--and I responded. Here is what I said:
I wasn't there, either.
But, this I do know: as far as I can remember, Stan Lee's hyperbolic dialogue and charming persona has always been in my life. I was born in 1967 and started reading Marvel Comics from my local NYC newsstand in the late 1970s around the same time I discovered and devoured The Origins of Marvel Comics (including Son of Origins, Bring On the Bad Guys, The Superhero Women, etc.), which became my bible, my religion, while watching Adam West play campy Batman on TV. Besides "Stan Lee Presents..." being on the first page of every Marvel Comic that was printed back then, I think Stan's only regular writing gig was the Spider-man newspaper strip when I started reading Marvel Comics. Like Norse and Greek mythology, I believe Marvel & DC superheroes ARE our American Mythology and I've bought The Fantastic Four every month since I started reading comic books.
I asked someone the other day who Stan Lee was and they basically said he was the guy who created Spider-man, X-men, Hulk, Iron Man, etc. The guy who created Marvel! I then asked him who Steve Ditko was and I got a shrug. I asked him who Jack Kirby was and I got a shrug. Yes, it sucks that Stan Lee, the co-creator of Marvel Comics, gets all the play because he was such a good shill for the company and of the medium, parading and celebrating his own name, while Jack and Steve and everyone else who co-created the Marvel heroes slaved away at the art table whipping out stories as fast as they could think them up, but, unfortunately, that's the way it was. It seems Stan story-managed and even art directed that first decade of Marvel before setting his sights towards Hollywood and beyond. From what I understand, Stan Lee never really wanted to be in comics, he wanted to be a "real writer," and The Fantastic Four was a last ditch effort to attempt something different in comic books.
Arguably, Stan Lee devoted only 1/9th of his life to co-creating NEW comic book ideas. The latter half of his life was dedicated to being "Stan Lee" and expanding the Marvel superheroes into more lucrative mediums. He had the personality to open new doors. Anyone who knows me and my work knows how much I cherish Jack Kirby, my artistic hero, but could war-torn Jack have been that kind of person to kiss ass and take those obnoxious meetings and flex that "fake it 'till you make it" attitude? Could Steve Ditko push aside his philosophies and bend over backwards until their ideas could eventually become Joss Whedon proof? Of course not! And why should they? They had no fair stake in the characters they co-created and they weren't company men like Stan Lee who famously coined "With great power comes great responsibility," only what was he responsible for and to whom? It certainly wasn't to the people who concocted another superhero-of-the-week that just so happened to permanently crack the pop culture zeitgeist. That took hard work, other collaborations, and many years to happen. Who knew Marvel Comics superheroes would become what they became?
Let's put it into BIGGER terms. My girlfriend loved BREAKING BAD but she still doesn't know the name of the actor that played "Walter White." Because it doesn't really matter to the consumer. Another example: THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a new movie that just came out. What do I know about it? Martin Scorcese, the guy who directed TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, and GOODFELLAS directed it, Terence Winter, who wrote/created BOARDWALK EMPIRE, wrote it, and it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey. That's it. And, that's all most people will ever know about that movie. I could look it up and find out if it's based on another source and who the cinematographer was and who edited it, etc., etc., but I probably won't. I know that The Coen Brothers have a new movie out about a folk singer with a cat and that John Goodman is in it. I can hardly remember the title of the movie and I don't remember the two lead actors names even though I kinda recognize them from the trailer I've seen (looks like the same actors from the movie DRIVE). That movie NEBRASKA looks cool because it's in black & white. That's the only thing selling me on NEBRASKA. Bottom line: most people don't know who makes the things we like or the stuff that attracts us to discover new things, new stories, and that's okay because we're not always supposed to know or rummage and file that info in the back of our brains. We're supposed to like the product first and foremost. Alas, Stan Lee became synonymous with comic books and that's okay.
Do I benefit whenever someone recognizes my work? OF COURSE! It might get me more work and accolades are fun to collect. Lord knows publishers and editors are relying on name value to help hawk and sell their wares. So, while currently living in the internet/crowd funding age of "ME! ME! ME!" it's critical to engender a loyal fan base. Especially as publisher press budgets diminish to near nil. However, is it critical that you know that I wrote and drew a story that you read of mine? Nope. Did Stan Lee help inject new life into a medium that was starting to dwindle, starting to get compromised by competing mediums and technology? I think so. Should Stan Lee have given his Marvel Comics co-creators the same attention as he gave himself? YES! That would have been the right thing to do but he didn't and neither did the company and that's terrible.
We still live in a lazy world that thinks a director and a few actors are the people who make the movie and a writer is the person who creates the comic. In a medium like comic books where image is text, too, we truly need to reconsider the way we credit and sell our comic books but that's another discussion. Meanwhile, it's tragic stories like Jack Kirby's; not getting his due props and all the other terrible things that happened to him, that has artists like Neal Adams, Frank Miller, et al, fighting for co-creator rights and credit, ever since. Am I mad at Stan Lee for not being more responsible towards his co-creators? Yes. He could have been a better shepherd of his co-creators but, dollars to donuts, I doubt many people would have given a damn because, in general, they don't really care who makes the stuff they like. That's what us passionate "nerds" care about. Am I pissed Stan Lee turned 91 years old? NO! Happy 91st Birthday, Stan Lee.
I guess what motivated me to respond to this column was the "...I guess?" portion of the title. It almost read as if Stan Lee shouldn't be allowed to turn 91 years old. Let Stan Lee's 91st birthday BE his 91st birthday and save the criticism of his career for any of the other 364-days. It's not like the industry is giving Stan Lee awards for being Stan Lee, but I felt I had to acknowledge the good things Stan Lee did do on his birthday. Stan Lee co-created Marvel Comics and he is an ambassador of comic books. Stan Lee is one of the people that made me love comics and devote my life to comics. 'Nuff said.
Full disclosure: I've met Stan Lee a few times and I even collaborated with him once. He was always honest in his answers to my questions and he is a tireless ambassador of comics. I'd like to believe that if Stan could turn back time, he'd have given Jack and Steve and everyone else who co-created Marvel Comics in the early 1960s their due props. Alas, it was a different time with different concerns.