My Interview Questions for Stan Lee, Part 1

If Stan Lee would sit down for an interview with me, below are the first series of questions I’d ask him. Now understand a few things: in some respects this is a piece of satire because I don’t expect Stan to answer my questions. Secondly, if I was going to interview Lee I’d warn him — I’d tell him, “I’m going to ask you some very tough questions, so be prepared for a good old fashioned grilling.” God forbid I give the poor guy a heart attack. That’s not my goal. I genuinely have questions for him. Stan has told us so little about his working relationship with Jack we could probably take every single book they did together and ask Stan a good 20 – 40 questions about each story. Who did what? Did Stan come up with a certain story element or did Jack? And if Lee can’t remember, is it possible an idea may have come from Jack?

I realize some people don’t like to work with “possibilities,” but many people do. If I can’t remember what I had for breakfast a year ago, but I usually eat cereal, then I would say it’s possible and quite probable I had cereal for breakfast a year ago. It’s certainly possible Jack helped create the Fantastic Four characters, the major villains, and it’s also possible Jack helped write all of those stories uncredited and uncompensated. So that’s what I’m trying to establish here with my line of questioning. It’s time for Stan to admit he really doesn’t remember what the hell took place in the 1960s and admit Jack was more than just some mumbling, cigar-chompin’ work-for-hire employee who penciled Stan Lee stories.

For this series of hypothetical interview questions I’m going to pick one single book: Fantastic Four # 1. The point I’m making here if you want to just skip my pseudo-interview below is that I say the evidence suggests strongly, if not beyond a shadow of a doubt: Stan Lee did not create the Fantastic Four alone. 

Part One of My Interview Questions for Stan Lee:

“Mr. Lee, you’ve mentioned in the past you have a terrible memory. You also claim you created, for example, Fantastic Four alone. Don’t you see a contradiction there? On the one hand you say you can’t remember anything, then in the next breath you say you recall creating every single major Marvel character by yourself?”

“Is it possible that Jack helped you create that team of heroes in the Fantastic Four origin story (not to mention the supporting characters in the next 100 issues of the book), and you don’t have a photographic memory so maybe you forgot a moment here and there — maybe you forgot an instance where Jack might have helped you create the 4 members of the Fantastic Four? I’m not saying you have to credit Jack as a the sole creator, I’m asking you if it’s possible Jack may have contributed key elements to those 4 main characters at the very beginning of the process, the genesis stage, and you just don’t remember.”

“Jack claimed in interviews at the end of his life that he did indeed help you create Fantastic Four. Jack said in interviews some of the main ideas, themes, and relationships were his. Are you calling Jack a liar?”

“Greg Theakston claimed in his new book Jack Magic Volume 2 that three separate lawyers read the Comics Journal article where Kirby claimed he helped you create some of the major Marvel characters, and all three of those lawyers called you and advised you to sue Jack and Roz. Is that true? Do you recall what firms these three lawyers represented or their names so we can corroborate this? What did the lawyers expect to get — were they going to try and take Jack’s house away from him?  And who knew so many lawyers read TCJ?”

“What specific comments did Jack make in the TCJ that you or the three lawyers felt were legally actionable, slanderous, libelous, or damaging to your reputation? And what if you were wrong, Stan? What if you have a lousy memory, and Jack was telling the truth? Why not say, ‘I don’t remember what happened throughout every moment from 1960 – 1970. maybe Jack did help me’ — why paint Jack out to be a liar?”

“And even if Jack did try to steal credit from you, I thought you two were friends? Collaborators. Why not just take the high road and say, ‘I don’t recall each millisecond of our partnership, so maybe Jack is right and I just forgot.’  Why not be gracious and polite towards your old partner who may have been having financial problems and health problems at the end of his life. Why do you have to claim all the credit at any cost?”

“A few comics historians have suggested maybe you signed some kind of gag order or confidentiality agreement where you agreed to lie and pretend you created all the major Marvel intellectual properties by yourself. Is that true? Do you think that’s ethical? You didn’t work for the NSA or the CIA, telling the truth would not be treason. Do you think it was ethical or morally right to screw over Jack and his family so that you could get a regular million dollar paycheck from Marvel? Or have you in fact never signed such a contract with Marvel and your self-promotional solo-genius propaganda is something you decided to put out there on your own?”

“I read an interview where you claimed you were going to quit comics and become a novelist. You were embarrassed by doing 20 years of Archie and EC rip-off stories. You claimed your wife encouraged you to tell one real story before you quit working for your relative Martin Goodman who had provided you and your brother Larry with a pretty nice living. Your wife advised you to tell one story that you were truly passionate about, and that inspired you! You decided to reinvent the superhero genre alone. You created Fantastic Four alone. I read a second interview where you claimed you were going to quit comics and become a novelist. You were embarrassed by doing 20 years of Archie and EC rip-off stories. You claimed your wife encouraged you to tell one real story before you quit working for your relative Martin Goodman who had provided you and your borther Larry with a pretty nice living. Your wife advised you to tell one story that you were truly passionate about, and that inspired you! You decided to reinvent the superhero genre alone. You created Spider-man alone. Which story is true? Are you claiming you were going to quit comics both times? Did you get the stories mixed up? Is either story true? Weren’t you just doing your job as you had always done, and this anecdote about your wife inspiring you to reinvent the superhero genre is just after-the-fact myth-making? And why quit comics around the time of Amazing Fantasy # 15 (Aug 1962)? Fantastic Four # 1 (Nov 1961) was a success. Nine months after the publication of a successful book, why quit comics?”

“Do you think that by taking all the credit for creating those characters alone (like Fantastic Four) you damaged Jack’s reputation while he was alive, and you may have damaged his family’s chance to reach a fair settlement with Marvel today? How do you feel about that? Are you even in touch with Jack’s kids and grandkids? Do you maybe send them a Christmas card at least?”

“Obviously we could spend probably a whole year discussing the stories you did with Jack because we’d be talking about literally thousands of new characters in Jack’s 1960 – 1970 run, and thousands of wonderful story elements Jack must have added to the mix, not to mention the evolution of Jack’s drawing style which I think you would agree became the foundation for the ‘Marvel House Style,’ and the cornerstone of the ‘House of Ideas,’ and the ‘Marvel Universe.’ So, since our time is limited (I assume you have to go out and do a cameo for the new Spider-man film), let’s just take a look at one book — FF # 1. First let’s look at thefamous FF synopsis you feel proves you created the FF.”

Fantastic Four # 1 Synopsis

“The first part of the document is a list of names for the characters, then you go into a kind of stream-of-consciousness, brainstorming session where you suggest all kinds of different ideas to Jack, most of which did not make the final cut. The synopsis (what you called a “synopses”) is very conversational, almost like a memo to Jack where you are pitching ideas. It looks like this document is a part of an ongoing conversation, not a Lee ‘script,’ Lee ‘plot,’ or a Lee ‘story ‘ (all terms you tend to to use interchangeably to describe anything from a one sentence suggestion to a paragraph of ideas). This ‘synopses’ looks to me like one step in the creation process of FF. One rung on the ladder. Is it safe to say you and Jack were collaborating on FF when this document was written? That you and Kirby were bouncing ideas off of each other? That this synopsis is an agreed-upon list of 4 characters you and Jack came up with together beforehand, and the rest of the document is you brainstorming at your type-writer trying to flesh out the story?”

“Also notice how many things in this document were rejected? Did you reject those story elements? Or is it possible maybe Jack took the story in a different direction? How about Mole Man. Did you create that alone? Or did Jack help?”

“Well, hold on a second, Mr. Lee, I’m getting ahead of myself. First let’s go ahead and take a look back in time at Challengers of the Unknown. You have 4 characters who represent the 4 elements, they are adventurers, pilots, they take a rocket into space, then they come crash-landing down to earth transformed into heroes who pledge to serve mankind. That’s pretty similar to the FF origin. Wouldn’t you say?”

DC Showcase # 6 (Feb 1957) Pages 1, 2, and 3

Fantastic Four (Nov 1961) Pages 10, 11, and 13

“I’m not accusing you of stealing FF from COTU, Mr. Lee, I’m just saying it sure is a coincidence how similar the team origins are. Or is it possible, based on your admittedly poor memory, maybe, just maybe, Jack contributed something to those 60s FF characters? Maybe Jack had some left-over ideas after working on those 4 elemental adventurers so it would have been easy for him to do a book with that kind of dynamic on a monthly basis.”

“Didn’t you guys pitch ideas to each other and bounce around ideas during your whole working relationship? Why did you suddenly slam the door in Jack’s face at this point and lock yourself alone in a room where Jack had no way to help you?”

“Why would you shut out a man who had helped create so many popular comics teams with Joe Simon from the creation process? Why not do your own version of Simon/Kirby and work with Jack — work together to create a new super team!”

“And how did you immunize yourself from the Kirby Virus? How were you able to ignore all of Jack’s ideas an ensure that only your ideas went into the creation of a property like FF? Surely Jack’s input had some influence on your decisions, right?”

“If you are convinced FF was a 100% Stan Lee solo-creation, where did you come up with FF alone?  Your office? A room in your house? Which character did you create alone first? Human Torch? Wasn’t that Goodman’s idea to bring back the character? Does Goodman deserve a writer credit for that? His input was equivalent to most of the plots you gave Jack.”

“Who was the the first FF character you created? The second? The third? Were there any other characters you considered using? The Submariner would have fit nicely into the 4 elements motif. Can you tell us about your solo-creation process? Did you brainstorm, write down ideas, then come up with the final list through trial and error? Or did the Fantastic Four just come to you full-blown in a burst of inspiration?”

“How did you keep Jack out of your office when you were creating FF alone? Was there a lock on your door?”

“Or did you just tell Kirby to take the day off or something on days where you would create full-blown, fully-realized and totally conceptualized intellectual properties all by yourself? Maybe Jack was sick those days?”

“Is it possible this synopsis was not the first draft of the FF story? Maybe you and Jack had been working on FF before you typed up this document? Obviously there must have been other similar documents along the way, or at least discussions?”

“After you gave this document to Jack, did you and Jack discuss this synopsis? Did Jack (gasp) give you any new ideas, or fill in any holes in your synopsis that made it into the final story? And notice how you go from naming the characters to not even knowing where to start the story. You don’t even know for sure where to have the 4 astronauts go? Is this how the Marvel Method worked, Stan? You basically say to your artist, ‘Uh, here’s a bunch of disjointed concepts, no story, you figure it out?’ Isn’t it possible Jack contributed SOMETHING to the mix SOMEWHERE along the line?”

In the next post, I’ll go through the FF synopsis document in more detail with Mr. Lee.