Did Stan Lee Steal Jack Kirby's Movie Credit?

"Those bastards at Marvel, and that bloody Stan Lee! They never once gave Jack Kirby credit for anything. Ever! EVER!!!"

I've been hearing that for a long, long time now. Longer than I really want to count. As with all things, the truth, once you did down into it, is somewhat different to the narrative that continues to be spread. The blame for Stan Lee stealing Jack Kirby's movie credits isn't as straight forward as you might think.

Let's look at some ads. The fuss all really kicked off when these two ads appeared in Variety, dated 1 May 1985. 

You can clearly see a credit, 'Based on STAN LEE'S Marvel Comic Strip Character'. This is where the fuss all begins. People have continuously pointed to such ads as proof that Stan Lee was a shameless credit hog at the expense of Jack Kirby. With Captain America, Lee had no involvement in the creation of the character at all. But then, Joe Simon often stated that neither did Kirby, and that all Kirby did was pencil what he (Simon) had created. Joe was a bit of a credit hog too.

The theft of creator credit goes back a lot further than that. Lookin at the 1970s and early 1980s, we can see that nobody was credited in trade ads for either Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk.

2 November 1977. Variety
18 October 1978. Variety
9 May 1979. Variety
7 May 1980. Variety

Assigning credits to films, even creator credits, wasn't down to Stan. The credits were supplied by the comic book characters and what the studios thought at the time. When it came to Cannon, well, they weren't the best studio when it came to accuracy. In fact, Cannon were always very loose with the truth and facts.

For example, Cannon's Superman IV ads rarely, if ever, mention Siegel and Shuster, and they were contractually bound to.

7 May 1986. Variety. Hey, Yoram, who created Superman? The Salkinds, I think.

Ads for the Wonder Woman series mention no creators.

Stan Lee's credits continued into 1986, when Cannon (that lot again) credited him in regards to Spider-Man. In 1987, they credited him, again, with Captain America.

7 May 1986. Variety. Notice the credit. That's more than what Siegel and Shuster got.
6 May 1987. Variety

By this stage people in the comic book industry had taken note and had begun to speak out about these erroneous credits. And rightly so. The resulting uproar was enough to change the credits, or so people would have you believe. What isn't acknowledged is that, at the same time, Stan Lee was also telling Cannon that the creator credits were wrong, not that Cannon cared at all. They were about pumping product out, no matter what. Film studios in the 1980s didn't listen to the comic book industry, and they didn't care what the fans thought. Influence was down to the powerful and connected. The average fan could, and did, scream loudly, but Cannon simply didn't listen.

Fast forward to 1989. Stan, and Marvel Comics, had made it clear that Stan did not create Captain America, as per the earlier ads. The proper credit was supplied, so Cannon fixed the ads.

10 May 1989. Variety
18 October 1989. Variety

Just in case you can't see it, here's the detail from both ads.

Spider-Man was still being credited as 'Based On Characters Created By Stan Lee'. Now, it's not clear if Cannon had heard Lee when he told them that Steve Ditko had co-created Spider-Man, or if Lee and Marvel didn't push as hard for Ditko as they did Kirby and Simon.

Other films from the period - Swamp Thing: Based on Characters Appearing In Magazines Published By DC Comics. And that had Michael Uslan producing. Uslan was, and still is, a comic book fan and industry insider from way back. He knew who created what, so he could have easily assigned the credit. What would have stopped him was the contract, which stated that only DC Comics would be credited. These contracts, and the creator credit, were industry standard. Go ahead, have a look.

Clause in contract between Swampfilms, Inc and DC Comics, Inc, 10 October 1980. Complete contract can be seen here.

The Punisher: Based On The Marvel Comics Character.

Going back further, ads for Superman, Superman II, Superman III and Supergirl mention no creators. Batman ads rarely mention Bob Kane. And so forth.

What does this mean? It means that it was rarely up to someone such as Stan Lee to decide any credit assigned to him, or anyone else for that matter, when it came to the films. It was down to the producers and the film studios, and they never wanted to credit anyone who didn't directly work on the film unless they were contractually bound to do so. Even then, they'd skip those credits in trade ads, which is what we all saw. The idea that Stan Lee, alone, had control over the credits of a film, especially when it came to the advertisements, is a falsehood. He had no control.

When the films were being sold to the studios, Lee was in Hollywood meeting with executives and trying to cut deals. Mostly he was there because the studio heads had some idea as to who he was, thanks to both Marvels and his own marketing skills. They had no idea who Jack Kirby was.

This sums up Hollywood's attitude towards the comic book creators. Stephen Tolkin, who wrote the Captain America movie that appeared in the late 1980s, discussed it. When asked about the Red Skull, and the Skull's origins as a WWII Nazi, and how he applied that to the film, his reply was.

I dropped all that bullshit. He's a very wealthy Italian industrialist who's like a hitman. This guy has been responsible for the death of both Kennedys and Martin Luther King and John Lennon. He's had all these people killed in an effort to crush the spirit of America.I

The Red Skull was no longer a Nazi. The whole creation of Captain America was based around his on-going fight with the Nazi regime, in particular the Red Skull. The struggle in the comic book, which had been around the first Captain America story in 1941, was just, in his words, 'bullshit'. Thankfully when Marvel regained control over the character and began to produce their own films, they restored the Red Skull's origin and he was once again a Nazi.

(As an aside, Jack Kirby always said that writer/editor Francis Edward 'France' Herron created the Red Skull. Joe Simon said that both Kirby and Herron created the character. So, who told the truth?)

When Tolkin was asked about Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, he was just as blunt.

I've never met them. Are they alive?II

Both men were alive and healthy in 1989.

That sums up the attitude that Hollywood towards to comic books and comic book creators throughout the 1970s and 1980s. You can blame Stan Lee for a lot of things, but when it comes to that era, and the lack of credits, I think you'll find that it was all well out of his hands.


Amazing Heroes #177

II Comic Scene #23 


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