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Who Really Created Spider-Man
Who Is Jack Kirby?
Jack Kirby was, arguably, the single most important creator in the history of comics. With partner Joe Simon, he created Captain America in the 1940s. In the 1960s he was at the forefront of Marvel's rise to dominance, co-creating The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Hulk, and others, and in the 1970s he created the Fourth World for DC Comics.
Kirby continued creating new characters, including Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, well into the 1980s. Jack Kirby died on February 6, 1994, at age 76.
In 1962, a character named Spider-Man first swung onto the scene. The wall-crawler's origin and first adventure were chronicled by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko in Amazing Fantasy #15 (cover date August, 1962).
Lee and Ditko are widely acknowledged as the creators of Marvel's flagship character, but in some circles a debate (sometimes quite heated) rages regarding the details of Spider-Man's real-world origin.
Spider-Man and Jack Kirby
Specifically, some believe that Spider-Man was created not by Lee and Ditko, but by writer/illustrator Jack Kirby (see sidebar). Their argument is based on the following facts:
- In various interviews, Kirby himself claimed that Spider-Man was his creation. In a 1990 interview for The Comics Journal, Kirby said: "I created Spider-Man...I drew the first Spider-Man cover. I created the character. I created the costume."
- Kirby, not Ditko, was actually the first artist to work on Spider-Man. In Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee reveals that the first Spider-Man pages were, indeed, drawn by Jack Kirby.
Lee and Kirby at Marvel
While acknowledging that Kirby was the first artist to draw Spider-Man, Stan Lee maintains that he, not Kirby, thought up the character. He then gave the story to Kirby to illustrate. After seeing Kirby's first few pages, Lee felt that another artist would be better for Spider-Man, and replaced Kirby with Steve Ditko.
As Marvel's Editor-in-Chief (in addition to being their primary writer), it was Stan Lee's responsibility to assign work to the various artists (including Kirby), so the story seems plausible.
Kirby's claim to have created Spider-Man (and his iconic costume) and brought it to Stan Lee is also believable, however. Kirby was involved with many of Marvel's biggest creations throughout the 1960s. He often designed characters for other artists to draw, and sometimes even laid out their stories. Could Spider-Man have been one of these characters?
Kirby's Spider-Man Artwork
Some interesting details have been provided by one of the few people to actually have seen Kirby's Spider-Man artwork: Steve Ditko. In an essay titled An Insider's Part of Comics History, Ditko says that Kirby had drawn just five pages, and nearly everything contained on them was discarded.
According to Ditko, the only elements of Kirby's Spider-Man that were retained in the published version are:
- the name Spider-Man
- a main character who is a teenager living with his aunt and uncle
Ditko says he doesn't know if these ideas came from Lee or Kirby. All of the remaining elements, however, including the design of Spider-Man's costume and the details of his origin, were, according to Ditko, created by himself and Stan Lee.
"One of the first things I did was to work up a costume," Ditko says in his essay. Of the Spider-Man costume designed by Kirby, Ditko says: "I'm uncertain about the abstract chest design. The closest thing to it is the one on Ant-Man. Kirby's Spider-Man had a web gun, never seen in use. The only connection to the spider theme was the name."
Ant-Man was first seen in costume (in a story drawn by Kirby) about a month after the debut of Spider-Man. It seems likely that Kirby modified his rejected Spider-Man design and used it for Ant-Man (see the picture above for a comparison of the Spider-Man and Ant-Man costumes).
Work For Hire
Although Spider-Man generates millions of dollars annually in revenue, in terms of monetary reward it doesn't matter who created the character. All of the work Lee, Ditko and Kirby did for Marvel in the 1960s was under a "work for hire" arrangement (the standard deal in the industry at the time), in which Marvel retained all rights to any characters created by their writers and artists.
Stan Lee on Steve Ditko:
So Who Created Spider-Man?
During his 40-plus years in comics, Kirby created many characters, including several that were handed off to other artists. I believe it's possible that Kirby's memory of decades-old events was simply faulty. Years after working briefly on Spider-Man, he mistook the character for one of the hundreds that he did create.
Kirby was also known to have been quite bitter at times regarding his treatment by Marvel over the years (quite rightly so, but that's another story), and said a few things that probably should be taken with a grain of salt.
Ultimately, as much as I admire Jack Kirby, I see no evidence to support his claims in this instance. In my opinion, there's no reason to doubt that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko are the creators of Spider-Man.
- Lee, Stan. Origins of Marvel Comics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.
- Thomas, Roy, editor. Alter Ego: The Comic Book Artist Collection. Raleigh, NC: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2001