Former Marvel editor Danny Fingeroth, who recently wrote A Marvelous Life, took some time last week to discuss Stan Lee with Solzy at the Movies.
A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee was published in November. When did you start to think about writing this book?
Danny Fingeroth: I’ve been toying with the idea for the better part of a decade. I signed a contract with Macmillan for the book in 2016 and really started focusing on it sometime in 2017.
Is there a particular memory of Stan that you’ll never forget?
Danny Fingeroth: At a 2014 comics convention in Sacramento, I was his moderator on a panel. The audience was told that he wasn’t feeling well and would only do a 20 minute panel instead of a full 45 minutes. When I told him 20 minutes were up and we had to stop, he retorted, “Is God talking to you? Did He say we have to stop? I feel great—let’s keep going!” Pandemonium broke out backstage as Stan’s handlers and the con people were flashing signs, trying to tell me what to do—none of which I understood. We went for another ten minutes. He loved being in front of a crowd—it energized him.
What about advice?
Danny Fingeroth: One piece of writing advice he gave me was: “Be totally factual, or else be so vague that you can get away with knowing nothing about your subject.”
How would you describe the relationship between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in their later years?
Danny Fingeroth: Complicated.
What do you make of the whole issue with Kirby not getting enough credit when the media reported on their interviews with Stan?
Danny Fingeroth: It was unfortunate all around. Many media people thought—or thought their readers/viewers would think—that the idea of two people creating a comic book character was too complicated for people to understand, and so simplified it to one. Since Stan was the guy they’d see if they came to the Marvel offices, it was often boiled down to him being described as the sole creator, whether he tried to explain things clearly or not.
The Marvel universe has expanded throughout the various mediums over the years and as of this year, Avengers: Endgame is the biggest film of all time. It’s almost hard to believe that all of this came from a company that almost ceased to exist prior to the Marvel Age of Comics. And yet, one of the things that struck me while reading the book is similar to the recent drama surrounding Martin Scorsese’s comments. What do you make of the idea that comic books aren’t art?
Danny Fingeroth: The question of what is and isn’t “ART” has been around since the days of the cave paintings. Superhero stories, in comics or in the movies, are a genre. (Comics is much more than just superhero stories, of course. It’s a medium that encompasses everything from The Yellow Kid to Maus.) Sometimes genre can rise above being craft to the status of capital-A Art. It depends on who’s telling the stories and at what level of skill and inspiration they’re functioning. (And solidly crafted stories can be quite enjoyable, Art or not.) People in the year 2120 can tell us what ended up being Art in our era.
In your opinion, which four people belong on the Mount Rushmore of comic books?
Danny Fingeroth: There are hundreds. Stan would be one of them, for sure.
What do you hope people take away from reading your book—other than the tears during the final pages?
Danny Fingeroth: I hope readers come away with a deeper understanding of who Stan Lee was and the impact he—as well as the rest of his generation of comics creators—had on popular culture, and on the overall culture, as well.