Stan Lee recently broke from his typically upbeat, cheerleader-like approach to discussing Marvel, and expressed disappointment in himself for not making sure he had a legal stake in the famous characters he co-created with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others.
Asked by Vulture what he might’ve done differently if he could live his life again, the 93-year-old writer said, “I’d have been a better businessman, and attempted to gain a share of ownership of the characters I created.”
Aside from a brief email exchange, Lee declined to be interviewed for Vulture’s in-depth examination of his decades-long career, and his legacy.
For much of the general public, the name “Stan Lee” is synonymous with Marvel Comics. However, the co-creator of the Marvel Universe hasn’t been a full-time writer for the company since 1972, when he took on the role of publisher. For the most part, Lee hasn’t worked hands-on with any of the characters he helped shape since his contract was reconfigured in 1998, creating a paid position for him as, essentially, Marvel’s public figurehead.
At one time, Lee did have a stake in Marvel’s characters, should they make it to film. As part of his 1998 contract, the writer was slated to receive 10% of any profits seen from Marvel-based TV or movie projects. A subsequent lawsuit filed by Lee against Marvel over claims that the company failed to live up the agreement resulted in a one-time $10 million settlement. As a result, Lee has not seen any money from any Marvel TV or film project since 2005, other than his salary when filming his frequent cameo appearances.