Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and the Spider-Man Originals

I am sure that most of us had the chance to see this little tidbit of information from the Library of Congree blog:
“Spider-senses” all around the Library were set tingling when we learned that the Library had just acquired 24 pages of original 1962 drawings from “Amazing Fantasy #15,” which marked the first time the world’s most famous web-slinger, Spider-Man, would appear in print anywhere. The Spider-Man origin story in “Amazing Fantasy” was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; the pages are Ditko originals, complete with pencil erasures and white-out opaquing fluid.
and this bit on the actual donation and number of pages:

In a deed of superheroic proportions, an anonymous donor has given the Library of Congress the original artwork by Steve Ditko for Marvel Comics' "Amazing Fantasy #15" -- the comic book that introduced Spider-Man in August 1962.

This unique set of drawings for 24 pages features the story of the origin of Spider-Man along with three other short stories -- also written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko -- for the same issue: "The Bell-Ringer," "Man in the Mummy Case" and "There Are Martians Among Us."

While I'm missing the attribution, it has been said that the donor asked Steve Ditko's blessing before making the donation, so the question is, who is the donor? Or should we say, who isn't the donor? And I certainly, with no other information other than real, true fanboy supposition, have to say: is there anyone in the world other than Stan Lee that could be the donor?

Lets use a little logic here. Artwork from that era is rare, and having an entire story together speaks volumes over who might have had their hands on the originals. Fantastic Four pages from a similar time frame have hardly shown up even after Jack's death, and when they do, they are split up and scattered across the world.

Who do we know that was around the office back then? Stan, Jack, Steve Ditko, Flo Steinberg in the office, Sol Brodsky in production, letterers like Artie Simek who would have worked in the bullpen. From the interviews, its hard to see Martin Goodman or any of the other Goodman family like his son Chip being there to get their hands on it. Most of these folks are dead, so we have to cross them off the list.

Who would have the motive to donate artwork like that, artwork that is worth a huge amount, potentially millions of dollars? We would have to posit that it was someone who was financially well off, someone who didn't need the money. In all that we know, Stan is well set up in a way that Jack and Steve never were and never would be. He was the company man for years and years, and has his name on all these properties, and I doubt that that has come cheap in his contracts. Plus, we know that he had a contract to get a piece of the films. Yes, the films.

What would be the motive about the donation? What would Stan have to gain by this? In his case, reputation. While Jack and Steve were marginalized over the years by Stan the Man while Stan was still at the helm, even ceremonially, of Marvel, time has done some interesting things to this particular legacy. Jack Kirby has literally been taken from obscurity at the end of his career and HERBIE the robot to being revered as a pop culture icon by multiple books and magazines. Stan, essentially, has been marginalized by those who have taken up Jack's torch and been carrying it since his debacle with the Marvel artwork return. Spider-Man is the one main bit of the Marvel pantheon that isn't Stan and Jack. Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Silver Surfer and all the rest - we could see them as proof of Jack's creative legacy.

Don't talk to me about Doctor Strange. This is Spider-Man. And this is Stan and Steve. This is Stan confirming his legacy outside of Jack Kirby. And with the Library of Congress donation there is both a certain level of legitimacy and immorality granted.

There really isn't any one else that could have had the chance to get their hands on the complete book. So why doesn't Stan come forward and simply admit that he wanted to donate the original issue for national posterity? Perhaps for the same reason that he wouldn't want to admit that he has some of the other artwork from the beginnings of the Marvel universe. When the pencillers and inkers signed the backs of their checks, they forfeited their rights to the work. But I doubt that Stan ever had to sign such a check. How much of a legal grey area is that artwork in? How much claim to that artwork could the former and current corporate owners have?

Until I hear differently, or other information comes to light, I'll be happy to assume that Stan is the one that made the donation. And while I'm not really sure that it changes my idea about him or his legacy, all I can say is this: as an artist, and a comic book fan, I've very glad that the artwork still exists and in good form. While I doubt that I'll ever get the chance to see it personally, I love knowing that those pages are out there, or at least in there.

Edit 5/21/08: If you direct linked here, then click here for the follow up post.


bob said...

I'm not sure, assuming that we can take this quote from the first place the story was reported as accurate:

"the donor checked with Ditko before donating it, and was told that since the story was a gift to him (although not from Ditko), he could do what he liked with it."

(emphasis added)

So it would seem that the donor is presenting the history of the artwork as something he was given at a prior time. Could that be Stan Lee, which would almost certainly make the one who gave it to him Martin Goodman? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely.

Velocity DeWitt said...

"a certain level of legitimacy and immorality granted."

Please, please, please do not fix that typo.

Unknown said...

It's unlikely to have been Stan, since Stan's unlikely to have had the pages. Marvel for a long time kept their pages warehoused - I know they catalogued them in the early 80s when Jack Kirby was suing them to get pages returned and they needed an accurate inventory of what Kirby pages they had - but it wasn't uncommon for people to abscond with pages when given the chance. Virtually all the early Marvel art in circulation, which would include Ditko's Spider-Man pages, would have been originally stolen from Marvel since Marvel was not in the habit of handing out art pages (as DC was) and Stan Lee almost certainly would not have had any in his possession, since they were Marvel's property and not his.

The donor was most likely whatever collector was the most recent recipient of the pages. That he asked Ditko's permission was nice, but Ditko - who isn't especially hard to contact, so no one with "inside knowledge" would be necessary - has made it clear on many occasions that as far as he's concerned Marvel bought the original art from him as terms of his employment as an artist, and the disposition of his pages is Marvel's business and not his.

- Steven Grant

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

thanks for the comments gentlemen. I stand corrected. rather glad to get those thoughts out in the open and get the discussion going really.