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Silver Surfer #1: An Examination

“I won’t let them take another Silver Surfer away from me.” – Jack Kirby.

Silver Surfer #1 is a comic worth examining closely. It has a lot of things colliding at once. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back in Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s working relationship. The Silver Surfer series is possibly John Buscema’s finest moment. It’s Stan Lee’s first big self-conscious stab at creating something ambitious and meaningful. It’s also a good example of what Lee’s writing is like when you subtract Kirby or Ditko from the equation. There are some interesting narrative flourishes, but also a leaden storytelling instinct and deep misunderstanding of his own co-creations.

This isn’t the first time I read this comic. It’s the second. My copy is coverless and was previously owned by David Hazelwood who signed it. I wasn’t about to shell out big bucks for the comic that made Jack Kirby leave Marvel.

The Space Age was already morphing into the Age of Aquarius when “The Origin of the Silver Surfer” made its debut. It starts in the Johnson era with space race imagery. I Dream of Jeanie was in its third season when this comic was written and drawn. With movies like 1967′s The Reluctant Astronaut with Don Knotts at the low art end of the spectrum and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the high art end, space capsules and splashdowns were part of the pop culture moment.

Stan pulled out the big guns for this one. With Joe Sinnott on inks, it’s the Fantastic Four team, minus the conspicuously absent Jack Kirby.

For John Buscema, this is a star-making moment. He was a rising star at Marvel and would eventually replace Kirby when he abdicates his Marvel throne, taking over Thor and Fantastic Four as his main assignments. He also would eventually fill the Kirby role as the go-to guy for laying out stories for others to finish, basically teaching the next generation how to tell a story in pictures.

His drawings had the dynamism of Kirby, with prettier, leaner figures, and polished traditional draftsmanship. He was a good storyteller, too, with a detailed visual imagination. It was storytelling of a specific Marvel Method type. He was a professional who could fill the gaps in a Stan Lee plot, but for whatever reason lacked the desire or possibly the ability to do a comic solo. He would make one panel lead into the next with rhythm and momentum. He wasn’t the creative powerhouse Kirby was, who would create new characters as easily as breathing. He didn’t have that inventive spark, but was an excellent interpreter, Metron to Kirby’s Himon. He was able to render Kirby’s characters and worlds with great conviction. He could compose a convincing scene from any angle, but never filled the balloons. As such we’ll probably never know the extent of his storytelling abilities.

It’s possible Stan was looking for someone more pliable someone who didn’t insist on a point of view the way Kirby or Ditko did, someone who was interested in creating lush beautiful images that tell a story, any story.

The Surfer’s body as rendered by John Buscema is leaner, more idealized, more like the body of an actual surfer, with tremendous core strength and balance. A slimmer Surfer than Kirby’s graceful yet bulky space gladiator.

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Buscema hasn’t yet deviated from Kirby’s Surfer design in terms of signifiers. No ears, no hair, the neck is thick. There’s great torsion on the pose. He’s sideways, rather than the straight up and down of the (missing) cover. “One of comicdom’s greatest collaborations.”

The northern lights spell out “S.” The colorist went to town on rendering the logo in silver. If not for the dot screen, I would’ve thought David Hazelwood did it himself with a blue magic marker. The colorist made up the time lost on the logo by dropping a sheet of yellow and blue on Joe Sinnott’s impeccably rendered background.

Stranger in a Strange Land is obviously a touchstone. Can you grok that? Stan Lee is doing his delightfully purple prose thing with “O’er” and “Seeker of truth.” The setup in the Fantastic Four comic said that the Surfer was confined to roam the Earth, yearning for the freedom of celestial space and learning what it is to be human. It’s a good setup, but it’s not set in stone. Why NOT let him roam the universe. Why restrict him? It took until 1987 for that to happen with Marshall Rogers and Steve Engelhart’s Silver Surfer relaunch. That was Engelhart’s stated purpose, to get the Surfer into space where he belongs.

The late sixties Marvel’s Universe (the worlds beyond earth) was not as defined and populated as it is now after decades of post-Star Trek, then post-Star Wars superhero stories. He could meet the Skrulls. He could go to the Blue Area of the Moon. He could go to Asgard (which he does by issue 4), but then what?

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The story begins. “The Origin of the Silver Surfer”  is a 38-page story, huge compared to the 20 page standard at this time. Already we’re getting 4-panel pages, a sure sign of vamping. Unfortunately the extra pages here means there’s more space to fill, rather than a broader canvas on which to create a richer story. It’s a really nicely drawn comic. Black spotting on the first two panels is complementary. The closeup is nicely rendered. It starts out with the setup of a space age comedy, like I Dream of Jeanie, the return of a space capsule. The sci-fi dialogue (monologue) whiffs of Stranger in a Strange Land and Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. I wish these cosmic moments were a little more magical, wondrous and quite frankly black light poster worthy.

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Convincing illusion of depth on the beautiful half-splash. ( That’s how an original art dealer would describe it to justify a higher price). Nicely executed drawing of Vietnam era aircraft and naval power. This must be in the Gulf of Tonkin. The figure overlaps the panel border. Big area of black on the ocean. This is an engagingly well-crafted page of comics art.

“I saw a guy on a flying surfboard and I said, ’Who’s this?’ Jack said that Galactus ought to have a herald who flies ahead of him, and I thought it was a wonderful idea. I loved the way Jack drew him, and I thought there was something so noble about him that I’d decided I’d get a lot of philosophy in there, letting him deliver remarks about the condition of life on Earth and how we don’t appreciate this Garden of Eden we live in.” – Stan Lee

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Why did Stan choose to characterize The Silver Surfer like The Hulk and Spider-Man? Was this after someone explained to him that the kids identify with the outsider status of the Marvel characters. The Surfer is misunderstood and hunted. The Marvel formula REALLY feels like a formula here. I understand why they’d react like this to the rampaging monstrous Hulk, or the nerd in a creepy fetish costume, Spider-Man. This makes no sense (no fairy tale sense at least) with the Surfer. He’s handsome, divine, otherworldly, luminous, angelic and charismatic — the same things that attracted Stan to this character the first time Kirby showed it to him, the nobility in Kirby’s drawings. He forgot this when it came time to craft a story for the Surfer. He wouldn’t be chased, feared and hated. He’s too good-looking for that. He’d be revered and worshipped. He’d be a celebrity. I could understand people harassing him looking for miracles, cures and answers to their problems. He’d be overwhelmed by fans. I don’t understand why he’d be universally hated and distrusted.

Stan’s empty political commentary offends no one and enlightens no one. It’s just vague enough to suggest importance while being utterly meaningless. Nothing deep, just topical. Nice tall panel. The coloring approaches psychedelia, but doesn’t quite get there.

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“Meaningless mouthings of petty pedagogues” if that’s how you really feel, lets get rid of all these dialogue balloons.

John Buscema never wrote a comic entirely himself as far as I can tell.  I wonder if he wanted to? Ditko and Kirby craved proof of authorship and sought it out by doing projects alone and elsewhere. Silver Surfer #1 is evidence towards the argument that Stan Lee really did view his job as filling the dialogue balloons. If the pictures weren’t there it would be poetry. Bad poetry. He just couldn’t understand the picture-dominant magic of comics. How flowery are the words? That’s his measure of quality. At the time of this comic, the late ’60s, songwriters like Harry Nilsson and Brian Wilson were referred to as the new poets, so Stan’s approach was appropriately of-the-moment, but there was more ’50s Beat poetry coming from the 45-year-old than 60s ‘Dylanesque songsmithing. The prior decade’s beat poetry is a cultural reference that Stan understood.

Rock ‘n roll by this time had become a respectable form of expression among the younger generation. Stan, aware of it or not, was at the center of comics getting there, too. To Stan at the time, poetry is the respected form, not comics, so he makes poetry. When Pop Art was big, he made Pop Art. Anything but comics.

Kirby viewed the Surfer as a rebellious angel, an Old Testament figure. Something out of Byronic epic poetry. Stan viewed him as Jesus. This comic is a few years earlier than Jesus Christ Superstar, but the Jesus Movement was a visible element within the hippie counterculture. Stan wanted his comics to be topical, and Jesus was suitably of-the-moment. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Roy Thomas all did their take on the Jesus story: Roy with Warlock, Jack with Mister Miracle, Stan with Silver Surfer #1. I can imagine the thought process, “We’re making a comic about a superhero version of Jesus, what did Jesus do?” Angels did battle with demons. That translates easily enough into comics. What about Jesus? He didn’t wrestle lions or slay giants. He gave sermons. He suffered and underwent torture by the government. So that’s what the happens to the Surfer, a lot of sermonizing and suffering. It’s about as much fun as it sounds. Perhaps if the Surfer found a following to preach to this might’ve led somewhere, but the Surfer spends this comic preaching to himself.

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Buscema draws Silver Surfer’s fingers Kirby style for the first and last time. They’re blunt and blocky. He’s still figuring out what parts of the design to jettison and what to keep.

I cringe at the mention of Norrin Radd or Shalla Bal. Any writer who does a Silver Surfer comic without referencing those names gets an automatic pass from me. It’s an unnecessary bit of baggage tacked on to an otherwise elemental character.

The Surfer’s design is interesting. Kirby does some of the most ornate character designs and some of the simplest. The Surfer is the starting point of all Kirby’s characters. A basic figure with no specific detail (other than genital-covering shorts).

“As though the human race has been divinely favored” This is related to the noxiously popular idea that God put a protective shield around America for being so darned awesome. It’s our game to lose. If we step out of line, poof it goes down.

He gives sermons and he suffers. He’s Casper the Friendly Ghost all grown up. “Why doesn’t anybody like me?”

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Finally some actual cosmic art. Buscema hasn’t yet mastered the use of Kirby Crackle. It’s thrown around arbitrarily. What’s that bit of squiggle? Testing out a new pen? Zazzle?

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Okay, finally some sci-fi. Why couldn’t the Surfer explore a planet like this in the here and now, rather than remebering a planet like this in a flashback?

The Surfer is the first Wolverine, the first Boba Fett, the first Snake Eyes. He was the mystery character with no story of his own, who fans couldn’t wait to see more of. The hidden identity makes them reader identification characters. They could be anybody, even you! The more you know about these characters the less you like them. We learn that lesson HARD in this comic. But with these kinds of characters we demand to know. Whether you want to or not, someday the whole story will be told. When it comes time to tell it, it’d better be good.

According to this comic, the 18th one to feature the character, this being made of cosmic energy who didn’t even know what food was, started out as a normal dude, a normal dude from another planet, but a dude nonetheless. He’s bald. He’s got ears and eyeballs, but other than that he’s the same as the Surfer but fleshy instead of made of luminous metal. Imagine that with other mystery characters. Okay, Wolverine IS like that, the same sillhouette, the same look with or without the costume, but imagine Boba Fett or Snake Eyes like that.

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Lee’s Zenn-La is post WW2 America, New York, Manhattan. An urban paradise made possible by the suffering of nomads and warriors of a bygone era. The Surfer is complaining about how great his world is. It’s too perfect. Is there anything this guy won’t complain about?  Isn’t this the definition of depression? No matter how good things are  you still feel miserable. Peter Parker complains because his life with his domestic partner, his terminally-ill aunt, is indeed a shitty life. This guy complaining because everything’s great is something else altogether.

There’s an ad in this comic for its companion magazine, Spectacular Spider-Man, another longer, more serious crack at expanding the publishing line. It seems short-sighted for a publisher to have a line of books that MUST connect, and must not have conflicting continuity with other books. Would any other publisher (okay DC) deliberately cripple themselves like that?

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“Use of our once-proud limbs affords us no pleasure.” As Neil Gaiman famously learned from Karen Berger, there is no masturbation in the DC universe. Apparently that’s true in the Marvel Universe, too.

The invention of the conveyor belt, signals the beginning of the end of civilization. This utopia, nicely-drawn and hi-tech, isn’t very different than the one in Brave New World, the model for too-perfect futures, from which Stan is cribbing. Is he trying to appeal to suburban teen malaise or are these his real heartfelt musings?

Marvel was more sophisticated and mature than their competition because it’s juvenile rather than infantile. Norrin Radd. Is it just random syllables or does it mean something? Norrin sounds weak and dorky, like the go-to MAD name Melvin. Melvin Boguss? (“Boguss” being opposite of “Radd”) Radical. Norbert. NoWin? Orrin? If you ask Stan 5 times what the meaning of that name is, he’d give you 5 different answers.

This is a good demonstration of why it’s easier to make a comic based on a Norse deity like Thor rather than a Judeo-Christian deity, like the Surfer is modeled on. Lee seems to have forgotten the inherent playfulness of surf culture as a symbol for godhead. (Kirby pushed this absurd dichotomy as far as possible with the grimly absurd Vietnam-Vet-God-of-Death-on-Skis, the Black Racer). The mythology of surfing, as popularized in the documentary Endless Summer is that they are seekers. Of truth? Of fleeting pleasure riding the power of nature?

Lee’s other big attempt at making something important, his screenplay “The Monster Maker”, as referenced in Spurgeon and Raphael’s Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, had similar bromides.

“We deserve no pity for we have done this to ourselves.”

“Turning your back on commercialism in order to say something that must be said.”

Again, Stan viewed The Surfer as the possible vessel for his artistic legitimacy. For years he didn’t let anyone else write the character. His first attempt at an ambitious graphic novel was the Silver Surfer Simon and Schuster book he did with Jack Kirby. Lee refers to Silver Surfer in his treatment for the Silver Surfer movie as “the ultimate honky.” Lee’s Surfer is bland, bereft of comic book 20th century flamboyance. The character’s connection to pop culture is not via comics. It’s via surfing , maybe via the pop music of The Beach Boys, who were slightly less threatening than the Beatles, who by this point had shoulder-length hair and beards.

The story goes to a romanticized barbarian past. With barbarian fiction, I wonder to what extent writers believed in it as an actual historical thing. We see muscular cavemen fighting a dinosaur. Then techno barbarians, then illuminated manuscripts. Is Norrin a violent dude who misses the good old days?

The Space Age ended as abruptly as it began. Stan was talking about the age he lived in, but the age Norrin lives in is more like today than like the ’60s. Old Norrin and the Surfer both desire space travel, but are trapped by circumstance, though his appearances in Fantastic Four imply that he was born and raised in celestial space, and knows nothing else.

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We’re back in the present day where he fights a Yeti, who grabs Surfer by the head and throws him around. We are only a few pages into this new comic and already it feels like it’s killing time. This is a white character fighting a white opponent against a white background. It’s the old joke of drawing a picture of the Invisible Man fighting the abominable snowman in a blizzard.

We’re settling into the late ’60s Marvel Formula: Wander, Ponder, Fight. Non-super supporting characters are pushed to the periphery. The formula set in motion in Silver Surfer #1 lasted the next 20 years. It lasted until the Jim Shooter era.

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Every time you think the story is ready to get rolling, it’s revealed as a false start. What this comic really needs is a cast of characters. Stan’s avowed dislike of sidekicks is a burden. The Surfer could’ve used someone to talk to. The Surfer is commenting on situations, but so far hasn’t gotten into any situations worth commenting on. A big part of writing is getting your characters into a room together. So far Stan and John haven’t been able to get everybody together for actual drama to unfold.

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The Surfer is extricated from his supporting cast, the Fantastic Four. We get more flashbacks. Chances are you don’t have the other comics, but do readers really need to know about his tussle with the Hulk to understand this story?

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Nobody draws villains lounging in a chair like John Buscema. The slouch here is not as grand as the Loki slouch in Silver Surfer #4 or the Mephisto slouch in issue three, but it’s quite good.

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Here’s a recap of the Fantastic Four’s finest moment, when Doctor Doom swiped the Surfer’s cosmic mojo. There’s a slight dutch angle, but otherwise it’s a straight cover of the Kirby version. Oddly, the tilt makes the moment a little less momentous. The Kirby version has more force. A gate to somewhere. Might this story finally get started on page 16? This is a double-album bloated prog rock comic. All self-important bluster and virtuosic technical chops, but no heartbeat, no life, no pulse. Stan and John are unwilling to get down and dirty in the real trenches of storytelling.

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The closeups are nice. Typically they are an opportunity to get a glimpse of a character’s internal life, but this comic is ALL internal life.

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Here are some beautiful mythic ruins, but again, they are empty. We spend this comic alone with the Surfer and his sophomoric musings. This scene echoes the empty enterprise of the comic as a whole.

Spinoffs have an inherently sad quality. You take a character away from his friends and family, the familiar surroundings of home. This is Joey with all his Friends gone. This is The Jeffersons leaving their family and neighbors from All in the Family, to live in the hermetically-sealed alienation of a deluxe apartment in the sky, what looks like an old-age home, with only their paid help to keep them company.

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“Now all that remains is crumbling rubble– and the dismal sight of slow decay!” Stan, Marvel, comics, New York, America, civilization. We’re watching a one-man show. Silver Surfer is a Spalding Gray-style monologist. Marvel’s greatest asset was the large cast of characters to choose from, but here there’s no sign of them except in flashback. The house ad for Not Brand Echh shows us the whole gang. The self-parody of NBE is a sign that the Marvel Age as past its prime. Norrin has the same rug from Nick Fury’s swinging bachelor pad. “Zenn-La.” How come you never mentioned this before, Surfer? “Shalla Bal.” So another member of the cast shows up only in flashback. We’re 17 pages in to this story, and nothing has happened. The problem with the eternal present of the Marvel Universe is that it forces this story to be told in flashback, robbing it of any immediacy it might’ve had.

He’s a wanderer unhappy at home. Would Norrin have CREATED a planetary disaster if one hadn’t presented itself?

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3-d printers. The Earth we live in has reached the state of Zenn-La (only a slightly better name than Cobra-La. Adding “La” to the end of a place name is absurd. It doesn’t cojure up images of Lost Horizon’s hidden city of Shangri-La, but rather Fred Flintstone’s Shangri-La-Dee-Da). If Norrin explored his world a little more, he might’ve found fuel wars and slave mines that sustain his urban paradise. If this truly is a paradise without flaw, without a secret price being paid by an invisible underclass, then Norrin Radd is an asshole.

“Governed by computers” This IS us. “Mine is a lost and lonely voice– and there are none to listen!” Self-pity ill-becomes an action hero. The Surfer does not say, “I wondered lonely as a cloud,” but if he did I wouldn’t be surprised. The Silver Surfer Graphic Novel has a similar narrative emptiness to it, at least in the opening retelling of “The Coming of Galactus.” Fantastic Four 48-50 with no Fantastic Four means there’s no story. No characters to plead Earth’s case to the Surfer to bring about his turn away from Galactus. It’s too direct.

Has Norrin wished this doom into being with one of Zenn-La’s thought-machines? At least issue 1 has the origin to tell. The rest of the series doesn’t even have that. It becomes intolerably boring. Kirby knew how to fill up a comic with characters, with purpose. Stan knew how to fill one up with words.

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“The computers fail. Employ the weapon supreme.” Planets are hurled from orbit like billiard balls. Self-destructed.

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Ditkoesque psychedelia. More 4-panel grids means more space-filling.

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The eyes look creepy. Ill-placed.

Maybe Stan felt his career was like this. He achieved everything he wanted and it was too easy. Think of Kirby’s 26 and 24-page epics for New Gods, bursting with ideas and story, none of the bloat we see here. Kirby still had something to prove. He was trying to build an empire to match the one he made for Marvel.

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The 3-d printer makes a ship. Norrin Radd, Last of the Suicidal Zenn-Lads.

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The story finally gets interesting as Norrin is humbled before Marvel’s God, the Big G. The world is being “ravished” by Galactus. Gross.

Norrin found his perfect companion, someone as verbose and self-pitying as he is. He makes his deal. This is the end of the Surfer’s Hero’s Journey. His story in Fantastic Four is now rendered moot. The rest of the Silver Surfer series is moot, too, all denouement. Where does your story go when your hero completes his journey in the first issue, in flashback.

This comic was way worse than I remember it being.

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We get the awesome, black light worthy art we’ve been waiting for. As it turns out, the Silver Surfer is not a being of energy. He’s just some dude with a silvery glaze.

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“I cannot summon Galactus here, where life abounds!” Two panels later the Silver Surfer serves up Earth on a platter to Galactus. If something happened between those two panels that made Surfer suddenly forget the value of life, you probably should’ve told us about it. That’s an important piece of story information, unlike the gratuitous flashbacks that make up the bulk of this 38-page story. Then we get flashbacks to the Surfer’s first Fantastic Four appearance. It would’ve been better to just ignore his previous adventures in Fantastic Four. To remind us of it rubs SS#1′s lack of narrative logic in our faces. He’s going on a  duplicate hero’s journey? Learning a lesson he already learned? This makes no sense. Like Alien 3, this comic retroactively diminishes an earlier better work.

In Silver Surfer #4′s letter column, Evan Katten addresses the inconsistencies of “The Origin of the Silver Surfer.” In the course of the letter he casually, and seemingly unknowingly, justifies each and every one. This is the crowdsourcing of Marvel’s mythology that Stan the Editor encouraged in his letter columns and Bullpen Bulletins. Katten gives a chronicle of SS’s life thus far and he irons our the paradoxes and narrative lapses. According to the letter writer, between page 36 panel five and page 37 panel one, Galactus’s hold on the Surfer has increased so much that he gave him temporary amnesia, which wore off when Galactus removed some of the Surfer’s cosmic power after his rebellion at the end of “The Coming of Galactus.” The letter is printed without comment.

When I’d read this comic for the first time a year ago, I enjoyed it, until page 37. The way it connects to the Silver Surfer’s other appearances is so instantly obviously contradictory, it retroactively kills the character. That naive wanderer I’d been reading about who’s learning what it’s like to be human. He was human all along. He was just playing dumb. Or suffering from amnesia.

Norrin Radd sacrifices all for Zenn-La. A less charitable way to describe it is a suicidal man decides to kill himself in a way that benefits others. Next he sacrifices himself for Earth. His story is over.

Instead of ignoring this blip, this momentary lapse of logic, it haunts every appearance of this character across all media, the cartoons, the movie all still crowbar references to Norrin Radd, Shalla Bal, Zenn-La. Forget it. Ignore it. Let this character, maybe Kirby’s best creation, be what it is and not what Stan Lee spray-painted over it in a moment of blather. There’s probably a larger point to be made about sprawling superhero mythologies and the way they stifle storytelling, but that’s beyond the scope of this investigation.

It’s 38 pages. Two more and it’s a Marvel Graphic Novel…and nothing happened. This was Stan’s big moment without Kirby, without Ditko and he had nothing to say.

On his Bullpen Bulletin’s page, Stan heralds this comic in his famous hyperbolic huckster style, “Silver Surfer #1, featuring the longest, greatest origin tale you’ve ever read!”  “Longest” is right. This comic is filled out by a Watcher tale by Stan Lee and Gene Colan.

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This story has convincing space scenes.

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Cosmic obliteration. Stan does better with limited space. This Watcher tale says more, looks great and gets more done in its 13 pages than the main story does in its 38. “The Origin of the Silver Surfer” won the 1968 Alley Award for “Best Full-Length Story.”

Norrin Radd lives on a perfect world, but is unhappy. That’s called depression. This is a depressing comic. I’ve read depressing comics that I’ve gotten a lot out of. This is a depressing comic without insight. The most depressing comic of the rapidly tarnishing Silver Age.

This comic is so empty, hollow and depressing that I had to include a better entry in the series, Silver Surfer #4, in my reread to keep things from getting too bleak.

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Silver Surfer #4 is certainly closer to Buscema’s interests with its Viking halls. Buscema’s Hal Foster influence gets to shine. Inked by brother Sal, there are some great panels, nice art, with a broad lively cast.

Silver Surfer #4 is a much better comic, but every bit as narratively empty as Silver Surfer #1. It’s better because it leans on the rich cast and setting from Lee and Kirby’s Thor comic. It’s John Buscema at his very best. Stan yelled at him about what a turd Silver Surfer #4 was, but that was probably a result of his frustration as a writer unable to make anything happen narratively without a writer/cartoonist collaborator like Ditko or Kirby. Stan later, and repeatedly, apologized and reversed his opinion to the extreme, calling Silver Surfer #4 the best comic Marvel ever produced. It’s a contender, but only because of a near-superhuman display of virtuosic drawing technique on the part of the Buscema brothers. Personal acrimony with his co-creators probably taints other Lee favorites like “This Man…This Monster.” Storywise it’s the barest example of the Marvel formula. It also contains Marvel’s best black light poster image.

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Narratively this scene is slightly more satisfying than similar Surfer sermons in SS#1, because he has an audience to preach to. He has an audience comprised of animals, like another Marvel Comics character, Saint Francis, Brother of the Universe.

Silver Surfer #4 might be Stan’s best non-Kirby, non-Ditko comic and it’s not without myriad Kirby lifts. Thor’s world is Kirby’s world.  Stan is a verbal embellisher, his role similar to Joe Sinnott: take Kirby and burnish until it gleams. But it’s still just a layer of polish over something already great. The Silver Surfer takes a tour through the most visually defined stop in the Marvel Universe. Where do you go from there, when you’re out of ideas?

All the false starts to the Silver Surfer #1′s story is what Marvel has largely been ever since: self-conscious, overly serious, joyless melodrama, the psychedelic trappings standing in contrast to the bland unstory pantomime.

Reading this comic this closely was a draining experience. I went head-to-head with Stan Lee and he won. I did battle with this comic and came out of the experience scarred and battered.

I met Stan once and at 90 years young he has an overwhelming charisma and energy. Of course Stan in his prime would dance rings around me. You beat me, Silver Surfer #1.

Does it say something about comics that its best-known practitioner doesn’t know how to draw? There’s a self-consciousness that pollutes modern superhero comics, hell, modern comics in general. We have a much better understanding of the history and potential of comics. Nobody today goes into it by accident. We all want to make great work. When you set out to make a great comic, or rather, an important comic, that’s when you clam up.

It’s hard to fault anyone for making an empty crappy monthly comic. If by 1968 Stan was burnt out, who could blame him? But Silver Surfer #1 wasn’t the result of burnout. This was his attempt at something important, his big statement. This is him doing what he does with full control and full confidence. It is empty as a tomb.

My copy of the comic came apart during this reading of it. Pages cracked and came loose from their staples. Jack has cited the way the Surfer was taken away from him as one of the contributing factors to his leaving the company he’d built up. The Fall of the House of Ideas.

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130 Responses to Silver Surfer #1: An Examination

  1. Tim says:

    Great analysis of both the art and the writing. I remember even as a kid I felt Lee totally ruined Moebius’ take on the Silver Surfer, the art was flawless but the story was so clumsy it gave me a headache everytime i read it … probably the worst script Moebius ever had to work with, wish they had let him write it as well.

    • Zack says:

      I remember seeing an interview with Jodorowsky talking about that comic; he said (i’m paraphrasing to the best of my ability)”American superhero comics, they have muscles, but no dick.” I can’t help but always think of that as I read or reread stories like this one. The Moebius Silver Surfer is definitely a hard read (and sell, from what I have heard). At one end, for Marvel fans, the art was too much, the Moebius approach to comics wasn’t what they were used to, and it wasn’t what they liked; to a European or arthouse audience, the story was absolutely hollow, much like Mr Scioli just demonstrated to us, and Moebius fans were left wanting something truly cosmic.

      I believe you are either a Stan Lee fan, or you are not. There are rabid Lee followers who trust in everything he has done, trust every exasperatingly orated motivation to his work, and who generally will go down with the Marvel ship still trying to convince you it never had a leak in the first place. This isn’t to say that Stan Lee has ever done bad work (not in malice, at least).

      • Tim says:

        I don’t think it’s about loving or hating Stan Lee here, it’s just his idea of the Silver Surfer doesn’t work that well (see the article above). Since it came out end of the 80s, it always seemed to me the Moebius collaboration was Lee’s attempt to write his Watchmen, but unlike Alan Moore or Frank Miller at the time, he just didn’t have anything significant to say. The book is a real oddity, like Steven Spielberg trying to write a script for Ingmar Bergman … or Ang Lee directing The Hulk! As you explained, something *everyone* would be unhappy with.

      • Zack says:

        exactly, yes, I agree, but I guess I didn’t totally flesh out my thoughts. I also believe that he has so many fans of his work that it’s also very easy to give him a pass –much like Spielberg or Ang Lee. fans let things slide pretty regularly, and I wonder how much Stan Lee reads about himself (I’m willing to bet a lot), or actually takes any of his criticism as constructive. He obviously has a career path that he has chosen, and he has done some wonderful things to promote comics as a medium, but I just don’t think any of it is really interesting to me.his poetics are half-hearted, and he is a guy that, unlike Moore or Jodorowsky, is either afraid, unwilling, or unable to alienate his audience or go the entire way. I always make the argument about X-Men; he very often talk about the origins of the X-Men and how it was about civil rights, and whatever. you know what though, Stan? why was every X-Men white? why were you interested in tackling a subject as culturally relevant as civil rights and then leave out probably the most important facet of that movement? how long was it until the X-Men got a character that wasn’t white?

    • Allen Smith says:

      Yep, agree totally. A beautifully drawn book with no solid inner core behind the writing. Or, if there was a core, it consisted of banalities.

  2. Jerry Orbach says:

    Really enjoyable analysis.

    You may be overthinking the name, though. Norrin Radd sounds like NORAD. We’re probably lucky Stan didn’t call him Ace Capsul.

  3. Akilles says:

    I like both takes on Surfer, though Lees dialogue IS a bit wonky.

    They should`ve separated Surfer to two characters, I`m thinking.

  4. I only read Lee-Buscema’s Surfer for the first time a couple of years ago, via the ‘Essential’ tome. I admit reading the dialogue was something of a slog, and the Surfer as a character was so morose it could get to my nerves at times. But Buscema’s artwork is so lovely in this series that it mostly made up for its shortcomings. It’s my favorite Buscema, with the exception of his Alcala-inked stuff on Conan.

    Still, if I recall correctly, the series would pick up steam whenever Mephisto would show up. Which kind of make sense. If The Surfer is the Christ figure, then having a stand-in for the tempting devil is gonna be much more interesting than having him fight, I dunno, a cyborg flying dutchman (true story!).

    If not wholly satisfying, it is at least kind of fascinating to read Lee trying to earnestly make his grand statement, for once truly being the authorial force behind the book. When he had Kirby or Ditko to rely on, he could kind of take a step back and play it cool with his pseudo-hip dialogue, letting them take the heavy lifting of the plot. Of course, that he took the Surfer away from Kirby in order to do so was a true dick move. And the fact that he actually believed he could pull it off makes me think that it was around this point that he started drinking his own kool-aid.

    Anyway, Tom, I’ve been enjoying your posts at Comics Alliance. It’s great to find you here too!

  5. patrick ford says:

    Lee has always claimed the Surfer was special to him in some way. In my opinion his special interest in the character, as well as distancing the character from Kirby was far more likely motivated by business interests. Lee had explicitly credited Kirby as surprising him with the character. This was confirmed by Roy Thomas who said he was with Lee when the envelope containing Kirby’s pages was opened.

    • Kirby had taken over the Surfer book and completed one issue before quitting Marvel in 1970. And why would Lee have had Kirby draw that 1978 graphic novel if what you say was true?

      Also, when did Lee first publicly credit Kirby with being the creator of the Surfer? Son of Origins of Marvel Comics? That’s 1975, seven years after the Buscema series debuted.

      You are in such a rush to ascribe corrupt motives to Lee and so on that you never think any of this out.

      • Steve_D says:

        As just about any in-depth biographical sketch of Jack Kirby will attest, he was a long-suffering *working* artist who endure the slings and arrows of outrageous idiocy if it kept the checks rolling in and provided for his family. His displeasure with Marvel’s business practices and Stan Lee’s creative collaboration by the late ’60s / 1970 is well documented. It was a big deal for him to abandon the relative security of Marvel and strike out on his own again.

        So why did Kirby agree to pencil SILVER SURFER #18? It was a paycheck, but it was also a chance to “fix” the character Lee had broken. SURFER #18 was touted as a change in direction for the under-performing book, and in it, the character explicitly rejects the morose, introspective, pacifist attitude he displayed in preceding issues — he was transformed into a more angry and active character who would’ve been marketed as “The Savage Silver Surfer” if it hadn’t been too little, too late. (The book was cancelled before the new direction took hold.)

        Why did Kirby take on the 1978 Silver Surfer graphic novel? His stint at DC had fizzled out disappointingly and he needed work. Lee had made efforts to make peace and woo Jack back to Marvel and was willing to let Jack set some new conditions. And finally, Kirby possibly saw this as a chance to regain some control of the Surfer and to redefine his working relationship with Stan — it’s claimed that Jack insisted on sharing copyright for the work and that Stan provide a full script, with Jack free to provide changes approved by Lee. (It’s perhaps significant that this was also the LAST Lee/Kirby collaboration during Jack’s lifetime.)

        Finally, what makes you think Son of Origins was the first place Stan acknowledged Jack’s invention of the Surfer? Lee had been doing the interview and college lecture circuit for at least a decade by the time that book came out, and the story about Jack’s insertion of the Surfer into the story was a well-worn and oft-told tale in his war-chest of anecdotes.

      • patrick ford says:

        In a round-a-bout way I ran across this on the Internet the other day. It’s close to the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and utterly typical of the way Lee’s Loyal Legion goes to any length to explain why it’s always “the other guy” who is at fault.
        http://kidr77.blogspot.com/2011/12/moebius-at-marvela-rueful-reflection-on.html

      • “Relative security”? Kirby was making the equivalent today of roughly $200,000 a year working for Marvel in the ’60s.

        My understanding is that he was making even more than that working for DC during the first half of the 1970s. His 1975 Marvel contract was worth the equivalent today of around $250,000 per year.

        Kirby was working for Marvel under that contract when he drew the 1978 Silver Surfer book. If he sought copyright, it’s news to me, and Marvel wouldn’t have granted it. And before someone points to the notice saying it was copyrighted to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the inside of the book, that was an error on the part of Simon & Schuster’s typesetter and does not reflect the copyright status of the book.

        Can you document where Lee has made that statement about the Surfer’s creation before Son of Origins? Is there any article, interview, or public appearance you can cite?

      • patrick ford says:

        Lee first commented about Kirby placing the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four in a 1968 interview with Ted White.
        Where did you get your information the copyright notice in the SILVER SURFER book is a typo made by the publisher?

      • I was told that by a former Marvel staffer. But I just did a check with the copyright office, and their records say it is copyright Lee and Kirby. Curious. It’s hard to believe Marvel would allow that. Have they ever done that with one of their trademarked characters aside from this?

        Oh, and Patrick, I’m still waiting for the citations on those interviews in which you claim Kirby said he pitched the early ’60s characters with presentation pieces. Thanks.

      • Also, since Kirby was permitted to co-own the copyright on that book, I think that throws an even bigger wrench into your hypothesis that Lee–and I assume Marvel–sought to distance Kirby from the character for business reasons.

      • patrick ford says:

        Yeah, I knew Kirby had a share of the copyright. Thanks for disclosing your source is someone from Marvel’s staff. So who are these people at Marvel feeding you information?
        The copyright is for the story itself not the Galactus and Silver Surfer characters.
        Kirby (now the heirs) would have a share of the copyright on the character Kirby called The Devils Advocate and Ardina the two new characters introduced in that story.
        Kirby made numerous claims that he created the characters. Check the 1969 interview with Mark Borax. It’s well known Kirby used presentation art to sell new characters. As I mentioned previously Jim Shooter commented on the presentation art for Spider-Man. I’ve also posted other Kirby presentation pieces in the past. The include characters published by Marvel as well as characters Kirby showed Marvel but later sold to DC and Topps.

      • Tim says:

        haha great link Patrick … can’t believe anyone would blame it on Moebius’ incompetence and lacking skills in layout and lettering the pages are overcrowded with speech bubbles. Also, that comment denouncing the art as ‘capricious’ and a ‘feminine fantasy’ is a real highlight.

      • patrick ford says:

        Lee distanced Kirby from the character in the ’60s. By the time of the graphic novel they had two different agreements with Kirby where he assigned any rights he might have to the characters to Marvel. So by the time of the graphic novel they were probably comfortable with those agreements. Now if you want you could point out to me Kirby worked on the last issue of the Silver Surfer in 1970.
        My opinion remains the same. I feel the reason Lee went to such a degree to make the Surfer “his,” and his odd protective attitude towards the character had something to do with Lee explicitly stating Kirby not only created the character, but it was a character which completely surprised him. Even though Lee acknowledged that, he claimed, and continues to claim, Kirby’s Surfer was nothing more than window dressing until Lee decided to give Kirby’s “extra” a speaking part. This story of Lee’s is countered by the fact the “Galactus Trilogy” is the story of Galactus and the Surfer. The Surfer as “fallen angel” was the nexus of Kirby story.

      • patrick ford says:

        Tim, This bit is priceless:

        “Clearly Moebius’s main mistake is in thinking that a story exists
        for the purpose of reflecting the artist’s personality. I’m not interested in
        Moebius’s personality (or that of any other writer or artist, come to that).
        At least, it’s not my primary concern when I buy a comic, book, or DVD.
        I bought Parable because I’m interested in the Silver Surfer, not Moebius.”

        Too funny:

        “I bought Parable because I’m interested in the Silver Surfer, not Moebius.”

      • I have several contacts at Marvel—creators and staffers—who have been very helpful with the one Jim Shooter article that’s been posted thus far, and the others I’m working on. The person in question is one of them.

        I know Kirby has claimed to have created the characters at various points.

        Does Kirby tell Borax that he pitched the early ‘60s characters with presentation art? I’m guessing he didn’t, but if he did, please provide publication info, and while you’re at it, the relevant quotes would be nice as well. Those about the presentation art for the early 60s characters, that is.

        Yes, Kirby did presentation pieces for a redesigned Captain America and Thor, and the New Gods characters. However, that’s the latter half of the 1960s. The Topps material I believe were proposed animation characters from the 1980s where that was the requested format.

        As for characters published by Marvel, is there anything extant before that one with the Hulk villain from 1966?

        The Shooter anecdote about a page of “design drawings” for the rejected Spider-Man is not definitive. Given his memory issues and the fact he was recalling something that occurred over 40 years previous, it shouldn’t be relied on completely without corroboration, and there is none. That said, I do believe he did see art for the rejected Spider-Man by Kirby, I’m just not going to go so far as to say that his account backs up your little fixation. I still think he could have very well have seen a story page, and that’s what he’s recalling.

        Also, Kirby producing a presentation piece for a new character does not mean that there was no discussion with Lee beforehand. You don’t know one way or the other, and don’t claim you do. There’s a difference between knowing and guessing.

        I’ve gone over most of this with you elsewhere on the site over the last day or so. It feels like we’re going around in circles. Are you going to start in with Neal and Susan Kirby’s depositions again, too, or are we please past those for good now?

      • patrick ford says:

        So who are these Marvel staff feeding you information? What’s the big secret?

        The Shooter quote is not definitive? Here’s what he said.

        SHOOTER: “RE: Kirby Spider-Man pages: I saw, and held in my hand, exactly one such page. It was a page of design drawings. I remember that his version of Spider-Man had a “Web-Gun” and wore trunks, I think, like Captain America’s. He was far bigger and bulkier than Ditko’s version. There were no similarities to Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. I think he had boots with flaps. There were notes in he margin that described the character, again, nothing like the Ditko version. I think there was something about him being related to, or having some connection with a police official, which was how he’d find out about trouble going on. It was a long time ago, I can’t swear to that last item, but I can swear to the fact that it wasn’t similar to the Ditko version. I remember thinking, “This isn’t at all like Ditko’s.”

      • patrick ford says:

        As you are getting information from Marvel staff (or former Marvel staff) can you say how many there are supplying you with information? You say there are several. Is that three, five, nine? Did any of these people work at Marvel in the ’60s? You say Jim Shooter’s memory is not reliable. Is it your opinion the memories of these Marvel staffers are reliable? It must be very exciting for you to have Marvel staff supplying you information for your articles.
        I have to ask though. Isn’t it a problem that you are writing articles based on information from “several Marvel staffers” whose identities are not revealed? Are these people fair and balanced or do they have an agenda? Why are they unwilling to come forward? Do they have any documents to back up what they are telling you?
        Aren’t your articles on Shooter badly compromised by your reliance on unnamed sources?

      • Some of the people I spoke with were fine with having quotes attributed. Others weren’t. The person in question is one of the latter. I gather the latter group does not feel comfortable talking publicly about an employer, and I think that’s understandable. It’s nothing unusual. Sean Howe had to deal with this when researching his book as well.

        As for Shooter [sigh], we’re going around in circles again.

        Shooter’s quote is not definitive in part because he’s recalling something in 2011 that occurred, in passing, all the way back in 1969. That’s over 40 years earlier. Could anyone be expected to have a completely accurate memory of something like that? I don’t think so, and you’re talking about someone who has notorious memory issues besides. He also claims that during the three or four weeks when this occurred, he didn’t eat anything for two of them. Should I take that at face value, too? Lee and Steve Ditko are the only other people who have claimed to have seen Kirby’s rejected Spider-Man art, and they both say they saw story pages, not presentation art or “design drawings” or whatever you want to call it. I’m not saying Shooter’s account is wrong, by the way, and I’m just saying it’s highly questionable and shouldn’t be accepted at face value without some corroboration, of which there is none.

        Is this is part of the Big Lie strategy? Make skeptics repeat their rebuttals over and over and over again until they throw their hands up in exhaustion, leaving you free to spread the bullshit in peace?

      • Patrick–

        Most of what I’m relying on these people for is to fill holes or answer questions that aren’t covered by the news accounts of the time and published interviews–and the closer those are to the actual events the better. I don’t like quoting decades-old memories or relying on anonymous sources, and if I can keep them out of the articles I will. With the first part, I largely managed to do so.

        Apart from a minor detail that Eric Reynolds noted (and I corrected), there were no complaints about the factual accuracy of anything in the first article that held up to scrutiny. There were some problems that came up with things that were said in the comments, but I’m far more prone to sloppiness in the comments than I would be in a posted article, and God knows I’m not the only one. The first article was pretty much bulletproof. I hope the same can be said of the follow-ups when they’re done.

      • patrick ford says:

        Seeing as you have several contacts among former (any current?) Marvel staffers and creators it strikes me you could easily find out who edited the letters pages for Kirby’s BLACK PANTHER and CAPTAIN AMERICA back in the ’70s.
        Jim Shooter said it was David Anthony Kraft. Roger Stern said it was David Anthony Kraft who discovered Stan Lee’s synopsis for FF #1 in Lee’s old desk at the Marvel offices. Shooter said when Kirby complained about the LOCs he looked into it and fired Kraft.

        SHOOTER: “Marvel paid creators, usually the writer of the series, to go through the fan mail, choose letters to print and write replies. Because Jack was in California and didn’t want to do the lettercols, David Anthony Kraft was assigned (before I became EIC) to write the lettercols for Jack’s books. DAK chose largely negative letters. Jack called me and complained. We fired Kraft and got someone else. Kraft’s excuse was that he was writing an “honest” lettercol, reflecting the general tenor of the mail. Horseshit. A lettercol shouldn’t bash the book it’s in. ”

        You say Shooter has a poor memory, and his recollections can’t be trusted.
        Why not ask some of these staffers who was editing the LOC. If the LOC editor was fired by Shooter, and who replaced the editor Shooter says he fired.

      • I already know the answers to these.

        Scott Edelman handled Captain America. Ralph Macchio handled Black Panther. Macchio reportedly despised Kirby’s work, by the way, and was very vocal about it.

        Kraft wasn’t an editorial assistant. In addition to freelance scripting work, he was the editor of FOOM, which was the official Marvel fanzine. He definitely had more status in the office than either Edelman or Macchio back then. If Shooter hadn’t replaced Archie Goodwin as editor-in-chief, I believe Kraft would have been offered the job.

        Shooter never fired Kraft, by the way. I’m sure of that. It might have been wishful thinking getting the better of Shooter, as I gather they didn’t get along, but Kraft was never let go. When FOOM ended in ’78, I believe he began working in the Special Projects division with Sol Brodsky and Marie Severin.

        This story is one of the reasons why you have to check out what Shooter says. The biggest reason, beyond Kraft not being fired, is that Shooter wasn’t editor-in-chief for the bulk of Kirby’s ’70s run at the company. He didn’t have the authority to fire anyone during that time. Archie Goodwin was in charge for most of it, and that would have been his call.

      • Matthias Wivel says:

        You’re surely both aware of this, but Ditko himself reconstructed Kirby’s Spiderman in an issue of, I believe, The Comics, which was later reprinted in Alter-Ego. It looked a lot like what Shooter is describing.

        Also, re: Kirby story page for the character, Morten Søndergård has a theory that Ditko drew the first Spider-Man stories over Kirby layouts. I don’t think his argument is convincing (and neither do several specialists), but it’s worth considering.

      • patrick ford says:

        Matthias, It’s highly unlikely Ditko worked over Kirby layouts.
        The Kirby Spiderman is interesting because it is the most obvious instance where a pre-existing idea flowed from Kirby to Lee. It’s very clearly a revamped version of a character called The Fly which Simon and Kirby had worked on just a couple years earlier for Archie. Ditko, Shooter, and Kirby all confirm Kirby’s Spiderman being similar to The Fly and Kirby said straight out it was based on The Fly, just as the FF concept was based on The Challengers.
        In his deposition Lee was asked if Kirby had brought him a character called Spiderman which was based on the S&K character The Fly and Lee said Kirby did not. Lee’s depositions are so heavily redacted it’s not clear if Lee now claims The Fly-Spiderman said to have been created by Kirby does not exist, or if he’s saying he created The Fly-Spiderman character and gave it to Kirby. In either case Lee is said Kirby did create pages for a Spiderman/Spider-Man story which were rejected. Lee even claimed the pages were purchased, and he went further claiming Marvel always paid for rejected pages as long as the work had been assigned by him.

      • patrick ford says:

        Another curious thing about Lee’s recent comments concerning Spider-Man is Lee has taken to saying he does not recall for certain if Ditko or Kirby designed the well known Spider-Man costume which was designed by Ditko.
        https://docs.google.com/gview?url=http%3A%2F%2Fdocs.justia.com%2Fcases%2Ffederal%2Fdistrict-courts%2Fnew-york%2Fnysdce%2F1%3A2010cv00141%2F356975%2F102%2F10.pdf%3Fts%3D1376380861&docid=5fcf5e36ce7a27d86b3cafff615e06d2&a=bi&pagenumber=21&w=548
        Lee’s memory of things more recent isn’t so good either. For example he does not remember if he’s currently being paid $125,000 a year to write the Spider-Man newspaper strip (he is).
        https://docs.google.com/gview?url=http%3A%2F%2Fdocs.justia.com%2Fcases%2Ffederal%2Fdistrict-courts%2Fnew-york%2Fnysdce%2F1%3A2010cv00141%2F356975%2F102%2F10.pdf%3Fts%3D1376380861&docid=5fcf5e36ce7a27d86b3cafff615e06d2&a=bi&pagenumber=5&w=548

      • Allen Smith says:

        On the contrary, I’ve had forty plus years to think things out about Stan Lee. Lee’s idea of a story is to have the artists write it, then put Monsters to Laugh With style dialogue in the balloons, then credit himself for the whole thing.

      • Allen Smith says:

        ‘“Relative security”? Kirby was making the equivalent today of roughly $200,000 a year working for Marvel in the ’60s.’

        Kirby may well have been making that much in today’s dollars, but then again, maybe not. Source?

      • Mark Evanier has reported that Kirby’s 1963 page rate was $25 per penciled page. I don’t know the exact number of pages Kirby did that year, but I feel safe estimating that it was at least a thousand. According to the BLS, $25,000 in 1963 is equivalent to almost $191,000 in 2013 dollars. In 1970, the New York Times reported that Kirby’s income at Marvel in 1969 was $35,000. The BLS estimates that would be equivalent to nearly $223,000 now. It’s almost certain that his annual income in the interim years was at least in the range between those two figures. Hence, the $200,000 number.

      • Jeet Heer says:

        So Kirby was able to make $35,000 a year in 1960s money by drawing a thousand pages a year. And not just drawing but also plotting those pages and providing story notes that would inform the dialogue. Also creating (or co-creating) hundreds of characters every year that would serve as the foundation of Marvel comics for decades to come and generate billions of revenue for other people. And all this was done as a freelancer, which meant medical insurance, no security, and no royalties. Robert Stanley Martin seems to take this as a measure of how generous Marvel was. But I have to say, this is really a mark of Kirby’s incredible creativity and productivity. Aside from Tezuka I can’t think of another cartoonist that worked so hard — and Tezuka was much better compensated.

      • Jeet–

        I’ve never said Marvel was generous. In fact, I’ve repeatedly faulted Martin Goodman for not providing royalty arrangements for Kirby and the other creators at Marvel.

        My purpose in emphasizing Kirby’s actual income is to counteract the efforts of Mark Evanier, Gary Groth, and other Marvel bashers to portray Kirby’s income from the company as modest. It wasn’t. As near as can be determined, he was among the top 5 percent of income earners in the U. S. at all times when he was working for them. Do I think he should have made a lot more money than he did? Certainly. But what he did make was considerably better than modest or middle-class.

        I would think as an ostensible historian, you would respect efforts to put the actual facts out there and dispel misleading bullshit. But no, Jeet Heer feels we must maintain the lies for the cause. The truth and those telling it must be suppressed or discredited if it’s inconvenient. When I told Charles Hatfield the comics field wasn’t ready for serious critical or historical writing, the status of Jeet Heer as one of the field’s most respected historians was one of the reasons why.

      • R. Maheras says:

        Jeet — Hold on a second. Look at 1963 from a 1963 viewpoint. I think Kirby probably felt that in 1963 he’d died and gone to freelancer heaven. Just two short years earlier, he wasn’t even sure he’d have a job anywhere if Marvel went belly up. He was persona non-grata at DC, he’d never worked for Dell, his low-paying gigs at Classics Illustrated, Harvey and other small publishing houses were far an few between, and Charlton’s rate was so low for a guy raising a family, it wasn’t even a realistic option.

        Syndicated comics was a bust, so the ONLY frickin’ option Kirby had in 1963 WAS Marvel. Their success or failure was his success or failure, and I think the reason he did so many pages in 1963 is because, based on his previous experience with almost every other comic book he ever did in the previous 20 years or so, three years of success on any book or trend was usually the limit before the trend died out. In short, in Kirby’s mind, there might not BE a Fantastic Four or Thor in 1965, so he was riding that gravy train until it ran out of steam.

        Marvel had had a few long-running titles, during the 1950s — Marvel Tales, Kid Colt, Strange Tales, Millie the Model, etc — but in most cases, the artists and writers working those titles shared the load, meaning they had limited pages counts available for them. Eight pages a month here, 16 pages a month there. Getting 60-80 pages a month as Kirby got in 1963 — Including the lucrative cover assignments — was unthinkable in 1960.

        Like I said, I’m sure Kirby was the happiest freelancer on Earth in 1963, and I’ll wager if someone walked up to Kirby back then and said, “Jack, Marvel’s screwing you!” he would have looked them right in the eye and said, “Are you out of your mind? I’m making a fortune here! If anything, I’m screwing over that tightwad Goodman!”

        And you know what. In 1963, he would have been absolutely right.

        No one then knew that Marvel’s characters would last, let alone become billion-dollar franchises.

      • Allen Smith says:

        Anyone have any information as to what Stan Lee was making during the ’60s?

    • Allen Smith says:

      Lee loved writing the Surfer book because it enabled him to spout his hopelessly banal, obvious, and trite aphorisms passing for profundity.

  6. jameswheeler says:

    I had a great t-shirt with just page 29 on it, but alas in a yellow all wrong for my colouring.

  7. Steve Replogle says:

    John Buscema supplied plots and/or storylines for Marvel’s Conan series at different points, which were finished to some degree or another by Roy Thomas or J.M. DeMatteis. Buscema fully plotted “Conan the Rogue,” which was scripted by Roy Thomas. It was an early Marvel graphic novel, and has been called Buscema’s tour de force. I’ve never read it, though. It may be the closest we have to an original Buscema “story.”

  8. Jeff Trexler says:

    When I was a teen growing up in Amish country, I was obsessed with the Silver Surfer and collected this series. Of course, I never made a connection between “Woe is me, I’m trapped here like Norrin Radd” and the plentiful supply of cheap Golden & Silver Age comics in local flea markets & neighbors’ attics.

    • patrick ford says:

      Martin Goodman apparently had little respect for the creators, the material they created, or the readers. This is evidenced by Goodman placing greater value on the character Captain America, than he did on the people who created the character.
      By no means is that a one time example. In the late ’40s Goodman chose to fire staff and run a stockpile of inventory material which had been accumulated by Stan Lee.
      Goodman apparently (based on the way Timely operated) felt sales were based on trends. If romance was selling then other romance books would also sell, the same with super heroes, or horror. If science fiction never sold, then if never would sell. If one Western was selling then five Westerns would sell. If Captain America by Simon and Kirby sold, Captain America by Timely staff would sell. If Ditko’s Spider-Man sold, then so would someone else’s.
      In 1972 Goodman commented on the failure of the Silver Surfer comic book. Palm Beach Post reporter Don Geringer’s article quoted Goodman as saying,

      “I think psychologically the average reader didn’t care enough about surfing. So we got a thumbs down.”

      • R. Fiore says:

        I don’t think Martin Goodman would have recognized one of his creators if he came up and bit him.

  9. patrick ford says:

    Well, we know for a fact Steve Ditko never met or spoke to Goodman even once.

  10. Matt Duncan says:

    The prevailing view of Kirby as divine artist, and Lee as divine hack and businessman makes any sober assessment of a work like this almost impossible. If the Lee dialogue was so bad, it wouldn’t have been used so effectively as a thematic subtext for the movie Breathless. Candidates for comic books written in the 60s without bad dialogue, anyone? My main problem with the criticism is that Lee is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If he copies Kirby, he’s accused of having no ideas of his own. If he attempts to tell a comic book story differently, that is entirely through flashbacks without a thrusting narrative, then he can’t tell a story. If Kirby had written this, people would be talking about what a noble attempt to do something different it was.

    • DBay says:

      How is pointing out that Lee aping Kirby just shows that Lee isn’t as good as Kirby, while Lee without Kirby isn’t as good as Lee with Kirby, “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t” for Stan Lee? It’s just an assessment of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, to wit, Jack Kirby is a better storyteller than Stan Lee.

      Stan Lee wouldn’t be damned if he did storytelling well without working with Kirby or aping Kirby. He could always do that! Others have managed it!

      • Allen Smith says:

        That’s the problem: Lee couldn’t write. Otherwise, why have the artists do his freelance writing for him via plotting the stories and suggesting dialogue for him?

    • Jeet Heer says:

      “Candidates for comic books written in the 60s without bad dialogue, anyone?” All of John Stanley’s comics from the 1960s (Melvin Monster, Dunc ‘n Loo, 13 Going on 18) had excellent dialogue. Carl Barks was still doing comics in the 1960s and, while his peak work was behind him, his writing was still far superio to Stan Lee’s. On a lesser level, I’d say Archie Goodwin’s various Warren comics, working within the confines of genre, were much better written than Lee’s. And let’s not even start to talk about Crumb and the undergrounds.

    • Allen Smith says:

      “Prevailing view”? The prevailing view, thanks to Lee’s constant ego boo, is that Lee both wrote and drew the Marvel characters. So any one who thinks he’s being unfairly treated by his critics is bending over backward to kiss Stan’s ass. Let’s see, fifty plus years of propaganda in all media, vs. a few guys criticizing him on the internet. Stan Lee is being ganged up on. Bullshit.

  11. patrick ford says:

    Matt, Who was the director of the movie BREATHLESS ?

    • Grant Joon says:

      The original 1960 BREATHLESS by Godard is being confused here with the 1983 remake by Jim McBride, where Richard Gere’s character does indeed look to The Silver Surfer as a role model. The remake has its good points, not least being a little kid yelling at Gere “The Silver Surfer sucks!”

  12. Breathless is just as empty a film as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Breathless’ characters sitting around pontificating about this, that and the other. Nothing real happens. If Stan Lee were trying to tap into the French New Wave films of that same time period, that would be his first major mistake in initially approaching doing a Silver Surfer comic.

    Silver Surfer versus Mephisto was precursor to Luke Skywalker tackling Darth Vader. Good guys in white, bad dudes in black .( or red) Not very deep ways to tackle the complexities of the human race.

  13. DBay says:

    well it can’t possibly be as bad as Stranger in a Strange Land unless Stan Lee sails in on a golden surfboard nailing two women at once.

    • DBay says:

      “I worry about that Silver Surfer,” Alicia sighed. “He’s so naive that he’s probably gonna get raped by one of those homos.”

  14. Chuck Gower says:

    I’d like to see a Tom Scioli Silver Surfer story! That’d be awesome! Silver Surfer up against Two-Tank Omen! Yeah!

  15. Pingback: Other Comics News Parade-O-Links 08262013 - Ben Affleck To play Batman in 2015

  16. voss says:

    Martin: “The Shooter anecdote about a page of “design drawings” for the rejected Spider-Man is not definitive. Given his memory issues and the fact he was recalling something that occurred over 40 years previous, it shouldn’t be relied on completely without corroboration, and there is none.”

    Ditko has described being given Kirby art and story pages for the proto-Spider-Man, featuring a character with a half-face mask and a web gun, and a story which began with a youth visiting a strange elderly neighbor who gives him a magic ring. Ditko contributed a pretty extensive written record of his contributions to the initial Spider-Man comics and his disagreements with Lee to Robin Snyder’s newsletter The Comics. Of course, it’s not on the internet, so I understand that in some modern sense it doesn’t exist.

  17. Mike Hill says:

    Thank you, Tom.

  18. If Kirby had drawn this book, it would have been a hit. That’s what funny, and tragic, and totally fitting.

    You’re also leaving out an important factor here in Stan’s motivation. It was more than Stan trying to prove he could make it on his own. In 1968, Stan had become, much to his surprise and joy, a pop culture superstar, a 45-year-old square in a toupee suddenly adored by hippies and grad students. And Stan was touring the country on the college lecture circuit. Not only was this a huge ego boost to have an auditorium full of adoring twenty somethings lap up every iota of his blowhard, glory-hogging, Excelsior bullshit, it was probably fairly lucrative, too. I’m sure Uncle Martin wasn’t paying him squat back then. Comic books were still a little business for artists and writers who couldn’t make the cut in bigger publishing genres. Stan needed a critical hit to further this side career, and maybe even vault him out of comics altogether into movies. So he stole the hottest character Marvel had. I don’t look at Stan as an evil guy, like a lot of fans do. But there’s no question he was a selfish guy. I don’t think it ever entered his mind that Jack would be pissed.

    As for Buscema, I like his work on a lot of stuff (his great Avengers run comes to mind), but you won’t find a bigger artistic ham. We all know the standard Buscema poses. He uses them over and over and over. The wail, the bug-eyed terror-striken look, the glower (the Loki page here is a classic example of that). Buscema’s art chews scenery like Al Pacino on speed. He’s the perfect artist for Stan’s unfiltered soapy prose. Unfortunately, he doesn’t dilute Lee’s flaws, like Kirby and Ditko did, he only exaggerates them. Now to be fair, Stan smoothed out Kirby and Ditko, too. Stan never had anybody “rattling your Gonads in my ears” like Jack did, and Ditko, without Stan’s joke-filled dialogue, would have turned Spidey into Mr. A.

    Stan went for it with the Silver Surfer. And fell flat on his face. The Surfer is easily the worst, hammiest, dreariest, illogical, nonsensical title of Marvel’s Silver Age. It is a bomb in every way. It’s as if Stan carjacked Jack’s cosmic surfboard and streaked for the skies, only to smash face first into that invisible barrier and fall back to earth wailing like the big silver crybaby. And Jack was watching from a window and laughing his ass off.

    It’s hilarious that Stan still claims the Surfer failed commercially because it was “too deep” for the kiddies. No Stan, it wasn’t deep. It just sucked.

    • patrick ford says:

      I’m not sure how often Lee spoke to large crowds when he gave talks at colleges. I recall being in high school in 1971 and hearing Ray Bradbury was going to speak at a local college. Admittance was free and I wanted to hear Bradbury so I rode my bike up to the auditorium near the time the speech was supposed to start and found the place was empty and nearly dark with just the aisle lights on. I wandered around a bit and an employee directed me to where Bradbury was speaking. The talk wasn’t even in the lecture hall, it was in an ordinary small class room where I sat in a desk with around ten other people and listened to Bradbury give his talk. It was actually a lot nicer being a a small room ten feet away from him, but it was a surprise.

    • Allen Smith says:

      I understand Stan charges for his autograph. Now, it’s common to do that, but I heard it was $50 a pop, can anyone confirm that? There’s an old saying for charging that much for an autograph: “Never give a sucker an even break.”

    • Kid Robson says:

      Actually, if Kirby had drawn the Surfer in his own series from #1 it wouldn’t even have made 18 issues. His art had become blocky and his Surfer stiff and stilted. John Buscema was the right choice. And it should be remembered that you’re talking about a 1968 comicbook, so it should be measured in that context, not the slightly more sophisticated (as far as aspiration goes) mags of today. (Which fewer people buy.)

  19. Mark Evanier says:

    I think I’m being misquoted here, in part due to some too-casual phrasing on my part in an Internet posting.

    Kirby was not getting $25 a page for penciling a page in 1963. I believe I said Kirby and Ditko were getting “around $25″ a page back then. If you’re going to quote me at all, you have to include the “around.” I think it was actually closer to $22.

    And you have to take note that I said “Kirby and Ditko.” Ditko was inking his own work. Kirby wasn’t. Obviously, Ditko was getting more per page because he was doing both jobs on his. What Jack was getting was a portion of the approximately $22. The inker’s money came out of that, too. I don’t recall right now if the letterer’s did, as well.

    For reasons some of you can probably guess, I don’t want to get involved in this discussion at this time. I will say that anyone who thinks that in the early sixties, Jack — getting what Marvel paid then — thought he was rolling in dollars is really trying to rewrite history. I think he thought he was trapped at a company that paid bad money (with no health insurance) and his only hope of getting good money was to do everything he could to build the company into a firm that could afford to pay great money and would recognize that he had done enough to make that happen that they would reward him accordingly.

    • Allen Smith says:

      So, we have Mark Evanier’s statement on what Kirby made, and Robert Stanley Martin’s comments on what Kirby made. Guess who is more credible, and who I believe?

    • Hy Resolution says:

      I believe western paid Carl Barks around $34 per page of pencils and inks towards the end of his career (1966).
      Script was another $12 or so.

  20. patrick ford says:

    That document does have a box checked as penciling but Heck also inked that job and it’s not clear as to if he was issues another check for the inking.

  21. Mark–

    My position on this is I want hard numbers quoted on this subject.

    I don’t want tropes. There’s too much potential for misrepresentation. Let’s take an example from your Kirby King of Comics book, specifically Jack’s negative characterization of the sale amount of Marvel to Perfect Film as “less than the value of Ant-Man alone.” I gather the actual amount was reported in June 30, 1968 of Variety. Sean Howe cites the report there as his source for stating that the sale was “just under $15 million… [with] some Perfect Film bonds.” Let’s say it was $14.75 million. When I run that figure through the BLS conversion, the figure I get is just over $99 million in today’s dollars. Now either Ant-Man was worth an awful lot more than I would have thought, or that’s a very misleading portrayal.

    I also don’t want vague characterizations that are entirely dependent on relative vlaues and are therefore meaningless. Let’s pick another example from your book, specifically the description “not great.” When discussing Kirby’s transition to animation, you write, “They [Hanna-Barbera] hired him, and the money, while not great, was greater than he’d ever made in comics.” As noted above, Kirby’s 1969 income was about $223,000 in 2013 dollars. His income from his 1975 Marvel contract was $57,2000 per year, which is equivalent today to just over $248,000. So what this means is that an annual income of a quarter of a million in today’s dollars is, according your perspective, “not great.” This is an amount that is more than four and almost five times the median household income in this country. Now I suppose we could hire a polling firm to survey as to whether or not the term “not great” accurately describes an annual income of a quarter-million dollars, but something tells me the majority of respondents are going to say it isn’t.

    The reason I want hard numbers is that I don’t want misrepresentations like these two examples.

    Your clarification actually just muddles things further. You tell me I should include the “around” with the $25 figure, but I can’t input an “around” into a calculator. I can only input the $25. If I can’t tell people what he was in making in terms of today’s dollars, I can’t expect them to have any understanding of his income.

    What was his annual income in 1963? $23,000? $20,000? Even if it’s as little as $13,500, he was still making the equivalent today of a six-figure income, and if it was as little as $7000, he was still doing better than the median. I’m going to hazard a guess that it was at least $20,000, which would be slightly over $150,000 in today’s dollars. If you think that’s “bad money,” I guess you’re entitled to your opinion. However, since you also consider the equivalent of $250,000 “not great,” I have to note your opinion is very different than mine and just about everyone I know.

    There’s nothing wrong with rewriting history as long as the rewrite makes it more accurate.

    • Allen Smith says:

      If you want to rewrite history, Robert, collect your own facts and don’t expect other people to do your work for you.

    • Mark Evanier says:

      Robert, I really don’t want to get into a long debate with you because I don’t have the time, I don’t have the freedom to talk about certain matters and even if you aren’t one of them, there are folks out there who seem to take everything I write about Jack and try to figure out how to reinterpret it and selectively quote it to prove some anti-Kirby thesis. This is not directed at you but there are times I feel like I’m talking to my ex-friend Victoria Jackson who can take any sentence that mentions Barack Obama and find a way to use it to prove he’s a Kenyan-born Anti-Christ who’s taking orders from the Kremlin on how to destroy America.

      The following is not an attempt to debate you; merely to clarify and set a few records straight.

      You said, “Mark isn’t disputing the New York Times report of Kirby’s 1969 income.” No, and he’s not endorsing it, either. There’s a lot of stuff posted on this thread that I think is wrong and I haven’t addressed most of it. It’s a cheap trick to take the fact that I didn’t address that report and suggest that by not denying it, I’m agreeing with it. For the record, I believe it is way high…and I’m kinda curious where it came from. Jack certainly didn’t tell anyone what he was making. In fact, he’d be mortified that it’s being discussed at all in a public forum. When Roz gave me all of Jack’s old contracts and financial paperwork, it was with the express understanding that I wouldn’t release them to anyone and would only use them for historical reference. The ones that are freely posted did not come from me and they do not represent the entire picture.

      Jack’s quote about the value of Ant-Man was (a) a joke and (b) based on his understanding of what Goodman got for selling Marvel, which was a lot less than $15 million. Now, maybe Jack was wrong but I would not take a report from Variety, which basically just prints press releases without verifying or investigating, as fact. I’ve worked on TV shows where the producers fed bogus info to Variety and it was published as is. In my files, I have quite a few different citations of what Marvel sold for back then — and how much of the sale price Goodman himself actually got — and obviously, not all of these different numbers were correct. I’m still trying to decide which one to believe.

      In any case, Jack was making what is sometimes known as a “joke.” You’re trying to interpret it as a factual statement.

      I do not agree with the way you interpret what constitutes a good paycheck. A quarter-million dollars a year is a great salary if you regularly put in a 40 hour week managing certain businesses. It’s not a great salary if you put in 80 hour weeks writing the screenplay for a movie that grosses a billion dollars. I would submit that Jack’s situation, while not perfectly analogous, was closer to the latter. I am also aware that, regardless what your guesstimated math may yield, the Kirby family did not live extravagantly but had a number of financial crises, some of them medical-related, that pretty much brought their bank accounts down near zero during periods when you probably would argue they were rolling in dough.

      Joss Whedon wrote and directed that Avengers movie that has grossed over a billion bucks. If someone told you all he got for it was $250,000.00, would you say he’s got nothing to complain about; that most people in the world would be happy to earn that much? How about if he was promised a lot more but the studio reneged and only paid him the quarter-million? Would that still be a great amount?

      Lastly, again for the record, I do not agree with a lot of your assumptions and estimates and I would respectfully suggest that there is much about the Kirbys’ finances and deals that you don’t know about, some of which is frankly no one’s business and involves matters I’m not at liberty to talk about. And I guess I should mention that there are plenty of things that have been said about Kirby in this and similar Internet discussion threads that I believe are spurious and that the fact that I don’t specifically deny them doesn’t mean that I agree with them. There are also things that I think are wrong but would have to research more before I could say for sure. (If I’ve learned one thing is that if I give someone a casual, off-of-the-top-of-my-head reply, it usually comes back later to bite me on the derriere.)

      • R. Fiore says:

        For a guy who doesn’t have the time . . .

        On the question of what constitutes a “great salary,” the crux of the matter is that they didn’t have to give Jack an owner’s share to make him rich. If he’d only got a little taste of what they were throwing around he would have been swimming in dough by his standards. It’s what makes them all seem so mean.

      • R. Maheras says:

        That’s just my point. In 1963, compared to what he’d gone through during the previous seven-eight years of relative famine, Kirby was simply inundated with all the work he could handle. When Marvel’s fortunes began to shift in 1963, Kirby became Lee’s new Joe Maneely, and Kirby was getting far more pages than anyone else at Marvel, and possibly more pages than almost any other artist in comics during that year. And since the quantity of work correlated directly with his income level, Kirby was, like I said, doing very, very well, and no doubt trying to milk that sudden and unexpected Marvel cash cow until the udders fell off.

        Again, I have to stress that no one at Marvel knew in 1963 whether or not the modest increase in sales they’d experienced in 1962 on superhero books was just a fluke, or if the whole thing would soon peter out like every other genre or gimmick (like 3-D) had previously. Keep in mind that “The Incredible Hulk” was cancelled in mid-1963, and since Marvel had so few titles, that cancellation accounted for something like 12 percent of their total superhero books sales. So no one knew what the future held for Marvel or any of their new characters, and I’m sure Kirby was grabbing every page Stan threw his way and building up a financial war chest — just in case the whole thing dried up as fast as it had started.

        We now know, of course, that it wouldn’t, but hindsight is always 20-20.

      • Allen Smith says:

        While it was true that no one new at the start that the Marvel line was going to be successful, after a couple of years it was apparent that it was successful, largely due to the contributi0ns made by Ditko and Kirby. And, apparently, both men were made promises by Goodman that were not kept. A shame that Kirby didn’t have the security to leave Marvel at the same time that Ditko did, then Stan Lee could have seen how well his other artists could write.

      • patrick ford says:

        Kirby’s huge workload was motivated in large part to the low page rates paid by Marvel. When Marvel began paying slightly better rates Kirby was able to reduce the number of pages he was producing each month.
        That 1971 NYT article which says Kirby’s income was $35,000 in 1969 does not describe where they got that figure. The same article says industry page rates are guarded secrets, and then says a figure of $15 per page was mentioned by several people.

      • R. Maheras says:

        Allen — That’s the only aspect of this whole situation where I have sympathy with both Ditko and Kirby.

        Both men knew exactly what the standard arrangement with Goodman involved, and both accepted that everything they created and were paid for as freelancers belonged to Marvel. So the arguments by folks that this or that artwork was “unfairly” used by Marvel for t-shirts, trading cards, posters, animated cartoons, books, puzzles, etc. is misplaced anger.

        However, if Kirby and/or Ditko received additional verbal or written promises of financial remuneration from Goodman (or an authorized representative of his management staff, such as Lee) for, say, residual payments of some sort, and those promises weren’t kept, then anything promised is still owed to the two artists or their heirs. And even though the company has since changed hands several times over, and in all likelihood the new ownership has no obligation to do so, it would be a nice gesture of good faith for them to settle that still outstanding debt.

      • Mark–

        I’m going to be addressing most of the issues you raise elsewhere.

        I also regret this conflict rearing its head before I took the opportunity to ask about your personal animus towards Jim Shooter for a project of mine. I was especially interested in knowing if it was rooted in your time editing the Hanna-Barbera licensed titles for Marvel in 1978, or with anything related to Groo. Your problem with his courtroom characterization of a convention panel you moderated or your listening to Steve Gerber bitch about him a lot just don’t seem adequate given the public nastiness you’ve flung his way.

        However, I will say this at this time. The Kirbys have been discussing Jack’s income at Marvel in public interviews at least since the 1980s. That by itself makes it fair game for discussion. When you publish a book that makes reference to Kirby’s personal financial circumstances–and it does so repeatedly–YOU are also making a public issue of that subject. You do the same when you post comments related to that on the Internet. And if you are making a public issue of that subject, or anything else for that matter, you need to be prepared for challenge and discussion of what you say. On top of that, you should respect good-faith efforts in that vein even if you’re not sympathetic to what’s being said. It’s all in the interest of enhancing the public understanding of what’s being discussed.

        When you “respectfully suggest” that it’s no one’s business under those circumstances, all you’re doing in effect is asserting that you feel you should have the right to say whatever you want–secret evidence and all–without challenge. The hell with that.

      • Allen Smith says:

        Again, Mr. Give me details Martin, if the Kirby’s discussed his income in public,
        provide details: when and where and to what extent did they discuss his income? Did they provide figures, or were they vague? And, just commenting on whether Kirby had income from this or that doesn’t put anyone under any obligation to you to provide further details, does it?

      • Mark Evanier says:

        “My personal animus against Jim Shooter?” Huh? I don’t have personal animus against anyone and if I did, it wouldn’t be someone who I only had contact with on a distant business relationship long ago. It’s true we never got along and we said some unflattering things about each other a decade or two ago but any “animus” has been ginned up by the kind of folks who just love to see others fighting so they can watch.

        The reason that my “animus” towards Shooter doesn’t make sense to you is that is has been grossly exaggerated and never came near the level of “animus.” And I’d like to think that if I ever run into Jim again, we’d get along fine.

        I do respect good faith discussions about Kirby’s past and I’ve aided darn near every interviewer or researcher who has come to me for whatever they thought I could contribute. Obviously, I don’t think every discussion is in good faith.

      • With regard to Shooter, what I had in mind was your comments in the article about his termination from Marvel in TCJ 116. You were bragging about winning bets with a number of people about whether Shooter would be fired by a certain date. You also related celebratory conversations about the news from Compuserve, in which you claimed to have posted the comment “Ding-dong, the witch is dead.” And since there was no good reason for the TCJ reporter to be calling you about the story–your only connection to Marvel was Groo, and your dealings with Shooter minimal to none–you most likely called the TCJ office to crow about the news.

        Pardon me for reading any significant hostility towards Shooter into your behavior.

      • R. Maheras says:

        Patrick — You have no proof of that. You are merely speculating, as am I. However, I think my argument, which I’ve laid out in detail and in the context of the era, makes a helluva lot more sense.

        So unless you can back up your assertion about Kirby being motivated solely by Marvel’s unspecified, and apparently ever-changing-but-never-substantiated “low page rate,” then your assertion simply does note make sense based on the pages counts and page rates received by other creators from that era.

        The way you are trying to spin this is that Kirby was paid like the proverbial piece-work coal miner living in a company town, and forced to shop at the company store.

        That seems to me to be a extremely weighted caricature in Kirby’s favor, rather than an accurate representation of the reality of the times.

  22. Mark Evanier says:

    Russ…you’re right that Jack was grabbing as much work as he could get. You’re wrong that his attitude was, ” I’m making a fortune here! If anything, I’m screwing over that tightwad Goodman!” It was more like, “Jeez, I have to work night and day, seven days a week, to make a living at these low rates.” Goodman was paying Jack around half what DC paid. Even when Fantastic Four was outselling Challengers of the Unknown, Goodman insisted he couldn’t pay anywhere near what Jack had gotten a few years earlier for Challengers.

    You’re right that Jack felt trapped there by a lack of alternatives. But he felt that Goodman was exploiting his imprisonment and paying him low money for work that had great value. Jack did think that the Marvel characters could lead to expensive movies, hit TV shows, a merchandising bonanza, etc. He didn’t necessarily think Goodman would know what to do with it all but Jack definitely thought the work he was doing would have a lot more value to the publisher than one-time publication…and he wasn’t even being paid what a guy at DC got for one-time publication. Don Heck told me a wonderful story about Jack telling people in the office, circa 1963, what the Marvel Super Heroes could become and everyone, except maybe Stan, thought Jack was nuts.

    • R. Maheras says:

      Mark — I understand that Marvel’s rates were substantially lower than DC’s — but for pete’s sake, so did Jack! He knew he was making far more money than any other Marvel freelancer, and in all likelihood because of his speed, he was probably making more money than any other artist at DC. I can’t prove that, of course, but the only artist at DC who, because of monthly pages counts, might have approached or exceeded Kirby’s income, was Curt Swan.

      It drives me nuts that so few documents from that era are publicly available, because I hate having to speculate to fill in the gaps.

    • R. Maheras says:

      I guess one other reason I’m not all that sympathetic about Kirby’s allegedly low pay rate. Working mostly at home, he was making in less than four hours what my mom — a single parent raising two kids — took home from her secretarial job in an entire week. In addition, my mom had daily commuting and babysitter costs that further eroded her take-home pay.

      • Mark Evanier says:

        Uh, Russ, how much do you think Jack was making in four hours?

      • R. Maheras says:

        $40 — Which is just about what my Mom made a week circa 1962.

        My assumption is Kirby was averaging 20 pages a week, based on the 1,000-1,100 number of pages done in a year either in 1962 or 1963, depending on whether one counts the pages based on publication date, or actual creation date.

        I don’t know what Jack’s normal work schedule was like back then, so, as I pointed out to Patrick, I simply broke it down to a typical work week. He may have worked more than 40 hours, or he may have worked less. I have no idea. All I know is he was averaging 20 pages a week, which probably put his weekly salary in the $400 range, which was about 10 times more than my mom made.

        As an artist myself, I know that some pages take me far less time to pencil than others.

        For example, just the other day, I completed 106 sketch cards for Topps’ Mars Attacks Invasion set, which is scheduled to be released Oct. 18. Typically, I’d do a rough layout sketch on a separate piece of paper to get the look and proportions I wanted for a particular card, then I’d go to the card itself and do a detailed pencil sketch. Then I’d ink the drawing, and finally, I’d color the drawing.

        My “sketch cards” were not like those of many others. They depicted a wide variety of different scenes, and were basically detailed comic book panels.

        How long did each take? Well, I could — and did — sit down and draw out an average of nine-10 different fairly detailed layout sketches in an hour. That’s the equivalent of doing a nine- or 10-panel comic book page from that era. Final, detailed pencils for each sketch card (panel), usually took me about 15 minutes. Inks and coloring times are irrelevant here, since during the 1962-1963 time frame, Jack didn’t do any inking.

        As I’ve been hearing over and over and over again for more than 40 years, Jack was a very, very fast penciler who didn’t even need to do rough layouts for his own work. So, based on my own speeds, I’ll wager Jack could easily complete a typical early 1960s comic book page for Marvel in well under two hours.

        An aside: Jack’s art from 1962-1963 is my personal favorite period for his work. There is a power, spontaneity and economy of line during that period that I think is absolutely beautiful. But that’s just me.

      • Allen Smith says:

        Agree that Kirby was making more than the average joe, but the people above him in the food chain were making more than that. And, if it weren’t for Kirby doing that work, many of us wouldn’t be discussing what he created now, would we? A guy working in a factory creates work that might or might not last, Kirby’s work has. And has continued to produce revenue in the billions, as far as I can tell. So, no matter what the era, I can’t say that he didn’t, or his heirs don’t, deserve some of that revenue. Not enough to put a dent in Marvel’s profit making machine. After all, Robert Downey earned what, 40 million dollars for his Iron Man role, right? Is anyone complaining that he made so much more than the average man on the street? Yet they are complaining about what Kirby made. And, to repeat my question, how much has unca Stan, who charges fifty bucks a pop for signing his John
        Henry on a piece of paper, earned at Marvel through the years? Why isn’t anyone commenting about that? Any subtle bias there?

      • R. Maheras says:

        In all the years I’ve been following Marvel, I’ve seen nothing discussing what Lee may have made at Marvel during the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s. In addition, I’ve seen nothing saying whether he got a straight salary, a per page rate for scripts, or a combination of both.

      • patrick ford says:

        Russ, Lee testified he was paid a salary as editor and a freelance page rate for writing. Based on the fact he was paid a freelance page rate for writing he assigned his rights (what rights he may have had) to Stan Lee Media in 1998.
        In the 1971 NYT article Lee says he is in the 60% tax bracket.
        It’s also known that Lee had more than one Rolls Royce during the ’60s.
        If you calculate how many pages were being plotted by Ditko and Kirby (in say 1963) and then figure Lee was collecting the whole writing page rate for those pages if Kirby and Ditko were being paid only one dollar a page for plotting that would have taken close to $150 out of Lee’s income every month.

  23. patrick ford says:

    What’s interesting about the Saul Braun NYT article is it’s one of the very few places where you can find Martin Goodman quoted as opposed to someone else saying Goodman said something.
    Goodman actually sounds very pessimistic about the future of comics in the article and it could be seen as an insight into why Goodman sold the company three years earlier.

    Saul Bass (NYT) : Martin Goodman, president of the Magazine Management Company, which puts out the Marvel line, recalls that the golden age of comics was the war years and immediately afterwards. By the late forties, he says, “everything began to collapse. TV was kicking the hell out of a great number of comics. A book like Donald Duck went from 21/4 million monthly sale to about 200,000. You couldn’t give the animated stuff away, the Disney stuff, because of TV. TV murdered it. Because if a kid spends Saturday morning looking at the stuff, what parent is going to give the kid another couple of dimes to buy the same thing again?

    “Industry wide,” says Goodman sorrowfully, “the volume is not going up. I think the comic-book field suffers from the same thing TV does. After a few years, an erosion sets in. You still maintain loyal readers, but you lose a lot more readers than you’re picking up. That’s why, we have so many superhero characters, and run superheroes together. Even if you take two characters that are weak sellers and run them together in the same book, somehow, psychologically, the reader feels he’s getting more. You get the Avenger follower and the Submariner follower. Often you see a new title do great on the first issue and then it begins to slide off …”

  24. patrick ford says:

    Quoting Lee from the Saul Braun article.

    STAN LEE: The thing I hate most is writing plots. My scripts are full of X-outs [crossed-out words]. I read them out loud while writing, including sound effects. ‘Pttuuuu. Take that, you rat!’ I get carried away.”

    • R. Maheras says:

      You’ll get no argument from me on this one. There’s no doubt in my mind, based on decades of observation, coupled with discussions with Ditko, that during the Silver Age at Marvel, both he and Kirby were plot machines, and, in Ditko’s case, at least, the continuity drivers.

  25. patrick ford says:

    Again quoting the 1971 Saul Braun article for the NYT:

    “The artists fall into two categories, pencillers and inkers. Pencillers are slightly more highly reputed than inkers but, with few exceptions, nobody in the business has much of a public reputation, and most are poorly compensated. Most are freelancers, paid at a page rate that the various publishers prefer not to divulge. A rate of $15 a page, however, is said to be not uncommon.”

    • R. Maheras says:

      Minimum wage in 1963 was $1.25 an hour, or about $10 a day. Kirby routinely penciled four pages a day.

      Do the math.

      And I’ll bet every one of my Marvel Value stamps he was making more than $15 a page. My guess, since he was, in fact, the top man, artist-wise, it was probably in the $18 to $20 an hour range.

      If you stick with the $18 a page rate, ignore the more lucrative rate he got for covers, and assume he averaged four pages a day, five days a week, the total per year is $18,720. You can calculate it another way as well: the 1,000 pages he reportedly drew in 1963 times $18 a page. That still comes out to about $18,000 a year.

      More than 10 years later, in 1974, I had a union job that paid about $9,500 a year — roughly HALF of what I believe Kirby made in 1963.

      In 1974, the average non-union schmoe made about $3 an hour (minimum wage was $2 an hour), or $6,240 a year. That’s roughly a THIRD of what Kirby made in 1963.

      So Kirby wasn’t poor — especially compared to poor slobs like me, my family, my friends, and THEIR families. In fact, when I heard what page rates were circa 1970, I thought, damn! I want to be a comic book artist so I can be rich! What I didn’t know then, but learned later, was that not every artist had accounts supplying four pages a day. In fact, those who got two pages a day on a regular basis were the lucky ones. And if you weren’t a penciler, your rates were half, or less than the penciler’s, and the money sucked — as Dan Adkins so famously made clear in an article published in “The Comic Reader” circa 1979. In that (infamous?) article, his page rates at Marvel for more than 10 years were laid out in the open for all to see.

      • patrick ford says:

        Kirby routinely penciled four pages a day?

        Where do you get that? That’s 120 pages a month a figure he never approached on average for full pencils.
        There is a highly deceptive figure from Sept. 1947 which shows Kirby with 142 pages published that month. That is a publishing schedule anomaly. There are two months that year when Kirby has no pages published and three others where he had only a handful published.

        Kirby highest periods of production at Marvel were just around 100 pages a month, and in sevral of those instances he was doing plot/layouts only.

      • R. Maheras says:

        In a mail interview I sent Kirby in 1974, I asked him how long it took him to pencil a page. His response was, “A few hours.”

        Because he was my idol, art-wise, my standard goal for penciling then became three pages a day. Then I read somewhere that when he wanted to, Kirby could routinely penciled 3-4 pages a day. Finally, his numbers indicate that at his peak, he was penciling 100 pages a month, which, if he worked every single day, it averaged out to a little less than three pages a day. But I doubt he needed to work every day.

        How do I know? Simple. Because I was at a point where, if I didn’t have to do any research or use any reference photos, even I could draw a panel every 15 minutes. That’s four panels an hour, about a page every two hours, and about four pages in an eight-hour day.

        And I’m not Kirby. I’m not even in the same time zone, perhaps not even on the same planet when it comes to his drawing skills. Which means if I can do, I know he was able to do it without breaking a sweat — meaning four pages a day is perfectly reasonable for someone with Kirby’s talent.

      • patrick ford says:

        Kirby usually did work every day of the week in the late ’50s and early ’60s. He rarely took a day off. He said that, his wife said it, and his children said it.
        Kirby was writing the stories as well as drawing them so that may explain why it took him longer to finish a page than it takes you to finish a page.
        You also might consider on occasion Kirby could produce more than four pages a day. You said you can draw three pages a day. Did you ever draw three pages a day for a year? That’s not quite the same thing as drawing three pages in one day on occasion.

        Also, I’m curious. Why did you say Kirby wasn’t drawing Captain America in 1947? If someone said he did they are wrong, Kirby was not working for Timely in 1947. Kirby returned to Timely in 1956.

      • R. Maheras says:

        Actually, I write all of my own stuff, and do all of my own research.

      • James says:

        Absolutely absurd is how I would have to categorize so much of the tea-party-level thinking on the pro-corporate side of this discussion which sort of sickeningly spills over several comments sections. For instance, Maheras’ apparent belief that there even ARE any other artists of “Kirby’s level of talent” to reach an “ideal schedule” of 4 pages a day, which meant that he had to work 24-7 to make a reasonable living but mostly for the vast benefit of sleazeballs and credit hogs—– never mind the comparison of Kirby’s family being robbed by Marvel of billions with the sufferings of his mom. Really, WTF.

      • Allen Smith says:

        Wish I had seen that article by Adkins, Russ. A shame it isn’t online somewhere.

      • R. Maheras says:

        The article, written by editor Mike Tiefenbacher is on Pages 6-8 of “The Comic Reader” #168, published in May 1979.

        In a nutshell, Adkins breaks down his inking output and page rate from 1966-1979, and his annual salary was pathetic. Even in 1975 and 1976 — the years of his greatest output, he was averaging about $50 a week after business deductions to support him and his family.

        To put that into perspective, I was single in 1976, and at my union job, with overtime and such, I was making more than $225 a week working in a warehouse. I had paid vacation, seniority in the event of layoffs, and full medical and dental. I also had a retirement plan (It sounds funny saying this now, but if I’d have stayed at my union job, I’d be eligible to retire in 2019).

        In 1975, Marvel was paying Adkins $22 a page for inks, and Charlton was paying him $12.50 a page for inks. In 1976, his inking rate from Marvel was $25 a page.

      • patrick ford says:

        I’m not sure how Adkins saying he would have been better off not working in comics assists the argument comics was a desirable field.
        Most artists who have ever commented say advertising and other commercial art fields paid better than comics.

      • R. Maheras says:

        I never said it did.

        When I first decided I wanted to be a professional comic book artist circa1970, Kirby was not just my artistic idol, he was my business model. For years I did not realize that the number of pages Kirby was given to draw each month was the exception, and that many freelancers were not so lucky.

        Adkins never got enough pages to make a good living at comics — especially at inker rates.

        If I had not opted out of the business in 1978, I would have tried to get gigs where I was both penciler and inker, because the money would have been pretty good. Better yet, I’d shoot for writer, penciler and inker.

      • R. Maheras says:

        Four pages a day five days a week is about 80 pages a month — which is consistent with his reported annual numbers circa 1962-1963. I used a five-day workweek simply because that’s what I was comparing it to for my mother and I.

        Kirby wasn’t drawing Captain America in 1947.

    • R. Maheras says:

      I meant, of course, to say $18 to $20 A PAGE, not an hour

  26. patrick ford says:

    Kirby as well as many other comic book creators were making very good to exceptional money in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Page rates in the early ’50s were at a level not reached again until the ’70s according to a lot of interview comments I’ve seen.

    John Romita said his page rate at Timely went from $45 a page down to less than half that by 1956. There is anecdotal evidence rates continued to decline after that. By the time Romita returned to Marvel in 1965 it would seem rates were beginning to recover. Kirby mentioned it was an increase in page rates which allowed him to cut down on the number of pages he was producing each month. Kirby’s peak yearly total at Marvel was 1158 pages in 1962.

    As Mark Evanier mentions there is no evidence Kirby indulged in a lavish life style. One indication Kirby was not awash in dough is the fact he supposedly had to borrow $2000 in order to finance his move from New York to California.
    Are there stories of high living? Did Kirby maintain a fleet of cars? Did he have a summer home in Florida and a weekend house on “The Lake” in up-state New York?
    I will say Kirby’s family looks to be fairly well dressed in photographs, but I don’t think the argument is he was a pauper. The argument is Kirby and other creators had made quite a good living in the ’40s and ’50s and had to work exceptionally hard to maintain a middle class lifestyle in the late ’50s and through the ’60s.
    Things like being self employed and the additional tax burden associated with that, the purchase of materials, travel and postal expenses, and possibly studio space, the lack of vacation pay, and medical insurance all cut into the incomes of creators.
    Instead of a group of people with theories asking Mark Evanier to provide them with evidence, how about these people support their theories with some kind of evidence?
    I would start with this. What evidence is there Kirby and other creators were making very high incomes? Not that they made more than minimum wage, but that they were making fabulous sums of money.

    • Nobody is claiming that Kirby was indulging in high-living in the ’60s, and certainly not compared to Siegel and Shuster back in the ’40s.

      I believe the figures I’ve presented about Kirby’s income in the ’60s and ’70s are reasonably accurate. They reflect a gradual increase in income that is consistent with the impressionistic accounts provided by all parties. By pooh-poohing my figures, Mark is effectively claiming that Kirby’s income jumped significantly upward at some point, and I have a hard time accepting that. Mark also didn’t squawk until it was explained in an all but indisputable manner what those figures meant.

      If Mark doesn’t like my figures, then perhaps he can provide documentary refutation, such as Kirby’s tax returns for the years in question. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has them in his possession. Until then, I’m going to accept the New York Times reporting, which neither Kirby nor Marvel contested, as well as the information from Kirby’s ’75 Marvel contract.

      To be perfectly honest, I suspect Kirby may have been dealing with a financial drain that isn’t reflected in the information that’s been made public. This could include supporting outside households, such as those of parents, siblings, or in-laws, or covering continued medical expenses for one or more of his children. But that doesn’t change his income being substantially above the norm.

    • Also, I note that asking Mark Evanier to provide evidence reflects the fact that he is sitting on a trove of primary source documents that he has not made public. I just hope to God he intends to turn these over to a professional academic archiving operation at some point. If Chris Claremont can get his papers housed at Columbia, the Kirby papers should be able to find a very prestigious home. The thing I’m most worried about is that he may destroy these documents before that can happen. The information he has should sooner or later be made available to all.

      • Allen Smith says:

        I suppose that’s up to Mark. I think that much of the information he has will be contained in his very long anticipated book on Kirby. Hopefully he will reveal as much information as he can ethically in that book.

      • Allen Smith says:

        And one other thing. I can’t imagine that Kirby, at the end of his life, when he wasn’t able to produce many pages, was living high off the hog. He had health problems that took up much of his income, I’d also guess.

        Allen Smith

      • patrick ford says:

        It probably isn’t “up to Mark.” It is more likely that it is up to the heirs and their attorneys. Interested people might try contacting Marc Toberoff, Stephen Rhode, and Paul Levine.
        It’s also very possible letters and other documents concerning Kirby and Marvel may be under protective order.

  27. Allen Smith says:

    Any attorney worthy of the name would tell people fishing for information to go to hell.

  28. Allen Smith says:

    Sorry Pat Ford, I looked at Studio 77′s blog entry on the Moebius Silver Surfer, but when he called the Lee/Buscema run “classic”, I knew he was full of it.

    • Bill says:

      I think whatever you think unless you think I should think differently.

    • Kid Robson says:

      Of course it’s a classic run – look at all that great Buscema art. The only issue that’s exempt from the description is #18. And I’m certainly full of it – if you’re talking about brains. For the soft, smelly brown stuff, I think that’s more your department.

  29. Lightning Lord says:

    Look, I’m a huge superhero fan, and I even still read the mainstream books to this day (a huge crime in these circles I know) but if you don’t believe that the creators, including Kirby, got and continue to be totally screwed, you’re just an idiot. Sorry.

  30. Bill says:

    No apology necessary. Constructive criticism is always welcome. At least you didn’t say anything about my mother.

  31. Chuck Gower says:

    One of Jack’s complaints at Marvel was when he was at this page peak everyone keeps talking about. Many of those pages were layouts for other artists where he was paid half the page rate – for essentially doing the most difficult and creative part of the work – writing and telling the story, breaking it down and putting it together and then having another artist finish the work for the same fee he was getting…

  32. george says:

    Allen Smith said: “Lee loved writing the Surfer book because it enabled him to spout his hopelessly banal, obvious, and trite aphorisms passing for profundity. … I wouldn’t want Stan’s autograph if I were paid for it. His name is already on enough things it doesn’t deserve to be on. … If you want to rewrite history, Robert, collect your own facts and don’t expect other people to do your work for you.”

    Like his mentor and fellow Lee-hater, Henry Kujawa, Allen Smith goes on websites for the sole purpose of trashing Stan Lee. He never contributes anything else to any discussion. Like Kujawa, Smith has a very thin skin and ridicules anyone who dares to disagree with him. Smith and Kujawa regard any disagreement as a personal insult.

    Most people have learned to ignore them and treat them as what they are: nuisances who won’t go away. I’d advise people here to ignore Smith and not let him bait you into a feud.

  33. george says:

    Don’t the grown men here have anything better to do than nitpick over a 45-year-old comic book that was created to entertain kids?

    This is a pursuit for people with WAY too much time on their hands.

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