Disney+ released the documentary “Stan Lee” about the life of the Marvel Comics icon. While Lee claimed to be the visionary co-creator behind a large portion of the Marvel Comics canon, those claims have been repeatedly contested by both the late Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and their estates. Kirby passed away in 1994, while both Ditko and Lee passed in 2018.
A day after the documentary’s release, Jillian Kirby, Jack’s granddaughter, tweeted a statement by her father, Neal Kirby, about the film and one notable scene.
The documentary is told through archival footage, amazing miniatures by Fonco Studios, clips from film cameos, and a voiceover by Lee recorded before his passing. Given this and the title, Kriby’s son acknowledges that the project is supposed to be centered around Lee. But he wants to clear the air about some of the mythos around his contributions to Marvel.
Lee has been criticized for positioning himself as the figurehead for Marvel Comics from the 1960s until 2018. Giving him, what the statement calls “35 years of uncontested publicity,” since Jack Kirby retired in the 1980s. This gave Lee a rather large microphone to say that he co-created the majority of Marvel’s characters. While Spiderman co-creator Ditko and Fantastic Four co-creator Kirby were drowned out.
“If you were to look at a list and timeline of Marvel’s characters from 1960 through 1966, the period in which the vast majority of Marvel’s major characters were created during Lee’s tenure, you will see Lee’s name as a co-creator on every character, with the exception of the Silver Surfer, solely created by my father,” Kirby writes. “Are we to assume Lee had a hand in creating every Marvel character? Are we to assume that it was never the other co-creator that walked into Lee’s office and said, ‘Stan, I have a great idea for a character!’ According to Lee, it was always his idea.”
The statement points out “Stan Lee” spends a lot of time talking about the creation of the Fantastic Four. But only gives Kirby “one fleeting reference.” (Which isn’t fully accurate, but you can watch the doc yourself to see that.)
“Indeed, most comics historians recognize that my father based the Fantastic Four on a 1957 comic he created for DC, ‘Challengers of the Unknown,’ even naming Ben Grimm (The Thing) after his father Benjamin, and Sue Storm after my older sister Susan,” Kirby explains.
He also uses the dispute with Ditko over Spider-Man (which “Stan Lee” does dive into) as an example. Since Lee’s main argument was always that it was “his idea” therefore he “created the character.” But the statement argues that in 1501, Michaelangelo was commissioned by Opera Del Duomo to make a statue of David. While Opera Del Duomo had the idea and funded its creation, we call the piece “Michelangelo’s David,” because it was “his genius, his vision, his creativity” that created the sculpture.
“My father’s first screen credit didn’t appear until the closing crawl at the end of the film adaptation of Iron Man in 2008, after Stan Lee, Don Heck, and Larry Lieber. The battle for creator’s rights has been around since the first inscribed Babylonion tablet. It’s way past time to at least get this one chapter of literary/art history right. ‘Nuff said,” the statement concludes. ‘Nuff said is a catchphrase Lee often used to end his “Stan’s Soapbox” columns at the back of Marvel comics when he felt like he had made a solid argument.
While this statement is obviously focused on the dispute between Lee and Kirby’s respective estates, this entire situation is a symptom of a much larger issue in the entertainment industry, especially in comics. Historically speaking many creatives behind the scenes have had to fight to receive any credit for their work. In the past, comic publishers often fully owned, and sometimes destroyed original works giving no credit to the people who made them. It wasn’t until the underground comix movement of the 1960s that we started to see some recognition of the talent behind the industry. Even then it took decades worth of fighting for creators to be credited, and in some cases even compensated for their labor.
You can read Kirby’s full statement below:
“Stan Lee” is currently streaming on Disney+.