What Long-Term Service Did Stan Lee Provide That Jack Kirby Didn’t (or Couldn’t)?

Man, the crazy resistance to Jack Kirby‘s heirs deserving anything (save, apparently, contempt) is maddening.

Heirs of creators whose fathers and mothers created work of lasting cultural impact/value inherit either a legacy of continued participation and profiting from that legacy (i.e., Edgar Rice Burroughs [see John Carter movie, right], Margaret Mitchell, Boris Karloff‘s daughter, Bela Lugosi‘s son, the Fleischer family, the Disney family, etc.), or they inherit a legacy of exclusion, impoverishment, and frustration (i.e., Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, etc.).

Are people really arguing the latter is preferable and somehow, magically, “fair” while corporations become the heirs by default?

That is what is being persistently asserted in various threads and by various parties.

BTW, the illusion (and it is illusory) that those who have carved out incomes from stewardship of inherited creative value take it as a “gift” without “earning” it is part and parcel of this specious argument. In most cases, as with the Kirbys, families have to mount costly, time-consuming legal battles to protect their legacy (i.e., Bela Lugosi v Universal), and it’s real work to protect, nurture, and extend such a legacy. They earn every penny, and protection of trademarks/copyrights involves vigorous management and labor. It also ensures vital bodies of creative work are not lost, and remain accessible to the public and potential audiences—consider, for instance, the difference between Jean Giraud aka ‘Moebius‘ reaching an American readership when Starwatcher was his legal representation (spawning the complete Moebius volumes from Marvel/Epic, etc.), and what we have now (good luck finding old or new Moebius work in print in the US; only used copies of the Epic/Marvel and earlier Heavy Metal collections are in reach). It’s a lot of work to manage/agent/sell one’s creative work; Jean, clearly, prefers just to create, as do most cartoonists and artists.

Frankly, I don’t see any validity in these contempt-filled and contemptible “arguments,” save either aggressive or passive envy (“why should THEY inherit ANYTHING of value having created nothing?”) that supports the status quo proprietary claims of Marvel—who also, actually, created nothing (despite the legal fiction of work-for-hire—the Marvel of 1961-1967 was sold in 1969, and passed through multiple hands since then—thus, “inherited creative wealth” moving through a chain of purchasing agents and management. Fans are thus passively arguing for corporate inheritance being valid while individual/biological inheritance isn’t—which is typical of the current cultural environment, alas.

Others argue that the Kirbys somehow not having suffered childhoods of abject poverty, want, neglect, etc. should be “enough” for the Kirby heirs, while Marvel should and does happily pocket billions off the cumulative real-world wealth of Kirby‘s legacy.

This is an argument positing a la-la land perception of freelance life, specifically freelance family life: having been there (as a father), I’m telling you, it’s no picnic, bunky. Is it better than other ways of making a living? Sure. But it’s no picnic.*

More to the point, it’s a loopy Dickensian-era argument Charles Dickens himself would have spat upon (and did, or haven’t you ever read A Christmas Carol?): since the Kirbys weren’t orphans like Oliver Twist, they should just shut up and stay home and treasure what they “had,” while The Avengers costs/earns millions?

What happened to the American belief in families building better futures for their children?

Are we really, really this far gone down the path of passive subservience to plutocrats, oligarchs, and corporations?

The Bobbettes (Jannie and Emma Pought, Reather Dixon, Lara Webb, and Helen Gather; they also wrote the tune) sing “Mr. Lee,” their 1957 song that hit #6 on the Billboard Pop singles chart scored #1 for a full month on the R&B chart.


Beginning in August 2011, I’ve (happily) taken a lot of online abuse for my initial posts concerning my personal decision to cease buying any and all Kirby-derived Marvel products—including the movies (my last Marvel movie, seen in the theater before the fateful Marvel/Kirby Heirs judgment, was Kenneth Branagh‘s Thor adaptation, which was rich and ripe with 1960s Kirby imagery and themes). That heat increased after James Sturm‘s recent Slate.com essay citing (and linking to) my August 2011 essays, and my posts/links to James‘s essay which I prefaced with my own remarks.

Among the lengthy Facebook exchanges and on various boards (including the Myrant comments threads), one of the most-flogged whipping posts was that I was attacking Stan Lee, co-creator of all the Kirby co-creations Marvel built the company’s Silver Age resurrection upon. How dare I?

Amid the Facebook exchanges, Christopher Moriarty (accurately) noted, “I don’t see any of this as a Jack versus Stan thing. I don’t see that in the [Sturmarticle and I don’t see it in Stephen‘s preface. The way I read this, it’s not a Jack versus Stan thing, it’s a Marvel versus Jack thing.”

To which I replied, “With all due respect, anyone bringing anything except Marvel‘s behavior to the fore here is missing the point, or willfully obfuscating the point. Why?”

For the record, I don’t “blame” Stan. I don’t think he’s behaved admirably or honorably regarding Jack Kirby over the years—more on that shortly—but I don’t blame Mr. Lee. I think, in many ways, I understand what he’s done, and the “why” seems self-evident (read on).

I DO blame the company, Marvel; hence my decision not to spend another penny on Marvel products or derivative products (like the upcoming Avengers movie). MARVEL instituted and codified their ill treatment of Kirby.

So, why the perceived “attack” on Stan Lee?

Aside from the cultural addiction to dualism—

—the simplistic division of any discussion/debate to “two sides,” the diversionary tactic of turning an ethical argument (that Marvel should treat Kirby‘s heirs honorably) into being, ipso facto, an attack on Stan Lee, who has been enriched into his 80s by his ongoing relations with Marvel Comics, long after he ceased scripting and/or editing a single comic for the company—

—it’s a handy means of avoiding the issue.

Furthermore, both Stan Lee and Marvel Comics have done their utmost since 1963 to conflate the two as one in the public arena: in many ways, Stan Lee was Marvel Comics. Marvel Comics was Stan Lee, in the public eye.

And however much the public may perceive otherwise, Stan Lee isn’t Marvel; he never was. He was always, at best, an employee of Marvel. A favored employee, as time has proven, but still an employee.

In fact, discussing the Marvel v Kirby’s heirs judgment is impossible without evoking and citing, at least by inference, Stan Lee.

So, here goes.


* First of all, Marvel as we know it today would simply not exist without Jack Kirby; the same must be said about Stan Lee. Together, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—and, to a measurably lesser extent, Stan Lee and others—laid the firm foundation for all that became Marvel.

[Right: Timely, aka Atlas/Timely, before the Silver Age; Captain America was co-created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941. Attempts to revive their Golden Age superheroes in the early 1950s failed; it took the Lee/Kirby and Lee/Ditko magic to pull off that feat in the early 1960s.]

* As Steven Barnes asserted amid the same Facebook conversation cited above, “I have zero problem with people wanting a giant like Kirby to be treated fairly, his family compensated. But I do disagree heartily with the contention, advanced by many, that Lee was less important.”

For the purposes of my argument, I am in total agreement with Steven.**

* In fact, for the purposes of my argument, I will work with the rational, measurable supposition that the products of the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee collaborations were and remain definably distinctive from all works by either creator working solo or with other creative partners.

I arrive at this supposition based upon my having read their Lee/Kirby collaborations since at least 1960; based upon my reading of their works apart, solo and with other creative partners, since at least 1966; and based upon my own living experience as a creative partner in various collaborative works since 1974, primary among those my collaborations with Alan Moore, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, and editors Len Wein and Karen Berger on Saga of the Swamp Thing.

I know I can never, ever create anything in comics to come close to what Alan, John, Rick, and I collaborated on in Swamp Thing, working under the guidance of editor/Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein, then editor Karen Berger.

Collaborative creative chemistry, when it works, is glorious, and I can say that first-hand, definitively. No one party can claim sole credit, including the editor—or sans the editor.

When it works, while it lasts, the resulting work is the creation of a composite “third person,” if you will, and no one member of the team can claim primary credit or recreate the chemistry alone or with others.

The same goes for Jack Kirby/Stan Lee.

* Since (a) none of us can do anything but extrapolate from the multitude of first-person published accounts of the Marvel Silver Age catalytic years, and (b) since (unlike the judge involved in the 2011 judgment) I see too many self-evident conflicts of interests reflected in Stan Lee‘s 2010 deposition account of how creative work was done in the Marvel offices in 1959-1963 (see below), I propose, for the purposes of the current argument, we agree for the duration of this post that we can only surmise the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby co-creations were, and are, 50/50 collaborative works.

In adhering to this supposition, I am neither minimizing nor inflating the creative role or contribution of either creator.

I ask only that we briefly agree that assigning an equal division of credit in the act of co-creation is a rational basis for parsing out the true nature of Stan Lee‘s ongoing relationship with Marvel Comics.

[Note: This is necessary to get to the core issues. It's not just differences of opinion or taste that cloud almost all discussion of what roles Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko played in the co-creation of the characters and concepts that remain the foundation of the Marvel universe; it's also the fact that all such discussions also ignore the fact that those formative Marvel years (1959-1963) necessarily and irrevocably changed who these men were, how they worked, and their subsequent creative paths.

As Steven Barnes wrote in the Facebook conversation cited above, "When Kirby or Ditko left Marvel and did their own stuff, it felt very different--I tried to follow them as a fan, and couldn't. The art was the same, but the stories and dialogue just didn't have that Marvel 'snap.' On the evidence of the product produced, Kirby was the greatest artist in the history of the Medium. But Stan was arguably the greatest writer. Together, they were amazing. But other artists, working with Stan, also created wonderful stories. I see no reason to trash Stan to uplift Jack. Life is not a zero-sum game." Life is also rarely ever static: Kirby's and Ditko's work after departing Marvel was inherently reactionary, at first. Both writer/artists explicitly autopsied and rejected many of the core principles of the work they'd done at Marvel, countering the compromised heroes of the Marvel Silver Age (a rejection absolutely manifest in Ditko's Mr. A, which debuted in Witzend in 1967, and remains a primary concern of much of Ditko's work, in comics and as an essayist in the newsletter The Comics), and even personifying and vilifying Lee himself via gross caricature (see Kirby's Funky Flashman character in Mister Miracle). Ditko's and Kirby's conscious rejection, even vilification, of key characteristics of their collaborative work with Lee arguably and necessarily eschewed any emulation of Lee's writing strengths and style.

Kirby was working all his life within a freelance system that rarely provided a venue for what he thought and knew he could bring to comics. I side completely with Charles Hatfield's assessment in his new book Hand of Fire that the closest we got, as readers, to seeing what Kirby was capable of in his prime was in a couple of years of his 1960s Marvel run (particularly in Thor, and "Tales of Asgard," both dialogued by Stan Lee) and his initial burst at DC under Carmine Infantino's helm, after the "here, make Jimmy Olsen work" and before DC pulled the plug on the Fourth World. After that, the size and fit of the strait-jacket constrained Jack's best efforts; even complete creative freedom, a'la Pacific Comics, arguably came too late, and only a handful of The Eternals published issues demonstrated he still had it in him.

Thus, I would argue trying to determine who did what at Marvel in 1959-1963 based on comparative readings of Lee/Ditko with subsequent solo Ditko comics, or Lee/Kirby against Kirby's subsequent solo work, is neither quantifiably accurate nor particularly rational.]

* We must agree on one undeniably fact: Stan Lee has enjoyed a very different relationship with, and been treated very differently by, Marvel Comics.

Stan has been taken care of every step of the way.

Jack wasn’t.


* It is fair to then ask: Why?

What service did Stan Lee provide, even after his departure from writing and/or editing a single Marvel Comic, that makes rational sense of Marvel‘s ongoing relationship with Stan Lee?

* In struggling to define that relationship, if only to understand what Marvel Comics was paying Stan Lee for over the decades, it then becomes essential (and neither offensive, slanderous, or unfair) to ponder some things that might be construed as potentially insulting, either to Stan Lee personally, to Marvel Comics, or to fans of either Lee or Marvel.

With all due respect to Mr. Lee (and little or none to Marvel or its fans), I won’t apologize in advance.

* I’ve never read anything from Stan Lee, as a long-time Marvel reader in the 1960s and some of what followed, that failed to praise Jack Kirby as one of the best artists working in the business.

It must be agreed, however, that “praise” is not standing up for, or defending, Jack Kirby; if I must note (and I must) that Stan Lee has never stood up for Kirby, much less Kirby‘s heirs, I do not do so lightly, nor to be abusive, but simply to state the fact of the matter.

* To discuss these issues, we need not dispense with compassion. There is no need to deny, denigrate, or dispose of Stan‘s hard work, skill as a writer, or his essential role as editor and co-creator of the Silver Age Marvel properties in order to redress how shoddily Marvel Comics had, has, and continues to treat Jack Kirby and the Kirby family.

Both Lee and Kirby (and their heirs) deserve equitable, fair treatment from Marvel Comics.

* Stan Lee is about my father’s age: 89 years old (my dad turns 89 later this year). I have no desire or stomach for attacking an aging man who gave me so much pleasure, for so much of my life. I explore and analyze the following with no malice in my heart for Stan Lee, however blunt my language at times.

I wish I could say the same for Marvel Comics aka Marvel Entertainment Group. I cannot.

* Let’s open with Stan’s own voice.

Jonathan Ross interviewed Stan Lee for the BBC documentary, In Search of Steve Ditko; the relevant clip, and Jonathan Ross‘s commentary, bear revisiting.

And, more recently—this week, in fact—there’s this, from BBC‘s The One Show, Feb. 24, 2012:

* But it’s not just about co-creating the Marvel characters, is it?

Comics writer Steven Grant pointed out this week (amid another Facebook conversation on my wall), Marvel‘s position is complicated somewhat by Stan‘s deal. Though Stan was on staff at Marvel & not a freelancer at the time he & Kirby created most of early Marvel Comics, he was still (despite being the publisher’s nephew) still a hired gun with no apparent rights in the properties – if you go by the common argument that “everyone knew the companies owned everything & those are the terms they all chose to work under” though Kirby‘s own career prior to his late ’50s return to Marvel demonstrates there were many different kinds of deals available in that era – so logically & perhaps legally there’s no reason for the Kirby family to accept any lesser deal than what Stan has, in terms of continued participation. If Marvel had no deal with Stan, they could more reasonably cut a “special circumstances” deal with the Kirbys & argue for a much smaller deal, but Stan‘s deal demonstrates what the company is, or was, ultimately willing to accept.”

Which again, begs the question:

What’s the deal?

Why the preferential treatment of Stan Lee, as co-creator of the same properties Jack co-created?

First of all, back to point: MARVEL‘s behavior is what’s under fire here.

But we must sort out what it was Stan Lee did that qualified him for preferential treatment, far beyond what Kirby earned, or what Kirby was relegated to.

* At no point have I (or James Sturm) stated that Lee was “less important.” But that doesn’t make (as Marvel argued, successfully, to the judge behind the 2011 judgment) Kirby less important, either.

Simply put, none of what Kirby co-created existed at Timely/Atlas before Kirby co-created it; Stan Lee alone didn’t do it.

[Note: Having edited and co-edited my share of comics (Gore Shriek, Taboo, 1963, etc.), I am not giving Mr. Lee short shrift in that department. I am basing my supposition of an equitable 50/50 co-creation split for Lee and Kirby in part on Lee's editorial workload. Whatever he didn't do working the "Marvel method," he did labor on each co-creation in his editorial decisions, to my mind.]

As I’ve detailed before on Myrant, in comics, unless a writer draws as well as writes up a character design, that writer cannot claim to have wholly created the character. And an “idea” for a character isn’t an expression of an idea—in any medium—hence, not a character, and certainly not a publishable property.

Furthermore, having worked the “Marvel method” first-hand professionally (at Marvel, 1978-1982; and via the series 1963, packaged for Image Comics, 1993, which I also co-edited with Rick Veitch), I assure you, a lion’s share of character creation, storytelling, pacing and making COMICS lands in the artist’s lap in that system.

It wasn’t and isn’t called “the Marvel method” for no reason.

Stan Lee codified it, thrived upon it, and made his and Marvel‘s fortunes with it.

* Stan Lee has cumulatively earned above and beyond what any editor or writer who labored in pre-1976 Copyright Act work-for-hire comic books ever earned, and benefitted more than any editor or writer from the system and publisher he worked with and for.

Jack Kirby and Kirby‘s heirs were and are the victims here. Anyone arguing that defending Kirby and the Kirbys is, by its very nature, an attack on Stan Lee is willfully obfuscating the argument by trying to paint Lee as somehow being a “victim.”

Stan Lee is not a victim.

Beyond Lee‘s behavior concerning Jack Kirby and Kirby‘s heirs—behavior I personally find abhorrent in the extreme, especially given all Lee has earned in his lifetime and still does—I’m not attacking his tenure as Jack‘s editor, as the man who scripted those famous issues over Jack‘s pencils, or as Marvel shill (which is what he was paid to be from 1941 onwards), nor am I claiming I know what he did or didn’t do as a co-creator.

I met Stan Lee in 1977, the second time I showed up at Marvel with my portfolio—he’s instantly likable. I like Stan. He’s charismatic as a man can be. I get that. He did some great, industry-changing work, and deserves all he earned and earns. Bully for Stan.

But Jack deserved at least the same, and so does Jack‘s heirs, given the billions of dollars Marvel reaps from Jack‘s co-creations.

* Forgive my being blunt: As a corporate shill, Stan has behaved as shills should at all times. As a human being, Stan has at times behaved abominably and shamefully toward his former friend and frequent collaborator, and that man’s heirs, while tending to his own selfishly and always adhering to the Marvel line to protect his own.

Creative work and co-creator issues aside, Stan has never, ever defended Jack Kirby, Jack‘s legacy, or Jack‘s heirs within a fraction of how he has zealously protected and sheltered Marvel‘s and his own interests. Period.

* Furthermore: As Charles Hatfield eloquently argues in Hand of Fire, Jack‘s post-Stan Lee Fourth World at DC Comics built upon what he and Stan had done at Marvel, and went it all one better—building, no less, the entire “preconceived universe” template almost all comics publishers and creators have taken for granted since, and that most creators/fans/historians erroneously chalk up to the Kirby/Lee and Ditko/Lee Marvel universe.

Stan‘s dialogue was in almost (almost) all ways sharper, I’ll grant that; but simply discounting all Jack did after he and Stan parted ways lionizes and places a revisionist spin on what Stan and Jack‘s actual published work was, in its day, and today.

* Praising Jack publicly (which supports Stan’s position as all-around nice guy) isn’t defending Jack. The complex, convoluted history of Jack and Stan‘s interpersonal dealings is a point of much discussion, and we’ll never know the ins and outs of it, really, but I’ve never seen any version of events (including Stan‘s) where Stan or anyone at what had become Marvel made a stand or difference regarding how Marvel treated Jack Kirby.

I’ve occasionally put my own career and livelihood on the line to defend and stick up for friends and co-creators, and I’ve seen others do it, too (including an editor or two, mind you, at least once on my own behalf). It can and does make a difference—and it can and does result in loss of work, being fired, etc. It also can forge relationships that can (and often does) yield later, mature, even better work. I’ve never read any version of events in which Stan put his ass or job on the line to defend any cartoonist or collaborator.

Please, anyone, anybody—do correct me if I’m wrong. I’d love to be wrong. I like being wrong.

* Cutting to the chase: let’s discuss a core principle of Capitalism:

You get what you pay for.

Let’s consider the contracts Marvel/Disney cited in the legal proceedings resulting in the judgment.

Look, it’s simple: if it’s about the co-creation of creative properties under the terms of the 1909 definition of work-for-hire, and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby‘s co-creations and writer/artist relationship, WHY is the WRITER getting special treatment, as he has since 1962?

Why does Stan Lee get everything, including annual checks/re-ups, while Jack alive gets a page rate, then nada, then punitive contracts (signed under economic duress of one kind or another), then punitive contracts or no artwork return when ever other Marvel artist just signs a release to get their art back?

“What did Stan bring to the pages that Jack DIDN’T” isn’t the question, however much folks try to make it that.

It’s obviously nothing on the pages alone that figures in the Marvel/Stan Lee relationship.

Given just the basic math, the question begged is, “What service did Stan Lee provide that Jack didn’t?”

Stan Lee did something other than co-create the properties in question.

You see, that is Capitalism.

* So, let’s parse this out: If it wasn’t the script—what was it?

Stan Lee, editor?

I have searched for 30 years, and have yet to find a single comicbook editor in the entire history of the comics industry to have landed a sweetheart deal like Stan‘s.

What, then, Capitalism as a principle requires I ask, was the service Stan provided—so that even after his relative Martin Goodman sold Marvel; so that even after Stan ceased scripting; so that even after Stan ceased editing—well, you get the idea.

What did Stan provide, what service did he give of such lifelong, lasting value, to Marvel, to justify what Stan got and gets—and Jack never did, and that Jack‘s heirs likely never will?

That is the question.

Some argue that what Stan provided was a “front man” for Marvel, a face for the company to provide a focus for fan worship and identification. In this, he was more than just a public relations or marketing hired gun: “Stan the Man” was Marvel‘s “Walt Disney,” a human being providing a corporate identity for an otherwise faceless corporation.

As Michael Russo stated during one Facebook conversation, “…Stan Lee was the face of Marvel. I knew who Stan Lee was probably since I was five years old, and didn’t really know who Kirby was until I started hanging out at comic book stores. Stan Lee is a HYPE machine. I worked the Marvel Megatour in 1993. Stan Lee was there, and I couldn’t believe the freaks that had come out of the woodwork just to see him in person. He’s like Elvis….”

No, I don’t think that’s it, either. I don’t buy that, nor would Disney, for a second.

What I DO buy, and what I’m convinced absolutely Disney DID buy, was what Stan delivered last summer to ensure the judge’s decision:

Stan saying anything (including the very dubious proposition that unused pages were paid for—never happened in my 30 years of freelancing for any publisher, including myself publishing myself!) to ensure any challenge to Marvel/Disney’s ABSOLUTE OWNERSHIP of the 1960s Marvel body of published (and, now, thanks to Stan‘s testimony in the deposition, unpublished) work would be defeated.

Marvel, in every incarnation, gambled for decades that paying Stan Lee every year would keep him in “their court” (pun intended).

That gamble paid off, in spades.

* Among its many dividends is precisely what we’re seeing in the online conversations: Stan‘s writer/co-creator status obfuscating the issue, and an arena in which Stan=writer” would trump Stan=paid shill” for the public.

In court, all that mattered last summer is that Jack Kirby was dead, and Stan was alive, and nobody else was still alive who was in the room in 1961 to speak up for Jack. And that Stan, per usual, sure didn’t lift a finger or form a syllable to defend—DEFENDJack Kirby (though Jack didn’t defend Jack, as he should/could have, in Jack‘s own lifetime, either, and that’s part of the problem, too).

So, let’s follow the paper trail:

At some point, after Marvel circa early 1970s had gotten Jack Kirby to sign the first blanket contract—a tacit acknowledgement that, in fact, Marvel as it existed then was worried that the 1909 work-for-hire terms didn’t apply, since they had no contracts asserting that as the terms of freelance—one begins to ask, rationally, if keeping Stan on board was in part a way to ensure Marvel‘s absolute ownership of its 1960s published works.

Stan, not Jack, was the public face of Marvel, and had been since about 1962; by the 1970s, Stan was a greater potential liability to Marvel if they ousted him.

By 1976 and the revised Copyright Act, I can attest from personal pro experience (and the considerable paper trail in my files) that both Marvel and DC were scrambling to rationalize work-for-hire (which in no way, shape, or form now “fit” comics publishing) as the status quo. By 1977, then, keeping Stan annually in Marvel‘s employ was the quickest, cheapest route to protecting the entire 1960s Lee co-created universe.

By the mid-1980s, when Marvel used the return of artwork to bludgeon Kirby into signing yet another onerous, signed-under-duress-and-arguably-extortion blanket “we own it all forever” contract, paying Lee his annual fee to be “Stan the Man” had established what we now SEE: Stan the Man, in his 80s, ensuring within his lifetime that ANY legal challenge from Kirby‘s heirs will be defeated in a court of law because, in short, Lee is the only man left alive who was standing in the room in 1961, and his version of events is no longer contestable.

Lee has always praised Kirby; Lee has NEVER DEFENDED Kirby. Marvel banked on that since at least 1968, and it’s been a very sound investment.

The point is: what Stan got, in some measure, should be comparable to what Jack got, or, now that that can never be redressed because Jack is dead and gone, what Jack‘s heirs should get.

And it clearly isn’t.

And nothing in any other model of comics publishing rationalizes or justifies Stan Lee, writer, getting what Jack Kirby, co-writer/artist, never received ever in his lifetime.

If Stan Lee‘s special treatment is due to Marvel paying annually to keep Stan Lee, Marvel Shill, in the game to ensure Marvel‘s (now Marvel/Disney‘s) absolute ownership is unchallenged as long as Stan Lee lives, then lets call a spade a spade, and quit confusing the argument.

Facing the hard reality, everything makes cold, clear sense.

It’s not about co-creation of characters or properties at all.

Stan Lee was selling insurance.


There’s not much dignity in it, but there you go.

Why should there be?



* Jamie Coville poignantly expanded upon this amid the Facebook conversation on my wall yesterday. Jamie wrote, “I also think we should really stomp on the idea that the heirs contributed nothing and just want free money. Kirby wasn’t an art robot, he was a human being with flaws that all human beings have. He couldn’t drive and Roz had to take him where he needed to go. Roz also protected him from people looking to take advantage of him. Somebody had to go out buy groceries, do his laundry, cook him supper, etc.. her doing all that work freed up Kirby so he could produce more pages. I’ve no doubt that Kirby‘s kids were a huge source of joy for Kirby, they may have helped out in house chores, were very possibly a source of inspiration/ideas and at minimum were a primary motivator to put in the long hours and do commercially popular work (and even create the characters that he would spend years drawing). Had Kirby been childless he might have stopped doing comics and moved to another line of work at some point.” Well said, Jamie, and thanks.

** Steven Barnes concluded a particularly heated stretch of our recent Facebook exchanges with the following: “I think you’ve won me over, but possibly not as you intended. In other words, if I’m understanding, you are being a warrior for the memory of a great artist, and his family. You are attacking any and all barriers between that artist’s golden legacy and the current state of being “forgotten” by the general public. That demands a certain clarity and…dare I say…ruthlessness. While I admire Stan, it is inarguable that he was a shill for Marvel, which you consider dishonorable. What you are doing is an honorable thing, although I flinch at attacks on an 80 year old man who brought me such pleasure, and whom I admire hugely. You want to provide for his grandchildren–something that is worthy of nothing but respect. So…if muddying the water with my defense of Stan diminishes the chance of building a public tsunami of support for Jack, I can understand how this conversation is hitting a nerve. You are a mench, fighting for a hero, and I have zero interest in placing you or those efforts in a bad light. We disagree about methods, but not aims and intents. I salute you, seriously.”


[All images, music, videos © year of origin and 2012 their respective creators/proprietors; posted here for educational/archival purposes only.]

Discussion (22) ¬

  1. Thad

    Well-put and exhaustive. You’ll never win over the trolls who go around ranting in comments sections, but per Barnes’s response down at the bottom there, it looks like you’re slowly winning over rational people who haven’t thought about the situation in this light before. Good on you, good luck, and keep it up.

  2. buzz

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Lee

    “With the help of his uncle, Robbie Solomon,[8][9] Lee that same year became an assistant at the new Timely Comics division of pulp magazine and comic-book publisher Martin Goodman’s company.[9] Timely, by the 1960s, would evolve into Marvel Comics. Lee, whose cousin Jean[10] was Goodman’s wife, was formally hired by Timely editor Joe Simon.[9]”

    There’s your answer

  3. brendan mccarthy

    Good article Steve.

    I’m afraid the tradition of comic book writers cutting artists out of rights deals is alive and well.

    The marketing of comics as “graphic novels” has seen the form get weighted over to writers being marketed as the “author” of the books and artists as the illustrators (something like children’s picture books). Writers now have the pre-eminent position over artists (time and again you will see, ‘Alan Moore’s Watchmen’, ‘Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman’, etc ).

    Good, in-demand artists should challenge the traditional cover credits, which generally place writers’ names over artists (who usually do the lion’s share of the hard graft). I would encourage top name artists to hire writers and pay for the scripts (from their own concepts, characters and plots) and cut a deal with a publisher, thus controlling the rights and creative ‘authorship’. Assume a role more akin to that of a film director and go for the main ‘possessive’ credit: Otherwise the artist will not be marketed as the equal creative ‘auteur’ – but merely as ‘illustrator’. And a higher profile in the industry equals more sales and money and more opportunites. It’s all about readership.

    As comics become big business and Hollywood moves in, creators need to become aware that pre-eminence of credits is fully negotiable and is an important part of a movie deal. So why not in comics? Unless artists get more pro-active, they will be continue to play second-fiddle to the the writers. Comics has its ‘star’ system as well.

    One of the problems is that many editors are usually English Lit grads who are inclined to see comics as illustrated novels (an imprint like Vertigo would be a good example). Obviously, none of this applies to writer-artists who do everything themselves (Miller, Eisner, etc)

    Let me stress that there are of course, many ethical big name writers who give the artists a fair and full co-creator deal. I doff my mirkin to them!

    Something to think about…

  4. Ken

    you are right on here, Steve .. Stan and Jack were legally 50/50 .. if Stan was capable of telling the true story ..

    on the issue of the law .. it’s like everything else .. the 99% vs. the 1% .. big corporate money and big corporate lawyers can make anything happen .. including changing copyright law to deprive creators of the return of their rights ..

    history will not treat Stan Lee as well as he thinks it will .. history will view that Stan Lee was made by Jack Kirby .. and if not for Jack Kirby .. Stan Lee would be what he was before Jack Kirby .. which was, by Stan’s own admission .. a man about to go under in the comics business ..

    don’t let the trolls get you down .. history is on your side, Steve ..

  5. patrick ford

    The popular conception that Lee “praised” or “promoted” Kirby is simply wrong. Lee’s praise, and promotion devalued Kirby. Kirby was the writer and the artist of the pages he passed on to Lee.
    Praising/promoting Kirby as an artist is in Lee’s interest, not Kirby’s and devalues Kirby’s contribution as a writer. This started in the early days of Marvel when Lee credited himself as the writer, and kept the full share of the writers page rate. Incredibly Lee has long described the so called “Marvel Method” as a system he devised as a favor to “THE ARTISTS.”

    Lee’s 2010 deposition
    Stan Lee: I wanted to have a villain called Galactus.
    I was looking for somebody who would be more powerful than any. So I figured somebody who is a demigod who rides around in space and destroys planets.
    I told Jack about it and told him how I wanted the story to go generally. And Jack went home, and he drew it.

    Kim Aamodt: I really sweated out plots, unlike Jack Kirby. Jack just ignited and came out with ideas, and Joe’d just kind of nod his head in agreement. Jack’s face looked so energized when he was plotting that it seemed as if sparks were flying off him.Joe was on the ground, and Jack was on cloud nine. Jack was more of the artist type; he had great instincts.

    Walter Geier: Jack Kirby was great about that; he always came up with the plots. Jack had a fertile mind. Joe used to sit there when the writers came in for conferences. They sat there and made up the plots for the writers. Jack did most of that. Joe would say something once in a while, but Jack was the idea man. Joe didn’t talk much. He could come up with decent plots, but it was usually very sketchy stuff. A lot of times Joe would say, ” Awww…you figure out the ending.” Jack would give me the ending, because he was good at figuring out stories. It was not hard to work with Jack. They were Jack’s plots. I just supplied the dialogue.

    John Romita: Jack got a chance to knock the stuff out, and use his own characters. Jack used to surprise Stan with new characters almost every time he turned in a story. Take Galactus who devours planets. Instead of knocking down buildings, Kirby is talking about eating planets.
    I told him once he threw away more ideas than I could think of. His throwaway bin was probably worth millions. I can imagine going through his wastebaskets, and “coming up” with all the ideas he didn’t use.

    Stan Goldberg: “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.
    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 doen in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.”
    Jim Amash:” Sounds like you were doing most of the writing then.”
    Goldberg: “Well, I was.

  6. Henry R. Kujawa

    Great stuff. I especially applaud Patrick Ford, who has been saying the same thing at Club Comicana for many months now, but the truth is always the truth, and it’s never a bad thing to get it out in front of as many people as possible.

  7. BobH

    Yeah, Marvel is pretty much buying, at a bargain price, Lee’s signed name under paragraphs like this:

    “Subject to a material breach of this agreement, you agree not to contest either directly or indirectly the full and complete ownership by Marvel, its affiliates, designees, or successors in interest, of all right, title and interest in and to the Property and Rights or the validity of the rights, which may be conferred on Marvel by this Agreement, or to assist others in so doing.”

    (emphasis added)

    I’m sure they know (and Lee knows) that Marvel has a stronger hand against any claim Lee makes, since he was a full-time employee at the time (although, if you ask me, since he was paid separately for his writing, the writing wasn’t done in the scope of his employment, so even his contributions shouldn’t be assumed to be work-for-hire, but I’m sure corporate-friendly legal precedent might not see it that way), so it’s worth it for them to have him state he was the creator.

  8. James Robert Smith

    I swear to JOVE that I am sick of hearing that Stan Lee created any of this material. The evidence is there that he did NOT create ANYTHING! He wrote dialog. He was good at it. He was good at being a comic book editor. But he didn’t create the characters, and he didn’t plot the comics, and he certainly had nothing to do with illustrating them.

    What was he good at? He was the single best pitch-man that comic books ever had. He was the biggest goddamned bullshitter who ever darkened the door of any of the comic publishing houses. I’d say he was the biggest and best promoter in ANY kind of publishing. And he was, is, always has been the biggest promoter of STAN LEE, which was his number-fucking-one priority.

    He didn’t care about Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko except where their abilities coincided with his welfare.

    I wish like hell that everyone would stop promoting the goddamned lie that he co-created Jack Kirby’s work, or Steve Ditko’s work.


  9. Henry R. Kujawa

    James! I’m shocked! Someone who feels EXACTLY as I do! I feel like fainting.

    I love, even to this day, to PRAISE what Stan did, and did well. I particularly LOVE– really do– his dialogue on both NICK FURY (which is so funny!!!) and DR. STRANGE (which– ISN’T!!! –for once, he actually played it straight, and it worked). And for the longest time, I felt that both of those series, “ironically” (hah) were the ones he had the LEAST to do with creating, as, apart from the dialogue, everything about them were SOOOO– MUCH– “Kirby!!!” and “Ditko!!!” (And I do believe, firmly believe, that Stan wrote better dialogue than Steve ever could have.)

    But I HATE Stan being praised for what he DIDN’T do.. or the “plotting” he did AFTER-the-fact. You know, just like a “script doctor,” Stan REALLY IS a “Hollywood” kinda guy. (He can’t come up with any stories on his own, but he can sure piss all over someone else’s, and change it so it doesn’t make any coherent sense by the time he’s done.)

    Now, as a long-time Stan Lee fan, I have to confess, lately, I’m in a state of shock. Because, after DECADES of reading comics, and reading interviews and articles about comics, so many that there’s no way I can possibly remember where I read al this stuff or who said what… I’ve come to a conclusion about Marvel which at times leaves me (as Rick Wakeman once put it), “bordering on stupification”.

    Here it is. 60′s Marvel history is a confused, jumbled lot of stories and behind-the-scenes stories, whose “explanations” don’t really make any kind of coherent sense, if you listen to Stan’s descriptions of what supposedly happened when.

    However, I’ve figured out that, 60′s Marvel history makes PERFECT, COHERENT, CONSISTENT sense. ALL of it. IF– and this is a big if– you make ONE– SIMPLE– assumption.

    That ONE– SIMPLE– assumption being– that Stan– NEVER PLOTTED ANYTHING.

    Accept THAT one assumption– and– SUDDENLY– everything– and I mean EVERYTHING about who worked on what books when– suddenly becomes TOTALLY CONSISTENT. ALL of it.

    Is it any wonder I’m in a state of shock? (The “MMMS”, as Patrick calls them, will NEVER admit to this, of course. It would be like admitting that NONE of the music on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION is memorable– at all. And IT AIN’T.)

  10. James Robert Smith


    One problem so many professionals have is that Stan Lee was their idol growing up. A false idol, indeed. I adored him too when I was a wee lad. But I realized after a time that it was all just a big fucking lie.

    They all need to let go of that false image they have of that funny, charming, fast-talking shyster.

  11. Henry R. Kujawa

    Just so you’ll know where I’m coming from, here’s an example… NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD. Roy Thomas onece said he didn’t stick on FURY long, it “didn’t interest him”. Okay. But get this… he took over from Stan ONE episode before Jack Kirby left. The next month, Jim Steranko took over from Kirby. The month after that… Thomas left. Why did Roy REALLY leave? Because… Roy IS A WRITER. With Kirby– then Steranko– what did Roy have to do, really? He wasn’t needed. And Steranko, I’m sure, was arrogant and egotistical enough to ASK, “Hey, I’m writing the plot, how about if I do my own damn dialogue? (He was also doing the coloring.)

    As an aside, Steranko (who I’ve met more than once, and ALMOST worked for– I turned HIM down) is one of only 2 people I like to say “DESERVE to be conceited”. (The other is guitarist Dick Dale.)

    The other example is even more obvious: X-MEN. Roy took over from Stan a couple months AFTER Kirby left. Why? Werner Roth drew pretty pictures, and tells nice stories, but, like George Tuska, Jm Mooney, and certain others, he was used to working from plots supplied by a WRITER. Stan didn’t wanna have to do this, after Jack left! So– in comes Roy– problem solved.

    I believe this is the SAME reason George Tuska’s sole issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA was totally rejected by Stan. Stan “didn’t like what he got back”. So, in comes John Romita, who plotted 2 issues, before Gene Colan came in. Gene ALSO plotted. Gene’s plots were never great writing… but as I like to say about Gene’s work, “With art like that, WHO CARES?” Especially when they got Joe Sinnott on the first batch of issues. It’s notable that George Tuska did very little work for Marvel in the 60′s, EXCEPT where he had a real writer working with him– Jack Kirby (on CAP), and Archie Goodwin (on IRON MAN). By the 70s, Marvel had a stable of guys ready and eager to write, and George really WENT TO TOWN!!!

    People at the Masterworks message board will come up with more and more complicated, comvoluted “explanations” to countradict every single thing you can come up with that makes sense. Anything, whatever it takes, just so they don’t have to admit that their idol is a con-man, lier… and THIEF. (credit and payment, CREDIT AND PAYMENT!!)

  12. patrick ford

    To supplement what Bob’s comment here are quotes taken from Toberoff’s appeals brief.
    page 13:
    “The District Court also egregiously ignored the governing standards on summery judgment. For instance after acknowledging that Marvel’s motion “stands or falls” on the testimony of Stan Lee it’s longtime “Chairman Emeritus,” the court improperly determined Lee’s sharply contested credibility on summery judgment and heavily relied on Lee, despite strong evidence of Lee’s deep financial ties to Marvel/Disney…”
    Page 28:
    “The record evidence demonstrated Lee’s deep financial ties to both Marvel and Disney…The evidence also showed that shortly after receiving the Terminations regarding Marvel’s biggest characters, Disney (my stress)) GRATUITOUSLY PAID LEE SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONAL MONIES.”
    Page 31:
    “Lee’s bias is shown by his contradictory testimony of many key points. For instance Lee testified on direct Marvel’s checks in the ’50s and ’60s always contained “work for hire” legends, and Lee signed a similar affidavit in other litigation. Lee’s testimony contradicted all record evidence, including the testimony of five contemporaneous witnesses. On cross Lee admitted he really had no idea when the “work for hire” legend first appeared on Marvel’s checks.”

  13. srbissette

    I’ll be sharing elements from this and the previous post’s comments threads more openly in the next post.

    Honestly, I’m minimizing my own “attack” on Lee to ensure my posts don’t become a legal target for Marvel—not out of cowardice, but legal caution.

    But I have to add, having worked with many editors over the years, we really have NO idea what Lee did or didn’t verbally brainstorm with the artists he worked with. When we drew 1963, I for one had notes to Alan all over the pencils we FAXed him, but I was definitely working from complete breakdowns (which Lee admits he didn’t ever provide in written form), incorporating aspects from Alan’s and my phone conversations, and Alan DID provide input into the character designs that led to reshaping and reconfiguring key elements. Alan only designed, wholly, ONE character that I drew—The Hypernaut—but then again, unlike Stan, Alan can draw (he’s actually a pretty good cartoonist).

    Point being, I can’t pretend to presume what Lee did or didn’t contribute to designs of characters, stories, etc. As I’ve made abundantly clear, I believe Kirby, Kirby’s heirs, and Ditko deserve AT LEAST the same treatment/income Lee does and has.

    AND: As I clearly stated in my post, “for the sake of my argument” I posited the 50/50 division of labor/co-creation.

    I did and do not present that as factual, just a supposition from which to proceed with a logical argument—primarily to arrive at the unclouded rational conclusion that Stan’s payment has NOTHING TO DO with “co-creating” anything. He’s an insurance salesman, with one client: Marvel.

    If we add to that the recent Gary Friedrich Enterprises v Marvel Enterprises judgment—which I’ve written about extensively on Facebook, and will consolidate into a series of posts here later in March, as time permits—Marvel itself now argue writers are NOT the primary creators of characters/properties.

    Except, magically, somehow, STAN LEE.

    That’s a pretty singular position in the Marvel universe, by any measure.

    At some point, the legal and logical corners they are painting themselves into will cease to correspond. I think we’re already there.

  14. Henry R. Kujawa

    I think you did an astoundingly fair and reasonable job in your posts, Steve. And I appreciated exactly what you were trying to accomplish in them. Well done!

    For myself, I’m just getting really tired of being attacked by Stan’s followers every time I mention his name, and accused of having some “agenda” or “personal score” agasint him, and only quoting “evidence” and “research” I’ve done which supports views I already had before the fact… when, actually, it’s more like I’ve slowly, painfully, reluctantly, come to the conclusions I have, after years and years of reading a HELL of a lot of different people, all, independantly, telling the same stories. (They can’t ALL be lying, can they?)

    But to summarize– I think a 50-50 split would be the only “fair” thing, and it should have been there from the start. But you know how it is dealing with gangsters… (“How can you alter half of an agreement?” “PRAY I don’t alter it FURTHER.”)

  15. patrick ford

    I make a distinction between the published comic books, and what Kirby created and sold to Marvel. My feeling is Lee had very, very little to do with what Kirby did, but Lee had a tremendous amount to do with the comic books.
    I see no reason to think Kirby’s relationship with Lee was any different from the one’s described by Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Stan Goldberg, and Steve Ditko. All those men described Lee giving them nothing, or almost nothing to work with. They all felt they were writing the stories (plotting), most of them were not happy Lee took their stories and made changes to the plots which required redraws.
    To me the Stan Goldberg quote is the most telling of all. Prior to the ’60s Lee wrote humor for the most part. Millie the Model was right in Lee’s “wheelhouse.” Yet Goldberg describes Lee as leaning on him for plots. Goldberg, like so many other people, describes Kirby as bursting with plots and ideas. It used to be common to see people say Lee worked well with Kirby. BECAUSE Kirby had so many ideas he needed Lee to pan the gold. Lee’s new version is KIrby never had an idea, not one, between the years 1958-1963.

    Stan Goldberg: “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.
    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 doen in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.”
    Jim Amash:” Sounds like you were doing most of the writing then.”
    Goldberg: “Well, I was.

  16. BobH

    I like the image of Lee running a protection racket. “Dis is a nice little intellectual property shop youse got here. Be a shame if something… happened to it”.

  17. patrick ford

    I like to imagine Lee and Toberoff walking in the same direction down the street and striking up a conversation.

    “Stan you said your actual writing was freelance, page rate work, right?”

    “What’s it to you?”

    “Well that means your creative work was done apart from your staff position. And I assume that was because Goodman had decided it was better to work with freelancers whose work he could purchase or reject, rather than paying a bullpen to create on salary. You see where I’m going with this?”

  18. patrick ford

    Steve, I see you are across the street from me for the next three days. If you see a 50ish looking guy ride past the school on a beat up old English touring bike that would be me.

  19. Henry R. Kujawa

    Patrick steered to to Facebook. Took me 5 minutes to find what he was talking about , then click on the comments. Can’t comment myself unless I’m a ‘friend”, and it says you have “too many friend requests”. Okay. So I came here.

    Stan says there haven’t been any “iconic” new superheroes in decades. Gee, why do you suppose that is? Because “THE BIG TWO” have a virtual monopoly on the marketplace. I often compare the comics and music buinesses. In both, you have big, utterly soul-less corporations running things into the ground, “creating” what David Bowie described on a talk show as “Crap– REAL crap!!!” And then you have countless incredibly-talented people, putting out AMAZING work, most in almost total obscurity.

    If Marvel & DC both went belly-up, there might finally be room for EVERYONE ELSE to make a real dent in popular culture.

    The truth is, there’s been countless “new” series in the last several decades that have been WONDERFUL. But they haven’t been coming from “The big two”. NEXUS springs to mind, and Steve Rude is having trouble finding a job these days. If he is, what hope do I have?

    It would also be nice if people stopped thinking all comics involve superheroes. MY favorite current new comic is JANE’S WORLD. A sitcom on paper! Paige Braddock is brilliant… and I’m sure glad SHE isn’t working for “the big two”.

  20. patrick ford

    Steve, I’ve been following you comments on Facebook. Looking forward to more there as well as new posts here.
    I also have been appreciating your comments on Ronald Reagan, the Tea Party, The Lee Party, and corporate greed.
    Having seen your recent comments on Mosanto I’d like to strongly recommend you seek out THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MONSATO by Marie-Monique Robin. It’s a book so devastating and so well documented that Monsanto chose to ignore it rather than follow their usual course of action and sue the opposition.
    There is also a documentary of the same name directed by the author Marie-Monique Robin.
    If you ever get tired of some of your “friends” on Facebook let me know if you have an opening. I do enjoy the fact your FB page is public.

  21. M Kitchen

    Hi Steve – Do you know if there are any Kirby works out there that, if we were to purchase them, the Kirby heirs would get some money out of it? I know Ditko has been releasing his own books for a while now at http://ditko.blogspot.ca/p/ditko-book-in-print.html (I bought them all. Least I could do for the man who co-created my favourite super-hero).

  22. BobH

    The Kirby estate licences the characters Kirby retained sole copyright on, so you might want to see if the KIRBY GENESIS branded books from Dynamite or the SILVER STAR reprint from Image of Kirby’s 1980s miniseries (also available digitally) interest you. Also look at the S&K Library books from Titan that Joe Simon began prior to his passing, featuring their jointly created/owned work and which continue with a science fiction volume later this year.

    DC also pays royalties every time they reprint his work, and I’m less certain of this, but I think some of the characters he created for DC are covered by creator equity deals of the time (or subsequently negotiated), so DC pays for certain uses of those characters (like TV shows and toys), as well as including a “created by” credit when required.

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