Robot 6

Quote of the day | Stan Lee on character ownership, creator rights

“I’ve never been one of these people who worries about [that]. I should have been. I’d be wealthy now, if I had been. I always felt the publisher was the guy investing all his money, and I was working for the publisher, and whatever I did belonged to him. That was the way it was. And I was always treated well, I got a good salary. I was not a businessman. Now, a guy like Bob Kane, who did Batman — the minute he did Batman, he said, ‘I wanna own it,’ and signed a contract with DC. So he became reasonably wealthy. He was the only one who was smart enough to do that. […]  I haven’t had reason to think about it that much. I think, if somebody creates something, and it becomes highly successful, whoever is reaping the rewards should let the person [who] created it share in it, certainly. But so much of it is — it goes beyond creating. A lot of people put something together, and nobody really knows who created it, they’re just working on it, y’know? But little by little, the artists and the writers now are a different breed than they were, and most of them, if they create anything new, they insist that they be part owners of it. Because they know what happened to Siegel and Shuster, and to me, and to people like that. I don’t think it’s a problem anymore. They make much more money than they used to make, when I was there. Proportionately. Everybody thought that I was the only one that was getting paid off, but I never received any royalties from the characters. I made a good living, because I was the editor, the art director, and the head writer. So I got a nice salary. That was all I got. I was a salaried guy. But it was a good salary. And I was happy.”

Stan Lee, in a wonderful profile at Grantland, responding to a question about character ownership



Benjamin Robinson

May 11, 2012 at 8:07 am

Did you know that DC also has a verbose yes-man who makes excuses for a company that ripped off innumerable creators? His name is Grant Morrison.

Oh, Stan. If only the rest of the industry was as straightforward and optimistic as this quote.

talmidge mcgulliger

May 11, 2012 at 8:35 am

So Stan decided to play ball and only get decently screwed instead of fighting for what he deserves and getting completely screwed. What a choice.

Ugh. What an ugly attitude.

I want to like him and not hold his decades of credit-hogging and shameless self-promotion against him, but this isn’t helping.

Yes, because this is a black-and-white issue either someone is a “Yes-Man” or “fighting for what they deserve.” No room for anything else…

If these creators want to own their work, they should self publish. You wanna work for Marvel or DC, then you have to come to grips with the fact that whatever you create will be their property. Working for the big 2 gives more exposure, so there are trade-offs. Personally I think people are just whiny little babies that need reality checks. As far as I can tell all of these creators that moan about what they “own” don’t seem to have any legal grounds to stand on…perhaps they should have read their contracts a bit more carefully (or honoured them).

I think that Marvel (Disney) and DC (Time Warner) contract policies reflect the sad truth that the fantastic and imaginary worlds that inspire and delight us are controlled by cold business decisions in the end. Its the men behind the curtain folks. I agree that artists and writers should be wary while working under corporations – they own anything you create, plain and simple. I wonder how many great ideas and characters DON’T get created because of this fact?

Right, Gary 7. Remember, Nightcrawler was originally created for DC’s Legion of Superheroes.

In response to MAD…

“Ugh. What an ugly attitude. I want to like him and not hold his decades of credit-hogging and shameless self-promotion against him, but this isn’t helping.”

Funny. I see this attitude a lot directed at Stan and I don’t get it. All rhe years I’ve been reading Stan’s stuff, he has always credited his coworkers, rather verbosely. I have never heard him say “I and I alone, solely created so and so…

Ah well. I doubt Stan cares whether ya like him or not.

Consider this, too: if Stan Lee, or Siegal and Shuster, or any of the other creators out there, had indeed complete control of the property, we would have a radically different comic world than we have today.
The properties were work for hire. Comics of the day were children’s amusements and a smaller part of a larger publishing house, with no reason or expectation that they would become the multimedia juggernauts that they are today.
As works for hire, managed by the house that paid for the work, for better or ill they are the caretakers of the material, the holders. Because they owned the properties, they assigned the writers, the artists. They gave many modern comic writers we call geniuses the work that got them started, brought them to the limelight. Because of their work, new twists, facets of the characters, new characters, new storylines we hold in high regard were fashioned. If the works were controlled by their original creators, much of it never would have happened.

Just because Stan Lee has a naive view of creators’ rights does not mean he is right

I also love the view of “because I made a good living and was happy, to heck with everyone who got screwed by the publishers”


Spot on


Yeah, we’ve heard that argument before. It’s hogwash

Anyone who criticizes Stan Lee gets a punch in the face. For someone who essentially made the industry what it is today, he is the most down to earth, modest guy you could hope to meet. He’s from a time when writing comics professionally was an embarrassing career. He’s only really been thrust into the spotlight over the past twenty years, and even though it’s pretty much common knowledge he created so many of Marvel’s A-lost characters, he’s the first person to tell you “I had great people working with me.”


what does any of that have to do with his rose-tinted view on creators’ rights??

You have to consider the time period as well. Comics in the early days were really popular, big business, but weren’t necessarily considered “art” by everyone and the idea of franchising movies, tv shows, toy lines, etc. wasn’t something people thought about on a regular basis. There was a market for costumed heroes and publishers said “we need more” and creators delivered a product that fit what the publisher wanted, paid them, and then spent lots of money on printing costs. Like Stan said, the attitude toward ownership was totally different at the time. It was about paying the bills rather than investing in your (and your family’s) future.

I agree that anyone who works for a company like Marvel or DC should expect their work to be owned by the company. And as much as I understand Alan Moore’s position, he signed a contract. Whether he thought it’d get extremely famous/popular or not, he still signed a contract. Stan Lee has gotten most of the credit for a lot of Marvel’s characters, but I’ve never heard any exact quotes from him pompously claiming credit for creating them. Stan Lee’s a big gray area in this debate.

I think one thing to keep in mind (in an industry) is that many people have great ideas, but without the opportunity provided by these big companies, many ideas never see the light of day. People should be treated fairly yes, and we need to do good by each other, but to assume because it is your idea that you should own the rights to it is silly unless you are also willing to take the risk and develop the opportunity yourself. Would many of these titles have been as popular without the backing of DC or Marvel? Most likely not.


Yeah, we’ve heard that argument before. It’s hogwash

Something else to consider: all of the original pages of art that you see at conventions and ebay are allowed by the publishers to be kept by the artist. The secondary market allows artists an extra income above salary. By comparison, animation studios or movie production contractors can’t keep any of the materials for themselves (in most cases). Also, at least for the moment, original fan art of licensed characters can be created and sold (but don’t make prints guys!) We might see that last one change soon so be careful- even if you’re buying it. Just like surgeons want to cut- lawyers want to litigate.


You mean like Gary Frederich, who created Ghost Rider, being allowed to sign t-shirts of Ghost Rider for money. Wow, how benevolent of Marvel to allow him to do that

Oh wait. They didn’t. They sued his pants off

They sued Friedrich for making and selling prints and T-shirts of Mark Texiera’s and Mike Ploog’s work ( did Friedrich pay them???) of a character that he was expressly told after losing a court battle that he had no rights to. Instead of a cease and desist order he was fined in perpetuity for years of these sales. He’s not being sued for calling himself the creator of Ghost Rider and signing a few comics but for trying to make merchandising money off of that fact despite having signed a contract forbidding him to do so. Now don’t take this wrong way- Friedrich in no way deserved the absurdly heavy handed ruling against him. My heart goes out to the guy. If anything, I blame his lawyer for telling him he had winnable case in court.

Well, you’re a heck of a spin doctor. The case also had creators’ rights issues related to it – much like Stan’s comments above. He skirts around them without addressing the hard issues

Frederich’s case was not as cut-and-dried as you just described. So much so that Marvel had to come out and issue a statement about artist alleys after they won the case

stan lee lied about eight characters he supposedly “created”. one was daredevil. liv gleason, jack binder, and jack cole created him in 1940. there were only four differences. stan lee created iron-man, the hulk, and spider-man. everything else is highly questionable, & debatable. jack kirby could have created most of it, and should at least get a co-credit. UP WITH CREATORS RIGHTS, & DOWN WITH MANIPULATIVE COMPANY HOGS, THAT HIDE BEHIND “MORAL” SUPER-HEROES. if they allow characters to be written with moral ethics, those companies should then by law, have to live by those standards, & give creators most of the money for things they created. only creators should own comic book companies.

can anybody name a character stan lee created without: kirby, romita or ditko?

No, guffaw, Marvel had to make a statement because stupid people on the internet made ridiculous assumptions that many, many more stupid people then spread as if these incorrect assumptions were fact and additional stupid people believed it. Because you are all stupid.

It all comes down to money in the end.

99% of the creators in the comics industry were originally there for the love of the job. They didn’t care about getting rich – they wanted to draw/ write Batman, Spider-Man, or Superman. They got their chance to create a character that fought beside their favourite characters in their favourite universe. Or it was a job – like the mailman, the policeman, the nurse, or the teacher. It was the job you cared about – not the salary. In fact back during the depression I’m sure they were just happy to HAVE a job that put food on the table.

But then a funny thing happened – sudddenly all these movies were being made. Toys were being sold. T-shirts were selling well. Suddenly the love of the medium, and the decent wage it provided was not enough. A piece of the pie was demanded.

I’m a teacher. I’m sure I’ve contributed somewhat to hundreds of children now grown up, making hundreds/ thousands/ millions of dollars of income that helps pay taxes etc. Maybe I should demand a percentage of their incomes? What about the doctors and nurses who helped bring them into the world – maybe they desere something as well? What about the Lollipop Man who helped them cross the road? If not for them, these grown up kids might not be the millionaires they are today? Where’s their renumeration?

In the end it all comes down to money. Or does it?

@cjorg2: That is a terrible analogy. A teacher contributes to his students’ later success, but is not directly responsible. The influences which determine how much money an individual will make are manifold and incalculable. If your students didn’t have you for a teacher, they’d have someone else. They’d turn out basically the same.

Contrast this with a creator’s relationship to the property she created. If there were no Siegel and Shuster, there’d be no Superman. Period. Nobody else would have created that character. They didn’t have some small part in the many influences that created Superman. They invented him.

If creators are demanding a piece of a pie, it’s a pie they baked themselves, with their own ingredients and from their own recipe.

Francis Dawson

May 13, 2012 at 2:36 am

@ cjorg2

“99% of the creators in the comics industry were originally there for the love of the job. They didn’t care about getting rich – they wanted to draw/ write Batman, Spider-Man, or Superman. They got their chance to create a character that fought beside their favourite characters in their favourite universe. Or it was a job – like the mailman, the policeman, the nurse, or the teacher. It was the job you cared about – not the salary. In fact back during the depression I’m sure they were just happy to HAVE a job that put food on the table.”

Nope. It’s not until the 70s that there is any significant incursions into the professional field by fans-turned-creators. The people who created the National/DC ; Marvel universes were jobbing commercial artists who would probably have preferred working in less exploitative and more financially rewarding fields like advertising art or magazine illustration work. You’re a fan of superhero comics but the people creating them generally weren’t.

BronzeAge Chris

May 13, 2012 at 2:43 am

Here’s an analogy

I design new roads and get paid for it. One of my designs has allowed another business to make a shedload of cash as people can now get to their store quickly and safely so it is really popular. As this is a result of MY design – do I deserve a proportion of those profits?

Similarly, I’ve also re-designed a highway junction and made it a great deal more safe. In fact MY work has probably saved a number of lives and/ injuries. This has saved the Goverment and/or insurance companies another huge amount of money (medical bills etc in case you’re not keeping up).

Surely, I deserve to be rewarded for that? These people are getting rich because of something I’ve done!

Do I bollocks!

I knew what I was doing and the salary is all that is due to me.

Those who keep harping on about creators rights need to grow-up in my opinion. Sure, it would be wonderful if my favourite creators had been fiancially well rewarded for providing me with hours of entertainment but they signed the contracts so they have to live with it. I assume no one put a gun to their head.

As for Stan, whether intentionally or not, he’s manged to play the system and do well out of it. And there’s no denying that when it comes to self promotion – there’s no one better! Fair play to him I say.

Lastly, does anyone else find it funny that it’s often relatives of these famous creators who are the main driving force behind these claims of injustice.

That is the oddest analogy I think I’ve ever read and I read everything John Byrne says ;)

These are terrible analogies/comparisons.

Your analogies would be “the intern who brought Jack Kirby coffee”

You may as well say the makers of pencils should have a claim also. That’s what you “BronzeAge Chris” are, a pencil maker. Sure you make good pencils, and they don’t break and draw nicely on paper. But don’t think for one moment you were key to success of someone’s product/service. Same with the teacher.

Imagine writing a story where you create worlds and characters that everyone enjoys. Then someone takes all those ideas and uses them to make millions, not giving you anything. There’s your analogy … oh wait, no … that’s exactly what it is.

It really is baffling to see all this venomous anti-Creator’s Rights nonsense every time the discussion comes up. I came of age in comics during a time (80s and early 90s) when Creators’ Rights moved to the forefront of “Issues worth fighting for” to such an extent that it became the sensible, moral thing to root for (or at least appear to do so). Things at the Big Two (or, at the very least, DC) were changing (slowly) and public advocacy for the advancement of creator credit and creative control became commonplace (see: TCJ, Dave Sim, Miller’s speech, the formation of Image and others, the CBLDF, Kirby advocacy, etc.).

Recently, however, with all the lawsuits and Before Whatevers going on, I keep reading all this anonymous invective directed at not just creators but the very concept of Creators’ Rights and I am downright puzzled: is this a new, devolved, deplorable state of the comics fan (heaven help us) or has it always been there and I was just blinded by what I believed was a battle already won?

2 things:

1: this thread gets the record for the worst analogies in one place every presented

2: @MAD – I think there are really a LOT of stupid, uninformed people out there in the world with strong opinions.

“I think there are really a LOT of stupid, uninformed people out there in the world with strong opinions.”

That’s ironic.

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