There are many comic book writers, animators, and general creators who have achieved legendary status over the years, but perhaps there are none who quite match the likes of Stan Lee, and Jacky Kirby. These two juggernauts (pun intended) have forged ways through the comic book industry other creators could only dream about before they came along.
They’ve seen the fruition of new genres of comics, the creation of agreeable censorship…the subsequent breaking down of that overzealous censorship…they’ve been through poverty, war, overwhelming success, and daunting lawsuits because of that success.
For those casual comic book lovers, you may not know Jack Kirby very well (for reasons that will be touched on in this article). But surely everyone knows Stan Lee, to some degree. Especially having seen almost any Marvel film in recent years. So here are fifteen interesting and fun facts about these two comic book colossals.
15. Name Changer
You might know these gentlemen as Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby, but neither of them professionally go by their actual, given names. Born Stanley Martin Lieber, Stan Lee had high hopes for himself as a serious writer. He was determined to save his given name for a “great American novel” that he would one day write. This has yet to happen, and his pen name has since become almost godly, with regards to comics and superhero films.
Born five year before Lee, in 1917, Jack Kirby was given the name: Jacob Kurtzberg. So far as could be discovered, Kirby did not have as fantastic and dramatic a reason as Lee to change his name, but perhaps he saw fairly clearly, that Kurtzberg wasn’t going to cut it on a comic cover. Either way, the pen names that these two men have come up with will forever be their true identities to so many…like they are superheroes in their own right.
14. Captain America And The First Time You Saw “Stan Lee”
The interesting thing about the character of Captain America is that he was created by Jack Kirby, before parting ways with Timely Comics in 1941. But what also happened in 1941, was Stanley Lieber’s first usage of the pen name, Stan Lee. And what did he use it for? He used it for his credit as a writer on Captain America Comics #3. And given that Timely Comics (which would later become Marvel) was now out a creative duo in Kirby and his partner, the publisher of the company gave an interim editing job to a then only nineteen-year-old Stan Lee. Impressed by his work with Captain America, and several other titles, the publisher gave Lee his first real taste of the comic book industry. Sure, he had been there for a while as an assistant, but now he was an editor, and putting his name to his own written work. All thanks to Kirby’s creation, and his falling out with the company with which he created.
13. Jack Kirby Looked Through Garbage For Old Newspapers To Practise
Growing up in a pretty hard time in the lower East side of New York, Jack Kirby did not have access to all of the amenities that we now have. Comics could not just be simply sourced on the internet for an easy read, or study. No, people had to work for their few pennies, to go out an purchase them. And it’s not like Kirby, or his family were made of money. So what did he do when he couldn’t afford comics? He went out of his way to root through neighbouring trash bins so that he could find newspapers from the previous however many days. This gave him access to all of the comic strips that were available in the papers at the time. What an incredibly humble, and meager way to study up on comics. Not only did he read and study, but he would also practise drawing on the paper as well, and given the speed at which he was later able to pump out characters, it must be said that he practised hard.
12. Stan Lee Changed Comic Books With Fantastic Four
After a resurgence of superheros in the sixties, comics were taken in to be something rather childish, and given that, it was thought that the language in comic books should reflect that. So Stan Lee was approached by publisher Martin Goodman to create a team of child-oriented comic book heroes. Assuming that this would be his last go in the comic book world, Lee made a stand. He created then the Fantastic Four (a joint effort with Jack Kirby), but instead of gearing it to children, he purposely made the story complex, and deeper than anything he had done to that point. His band of conflicted, and conflicting characters, in this act of rebellion, ushered a new world of comic book characters. And far from losing his job, or quitting altogether, Stan Lee became the talk of the town! The Avengers, as well as the X-Men used this very same formula of complex and conflicting characters to build their successes as well. Lee brought legitimacy back to the seriousness of comics.
11. Private 1st Class Kirby
When World War II broke out, Jack Kirby enlisted. One would expect that he might try to gear his military career towards something artistic like propaganda, or some sort of manual writing. But that’s not the case. No, Kirby joined up as an infantryman. And he did a damned good job, it seems. When the war came to a close, Kirby was a Private 1st Class. He left with a Combat Infantry Badge (which means he definitely saw action), as well as the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon, and a Bronze Battle Star to boot. Now the theatre ribbon might seem a tad bit artistic in some way shape or form but this is in sole reference to the “Theatre”, meaning the stage on which there was heavy combat. Given the listing for his ribbon, this means that Kirby fought not just throughout Europe, but also marched into the African and Middle Eastern campaigns of the war. Each of these with their own unique set of difficulties, Kirby’s experiences must have certainly influenced much of his future work.
10. Kirby’s Boy Commandos And His Younger Days In A Kid Gang
During the forties, Jack Kirby created a comic called Boy Commandos. As ridiculous as this might seem, it was a mix of two very important parts of Jack’s life. Growing up as a kid in New York, Kirby found himself running with some kid gang called the “Suffolk Street Gang”, so-called for the street on which most of the kids lived. Spending much of his childhood fighting with rival gangs, it seems Kirby already had an instinct for combat. Add to this his service in WWII against the Nazis, and we get Boy Commandos, a gang of fierce, battle-ready kids, taking on the “Ratzies”. Writers always give out the advice to “write what you know”, and it seems like Kirby took that advice to heart for sure. It should be noted, as some may have already known, or noticed from the above cover, but this comic was published by DC Comics. Kirby’s involvement with DC is part of the reason there is a stigma surrounding the relationship between the Marvel and DC universes.
9. Stan Lee Used To Write Obituaries For Celebs Who Weren’t Dead Yet
Before Lee really ever got down to creating cool and crazy characters for Timely Comics, or Marvel, he spent his time writing antemortem obituaries for celebrities. What does this mean? Simply put, it means he wrote obituaries for people who actually were not yet deceased. The office in New York where he apparently did this has not been specifically disclosed, but what a depressing job regardless. And this is reportedly why Lee left. He could just not deal with such depressing content day in, and day out. And who could blame him? Especially when his day consisted of writing about the life of a celebrity as if that person were already dead.
8. Stan Lee Wrote Scripts For Military Training Manuals And Videos
Ok, so this photograph is not exactly an accurate depiction of what Stan Lee looked like while he served in World War II. In fact, the only combat he’d have ever seen would have been with other writers and their superiors. When he joined in 1942, Lee was actually fixing communications equipment in the so-called “Signal Corps”. But given his ability as a writer, he was transferred to the film department of the military to pen scripts for training videos and manuals. He even managed a few cartoons and slogan as well. He was ranked in the military as “Playwright”, which was a very elite rank in the U.S. Forces. Only eight other people shared this title with Stan Lee. In comparison to Kirby, it seems Lee lucked out. and this would not be the only time Lee would win out over Kirby. All the same though, Stan Lee went back to Timely Comics in 1945, when his services were no longer required in the military. And he picked up right where he left off.
7. Yup, That’s A Nun
Yeah…try not to get too distracted by the clearly ridiculous romance comic book cover above. The truth of this cover is that Lee and Kirby went in very different directions after the war. It seem as though there was a bit of a backlash after the war against superhero comics. Or at least they just were not as popular as when America was fighting the Nazis. Which makes sense, for sure. People might want something a bit lighter than the world needing to be saved again, having just lived it.
So, romance and horror comics began hitting the scene. Horror comics didn’t come until a little bit later, but Kirby wasted no time digging into, and basically building the foundation on which romance comics sit. Lee kept with the heroes, and Kirby saw a market, and jumped right in. People were entranced by these melodramatic stories of love and romance…like, for example, coming on to a nun and trying to get her to break her vows. Young Love Comics did very well for their time.
6. A Star Is Born
It may not come as a shock to anyone that Stan Lee has been in an abundance of films. So many, that he has probably made an appearance in more films than some of the stars on the Boulevard. And given that very fact, it should also be no shock to anyone that Stan Lee now has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His appearance in so many films is no mere happenstance either. He made sure of the existence of a clause in his contract that stated he must appear in any films that featured a character he created.
Even Sony and Fox have given him cameos in their films (even though they own the rights to many of those characters at present). This shows just how eminent Stan Lee is in the business. And there’s a going theory regarding why the Fantastic Four bombed so badly as it did…the simple justification being that they didn’t ask Lee to appear at all in the film.
5. Groot-ed In Tradition
There has been some turmoil between Kirby’s estate, and Marvel Comics for some time now, and it revolves quite a bit around the use of specific characters created by the comic book legend. One of these characters is the incredible tree beast, Groot. But Groot was something different, as envisioned by Kirby. It turns out that Groot was in fact “The monster form Planet X”, in a run of Tales to Astonish. This is a very intense detachment from the heartwarming, nature-loving Groot that people have come to know and love through the hit Guardians of the Galaxy. Who knows if this was a symbolic way of shutting the Kirby estate up, figuratively, but Groot used to have more words in his vocabulary than “I am Groot”, or “We are Groot”. If I were Kirby, or someone representing his interests after his death, I would be pretty pissed that some incredible monster I created became a tri-syllabic tree hugger…
Now here’s the thing. Everyone seems to think that Marvel and Detective Comics are constantly at war. And as two gigantic businesses, sure, they are in competition, but it’s not as though Stan Lee drew a line in the sand where the divide is between the Marvel and DC universes. Hell, both he and Jack Kirby have written extensively for Detective Comics at one point or another.
At the dawn of the new millennium, Lee wrote a very interesting series for DC called Just Imagine. The whole premise of this run of comics was a total re-imaging of some very iconic DC characters, from the ground up. It’s an interesting take to consider, when DC is also constantly rehashing their material. So why not have one of the greatest comic book legends do it for you as well? He covered The Flash, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Green Lantern during this run, and it was certainly not unsuccessful.
3. Kirby Estate VS. Marvel Universe
So this photo is, of course, not any sort of court proceeding…though it would be amazing if it were, with a few of the Avengers, Agent Coulson, and Loki kicking around. But never mind that. For five long years, the Kirby family had been locked in legal battle with Marvel (now Disney) regarding their rights to withdraw certain characters from Marvel’s use.
The Kirbys issued over forty notices to different companies, in an attempt to withdraw the use of 262 individual creations that Jack Kirby had a hand in. The whole battle almost ended up at the Supreme Court, but just days before the court was to begin on the case, Marvel and the Kirby estate came to some sort of settlement. It must be assumed that the settlement was some form of remuneration for the use of Jack’s work, but the deal obviously still allowed continued use, as Groot is still lumbering around, and Iron Man is still grossing more money than most people could imagine.
2. Stan Lee Got Comics Code Authority To Change Their Rules
There was once created a regulatory group within the comic book industry that both Lee and Kirby had a hand in creating. It was, after all, built in the industry, by the industry. This group was called the Comics Code Authority. It already sounds super-villainous. At any rate, Lee was once asked to provide a comic about the dangers of drugs for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. However, because of explicit drug use within the comic, the CCA would not give its stamp of approval. But that didn’t stop Stan from publishing anyway. And based on its success, the CCA decided to change a few of its restrictions. And as in a general f*ck you from Lee, he began a series called Stan’s Soapbox where he would tackle difficult social issues like drugs, violence, bigotry, and racism in comic book form. It seems like most of Lee’s f*ck yous to people seem to have changed the industry for the better, each time.
1. Jack Kirby Was Terrible At Telling Stories Verbally
Jack Kirby is certainly a legend. He was one of the fastest comic book artists in the world. He had to stop driving because of how deeply he lived comic books (his stories would consume his mind, and he would start driving on curbs or sidewalks). Hell, he even worked for Marvel well before it became Marvel (and he worked for them afterward as well), and he also did his time with DC. He even forged new ground in different genres of comic book writing.
One thing he was not good at…talking. Or rather he was good at talking a lot, but not good at staying on point. His many failed business dealings, and fallings out with the likes of Timely Comics and eventually Marvel were largely due to his inability to really speak to people. He would stammer, stop, change direction and suddenly topic as well before finishing a rather verbose speech. But then would not have answered the initial question. A brilliant artist, but perhaps not so much a businessman…at least not like Lee.