huge subject, but I'm going to focus on Doctor Strange in this post.  Those who claim that Stan wasn't a co-creator of the sorcerer often quote from Stan Lee's 1963 letter to Dr. JERRY BAILS a few months before the strip debuted.  "'Twas Steve's idea" they declare, as 'proof' that Stan originally admitted that he had nothing to do with the genesis of the character.  In actual fact, it doesn't necessarily prove that at all.  Read the full paragraph below.  (Click to enlarge.)


It occurs to me that this can easily mean something other than the anti-Stan brigade say it does.  Consider:  "We have a new character in the works..."  Who does he mean by 'we' - Stan and Steve, or MARVEL COMICS itself?  If the former, this suggests that Stan was involved in the idea.  "The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him -- 'twas Steve's idea..."  What was Steve's idea?  Seems to me that this could well apply to the 'nothing great first story', not necessarily the character himself (otherwise wouldn't Stan have said "he was Steve's idea"?).  But what about Steve's own account of events?  I'm glad you asked.

"On my own, I brought in a five-page, pencilled story, with a page/panel script..." writes Steve in one of his much later essays. Assuming Steve's recollection is accurate, this does not preclude Stan - who was the commissioning editor remember - asking Steve to do a story about a 'magician'.  Steve, therefore, may merely have meant that Stan left the story up to him and had no direct input into the plot.  However, even if Stan didn't request such a strip, Strange followed in the wake of Dr. DROOM, a similar character (at least in the beginning, before he was turned into a mere hypnotist), whose debut Steve had inked and could well have been influenced by, subconsciously or otherwise.

What's important to remember however, whatever view you take, is that creator status in comicbooks is usually defined by the printed product, the comic itself. JERRY SIEGEL came up with the idea for SUPERMAN, but JOE SHUSTER gave him substance, based on Jerry's description.  BOB KANE came up with the idea for BATMAN, but it took BILL FINGER to refine the concept and add much that made the character popular.  (Though it was decades before his contribution was publicly acknowledged.)  Jack Kirby originated a guy on a surfboard, but it was Stan Lee who gave the SILVER SURFER his back-story and motivation with which the comic-reading community are so familiar.

When it comes to Doctor Strange, even if we accept the by-no-means-certain assertion by nay-sayers that Stan didn't initiate the character by asking Steve to come up with something (commissioning editor remember), it was Stan's christening of Strange, his dialogue and captions - in short, his characterisation - which helped define the good Doctor, and shaped the readers' perception of who he was and how he came to be. (The fact that Strange's origin so closely mirrors Droom's is com-pelling evidence to the likely truth of that statement.)

So who created Doctor Strange?  The Strange that you and I know was the product of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, whether you agree with the sequence of those two names or not.

                                                       "By the pow'r of the Faltine,
                                                       In the name of Satannish,
                                                       Let your hatred of 'Smiley'
                                                       Immediately vanish!"
    
Here's to Stan and Steve - together they were invincible!

7 comments:

AirPiratePress said...

It's interesting that in that first Dr Strange story, there's none of the flourishes that Stan would later add - the unique incantations and the complete mystical universe Stan crafted, along with Steve. So, again, very much the product of two creative minds, I'd venture ...

Barry Pearl said...

I am in agreement with you on your column, but my I go one step further?

Sometimes it is equally important as to who develops a character, rather than who created it. The Hulk, created by Lee and Kirby, failed after six issues. It took Steve Ditko adding the anger management issue, to make it a success. Many people today can’t imagine the Hulk without anger issues. Or, for that matter, Iron Man in his original suit, not the one Ditko designed.

The X-Men also created by Lee and Kirby, never took off until Chris Claremont took over. He was not the creator but he was the reason for its great success.

So let people argue who drew Iron Man first, but who made him successful and entertaining? When I think of Daredevil I think of Gene Colan and not Bill Everett.

And when we think of the Human Torch I bet most people think of Jack Kirby and not Carl Burgos.

Kid said...

I think with that first story, it's safe to assume that Steve was correct when he said that he did it without Stan's involvement (though that doesn't necessarily mean that Stan didn't ask Steve to come up with a 'sorcerer' type character), which is probably why it didn't have the later touches you mention, APP. Strange doesn't have much of a personality in the first story, and is decidedly Asian, two things which Stan changed over time. In fact, the origin story was probably shoehorned into the run, as Strange's Asian appearance is still evident in stories published afterwards, but probably drawn before it was produced. As you say, the series as we came to know it was very much the product of both men.

******

That's an interesting point, BP. Very often, a character that attains success only bears the name and costume of his earliest incarnation, becoming popular mainly due to the efforts of subsequent contributors. It may not make those contributors 'creators' in the sense that we usually understand the word, but they're certainly creators when it comes to what makes the character(s) popular and successful. In the case of Dr. Strange, as AAP noted above, the touches that undoubtedly ensured the success of the strip were as a result of both Stan and Steve. Sure, Steve was responsible for the visual flourishes, but a strip is more than merely pictures and can stand or fall on how it reads. And that's the province of the scripter.

Anonymous said...

Kid
Another great article and great points. I love the Lee/Ditko mystery tales from the late 50s on and Dr Strange seems a logical extension of those....except not as good!!!!! For me the good Doctor only came to life once Clea and Dormammu appeared.
With reference to Barry's comment: I would note that Chris appeared to be greatly influenced by the Lee Kirby X-Men and the Lee-Thomas X-Men, and of course was enormously aided by Cockrum, who originated several of the new characters ( Storm, Nightcrawler), and who was looking at doing a new version of the Blackhawks. I was a big Claremont/ Cockrum/ Byrne fan, and think they produced some of the best commercial comics of the mid 70s, but their run, although healthy, was it appears not that successful, and the book took many years to build up sales steam, with notable commercial success not happening until the 80s, by which time I had become bored by the strip. So yes Chris did make the X-Men a big commercial success, but he was building on what had come before, either by Lee Kiby or by others. Chris of course deserves recognition, and he profited financially more than either Ditko or Kirby but we are taking about creation of, and execution of concepts. The idea of a mutant team or an international team was not Chris', for all the success he gave them. It's the danger of working on concepts originated by others.

Kid said...

Yes, there is a difference between 'creating' and 'popularising', as Barry knows, but I think he was referring to elements (new heroes) that were introduced ('created') by other hands which made some comics more successful than they had originally been. Personally, I still prefer the original X-Men, but I could be in the minority on that one. Sometimes, a strip can become something almost entirely different to what it had been (bearing only a superficial resemblance to the original), and it's that difference which makes it a success. But it's late and I'm tired, so may well be havering.

Barry Pearl said...

Kid, you are right in what I wanted to express. I loved the “original” X-Men also, they are my favorites. And I don’t deny that Claremont expanded on what went before him. But I also acknowledge that the X-Men soated in popularity when he took over and that should not be forgotten. And it was Roy Thomas’,idea to make the X-Men more international which prived to be a great idea.

Also note thatbthe Wolverine became greatly popular notbwith his creators, but in these issues of the X-Men

Kid said...

Another thing that occurred to me, BP, when reading your comment, was that Batman comics were due for cancellation when the 1966 TV series revived the character's popularity (for all the wrong reasons). That gave it a boost until Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams restored the 'creature of the night' aspect that ensured Batman's continued popularity to this day. Added to and aided by other creators since then of course. However, if Batman comics had been cancelled in the '60s, there would probably have never been the successful series of movies in recent years. So who's responsible for the money-making potential of Batman? It can't be tied down to just one or two people. Which is basically what you're saying about The X-Men.