It was Stan Lee’s 91st birthday the other day.
I grew up reading Marvel Comics that Lee wrote, or more than likely, provided the dialogue for. His Shakespearean gibberish was something I loved, and still do because it was fun nonsense. It does read badly if you’re older than 14, but Lee changed comics, though I do like Alan Moore’s description of Lee changing comics from a one-dimensional medium to two-dimensional. I also tend to agree with Moore’s comments about who actually created what for Marvel in the early and mid-1960’s.
There’s an incredibly easy way to work out if Lee was the creative mastermind behind Marvel Comics in the 1960’s. Read his work before and after this time. Take The Fantastic Four after Jack Kirby left as an example.
Go on, have a read, I’ll wait here. It’s pretty poor isn’t it? Of course Lee seems to realise this so people like Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman get more to do because they’re at least more capable of doing the heavy creative lifting that Lee’s shown he can’t do when he’s not got a Kirby knocking out characters like the Silver Surfer, or Steve Ditko with Doctor Strange and Spider Man.
Lee creatively is nothing after Kirby leaves Marvel, and eventually goes off to do other things. All this is outlined in Sean Howe’s excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story which can’t be recommended too highly.
The fact is that from very early on Lee was claiming himself to be the creative soul of Marvel, even though he was still gushing praise on people like Ditko and Kirby as this old bit of archive shows.
I’ve met Lee three times. Once was as a kid when he was in Glasgow doing a promotion for Dez Skinn’s Hulk Comic for Marvel UK. The second was at a UKCAC in 1991 or so where I had a reasonable chat with him when I was still somewhat in awe of him, so I got him to sign a few old Marvel Comics I’d picked up which sadly I no longer have for a variety of reasons. This was also the UKCAC where I saw a piece of Kirby art with dialogue everywhere. It wasn’t this piece, but it gives you an idea of what Kirby did at Marvel.
This was a bit of an awakening for me as like Alan Moore in the video above, I’d believed the Marvel Bullpen stories of Jolly Jack happily writing Lee’s scripts, and that his leaving Marvel for DC was down to a personal dispute between him and Lee who he parodied as Funky Flashman in his DC work.It took me a bit longer to realise that this series of panels was Kirby attacking Lee and Roy Thomas.
I don’t want to make this all about Kirby or Ditko but they were done wrong by him, by Marvel, and now by Disney. However Lee refuses to give full credit where credit is due.
The last time I met Lee was in the late 90’s again at a convention, this time at the NEC in Birmingham. This was a nice brief chat while having a cup of tea and I mentioned that I met him during the promotion he did for Hulk Comic some 20 years earlier to which he smile, shook my hand and joked that he didn’t feel a day older. I walked away thinking he was the Best Guy in the World before sitting back down behind our tables and remembering about how Kirby was shafted.
This is the thing. Lee’s an amazing salesperson. In fact ever since I’ve been making my primary living through sales over the last decade or so I’ve unashamedly nicked some of Lee’s tricks and made them my own. Cheers Stan!
So I do wish Lee well for making it to 91. It’s a remarkable age to be still doing even half of what Lee does every year, but then again it helps if you’re incredibly wealthy thanks to Marvel and Disney making sure you remain wealthy. Kirby, Ditko and the other artists who supported Lee’s rise throughout the 1960’s were, on the whole, far from wealthy. They deserved their share of the glory and the money. Steve Ditko should be a millionaire and not someone scraping a living well into his 80’s,
Lee should be remembered as the man who sold Marvel. He’s the man who made people like Kirby famous because he was, and is a great salesperson. Without Lee Marvel may well have got nowhere as he was the face of the company, but his great failing is not to share the glory. Had Stan Lee fought to ensure his fellow creators the rights they morally deserve, history will look better upon him. He didn’t so his legacy will forever be tainted because of it.
I despair of those fans, mainly under 30, who unashamedly stick up for Lee because he’s the face they see in the Marvel films, and hey! He created Spider Man!! That overrules any facts or anything!!
Happy birthday Stan, Thanks for the fun when I was a kid. Thanks for those kind words on those occasions when I met you. Please now, before it’s too late, give credit where credit is due so those people and their families can get what they deserve.