Thursday, April 14, 2011

Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al - Vintage Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Interviews

More information from the Marvel vs Jack Kirby's estate court case. What we have here is a couple of short, yet sweet, excerpts from radio interviews done in the mid to late 1960s featuring, for the main part, Stan Lee, and to a lesser part, Jack Kirby.  These interviews were introduced as evidence to illustrate how Kirby was involved in the creation and plotting process of the time, but are even more notable for Lee claiming a bad memory, as far back as 1968, so, if nothing else, at least he's been consistent with his claims since then.  It's also amazing to think that Stan was claiming a yearly circulation figure of over sixty million issues - which I'd believe, as, in the late '60s, other than books, movies, some television and radio, there wasn't a lot to shift the focus of young people from comic books, unlike today's environment where comic books have to compete with the internet and the instant gratification of downloading and pay TV, all of which adds up to print comics becoming obsolete in their current form.  Things need to change. 

Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
WBAI Radio, NY, March 3, 1967
Interviewed by Mike O'Dell
MO: Who goes around saving maidens, preventing banks from being robbed, and committing deeds of that type, under an alter ego for the name, Peter Parker?  How about Tony Stark? Would you believe Reed Richards? Stan Lee? Jack Kirby? Well, except for the last two, they're all superheroes and they belong in Marvel comics, and they are written and drawn by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And Mr. Lee and Mr. Kirby are going to be answering questions about their superheroes. And I guess the first one would be addressed to Stan Lee, and it's the title of this program. Stan, will success spoil Spider-Man.

SL: [chuckles] Well, I don't think anything could spoil old Spidey, as we lovingly call him. Just have to correct one thing you said, though. You said that, except for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the others are superheroes. We like to think of ourselves as superheroes, too. Might add also that there are other artists and other writers who do some of the other books, too. Jack and I don't do them all, although we do the Fantastic Four and Thor. Spider-Man has been a success since he started, and, luckily, I don't think he's been spoiled yet, so we just have our fingers crossed.

MO: I ran across Marvel comic books about six or eight months ago, and one of the things that drew me to Marvel comic books, and Spider-Man in particular, is a panel that showed Spider-Man swooping down on some bank robbers, and they said , "Whoops, here comes Spider-Man!" And he replies, "Who were you expecting? Vice president Humphrey?" Now, this is not a line you expect to find in a comic book, and it sort of symbolizes your whole approach to the field, which is offbeat and interesting. Was it your idea, Stan? Where did it come from?

SL: Well, I guess, in that sense, in was my idea, since I write the dialogue. In a nutshell, our theory is - although maybe I shouldn't give the theory in a nutshell, because then I don't know what we'll talk about for the rest of the half hour. But, at any rate, in a nutshell, our theory is that there's no reason why a comic magazine couldn't be as realistic and as well-written and drawn as any other type of literature. We try to write these things so that the characters speak the way a character would speak in a well-written movie, well-produced television show, and I think that's what makes our book seem unique to a person who first picks them up. Nobody expects, as you say, that sort of thing in a comic book. But that's a shame, because why shouldn't someone expect reasonable and realistic dialogue in a comic book? Why do people feel that comic books have to be badly written? And we're trying to engage in a one-company crusade to see to it that they're not badly written.

MO: Jack, you drew and invented, if I'm not mistaken, Captain America, one of the earliest superheroes, who's now plying his trade in Marvel comics. How did Captain America come to be, and does he have any particular relationship to your other superheroes?

JK: I guess Captain America, like all of the characters comes to be, because of the fact that there is a need for them; somebody needed Captain America, just as the public needed Superman. When Superman came on the scene, the public was ready for him, and they took him. And so, from Superman, who didn't exactly satiate the public's need for the superhero, so spawned the rest of them. The rest of them all came from Superman, and they all had various names, and various backgrounds and they embraced various creeds. And Captain America came from the need for a patriotic character because the times at that time were in a patriotic stir. The war was coming on, and the corny cliché, the war humor, quite a bit of humor, to them, there is an underlying sincerity. We take them seriously, and I think the readers are aware of this.

MO: Did you also innovate the letters page? It adds to your stories, and frequently I sometimes find in the blurbs you run that you advance the stories by means of these letter pages.

SL: The letters pages are one of our most successful devices. It also established a rapport between ourselves and the readers, and I'm happy to say most of our readers feel that we're all friends. When they write a letter, they don't say, "Dear Editor." They say, "Dear Stan and Jack," "Dear So-and-so." They call us by name. And we give ourselves nicknames. We started this as a gag, and they've caught on. The fellow here on my right isn't just Jack Kirby. He's Jolly Jack,

MO: I'll get you for it. [laughs]

SL: Or Jack "King" Kirby. And I'm "Smilin' Stan." This is kind of cute, too, because, as I mentioned to you earlier, I think before we were on the air, we sort of think of the whole thing as one big advertising campaign, with slogans, and mottos, and catch phrases, and things that the reader can identify with. And besides just presenting stories, we try to make the reader think he's part of an "in" group. In fact, we've discussed before, we're always a little worried about being too successful, where the readers will feel, "Oh, gosh, now everybody's caught on to it. We have to find something new."

MO: Is there a real Irving Forbush?

SL: Oh, I don't think that it would be right for me to answer that. [Jack laughs] When we're off the air, I might hint at it. He's real in our imagination; I'll put it that may.

MO:  I think you also pioneered the use of mythological superheroes. I'm talking about Thor, which you two come up with every month.

SL: Well, you've got the right guy here, because I always say that Jack is the greatest mythological creator in the world. When we kicked Thor around, and we came out with him, and I thought he would just be another book. And I think that Jack has turned him into one of the greatest fictional characters there are. In fact, I should let Jack say this, but just on the chance that he won't, somebody was asking him how he gets his authenticity in the costumes and everything, and I think a priceless answer, Jack said that they're not authentic. If they were authentic, they wouldn't be authentic enough. But he draws them the way they should be, not the way they were.

MO: Did you do a lot of homework on that, a lot of Norse myths, and so forth?

JK: Well, not homework in the sense that I went home one night and I really concentrated on it. All through the years, certainly, I've had a kind of affection for any mythological type of character, and my conception of what they should look like. And here Stan gave me the opportunity to draw one, and wasn't going to draw back from really letting myself go, so I did, and, like, the world became a stage for me there, and t had a costume department that really went to work. I gave the Norse characters twists that they never had in anybody's imagination. And somehow it turned out to be a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed doing it.

MO: Isn't it rather tough to come up with villa ns that are a suitable match for a Norse god?

JK: Well, not if they're Norse villains.

MO: Well, you've also dragged in some Greeks. I remember one epic battle with Hercules.

JK: Well. Hercules had Olympian powers, which certainly are considered on an equal basis with the old powers of the Norse gods, and therefore we felt that they were an equal match for each other and by rights they should contend with each other.

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WBAI radio NY
Conducted by Neil Conan Aug 12, 1968
NC: My name is Neil Conan and I'm in the studio with Stan Lee, the single person most responsible for what many thousands of people are calling the “Marvel Age of comics.” Stan, at this point you're the editor as well as writing several of the magazines yourself, isn't that right?
SL: That's right, Neil. I think I'd rather you had said millions of people. We tell ourselves we have millions of readers.
NC: What is your circulation?
SL: Actually, it's sixty million a year.
NC: Sixty million a year?
SL: Now, I don't know that that's sixty million different people. There may be a couple of repeat sales there, but that's how many magazines we sell, approximately.
NC: Does that make you number one in the field?
SL; Oh, well, we think we'd be number one in the field if we sold two. No, from point of view of quantity, I think there's another company—who shall be nameless, as far as I'm concerned—that sells a few more, but they print a lot more. We sell more of what we print than anybody else.
NC: In other words, magazine for magazine.
SL: Mm-hm. I think Life may beat us.
NC:  [laughs] Okay, would you like to give us some of your background, and I guess incorporated in that would be the background of Marvel.
SL; I'd like to think they're almost synonymous. [laughs] I'm just, I'm not terribly important as an individual. Everything I do seems to involve Marvel. One of the few native-born New Yorkers, I guess, extant, and I've been working at Marvel since I was about 17.
NC: What were they publishing back in those days?
SL: Comic magazines, too, but obviously I think they had Captain America, who was one of the biggest at the time, and they had Marvel Mystery Comics, and Sub-Mariner. Daring Comics and Mystic Comics. Not too many others. It was a pretty small operation at the time. And I was there for awhile, and, as a matter of fact, Jack Kirby, who is now just about our top artist, he was my boss at the time, he and Joe Simon, who had hired me. And after I was there a short time, Joe and Jack left, I was the only fellow remaining, and Martin Goodman, our publisher, asked if I would hold the job down until he could find somebody else on a permanent basis, because I could see he didn't relish a 17-year-old handling this entire, vast operation. And he's never told me that he found anybody else, but he never told me that he stopped looking, so, as far as I know, I'm still there on a temporary basis. [laughs]
NC: The only thing that strikes me about the Silver Surfer is how Galactus ever was in on the surfing scene to name the Silver Surfer what he did.
SL: I have a feeling, I've got the worst memory in the world, but I have a feeling, when Jack Kirby named him, he started out as a guest star in Fantastic Four. Jack and I can never really remember which of us came up with most names, but I have a feeling-- He wasn't even supposed to be in the story. When I plotted it with Jack, it was just Galactus and so forth. And when I got the story from Jack to write the copy, he had drawn this fellow on the surfboard, and I think he called him the Surfer, or the Silver Surfer, and the name was certainly euphonious, and we decided to keep it. And we all fell in love with him.
NC: He's quite a character, but I just had a difficult imagining Galactus listening to Beach Boy records.
SL: Oh, you're quite right. Did we have Galactus name him in the Silver Surfer?
NC: Yes.
SL: Well, you see, this is loosely translated. In his own language, obviously, he said something else.
NC: Right. I've heard rumors that you are also asked to speak at colleges and whatnot.  What do you say?
SL: Well, it's more than a rumor. Actually, I hate to make— I've spoken at, I guess, just about every college in the east, and I've been asked to speak at almost every college and university in the Free World, I guess. I don't do it because I haven't got the time to take these trips, much as I would love to. But I hate to make speeches, and it always turns into a question-and-answer period. I'll get up there and give a very long introduction, something like, "My name is Stan Lee, and I apologize." And that's about it. And then they start firing questions at me, and, as you can probably tell, one simple question and I go off on the deep end and forget the time. And, before you know it, two or three hours have gone by, and everybody's asleep, and that's the whole thing.
NC: Right. And you slink out.
SL: Yeah. In defeat, as usual. But I love doing it, and these college kids are terrific, and I'm always amazed at the questions they ask, always on a philosophical plane. If they talk about Thor, let's say, who's our character who's the Norse god of thunder here on Earth, doing his good deeds, they won't say something as, well, you might expect the average comic fan would say, "Is Thor stronger than the Hulk," or, "Can he run faster than Spider-Man," or something. But get something thrown at me like, "How do you equate Thor's position in the cosmos and his father Odin with our own god? How can you reconcile real religion and what you're trying to do in Thor, and isn't there a contradiction there'?" And all of a sudden I've learned that f have to become something of an amateur philosopher, myself, in order to have these little lectures.
NC:  Well. 1 think, especially in Thor, you became something of an amateur philosopher writing the strip.
SL: Oh, I guess I love philosophy, myself, and think all of us at Marvel do, and it becomes so much more enjoyable when we can put what we consider to be a little meaning, and a little meat, and a little philosophy in the stones, instead of just making them action stories.
NC: Well, I can remember trembling with anticipation waiting for the next Thor during the period when you had Id, the Living Planet, or Ego, the Living Planet I think that was it.
SL: Yeah. That was Jack's idea too. I remember I said, "You've got to be kidding." He said, "No, let's get a living planet, a bioverse."  Well, I didn't want him to think I was chicken. I said, "All right, you draw it, write it." And, yeah, I think it turned out pretty good.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

seems like stan is fair in sharing the credit here! and shows him speaking about them co-creating and jack certainly didnt seem to disagree.

mr ed said...

The problem is Stan is now contradicting all those early interviews, and saying everything started with him. This was covered briefly in the deposition fragments.
Stan now says in the past he overstated Kirby's contribution to make Kirby "feel good."
This is already clear, but when the case goes to trial, or the full depositions emerge it will be so well documented there won't be any question.

rnigma said...

That is the same Neal Conan who currently hosts "Talk of the Nation" on NPR. He interviewed Stan again recently and played an excerpt from their 1967 interview... Stan sounded much the same, but Neal sounded more like s fan-struck teen then!

rnigma said...

Crud, I meant to type 1968... and "more like A fan-struck teen."