Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Who Really Created Spider-Man?"

A while back, my pal D.J. Coffman and I had a friendly discussion about who actually created Spider-Man. I found this topic very interesting, and started doing some research which eventually ended up becoming the following article…

Many comic book fans have heard of the story of where, one day in 1962, Stan Lee saw a fly crawling on a wall which inspired Stan with the idea of a teenage super-hero possessed with spider-like super powers. Thus, Stan had his Spider-Man character. Stan Lee first gave the Spider-Man idea to Jack Kirby to illustrate. Kirby designed his own Spider-Man, and even drew several story pages featuring his version of the character.

According to an interview from STAN LEE’S MUTANTS, MONSTERS & MARVELS (2002) dvd, Stan Lee didn’t think that Jack Kirby’s vision of Spider-Man was what he had in mind. Lee thought Kirby’s version of Spider-Man looked too bold, muscular, and heroic: "’Nah, that’s not what I want, Jack.' I said, ‘Look, forget it. I’ll give it to someone else.’ So Jack said, ‘fine.’ It was nothing. We didn’t think that Spider-Man meant anything. And Jack had a million other things to do. So I said, ‘I’ll get somebody else.’ [Jack] said, ‘Sure.’ I thought Steve Ditko would be perfect for it. He drew people that looked like the kind of people you’d meet in the street, you know? So I gave it to Steve. And, oh man, was I ever right in picking Steve. He did a beautiful job."

In his book, KIRBY: KING OF COMICS (2008), Mark Evanier suggested that Marvel Comics may have had other reasons to give Spider-Man to Steve Ditko. Evanier proposed that Marvel may have felt that Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man seemed too similar to Kirby and Joe Simon’s previous creation, the Fly: "What would explain it all is if someone at [Marvel Comics' founder Martin] Goodman’s was worried that what Kirby was doing was coming out too much like the Fly."

Either way, Stan Lee went to Steve Ditko with Spider-Man. Ditko designed the Spider-Man character as we know him today. With Stan as editor and writer, Ditko became the artist and co-plotter on Spider-Man’s first appearance in AMAZING FANTASY #15 (1962), and then onto the following AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comic book series. Accordingly to "Steve Ditko- A Portrait of the Master" from COMIC FAN #2 (1965), Ditko explains things like this: "Stan Lee thought the name up. I did costume, web gimmick on wrist and spider signal."

In an open letter from 1999, Stan Lee wrote: "I have always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man's co-creator. Steve's illustrated version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his coterie of supporting characters was more compelling and dramatic than I had dared hoped it would be. Also, it goes without saying that Steve's costume design was an actual masterpiece of imagination. Thanks to Steve Ditko, Spidey's costume has become one of the world's most recognizable visual icons."

In Jonathan Ross’ documentary, IN SEARCH OF STEVE DITKO (2007), Stan Lee appears (for the most part) to continue to acknowledge that Steve Ditko is the co-creator of Spider-Man: "Steve [Ditko] definitely felt that he was the co-creator of Spider-Man. And that was really, after he had said it, and I saw that it meant a lot to him, that was fine with me." However, deep down, it appears that Stan might have some reservations: "I really think that the guy who dreams the thing up created it. You dream it up and give it to anybody to draw it." Still, it’s nice to see that Stan Lee was willing to give credit where credit was due, even if he might, deep down, disagree: "I’m happy to say I consider Steve to be the co-creator [of Spider-Man]."

Now, there are some people who have disputed the fact that it was Stan Lee who actually created Spider-Man. Jack Kirby had once stated that it was he that had pitched his and Joe Simon’s the Silver Spider/Spiderman idea to Stan Lee. If true, this would mean that it was Jack Kirby, not Stan Lee, who first invented Spider-Man for Marvel Comics. WILL EISNER’S SHOP TALK (2001) reprints an interview taken in July of 1982 where Kirby claimed that he co-created Spider-Man, not Stan Lee. Kirby stated: "Spider-Man was discussed between Joe [Simon] and myself. Spider-Man was not a product of Marvel."

What does Mark Evanier think of Jack Kirby’s claim? Here’s what Evanier had to say to me: "I don't think we know, or have any way of ever knowing, if Jack suggested the idea of a Spiderman to Stan before Stan had the idea on his own."

I had asked Lisa Kirby (daughter of Jack and Roslyn Kirby) about her father’s connection to the creation of Spider-Man. Lisa told me: "Neither one of my parents ever mentioned that my father created him, in fact I have heard my mother correcting people if they alluded to that fact."

Where did Joe Simon’s Silver Spider/Spiderman character come from? According to Simon’s THE COMIC BOOK MAKERS (2003), Joe Simon had created his own Spiderman in 1953. He worked with Jack Oleck, his brother-in-law, on the script. Oleck suggested on calling the character "the Silver Spider" instead of "Spiderman." Simon then asked C.C. Beck (of Captain Marvel fame) to pencil the first few pages of THE SILVER SPIDER before pitching the idea to Harvey Comics. By the time Joe Simon went to Jack Kirby with the concept, he had decided to call the character "the Fly" instead of "the Silver Spider." Simon told Kirby: "C.C. Beck is out of the business. We’re doing this over. Same script, only we’re calling him the Fly instead of Silver Spider." Joe Simon and Jack Kirby reworked the character to become the Fly as a property for Archie Comic Publications.

It is also noteworthy to point out that Joe Simon had asked Jack Kirby about his WILL EISNER’S SHOP TALK comment. In THE COMIC BOOK MAKERS, Simon asked Kirby why he would make a claim that Joe was "Spider-Man’s father", and according to Simon, Kirby told him: "I had no work… I had a family to support, rent to pay… what else could I do?"

It appears that Jack Kirby was indeed in possession of the SPIDERMAN logo that Joe Simon created. Again, from THE COMIC BOOK MAKERS, Joe Simon states that "[Stan] Lee called Kirby in and asked him if he had any comic characters lying around that hadn’t been used. As I learned years later, Jack brought in the SPIDERMAN logo that I had loaned him before we changed the name to the Silver Spider."

Mark Evanier confirmed to me of the existence of a SPIDERMAN logo: "Jack definitely did have the SPIDERMAN logo that Joe Simon had designed. He showed it to me when I first met him."

So, who really created Spider-Man? Was it Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, or Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, or the combination of these men? So far in my research, my personal opinion remains that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the Spider-Man that we are familiar with today. It’s safe to say that Joe Simon did indeed create his own Spiderman in the early 1950’s. However, there doesn’t seem to be any substantial proof to support the idea that Jack Kirby later took Joe Simon’s Spiderman to Stan Lee. I could be wrong, though. With that said, I like to think that, ultimately, Spider-Man came into existence, and prospered, through the efforts, of not just one or two, but many comic book creators.

I’m sure there’s a lot more history about the creation of Spider-Man that I haven’t been able to delve into yet. The topic is so broad and heavy that I doubt that any one article can come up with all of the elements surrounding the origin of Spider-Man.

Finally, it's important for us to fondly remember all of comics’ writers and artists. We should not forget all of their contributions to an industry that we so much enjoy. I just wish that these creators were rewarded properly for all of their hard work and creativity. But, that's a whole different discussion.

Above: Artwork from the classic story "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #248 (1983) written by Roger Stern, penciled Ron Frenz, and inked by Terry Austin.

Text © 2009 Albert Gordon Nickerson Jr..

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Blogger Scanman said...

My ex-boss Greg Theakston published an issue of his Pure Images that dealt with this very subject. Let me tell you, I got to see some original artwork of very early Fantastic Four and unpublished stuff that was eye opening.

February 5, 2009 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger Scanman said...

A copy could be had at

February 5, 2009 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Steve Pro said...

good column Albert very interesting. I agree, and have always felt that Stan had the original idea and developed it with Ditko. Coincidentally I chatted with Mr Lee here in Beverly Hills on Wednesday he was with his business partner. It was very exciting. I told him he has had such a profound effect on the path my life took. Very nice man. Peace.

February 5, 2009 at 10:03 PM  
Blogger AlNickerson said...

Scan- You got to see some original Jack Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR artwork!?! And some unpublished artwork, too!?! Gimme the skinny.

Pro- Thanks for the kind comments. I’m glad you got the chance to meet Stan Lee. That must have been exciting. Did ya give Stan a hug? :)

February 5, 2009 at 11:45 PM  
Blogger Scanman said...

I saw pages from FF #3. That was the issue where they got their costumes. there was costume ideas on the back of the pages, There were different ideas what design would be on the chest. Kirby drew masks on them then whited it out. That part was really cool...

February 9, 2009 at 7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, someone, but I thought Spidey's first appearance was in a single panel ad in the back of AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #14 plugging the next and final issue.

February 17, 2009 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger AlNickerson said...

That’s news to me, "Anonymous." I’ve never heard that one before. So, I did some more digging. I double-checked THE COMIC BOOK MAKERS. I also looked into COMIC VALUES ANNUAL 2002, COMIX: A HISTORY OF COMIC BOOKS IN AMERICA, CRAWFORD’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMIC BOOKS, and COMICS, COMIX & GRAPHIC NOVELS: A HISTORY OF COMIC ART. They all claim that Spider-Man first appeared in AMAZING FANTASY #15. If you find any source that says otherwise, I’d be happy to check that out.

February 17, 2009 at 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have the original issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy # 14 (alas, not # 15!) and there is no Spider-Man pictured or mentioned. I've been studying and writing about early Marvel and my take is that Lee and Ditko are the architects behind the Spider-Man we all know. Kirby created "A" Spider-Man, but the pages were unpublished and many of the elements were changed by Ditko and Lee. Ditko has written about these issues in the newsletter "The Comics" published by Robin Snyder. Ditko believes he is the co-creator of Spider-Man because he worked from a plot synpopsis, not a full script and because he created the visual look and many of the classic elements that reamin with Spider-Man till this day.

You can get order info on back isues of "The Comics" here, as well as read and see more of Ditok's unique work:

Nick Caputo

June 8, 2009 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger AlNickerson said...

Hey, Nick! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your insights. I totally agree with you. It’s great to see Steve Ditko continue to be as vocal as ever. Several times, Steve Bissette has recommended THE COMICS to me. I need to order a few of those issues. In my files, I did find a print-out of Ditko’s "Toyland" article which first appeared in THE COMICS. Good stuff!

June 10, 2009 at 11:42 PM  
Anonymous jim simon said...

Hey, Nick, read The Comic Book Makers a bit closer this time, especially what Steve D. said when Jack first brought in Jack and Joe's original SpiderMan pages that Jack showed to Stan in hopes of getting work. While Stan took his own approach to Spider-Man (adding a hyphen, among other things--most likely for trademark reasons), it seems clear that S&K's SpiderMan was the prototype that set Stan's version in motion--and a fine job Stan did over the years, in my opinion! Funny, but I also remember as a kid Joe swapping flies on our kitchen wall while telling me what an interesting comic book superhero a fly would make.

October 27, 2009 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger AlNickerson said...

If anyone is interested, I would recommend tracking down Steve Ditko’s article "An Insider's Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby's Spider-Man." Here, Ditko writes about his role in the creation of Marvel’s Spider-Man. The article was first published in Robin Snyder’s HISTORY OF COMICS, volume 1, no. 5 (May 1990). The article was later reprinted in COMIC BOOK ARTIST #3 (TwoMorrows Publishing, 1999) and ALTER EGO: THE COMIC BOOK ARTIST COLLECTION (TwoMorrows Publishing, 2000).

October 27, 2009 at 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to Joe Simon, Joe confronted Jack about Jack's Silver Spider/Spidey claims (which Simon says were untrue), and Kirby acknowledged it was a play for money. "I had no work… I had a family to support, rent to pay… what else could I do?"
Let's keep in mind that even if Kirby's story is true, he STILL didn't create Spider-Man- he would have stolen the concept from Joe Simon.

Kirby had a history of this- claiming ownership out of the blue, years after the fact, often of characters he had marginal or even no input into (Captain America, Iron Man), if he thought he could make a buck on it, such as lying under oath in a case against his former partner/mentor in support of Marvel's total ownership of Captain America (a stance he would comlpletely switch a few years later- when Kirby believed he stood to profit from it. Even Kirby's daughter states Kirby had nothing to do with Spider-Man:

"Neither one of my parents ever mentioned that my father created [Spider-Man], in fact I have heard my mother correcting people if they alluded to that fact."

Guess history changed retroactively once the lawyers got involved?

January 16, 2013 at 10:41 AM  

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