Stan Lee was an iconic comic creator who lived a long and productive life. Not all of the characters that he was associated with were made by him alone. This became a talking point in the last few years of his life and with some in the industry, it remained an issue right up until his death. He wasn’t a man without controversy and this was just one of them and will always be a point of discussion in the years to come.
Lee’s name had enormous brand value throughout most of his life so comic creators would of course be very keen to have his name attached to their work. His work as an ‘’executive consultant’’ fitted this description of his work with younger creators. This is a fact that his detractors should remember. It is also true that people who worked for him or with him could quit and start their own company or become a freelancer. The bottom line is that the movie business is all about selling tickets, popcorn, and ice-creams and Stan Lee did that very well.
The chief complainant is Jack Kirby and he was at Marvel with Stan Lee over 50 years ago. In fact, he was Lee’s working partner. Such memorable characters as The Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men were created by Kirby and Lee. Inside the comic industry, Kirby’s contributions are well known along with those of Steve Ditko but this wasn’t the case when they were creating these characters. It should also be noted that these characters were developed into highly successful movies that brought the full attention and respect of Hollywood.
This attitude was illustrated in a 1966 article in the New York Herald Tribune which was written by Nat Freedland. This article offered glowing praise for Lee but nothing for Kirby and it would signal the end of the working relationship between the partners. This was despite the fact that Lee admitted he wasn’t as involved nearly as much as people thought he was. This clearly wasn’t enough to soothe Kirby’s ego but the repercussions took some time to be made obvious. Kirby left Marvel for DC in 1970, a full 4 years after the article was written. It was from this event that Stan Lee’s reputation inside the industry would take a hit.
The best show business material comes from show business because the creators of such material know what they’re talking about. Kirby created a character called Funky Flashman and this character is an empty vessel making the most noise. His counterpart is Houseroy who does all the work but never gets the credit for what he creates. It doesn’t take too much imagination to think of the parallels in Kirby’s own life. Other parody characters of Stan Lee were Stan Me and Stan Bragg, who were constantly reminding their employers to sign his name onto the comic strips. It became a theme to take aim at Stan Lee’s ego and comic strips were the medium of choice.
At the time of his death, Stan Lee in 2018 received an enormous amount of adulation due to his life-long contribution to comic strips. It has to be understood that Stan Lee was a salesman for movies that showed characters that he partially created. He gained a certain reputation for hyping up his films endlessly which produced a certain amount of disdain among some people. His endless optimism about the projects wasn’t matched by the production of such projects. This tended to put him offside with the industry but his legacy had already been enshrined by this point. With his persona for a salesman and self-deprecating humor putting many at ease, it became easy for people to mistake Stan Lee as the super-genial grandfather who made comics that everyone could read. To an extent, it was an act but yes, there was some real creative talent present as well. It’s a blurred story that will never achieve a true definitive result because Stan Lee never made it clear just how much he was responsible for the creation of the characters that made him so famous and so rich. Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby might not have the same reputation as Stan Lee but what is important is that they knew how important their work was and nothing can take away from that.