|Though the ads called the show "Marvel Super-heroes", the actual on-screen title was "The Marvel Superheroes". The featured characters were the stars of Journey into Mystery, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish.|
I won't dwell long here on how well or badly the cartoon producers adapted the Hulk comic stories for tv. I covered that process pretty extensively when I wrote about the Captain America cartoons a couple of blogs back. I have to say, though, that the theme tune for The Hulk is way more annoying than the Captain America one ... here's the lyrics:
Doc Bruce Banner,
Belted by gamma rays,
Turned into the Hulk.
Ain’t he unglamor-ous!
Wreckin’ the town
With the power of a bull,
Ain’t no monster clown
Who is as lovable
As ever-lovin’ Hulk! HULK! HULK!
The animators reached back into the vaults and used the story and art from the entire run of the original 1962 run of Incredible Hulk comics, with varying degrees of success.
|The DVD of The Incredible Hulk that I have includes a booklet with an episode guide and a breakdown of which comics the cartoons are adapted from.|
|The first episode used the artwork from The Incredible Hulk 1 largely unchanged, though The Hulk is coloured green throughout rather than the grey of the original comic.|
The second episode uses the startling Ditko-inked artwork from The Incredible Hulk 2 (Jul 1962). As noted last month, I thought this art looked like there was more Ditko in there than Kirby, and I've always liked this interpretation, though I could see how Stan might think it a bit too fearsome for his then-intended audience of ten-year olds.
|Steve Ditko's version of The Hulk, despite working over Kirby pencils, was much more monsterish than seen in the issues on either side.|
|The ninth episode of the Hulk cartoon adapts The Incredible Hulk 6, albeit in truncated form, to fit the 13 minute running time.|
The other really weird thing the animators did was to colour the old, clunky Iron Man armour from Avengers 2 (Nov 1963) in the style the newer red-and-yellow Iron Man Armour ... wouldn't it just have been easier to frame the whole episode as a flashback and leave the armour yellow?
|The old style Iron Man coloured up to match the newer colour scheme. Is it me, or is that just plain wrong?|
|The incredible splash page from The Incredible Hulk 6, as pencilled and inked by Steve Ditko who would go on to revitalise the character during his Tales to Astonish run.|
JACK KIRBY - A SLIGHT RETURNIf you're regular reader of this blog, you'll recall I mentioned I had doubts that Jack Kirby could fairly be called the sole creator of The Hulk, as he has claimed in interviews. My main area of concern was that many of the main "distinguishing characteristics" of The Hulk couldn't really be attributed to Jack Kirby, as they hadn't been present during old Greenskin's first appearances in the original run of The Incredible Hulk (1962). Just so we're clear, I think these are:
- Banner changing to The Hulk while under stress (which is related to)
- The angrier the Hulk gets, the stronger he gets
- Hulk always talking about himself in the third person ("Hulk smash!")
- The Hulk's distinctive green skin
Thinking about it over the last few weeks, I realised that what my assertion boils down to is that Jack Kirby's Hulk wasn't the successful one, and it took major intervention by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to turn the character round from cancellation to a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe.
|An angry - and very long - interview with Jack and Roz Kirby was published in this issue of The Comics Journal at the beginning of 1990. I still have my original copy somewhere.|
In it, Jack says that Stan made no contribution to the Marvel lineup and that Jack created just about all the Marvel characters alone and that he also wrote all the stories he drew. I found the anger and mean-spiritedness of the interview quite upsetting at the time, as I had always admired both Stan Lee - I'd met him a few times while I worked at Marvel UK during the 1980s - and Jack Kirby, whose work I had actively collected during the 1970s, including all those terrible Archie titles and the pre-hero Marvels.
|Jack Kirby, pictured in 1970, and Stan Lee some time in the mid to late 1970s.|
I do think that from Jack's point of view he actually did create much of the material during the early days of Marvel, but equally, I don't accept that Stan did nothing and just hogged all the glory. I think the issue is that Jack and Stan had very different ideas about what constitutes "creating" a character ... and as a writer and editor myself, I naturally have a little more sympathy for Stan's viewpoint.
Obviously, when we're talking about things that happened in 1961 and the couple of years that followed, you have to bear in mind that memories get hazy, and all us have a tendency to re-write history with ourselves as the hero. Just look at Future Shock: The 2000AD Story for an example of that. But what is certain is that Stan Lee was the editor at the fledgling Marvel Comics and a story or an idea would not have gone in the comics if Stan hadn't approved. Yes, publisher Martin Goodman had the power of veto, and decided whether titles lived or died, but while a series was running, Stan got to say what saw print and what didn't.
For that alone, even if you don't want to give Stan credit for anything else, you have to admit he had at least the good taste to publish Jack Kirby's (and Steve Ditko's) work. Just what the exact nature of that work was, I will try to ascertain in the paragraphs that follow.
The problem with being ("just") an editor is that when things go wrong, you get all the blame and when things are going swimmingly, you get none of the credit. I learned that hard lesson in the period immediately after my short tenure as editor of 2000AD. My friend Philip de Sausmarez calls it "having all of the accountability and none of the authority". It's also characterised by the phrase, "Success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan". And that's a phenomenon you'll see in just about any business that has a P&L sheet.
To begin to understand how the argument over "creatorship" brewed in the first place, you first have to consider how comics were made and consumed back at the dawn of the industry and how that changed once Marvel Comics evolved new audiences for illustrated storytelling. It's related to the old show business anecdote of the Whistling Dog, the idea behind it being that booking agents were so enthusiastic about the idea of a dog that could whistle that none of them stopped to ask whether the dog was any good at whistling. It was the same with comics. When Superman first appeared in 1938, there was such a scramble among publishers to get their hands on superhero characters that they didn't stop to consider whether the material they were buying was any good or not.
|During 1973 and 1974, DC Comics published a number of 100-page editions of their comics. Most of these had just the regular twenty or so pages of new material and padded out the rest with reprints from the Golden Age.|
In the years since, I've thought on-and-off about why that might be. Was it a generational thing? No, because I love movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Okay, is it just that writers were just better thirty years later? Again, no ... movies produced inside the studio system both pre- and post-WWII were always at least competent - some positively shone, when they used writers of the calibre of Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett, Ben Hecht and William Faulkner. These days it doesn't take too much effort to uncover a contemporary movie stinker - just take a gander at SyFy or The Horror Channel ...
|Though both Fighting Yank and The Red Bee were reasonably successful comics during the 1940s, hardly anyone remembers them today.|
In the mad scramble to publish long-underwear characters that vaguely resembled Superman, the publishers and editors didn't much care whether their characters were competently written and drawn, they were just looking to publish something that looked a bit like Superman. Then once the furore died down (and once National got done with suing those who sailed a little too close to the Man of Steel), more skilled creators like Will Eisner and, of course, Simon and Kirby were able to pitch new ideas to editors for characters that were more than just Superman clones.
|Though the cover of Jumbo Comics 15 was drawn by Sheena-creator Will Eisner, the interior story was by Bob Powell. The cover and interior art for the Blackhawk story was by Chuck Cuidera, with Eisner supplying only the script.|
|Young Romance, created by Simon and Kirby in 1947, was the first of a boom in "love comics". A few years later, Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein started a deluge of horror comics with Crypt of Terror (later Tales from the Crypt).|
Right at the beginning of the first entry in this blog, I quoted the famous saying, "the Golden Age of science fiction is twelve", which can easily be paraphrased as, "the Golden Age of comics is ten". The point is that the median age of comic readers was traditionally always ten. That held true on both sides of the Atlantic. And ten-year olds are not the most sophisticated of consumers. So while comics were catering to that age demographic, there was no pressure on the publishers to do any more than keep coming up with new concepts. If a book was well-written or drawn, that was all well and good, and would probably contribute to a title's longevity, but the quality of the delivered material was never a deal-breaker.
|I'll admit to reading the occasional Charton comic back in the 1960s. The strips drawn by Steve Ditko, like Gorgo and Captain Atom weren't too bad, but the rest of the company's output was for the most part below average.|
|Much as I enjoyed the Julius Schwarz edited DC comics when I was eight, looking back now it's easy to see they had no real humanity about them. No one ever got angry or irritated or sad in a Schwarz book ...|
It took me years to understand the difference between plot-driven and character-driven stories, though I'll happily admit I can be a bit slow on the uptake. Even though I worked extensively with gifted writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and, most notably, Steve Parkhouse, I didn't think too closely about the mechanics of creating a story. I first heard the phrase "character-driven" uttered by Steve Parkhouse. And I had no idea what he meant. But after a while of trying - and for the most part, failing - to create workable fiction, it began to dawn on me that the best stories don't have characters manipulated like puppets to serve the necessities of the plot. You have to have the characters decide the plot turns, based on what the character would do in a given situation.
PLOT-DRIVEN vs CHARACTER-DRIVEN
If you are ever reading a story or watching a tv show or movie and you think to yourself, "Why on earth would he do that?" ... that's an example of a plot-driven story. It means that the character is acting out-of-character in order to help the writer get where he wants to story to get to.
That's what those old Silver Age DC comics were doing, month after month after month. And that works just fine when you're in a marketplace where the customers are young and unsophisticated and are more interested in the novelty of the concepts than they are in the quality of the storytelling. To be fair, it worked just fine for DC pretty much from 1938 right through to about 1965. And as my old Fleetway publisher Jon Davidge was very fond of saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Comics was just about the only area of creative writing where you could get away with that stuff. Okay, there's a special place reserved in Poor Storytelling hell for writers of 1960s and 1970s tv shows ... and now I come to think of it, 1940s radio shows were pretty awful, too. But in the 1940s and 50s, the comic was the nadir of storytelling.
But the problem was that the comic book marketplace was changing thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of Stan Lee. Pretty soon, the old way of creating comics was not going to work. Audiences were becoming smarter, not necessarily good news for the comics industry. Perhaps Stan actually recognised that or perhaps his different approach to how characters were written was just a lucky coincidence. Either way, it lead to an elevation in the average age of Marvel Comics readers and ultimately, to the average age of all comic readers. And that wasn't necessarily good news for the comic industry, either.
WHAT JACK DIDSo what exactly was Jack Kirby's contribution to the Marvel Universe and why did he say those terrible things about Stan Lee in that notorious interview in The Comics Journal 134?
The old school guys, who had come up through the 1940s, really did believe that the Concept was enough. So Simon and Kirby were able to produce Captain America and The Vision for Timely, then move over to National where they first revamped Sandman, then pumped out Boy Commandos and Newsboy Legion, while Captain America Comics continued as one of Timely's best-selling titles.
|After the war, Simon and Kirby struck out on their own and published their own comics in partnership with established publishers, starting with Young Romance, Black Magic with Prize and Boys' Ranch with Harvey.|
Even though he claims not to remember the reasons for his departure from National at the end of 1958 in the Comics Journal Interview, the fact is that Jack Kirby got into a legal battle with National editor Jack Schiff over whether Schiff was entitled to a payment for his minimal involvement with Dick & Dave Wood and Jack Kirby's syndicated newspaper strip, "Sky Masters of the Space Force". And even though Kirby eventually lost and Schiff got his money, National closed ranks and by the beginning of 1959 Jack Kirby had no one else to sell his pencil to but Atlas.
At Atlas, Kirby was content to coast along on the monster books for almost three years before he or anyone else thought about doing superhero characters. It's fairly well-documented that Martin Goodman wanted something that would cash-in on the rising success of National's Justice League of America comic and instructed Stan to produce a team-up book with Captain America, Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. What happened next would change the course of Martin Goodman's, Stan Lee's and Jack Kirby's lives.
And this is where accounts vary.
Jack Kirby has always maintained that he and he alone came up with the concepts for The Fantastic Four. And let's allow for a moment that that's true. But if, as Jack claims, Stan did nothing, why is it that everything Kirby did both before and after Marvel doesn't read like his Marvel stuff?
I think it was because in Jack Kirby's mind, The Concept was all that mattered. He didn't understand character-driven stories, and so provided concepts (and plots) along with his art, but didn't bother with stuff like motivation and characterisation.
The perfect example of why it matters how a comic is written is The X-Men. When the title began in the early 1960s, it sold well enough and after running for two years, was finally stable enough to go monthly. First Kirby stepped back, then Stan handed the reins to Roy Thomas ... and then the title began to founder. Three years later, it was cancelled. If the title was succeeding on the strength of its concept alone, it should have lasted longer. The problem was that it was a great idea, just not very well done - and by the mid-1960s, you just couldn't get away with that any more.
|By the late 1960s, The X-Men was selling the lowest number of copies of all the Marvel super-hero titles. Even Sgt Fury was selling better than X-Men. The new X-Men revamp of the mid-1970s was a whole different story, though.|
WHAT STAN DIDWhen Stan worked with Jack on those early comics, Stan brought something to the table that didn't appear in the mags of other publishers at that time - emotions. For the most part, Superman, Batman, Flash and Green Lantern were deadpan and emotionless in every adventure. If Superman experienced any emotion, it was because of Red Kryptonite. Certainly Kirby's Green Arrow or Challengers never expressed annoyance or fear. Jealously was something that only Lois Lane displayed.
The Fantastic Four, however, were a big bundle of unrepressed emotions. The Torch was playful and irritating, and The Thing was irritated, morose and short-tempered. Mr Fantastic was boring, pompous and over-protective of Sue, and Invisible Girl was solicitous, caring and yes, even occasionally, jealous.
Not only that, but those elements of emotion appeared all the way through the Marvel line, whether Jack was drawing the comics or not.
And, most importantly, the effect was that it attracted readers older than that traditional ten-year-old demographic. So readers stayed with Marvel Comics past the age when boys normally gave up comics and got interested in sport or girls. And that's what shaped the comics industry right up until the present day.
HOW MARVEL CHANGED THE COMICS INDUSTRYToday, the audience for comics is largely a nostalgic one. Very few young readers are coming in at the bottom end of the age-range. There have been many discussions about why that should be, though few have been able to offer a solid explanation. My own view is that it's a collision of several factors.
Television was certainly a big one. In the late 1950s, kids could watch the dramatised adventures of Superman, Flash Gordon and Sheena Queen of the Jungle right there in their own living rooms. For free. And tv made audiences lazy. Why go to the bother of reading when you can lie on the floor and have the actors talk out of the television to you?
As the Sixties rolled into the Seventies, kids' toys got more sophisticated, then computer games came along, and by the end of the 1970s newstand comic sales had tanked. So the industry came up with a new plan ... and serviced the aging fans via comic shops and the direct market.
And all that time, with Marvel offering stories aimed at older readers, and DC trying to follow that trend, and with continuity becoming ever-more involved, it's no wonder that new readers in that 7-8 age range weren't getting into comics to replace the readers lost at the top of the age range.
So for the last forty odd years comics have come to rely more on retaining the readers they already had, catering to them past the teenage years and well into adulthood.
... AND BACK TO THE MAIN POINTAll the time that the comic industry was changing, because of what Stan was doing with the stories in Marvel Comics, Jack Kirby seemed oblivious. He didn't realise that the audience demographic was changing and that the readers were buying Stan's stories because of the emotional connection they felt with the characters and their situations.
Much of the time, Kirby didn't even look at the finished comics, so maybe he was assuming that the stilted dialogue he was scribbling in the page margins of his pencils was being faithfully lettered by Sam Rosen. And even if he had read Stan's dialogue, I doubt he would have understood how Stan had made it better.
Of course, sometimes, Stan wanted the story to be slightly different to how Kirby, or Ditko, had drawn it, and would get other artists to make changes, so the art would conform to Stan's dialogue. But that's what most editors do. Some are more considerate about it than others, but essentially, editors regularly change stuff before it goes to print. Even book editors who are dealing with sole authors and actual copyright holders. I don't think that could have been a surprise to Kirby.
|Here's an extract from the New York Herald-Tribune article by Ned Freedland. The full article was reprinted in The Collected Jack Kirby Collector 4.|
WHAT A SHAMEIt's a real pity that Jack Kirby reached the end of his life believing that Stan Lee screwed him over. Because when you look at the evidence and listen to what others, who were there at the time, say ... well, that just doesn't hold water.
Stan pretty much invented credits on comic books. At the time, no one else did it. Occasionally, artists would sign their work - and more often than not the production department would white the signatures out - but it wasn't common. If Stan really was the egotistical maniac Kirby made him out to be, Lee would have credited just himself or left the artist's name off. In fact, Stan went all out to create a star system at Marvel and freely talked about how the Marvel Method worked in his Bullpen Bulletins.
John Romita told the Comic Book Artist, "I had heard all of the inside stuff, like from the Herald-Tribune article that insulted Jack, that he thought Stan was a part of. Stan could not convince him of that, and certainly could not convince Roz that Stan hadn’t encouraged the writer to make fun of Jack. I know for a fact that Stan would rather bite his tongue than say such a thing, because Jack’s success would've been his success. There’s no reason to run Jack down. Stan had the position; he didn’t have to fight Jack for it. I don’t think Jack ever wanted the editorial position; if he wanted credit, he deserved credit. Stan used to give him credit all the time; he used to say most of these ideas are more than half Jack's."
If anyone screwed Jack, it was Martin Goodman. But even then, Marty was just following industry practice. Original artwork was never returned. In fact, the companies went as far as supplying pre-printed art boards to the artists so the pencillers couldn't claim they owned the physical bristol boards. And Marty thought credits were a courtesy, one he'd never have extended without Stan's urging.
Should Marvel have paid Kirby and his family when the characters made millions in other media? Well, yes ... it would have been the decent thing to do. But when have you ever heard of a big company paying anyone unless it absolutely has to? And Stan had asked Jack many times to join the Marvel staff as Art Director, but he always refused. Perhaps if Jack had taken the company shilling, he too might have end up with a million-dollar pension for doing the occasional promotional appearance.
But it wasn't to be, and Jack Kirby went to his grave believing that Stan Lee had betrayed him, which doesn't seem to be the case at all. And that is the real tragedy here.
Next: Some Astonishing Tales