With “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” the latest movie installment from Marvel now in theaters, we thought it would be fun to get a glimpse into the genius of Stan Lee, the former president and chairman of Marvel Comics.
Lee, 94, who regularly makes cameos in the Marvel movies a la Alfred Hitchcock, always seems to be having a fun time.
To get an idea of what he’s like, we turned to Linda Fite, who for 18 months worked for Marvel Comics and with Lee in New York City.
Below is an email interview with Fite.
When did you work for Marvel? What were your duties?
I worked for Marvel Comics for a year and a half, starting the summer after I graduated from college: 1967-69.
I had sent a letter to Marvel while still going to classes down in Virginia, asking for a job.
I got a nice letter back from Flo Steinberg (“Fabulous Flo” — Stan gave everyone nicknames) saying that they couldn’t offer me a job at that time, but that Stan would like to meet me.
So, when I got to New York City, I called and got an appointment to chat with Stan.
He hired me for a summer job at first, just to see if I worked out.
Which I did, I guess, because I got a regular job and a little raise at the end of August.
I always worked in the bullpen, which was made up of a handful of production artists and guys — John Romita, John Verpoorten, Morrie Kuromoto, Tony Mortellaro, Stu Schwartzberg, Herb Trimpe (sometimes other guys just dropped in for an hour or two to shoot the breeze or tweak some art at Stan’s suggestion) — who made corrections or created cover designs or were just in the office doing whatever needed doing, including drawing comics.
And Marie Severin, who did all that, PLUS laying down the coloring for a lot of comics in the line.
Oh, and Sol Brodsky, production chief (while I was there) and Roy Thomas, the assistant editor.
My primary job as an editorial assistant was to handle the fan mail, but I also assembled and proofread the letters pages and Stan’s Bullpen Bulletin that appeared every month in all the Marvel titles.
I did some production work that involved cutting and pasting with rubber cement! REAL cut and paste, kids.
When we moved up Madison Avenue a couple of blocks to our own office, I also acted as the front line of defense for salesmen and random fans who would drop into the tiny office.
How regularly did you interact with Stan Lee?
I saw him every day he was in the office, which was most of the time. As I said, it was a tiny office, so we all interacted all the time.
Flo was his personal assistant (I think she was referred to as his secretary; that was “back then,” you understand) for several months after I was on the job, but she eventually moved on to more lucrative employment elsewhere.
What is your recollection of your overall impression of him? What was he like to work with/for?
Stan was — in my experience — always pleasant, always upbeat, good-natured, lively, energetic and encouraging.
I never saw him express a cross word or give anyone any shit.
And the whole Marvel way of working was collaborative — artist and writer worked closely together, and then followed the production line: inker, letterer, colorist.
I reckon artists and writers who worked with him might have a different point of view, but I never heard — until much, much later, regarding the whole Jack Kirby controversy — anything negative about Stan (beyond that he was a good bullshitter).
Any particular cherished moments you recall? Funny or poignant ones?
I’ll just say that working in the bullpen was so much fun. It was all artists, you know?
No one was sitting there trying to WRITE anything, so the gang would be shooting the breeze all day long, telling jokes, sharing anecdotes and opinions, talking’ sports, talkin’ politics, talkin’ family.
There was NO slimey locker-room talk, and not just because Marie and I were present; most comic book people (then at least) were very decent … they were in the superhero business, after all! Truth! Justice!
Here’s a story I just thought of the other day: Christmas was coming up, and I wanted to get Stan a present (yes, he’s Jewish, but a holiday present, awright?).
So I asked Flo what he might like/want. She said he had been hankering for a vintage copy of Spike Jones’ version of “Nutcracker Suite” (a set of 78 rpm records in a box set, released in 1945).
So I set about finding this record box by calling record stores all over Manhattan till I found one.
I went over and bought it — it cost $24.50!
That was a fortune at that time. (Editor’s Note: Adjusted for inflation, it’s $172.20 today.) I wrapped it and gave it to him, and he was happy, but not THAT happy, not $24.50 happy (sigh).
And then, in an O. Henry sorta way, he gave me a Christmas card with a check in it for … $25!
What is the one story that you tell the most from your time there?
Maybe the story of how I finally talked Roy Thomas (editor) into giving me a comic book to write. My big claim to Wikipedia fame.
And the other story is about the time I mashed a pink cupcake loaded with icing into John Verpoorten’s face because he wouldn’t stop giving me the business.
I did it just as the publisher’s nephew walked by the door to the bullpen.
He paused, did a double-take, and then kept walking.
What do you make of the universe that Marvel has created for itself in the movies and are you a fan?
Marvel’s success in the 21st century is remarkable. And I’m gratified that the movie people generally acknowledge the original creators, not only in the movie credits but also — sometimes — with some moolah and/or invitations to the red-carpet premieres.
Some of the movies and Netflix series are good, some are better, some are … meh.
But, yeah, I’d call myself a fan. Sorta. (My son, Alex Trimpe, tells me which movies and series are worth a giving a try, and he’s generally right.)