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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

SON OF THE LEE-KIRBY DEBATE

I've already held forth here on my reservations regarding the idea of Jack Kirby playing a "lone hand" during his long and estimable career. Still, I threw myself into the debate once more on a listserve, starting with an observation that even if Stan Lee had given Kirby and Steve Ditko every credit that modern fans think that they merited, this credit would never have been noticed by the average person outside comics-fandom. Such outsiders would have continued to believe Stan Lee created everything because he was the most visible figure, just as filmgoers think of Alfred Hitchcock as the sole author of his films, even though he never wrote any of them.

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My point is that the general public doesn't remember all the collaborators for popular works; average audiences are doing good if they can remember one major player attached to a given work. I'm not necessarily making a one-on-one comparison between Lee and Hitchcock, though I think Lee did marshal talent in a manner comparable to the way Hitchcock did-- an important factor in such collaborative endeavors.

Maybe this comparison will sit better with you: Lee and Frank Capra. To underscore the comparison, Capra wrote a very self-serving autobio in which he basically claimed that he, the director, did it all. Later a critic-- Joseph McBride?-- wrote a well-research refutation of Capra's "I did it all" assertion. McBride demonstrated that all of Capra's financial or critical successes stemmed from his collaborations with two key writers-- two writers whom the general public will never know. Sound familiar?

And yet, saying that Capra and Lee didn't do it all isn't the same as saying that they did nothing.

On Kirby and writing: well, they are documented artist-writers, like Jack Cole, who did for comic books what Foster and Caniff did for comic strips. (Raymond started out collaborating with a writer for some years though; don't know how many.) But the problem with Kirby is that his Golden Age work is so tied to the S&K partnership. I have no problem with believing that Kirby plotted his stories, probably with little or no advance notes before he started drawing. But-- DID HE DIALOGUE THEM? Apparently neither he nor Simon kept records; we don't even know if Kirby got a separate writer-payment in those days, the very thing which became the bone of contention in the Marvel years. (Maybe if one of us was an IRS agent, we could check Kirby's 1940s filings!) The Golden Age works, from SANDMAN to BOYS RANCH, are all basically well written pulp entertainment, efficient but not stylistically outstanding.


Then there's a fifteen-year period in which exigencies forced Kirby to collaborate outside the S&K shop, where so many hands contributed. Kirby works with Dave Wood, Stan Lee, and Larry Leiber, possibly rewriting a lot of what he's given, and only rarely does he have a dialogue-credit, as in that one issue of Nick Fury.

Then, toward the end of his first Marvel tenure, he gets sole credit on a couple of features: one of which is passable (Ka-Zar), one of which is ghastly (Inhumans). He goes to DC, and though some of his dialogue-writing experiments with Shakespearean rythyms, a lot of his dialogue is, in a word, goofy.

So again I ask the question--

If Kirby was writing such competent dialogue back in the 1940s-- when he himself was in his late twenties and early thirties-- HOW DID HE LOSE THAT ABILITY?

That one factor makes me doubt that Jack Kirby ever wrote a line of dialogue in the 1940s and 1950s.

I'm not saying that I believe it impossible; that Kirby was once capable of very efficient pulp dialogue, and then just lost the knack.

But an alternate theory would be that Kirby might have had a lot of help over rough spots in his shop days, so that he wasn't fully prepared to write dialogue as a solo talent in the 1970s.

FOOTNOTE: Another member of the listserve provided specifics on Alex Raymond's writer-collaborators--

"Alex Raymond had Don Moore as his writer for most of FLASH GORDON and JUNGLE JIM. Dashiell Hammett, Don Moore and Leslie Charteris were his writers for SECRET AGENT X-9. Ward Green and Fred Dickinson were his writers for RIP KIRBY."

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