“I would tell any cartoonist who has an idea, think twice before you give it to a publisher.” —Stan Lee, 1971
Here’s one of the many fascinating documents I came across in the process of researching Marvel Comics: The Untold Story: Stan Lee forcefully criticizing the comic industry’s treatment of creators.
On the evening of Wednesday, January 20, 1971, Stan Lee joined a number of comic veterans—including Gil Kane, Will Eisner, and Archie Comics publisher John Goldwater—at the Lambs Club in Manhattan for a discussion about the state of the industry. Jack Kirby had quit Marvel the previous spring, and Lee himself was only a few months away from taking a sabbatical to collaborate on a film script with Alain Resnais. His disillusion with the world of comics is striking, as is the spirited nature of the debate with the other panelists, some of whom seem to feel he’s putting too much blame on publishers.
“I would say that the comic book market is the worst market that there is on the face of the earth for creative talent and the reasons are numberless and legion,’ says Lee. “I have had many talented people ask me how to get into the comic book business. If they were talented enough the first answer I would give them is, ‘Why would you want to get into the comic book business?’ Because even if you succeed, even if you reach what might be considered the pinnacle of success in comics, you will be less successful, less secure and less effective than if you are just an average practitioner of your art in television, radio, movies or what have you. It is a business in which the creator, as was mentioned before, owns nothing of his creation. The publisher owns it….”
The above documents pick up the conversation about halfway through. Near the end, you can practically Stan Lee prophesizing his escape hatch to Hollywood: “Isn’t it pathetic to be in a business where the most you can say for the creative person in the business is that he’s serving an apprenticeship to enter a better field? Why not go to the other field directly?”
Fascinating stuff. Many comic fans — myself included! — like to paint Stan as a credit-stealing bully, as opposed to the loveable goof that he appears to be in pop culture, but as always the truth is more likely to be somewhere in between.