Stan Lee started out writing full scripts. He was writing full scripts at the commencement of Marvel Comics. He discovered that, such was the imaginative power of his collaborators, he could get a comic much more to his liking, without anything like the workload of full script, by holding story sessions with the artists. He could sit down with an idea and beat it out with the artist. The artist would go away – with or without a supporting document, it often seems – and draw out the story in pencil. Stan would then generate all the dialogue. This became instituted as the Marvel Style.
The story sessions were collaborative, but Jack could put all the dialogue notes in the margins he liked – the words and half the story drive were Stan Lee’s. Now, personal bias comes into play here: I’m uncomfortable, as a writer, with taking the “written by” credit when I’ve just generated an outline that an artist has turned into a piece of narrative. I’m not a collaborative kind of writer, and when I have worked Marvel Style (which I’ve done rarely, and mostly on request) I’ve produced very complete story documents. As I went on, I evolved something based on the “scriptment” style you occasionally find in film, which is basically a raw script with all the special format notation of a script taken out. (Which I showed to Brian Wood, who in our narrative is still looking up at a Viking longboat in Oslo, and I believe he’s used it occasionally since. The scriptment style, not the boat. Though he’s thinking seriously about using the boat too.) So loads of the dialogue was in there, but more in the mode of a prose short story. Marvel Style is a product of both being able to work with powerhouses like Kirby, Ditko, Buscema or Romita, and also of efficiency. Stan Lee was Marvel Comics’ only writer for a while there, and he had to generate an awful lot of comics.
Stan was The Man. He was the Boss – shut up stupid Jack Kirby robot head or I will wee in your ear – and you know he was the Boss because Steve Ditko quit SPIDER-MAN when he didn’t like where the story was going. If Stan Lee wasn’t the writer and the Boss, that situation obviously wouldn’t have arisen. And you also know it because Kirby dialogue was worlds away from Lee’s, and because all the themes were different.
This is not to reduce Kirby’s impact or ability. But, as he loosed himself from Stan Lee, off to work for Carmine Infantino at DC (Infantino’s nephew is in a band called Jim’s Big Ego) (“I invented Ego!”), his work became ever more operatic and melodramatic. He began writing science fiction that spoke directly to the classical roots of the superhero genre – stories about gods. Ordinary people largely faded into the backdrop as he built 20th Century myths of alien deities, megaengineering, exoplanetary Heavens and Hells.
Jack Kirby’s head repeats an interview response: “I felt that we ourselves were without a mythology. Even the Saxons had their own mythology, and I thought that there was a new mythology needed for our times.”
He comes full circle to Druillet’s LONE SLOANE, which had been reactivated the year before Kirby began NEW GODS with the hallucinatory GODS OF THE BLACK THRONE, a thing that conjures an entire poisoned cosmology in just eight pages. It even shares an image: the Throne Of Stone that captures ordinary explorer Sloane and conveys him to his otherworldly captors maps to cold, enigmatic Metron’s spacegoing Mobius Chair in Kirby’s New Gods cycle. (Mobius maps to Druillet’s colleague and co-founder of publisher Les Associes Humanoides, Moebius, science-fiction pen-name of Jean Giraud). GODS OF THE BLACK THRONE, in all its gawky, clumsy, adolescent mania, is in fact the uber-Kirby as-science-fiction-writer story. Oddly, it is perhaps most comparable with Kirby’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY work.
But wait. Who’s sitting in that strange Chair From Beyond Space, as its surfaces cycle between ancient cut stone and Kirby Style steel and circuitry? There are many armour rings on his fingers, and his hair and beard could hide eight fat badgers with ease. His eyes are burning into your very brain, and he is repeating one word, very slowly, in a Northampton accent: “Ideaspace.”
Am out of time today, so, for a fine collection of really strange comics by really strange people, I direct you to http://thesequential.com. Enjoy.
I can be sent things via Avatar Press at Avatar Press, 515 N. Century Blvd., Rantoul, IL 61866, USA, but I cannot promise a response or a review. Although, let’s be honest, it’s fairly likely, as eventually the ANYTHING section will need to be about comics. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but I warn you, it’s a dump address, not my regular email address, so it can take me a few days to check it.
DO ANYTHING is © Warren Ellis 2009, all rights reserved.