“The Kid who Came Up from the Delicatessen”

Stan Lee celebs.com Interview (2012)

I guess “Stan Lee Month” will continue here at Kirby Dynamics for at least another week or so since Lee’s new documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story will be coming out on Epix April 27. I wonder — will we learn something new about Stan? Or will we see him tell his same story about how he was going to quit comics in 1961 and become a novelist for the millionth time. Will Lee drop a bomb and maybe credit Jack for creating a 60s Marvel character? Guess we”ll see in about a week and a half.

Lee is making the convention rounds. Below is another recent video interview. Lee will talk to anybody with a microphone. Isn’t there SOME journalist in comics that can get him to discuss Jack Kirby?

Stan Lee talks “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story” at the Celebs.com Studio (Slamdance 2012)

Stan tells an interesting story about how he used to give comic books away. He said if a kid came up from the delicatessen to deliver a sandwich, he’d ask him to take comic books with him to get them out of the way. Lee even joked he gave original art away for free because it was “taking up too much space.” It’s baffling to me that Lee could run a comic book company for almost 30 years but he could never delegate someone to throw out the garbage, so he had to rely on the kid from the deli to remove all the stacks of Marvel junk, comic books, and original art piled up everywhere.

I read an old Alter Ego interview where Lee said he never gave anything away free to fans, because why should he give them something they would pay for? And I beleive this. From 1960 – 1970 I guarantee every single penny was important to Stan Lee. Lee did say in that interview he gave away original art to cleaning staff and delivery boys because they were not fans. But why would a non-comics fan want the original artwork to something like Hulk # 1? I joked  in several different comics forums: “Did Rosie the cleaning lady take stacks of original large 1960s Marvel artwork home to use for kitty litter pan liners?” What else would a non-fan use it for?

What is a non-comics fan from the deli going to do with  a pile of Avengers # 1 art?  We’re talking about big, bulky, stacks of heavy artboard with graphite all over them, and white-out smudged on them, and ink chipping off of them, and glue and paste-ups falling off. Why the #$%^ would a non-comics fan kid from the deli want that?

Lee’s story is ridiculous. Plus did Marvel Comics not have a dumpster out back? You can’t have an intern throw away the “Galactus Trilogy” if it’s blocking the door to the restroom? Where was this cleaning staff?

I think Lee’s story about giving away original art is his way of covering his ass. What happened to Jack’s original 1960s Marvel art was outrageous. About 7000 pages out of 10,000 Kirby originals were stolen from the Marvel warehouse and there was tremendous controversy in the comics collecting community about the way Lee and Marvel handled that situation (plus artwork done by other 60s artists was also stolen). Lee wanted to wash his hands of this — some of the art may have been stolen on his watch, or at least he was still part of the company when much of the art was stolen, so Lee made up this cockamamie story that he gave away art to the kid from the deli, plus audiences love his Saint Stan shtick — Lee was like Santa in the 1960s handing out free comics and free pieces of original art.

Now sure, maybe, just maybe if some kid came up to Marvel and was dying of cancer or something or was a really hardcore fan, maybe Lee or Sol or Flo gave that kid a page of art (and I have heard stories that some art was given away here and there) but I highly doubt this was a very common practice or company policy — clearly the vast majority of the 1960s original art was placed in a warehouse — and since no one has stood up and claimed Lee gave them a piece of art, I think about 99% of it went to the warehouse. If any comic original art experts want to correct me, please do.

Now I know Lee may have given the delivery boy stacks of Don Heck art so maybe the story has some truth to it, and you do come across the occasional pro who worked for Marvel in the 1970s who say they did see stacks of paper everywhere so maybe a few pages were leaked out, but when I was collecting Kirby art from 2002 – 2006, I spoke to a good 100-plus art collectors, many off the record, and I never once met anyone who heard of someone owning a piece of art that was given to them by Stan Lee in the 1960s. Certainly the mystery deli boy has never surfaced. Okay, one guy said he knew a guy who knew a guy who owned a comics shop who got a page of art from Lee, but the guy would not give me the name and address of the guy so I couldn’t check the story out.

High end art collectors know the provenance of Jack’s art. They know what pages were stolen, by whom, when the art was stolen, what dealer bought the art, and who the dealer sold that art to. They know what pages were returned to Jack and his inkers. They also know which books were complete — the likelihood of Lee giving a complete book to the deli boy seems rather slim if you ask me. And when I say “stolen” most art collectors disagree with that term — since Marvel never reported the art stolen, and decades have passed, many art collectors consider the art “liberated,” or at the least it’s not “hot” meaning the cops aren’t going to arrest you if you have Fantastic Four # 1. I use the word “stolen” not to insult current owners of the art but to describe the initial action where the art was removed. And I could be wrong, maybe Lee did give away 7000 pages of Jack’s art and 1000s of pages of other artist’s work.

I haven’t followed the hobby in many years, so maybe this has changed but there was a mysterious batch of Kirby covers that had never surfaced, but other than that, the history of virtually all of Jack’s 60s art is well-known to collectors, and I’ve never once heard of a Kirby art owner saying the provenance of a Kirby piece was: “Stan Lee gave this page to a guy who delivered sandwiches for the deli down the street from Marvel.” Sure, maybe after Jack left in 1970, Lee dished out some Gil Kane pages, or a Buscema page, but mainly I think this story is utter nonsense, especially from 1960 – 1970s — Stan Lee was not in the business of handing out things for free. I cannot imagine Martin Goodman would have approved of something that stupid.

Lee’s story started off as him claiming he never gave art to fans, but only to cleaning staff and delivery boys who were non-fans — now you can see it morphing into Lee giving comic books away and original art to anybody who would take it. I think this ever-changing myth of “Santa Claus Stan” or “Stanta Claus” is still part of Lee’s short list of talking points because comic art is a big deal right now to many fans because of it’s exorbitant value, and you have this whole Antique Roadshow mentality where everybody hopes they find a piece of paper in their attic worth a million dollars, so that is why you have Lee pretending he was some kind of Robin Hood in the 1960s handing out comic books for free, and passing out Fantastic Four art for free to anyone who wandered into the Marvel offices.

Of course if anyone out there got a free page of Kirby art from Stan Lee in the 1960s, or free art drawn by another artist from Lee in the 60s, please email me and share your story. Still… even if a few people do surface and have iron-clad Stan Lee provenance for a page of 1960s artwork, I suspect you are talking about a handful pages at the most (if that) being given away by Lee, Sol, and other staff — mainly this myth is just another crowd-pleaser Stan breaks out at conventions to wow the audience.

Imagine… in 1960 going to visit your hero Stan at Marvel (if he was even there, I think he only went to the office around 4 days a week in the late 1960s), and there is this big annoying pile of X-Men # 1 original art blocking the door to Stan’s office. “Ugh!” Stan Lee exclaims. “Can’t someone get this out of here!” So Smilin’ Stan Lee gives it to you for free to get it out of his way! What comic book geek wouldn’t have a fanboy-orgasm dreaming of that? And this is the thing we need to understand about Stan Lee — he’s not giving us history in these “interviews” he’s giving us carefully crafted talking points that he has been sticking to since the early 1970s… talking points with little to no truth in them.