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Who Really Created Spider-Man

Updated on March 27, 2012
Source

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:

  1. 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."
  2. 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.

Comparison of Spider-Man and Ant-Man costumes. Illustration by Doc Sonic. Spider-Man and Ant-Man are copyright Marvel Comics.
Comparison of Spider-Man and Ant-Man costumes. Illustration by Doc Sonic. Spider-Man and Ant-Man are copyright Marvel Comics.

Spider-Man's Costume

"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.


Sources

  • 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


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    • Doc Sonic profile image
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      Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks Domenick! I think that, for the most part, the people aware of this debate are the ones heavily into Kirby. Outside of that group, I don't really see it discussed very much. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • profile image

      Domenick Dicce 4 years ago

      This was a fascinating Hub. I am a huge Spider-Man fan and never knew about this debate. I was also very impressed with the layout. Wonderful work all around.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Mr Tindle, Kirby, Ditko and Lee are absolutely legends who have made huge contributions to popular culture. Everyone knows about Stan Lee (and he certainly deserves the accolades) but I'd like to see Kirby and Ditko get more recognition for their work, as well. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments.

    • Mr Tindle profile image

      Mr Tindle 5 years ago

      This was an interesting write up. All three (Kirby, Ditko, and Lee) are comic book legends that contributed a lot to the world of comic books. I especially liked the video of Stan Lee talking about his favorite work by Ditko on Spiderman.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      clevercat, unfortunately many people have not heard of Kirby, which is a shame, given his contributions. Spidey may be a Lee-Ditko creation, but Kirby created or co-created a few good ones too, like Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, and literally scores of others.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Terrific hub. I found this very engaging - Spidey was always cool, but I never researched enough into him or the inner workings of Marvel to hear of Kirby. Thanks! Voted up and interesting.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      You're right, cperuzzi, we can only speculate as to what really happened. This was my attempt to make some sense of everything that's been said over the years. In any case, there can be no doubt that Ditko deserves a huge part of the credit for Spider-Man's success. Thanks for the comments.

    • cperuzzi profile image

      Christopher Peruzzi 5 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      Interesting concept.

      The problem is that Kirby is dead and Ditko is something of a recluse. It's kind of hard to know the truth of this.

      While Kirby may have made the first costume concept, it was Ditko that really gets the credit for making the character as lanky teenage build and developed all of the action shots for the hero. There are very few artists that can be credited as pivotal as Steve Ditko for Spider-man with the exception of John Romita Sr., Jr. and perhaps Todd MacFarlane.

      Were it not for Ditko's work on Amazing Fantasy #15 and the fan mail that came back because of it, Spider-man would not be.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      wolfshadow and tarajeyaram, thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • tarajeyaram profile image

      tarajeyaram 5 years ago from Wonderland

      I wasn't a big spider man fan. However, I knew many boys were crazy about spider man. Great information. Voting up.

    • wolfshadow profile image

      wolfshadow 5 years ago

      This was very interesting. Watched the cartoons, read a comic or two, but never knew about this. So thanks for the great hub.