"For me, one of the highlights of my professional career was to pass Stan in the hallway of Marvel Productions in the early 1980s and to have him recognize me and call me by name.
"I felt I had arrived.
"Stan’s daily involvement with Marvel diminished over the years, first because he moved to California to make deals for Marvel movies and TV shows (not that many at that time), later because he no longer connected with the story telling style Marvel evolved into.
"He formally split off from Marvel in the late 1990s (though retaining a healthy retainer from them) and got involved in a number of questionable ventures.
"Our orbits intersected again during the short lived existence of Stan Lee Media (SLM), ostensibly his effort to create a new brand of superheroes for a new century, in reality a stock manipulation scheme that saw people sentenced to lengthy prison terms and the mastermind behind it fleeing to Brazil.
"Stan, it should be pointed out, was as much a victim as Merrill Lynch in all this, but it also reflects a key shortcoming in his character.
"I had, thanks to the intercession of Mark Evanier, been briefly employed as Stan’s vice-president of creative affairs for SLM.
"From the beginning of our employment, I and most of Stan’s other staff wondered how SLM was supposed to make money, and couldn’t follow the business strategy of Peter Paul, the former lawyer turned convicted drug smuggler who had insinuated himself in Stan’s life.
"Something was rotten in the state of California, and the more one questioned the wisdom of Paul’s strategy, the more likely one was to be shown the door.
"When it became apparent my neck was next on the chopping block, advice from Steve Gerber and several other former Marvel employees helped me secure a nice severance deal. The advice they gave was to approach Stan first before he had to bring the matter up, point out the fit didn’t seem to be working, and allow Stan to fall over himself in his eagerness to settle the matter without any negative confrontation. Which I did, and which he did, and we both came away happier for it.
"Shortly after that, the company imploded as the stock manipulation became apparent, and Paul’s secondary scheme was revealed to use the same copyright provision Marvel and Stan fought against re the Kirby estate to lay claim to Marvel characters.
"Stan moved on from there to POW! Entertainment, another effort to capitalize on Stan’s celebrity status, and while that company was legit, it did not generate the response they anticipated.
"During that period, however, thousands of missing pages of Marvel artwork was discovered in a storage unit Stan rented.
"The official story was that these pages had been accidentally scooped up when Stan left Marvel’s New York office, but that doesn’t pass the smell test. Those pages were supposed to be returned to the original artists; selling them as collectibles was an ancillary form of income and one that comics publishers allowed (the art having been transferred to either print film or digital files by that point).
"Another thing that didn’t pass the smell test was the 'lost' original outline for the first Fantastic Four story, a one and a half page document that had been displayed under glass at [the] SLM office. The story of how it was 'found' seems awfully suspect, and more than a few of us think it was a =ahem!= 'recreation' typed up at a much later date.
"POW! tried promoting him as a still viable, still vital creator, but anyone who had a meeting with him knew how much of his success rested on the talents of his co-creators. They tried promoting him as still current in pop culture, but he was too old and frail to sell that idea.
"They actually tried circulating a 'fake Stan Lee™', an actor hired to go and do a Stan Lee impersonation at local conventions, but that idea quickly died an embarrassing death.
"Eventually POW! and Stan dissolved their formal relationship, and POW! sold out to foreign investors, leaving Stan to his own devices.
"The man who always feared not having somebody to work for was finally on his own.
"In his latter years, Stan appeared in the news again and again, this time as an elderly man abused by at least some of his caregivers.
"Stan sure could pick ‘em, huh?
"That’s not the sort of publicity anyone deserves to have, much less endure. The abuse included dragging him around the country to conventions to promote…something.
"Footage of him in a very disoriented state, being told how to sign his own name for autograph hounds who had just paid a hefty fee for same, outraged his fans, even those of us who recognized his complicity in his own misfortune [...].
"It’s impossible for me to dislike Stan.
"Roz Kirby, Jack’s wife, hated him with an unholy passion, but she earned that right.
"Steve Ditko clearly had an axe or three to grind, but he maintained his silence.
"Steve Gerber had his friction points with Stan, but in the end bore him no animosity.
"Another comics pro, when news broke of the discovery of the missing Marvel artwork, shook his head and said with a rueful smile, 'Stan never fails to disappoint, does he?'
"Stan the Man.
"The man who was Marvel."To read Buzz Dixon's entire article, click HERE.