The Lee VS Kirby Debate Devolves... Again

By | Thursday, August 18, 2022 2 comments
There's long been some contention about how much Stan Lee contributed to their joint works compared to Jack Kirby, but it's almost impossible to delineate with any precision at this point since A) the blending of words and art in a comic is fuzzy at best, and B) no one kept any records of that type thing. So until/unless someone creates a time machine and goes back to sit over both Kirby's and Lee's shoulders for the entirety of the 1960s, that debate isn't going to end any time soon.

For whatever reason(s), some people get very emotionally invested in whatever stance they decide to take on this point. Which is strange because they don't seem to care about their stake position in and of itself, but rather the fact that they've placed their stake. The arguments tend to circle around "Mine is the correct opinion!" rather than "Here's some facts relating to the debate, and here's why I choose to make these conclusions."

That two groups oppose and "debate" each other is nothing new, of course. And that it happens in that the Kirby vs. Lee issue is also not new. But, for whatever reason, I saw several online meltdowns over the issue recently. There was all sorts of name-calling and mud-slinging, and people deleting comments by "offensive" posters (I have no idea if they were actually offensive or not), and many others throwing up their hands and walking away from the ostensibly creator appreciation groups where these frays happened.

At an academic type level, I understand. These people have collected in their "in-groups" and anyone who doesn't fall within that is an outsider. And outsiders who directly confront the in-group's beliefs are considered threats that must be defended against. And, like just about with any other group, we see a member of the group as simply an extension of the group, not as an individual. It's easy for us to attack them in broad strokes because we (generally willfully) look at them exclusively through the lens of the group that's threatening. They appear as caricature of a member of that group. A straw man that's easy to dismiss as only a name or an avatar.

But personally, I don't get it. Yeah, some individuals are going to rub you the wrong way for whatever reason. But those people are assholes. The individuals. Not everyone they associate with. You have a problem with the individual assholes, then you leave them and move on. There's no reason to denigrate an entire swath of people because you had problems with one or two of them.

What prompted this particular breakdown of Lee and Kirby aficionados is beyond me. Why there were even professionals that joined in the name-calling is even more beyond me! (Fortunately for my own comfort, the only ones I saw do this were not people whose work I thought was very good in the first place, so I don't have worry about supporting creators who seem happy to sling "homo" around as an insult. I mean, seriously? You're going to throw "homo" around, and expect not to piss off people on BOTH sides of the issue? This is what I'm taking about when I say an individual is an asshole.)

Someone who had read my old Fanthropology columns pointed out that the overall thrust of the column seemed to boil down to, "Can't we all just get along?" She kind of had a point. Because, like I said, at an academic level, I understand how fandoms can clash, but that we still have these asinine arguments thousands of years after we figured out that we're really just all the same with different labels is mind-boggling to me. You know, how about "Up with comics"? Or "Up with superheroes"? Or "Up with Jack Kirby"? Whatever floats your boat. Why can't we all get along?

I tend to eschew labels, both for myself and others. I may be someone who loves comics, and appreciates the oeuvre of Jack Kirby, and writes about fandom, but none of those things define who I am. Love me or hate me for who I am, not whatever label you've assigned to me. And I'll judge you based on who you are, not whatever label someone's given you.
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Billy Hogan said...

I think Stan Lee deserves criticism for taking too much credit for creating Marvel's heroes, but at least he shined the spotlight on his collaborators by putting credits on the title pages of Marvel Comics, and in his Stan Lee's Soapbox column on the bullpen page. At least he didn't sink to the depths of Bob Kane, who refused to acknowledge the critical contributions of his co-creator Bill Finger to what Batman became, until after Finger's death. Not only that, but Kane also refused to credit his many ghost collaborators.

Oh, yeah, I don't know anyone who can even fake a reasonable argument for Kane not being an asshole.