"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.
Accordingly 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? Accordingly 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 accordingly 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..