PLAYBOY: Disney paid more than $4 billion for Marvel a few years ago. Did you at least get a Tony Stark–like helicopter in the deal?
LEE: I’ll tell you something that just happened. My daughter was looking at the internet the other day and read that Stan Lee has an estimated $250 million. I mean, that’s ridiculous! I don’t have $200 million. I don’t have $150 million. I don’t have $100 million or anywhere near that.
PLAYBOY: Don’t you think you should?
PLAYBOY: George Lucas created fewer characters but could buy a country now if he wanted.
LEE: Yeah, but George Lucas did it all by himself. He came up with the ideas. He produced the movies. He wrote and directed them and held the rights to the merchandising. It was all his. In my case I worked for the publisher. If the books didn’t sell, the publisher went broke—and a lot of publishers did go broke. Marvel took a gamble doing what it did. The artist and writer took a gamble hitching up with the publisher by hoping the books would sell.
You have to understand that growing up during the Depression, I saw my parents struggling to pay the rent. My father was always unemployed, and when he did have a job, he was a dress cutter. Not very much money there. I was happy enough to get a nice paycheck and be treated well. I always got the highest rate; whatever Martin paid another writer, I got at least that much. It was a very good job. I was able to buy a house on Long Island. I never dreamed I should have $100 million or $250 million or whatever that crazy number is. All I know is I created a lot of characters and enjoyed the work I did.
PLAYBOY: One of the greatest Marvel characters has been Stan Lee. You appeared in the comic strips, in a column called Stan’s Soapbox and in Hitchcock-like cameos in the Marvel movies.
LEE: I even played one character modeled after Hef, in Iron Man. They were all fun to do. The one I got the biggest kick out of was probably in the Fantastic Four movie when I wasn’t invited to the wedding of Sue and Reed, and they wouldn’t let me in. I said, “But I’m Stan Lee,” and the security guy pushes me aside.
PLAYBOY: Where does the comic-book Stan Lee end and the real you begin?
LEE: Honestly, what you see is the real me, particularly if what you see is a wonderful, adorable, interesting, exciting kind of guy. Then, boy, they’ve got me pegged. Please say he said that with a laugh.
PLAYBOY: Kidding aside, one issue dogs you and affects your legacy—the perception that you get too much credit for characters you created with artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. You have gone out of your way to acknowledge their contributions and authorship, but the controversy lingers. Can anything be done to settle the situation and do right by these guys once and for all?
LEE: I don’t know what you mean by doing right by them. I always tried to show them in the most favorable light, even in the credits. There was never a time when it just said “by Stan Lee.” It was always “by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko” or “by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” I made sure their names were always as big as mine.
As far as what they were paid, I had nothing to do with that. They were hired as freelance artists, and they worked as freelance artists. At some point they apparently felt they should be getting more money. Fine, it was up to them to talk to the publisher. It had nothing to do with me. I would have liked to have gotten more money too. I never made an issue of it. I got paid per page for what I wrote, the same rate as the other writers—maybe a dollar a page more.
If you ask me, should they have been paid more? Then you have to say, shouldn’t John Romita have been paid more? Shouldn’t Gil Kane have been paid more? Shouldn’t John Buscema have? They were all great Marvel artists. In other words, if somebody draws a strip and it becomes successful, do you go back? I don’t know. That’s the reason I’ve never been a businessman and never want to be a businessman. I don’t know how to deal with those things.
PLAYBOY: You were part of Marvel management for many years.
LEE: That’s true. And twice, not once, I offered a job to Jack Kirby. I said to him, “Jack, why don’t you work for Marvel with me?” I was the art director at the time. I said, “You be the art director. I’ll just be the editor and head writer, and you’ll have that security.” He wouldn’t do it. He didn’t want to. I would have loved him to work side by side with me. I used to marvel at the way Jack drew. He would draw something as if it had appeared in his mind and he was just tracing what he had thought of already. I never saw a man draw as quickly as Jack did. “Come work with me, Jack,” I said. But he said no. He didn’t want a staff job. With him, as with Ditko, I don’t see where they were unfairly treated.
PLAYBOY: Kirby died in 1994. Do you remember the last time you saw him?
LEE: I’ll tell you, the last thing Jack Kirby said to me was very strange. I met him at a comic-book convention right before the end. He wasn’t that well. He walked over and said, “Stan, you have nothing to reproach yourself about.” He knew people were saying things about me, and he wanted to let me know I hadn’t done anything wrong in his eyes. I think he realized it. Then he walked away. I went to his funeral, by the way.
PLAYBOY: What was that like?
LEE: Well, it was terrible. I mean, he shouldn’t have died so young. [Editor’s note: Kirby died at 76.] I stayed in the back row because I didn’t want anybody to see me. It was Jack’s funeral. His wife, Roz, saw me. She knew I was there. Then I left, and that was it. Jack was a great guy and so is Steve. I’m sorry anybody feels there’s any acrimony. I loved them both.
PLAYBOY: Steve Ditko is in his 80s now but hasn’t made a public appearance in decades. Have you talked to him?
LEE: I met him maybe 10 years ago. I was at the Marvel office. We talked for a while, very friendly. I said it would be great if we could do something together again. I would have liked that. I never knew why he quit in the first place. It might have had to do with the fact that I was trying to tell him how to do the stories. With the Green Goblin we didn’t know who the character really was. I wanted him to turn out to be Harry Osborn’s father. Ditko said, “No, I don’t want it to be. It should be somebody we don’t know.” So I said, “Steve, the readers have been following the series for the longest time, waiting to find out who he is. If it’s somebody they’ve never seen they’ll be frustrated.” Anyway, I couldn’t convince him and he certainly couldn’t convince me, so that might have been what drove him away. But he never told me and we don’t see each other anymore.
PLAYBOY: On another note, a company known as Stan Lee Media recently sued Disney for $5 billion, claiming it was owed the rights to your characters. This must be irritating.
LEE: It is incredibly irritating, because people think it’s me. I did have a company called Stan Lee Media, but it went belly-up. The fellow running it is now in jail. It was an unfortunate situation. For some reason people have spent years and God knows how much money claiming I gave Marvel the rights to the characters. Again, I never had the rights to the characters. The whole thing is based on sand. Unfortunately, I can’t get them to stop using my name.
PLAYBOY: Let’s shift gears. Ben Affleck got mixed reviews a decade ago when he played Daredevil. What do you think about him being the new Batman?
LEE: I think he’s terrific. Daredevil wasn’t as successful as some of our other movies, but I think it wasn’t written or perhaps directed as I had conceived it. The movie is darker, and they made so much of him and the church. That wasn’t the Daredevil I knew. But Ben ought to do a great job as Batman. People say he’s too old. Listen, from my perspective, he’s still a very young man.
PLAYBOY: Where do you stand on Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man versus Andrew Garfield’s?
LEE: When I first saw Tobey Maguire in the role, I thought, Here’s the absolute perfect Peter Parker. When I saw Andy Garfield in the role, I thought, Andy’s the most perfect. They’re both great and they’re both different. It’s not like they cast the first guy off the street for these parts. People much smarter than I am about these things are casting these movies. They do a fantastic job.
PLAYBOY: What did you think when Garfield raised the idea in an interview last year that Spider-Man might be gay?
LEE: Listen, I can’t control what actors say or how they behave. I can only comment on how they act, and like I said, Andy’s terrific in the role. I don’t have a line in the sand about Spider-Man. I guess if he were fat and flabby and didn’t look anything like a superhero, you might hear from me, but there’s too much money invested in these films for them to goof around with casting or the basic conception of who these characters are.