Article and above poster photo ©2018 Mike Pascale. All other photos copyright their respective owners.
In the wake of Stan Lee’s recent passing, there was a flood of tributes and remembrances from friends and fans and peers. And, sadly, several negative posts and articles from those without any semblance of propriety, respect or shame. (There’s nothing wrong with presenting both sides of a celebrity’s life or achievements, but during mourning is hardly the time to do so.)
Several of these bashings and laughable “exposés” were from anonymous cowards using fake names on social media, and others were from so-called “professionals” (including Esquire.com, of all places) who should know better. To illustrate how trustworthy and accurate these coal-rakings were, none of them were written by people who actually knew or worked with Stan. And none I saw took the time to interview or speak with anyone who actually knew Stan. You know, like a real journalist would. (Esquire didn’t even allow comments on its own article! Now there’s trust in your writer.)
They simply cobbled together old news reports and articles from websites, magazines or fanzines published ages ago. The issues were either allegations of “sexual harassment” from a couple of Stan’s nurses while in elder care in his 90s (not a single such report could be found before any age-related dementia) or credit and/or financial issues with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, the two creative partners whom Marvel (the company) arguably mistreated long, long ago. (Stan was an employee of Marvel, not its CEO or president, while Steve and Jack, like the other artists, were freelancers, i.e., independent contractors.)
Regardless of what you think of Stan Lee—hero or villain, genius or hack, sweetheart or snake, or something in-between, you should take every single article and post—regardless of who writes it—with a grain of salt. I’m here to tell you that NONE OF THEM are 100% factual. Nope. Nada. Because the only people who know exactly what happened and when, and who did what on which character and story, were those directly involved at the time.
When it comes to Marvel’s mainstays of Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, The Avengers and all others both major and minor that were created by Stan Lee with Steve Ditko and/or Jack Kirby, those men are gone. Forever. No historian, journalist, author, friend, family member, peer, office worker, chauffeur, maid, restaurant worker, convention organizer or (especially) fan was actually there at the time Stan, Jack and Steve’s characters and stories were being created, from idea through final publication. (A precious few may have been present at certain points, and may have heard one side of the story from one or more of those involved, but only those three dudes were there for the entire time.) Everything else is either hearsay, conjecture or speculation, and not worth more than the pixels this article is published with.
Sorry, folks, but that’s the way history works. There was no YouTube or cellphone video recording what Stan and his artists said to each other while those characters and tales were created, so we will never know for sure. You can choose whom you wish to believe and when and which version, but that’s it: it is your choice. IT IS NOT INDISPUTABLE FACT. (If it were, there wouldn’t be any disputes! DUH.)
I know people want everything cut and dry, good and evil, as black-and-white as Ditko’s Mr. A presented the world, but life ain’t like that. It’s all gray because people do good and bad stuff throughout their lives, memories are fungible and fleeting over decades and often unreliable. If you and I can’t remember what we wore or said two weeks ago, how can we expect guys to remember exactly who said and did what half a century ago?
All I do know with 100% certainty is that Stan Lee’s name and writing style was present on the first comic books I read and hundreds more that I have enjoyed since childhood; and that his writing influenced me more than anyone else in my own. And I know I’m not alone in that. (And the same goes for Kirby and Ditko’s work. Yes, you can respect and admire all the folks involved without dissing any of them!)
I know that when I met Stan he was kind and generous and personable and friendly to all who met him.
I also know from Clifford Meth (writer extraordinaire and advocate for several creators over the years during their hard times) that when talents like Gene Colan, Dave Cockrum and Bill Messner-Loebs were down-and-out, and Cliff called Stan, Stan asked how he could help and was among the first to send a check.
The other thing I know for certain is that I will miss Stan Lee’s larger-than-life personality, his enthusiasm for the art form, his exuberance for life itself, and his wonderful work, until I join him.
And that’s the truth.
Happy birthday, Stan.