It has been in the news the last few days that Stan Lee won a judgment in a legal battle with Marvel Enterprises, Inc. over money. According to the terms of his contract, he was to receive ten percent of any profits Marvel made by licensing the characters he co-created for movies, merchandise, and the like. Marvel had tried to get away with just not paying, and even now plans to appeal the verdict.
Ever since Marvel became a big company, starting around the time they went public in the late 1980s, they have been lambasted for their often shameful business practices. But whatever the company has become, nothing can change what it once was—a small, dedicated staff cranking out the best product they could manage under the circumstances. And in the mid-1960s they were riding the crest of a wave of popularity that they earned by working hard at something they enjoyed and believing in what they were doing.
In the June 1966 issues, Stan Lee ran an editorial on their “Bullpen Bulletins” page that, despite his normally bombastic style, was unusually passionate in both its attack on low-rent comics publishers and in its statement of his company’s philosophy. Some excerpts:
“In a nutshell, the situation is this: As you know, Marvel has spent years trying to upgrade the art of comic magazines—for an art it truly is, every bit as much as the cinema, the legitimate stage, or any other form of creative expression. We don’t resent competition—indeed, we welcome it. But we DO resent shabby, carelessly-produced, badly-written and –drawn, conscienceless IMITATIONS of our Marvel mags—imitations which are callously lacking in quality, and which are produced for the sole purpose of making a fast profit in the very field which they themselves are helping to keep at the bottom of the artistic totem pole!”
After further complaints about the competition, he concludes:
“And this is our promise to you—no matter what befalls, no matter how rocky the road ahead may be, your staff here at the Marvel bullpen will never compromise with quality! Our stories, our art, our lettering, and our coloring will always be the best that money can obtain—the finest that dedicated craftsmen can produce! Though the newsstands grow ever more cluttered with inferior imitations, the mighty Marvel magazines will still stand out like shining beacons, guiding you to the finest in reading entertainment! That is our promise, our pledge, our credo! You’ve made us what we are today—you deserve nothing less! ‘Nuff said!”
Stan was a master of hucksterism, but the tone of the editorial convinces one that this time he really meant it. Unfortunately, by the 1990s, Marvel was guilty of all the things Stan had once railed against, and to this day the company seems dedicated to “the sole purpose of making a fast profit” at the expense of the fans. Quality is a subjective evaluation, but the slick comics of today fail to inspire the same passion and loyalty—not to mention circulation figures—that the somewhat more crude “Silver Age” product engendered during Stan Lee’s heyday.
In those days, Marvel was a company, not a corporation. And that’s the Marvel Comics I’m a fan of.