I’m currently reading Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics The Untold Story.
It’s still early in the book: we’re only in the 60s, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man had just been introduced. Artists like Jack Kirby are scrappy in the ways they make a buck. There have been a few ups and downs, hirings and firings according to the vagaries of the publishing industry and a fickle reading audience, the economy and a government witch hunt — but it’s still the heady days of comics when you consider what’s around the corner.
Howe hasn’t tackled anything terribly controversial so far. Stan “The Man” Lee is depicted very much as the guy always looking for an opportunity or an angle, but also the one who makes sure everything gets done. He knows how to craft a story — whether the narrative featuring monsters or spandex between the covers or concocting the Marvel Bullpen. He’s a creative and marketing genius in the making.
Fast forward to today. We’re a few days away from Fan Expo Canada in Toronto where the comic industry pioneer is a featured guest after some 70s years in business.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail‘s Courtney Shea, Lee shares four secrets to his success in the entertainment industry.
(The lovely illustration at the top of today’s article is by Camilla d’Errico)
The job you’re meant for may not be the one you apply for
A lot of my early career came down to luck. I applied to a magazine company to work as a writer – I didn’t even know they made comics. I started off as an office boy, getting lunch for the two guys that I worked for – I’d bring them up a sandwich, I’d erase pages. After a while, they let me try writing copy and it turned out I was kind of good at it. That was a different time, though. There weren’t really any great writers in the business. Almost anybody who could put a few words together could write a comic strip. It got harder and harder over the years, but lucky for me, I was already there.
Don’t listen to the poo-poo-ers
It has been really rewarding to see the reputation of comics change over the years. When I was starting out, most parents didn’t even want their kids to read comics. They were really considered junk. Today, some of the finest screenwriters in the world are working on comic book stories. I don’t want to sound like a name-dropper, but I was once talking to Steven Spielberg and he said to me, “You know Stan, you and I do pretty much the same thing except my pictures move.”
The corner office isn’t for everyone
When they made me the president of Marvel [in 1972], I was suddenly involved in the business end – all sorts of financial decisions – and I realized pretty quickly that it really wasn’t my thing, and I wasn’t any good at it. I was asked to provide a five-year plan for where the company was heading. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m going to have for dinner tonight! I decided to step down. It was a lesson in knowing your strengths.
The secret to loving your boss
It’s easy for me to decide which projects I’m going to get involved in because I come up with almost all of the projects I work on, and since I’m my own biggest fan I like almost everything I do! I have always valued freedom in my career and I’ve been lucky to have quite a lot of it, though I guess you could say that the drawback is that if something goes wrong, there’s no one to blame but me.