Thursday, August 31, 2006

When Pants Ignite

Every time that people talk about "creating the characters," I always say I co-created them. I co-created Spider-Man with Steve Ditko. I co-created The Fantastic Four and the Hulk with Kirby. I co-created Iron Man with Don Heck. Very often, when people would write about us in the newspapers or the trades, they would say, "Stan Lee – Creator of Spider-Man," and that would get Ditko angry – but I had nothing to do with that! I have no control over what journalists write.

Stan Lee, interviewed on IGN, June 2000

Celebrating his 65th years at Marvel, Stan "The Man" Lee comes face-to-face with some of his greatest creations of all time. Five all new 10 page stories by Stan Lee with 10-page backup tales from top talents in the industry, along with reprints of classic Stan Lee stories. Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man. Stan Lee Meets Dr. Strange. Stan Lee Meets The Thing. Stan Lee Meets Dr Doom. Stan Lee Meets The Silver Surfer.

Marvel comics flyer, September 2006.

(Stan Lee's name appears 17 times in this leaflet. A no-prize for anyone who guesses the number of occurrences of the words "Ditko", "Kirby", "Jack", "Steve". The cover for the Spider-Man comic appears to be have been copied from Ditko's art on Amazing Fantasy #15, and the cover for the Thing appears to have been copied from Kirby's art on Fantastic Four #51.)


Katherine said...

This is a bit mean-spirited. Stan Lee also has no control over what the Marvel publicity wonks write, you know. (And putting much stock in what Marvel publicity wonks write is... heh... inadvisable. Lately they seem to be assuming that nobody reads their material and planting as many silly jokes in their blurbs as they can fit.) I've never read an interview with Lee in which he's claimed sole creator credit on anything -- and if he's being celebrated nowadays more than his co-creators, that's probably because a) unlike them, he's still alive and still on more-or-less good terms (give or take a lawsuit or two) with Marvel; and b) although others were involved in everything he co-created, he was the common thread throughout more or less all of the most important foundational Marvel characters.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Steve Ditko, the creator of Spider-Man, is still alive.

"Stanly? Oh I feel sorry for him. I sleep well at night." -- Jack Kirby

Unknown said...

I must side with Katherine in this particular case (though it sounds like you have other, weightier evidence that you're not sharing today); Stan Lee has no more control over what appears on a Marvel promotional flyer than a screenwriter has on what image will be used on the posters for her film.

Andrew Rilstone said...

The Marvel Comics publicity machine promotes the fantasy that Stan Lee personally created all the Marvel characters, and the rest of the media falls into line. It may be that Stan Lee is not personally to blame for this dissemination of this fib, although I think he could probably work harder to counter it.

The Stan Lee who appeared in the Bullpen Bulletins was almost as much a fictitious character as "The Mighty Tharg" or "Lord Peter Flint"; I guess it's this fictitious character who the new comic series is about. So it may be that Marvel venerates the Stan Lee of Faith while the Stanley Leiber of History remains willing to acknowledge the contributions made by his collaborators; but the rest of the media can't be blamed for not spotting the distinction.

James said...

But isn't Lee specifically explaining the distinction in the first quote, where he says he has no control over whether other people call him the creator of Spider-Man and so on? Surely that applies to publicity stuff from a company he no longer works for as well.

Which is not to say that Lee never minimized the roles of the artists in the creation of those famous characters.

Michael Hanretty said...

Perhaps Stan could have worked harder to 'big up' his artists' profiles? Perhaps. As far as I can tell, he was always trying to instill some kind of character in his colleagues to the reader. 'Snazzy' Steve Ditko and Jack 'The King' Kirby ring any bells?

Let's be honest. For all their talent, Kirby and Ditko were hardly the most accommodating of men. Jack was, by all accounts, a crotchety old fellow who eventually announced his resignation by leaving a small note on the office bulletin board (heh) that went unnoticed for some time. Steve became so obsessed with his bizarre Randian interpretation of anonymity that even his characters became faceless, one-dimensional abstracts with no personality save a laughably simplistic view of Good and Evil (and this from a guy who's proudest posession is a signed Mr. A original inked sketch; oh, it looks nice).

They did not court the media. Smilin' Stan did. And how; eventually becoming that rarest of rare things in the comic industry: a rich man.

Didn't his artists deserve the same? Course they did; half the time they were plotting the damn comics! They just didn't actively pursue the same position in pop culture that Stan - with his showboatin' ways - did. But Stan never did so at their expense. I've never read an interview where he took sole credit for his co-creations. As regards to money, well, they were all on the same 'work-for-hire' contract.

Broadly, both men needed Stan. At least in the early days, if only to give their projects a more down-to-earth feel that came to embody the Silver Age revolution. If only to add a more mass-market appeal with which they could make their names. Let loose their imaginations ran riot and, while I'm not one to denigrate the impact of either the New Gods or the Charlton set, I really do feel the writing/plotting didn't match their best work at Marvel.

And just as broadly: while the non-comic reading majority credit Stan singlehandedly with the entire Marvel Universe, I really do believe that Stan Lee has become a sort of scapegoat for the unfulfilled commercial/critical aspirations of his artists by their fans. Personally, I'm not going to blame the man ('The Man'?) for some Marvel sales rep capitalising on public perception that could have been altered long ago had his colleagues just been willing to step in the limelight long enough to tell their side of the story.

And that is why, Andrew - with all due respect - I also think you're being a little unfair.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I take many of the points made above.

I think this actually requires a proper article, which I shall try to get around to writing.

Charles Filson said...

Anybody ever read the graphic novel 'Box Office Poison'?

Might be entertaining if a saga of comic book credit appeals to you.