He definitely loved the Silver Surfer but like most silver age marvel he didn't create it, Jack Kirby did. Well worth a look for folks to look into that Kirby in fact created almost everything along with ditko. Stan had vague ideas but these guys actually had the ideas. Kirby is quoted as saying Stan didn't know anything about norse mythology or mutations (the origin of their powers) If you look at chasllengers of the unknown (a jack kirby creation) you see a similar quartet and even a story where the are hit with cosmic rays and get powers. "Very often," Lee has said, "I didn't know what the hell [Kirby] was going to give me. I’d get some pages of artwork, and I wrote the copy and turned it into whatever story I wanted it to be ... It was like doing a crossword puzzle. I would try to figure out what the illustrations meant and then I would put in the dialog and captions.”
The early Fantastic Four said "written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby." Nice and simple. In "Origins of Marvel Comics" and other interviews, Stan Lee indicates that he came up with the ideas and Jack Kirby drew them. But there are several big problems here:
Both before and after the early 1960s, Stan Lee was not known for producing great new ideas. Jack Kirby, on the other hand, was always producing big ideas, such as Captain America (co-created with Joe Simon) and the Fourth World series for DC (entirely on his own, immediately after leaving Marvel).
Stan Lee was just too busy to write everything, and would often just deliver the faintest outline for a -script. In this letter from 1965 (printed in the book "The Stan Lee Universe") he outlines what became known as "the Marvel method:
Stan would often would just phone in a suggestion and Jack would do the rest, delivering the pages for dialog to be added. For example, Stan said something like "this month have the Fantastic Four fight God" and Jack then created the Galactus saga, perhaps the greatest comic story ever. Famously, when Stan first saw the Silver Surfer he asked "who's this guy?" "Very often," Lee has said, "I didn't know what the hell [Kirby] was going to give me. I’d get some pages of artwork, and I wrote the copy and turned it into whatever story I wanted it to be ... It was like doing a crossword puzzle. I would try to figure out what the illustrations meant and then I would put in the dialog and captions.” (Source)
Kirby would even add blue pencil notes for dialog. Stan would then add the actual dialog (which often contradicted what Jack wanted, but Jack seldom had time to read the finished comic).
In 1968, the magazine "Castle of Frankenstein" #12 published a Stan Lee interview where he said “Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean I’ll just say to Jack, ‘Let’s let the next villain be Dr. Doom’… or I may not even say that. He may tell me. And then he goes home and does it. He’s so good at plots, I’m sure he’s a thousand times better than I. He just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing… I may tell him that he’s gone too far in one direction or another. Of course, occasionally I’ll give him a plot, but we’re practically both the writers on the things.” (emphasis added) In interviews such as that it seems that when Stan says "writing" he means adding the dialog to the finished art, but when Jack Kirby says "writing" he means deciding what happens from panel to panel, and adding notes in the margins as needed.
The surviving artwork often includes written notes from Jack telling Stan what is going on. This example (from the Kirby Museum) is from issue 61:
Almost everything in the early FF has similarities with other Jack Kirby creations. In particular, the FF has many parallels with Challengers of the Unknown, a series Kirby had just produced for DC. It was about four friends who survived a plane crash and dedicated their lives to the good of mankind. Even the suits were the same. Issue 2 featured one of them crashing in a space ship and gaining various super powers. For full details see Dial B For Blog, probably the greatest comic blog ever.
In later years, Kirby stated plainly that he created it all.
Stan openly admits to having a notoriously bad memory, so how he remembers it may not be as others remember it.
Stan has a powerful motive for claiming credit: copyright law means that if Kirby created it then he (or his estate) would now be due hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties. But Stan is always the consummate company man, so as long as he claims credit (and takes his million dollar a year salary) Marvel is legally safe.
Kirby ignored most of what Stan wrote. This is from John Romita Sr: "I heard them plotting in other instances! [laughter] Jack would say, 'Stanley, I think I’ve got an idea. How ’bout this?' Stan would say, 'That’s not bad, Jack, but I’d rather see it this way.' Jack would absolutely forget what Stan said, and Stan would forget what Jack said. [laughter] I would bet my house that Jack never read the books after Stan wrote them; that’s why he could claim with a straight face that Stan never wrote anything except what Jack put in the notes. He was kidding himself; he never read them.
Jack Kirby was only paid as an artist, but he felt he should be paid more because he also contributed story ideas. He believed he had been promised payment and it never came, so he finally left Marvel. Years later, in the 1980s, Jack was fighting to get his original art back from Marvel, and the two sides became polarized. Some fans felt that clearly Stan did everything. Others felt that he had taken credit for Kirby's work. Still others felt that their contribution was equal. The battle rages to this day. So who is right?
The case against Stan Lee
Some people argue that Jack Kirby created everything. These quotes were assembled by Patrick Ford (see the comments section in the link):
Stan Goldberg: ” Stan would drive me home and we’d plot our stories in the car. I’d say to Stan,”How’s this? Millie loses her job.” He’d say,”Great! Give me 25 pages.” And that took him off the hook. One time I was in Stan’s office and I told him, “I don’t have another plot.” Stan got out of his chair and walked over to me, looked me in the face, and said very seriously, “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t think of another plot.” Then he walked back and sat down in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.”
[interviewer: ” Sounds like you were doing most of the writing then.”]
“Well, I was.”One time I was in Stan’s office and I told him, “I don’t have another plot.” Stan got out of his chair and walked over to me, looked me in the face, and said very seriously, “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t think of another plot.” Then he walked back and sat down in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.”
For contrast, Goldberg said this about Kirby: “Jack would sit there at lunch, and tell us these great ideas about what he was going to do next. It was like the ideas were bursting from every pore of his body. It was very interesting because he was a fountain of ideas. One day Jack came in and had this 20-page story and proceeded to tell us he was having his house and studio painted. I asked, “Where did you draw the story?” Jack said,”I put my board on the stair banister, and drew it.”
Steve Ditko (letter to Comic Book Marketplace magazine published in issue #63)
"The fact is we had no story or idea discussion about Spider-Man books even before issue #26 up to when I left the book. Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories until I took in the penciled story, the cover, my -script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan."
The legendary artist Wally Wood goes even further: Did I say Stanley had no smarts? Well, he DID come up with two sure fire ideas… the first one was “Why not let the artists WRITE the stories as well as draw them?”… And the second was … ALWAYS SIGN YOUR NAME ON TOP …BIG”. And the rest is history … Stanley, of course became rich and famous … over the bodies of people like Bill [Everett] and Jack [Kirby]. Bill, who had created the character that had made his father rich wound up COLORING and doing odd jobs.
Gil Kane's opinion of Stan Lee is apparently similar.
"On each page, from 1964 – 1970 next to every single panel Jack wrote extensive margin notes explaining to Lee what was taking place in the story. It took Jack about 2 weeks do do a single story, it may have taken Lee as little as 4 hours to add text to Jack’s art." (source)
In the attached image you can see how much storytelling kirby is doing