Galactus Lives! Kirby Close-Up (3)
March 3, 2013
Third in a six-part series of posts.
Phase Two-B: The Text
In this second part of Phase Two, Lee adds the actual text to Kirby’s art. Referring to Kirby’s penciled story/art, Lee would either type out his text and give that to the letterer, or Lee wrote the text on the artwork itself using a blue-line pencil.
I’ve met a lot of people who love Stan Lee’s text – as a kid, they saw Lee as a friend, a buddy, even a father-figure. They enjoy his writing style – his quirky, happy-go-lucky self-promotion, and even his alliteration. I’m not going to praise or criticize Lee’s prose here. For this post, I’m going to make simple observations comparing the source document – the scan of Kirby’s original pencils – to the text Lee added to Kirby’s story and art. Remember, Kirby illustrated about 10,000 pages during the 10 years he worked at Marvel. We are looking at one. This is a microcosm of the macrocosm. The same could be said for virtually any random 1960s Kirby page I select.
Let’s start with panel one.
Kirby’s directions to Lee read: “Guns of enemy unleashed to destroy planet – but first they will destroy object.”
So it’s pretty clear what is happening in this panel visually, and in Kirby’s written directions. Kirby has some aliens with big guns aimed at a planet, but there is a cube floating in between them. There are an infinite number of ways you could caption this. As you see, Lee decides to explain the situation with a caption box, and he uses a word balloon to show someone on the planet is issuing a command to open the box. Lee’s caption seems to deviate from Kirby’s original intent. Kirby suggests the aliens are about to destroy the box; Lee has the planet open it as the lesser of two evils.
Here’s how I would have captioned this: In the caption at the top of the panel, I would have named the three aliens working the guns Xortguu, Kligmutoo, and Zythrowaa. And I would have had each character speak in Stan Lee’s famous pseudo-Shakespearean Thor-speak. That’s three new characters I could claim I created, alone. Just kidding.
Here you can see the story starts with Kirby, and then it gets filtered through Lee. Kirby’s original story is Phase One; Lee’s additions and revisions are Phase Two (which I broke into part A and B for the purposes of this article). Lee makes minor adjustments, but the core of Kirby’s plotline in panel one is still there. It doesn’t matter how you dialogue it, the situation is crystal clear.
Panel two: Galactus lives! Jack’s directions to Lee read: “Object suddenly comes apart – opens – and strange awesome being emerges!”
Lee touches on this in the arrow, where he uses the word “opens” as Kirby did. Instead of “emerges” Lee’s text says the cube “reveals” an “awesome occupant”; Kirby’s text said “awesome being.” This is typical of Lee’s captions on Kirby’s books from 1964–1970 where there are margin notes we can refer to – Lee tends to use some of Kirby’s text in his captions, and if minor changes are made to Kirby’s exact wording, Lee tends to use synonyms.
How did Kirby/Lee work before 1964? Lee may have given Kirby some direction, the equivalent of a job-assignment like “Have Galactus be the villain in Thor this month, the readers love him!” but my guess is Kirby was still responsible for a good 95% of the actual nuts and bolts of the storytelling. Before Kirby started using the margin notes in early 1964, my theory is that he wrote and illustrated the story, then in a meeting with Lee a few times a month, Kirby would verbally go through the art and explain his story to Lee. This would explain many examples of Lee making tiny notes in the margins during this period referring to elements in Kirby’s stories that would have required some explanation. Here’s one example where I discuss this at Kirby Dynamics: Fantastic Four #14 (1963), page 12.
Getting back to the “Galactus Lives!” panel, once again Lee may have changed Kirby’s original intent. Kirby has Galactus being born in his directions for Lee, but Lee changes that to the concept of Galactus emerging from some kind of incubation cube. Ultimately, it’s all the same story – Galactus is coming out of a box – a square womb.
Also funny to reflect on comics dialogue in general. As the person inserting text on a comic page, it’s much more dramatic to have a character speaking or yelling than using a thought balloon, hence Galactus announces in the airlessness of outer space, to no one in particular, that his “incubation period has ended,” and you have classic Lee first-person comics dialogue: “Galactus lives!” Sort of like Lee’s famous “Hulk smash!” In a movie when characters talk to themselves and refer to themselves in the first person, it’s absurd, but in a comic book? It works.
Panel three: Pretty powerful visual, Galactus waving his mighty hand in the same way you might gesture at a mosquito, reducing all before him to classic Kirby-debris surrounded by thunderous smoldering energy. Jack’s directions to Lee read: “It is the birth of Galactus – he feels urge for cosmic energy – with one swipe he destroys the whole enemy space fleet!”
Lee follows Kirby’s directions in the caption box – his text reads “…with a single gesture the gigantic being totally decimates the entire enemy space fleet.” This is almost exactly what Kirby wrote. In the word balloon, Lee has Galactus say out loud that he must “feast” and “consume living energy” which is another element Kirby wanted in this panel as specified in his margin notes.
Kirby has written and drawn a typically dynamic page here in Phase One; in Phase Two, Lee tweaked Kirby’s original intent a bit, but he’s included the bulk of the core concepts from Kirby’s margin notes, making this a pretty typical piece of 1960s Marvel Kirby/Lee comics story/art.
In nearly every page I’ve examined, Lee sticks to Kirby’s script. This Galactus origin page is actually an exception to that rule and a bit of a mystery because Lee decided to move in a different direction at one point with the whole “Birth of Galactus” storyline. Mike Gartland touches on this a bit in this article: “A Failure to Communicate, Part Two.”
Despite the fact that that as editor Lee may have rearranged or changed the emphasis of certain plot elements in Kirby’s “Birth of Galactus” storyline, I still think this pencil scan from Thor #162 is a solid example of the Kirby/Lee division of labor: Kirby writes and draws the story first, Lee adds captions second and makes editorial changes. If you ask me, Lee should have listed the credits for this book on the page one splash like so:
Thor #162 (March 1969)
Writer/Artist: Jack Kirby
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee
ALSO by Rob Steibel: BTOOM! Kirby vs. Lee
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