Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Review and Fact Checking: Abraham Riesman: “True Believer, The Rise A Fall of Stan Lee”

 

Abraham Riesman: “True Believer, The Rise A Fall of Stan Lee”  A review and Serious Fact-Checking.

 There are a dozen books that see Stan Lee as a God, this one treats him as the devil. I was hoping for a book that saw him as human. Even the cover picture is of an unflattering, older, aged Stan.

          This is an account that covers Stan’s Lee life, not just his time at Marvel.  It is darker than other books and it is one-sided. It never shows Stan’s point of view. Abraham Riesman, in his new book “True Believer”  acknowledges that he took extensive research from members of the Kirby Museum, not the Kirby family, a group that for years that have promoted the fiction that Kirby did almost everything at Marvel and Stan did little. There is no reference to anyone doing research for Stan Lee.

          Mr. Riesman does not establish that he actually read any the comics of the Marvel Age, or their competitors, nor does he demonstrate the much knowledge of the comic book industry and how the publishers produced their books. The actual stories which are never analyzed or discussed. If you have read any of my blogs you know that I have read all of the comics of the Marvel Age…many times!

     

      Sadly, Mr. Riesman goes after Stan's family, especially his daughter. She is not a celebrity or someone who wanted attention. And she is also not someone prepared to defend herself against these accusations.  This was in bad taste, she had not done anything that should bring her this attention. 

          Mr. Riesman not discuss Stan’s recognizable writing style, or, for that matter, anyone else’s. This includes Jack Kirby’s who Mr. Riesman claims wrote most of their stories. Readers familiar with their styles would easily it is to see the difference.



      In the 1960s Marvel’s process, criticized here, was different than DC’s  and Marvel produced comics differently than DC. And they were better.

      While Mr. Riesman points out every perceived failure, he ignores the successes. Under Stan, comic sales from Marvel went from 15 million a year in 1960, to 70 million in 1970. Soon they surpassed their competitor at DC. Who was approving titles at this point? Or wrote each book? Or who drew each book? These were solely Stan’s decisions and left out of this book.

      There is no great mystery or scandal in the life of Stan Lee. He was not a Nazi, a drug runner or a TV talk show host. (although he wanted to be.) The real and serious concern is that Stan did not give enough credit to others for the work they did and Stan got too much acclaim. That cannot be ignored.

      Let me make an analogy.  If I wanted to make Hank Aaron, one of baseball’s greatest players, look bad, I would edit together all of his 1,300 strikeouts and never show his home runs. In tarnishing Stan’s image, that is often done here, the author shows the failures and ignore the successes. Also, Mr. Riesman makes his many of his successes look like failures.

      If you have read the comics, you would quickly recognize Stan’s dialogue and how different it was from his competitors. Julius Schwartz, famed DC editor told me in 2002, "Why are you reading comics? Comics are for 12 year olds!" And that is how he produced them, for 12 year olds. Stan Lee changed that. Lee’s dialogue often read more like a novel or short story than what was then in traditional comics. Lee added Individuality where each character was unique and one did not sound like the other, which was very common at DC. Lee’s dialogue also added personality, intimacy and humor.  Stan, working with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, raised the reading level of comics from 10 years old to young adults. The Marvel Method eliminated the often repetition portrayed in the pictures and its descriptions. Stan added little things too that have become standard, including characterization  with soap opera elements.. He called his characters by nicknames and called their Super-Hero friends by their “real” names.  And his marvelous titles. If reading comics today might not find Stan’s work innovative. That is because the industry has spent 50 years emulating him. You see none of the elements in books that were written by Kirby or Ditko.

      Stan’s weakness was in plotting, he needed input from his artists for that. I will get back to that later.  But first see my blog at: Stan Lee, Innovative Comic Book Writing

    


       
When it comes to the three, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, I like to ask, “What is the most important leg on a three-legged chair.”

    Mr. Riesman has a unique definitions of a writer and of an editor. In the Washington Post (September 25, 2020), Stan Mr. Riesman writes, that Stan was not the writer: “He virtually never wrote actual scripts. And tossing around concepts with a writer/artist is the task of an editor, not a writer....“After that, Lee would add the dialogue and narration. He virtually never wrote actual scripts.” Stan wrote the dialogue and narration and was involved in the plotting this makes Stan the writer and editor. This process would also include every writer of the Marvel comics at that time. Mr. Riesman uses the words “would add” rather than “would write.”

    John Romita said; “These stories are all generally plotted by the artist and writer together. The plot, once agreed on, is taken by the artist to a studio and he does a visual story broken down by his pacing and the writer will then get those pages in the solid picture form and script it and dialogue it and locate his balloons in the pages, which then prepares it for the letterer.”

      Dick Ayers told me that he would talk to Stan, sometimes over the phone, and Stan would give him the plot of a story. It usually took up one page.   Gene Colan said that he would record what Stan said on a portable recorder. Flo Steinberg mentioned that Stan would often stay home two or three days a week to write the dialogue.

Flo Steinberg, Stan Lee, Joe Sinnott and Gene Colan at a N.Y. Comic Con

         Mr. Riesman makes it sound like that if Stan was a good editor, he was a bad person.

      Marvel’s artists did a great deal of the story-telling, co-plotting and character creation and they never got the credit they deserved. Stan often got too much credit and did not share it. See my blog: Stan Lee: Not giving credit where it is due

      So, who wrote the scripts for Marvel Age comics, Lee or Kirby?  Let’s let them speak for themselves. Kirby was asked the same question, many times, always with the same answer, Stan did.  Here are just two.

      In Excelsior Magazine #1 (1968 ) Kirby was asked: Do you plot the Fantastic Four stories by drawing the basic story and then (have) Stan write the dialogue?

        Kirby: This is Stan Lee’s editorial policy. As a Marvel artist, I carry it out.

      Asked the same question in Nostalgia Journal, August 1976:

      Kirby: Well, the policy there is the artist isn’t allowed to do the dialogue, and therefore has to confine himself to (drawing) the script. (which Mr. Riesman would later say did not exist.)

      Stan, in the Village Voice, December 1987:

“I really don’t want to say anything against Jack, I love and respect him very much. He’s one of the most talented, hard-working guys I know, but I think he thinks he created these characters because he drew them. But I would suggest how I wanted them drawn: ‘Make him a little bigger.’ ‘The head is too wide.’ And, of course, the characters’ concepts were mine, too. I would give Jack an outline or tell him the plot I wanted and let him break it down to determine what each drawing would be. When I got them back, I would put in the dialogue to inject whatever personality I wanted.”

      Together, on WBAI radio in 1986:

  Stan Lee: Oh, I’ll say this: Every word of dialog in those scripts was mine.

  Jack Kirby: I can tell you that I wrote a few lines myself above every panel…

  Stan Lee: They weren’t printed in the books.

  Jack Kirby: I wasn’t allowed to write –

  Stan Lee: Did you ever read one of the stories after it was finished? I don’t think you did. I don’t think you ever read one of my stories... You never read the book when it was finished.

  Jack Kirby: So whatever was written in them was, well, it, it, you know, it was the action I was interested in.

   In the Washington Post, (September 25, 2020) Mr. Riesman writes, “There is actually zero evidence that Lee had the initial ideas for any of these characters, other than his own claims.”

      Well, here is the evidence that someone else did it? Where are their notes? Or Scripts? (which Kirby said he was given.)  We do know that Martin Goodman instructed Stan to produce a comic of a super-hero group and after receiving this instruction Lee contacted Jack Kirby. There is a two-page outline, written by Lee about the Fantastic Four. There is doubt on the timing of a two page outline that has often seen print, but, once again, without evidence Mr. Riesman dismisses Stan’s side. Mr. Riesman dismisses Stan’s point of view stating “No presentation boards, no contemporary notes, no diary entries, no supporting accounts. “Yet he accepts the point of view of “Kirby and his defenders” with none of the evidence he required from Lee. Where were their scripts that would be handed to a letterer? Yet, just above, Kirby says, the artist to confine himself to (drawing) the script.” See my blog: Kirby was not the Auteur

Steve Ditko wrote in Robin Snyder’s The Comics in 1990: “Stan provided the plot ideas. There would be a discussion to clear up anything, consider options and so forth. I would then do the panel/page breakdowns, pencil the visual story continuity, and, on a separate paper, provide a very rough panel dialogue, merely as a guide for Stan. We would go over the penciled story/art pages and I would explain any deviations, changes, and additions, noting anything to be corrected before or during the inking. Stan would provide the finished dialogue for the characters, ideas, consistency, and continuity. Once lettered, I would ink the pages.”

      Mr. Riesman points out that there are no scripts to be found.  This is, of course sixty years later. Mr. Riesman does not follow through on the production of a comic. An artist first pencils in the panels, then a letterer India inks the words in.  For a different blog I asked Marvel letterer, Tom Orzechowski, what the procedure was:

   The pencil art and script were handed to me by Sol Brodsky or John Verpoorten, the production managers. I don’t remember whether the scripts had already been edited/proofread, though there were proofreaders on staff…I did not return the typewritten scripts, as they had no relevance once my ink was on the pages.

      Mr. Riesman continues, “…historians can’t say with any certainty that Lee created (or even co-created) Marvel’s dramatis personae.” This is just not true. Everything was a co-creation, but where are the scripts from other people? Where are their notes? Lieber, Ayers, Romita and Colan have told me of Stan’s contributions. Even Steve Ditko explains that Stan had the idea for a Spider-Man and gave it first to Kirby and then to him.


      Stan did great work, and you can witness the same writing styles, with many other talented storytellers, most  of whom are not written about in this book:

John Romita:        Spider-Man, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Captain America  and even the Femizons

Gene Colan:           Daredevil, Sub-Mariner and Iron Man (And Captain Marvel)

Don Heck:             Avengers and Iron Man

John Buscema:      Silver Surfer and Spider-Man

Herb Trimpe:        The Hulk

Dick Ayers:           Sgt. Fury and many westerns.

     Creating stories, not great ones but ones that would sell, was often a team effort from all companies. In 2002, Julius Schwartz, a DC editor, and Carmine Infantino, a DC artist and later publisher, told me that they went out to lunch to discuss the next story of a comic. Julie said that it sometimes took them the entire afternoon to think up a plot that would also make a good cover. The pair thought that the cover sold the comic.  So artists at DC were contributing to the stories. There are many stories of how Mort Weisinger “stole” his plots. In Danny Fingeroth, in his book, A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee, was able to draw a very sharp contrast about how Stan handled his artists and writers so differently from those at DC.

    Jack Kirby was an incredible, unforgettable talent and was one of comic’s greatest storytellers. He co-created great characters and was often used to update failing ones, such as Ant-Man I have several Kirby artist editions and have seen hundreds of Kirby’s pages for Marvel. On many pages, Kirby does explain to Stan what was going on in the story, but Stan did not use his descriptions in his dialoguing. You also see Stan’s corrections to Kirby’s work on these pages. In reality, Kirby gave the characters form but Stan, with his dialogue and descriptions, gave them substance.


These Artist Editions are way to big for me to scan.  I have to use my IPad and take images from them.


Here are two examples of Kirby's pages.  Note that the descriptions help tell the story, but are not used in the actual dialogue or captions.  


Kirby' pages are often shown in museums.  Again, you can see what he describes.
 Below you can see that at a museum you often can get real close to the originals.

      

      Kirby also co-plotted many Marvel stories that he did not fully pencil, but the credit he was given was not for “co-plotting”  but  “layouts.” That is, Kirby would pencil the placement of the characters in the panel and then describe what the storyline was. The best example I saw was the original Hulk page from Tales to Astonish #73, where Bob Powell finished the artwork. On the top of the page Kirby wrote a large paragraph describing where the Hulk was, what he was seeing and how he felt about.  Stan’s dialogue and descriptions did not use any of Kirby’s words, but used all of his ideas.


      Marvel’s production methods were certainly different than DCs and their comics were certainly better. See:: The Marvel Method and Those Who Used It!




Many of the points, and a few new ones, that  I have gone over here are also presented in Roy Thomas’s essay about the book in the Hollywood Reporter. Roy Thomas in the Hollywood Reporter


    The height of Kirby’s and Ditko’s careers were in the Stan Lee era at Marvel. Stan’s biggest accomplishment was recognizing the talent of Kirby, Ditko and others and giving them the creative freedom, they did not have at other companies. Stan’s comics were always only as good as his artist’s input, which frankly, that is why he excelled with some and not quite with others. Stan recognized the talent of his staff and directed them or got out of their way. This was evident with creators such as Steranko and Roy Thomas.

      As much as Stan Lee needed Kirby’s plotting, Kirby needed Stan’s writing. One reason for Kirby’s failure art DC was because they were dialogued poorly and the storylines were difficult to follow. Kirby needed Lee to dialogue and direction to keep him on track. Kirby’s return to Marvel in 1975 did not produce great results either. King Solomon’s Frog was not a hit with readers.

      Schwartz and Infantino told me, in 2002, that Kirby’s only big success was a Sandman story he drew but was written by Joe Simon, Kirby’s former partner.  But after that one story, Kirby told them he would never work with Simon again.

      How terrible it must have been for Kirby to realize that his biggest successes were stories that he DID NOT WRITE but were written by Simon or Lee.

      The last book I read about the life of Stan Lee was Danny Fingeroth’s “"A MARVELOUS LIFE: THE AMAZING STORY OF Stan Lee." First, this book was just a pleasure to read. It was the most researched and balanced book on Stan that I have read. Danny does a terrific job here of not just being the narrator of this story of Stan Lee, but a fair and honest mediator.   Stan did not give enough credit to others for the work they did and Stan got too much acclaim. Danny brings this out thoroughly and well, mostly with events involving Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Danny gives us the facts, often applying logic to the events and he takes no sides, he just provide information.

Tony Isabella and Danny Fingeroth

      Danny, having been a writer, also understands the industry and that comes through strongly in his book. See my blog at: Danny Fingeroth, The Life of Stan Lee

      Early on Mr. Riesman informs us that is not reporting but advocating. In an early episode from the 1940s, Mr. Riesman tells the story that Simon and Kirby were supposed to be exclusively working for Marvel, but they secretly were also doing work for their competitor at DC. Allegedly, Stan found out about this. When Goodman, their publisher and “cousin in law” to Stan, confronted Simon and Kirby, he fired his disloyal workers.  Mr. Riesman writes, “The timing is suspicious. Could it be that gabby Stan ratted out the pair of them?” Anyone of a number of people could have mentioned this to Goodman, but in any case, someone would have eventually recognized their artwork. Mr. Riesman feels that Stan was supposed to be loyal to Simon and Kirby, at that time strangers to him, and NOT be loyal to his cousin, his employer, his co-workers or the company he worked at.

    Also, after an event, such as above, rather than suggesting himself, the author often quotes someone suggesting Stan did a wrong thing. He never quotes someone giving Stan’s point of view.

      At a Comic Con in 2008 I was standing next to Stan when he grabbed Joe Simon and gave him a big hug and whispered in his ear, “I have never had the chance to thank you. You taught me so much and I have used what you taught me throughout my entire career. I know Stan intended it to be a whisper, but with both men near ninety years of age and their hearing diminishing, whispering can get quite loud!

Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson

      There was incredible comic book creativity and originality at Marvel for the 1960s.  Where did it come from?  Jack Kirby will be most remembered for his Marvel work of the 1960s, but his creativity began to be developed in the 1940s, working on Captain America and then dozens of other characters. Kirby invented or developed the western, war and romance comics. His creativity was unique and boundless. Steve Ditko, is most famous for his co-creation of Spider-Man. Working with Lee, Ditko was given the freedom to re-invent failing characters, often one co-created by Jack Kirby. This included the Hulk, Iron Man’s costume and possibly Dr. Droom (Dr. Strange?)

     When you look at Stan’s work in the late 1950s and early 1960s you do see the seeds of his success.  Stan was writing (without Kirby) the Teen Romance and Humor books there was humor and the guest the guest starring of characters. For example, In 1955, before Kirby returns, Stan introduces a teacher named Miss Bliss in her own comic. Soon she will appear in other titles. In advancing continuity, Patsy and Hedy will be shown graduating from High School. Soon Peter Parker and the X-Men will too, but it happened first without Kirby.

   With the Marvel Method, the writer and artist first collaborate on a plot and the pacing of the story.  The artist then pencils the pages, before any script or dialogue is written and then he turns the pages over to the writer who then writes the dialogue.   Stan would often have the artist redraw some panels to better tell the story, which a few artists did not like. Stan also kept his talent’s eyes on the road, so to speak.  His dialogue and editing did keep Kirby, especially, focused.  

    Gil Kane said in 1996: When (Kirby) brought those things in, Stan would look over them and very often be critical of the material. He would ask him to change some of it. Jack would be totally accommodating and accept the notations for a change and he’d change it. But when we would go out to lunch, you’d have to almost tie him to the seat—he would just be raging!”

     This shows that Stan was adding and contributing to the stories.

    Roy Thomas said (E-mail 2017): (Stan) let a lot of things he didn’t like go through with minor changes to keep Jack and Steve (Ditko) happy, more than anything, but when he strongly wanted something changed--like the origin of Galactus in THOR--it got changed. Once the art was complete, it was then given to the letterer, inker and colorist in that order.

      As Captain Hook said, “That's where the canker gnaws.” The artist should have shared in the writing or a plotting credit. After all it was a 50/50 production. Stan gave them little or no recognition. This was seriously wrong. Perhaps this was forgivable in his earliest interviews, but as time went on, he should have learned how to talk to reporters and should have been more upfront.

      The artists I have spoken to thought he was easy to work with and most important, he gave them steady work. This is very important to a freelancer.  One of the artists mentioned in the book told me that he liked Stan a lot. He explained to me that  Stan would accept you back if you had left to go to another company and wanted to return. He also discussed receiving Christmas bonuses that he didn’t expect.  But he further said about Stan, “loved the attention he was getting” and he wished that “he did not take credit for other people work.”

   This came a bit to late, but gets to the point: At a Caps (Comic Arts Professional Society Banquet) in 2007 Stan said,

“Comic books are a collaborative medium. Had I not worked with artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, John Buscema, Gil Kane, all the rest of them, Gene Colan, Syd Shores, yes, Syd Shores too, Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott, all those guys…my stories would not have looked as good. OK, I might have had the first idea for the characters, but after I would tell Jack about it, or Ditko about it, or John Romita, I didn’t have time to write fully fledged scripts. So I would tell them roughly what I wanted the story to be and they would draw it any way they wanted to. I didn’t give them a script that said “Panel one draw this, panel two draw that.” I just said, roughly, “This is the story I want to tell, go to it guys. These guys were writers themselves. But they would write with pictures. And they would give me the artwork. I would put in the copy, I’d write the dialogue and the captions. It was a total collaborative affair and sometimes I feel a little guilty, you know, “Stan did this, Stan did that” I did it but I did it with them. And they really deserve as much  as I ever get.”

      Mr. Riesman states that Steve Ditko and Wally Wood had trouble with the Marvel Method.  Roy Thomas told me: “No one put a gun to these guys heads.”  They knew what they were doing. But Stan gets no rebuttal here.

      Mr. Riesman does not discuss, in any detail, the many other artists, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Dick Ayers, Stan Goldberg, Syd Shores, John Buscema who worked at Marvel for years and didn’t have any problems. John Romita told me that he really liked this way of producing comics. Romita said that he would plot out and draw a story but Stan would always make it better. Dick Ayers told me that he like the method because he could draw a story and pace it out properly and not have to squeeze things in to fit the dialogue. Dick and Gene Colan on numerous times mentioned how much they like working for Lee.  Colan never told me whether he preferred the Marvel Method.

      The book mentions me, quoting Dick Ayers getting kidded by Stan Lee for wanting a writing credit on a Sgt. Fury story he helped plot Ayers asked for the credit not for just recognition, but for additional money that Stan felt Goodman would not do. Ayers and Lee did maybe 100 stories together and Ayers told me this was the ONLY time Stan asked for a plot.

Dick Ayers told me that when he got depressed, he'd take out the book we made for him and remember how much he enjoyed his Marvel years.

Another time, Ayers had laid out and drawn a story with no dialogue. Again, while the recognition would have been nice, Ayers wanted, and deserved,  more money.  And Stan went to Sol Brodsky and got the extra money for Ayers. See my blog at: A Visit With Dick Ayers

      Mr. Riesman states that Kirby, in 1966, wanted to end the Thor series, kill of the Norse Gods, and start a new book which later became “The New Gods.” Martin Goodman was a businessman: WHY WOULD ANY COMIC BOOK PUBLISHER CANCEL ONE OF HIS MOST SUCCESSFUL BOOKS?  Not mentioned is that Marvel was limited to 16 or so titles by their distributer and could not just add another title at this point.

      In 1970, Kirby brought his New Gods, Forever People and Mr. Miracle, to DC, where they did not last long. In 2002, over dinner, Julius Schwartz and Carmine Infantino told me that each issue sold less than the one before it.  I personally found the stories hard to follow because they were dialogued poorly and the storylines were difficult to follow. Honest to gosh for many people, including one of the sources in this book, the comics were difficult to read. Kirby need Lee to dialogue them. With the exception of Komandi, none of the books Kirby originated after he left Marvel in 1970 were commercially successful. That includes his work for Marvel in 1975. 

New Gods and Mr. Miracle artist editions.


      References are made  to the fact that Kirby was forgetful and did not tidy up his plots. He just skipped on to the next thing he thought of. John Romita told me “Kirby would rather give a character a new costume on page 18 than remember the one he drew on page 10.” The lack of resolution of the plots would follow Kirby to his Eternals and Black Panther comics years later, comics that Kirby also wrote. Stan kept Kirby’s eyes the road.

    In the 1960s most writers and artists of comics book had not been given proper credit or compensation for their work.  Stan was one of the first to at least give some credit, although Mr. Riesman was not happy that the editor’s name always came first.  Many editors would not take you back if you left to work someone else, but Stan would.  This is important because in spite of what Jack Kirby said and did by insulting him with Flunky Flashman in Mister Miracle #6, Stan took him back.


      Stan Lee did come up with the Spider-Man concept first and eventually gave it to Steve Ditko to draw. Steve did an amazing job, inventing his costume, his look and has webbing.  If you put Wonder Woman’s lasso around Lee, he would have said then that he was the creator, not co-creator of Spider-Man. He really believes that. For that Lee is painted then as a liar and evil. He is not. He is, however, completely wrong. Spider-Man is a co-creation of Lee and Ditko. Yes, one can be wrong and not be evil. Stan did give full credit to Ditko’s creation of Dr. Strange saying, “T’was Steve’s idea.” As he got older Lee would make terrible mistakes about who created what.

      The artwork from Spider-Man’s first story in Amazing Fantasy #15 is at the Smithsonian Museum. Here the curator discusses it with David Currie, the author of Ditko Shrugged:

    Sara Duke said to the author, "When you see the art, you see the dialogue. And in this case, there is real dialogue between Stan Lee and Steve Ditko that show they were both very creative forces in the creation of Spider-Man. There are marginalia notations in Stan Lee's hand writing, some of which Steve Ditko honored and ones where he didn't. You don't get a sense of that from the published version of the comic book, but in the original art it really shines through."

    The notes would have been added by Lee while the art was still in pencil stage as instructions to Ditko before the artist inked it, and they were less employed to alter plot narrative but mostly cosmetic in nature or designed to appease the edicts of the Comics Code. As in one example from a panel on the third page, where a car narrowly avoids Peter Parker, sending him crawling up a wall in avoidance and instantly aware of his new super powers, Lee writes underneath the panel, "Steve, make this a sedan, no arms hanging, don't imply wild, reckless driving." which Ditko observes and makes the required change. Or, more tellingly, in another from a panel from the eighth page, which shows the villain's face as he flees from the scene of his crime, "Steve, omit crook! Show door slamming!," Lee writes, but Ditko ignores the directive, aware of the story's final revelation and the necessity to reveal the identity now in order to set the later scene and enable Lee to script his famous "With great power there must also come, great responsibility" line.



      In 1906, Under-Secretary of the Colonial Office Winston Churchill said, “Where there is great power there is great responsibility.”

      In his last message to the American people before he died, President Franklin Roosevelt declared “Today we have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility.”

      Mr. Riesman discusses Ditko’s leaving Marvel. If you read what Ditko wrote in Robin Snyder’s publications and what Stan Lee said in Fantasy Advertiser International, April 1975 edition, the stories actually align, although from very different perspectives. Lee and Ditko worked well together in the beginning.  By issue #16 they were starting to have arguments about which way the character should go.  Lee offered suggestions, Ditko, now had strong feelings about what a hero should be, saw the world more and more in black and white, with no shades of grey, refused them. Stan by issue #25, had Ditko plotted the stories by himself and then Stan supplied the dialogue.  The two never spoke but they created some of my favorite comics!  Ditko, feeling abandoned and overworked, left. At this point, in 1966, Mr. Riesman states that at this point the Marvel Age is over. Huh?????

      This made me wonder if Mr. Riesman read the comics. John Romita takes over Spider-Man and followed many of Stan’s suggestions. The comic increases in sales and becomes Marvel’s best seller. We soon get Galactus, The Silver Surfer, The Black Panther, The Kingpin, Steranko on SHIELD, The Silver Surfer, The New X-Men, The Cosmic Cube, The Kree-Skrull War, and a dozen other highlights. Since Kirby or Ditko were not there, Marvel’s growing success  get little attention in this book.

      Stan worked well with other writers and artists. Marvel continued his circulation climb from 15 million in 1960 to 70 million in 1970.  The when Kirby leaves, Marvel’s circulation exceeds DC’s for the first time. See my blog at: Stan Lee, After Kirby and Ditko Leave

      Mr. Riesman makes it sound that it was totally Stan fault that Ditko left, not, in my opinion, looking at all the issues that drove them apart  Ditko was getting more adamant on his convictions on what a super-hero should be, he became looking at the world in black and white. Except for his work at Charlton. He did not find much consistent work after he left Marvel. In his book Ditko Shrugged, Currie Ditko even asks a writer what qualified him to write a story about a hero:

          Notwithstanding, Ditko would spend the rest of his career in an attempt to teach the readers of his work, lessons that he deemed to be of monumental importance. The cumulative effect would further alienate a greater portion of his audience with the artist’s casting as an outsider zealot now assured. An outcome, not unexpected or lamented by the artist, who concluded in a letter to me from February 2014, “No one is going to change minds that are unwilling to be changed, minds already set in their ways, direction, as the history of the human race continues to show. In a world of instability there will always be choices to be made, with no guarantees. It’s the old ‘one always has to pay the price”

                                          The Marvel Universe

      Stan came up with the concept of the Marvel Universe, he was only the co-creator of its inhabitants along with his artists. If you had read DC comics in the early 1960s  all the Super-heroes lived in separate, fictional places and rarely met, except in Justice League and World’s Finest comics. There was Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City, Keystone city, etc.  Stan placed virtually all the characters in New York, where they met all the time. Stan was the editor for ALL of Marvel comics and therefore could coordinate the events. This could not be easily done at DC because they had several different  editors and writers. Kirby or Ditko could not do this because they concentrated on their own comics, they were not editing the others.  See my blog at: Start Spreading's the News, New York, New York!

  



   

        Stan was famous for interweaving plots, something you can only do if you are writing or editing all those books.  For example, beginning in February 1966, and stretching out for almost two years, a plot develops involving seven series including A the Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, The Hulk, and even Captain Savage. These stories involved A.I.M., Them, The Secret Empire and  a “new” Hydra. Jack Kirby was not coordinating this, but he along with Jim Steranko, Gary Friedrich and many others contributed No other editor, certainly not at DC, would attempt such a task until “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in 1986.

Stan had a sense—which he understood better than Ditko, Kirby, or anybody—of a real universe.”The Marvel Universe,” but it was really his construct, far more than anybody else’s. He had the idea that this was a consistent world where all these people lived, and he was the ultimate puppet master. In addition, he was a great wordsmith…Sure, for some of the things he accomplished he definitely needed Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko, but for the big picture, he didn’t.”—Roy Thomas Alter Ego #50.

For this blog, Roy Thomas said, “Stan who, as the puppet-master, saw to it that the Marvel Universe became a shared universe in which eventually every hero knew about (and had probably met, and even fought) every other one.”

                               I interrupt for a very personal note here:

These comics were meant to be enjoyed, and I loved them. Today comics are marketed in collections, but I read them in chronological order as they were being published. You witnessed, first hand, the building of the Marvel Universe brick by brick. We waited, anxiously for every issue and saw a universe started by Lee, Kirby, Ditko and Don Heck  and completed by Jim Steranko! (that's another blog!)

See: The Marvel Age Chronological Reading List

   Mr. Riesman does point out a disturbing issue.  Stan has said that as a high school student, he was asked not to contribute any more essays to a Herald Tribune weekly contest because he always won. (there is no record of him ever winning). Stan, in the army, said that he was asked not to work so fast because he was making the others look bad. Stan also said that he was not given a promotion in the service because they needed him, desperately, where he was.  Stan consistently states that he held back from accomplishing more because he was so good.

      In 1958, Marvel’s “workhorse” Joe Maneely fell between the train cars going home and, sadly died.  Dick Ayers and Stan Goldberg said that he had been drinking that night and had lost his glasses. They were with him that day.  This book points the finger Lee, implying  that he worked Maneely to death and he was too tired on the way home.

      Mr. Riesman blames, but give no reason why, Stan, for firing Denny O’Neil at a time when Denny needed money for his wife and new child. So we feel sorry for Denny and we feel that Stan’s actions were arbitrary. Stan does not say anything bad about Denny and praises him for his writing, which Mr. Riesman sees as hypocritical.  If Stan he had said something bad about Denny, I suspect Mr. Riesman would not have been happy either. However, NOT mentioned is that Denny was only fired from his in-house staff job, which Stan thought he was not doing well. Denny allowed to keep his freelance writing assignments, which were mostly the westerns and teen-age comics.  They sent Denny to meet Dick Giordano, editor at Charlton Comics, and Denny went on to have a great career and even returned to Marvel.


      Stan is faulted for Wally Wood not liking the Marvel method... but Wood was hired under that condition. He accepted the job knowing what it entailed and then whined about it. Wood, sadly, drank too much and had a lot of run-ins with bosses, whether at Mad Magazine, where his work was rejected, Marvel, Tower and Warren. See the  blog at: Wally Wood.  Wally Wood was apparently not easy to work with. James Warren mentions in Bill Schelly's book, that he was tired of having Wally Wood show up at his apartment at 2 A.M., drunk and vomiting. James Warren by Bill Schelly

      Mr. Riesman writes that Wood and Ditko wondered why they were living poorly, doing all the work, and Stan was a millionaire. Wood, who died 40 years ago,  only did six issues of Daredevil. I never read Ditko saying in all the essays he wrote and he didn’t do interviews. And the New York Post reported that Ditko had $1,500, 000 when he died. Hardly poverty level.

      Mr. Riesman, much later in the book, uses similar thoughts to describe what Larry Lieber, Stan’s brother thought about Stan. Which makes me wonder if he was putting words in their mouths.  Larry Lieber often refrained from answering personal questions in this book.

      Larry’s relationship with Stan is portrayed not just distant, but cruel, making Stan seem responsible for Larry alleged poverty.  Larry thought he did not write well enough but Stan encouraged him and even went to buy Larry his first typewriter.  Left Marvel in the mid-1970s to compete with them in Goodman’s new Atlas comic line. With Stan at Marvel Goodman thrived, without him, Atlas failed within a year.  

 


 Stan hired Larry back and made him editor of their British comics. Larry also drew, what he said was his favorite, the Hulk comic strip. Stan gave Larry work until 2018, with Larry working on the Spider-Man comic strip. Although Larry was not one of Marvel’s prime artists, Stan kept him busy. If Larry felt he was not making enough money, why didn’t he look for another job? Larry wrote and drew the Rawhide Kid for years. When I spoke to Larry and he was very proud of his Marvel work, especially naming his characters: Tony Stark, Henry Pym and many others. Larry said nothing bad about Stan, but, at that time, it would have been out of place if he did.

Hulk in Great Britain

Even after Kirby published “Flunky Flashman” in Mister Miracle #6, which made fun of Stan, he took him back when Kirby y wanted to return to Marvel..

Roy Thomas in 2008: 

Actual picture of Roy at that time
When (Kirby) came back in 1975, there were some people at Marvel that didn’t really want him back I understood. Stan called me and said, “Do you think Jack would wanna come back?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, I’ve got a couple of guys around here *who are serious but the thing is they really don’t think I should let Jack come back.” I said, “Well, don’t let him write.” He said, “Well, I need him to write. If he’s gonna come back, he insists on writing.” I said, “Well, have him back and write.

    

 

      Stan successes are ignored here. Mr. Riesman seems only to find Stan’s failures. Mr. Riesman points out that when Stan became publisher, in 1973, he introduced the black and white magazine line and it mostly failed.  He doesn’t mention that Savage Sword, Rampaging Hulk or Crazy were successful. Nor does he mention that the comics of Conan, Master of Kung Fu, Conan, Kull, Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider, the new X-Men and were hits.

      Also not mentioned were the talents Stan brought to Marvel, Barry Windsor Smith, Neal Adams, Paul Gulacy, among others. Mr. Riesman mentions the problems that Denny O’Neal had, but he does not mention Gary Fredrich, Jim Steranko, Marv Wolfman, Tony Isabella, Gerry Conway and a few others who were very happy to wrote for Marvel at that time.

         Tom Defalco: ""Stan and I used to talk on a regular basis, and we spent a lot of time together. He taught me so much about comics and dealing with creative people. I will always be in his debt. Steve was a creative genius and an incredible visual story-teller. He created and co-created a lot of characters that will never be forgotten.”

    Danny Fingeroth wrote to me in 2018: "Without Lee, Kirby and Ditko, there is no Marvel Comics, maybe no comic book industry and certainly, no popular culture industry as we know it today,"

    Chris Claremont, in a X-Men Marvel Masterwork, wrote about how Stan helped him understand and develop the character of the Wolverine. Marv Wolfman, in a DC archive, has written that when he went over to DC he took Stan Lee style of writing with him and introduced it to DC.

    "I liked Stan," recalled Mary Wolfman, "He was a really great comics writer who was doing things we'd never seen before. As good as he was as a writer, he was probably even better as an editor. He was also someone who clearly loved and understood the comics medium. Jack was a visual genius and his art was utterly amazing. He took us places we'd never seen before. He was also a great guy. I met Jack and his wonderful wife, Roz, back in my early teens, and he was one of those great people who, when you met him was even better than you had hoped."  (from Ditko Shrugged.)

    David Anthony Kraft: Of course his comics scripting influenced all of us back then. FF #48-50 brought tears to my eyes, growing up. Stan’s soapbox “Always loved Stan sharing his wisdom”

      Most freelancers did not stay at one place too long and many of them had their longest stay at Marvel.

      Mr. Riesman mentions  that at one-point Marvel was selling pictures of Lee and not the others. Stan did love publicity. But Kirby and others were not Marvel employees, Stan was, why should they want to do that? As a freelancer they wanted to spend their time creating comics and getting paid for them, not promoting them. Also, as freelancers they might not want be “pinned” to one company when they looked for work at another.

      In later years, Stan got a huge amount of publicity for the Marvel movies. Sadly, Kirby and many others, could not because they were no longer with us.  You cannot blame him for that.  He became not just the face of Marvel but the face of the comic book industry.

      Stan’s politics are even criticized here, with Mr. Riesman referring to the readers as, “Left-leaning Marvel fans.” Stan did write editorials regarding racism, but I remember Stan’s Soapboxes as promoting nothing else political.

                                       Another personal note:

I regularly emailed Stan over the last twenty years or so. It was always friendly. Stan began to ask me questions about Marvel’s past. “Who came up with the phrase, “Make Mine Marvel?”  You did Stan, and pointed to the Bullpen Bulletin it was in.  He said that he was so glad because he liked it and wanted credit for it!

He asked me, for his Spider-Man comic strip, if Spider-Man had ever bent prison bars. Again, I pointed to the issue he wrote.

About a decade ago, his memory began to fade. I asked him a question about a famous artist and he said that he didn’t remember him, but if he worked for Marvel he had to be good. I did stop e-mailing him for this reason, he just didn’t remember much.

 

    Roy Thomas was at a Comic Conn, talking about Captain Marvel, in 2014, pointed out the same thing. He had spoken to Stan and his memory was faded. So when Mr. Riesman writes about what Stan recently said, I sigh. Mr. Riesman says that Stan did not like the current movies and would leave early. His source was a nameless bodyguard. But Stan was in his 90s and may not have been able to sit through the movies. Again, the book is so one sided, without balance I don’t give certain comments much credence. And there was no empathy for someone who had recently lost his wife and was getting on in years. None. Mr. Riesman does discuss Stan family, but given his slant and what he has left out I do not know how much credence to give to it.     

    Mr. Riesman tries to convince us that Stan did not like comics. Well, when I met with Julie Schwartz in 2002 he said to me, "Why are you still reading comics, I retired 25 years ago and haven't read one since." Carmine Infantino agreed.  I suspect, after all those years, the thrill was gone for many people who toiled day in and day out producing them for years.  Personally, I don't miss my old job either.

       Danny Fingeroth, in his book, respectfully describes Stan’s last days, his outliving his beloved wife of 69 years, Joan, and presents comments of his passing. Working together with so many others, Stan produced some of the greatest comic books there will ever be. Their characters have been extended into television and movies and have made a great many people happy.

   

Danny and Jim


      Jim Salicrup: For years, my routine after seeing Stan speak was to then run backstage and hang out with him a bit. But for the first time ever, I chose not to. I knew Stan was not in the best of health, and I decided that I wanted my last memories of seeing Stan be what I just witnessed onstage—Stan in top form, entertaining a large audience, making everyone feel special, and enjoying himself at the same time. Besides, I was beginning to feel selfish. I had known Stan at that point for 46 years, had on many occasions expressed my admiration, gratitude, and love for him, and now I thought, I should let those folks paying big bucks for an autograph or a photo-op, have their moments with Stan. I’ve certainly had mine.

      Sadly, a large part of the book trashes Stan Lee’s family, especially his daughter.  I do not know his anonymous sources on this, nor where he got his information, but this cruel hatchet job crosses the line. Stan Lee may have been a celebrity, but his daughter was not.  She should have been eft out of this book and she has no way to rebut this author.

      Jack and Roz Kirby’s granddaughter,  Julian, posted a message after Jack Kirby was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2018. 

This past Friday I had the honor of accepting the Disney Legends award on behalf of my father. Stan Lee, also receiving an award, very graciously and emotionally paid tribute to my father. I am mentioning this as, over the last two days, I have seen mean-spirited remarks about Stan Lee. Regardless of how you may feel about events that occurred years ago it is time to be done...

       There is another Marvel Age, it is in heaven now.  Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Jerry Robinson, Gene Colan, Dick Ayers, Jim Mooney, Gary Friedrich, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Steve Ditko, Sol Brodsky, John Buscema, Joe Maneely, Don Heck, Syd Shores, Stan Goldberg, Marie Severin were all waiting for Stan to give the next outline. Stan is now standing upon a cloud, motioning how the angels should be drawn.

     


                                                              An Addendum

         I did not agree with Mr. Riesman point of view so I wrote a blog. Sadly, there are apparently people who disagree with Mr. Riesman and have actually threatened him. This is reprehensible and we cannot accept this. 

        Mr. Riesman seems to enjoy and is deliberately inciting this, perhaps to get more publicity.  After January 6th, 2021 I would not recommend inciting anyone.