Comic Legends: How Did Stan Lee Really Get Hired by Timely Comics?

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Stan Lee was hired by Timely Comics without anyone knowing that he was related to Marvel's owner, Martin Goodman


Appears to be False

In 1939, Martin Goodman, who had been publishing pulp magazines since the early 1930s, decided to get into comic book publishing. At the time, what you did as a new comic book publisher was rather than hire the writers and artists yourself, you would contract a "Packaging Studio" who would put together the comic book for you and then you would just publish it.

Goodman's first comic book, Marvel Comics #1, was packaged by Funnies, Inc, which had artists Bill Everett and Carl Burgos on staff as writers/artists and Joe Simon as a writer/editor.

Marvel Comics #1 was a huge hit. We're talking almost a million copies sold of their first issue!!

Goodman was all in on comics now, so he did not want to buy from a packager anymore, so he hired Joe Simon to become his Editor-in-Chief of what was now called Timely Comics.

At the end of 1940, Simon and one of the artists that Simon brought to the new company, Jack Kirby, created Captain America Comics, which was a sensation...

Simon and Kirby, though, split from Goodman after roughly a year, over a financial dispute. Goodman put staffer Stan Lee in charge as the new Editor-in-Chief and the then-19 year old Lee remained as Marvel's Editor-in-Chief until Lee was promoted to Publisher in 1972 (Lee did take a couple of years off while he was in the Army during World War II. I wrote about Marvel's interim Editor-in-Chief during this period here).

How, though, did Lee get his job?

In a great interview with Kenneth Plume at IGN, Lee recalled how he was hired and how he was promoted...

PLUME: If you were to sum it up, what was your introduction into the comics industry?

LEE: Well, I applied for a job in a publishing company... I didn't even know they published comics. I was fresh out of high school, and I wanted to get into the publishing business, if I could. There was an ad in the paper that said, "Assistant Wanted in a Publishing House." When I found out that they wanted me to assist in comics, I figured, "Well, I'll stay here for a little while and get some experience, and then I'll get out into the real world." In those days, it just didn't seem like comics was the kind of field that anybody would want to make a career in. They were the absolute bottom of the cultural totem pole. Nobody had any respect for comic books in those days.

PLUME: So this is, what, the early '40's?

LEE: It was either 1939 or '40 when I started... I can never figure out which year it was.

PLUME: You described it as a temporary job...

LEE: I thought it was at the time...

PLUME: So what exactly were your aspirations at the time?

LEE: I just wanted to know, "What do you do in a publishing company?" How do you write... How do you publish? I was an assistant. There were two people there named Joe Simon and Jack Kirby – Joe was sort-of the editor/artist/writer, and Jack was the artist/writer. Joe was the senior member. They were turning out most of the artwork. Then there was the publisher, Martin Goodman... And that was about the only staff that I was involved with. After a while, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left. I was about 17 years old, and Martin Goodman said to me, "Do you think you can hold down the job of editor until I can find a real person?" When you're 17, what do you know? I said, "Sure! I can do it!" I think he forgot about me, because I stayed there ever since.

PLUME: And it was Timely Comics at the time, wasn't it?

LEE: Yeah, it was Timely Comics.

In other stories, though, Lee admitted the familial connection, that Martin Goodman's wife was Lee's cousin and his uncle, Robert Solomon, had told him to get a job at Timely, "My uncle, Robbie Solomon, told me they might be able to use someone at a publishing company where he worked. The idea of being involved in publishing definitely appealed to me. ... So I contacted the man Robbie said did the hiring, Joe Simon, and applied for a job. He took me on and I began working as a gofer for eight dollars a week..."

In his 1990 book, Joe Simon explained that he was told to hire Lee specifically because of the familial connection. Simon also recalled a conversation between himself and Lee:

Lee: I've been saying this [classified-ad] story for years, but apparently it isn't so. And I can't remember because I['ve] said it so long now that I believe it....Simon: Your Uncle Robbie brought you into the office one day and he said, 'This is Martin Goodman's wife's nephew.' [sic] ... You were seventeen years old.

Lee: Sixteen and a half!

Simon: Well, Stan, you told me seventeen. You were probably trying to be older... I did hire you.

So I think it's probably pretty fair to say that the familial story is the closer to true version. It's still an amazing story, either way. Dude was a teenager and he ended up becoming the Editor-in-Chief before he was even 20 years old! And then stayed there for decades, becoming one of the most famous people in comic book history. Remarkable stuff.

Check out my latest TV Legends Revealed - Did Stan Lee almost HOST the 1990's X-Men Animated Series?

Check back later for the final part of this week's Comic Book Legends Revealed!

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