Tuesday, 11 May 2021

PART FOUR OF STAN LEE PRESENTS: THE CREATION OF DOCTOR STRANGE...


Copyright MARVEL COMICS

Hi, Stan Lee here yet again, inhabiting the form of my Mego 8 inch action figure, to rap about one of Marvel's most popular characters. However, before that, I have to set the stage by indulging in a fair amount of preamble, so bear with me, Merry Marvel-ites.

One of the many amazing things about the human mind is that it's tremendously susceptible to suggestion.  For example, ask someone what the difference is between two seemingly identical objects, and you've planted the notion in their heads that there is a difference (even when there might not be), and their thoughts then set off in search of an answer which didn't exist before you asked the question.  Many poems, for instance, arise from a line suddenly popping into the writer's head and them then making it up line-by-line as they go along (following rather than leading), not necessarily because they decided to write something on a particular subject.

It's almost as if the idea has a life of its own and must simply take its course, quite independent of the writer.  However, ask what their inspiration or motivation was, and they respond as if there'd actually been one, and do so quite unconscious of the fact that they'd never even thought about it until you asked.  They recount what seems most likely now that they've been directed down that avenue of thought, and by the time they've finished, they've come to subconsciously believe their explanation as the truth simply because it seems entirely plausible and even extremely likely.

The Mystic Master's debut issue

I've done that, and so has Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and just about any other creative person you care to name.  Ask them for a reason for doing something and they'll give you one, even if there was no specific reason other than trying to earn a living.  In my case, I was once asked how I came up with the idea for Spider-Man, so I gave what seemed to me an entirely plausible account of watching a spider crawling up or down a wall one day, and getting the idea from that.  I was also, as a kid, a big fan of The Spider radio show, and that also figured in my thinking when relating my inspiration for Spidey years after the fact.  Contrary to some assertions, the two accounts are not mutually exclusive; both could have played a part, but I suspect I hoodwinked myself into believing the 'spider on the wall' tale because, hey, it might've happened and, besides, it made for a much more interesting 'reminiscence'.

Jack did the same thing when he later recounted that he'd created The Hulk because he'd once seen a woman lift a car off her son who was pinned underneath, and the idea that rage could fuel some kind of super-strength was his inspiration (or part of it) for the character.  Only thing wrong with the tale was that Jack wasn't responsible for Bruce Banner's rage-induced transformations, which didn't happen 'til after Steve Ditko had taken over the strip.  Whether it was Stevey or me who came up with that angle, or whether it came from both of us after talking things over is something else lost in the mists of history.  

However, don't think I'm suggesting that Jack was lying; what likely happened was, looking back years later when The Hulk's rage-morphs were long established, his subconscious mind joined the dots to come up with a 'picture' of events which made some kind of sense.  However, he just misremembered, joined the dots up in the wrong order and thereby came up with the wrong picture.  Sometimes we just don't remember, and in trying to recall what we've forgotten, we come up with what seems like a reasonable explanation and then find ourselves believing that it really happened that way.

Which now brings us to Doctor Strange.

While writing my best-selling book, Origins Of Marvel Comics, I cast my mind back and recounted what I felt must have happened, based on whatever sequence of events I could remember, even when I couldn't recollect absolutely everything.  I didn't deliberately or knowingly lie, but I probably didn't represent the full unedited picture.  If you ask me now who came up with the idea of Doctor Strange, Steve Ditko or myself, I can't actually remember whether it was him or me, though I felt it was me back in 1974 when I wrote Origins.  (Having said that though, nowhere do I explicitly state in my intro to the reprinted strips that I created the character, even if that's the impression given.)

Steve's version of events is that he brought the fully illustrated first story in to me with no prior involvement on my part, but whether he's referring to the character or the plot is by no means certain.  As the commissioning editor, it's not altogether impossible that I said "Hey, Stevey, why not do a strip involving a sorcerer?" and left him to it.  I'd already done Doctor Droom with Jack Kirby (which Steve had inked), but that hadn't really worked and was short-lived, so maybe I wanted to see how Ditko would do with a similar idea.  Now, I know what you're thinking.  What about my letter to Dr. Jerry Bails in 1963 in which I say " 'twas Steve's idea" ?  Below is the paragraph in full - click to enlarge.

Read it carefully.  I say that the first story is nothing great and that it was Steve's idea, but what precisely am I referring to - the plot or Doctor Strange?  If I meant the character, wouldn't I have said "he was Steve's idea"?  It could be interpreted either way, so it's not exactly conclusive proof that I had nothing to do with initiating the Doctor's existence - even his name was down to me.  However, for the purpose of discussion, let's assume that Ditko dreamt up the character and the plot on his own before bringing it in to show me.  As Steve has so often said himself, an idea is not fully realised until it's brought to fruition.  Steve might have created the look of Strange, but 'twas me who christened him, supplied him with his origin (significantly similar to that of Doctor Droom), scripted his sorcerous dialogue and mystic incantations - in short, his character and personality, which are all part of bringing a comicbook hero (or villain) to life for the reading public.

And there's always a chance that Steve misremembered things.  Below, in his own handwriting, he admits that just like Jack and me, he didn't have a perfect memory either.  If Steve deserves the credit of being the published Spidey's co-creator for his input into the web-spinner, then I'd say I'm entitled to be accorded the same respect for my input into the Sorcerer Supreme.  What the readers saw was the result of both of us, not just Steve on his own.  Sure, he gets full credit for the visuals and most of the plots, but dare I say there was an equal measure of magic in the scripting and characterisation?  So who created the Doctor Strange that Marveldom Assembled saw in the pages of Strange Tales  and the Doc's own mag?

Well, it would be no lie to say that we were both responsible for the finished creation.  That's just the way comic mags are usually produced.  Anyway, you'll believe what you want to, but I'm giving it to you straight, I'm not trying to hoodwink you into believing a deliberate untruth.  There are always alternative explanations to any contentious issues that are worth considering and I've presented you with one that I think is entirely reasonable.  Whether you see it that way or not is entirely up to you. 

'Nuff said!

6 comments:

McSCOTTY said...

I have to be honest and say that I have always found it a bit strange that people like Kirby, Ditko, Lee etc. don't actually really recall who created or was mostly responsible for a specific character. Surely if a company is going to the expense of putting out a new comic (or investing in a publishing a story in an already published comic) there has to be an audit trail even if just for the financial outlay. I would have thought it would have been clear if for example Steve Ditko sat down and a drawing board one day and created Dr Strange (he may have drawn lots of art pages but he didn't create 100s of characters). Surely these remembrances were nott just suddenly thought about 40 years after the characters were created (or became cash cows") this must have been credited at the time! – I am dubious of these divergent accoutns for events from certain people lol.

Kid said...

I think it's human nature when people are collaborating to a greater or lesser degree, that each person feels he is responsible for whatever it is that makes a character a success. Also, back in the day, even the writers and artists didn't regard what they were producing as great 'art', it was just a means by which they made a living. It therefore doesn't surprise me that they were simply churning them out without sparing much thought on who did what, why, or when. Look at Ditko's comment - can't even remember working on some strips, which makes me wonder why he thinks he can be so certain on others. He denied being a co-creator on Captain Action even though he designed the costume, but wanted to be regarded as the co-creator of Spider-Man because he designed the costume. You know the old saying, McS - success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.

McSCOTTY said...

A fair point Kid, but in relation to Ditko's recollection letter that was written in 2012 over 50 years after Spidey was created etc. I find it a strange way to work even for creative people who we know are all away with the bees lol.

Kid said...

In regard to myself, I usually find that, even 50 years later, I can remember what I remembered 50 years before - whereas if I didn't remember it at the time, then I certainly won't remember it now. However, I know what you're saying (I think). Maybe Ditko just couldn't be bothered answering in any detail and just took the easy way out, but if so, he shot himself in the foot when it came to regarding his more specific remembrances with any confidence.

McSCOTTY said...

YEAH I know the feeling well l Kid memory I strange . Whatever the true story on this the fact remains that Ditko, Kirby and Lee et all gave folk like us a lot of pleasure with their art. Winners all.

Kid said...

Winners all indeed! The readers certainly didn't lose out, that's for sure.



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