Here’s a brutally realistic thought about comics:

In comics, men of words hire men of images. The historical system of patronage is codified by capitalism and is supported by critics who use words and instinctively “read” comic text as though it is merely supported by images that stand in for verbal metaphors. In the arena of commercial art, class ties to and debases visual literacy and text reigns supreme.

From Marguerite Van Cook’s article Sublime Capital, Kirby, Lee, the Worth and the Worthy at The Hooded Utilitarian.

Hail to The King, fight The Man

Kirby Self Portrait, via

I’ve been kind of vocal on Twitter (okay, very) about my disdain for Stan Lee’s increasingly demented claims to single-handedly creating the Marvel characters, and the poor treatment that Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby received after their departure from Marvel Comics – specifically with the past years’ slew of Hollywood adaptations of their creations.

In recent weeks two internet articles popped up that express rather precisely my stance on the matter; one, obviously biased by direct relation, is an open letter to Jack Kirby for Father’s Day from his son Neal. There is a lot of bitterness to be detected in the piece (but justifiably so, in my impression):

Unfortunately, for the past several years, some in the comics industry who have had the benefit of longevity have used the opportunity to claim to be the sole creator of all of Marvels’ characters. Must be great to be the last man standing.  It would seem that being backed by the public relations department of a large corporation buys access into the 24/7 news cycle.

The other mention is an article from the New York Times, basically starting its report by indirectly calling Stan Lee a con man:

The comic book industry began life in the early 20th century as the province of con men who stripped artists of their creations, then moved on to the next mark. The artists who were paid virtually nothing for work on characters that are now worth billions at the movies are nearly all dead.

Yeah, it’s put in general terms, but the entire body of the article is about the Kirby family’s legal claim against Lee for creator’s rights. Who else could they mean? The article goes on:

…In his 2010 deposition, Mr. Lee seemed to suggest that Mr. Kirby was little more than a talented foot soldier who followed the whims of his boss.

Mr. Lee sang a different tune during the Marvel glory years of the 1960s, when he sometimes described Mr. Kirby as an equal in the creative process. In a 1968 interview later quoted in The Comics Journal, Mr. Lee talked about brainstorming with Mr. Kirby, who, he noted, needed “no plot at all” to produce stories: “He just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing. … He’s so good at plots, I’m sure he’s a thousand times better than I.”

I won’t go on at length here, but I think Lee’s creative output since the break with Kirby kind of speaks for itself. The quality of his writing notwithstanding, he has mostly gotten attention in recent years by launching gimmicks like “Stripperella” and “The Governator”, drawing on celebrity franchises Pamela Anderson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, respectively.