Few know Jack Kirby but many know Stan Lee. That’s because Stan put his name on all Marvel comic book stories, even though many originated from Jack or were made with Jack’s collaboration and art.
Stan used hype to establish himself as the iconic Marvel creator and writer. He cultivated a public persona of charm and creativity, controlled the comics editorial, wrote fan mail, and took credit for Marvel’s popularity and success.
In a graphic novel biography, “Jack Kirby–The Epic Life of the King of Comics” artist Tom Scioli tackles the issue that plagued Kirby’s creative life—who really created Captain America, Spiderman, The Hulk, Thor, The Black Panther, the original X-Men, and most of the Marvel Universe?
Stan never included Jack’s name as a writer nor creator of any character. Stan credited Jack only with layout but never a writer. Once, after Jack got mad, Stan put both their names as producers. But Stan was always the lone writer.
To cement the public’s perception, Stan wrote numerous books about the creation of Marvel characters and claims they all came from his imagination. But if you read Stan’s books, they all expose a lack of imagination and originality. His book on How to Draw comics lacked vigor, substance, and talent that you’ve come to expect from Marvel’s unforgettable characters. Hmmm.
Despite Stan’s hype, true comic book fans discovered the real creator of their favorite characters. Jack’s signature detailed drawings and character-driven stories are hard to hide.
Jack is a widely trained illustrator and cartoonist who can draw anything, in any style or genre. He started as a newspaper cartoonist then worked his way to copying all styles of comics. His work is undeniable. Stan told Marvel artists to copy Jack’s style but plots flopped when stories weren’t written by Jack.
History is rife with self-proclaimed geniuses who stole credit from real inventors, which is what Edison did. It’s also a given that employers push workers to sign away their rights to their creative work. Sure it’s an industry standard that all works created by an employee under the employer’s direction with the use of employer resources should belong to the employer. But the issue here with Kirby is due credit.
Jack was never recognized for any of his creations. For over 50 years, he selflessly and consistently gave his employers amazing ideas, stories, and illustrations but Jack was never mentioned as the creator, writer, or artist. Neither was he paid properly for his enormous contribution in saving the comics industry, laying the groundwork for timeless characters, and setting up Marvel for a lifetime of riches. He wrote endless stories that could keep evolving.
When Jack created Captain America, he had no idea how popular nor profitable it was. He never received any extra pay or proper credit for the Cap. Jack just kept working long nights to keep producing so he could earn enough to support his growing family.
Many creatives know the pain of being unrecognized for their work. True artists maintain high standards to achieve the integrity of their vision with their creation. It’s gut-wrenching to give up your beloved work and see it dumbed down and destroyed to please the public.
But you can’t keep a good man down. And you can’t curb an artist’s imagination.
In all my research on creative geniuses, they all possess a common trait–they are prolific creators; they can’t help but create. Jack Kirby was such a creator who just keeps coming up with unmatched ideas throughout his life! Hype can only get you so far, but comic fans know who the true comics genius is.
Kirby’s life is as rich, action-packed, and dramatic as the heroes he created. He can draw anything. Wow! I’m glad he got the due recognition he deserved. He set the groundwork for all future comics artists, saved the comics industry, and set up the Marvel company for life!
Writing and illustrating is an impossible combination. There should be just credit and amazing compensation for outstanding artists like Kirby.