UPDATE: The files below are from the submitted documents by Marvel to the judge in the continuing lawsuit, and are intended to reflect Marvel’s case.
Observers of the ongoing Kirby family v Marvel case have long wondered what Stan Lee would have to say on the subject. Now, finally, we get to find out. Last year, he and several others were called to give depositions in the case which involves the Kirby family’s quest to terminate Marvel’s copyrights on 45 characters Kirby helped create. Transcripts of these depositions have recently become public.
It’s 4:00 AM at BC USA headquarters and I was about to call it a night when I noticed that this material had become public. There’s a pretty mindblowing amount of information here so what I’m going to do is break down and excerpt stuff that jumps out at me.
Thanks to Daniel Best for posting these public transcripts online. Please see his blog for a far more complete version. As he notes, this material is sure to be dissected at the atomic level for years to come.
Now, onto the deposition of Stan Lee:
On Stan’s background and job duties:
STAN LEE: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were really the only two people there producing the comics, and for some reason they left, and I was the only guy left in the department. So Martin asked me if I could sort of function as the editor and art director and writer until he hired someone, a grown up. And I said, Sure. You know, when you’re 18 years old, what do you know? I said, Sure, I can do it. And I think he forgot to hire a grownup, because I was there ever since.
Q. Right. 60 years later they still haven’t hired a grownup?
STAN LEE: I’m still waiting.
Q. But you had grown up. Now, did you have an understanding at the time or did you come to have an understanding as to why Simon and Kirby were let go?
STAN LEE: I didn’t know at the time, but I have heard much later from a number of different people that it had something to do with — they were supposed to have been working exclusively for Martin Goodman, and he found out they had, I think, been doing some work for some other company. Something like that.
Q. And he fired them, in effect?
STAN LEE: I guess. Yeah.
Q. And who oversaw — tell us a little bit how that assignment process worked.
STAN LEE: Well, it was my job to dream up new characters or to continue with the characters we had and to pick the best artists and the best writers unless I wrote something my — I had the privilege, which now that I think back, it was rare, but I could either write stories myself or I could hire writers. I couldn’t write everything. And it was my job to hire the artists to draw the stories. And I did that for quite a number of years.
Q. And did you give instructions to the artists as to how you wanted the story to go?
STAN LEE: Oh, yes. That was my job as Art Director.
Q. So in addition to writing, you were also the Art Director?
STAN LEE: Yes.
Q. Now, who oversaw — whose responsibility was the creative editorial aspects of the comic books that were created?
STAN LEE: Well, the responsibility was mine, because I had to answer to the publisher, Martin Goodman, and he had to be happy with what I was doing.
Q. Did you have the ability to not only make assignments but also to edit and change things that other writers or artists did in connection with the comics?
STAN LEE: Yeah. That was my job. If, for example, I saw some art work, and I felt there wasn’t enough action on a page, or it was confusing, the reader might not know what it was, or in a script if I felt there was too much dialogue or too little dialogue, it was — it was up to me to make the stories as good as I could make them.
Q. Now, you mentioned that you did perform services not only as an editor but also as a writer.
STAN LEE: Mm-hmm.
Q. Did you consider the services you performed as a writer part of your duties as the editor or something additional?
STAN LEE: Well, I never thought of it that way. I was the Editor. I was the Art Director. And I was also a staff writer.
On developing the Marvel Method:
Q. Okay. Why don’t you describe the Marvel method.
STAN LEE: There was a time when I was writing so many stories that I couldn’t keep up with the artists. I couldn’t feed them enough work. And, you see, the artists were freelancers. Now, for example, if Jack was working on a story, and Steve was waiting for me to give him a story because he had had finished what he had been doing —
Q. Jack being Jack Kirby?
STAN LEE: Jack Kirby.
Q. And Steve Ditko?
STAN LEE: Right. Or it could have been any of the artists. But just using them as an example, if one of them was waiting for a story while I was still finishing writing the story for the other one, I couldn’t keep him waiting because he wasn’t making money. He was a freelancer. He wasn’t on salary.
So I would say: Look, Steve, I don’t have time to write your script for you, but this is the idea for the story. I’d like this fill in, and I’d like this to happen, and in the end the hero ends by doing this. You go ahead and draw it any way you want to, as long as you keep to that main theme. And I will keep finishing Jack’s story. And when you finish drawing this one, I will put in all the dialogue and the captions.
So in that way I could keep one artist working while I was finishing something for another artist. That worked out so well that I began doing that with just about all the artists. I would just give them an idea for a story, let them draw it any way they wanted to. Because no matter how they drew it, even if they didn’t do it as well as I might have wanted, I was conceited enough to think I could fix it up by the way I put the dialogue and the captions in. And I’d make sense out of it even if they may have made — have done something wrong.
And I was able to keep a lot of artists busy at the same time by using that system. And I have never given that long an explanation before.
On the understanding of the work for hire situation during the period:
Q. And looking at paragraph 13 of the affidavit, it states, I will read it into the record, “For years I,” being you, “received checks from Timely and its successor that bore a legend acknowledging that the payment was for works for hire.” Do you recall — that’s a true statement; right?
STAN LEE: Yes, it is.
Q. And do you recall that that was the practice at the time?
STAN LEE: Yes, it was.
Q. And was that the practice not only with respect to you but with all the writers and artists?
STAN LEE: Oh, yes.
Q. And that would include Mr. Kirby?
STAN LEE: Yes. Everybody.
Q. Do you remember a woman who worked for Marvel back at the time by the name of Millie Shuriff?
STAN LEE: There was a Millie. I think she was in the Bookkeeping Department. I never knew her last name or I don’t remember it.
(Lee Exhibit 2 marked for identification.)
Q. I’m going to mark an affidavit as Lee 2. And I’m just going to ask you an a couple questions about the affidavit. I’m going to ask you — I’m going to point you to the paragraph 7, which is on the second page of the affidavit.
And it says that, Miss Shuriff says that “all of the writing and drawing for the comic books was done on a work made for hire basis.”
That was your understanding?
STAN LEE: Yes.
Q. Consistent? And then it says in paragraph 8, that “The work for hire language was affixed to each freelancer check by way of an ink stamp.”
Is that consistent with your recollection?
STAN LEE: Yes. Yes.
Q. Okay. That’s all I have on that.
On Jack’s importance to Marvel:
Q. And were different artists and different writers paid different rates?
STAN LEE: Oh, yes, according to how valuable we thought they were.
Q. And did it matter — let’s take a particular artist, oh, say Jack Kirby. Did it matter whether he –was Mr. Kirby one who got a higher page rate?
STAN LEE: He got the highest because I considered him our best artist.
On who did what during the creation process:
Q. Now, you mentioned all the different books involved, but you mentioned first somebody had to come up with the idea?
STAN LEE: Yeah.
Q. Was that your role for the most part?
STAN LEE: Pretty much. Yeah.
Q. And after you would come up with the idea, how would you communicate that idea to the writer, or in some cases you were the writer, but a different writer or the artist?
STAN LEE: Well, we would meet, and I would talk about it, and I would usually have, well, often have something. I’d write out a brief outline of what the idea was.
Q. A synopsis?
STAN LEE: A synopsis. Or sometimes I would just talk it with the artist. It really depended on how well I knew the artist, how well we worked together, how familiar we were with each other’s style.
Q. Now, typically who came up with the ideas for stories at Marvel during the 50s and 60s?
STAN LEE: Well, in the 50s, in the early 50s, we were doing a lot of odd books. And very often the writers of those odd books would come up with their own, although I did most of them.
In the 60s, the ideas for the new characters originated with me because that was my responsibility. And what would happen is the publisher, Martin Goodman, for example, with the Fantastic Four, he called me into his office one day. And he said, “I understand that National Comics,” which later changed its name to DC, “but I understand that National Comics has a book called The Justice League. And it’s selling very well. I want you to come up with a team of superheroes. Let’s do something like that.”
So it was my responsibility to come up with such a team. And I dreamed up the Fantastic Four, and I wrote a brief outline. And at that time, you know, I gave that to Jack Kirby, who did a wonderful job on it.
With The Hulk and the X-Men and Iron Man, I couldn’t — I wanted to use Jack for everything, but I couldn’t because he was just one guy. So with Iron Man I gave that script to Don Heck after I came up with the idea.
With Daredevil, I gave that to Bill Everett. I think with Iron Man I still wanted Jack to do the cover, though, for it.
With Spider-Man, that was kind of an interesting thing. I thought Spider-Man would be a good strip, so I wanted Jack to do it. And I gave it to him. And I said, Jack, now you always draw these characters so heroically, but I don’t want this guy to be too heroic-looking. He’s kind of a nebbishy guy.
Q. Would we call him a nerd today?
STAN LEE: I would say so. Yeah.
Anyway, Jack, who glamorizes everything, even though he tried to nerd him up, the guy looked still a little bit too heroic for me. So I said: All right, forget it, Jack. I will give it to somebody else.
Jack didn’t care. He had so much to do.
Q. Who did you give it to?
STAN LEE: I gave it to Steve Ditko. His style was really more really what Spider-Man should have been. So Steve did the Spider-Man thing. Although, again, I think I had Jack sketch out a cover for it because I always had a lot of confidence in Jack’s covers.
Q. When the covers were done, were they done before or after the actual work was created?
STAN LEE: You know, I don’t think there was a hard and fast rule for that. I really can’t remember. I think you’d have had to have done some of the work first, so in doing the cover you knew what the characters looked like.
Q. And did you take particular interest in the cover?
STAN LEE: Oh, that was my specialty. The covers in those days, the covers were the most important thing. Because we didn’t have fans the way we do now. Today, fans go to a book store, Did the latest Fantastic Four come in yet? In those days we sold according to how attractive a book looked on the newsstand. A kid would walk in the news stand, and whatever caught his eye he’d pick up.
So we made sure — and this was something that my publisher Martin Goodman, he was an expert in. He taught me a lot about what to do to a cover to make it stand out, what kind of color schemes to use, and so forth.
So I paid a lot of attention to covers. They were very important.
Q. And you would make changes in covers?
STAN LEE: Oh, sure.
Q. And you mentioned that you thought that Kirby actually did the cover on Spider-Man. What was — the cover that he did was based on his original drawing or was it based on what Ditko had done?
STAN LEE: Oh, it would have had to have been based, I think, on what Ditko did because it would have to look like the Spider-Man.
Q. The nerdy Spider-Man?
STAN LEE: I would think so. Well, as Spider-Man he didn’t look nerdy. He looked nerdy as Peter Parker, yeah.
Q. Fair enough. Now, you mentioned that you would have meetings from time to time, I guess, plotting conferences. Do you recall — and let me mark as — we’ll mark actually two documents, although they’re related, an article that was written by a man by the name of Nat Freedland in the New York Herald Tribune dated January 9th, 1966.
Do you recall the article? I’m going to show you copies of it. Let’s mark this as Lee 3. And Lee 4 —
(Lee Exhibit 3 marked for identification.)
(Lee Exhibit 4 marked for identification.)
STAN LEE: I hate that article.
Q. I’m only going to ask you about one part of it. In the reprint there’s a reference, and I will just read it into the record, that says that, “The plotting conference at the end of this article was for FF No. 55,” FF would be the Fantastic Four?
STAN LEE: Right.
Q. ” — No. 55 and issued just after the most prolific period of new character creation on the series.” I want you to take a look at the end of this article. Either one. Yeah, that’s the one. And specifically there is a paragraph that begins right here, Mr. Lee (pointing), that starts.
‘Lee arrives at his plots in sort of ESP sessions with the artists. He inserts the dialogue after the picture layout comes in and then it goes on. Here he is in action at a 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.’ Then it goes on for the next several paragraphs just to describe the plotting conference. And you can just take a quick look at that.
I want to just ask you whether, in fact, this is consistent with your recollection of how typically plotting conferences would be — would go back in this period in the 1960s.
STAN LEE: Well, pretty much, except this is written by somebody who I don’t know why but he must have taken a very unfair dislike to Jack. And it is so derogatory. It’s just terrible the way he pictured Jack in this article. I can’t tell you how badly I felt.
At any rate, this is the way the conferences went. Very often Jack would say more than “mm-hmm.” You know, he might contribute something or he might say, “Stan, let’s also do this or do that.” I mean, we had conversations.
Q. And what was — what were his job responsibilities as an artist?
STAN LEE: Well, to draw the strip as well and as excited — excitingly and grippingly as possible, and draw it in such a way that the readers would want to see more, more, more.
Q. And who had the right to direct and supervise Mr. Kirby’s work?
STAN LEE: That was me.
Q. And who had the ability to edit and control Kirby’s work?
STAN LEE: That was my job.
Q. And who decided which comic books and characters Kirby would draw?
STAN LEE: I did.
Q. And who gave him those assignments?
STAN LEE: I did.
Q. As best you can recall, did Mr. Kirby ever submit work to you or to Marvel that he had done on spec?
STAN LEE: Not that I remember.
Q. And you mentioned the situation with taking him off the Spider-Man book. In addition to that, were there other instances where you did edit Kirby’s work?
STAN LEE: Well, I edited everybody’s work. I don’t remember taking him off anything else.
Q. Do you remember Mr. Kirby ever refusing to make any of the edits or changes that you made?
STAN LEE: As a matter of fact, no. Jack was really great to work with.
Q. To your knowledge, during this period in the 60s, was Kirby working only for Marvel or was he doing work for other comic books?
STAN LEE: I thought he was working just for us.
Q. Now, typically, what was the work product after you had given Kirby an assignment? What was the work product that you would receive back from Kirby?
STAN LEE: I would receive back usually, if the book was 20 pages long, I’d receive back 20 beautifully drawn pages in pencil which told a story.
Q. And did Mr. Kirby ever suggest dialogue?
STAN LEE: Not orally, but what he would do, when I would give Jack a rough idea for what the story should be, and he went home and he drew it in his own way, laying it out the way he thought it would be best, he would put in the borders, the margins of the pages, he would put little notes letting — so I would understand what he was getting at with each drawing, and he would sometimes put dialogue suggestions also.
(Lee Exhibit 5 marked for identification.)
Q. Let me show you what I’m going to mark as I believe it’s Lee 5, a magazine entitled “Jack Kirby Collection 54.” And I just want to point you to some portions of that.
MR. TOBEROFF: Can I have a copy, please?
MR. QUINN: I’m sorry.
MR. TOBEROFF: Thank you.
MR. QUINN: We tagged a particular section that has a little blue tag on it. You can open to that. See the little —
STAN LEE: Oh, yes.
Q. And it’s page 59 of this exhibit. And on the top it talks about being fantastic penciling and the size. It says, “What would a Lee and Kirby issue be without the Fantastic Four being heavily represented?” And then it has a representation, I guess, of the penciling or the drawing done by Kirby in the first instance.
Do you recognize the notes around the pages?
STAN LEE: Well, that’s Jack’s handwriting. That’s the way he wrote them. Yes.
Q. And could you tell us, for example, in this instance I see that there’s a dialogue that’s actually in the different blocks. Tell us who did that dialogue. How was the process done?
STAN LEE: Well, I wrote the dialogue and the captions, but Jack would give me notes. For example, in panel 4 of that page, the next to the last panel —
STAN LEE: — Jack wrote what he suggested the dialogue might be. “I will rule. My years underground will end.” That was to let me know what he felt the fellow should be doing or saying.
So I wrote, “My conquest will be complete. I, the Mole Man, banished from my fellow men half a life time ago, will return at last as Master of the Earth.”
Very often I would write dialogue to fill up spaces. In other words, I also indicated where the dialogue balloons and the captions should go on the artwork. And I might not have written so much if he had made the face bigger, but inasmuch as there was that space on the upper right-hand part of the page, I put in more dialogue to sort of dress up the — balance the panel with picture and dialogue. That was something else I had mentioned but I concentrated very much on.
For example, in the panel above it, that panel was an interesting panel, and I didn’t want to — I only used three lines of caption. I didn’t want to crowd that with copy.
And the same with the first panel. There’s so much going on, that I only had a two-line caption that only went part way across, because I wanted the reader to enjoy looking at Jack’s artwork with no interference.
Q. And who was it who decided where those –where the dialogue would go?
STAN LEE: I did. I always made the indications for the letter — before giving my strips to a letterer, I always indicated in pencil after I typed out the dialogue where the dialogue should go in the panel. And the sound effects, also.
On Jack’s understanding of character ownership:
Q. To your recollection, were there any characters that Kirby had created before he was working with you or anyone at Marvel that he brought to Marvel and then were then published by Marvel?
STAN LEE: No, I don’t believe so. I don’t recall any. Oh, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Captain America, for God’s sake. He and Joe Simon had created Captain America.
STAN LEE: Now, by the time in the 60s, Jack came to work for us, we weren’t — there was no more Captain America We weren’t publishing it because Martin Goodman thought it was just a World War II character and people wouldn’t be interested in it anymore.
I always loved the character, so I decided to bring it back. And I tried to write a story where he had been frozen in a glacier for years, and they found him and he came back to life, and so forth. And I tried to give him some personality where he always felt — he was an anachronism. He was living in our day, but yet he had the values of 20 or 30 years ago. And I tried to make him a little bit interesting.
And Jack would draw him. And Jack just drew him so beautifully, and the stories worked out so well that he became part of the Marvel superhero characters, the one that I did not create. Yeah. And he’s a great character, and they’ll be making movies of him soon.
Q. Other than Captain America, you can’t remember any —
STAN LEE: No, I don’t remember any others.
Q. To your knowledge, did Mr. Kirby ever shop a character around to other publishers before bringing it to Marvel?
STAN LEE: Not that I know of.
Q. Did you ever have any discussions with Mr. Kirby as to who owned the rights to particular characters?
STAN LEE: No. Again, not that I can recall.
Q. Was it your understanding that Mr. Kirby was aware of Marvel’s policy that everything was work for hire?
STAN LEE: I took it for granted. We had never discussed it.
On the creation of the Fantastic Four:
And let’s start with the Fantastic Four. You actually referenced them earlier. Tell me to the best you can recall, how did the idea for the Fantastic Four come about, and who they were, and what was the back story with regard to the Fantastic Four.
STAN LEE: Well, as I mentioned, Martin Goodman asked me to create a group of heroes because he found out that National Comics had a group that was selling well. So I went home, and I thought about it, and I — I wanted to make these different than the average comic book heroes. I didn’t want them to have a double — a secret identity.
And I wanted to make it as realistic as possible. Instead of them living in Gotham City or Metropolis, I felt I will have them live in New York City. And instead of the obligatory teenager Johnny Storm driving a whiz bang V8, he would drive a Chevy Corvette.
I wanted everything real, and I wanted their relationship to be real. Instead of a girl who didn’t know that the hero was really a superhero, not only did she know who he was, but they were engaged to be married, and she also had a superpower.
So, you know, things like that. And I thought I would try that. So I wrote up a very brief synopsis about that, and naturally I called Jack, because he was our best artist, and I asked him if he would do it. He seemed to like the idea. He took the synopsis, and he drew the story and put in his own touches, which were brilliant.
And it worked out beautifully. Books sold, and that was the start of the Marvel success, you might say.
Q. And tell me or tell us all your thinking in the creating the four different characters, Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and The Thing.
MR. TOBEROFF: Assumes facts.
STAN LEE: I’m sorry?
Q. You can answer.
STAN LEE: Tell you what?
Q. Tell us what was your thinking with regard to or the idea behind these specific four characters.
STAN LEE: Well, I wanted them to be a team, but I wanted them to act like real people. So they didn’t always get along well. I wanted one of them to be — we called him The Thing, to be kind of a very powerful ugly guy who would be pathetic because — they all got their superpowers by being in a spaceship that was hit by cosmic rays. And Mr. Fantastic got the ability to stretch his limbs. The girl Sue Storm had the ability to become invisible and surround herself with the force field. And the boy Johnny Storm, her brother, was able to burst into flame and fly.
I took that from an old Marvel book, one of Timely Comics’ first books called The Human Torch. I always loved that character who had been an android, a robot or something. But I felt I’m going to give Johnny Storm that power. He can fly and burst into flame.
So we had a guy who can stretch, a girl who could be invisible, a man who was an ugly monster. And again, to go against type, I thought I’d make the ugly monster kind of a funny guy. He’s pathetic, but he’s also the comedy relief. And he was always arguing and fighting with The Human Torch, who was always trying to give him a hot foot. And he was always trying to grab him and throttle him.
They all loved each other, but they never got along well. The more they fought amongst themselves, the more the readers loved it. And that was the way I envisioned them.
(Lee Exhibit 7 marked for identification.)
Q. Now I’m going to mark as Lee I believe it’s 7, the next exhibit.
STAN LEE: There’s no little blue thing.
Q. I’ll get you there. It’s a document that’s actually a magazine entitled “Alter Ego, the Comic Book Artist Collection.”
And are you familiar with the Alter Ego?
STAN LEE: Oh, yes. It’s a well known fanzine.
Q. And is a man by the name of Roy Thomas —
STAN LEE: Right.
Q. And then it says, Story No. 1, Introduction, “Meet the Fantastic Four.” Is that the synopsis that you wrote back in 1961?
STAN LEE: This is the original synopsis that I wrote, and I gave it to Jack. And of course, after that we discussed it, and we embellished it, and we made little changes. But this was the beginning of it. Yeah.
On the creation of the Silver Surfer:
Q. Could you tell us how the Silver Surfer came about?
STAN LEE: Right. I wanted to have a villain called Galactus. We had so many villains who were so powerful.
I was looking for somebody who would be more powerful than any. So I figured somebody who is a demigod who rides around in space and destroys planets.
I told Jack about it and told him how I wanted the story to go generally. And Jack went home, and he drew it. And he drew a wonderful version. But when I looked at the artwork, I saw there was some nutty looking naked guy on a flying surfboard.
And I said, “Who is this?”
And he said — well, I don’t remember whether he called him the surfer or not. He may have called him the surfer. But he said, “I thought that anybody as powerful as Galactus who could destroy planets should have somebody who goes ahead of him, a herald who finds the planets for him. And I thought it would be good to have that guy on a flying surfboard.”
I said, “That’s wonderful.” I loved it. And I decided to call him The Silver Surfer, which I thought sounded dramatic.
But that was all. He was supposed to be a herald to find Galactus his planets. But the way Jack drew him, he looked so noble and so interesting that I said, “Jack, you know, we ought to really use this guy. I like him.”
And I tried to write his copy so that he was very philosophical, and he was always commenting about the state of the world and: Don’t you human beings realize you live in a paradise. Why don’t you appreciate it? Why do you fight each other and hate each other? And I had him talking like that all the time. And the college kids started to love him. And whenever I would lecture at a college, and there was a question-and-answers period, it was inevitably the Silver Surfer that they would talk about the most. So I was very happy with him.
But that’s how it happened accidentally. I mean, I had nothing — I didn’t think of him. Jack — it was one of the characters Jack tossed into the strip. And he drew him so beautifully that I felt we have to make him an important character.
Q. And this is — you talked about it before that artists were expected as part of their job to populate the story with characters?
MR. TOBEROFF: Misstates testimony.
Q. You can answer.
STAN LEE: Pardon me?
Q. You can answer.
STAN LEE: Oh. You see, if there’s a story where the hero goes, let’s say, to a nightclub, so I would say or whoever the writer is would say the hero goes to a nightclub, and he talks to this person, and then there’s a gun fight. Well, when the artist draws it, the artist has to draw other people in the nightclub. So the artist is always creating new characters. I mean, the artist might decide to have the character standing at the bar and draw a sexy-looking bartender, a female or an interesting looking bartender.
The artist in every strip always creates new characters to flesh out the strip and to make the characters living in the real world. Sure.
On the creation of Spider-Man:
Q. Now, did you discuss the idea that you had for Spider-Man with Mr. Goodman?
STAN LEE: Spiders. Secondly, you can’t make him a teenager. Teenagers can just be sidekicks. And finally, problems? Don’t you know what a superhero is? They don’t have problems. They’re superheroes.
So I had a feeling I hadn’t hit pay dirt with that one as far as Martin was concerned, but I always liked the idea So sometime later we had a magazine we were going to drop. It was called Amazing Fantasy. Strangely enough, Steve Ditko had drawn all the stories in that one, now that I remember. Anyway, it wasn’t selling well, and we were going to drop it.
Now, when you drop a magazine, nobody cares what you put in the last issue because you’re dropping it anyway. So just to get it out of my system, that’s when I asked Jack to draw it. Then I asked Steve to draw it. And we did a little, I don’t know, 10- or 12-page story. And we threw it in Amazing Fantasy in the last issue. And just for fun, I put him on the cover.
And the book sold fantastically. So a couple months later when the sales figures were in, Martin came to me and he said, “Hey Stan, you remember that Spider-Man idea of yours that we both liked so much? Why don’t we make a series of it.”
On the creation of the Hulk:
Q. Okay. Let’s go now to the Incredible Hulk. And could you tell us how The Incredible Hulk came about? What was your idea for him?
STAN LEE: Well, same thing. I was trying to — it was my job to come up with new characters and to expand the line as much as I could. So I was trying to think again what can I do that’s different. I liked the thing very much, and I thought, what if I get somebody who is a real monster? And I remembered I had always in the old movie Frankenstein with Boris Karloff I had always thought that that monster was the good guy because he didn’t want to hurt anybody, but those idiots with torches who were always chasing him up and down the hills.
Q. He was a misunderstood monster.
STAN LEE: A mis — you said it better than I could have. So I thought it would be fun to get a monster who is really good but nobody knows it, and they fight him. But then the more I thought about it, I figured it could be dull after awhile just having people chasing a monster. And I remember Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I thought, why not treat him like Jekyll and Hyde? He’s really a normal man who can’t help turning into a monster, and it would make a very interesting story if when he needs his monstrous strength the most, the poor guy turns back into a normal man. I could get a lot of story complications. So I thought that would be good.
I needed a name. Years ago I remember there was a comic book called The Heap, H-E-A-P. I don’t remember even what he was, but I always thought that was some real crazy name. And somehow or other I thought I will call him The Hulk. It’s a little like The Heap, and it has that same feeling. But I love adjectives like the Fantastic Four, the Uncanny so-and-so. So I decided I’ll call him The Incredible Hulk. And that’s what happened.
Q. And how come The Hulk is green?
STAN LEE: That’s a long story. When I did the Fantastic Four, we started getting a lot of fan mail. And the fan — remember, I told you I didn’t want them to have costumes. And the fan mail said, We love the book. It’s great. Oh, it’s the best new thing we’ve seen. But if you don’t give them costumes, we’ll never buy another issue. And I realize there’s something unique about the comic book reader. They love — the superhero fan. They love costumes.
Well, I couldn’t figure out a way to give a monster a costume. I couldn’t see a monster, The Hulk, walking into a costume store or making one for himself. So I figured I’ll do the next best thing. I’ll give him a different skin color. That will always look like a costume.
You may not know this, but originally I made him gray. I thought that a gray skin would look spooky and scary and dramatic. But when the book was published, the printer apparently had a problem with the color gray. On one page he was light gray. On one page dark gray. On one page black. On one page almost white. I said, This will never do. So I decided on another color. See, you can do that when you’re a comic book editor. You can do anything.
So I will change the color of his skin. So I looked around for a color that wasn’t being used. I couldn’t think of any green hero. I said, I will make him green. And it turned out to be a good choice, because I was able to come up with little sayings like, The Jolly Green Giant, or the Green Goliath, and so forth. And that’s how it happened. I could have thought of pink or blue or any other color.
Q. Now, after you came up with the character, who did you ask to draw the character?
STAN LEE: My best guy, Jack Kirby.
Q. And do you remember giving Kirby directions as to what you wanted with regard to what he was to draw?
STAN LEE: I remember the first thing I said to him. I said, Jack, you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I want you to draw a sympathetic monster. And he came up with The Hulk.
Q. And did you, as part of that direction, give him a back story and a story line?
STAN LEE: Oh, yeah. We had to figure out how The Hulk would be — how he came to be The Hulk. So I decided he’s a scientist named Bruce Banner. And I’m not very scientific. All I know are the names of things. I don’t really know how they work or anything. But I had used cosmic rays for the Fantastic Four to get them their powers. So I heard the expression “gamma ray” somewhere. So I said let’s let Bruce Banner be subjected to a gamma ray, and that turns him into The Hulk. But it had to be in a heroic way. So I said let’s get a teenage — they’redoing a test for a new kind of gamma ray bomb somewhere. The military is doing that. And some idiot teenager is riding his bike past the no trespassing sign onto the test area. And Bruce Banner in his cubicle sees the kid, and he runs out to save the kid, say, “Get out of here. There’s going to be a gamma ray explosion.”
But Bruce Banner had a rival scientist who was jealous of him, and when the scientist sees Bruce Banner run out, he says, “Quick. Start the explosion.” And the gamma ray explodes, and Bruce throws himself on top of the kid to save the kid, and he gets subjected to the gamma ray. That’s how he becomes the Hulk, and that’s how we know he’s really a hero at heart.
Q. And in creating and then coming up with theback story, did you –
MR. TOBEROFF: Assumes facts not in evidence.
Q. — as The Hulk progressed, did you follow the same process that you previously testified to in terms of how you directed and edited The Hulk stories?
STAN LEE: Yeah. Well, I told Jack essentially what I told you. And he just drew it any way, you know, the best way he could. And it turned out great.
On the creation of Iron Man:
Q. Let’s talk a little — let’s talk about Iron Man. Tell us about how Iron Man came about, how he was created, the back story with regard to Iron Man.
STAN LEE: I will try to make it shorter. It was the same type of thing. I was looking for somebody new. And I thought — I don’t know why I thought it, somebody in a suit of armor. And what if it was iron armor. He would be so powerful. So for some reason I have always been fascinated by Howard Hughes. I thought I would get a hero like Howard Hughes.
He’s an inventor. He’s a multimillionaire. He’s good looking. He likes the women. And but I got to make something tragic about him. And then it occurred to me if he — somehow when he got his iron armor — it’s a long story — but he gets into a fight, and he gets injured in his chest. And his heart is injured, and he has to wear this little thing that runs the iron armor. He has to wear that on his chest because it also keeps his heart beating. And that would make him a tragic figure as well as the most powerful guy. So I thought the readers would like him even more with that little bit added to it.
And that was it. Then again — oh, but wait a minute. This one wasn’t Jack. I called Don Heck, and I asked Don Heck because I think Jack was busy with something else. That must have been what it was.
Q. Don Heck is another artist?
STAN LEE: He’s another artist that we had who was pretty good. And he drew the first Iron Man. I think I might have given the cover to Jack to do. I don’t remember who did the cover. I think it might have been Jack.
Q. And in coming up with the back story, did you include a love interest?
STAN LEE: Oh, yeah. I forgot. I made up a name called — a girl who worked for the millionaire. I figured he has — I wanted him to be a playboy, so he has this gorgeous assistant secretary named Pepper Pots. And he’s in love with her, and she’s in love with him, but he won’t admit he’s in love with her because he figures he could die any minute with his bad heart. And he loves her too much to make her a widow, and so he never admits to her how he feels about her, which again is a little touch of pathos for the series.
He also has a friend named Happy hogan, and it goes on and on.
Q. Now, in addition to Don Heck, did your brother Larry Lieber have a role in Iron Man?
STAN LEE: Oh, yeah. I came up with the idea, but when the script was — when the strip was drawn, I didn’t have time to put in the copy. So I asked my brother Larry to write it.
Q. And this happened on other occasions where —
STAN LEE: Yeah. There were times when I would ask Larry to write something. Mm-hmm.
On the creation of Thor:
Q. Let’s talk next about Thor.
STAN LEE: Mm-hmm.
Q. And how Thor was created and what was your idea behind Thor.
STAN LEE: Same thing. I was looking for something different and bigger than anything else. And I figured what could be bigger than a god? Well, people were pretty much into the Roman and the Greek gods by then, and I thought the Norse gods might be good. And I liked the sound of the name Thor and Asgaard and the Twilight of the Gods’ Ragnarok and all of that.
And Jack was very much into that, more so than me. So when I told Jack about that, he was really thrilled. And we got together, and we did Thor the same way.
Q. And what was the idea behind Thor? What was his deal?
STAN LEE: I wanted him to be —
MR. TOBEROFF: Excuse me. Objection. Vague and ambiguous.
Q. You can answer.
STAN LEE: I wanted him to be the son of Odin, who is the King of the Gods, like Jupiter. And I wanted him to have an evil brother, Loki. And just like the Fantastic Four were always fighting Dr. Doom, and Spider-Man was usually fighting the Green Goblin, I figured Loki would be the big villain. He’s Thor’s half brother. He’s jealous of Thor. He has enchantment powers. So in a way he’s a good foe. Thor has strength, but Loki is like a magician and can do all kind of things. So that seemed good to me.
And then Thor had a girlfriend from legend called Sif, S-I-F. And I would have her involved in the stories and have jealousy.
And then I wanted some comedy relief, so it wasn’t — I don’t think it was until the strip had been going for a while, but I decided there were three guys. I called them The Warriors 3 that I wanted to include, a very fat guy named Volstag, The Voluminous Volstag, I called him, who acts like a real hero. “Come on, let’s go get them.” But when the fights start, he’s cowardly and always holds back.
Another guy like Errol Flynn called Fandral the Dashing. And a guy like Charles Bronson in Death Wish. I think I called him Hogan the Grim. And the three of them, Fandral the Dashing, Hogan the Grim, and Volstag the Voluminous I thought they could be Thor’s friends, and they would provide comedy relief. And I’m happy to see they’re using them in the movie, I think.
And it was something that we both enjoyed doing very much. And Jack was wonderful with the costumes that he gave them. I mean, nobody could have drawn costumes like he gave them.
Q. The character Thor, how did — what idea did you have to come up to give him his powers?
STAN LEE: Well, he had —
Q. What was the back story?
MR. TOBEROFF: Assumes facts.
STAN LEE: Oh, yeah. He had mainly a hammer, an enchanted hammer. The back story was I decided to make him a guy here on Earth, Dr. — I forgot his name. But whatever his name was, he was lame and he walked with a cane. And for some reason he went to Norway, and there he — I think — the Stone-Men from Saturn or somewhere. Some aliens who were stone men had landed in Norway and they wanted to kill our doctor.
And he rushes into a cave somewhere to hide from them. And they’re coming toward him, but he sees a hammer in the ground, and some kind of a sign that said –I don’t remember the exact wording, but, Whoever is worthy would be able to lift this hammer, sort of like the King Arthur legend. And he grabs the hammer, and he’s able to lift it up. And it seems that destiny had prepared that for him over the centuries. The minute it lifts it up, he turns into The Thunder God Thor, and wielding the hammer he takes care of the Stone-Men. And then he can always become Dr. Don Blake. That was his name. I believe Don Blake. If he hits the hammer on the ground, it turns back into the cane that he always had because he was lame. He walked with a cane as Don Blake, Dr. Don Blake.
On the creation of Daredevil:
Q. Daredevil. Tell me about Daredevil.
STAN LEE: Yeah. Same thing. Oh, by the way. I think Thor also was written by my brother. After I came up with the outline, I think Larry wrote the first script.
Now, let me see. Daredevil.
Q. Daredevil. I want to hear about the lawyer.
STAN LEE: Again I’m trying to think of what can I do that hasn’t been done. And it occurred to me —
Q. Well, certainly making a lawyer a hero would fall into that category. But, in any event, go ahead. Tell me about Daredevil.
STAN LEE: After this is over, I want him to write for us.
I figure I will get a blind man and make him a hero. And how you do that. So I said, what if all his other senses are very acute? What if he can hear so well that he can tell if you’re lying to him because he hears your pulse rate speed up, your heart beat. And he can smell so well he can tell if a girl has been in a room. He could smell her cologne even if it was two days ago. You know, you get your balance through your ears.
So he’s like an acrobat, like a circus tightrope walker. He can do anything any trained athlete can do. And on and on. And I figured that’s kind of good. Oh, and he has a radar sense and a sonar sense. So when he’s Daredevil, nobody knows he’s blind. He is like the greatest circus acrobat.
However, he has a law office. His name was Murdock, Matt Murdock. And he had a friend named Foggy Nelson. For some reason I called him Foggy. And they have a law firm called Nelson and Murdock. And I have him fighting villains who weren’t too super. He didn’t fight monsters or anything. I tried to keep the strip a little more realistic. But I loved the character.
And Jack was busy, and Steve Ditko was busy. Everybody was busy, but there’s an artist named Don Heck — not Don Heck, I’m sorry — named Bill Everett who had done one of the first strips that Martin Goodman ever had when he started Timely Comics. And that was the Sub-Mariner. And Bill was still around, and I called Bill, and I said, “How would you like to draw Daredevil? And he said, “Oh, great.” So I gave him what I told you essentially, little more because I forget who the villain was in the first story. But whatever it was, that’s what I told him.
And he drew it, and I put in the copy. And it’s a shame Bill was ill or something. I don’t know. He couldn’t do too many strips. He did one or two and then that was the end of it.
On the creation of the X-Men:
Q. Keeping with our discussion, could you tell us about the creation of X-Men? How did that come about?
STAN LEE: Again, Martin asked me for another team because the Fantastic Four had been doing well. And again I wanted to try something different. And I thought what — I could think of superpowers for them, but how do they get their powers? I have already had cosmic rays and gamma rays and bitten by a radioactive spider. What was left?
So I took the cowardly way out. I said I’m going to just say they were born that way. They’re mutants. Now I don’t have to figure out gamma rays or anything. So I decided to have a group of young mutants. And I really, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I said, they’ll go to a school. They have to keep their mutant powers secret, so it will just say a School for Gifted Youngsters. Nobody will know it means mutants.
And we’ll get a professor who gets them together. And this guy should also have mutant powers, but I will make him have mental powers. He’s got a brain. He can send thought waves all around, and he can send his thought waves around to detect where there’s a kid with mutant powers, and then he’ll ask that kid to enroll in his school. And again, so that he isn’t too powerful, I thought I would make him in a wheelchair. He’s the professor.
Q. And what was his name?
STAN LEE: Professor Xavier. And then I thought of the characters. There would be a girl who can do — called Marvel Girl, who could do crazy things, and a fella called The Beast, who looks a little bit apelike. So to go against type, I made him the smartest and the most articulate of all of them. And a guy named The Angel with wings, and so forth.
And when I went to tell the idea to Martin Goodman, I said — he loved it, but I said, “I want to call it The Mutants.”
He said, “That’s a terrible name. Nobody knows what the word “mutants” means.” So I went back, and I thought about it. And I thought Professor X, Xavier. And the mutants have extra powers. For some reason I thought I could call them the X-Men. So I went back to Martin. He said, “Oh, that’s a good name.” And as I walked out, I thought, if nobody knows what a mutant is, how were they going to know what an X-Man is? But I had my name, so I wasn’t about to make waves.
Q. And you gave the — this —
STAN LEE: Oh, yeah, luckily —
Q. — idea to Kirby?
STAN LEE: Luckily, Jack was free at the time. And again, he did a wonderful job.
Q. Did you, again, with X-Men follow the same pattern you testified before, using the Marvel method?
STAN LEE: Yeah. I spoke to him. I don’t even think I wrote anything. I think we talked about it. And he was on absolutely the same wave length. He saw it the way I did. So I said, “Go on and draw it.” And he did, and it came out great. And I wrote the copy, and it became one of our best-selling strips.
On the creation of Nick Fury:
Q. Next Nick Fury. Tell us about Nick Fury.
STAN LEE: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. There was a television series called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that I used to watch and I liked it. And I thought it would be fun to get something like that as a comic book.
So I remembered we had done a war series called Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Stories of World War II. And it was quite popular. I don’t really like war stories, so after a few years of doing it I asked Martin if we could drop the book so we could concentrate on superheroes. And he said okay. But we got a lot of fan mail. The kids loved the characters. And we kept reprinting those books, and they sold as well as the originals.
So when I wanted to do the thing like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I thought why don’t I take that popular Sgt. fury that was years ago in World War II, why don’t I say he’s older now and he’s a colonel, and he’s in charge of this new outfit that I made up, S.H.I.E.L.D, which stood for the Supreme Headquarters International Law Enforcement Division. So I took Sgt. Fury, who now has a patch over one eye, and made him in charge of this group.
And again, there was Jack Kirby. I said, “How would you like to draw Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. And it was right up Jack’s alley. He loves that kind of stuff. And he came up with all kind of weapons and things.
Q. And again, you had the same process of overseeing and editing it?
STAN LEE: Yeah. It was always the same process.
On the creation of the Avengers:
Q. Let’s focus on The Avengers. How did The Avengers come about? First, tell us who The Avengers are.
STAN LEE: Well, they’re anybody that we wanted to put in the group of our own heroes. I don’t even remember who they were in the first issue. It might have been Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Daredevil. I don’t even remember because we kept changing the roster each month, whoever we felt like.
But the idea was that they were organized by — I don’t remember which of our heroes organized. Oh, they got together and decided to become a fighting team. Again we wanted something like The Justice League that DC had.
Q. Had you discussed the idea for The Avengers with Martin Goodman?
STAN LEE: Oh, sure. Oh, sure. I couldn’t do any book unless Martin approved of it. And I remember Iron Man who was the rich one. I had them use Iron Man’s mansion on Fifth Avenue as The Avengers’ headquarters, and Captain America was definitely an Avenger. Iron Man. And Spider-Man never joined them; he was a loaner.
But then I would have them — the toughest thing about The Avengers, they were also powerful that we had to find very powerful villains for them to fight. And again, you know, Jack drew it, and it turned out to be popular. They’re going to make a movie of that, too.
Q. You needed to have very powerful villains to make it a fair fight.
STAN LEE: Oh, sure. In fact, it’s always best if the villain — if it isn’t a fair fight; if the villains seem even more powerful, because then you wonder how will the hero ever get out of this one.
Q. And who came up with the back story for The Avengers?
STAN LEE: There really wasn’t much back story. I did, but just the idea that they all get together and form a group. Because I didn’t have to create new characters. We had them. I just needed an excuse for them to get together. And honestly I forget what the excuse was now.
Q. Let’s talk a little bit about one of my favorites, Ant-Man. Tell us a little bit about why you came up with and how you came up with Ant-Man.
MR. TOBEROFF: Assumes facts.
Q. Who created Ant-Man?
STAN LEE: What could I do that was different? I didn’t know of any hero that was that big (indicating). So I thought, I’ll go for it. Martin okayed it. And I don’t remember if Jack did the first one or not. Maybe he did or you wouldn’t be mentioning it.
You know, it was just — it was not all that successful. And I later realized why it wasn’t that successful. The interesting thing about a character who is that big (indicating), would be to show him against a lot of big things. But somehow no matter which artist drew him, they always made him look life size. They put him in the foreground. So you didn’t enjoy the contrast of this little guy next to big — you know, if they had him near a cigarette in an ashtray, but they always had him somehow where he didn’t look like Ant-Man.
Anyway, I hate to give up. So at some point I changed him to Giant-Man. He had the ability to become a giant.
Q. The ant could become a giant?
STAN LEE: Yeah. And that didn’t become too popular either, although he’s still running somewhere in the books.
Q. Who came up with the idea of making — having Ant Man become Giant-Man?
STAN LEE: I’m embarrassed to say it was me.
MR. QUINN: Let’s go off the record for a second.
Q. Just to clarify, because we may have been talking over each other. Who was it who came up with the idea for Ant-Man?
STAN LEE: I did.
On Stan’s previous dispute with Marvel over royalties:
Q. Switching to another subject. Do you recall that sometime back in 2002 and 2003 you had a dispute with Marvel?
STAN LEE: Oh, yes.
Q. And what was that dispute about?
STAN LEE: Well, according to my contract, I was supposed to get 10% of the profits of — Marvel’s profits from the movies and television and things like that. And I felt I hadn’t been getting it.
Q. Did during the course of that dispute did you ever say that you owned the characters and not Marvel?
STAN LEE: No, that wasn’t part of the dispute.
Q. And from your perspective, who did you believe owned the characters?
STAN LEE: Say that again.
Q. Who did you believe owned the characters?
STAN LEE: I always felt the company did.
Clarifying previous statements on Thor and Spider-Man:
STAN LEE: I came up with the original concept of the character, and then I would discuss it with Kirby or Ditko or whoever it was.
BY MR. QUINN: Q. So that would be true of The Mighty Thor?
STAN LEE: Yes.
Q. And Spider-Man?
STAN LEE: Yes.
Q. So if Mr. Kirby were to say, or somebody on his behalf were to say, that he created the idea of Spider-Man and came to you with it, would that be right or wrong?
STAN LEE: No. That’s wrong.
On the similarity between the Fantastic Four and Challerngers of the Unknown:
To your knowledge, was anything in The Fantastic Four based on a previous work by Kirby called “Challenges of the Unknown”?
STAN LEE: No. I had never — to this day I’ve never read “Challenges of the Unknown,” and I really know nothing about it, except that there is or was a book of that title.
Q. And to your knowledge, was the idea for Spider-Man something that Kirby brought to you based on his previous work on something called “The Fly”?
STAN LEE: No.
Q. Now, when you — when you were serving as an editor at Marvel, in the period 1958 to 1963, you were paid a salary as an editor?
STAN LEE: Yes.
Q. And how were you paid for your work as a writer on the comics?
STAN LEE: I was paid on a freelance basis, like any freelance writer.
Q. And does that mean you were paid by the page?
STAN LEE: Yes.
Q. And was it your belief that because Marvel had bought that work from you, that they owned all right, title and interest in the work?
STAN LEE: Yes, I did believe that.
MR. TOBEROFF: I’m done.
MR. QUINN: Okay. I have nothing further.
MR. LIEBERMAN: You may leave, Mr. Lee.
- Did Somebody Say Madam Satan? Pep Comics #16 Heats Up At Auction - June 16, 2017
- Fantastic Four #52 CGC 9.4 Sets Record: Collectors Just Made A Big Bet On Black Panther - June 15, 2017
- Daredevil Battles Hitler – Jon Berk Collection Auction Session 2 - June 14, 2017
- Jon Berk Collection Session 1 Comic And Art Auction Highlights: Winning The Planet - June 13, 2017
- Jon Berk On The Vintage Comic And Art Collector’s Chase - June 13, 2017