Thursday, October 24, 2019


            In his biography Sid Caesar tells his story about the origin of Caesar’s Hours (2003),
"In a sketch, Paul Douglas and I play scientists who send a termite into space and expose it to cosmic rays. As we retrieve the capsule, while I reach in to get the termite, it bites my finger. Moments later I develop an insatiable appetite for wood, ripping the arm off a chair and eating it... Two short years later, a young man named Stan Lee wrote a comic book about a teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and develops remarkable powers. I assume Stan Lee was a fan of our shows. Although I can’t prove it, I suspect Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen may be indirectly responsible for the creation of Spider-Man
When we showed this to Stan he replied to us personally: “I seem to be in good company with Ditko, Gelbart and Allen! But, while I was a big fan of Sid’s and would never miss a show, I have absolutely no recollection of the termite from space. In fact, since they say he was exposed to cosmic rays, they might as well take credit for the F.F., too

Danny Fingeroth’s new book, "A MARVELOUS LIFE: THE AMAZING STORY OF STAN LEE is a Timely addition to Danny’s previous books, named below, and it starts a little earlier than the Sid Caesar show.

Danny's first Marvel credit in 1977.

I was eager to read the book because I so enjoyed Danny’s Superman on the Couch, Disguised as Clark Kent, and The Stan Lee Universe. I knew Danny’s take would be different from any others. First, Danny was not only a fan of comics, he was an insider.  He loved comics as a kid. He started out reading Popeye, the Sailor Man and graduated to the Superboy stories in Adventure Comics.  Believe it or not, it led to his first Marvel comic, Millie the Model, which was my first Marvel title, too! Danny and I (very separately) graduated to the Fantastic Four, with #4 being his first issue. (I started out with #1!)

Jim Salicrup wrote: While I read The Amazing Story of Stan Lee: A Marvelous Life, it’ll be like spending time once again with one of my favorite human beings of all time. Thanks, Danny! You have no idea how much that means to me. 

Thinking that comics were an interesting field to work, Danny interviewed at Marvel with Larry Lieber, Stan’s brother in late June/early July 1977. His first day working for  Marvel was July 18, 1977.

An Early Fingeroth Credit, What If #33, 1982

Danny was hired to be his assistant in Marvel's British Department. His counterpart in the UK was Neil Tennant, later one of the Pet Shop Boys music duo. Danny wrote many issues of Deadly Foes of Spider-Man and Lethal Foes of Spider-Man in the '80s and '90. He also edited or supervised hundreds of issues of the various Spider-Man titles in the '80s and '90s. His first credit was a co-editor credit (when Larry was on vacation) in a Captain Britain story in an issue of Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain (#245) in 1977.

I asked Danny when he first met Stan, “It's vague to me. He was just always there at the offices in 1977. You just saw him around. My guess would be that, at some point when Larry was on vacation, I probably met with him to get some British Marvel covers approved. But I have no memory of my first actual meeting with him.

Danny does a terrific job here of not just being the narrator of this story of Stan Lee, but a fair and honest mediator.  Let me explain.  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 Danny points out that he wanted to be.) The only controversy, really, is that many feel that 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 takes no sides, he just provide information.

Danny, in his preface, says something very important and true but sometimes is a bit sad for comic book fans.  That is, the public has recognized Stan Lee as the creator of these comics while others, especially Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, are not. Fair or not, it is a fact we have to accept.

If there is one thing repetitious about Danny’s book, it is the beginning. That is, almost all books about the great comic creators begins with Jewish immigrants coming from Europe who are desperately poor.

Danny traces Stan’s early life and how Stan winds up in a menial position at Timely Comics, being the office “gofer” for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon when he was just 17.  Kirby and Simon had created Captain America for publisher Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics (which we now call Marvel).  

Goodman was also related, as Danny explains, to Stan Lee in two ways: through a cousin and also an uncle. Simon and Kirby, after creating and supervising ten issues of Captain America secretly accepted work with Timely’s competitor, the company we now call DC. Somehow, Stan had learned about this. When Goodman found out about this, he fired the pair.  While Simon didn’t think Stan had anything to do with it, Kirby was convinced it was Stan who told Goodman.

To this day, many fans of Kirby hold this against Lee, who had said he never turned them in. While Danny didn’t take sides, I will. Stan was related and loyal to Goodman who gave him employment during the Depression, a hard time to find work even in 1940. Simon & Kirby were helping their competitors.  If I were Stan, I know I would have told my boss, my relative, to keep the  company I worked for going. Besides, it’s no great leap to see that Simon and Kirby’s work for the competitor would have been recognized the moment it was published, even if they had not signed it.

Let’s flash forward for a bit to the New York Comic Con in 2008.  I attended a panel on Timely and Marvel that featured Stan Lee, Joe Simon, Dick Ayers, Gene Colan and a few others. At the end I went up to Dick Ayers, who I was friends with.  I wanted to get an autograph from Stan on his 1947 book, Secrets Behind the Comics. As I approached, Stan Lee 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 wrote that down immediately because I didn’t want to forget it. 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!

Stan Lee’s first published work for Marvel was a two-page text story that appeared in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941) entitled “Captain America and the Traitor’s Revenge.” At that time, mail subscriptions were very important to publishers and the Post Office required a publication to have a least two printed pages to be eligible for the lowest postal rates. Hence, the inclusion of two-pages of text in every comic book. Few people, if any, ever read those. Stan’s first comic script was the “The Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge,” which was illustrated by Al Avison in issue #16.  Danny outlines Stan’s life at Timely and the time Stan spent in the service.  And how they overlapped!

From MArvel Super-Heroes Annual #1 1966

From Captain America #16
The Destroyer was one of Stan's first assignments

I am going to be frank.  When reading the bios and history of the comics in the 1950s, there is always a large section of every book explaining the congressional hearings that led up to the Comics Code. This is material we’ve heard before; it’s repetitious and boring.

Not here.  Much to my surprise, Danny took a far different approach on this subject in his chapter, “The Psychopathology of Comic Books.” While outlining the events, Danny presents numerous quotes from the newspapers and the people involved and this becomes one of my favorite parts of the book.

Stan in 1967

For example, he quotes Judith Crist, who in 2008, was looking back on when she was a reporter for the Herald Tribune in the late 1940s. She remembered meeting Fredric Wertham.He was a very impressive man,” she wrote. “He was also very charming. We kind of kept in touch vaguely. I believe he sent me a copy of his collected essays or something. I think that he was a thoroughgoing ego test. He didn’t see very far beyond his own principles. (He was) Not a man that I worshiped  in any way but he did stick in my memory.”

Crist had an article published in the March 27, 1948 issue of Collier’s magazine. In it Wertham claimed, “the comic books, in intent and effect, are demoralizing the morals of youth. They make violence alluring and cruelly heroic. If those responsible refused to clean up the comic book market the time has come to legislate these books off the newsstands and out of the candy stores.  Wertham would further state, “the fact that child psychologists endorse comic books does not prove the healthy state of the comic books. It only proves the unhealthy state of child psychology.”

What makes this so interesting is that Danny flashes forwards over a decade to November 12, 1968. Stan is now on the Barry Farber radio show and he is on with a psychiatrist and educator, Dr. Hilde Mosse, who was a close associate of Wertham. The two were pitted against each other with her bringing up all those crazy ideas of the 1950s. Danny writes that after Marcy, in a dismissive and condescending tone, made some broad points about how children imitate of violent media, Lee fired back:
For the past 20 years, I have heard this particular speech. I have heard the same arguments, and the same answers. Dr. Wertham and his followers have never swayed from their point of view. If you had your way completely it would not be a healthier world. If there were no comic books, and if every television show with violence, were taken off the air, I do not believe the mental climate of this country would be improved one iota because other things which are far more serious within affected children even more, and there would be no relief in fantasy.
Mosse replied, in part comparing the super-heroes to Nazis: “They are exactly, exactly, but anyone who knows anything about what fascism stands for, what Nazi-ism stood for, they are the ideal that people had in the Hitler era.”

Jack Kirby returned to Marvel in the late 1950s. When Stan sought to revive the Rawhide Kid in 1960, he gave that assignment to Dick Ayres. A few days later Dick received a phone call from Stan saying that Jack Kirby insisted on doing the Rawhide Kid but Lee would have Dick ink it, so he would not lose a job.  Dick was proud of the relationship he had with Stan. As with Gene Colan, both men, freelancers, felt loyalty to Stan because he gave them so much work. Dick even kept a letter from him, framed in his office. Ayers was disappointed when Stan stopped writing Sgt. Fury.

You did a swell job inking Kirby’s Monstro story.
So, here’s the cover of that mag for you to ink also. It’s due this Friday, August 28 if possible, if not Monday will be okay.

I have enclosed another six page strip as well for you to ink it has a long deadline. I won’t need it until September 10. Of course if you send it to me sooner, that’s fine. But you needn’t rush. I’ll try to send you as much inking as I can. Don’t expect too much because we didn’t have that much. These 12 pages is an unusual situation. However does come along I’ll give you the first track at it. All best Stan.

We all know that the Marvel Age of Comics began in 1961 when Martin Goodman had Stan Lee and Jack Kirby create the Fantastic Four. In fact, using the Marvel method those two along with Steve Ditko would create some of the greatest comics ever produced.

There is a small controversy about how The Marvel Era all started. Martin Goodman heard that the Justice League of America was selling very well at DC. He then told Stan to create a superhero team. In later years Jack Kirby was to say he came up with this idea.

Stan and Fabulous Flo Steinberg 

It is really vague on who told Martin Goodman that the Justice League was selling well. Let us use logic. Who would know this information and who would be talking to Martin Goodman about circulation? Although Independent News, the distributor for Marvel comics, was owned by the parent company that owned DC they had the most to gain, and the most to profit, by telling Goodman what comics were selling well. So it was probably the distributor. But there could be two other sources. Another source could be the actual comic itself, in this case the Brave and the Bold where the JLA first appeared, which in October published the statement of circulation that’s needed for the post office.  Michael J. Vassallo, who is a contributor to this book, describes in  "The Secret History of Marvel Comics," how publishers had scouts looking at the newsstands to find out which of their comics was selling and probably their competitors. This was because it took six months to get results from the distributor and the publishers wanted to know immediately how well their comics were doing. The Justice League was copied in more ways than having a team of super-heroes.. Stan adopted their format.

  In that era, full length stories in comics were rare. Comics usually had two or three stories in them.  The Justice League had full length stories and chapters, a style adapted by Lee for the Fantastic Four. In 1961, Lee began experimenting with longer stories in his monster titles, expanding from 8 to 13 and occasionally 18-page stories. The latter was first seen in Tales of Suspense #14 (Feb. 1961) I Created the Colossus. While Lee would return to featuring four-stories per issue by mid-year this shows that he was looking to deviate from the standard format.
Michael J. Vassallo and Danny Fingeroth

Stan wrote an outline in the spring of 1961 and Lee and Kirby produced one of the greatest comic books ever.

Stan's outline for Fantastic Four #1

As the Marvel age exploded, Stan received more and more letters from fans, including me. Stan had learned from Bill Gaines the publisher of EC comics and was inspired by reading the Poppy Ott books by Leo Edwards that he can develop a closer relationship to his readers. No longer were letters printed that said “Dear Mr. Lee and Mr. Kirby.” That was changed to “Dear Stan and Jack.” He replied as if he knew the readers personally. He even sent out personal letters, as Flo Steinberg  told me were often written by her and signed by Stan

He added letter pages that often contained a special announcement section.
Special Announcements, October 1963 

 Soon that developed into the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins which also listed and publicized the other comics available. And, uncommon in comic books, Stan began an editorial section entitled, “Stan’s Soapbox.”
First Bullpen Bulletin, Oct./Nov. 1965
First Stan's Soapbox, June 1967

Roy Thomas said, “The Marvel Universe,” ...was really his (Stan’s) construct, far more than anybody else’s. He had the idea that this was a consistent world where all these people lived...”

By the mid-1960s there was a radical slogan, “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” This didn’t apply to Stan, everyone under 30 seems to have trusted him.

Danny explains how Marvel grew and artists such as Johnny Romita, Gene Colan and John Buscema, who had previously worked for Marvel, returned. Throughout the last half of the book Danny discusses the comings and goings of Steve Ditko, who first leaves Marvel in 1966. Danny shows that in the years ahead, both Stan and Steve would show both appreciation and resentment of each other in many ways. Stan, as Danny points out, did not understand exactly why Steve left. Stan did not ask Steve, but, years later, asked a few of Steve’s friends why that happened.

Some fans can be unduly harsh with Stan.  Danny brings up the controversy of who should get the credit for the creation of Spider-Man. In his heart, Stan always gave himself full credit. Here, Stan is wrong, but he is NOT lying.  He is telling the truth as he sees it. For me, Stan thought up the concept of a Spider-Man but it was he and Steve Ditko who created the finished and iconic character. Many of the same people who criticize Stan for this point of view will then say that the Silver Surfer is totally Kirby’s creation. While Kirby gave him form, Stan gave him substance and that is often dismissed with these critics.

Jim Salicrup: After answering several questions regarding the creation of Spider-Man and others, (at a convention in Madison, Wisconsin ) Stan was less kind in his references to his erstwhile boss (Martin Goodman)  than he had been for decades, referring to him as “my idiot publisher,” Stan suddenly went off-script, as he shared what he must’ve been thinking at that moment, “Y’know, it’s funny, back then I would’ve never imagined that one day I’d be in front of so many people like this, talking about what I was doing back then… That so many people would be interested in seeing me…” Again, realizing he expressed his wistful thoughts aloud, he quickly moved on, saying, “I don’t have a punchline for that, I was just thinking that it was funny, that’s all.”

In 1968, Marvel is bought by Perfect Film and Chemical for $14 million. As much as they wanted him, Stan, apparently, felt a bit like a new employee. Jack Kirby leaves Marvel in 1970 and heads over to DC when he could not successfully negotiate with the new owners. According to the New York Times at DC Kirby would make about $31,000 a year.
Stan Lee, at Carnegie Hall stage in 1972 headlining “A Marvel-ous Evening with Stan Lee"

Roy Thomas had told me: “The Incredible Hulk” wasn’t a book I particularly wanted to do, but when Stan said do it, I did it. I think he had just gotten bored with it. I could see his point.
After nearly 35 years Stan Lee was tired of writing and meeting deadlines. By 1972, Marvel had virtually tripled their titles from just a couple years before. They were now approaching 40 and that would prove a huge burden for the many editors that came after Lee.  In 1970, when Martin Goodman left, he expected his son Chip to become the new publisher. Stan let the owners know that he would quit if that happened and he is made publisher. But as Danny explains the corporate structure is far more complex than that and it is interesting to read. So Stan Lee does not follow the creative and parallel path of Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. He moves perpendicular and up the corporate ladder to becoming publisher.  He left writing and editing behind.

The friction between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby really began, as Danny points out, in a Herald Tribune article from 1966. The reporter, who seemed never to have read a comic in his life, idolized Stan and put down Jack Kirby.

Nat Freedland wrote: “Lee arrives at his plots in sort of ESP sessions with the artists. He inserts the dialogue after the picture layout comes in. Here he is in action at his weekly Friday morning summit meeting with Jack “King” Kirby, a veteran comic book artist. A man who created many of the visions of your childhood and mine. The King is a middle-aged man with baggy eyes and a baggy Robert Hall-ish suit. He is sucking a huge green cigar and if you stood next to him on the subway you would peg him for the assistant foreman in a girdle factory.”  (Robert Hall, in the 1950s, was an inexpensive place to buy men’s clothes.)

Such a representation was difficult for Kirby to recover from, if he ever did.  When Kirby moved to DC, he created a character patently based on Stan named “Flunky Flashman” (for Mister Miracle #6, Jan-Feb 1972). The character was an egotistical, annoying parody of Stan Lee. It was truly offensive. Yet, four years later when Kirby’s contract at DC had ended and he wanted to come back to Marvel, Stan let him.

Roy Thomas in 2008: 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.

A major part of Danny’s book is how Marvel comics were produced. What did the people do? What did they look for? What did Stan need from his creators?

 From Multiple 1960s Marvel Annuals, Bullpen Pictures

In 2002, I had dinner with Julius Schwartz, Carmine Infantino and Arnold Drake. These were retired businessmen and you never really felt that they were comic book creators. They discussed putting together a comic like I would discuss a conveyor belt producing cookies. They needed the ingredients in exact proportions. They didn’t care where they came from. Schwartz told me that the plot of the story was not important. What was important was the cover and the splash page—that’s what sold comics. The scripting and the plotting did not seem important to him. Arnold Drake agreed, he said that if he needed to sell a script because he needed the money he would first lay out a cover and the splash page of the story was not very relevant.

Stan and Carl Burgos appear in a Human Torch story in Strange Tales
I asked them what about Marvel, why did they think Marvel succeeded? The prelude pretty well ignored the question, with Schwartz waving his hand away. They certainly didn’t get Jack Kirby. Schwartz and Infantino told me that the Fourth World books did not sell and every issue sold less than the issue before. Whether or not this is true I don’t know. But Danny was able to draw a very sharp contrast about how Stan handled his artists and writers, so differently from that pair at DC.

 From “The International Journal of Comic Art”
Stan wanted to give his readers what they wanted and had no hesitation admitting that. About 2005, there were rumors going around that Percy, one of the Howling Commandos, was gay. This was impossible. Percy in the annuals was portrayed as being a ladies man owning Playboy type clubs in Great Britain. There was even an article published in “The International Journal of Comic Art” (Volume 14, no 1.) by Justin Raymond, subtitled, “Homosexual Masculinity in Sgt. Fury.” You can’t make this stuff up! Mr. Raymond writes and I quote: “Though there are seven Howlers, multiple frames reveal that there are only five beds in the room.” In the 1960s, the Comics Code would not allow even a hint of homosexuality. In fact, part of the reason the Code was created was to make sure there was no inference of homosexuality. The cares who created Percy and drew him for the first time thought this was ridiculous and called up Stan and asked how did this get started. Stan simply said to Dick, “Give the people what they want.They wanted Percy to be gay so he was gay.

The penultimate part of the book chronicles Stan’s journey into Hollywood which was not always successful. Stan was able to work with studios to produce numerous animated shows for Marvel, but he was not able to persuade the studios to make major motion pictures. Danny points out that he was known for bringing projects to studios that he knew they would not accept. In this era of big Spider-Man and X-Men movies people forget that the first Marvel hit was the movie Blade. The most interesting part of that is that it was a book edited by Roy Thomas, written by Marv Wolfman, and drawn by Gene Colan. Stan had nothing to do with it. But it was a hit.

Art by Gene Colan

Jim Salicrup: (At Wizard World convention in NY) Danny and I walked Ken (Bald) back to his table, and then we decided drop by Larry Lieber’s table to say hi to our mutual friend. We weren’t at Larry’s table for more than a few minutes when we were suddenly surprised by Stan Lee dropping by. From out of nowhere it seemed an army of photographers were taking a gazillion pics of Stan with Larry and Ken. Spotting awestruck Danny and me in the crowd, Stan suddenly insisted that we join him for this impromptu photo-op. Neither of us could ever say no to Stan, plus we’re both just as big a ham as he is! It all happened incredibly fast, and the next thing we knew, Stan and the  paparazzi  were gone. While we were both recovering from that unexpected brush with fame, it dawned on me that neither of us had thought to ask anyone to take pictures of us with Stan with our cellphone cameras. But Danny is nothing if not determined, and sure enough, he was able to track down one of the photographers and get us copies of our pics with Mr. Lee.

The last time I actually saw Stan, was at a convention in Madison, Wisconsin. Stan was being interviewed onstage by Max Anderson, while I was sitting in the audience next to Danny. It was the year before Stan passed, and not long after Joan had passed away. In fact, there was a short announcement before Stan came on requesting that to keep the mood upbeat and not to depress Stan, that the audience neither ask questions about Stan’s dear departed wife or offer well-intended condolences. I’m happy to say the audience complied, and it was a delightful, and highly entertaining Q&A with Mr. Lee. Despite his terrible personal loss and his failing health, he was still on—being the Stan Lee that the audience had come to see. Anyone who has been a fan of Stan’s since the 60s (and that has to be just about everyone reading Barry’s Blog!) has probably heard most of the questions and Stan’s answers countless times, but there were a few unique moments as well. Several children asked some silly questions, and Stan, bless him, did his best to provide entertaining answers. I don’t have a transcript, so I’ll try to capture the gist of what Stan said as best as I can. Here are a few exchanges that tickled me…

Fan: What’s your favorite milkshake?
Stan: Vanilla, of course!

Fan: What’s your favorite kind of wood?
Stan: I can’t believe I came hundreds of miles to be here to be asked what’s my favorite wood! (Stan couldn’t think of a suitable answer and was about to move onto the next question, when suddenly he had his answer:) I just remembered! It’s Biedermeier wood! We have furniture that’s made of Beidermeier wood, it’s great! Very expensive, though. That’s my favorite wood! (As Maggie Thompson later informed me, there’s no such thing as Biedermeier wood. Beidermeier was an influential German style of furniture design that evolved during the years 1815–1848. But, hey—close enough!)

Fan: What’s your favorite toothpaste?
Stan: (This was the most surprising answer of all from Smiling Stan:) I gotta make a confession—I don’t use toothpaste! I brush my teeth with hot water, but I don’t use tooth paste. Years ago, my dentist tried to get me to use a special toothpaste, and when I came back a for my next appointment about a month later, the Dentist’s assistant asked me if I was using that toothpaste. Well, as you all know I’m really good at lying… (Stan suddenly realized what he just said in front of this large audience, and quickly started to spin…) I mean, when it comes to unimportant matters such as toothpaste! So, I just said, of course I used that toothpaste! And the dental assistant said they could tell, because my teeth were obviously so much better, and that convinced me I didn’t ever need to use toothpaste!

Danny 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.

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.

There is another Marvel Age, but it is in heaven now.  Jim Mooney, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Jerry Robinson, Gene Colan, Dick Ayers, 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 get the next outline. Stan is now standing upon a cloud, motioning how the angels should be drawn.

 Jack and Roz’s granddaughter,  Jullian posted a message from her father after Jack Kirby was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2018. Let these be the last words:

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...