Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An article in JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR # 54 makes a good point....

In the current KIRBY COLLECTOR # 54, there's an excellent article called STAN AND STEVE AND JACK by ROBERT L. BRYANT, JR. that makes a point that myself and my BACK ISSUE brudda JERRY BOYD have made until we were both blue in the face! The subtext behind it is that the creation of Spider-Man, a throwaway character who originally appeared in the last issue of a canceled comic (AMAZING ADULT FANTASY, renamed AMAZING FANTASY, #15), was a collaboration. And that if you took out one of the three men who were key to Spider-Man's creation, it would not have been the same character (and, most likely, not a classic or success).

In short, the article details how writer STAN LEE had an idea for SPIDER-MAN (then SPIDERMAN), which may have originated as a pitch from artist JACK KIRBY. Kirby drew a few pages of a Spiderman character that did not resemble the final character in any way. Rather, this Spiderman had a generic costume and was more like Kirby's The Fly from Archie Comics. This Spiderman also had a very generic and cliche (and lame) origin: a kid with a magic ring turns into Spiderman.

Lee's instincts were sharp enough to realize that this Spiderman was not working. So he yanked the assignment away from Kirby and gave it to artist STEVE DITKO, who effin' ran with it. He designs the Spider-Man we know, who wears a full mask (unheard of) and looks like a weird creep, covered in webbing with webs hanging out of his armpits! A bizarre sci-fi back story involving an irradiated spider (straight out of one of Ditko's horror anthology pieces) was dropped into the mix. Steve was firing away on all cylinders, and then Stan added his hocus pocus to the plot and final dialogue. 'Nuff said? NO! WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

So Steve whips up this cover for AMAZING FANTASY # 15, the big debut of SPIDER-MAN. He shows it to Stan, who doesn't dig it AT ALL! And with good reason - while it might make for a good Ditko panel, it's not a great Ditko cover. For Ditko, it's a somewhat pedestrian image, and if Ditko fans are honest with themselves, they know he could have done way better. See for yourself!

Stan's instincts were tingling again. Unhappy with the Ditko cover, he re-assigns the cover to Kirby, who knocks it out of the ballpark, creating the classic cover we all know---dramatic and atmospheric----using Ditko's unique and iconic Spider-Man design. (Kirby's cover is 100,000 times better than Ditko's cover, in my opinion, even though Ditko's art is better suited for the lean, weird characters of Spider-Man and Peter Parker than Kirby's bombastic, chunky, often heavy-handed art ever was). Here's the final, classic Kirby cover of AMAZING FANTASY # 15 (which is up there with the first Superman and Batman covers in the pantheon of great superhero debut):

"So what's your point, Aushenker?" You say. "It's obvious that Ditko is the key creator here!"

NO! The answer is that Ditko, Lee and Kirby are the "key creator" here. Because if you take out any of the three's contributions to the creation of SPIDER-MAN, there's no guarantee that it would have been a legendary, game-changing moment in comics that it was.

The naysayers love to slam Stan Lee as merely the guy who filled in the dialogue after Ditko did the heavy lifting (like that machine Spider-Man struggled to lift in #33) of designing the characters and laying down the narratives. There's a whole school of comic book readers who excoriate Lee for exploiting artists such as Ditko and Kirby while he rode on their backs. But even if his camp is correct, and Lee only filled in the words after the fact; even if Lee added 15 percent to Ditko's 80 percent, it's that very collaborative makeup (plus---what---a 5 percent contribution from Kirby via his false starts and his solid cover?) that led to the creation of one of the greatest characters ever created.

I'm not a Stan Lee apologist. Nor do I rule out the possibility that perhaps Spider-Man would have been even better and more successful if Ditko alone created it. (That's up for debate, as all the characters drawn AND written by Kirby and Ditko never reached the heights of commercial success that their collaborations with Lee did). But the character we all know and love is a combination of energy and events unleashed by these three beings----Ditko, Lee and Kirby----not in thirds but in unequal measures.

(If you're following a Sara Lee recipe and you're making a cake, you can't make a cake by adding 50 percent flour and 50 percent sugar, can you? No, you'll probably add a cup or two of flour and a half a cup or a few tablespoons of sugar or whatever. But the end result of these unequal measurements of different ingredients will conspire to create one yummy cake!

The camps who take sides and try to parse the percentage of contributions by each creator on a character constantly miss the point that creativity is not a democracy. One of the creators has to have the dominant drive in order for a creation to happen. If you have two screenwriters in a room, working on a screenplay, they are not taking turns pecking a key on the keyboard. One of the writers has to be the driving force, coming up with the main idea (s) to which the other adds vital contributions. One of them has to type and write up the first draft that the other writer will react or add to. It will not work if they take turns, each one alternating to write a page, and it does not happen by each screenwriter contributing 50 percent of the energy and creativity to the work, even if they share 50 percent of the final credit on the screenplay. Screenplays are just not written this way!

History does not care about who contributed how much to the creation, only that Lee, Ditko (and, in some part, Kirby) contributed to the creation of Spider-Man. Just as history does not care who contributed what to any random Beatles song---let's pick one out of a hat----I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND!

Perhaps the only men who really care about the breakdown of who came up with what are the men involved (and their estates if there's money to be divided!). The fact that John perhaps wrote and arranged 80 percent of the song while Paul perhaps wrote and arranged 20 percent of the song (or a clean 18!) is what it took to create this song called I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND that tore up the charts in the 1960s and forever became a beloved classic! Perhaps Ringo is still upset that John and Paul never acknowledged that it was HIS idea to sing the chorus on the up note instead of on the downbeat. But to the outside world, it's a big "who cares?" Because the important message that is taken away here is that the Beatles wrote and performed this great song called I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND, which generations of people will enjoy.

Likewise, beyond the fact that Lee and Ditko (with some input from Kirby) created Spider-Man, history and the general fan only cares about the finished product, the great creation, Spider-Man, who gives them much entertainment. It's not exactly fair, but remember: creativity is not always a democracy.

No comments: