|Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jim Steranko, Will Eisner & Jerry Siegel - more talent there than you'll ever see|
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al - Stan Lee's Million Dollar Contract
More on the Marvel vs Jack Kirby's estate court case. If there is one underlying issues that has certainly emerged from this case it would have to be the question, why do the Kirby family despise Stan Lee so much? I can give you several million reasons why the Kirby’s are (justifiably) angry with Marvel Comics and, in particular, Stan Lee. Stan, by virtue of being a company man for more decades than most people have lived, now earns $1,000,000 a year just for being, well, Stan Lee. As highly paid as Kirby was, and at the height of Marvel he was earning more than any other artist (a fact that's been overlooked in this case thus far) I'd be certain that he wasn't earning a million dollars per year for ten hours worth of work per week. Far from it. Kirby broke his back to earn what he did and he made good money for the time, but it was arduous work and the stories of Kirby working through the night to meet deadlines is now the stuff of legend.
Since November 1998 Stan has been required to put in between 10 to 15 hours per week for Marvel. The contract doesn’t specify exactly what Stan has to do, other than merely stand around and tell people how good Marvel Comics are, the kind of thing that people have seen him doing since 1998, when the contract first started. Even better is the clause that allows him to engage in outside work, thus paving the way for the DC series, Stan Lee Presents, which, frankly, promised a lot more than it actually delivered. It was a great such a shame as the artists involved were absolute powerhouses – John Buscema, Joe Kubert, Jim Lee, Dave Gibbons, Kevin Maguire, Walt Simonson, Adam Hughes, Gene Colan, John Cassaday, John Byrne – however when you read the stories it’s not that hard to see where things went wrong – Stan just doesn’t have in him to write that much anymore. Some of the concepts weren’t that bad, but the execution just wasn’t there. It’d not be that hard to imagine that if DC didn’t have the chance to use Stan Lee’s name then the series would never have appeared. But appear it did and it put some more cabbage in Stan’s pot, not that it needs much more. By my sums, Stan has made approximately $11,370,000 in total as a base wage, not counting perks and percentages, since the time he signed this contract through to now. And that’s not counting the $1,500,000 he’s made from writing the Spider-Man newspaper strip. Come October that amount will be over $12,000,000, and that’s not counting money that Stan has received in his role as producer for the various Marvel movies, of which Stan was entitled to 10% of the gross, any money from royalties or from non-Marvel appearances or money that he’s made by being a large stockholder in Marvel (if he indeed retain the shares he was gifted). Oh, and yes, the contract also includes a cause for expenses. Clearly Stan Lee isn’t grasping for a dollar.
The contract was drafted because, in August 1998, Stan Lee, who had been with Marvel since the 1940s and was recognised (and still is) as the public face of Marvel Comics, had his employment terminated. It wasn’t a case of Stan being sacked, it was more than the contract Stan was operating beneath had come due for renewal and Marvel saw the chance to both reward Stan for his loyalty and also to legally safeguard it’s assets – the characters and Stan Lee himself (and not in that order). When Marvel Comics became Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc in 1989, a contract was drawn up which reportedly saw Lee paid approximately $1,000,000 per year both in salary and bonuses. This meant that Stan was a wealthy man before this current contract was drawn up. However by 1997 Marvel was on the brink of financial ruin and close to bankruptcy, which lead to the contract between Lee and Marvel being renegotiated and rewritten.
Paragraph (e) goes on to state that, “Subject to a material breach of this agreement, you agree not to contest either directly or indirectly the full and complete ownership by Marvel, it’s affiliates, designees, or successors in interest, of all right, title and interest in and to the Property and Rights or the validity of Rights, which may be conferred on Marvel by this Agreement, or to assist others in so doing. Examples of such prohibited contestation would be, without limitation, applying for copyright, renewal copyright, trademarks, service marks, patents, etc for the Property and/or Rights herein specified or the publication by you or your assigns or agents of literary property which would infringe upon, violate or be confusingly similar to such Property and/or Rights.”
As an aside, in 2007 Stan Lee Entertainment, not to be confused with Stan Lee who had left the company, decided to sue Marvel Comics in much the same way that the Kirby family are suing now. The case went nowhere, but one of the better chuckles to come out of it was this paragraph, “In return for Stan Lee's assignment of his Creations, Stan Lee Entertainment, Inc. and/or its successors in interest conveyed to Stan Lee shares in the companies, agreed to pay and did, in fact, pay to Stan Lee approximately $250,000.00 per year in salary, bonuses and other compensation, and also provided certain other items of consideration as set forth therein, including over 3.5 million shares in Stan Lee Entertainment stock, which had a market value of over $100 million in February of 2000.” $100,000,000!!! That’s a lot of do-re-me, but once the company went belly up that stock became utterly worthless. Stan would do better than to sign it and sell it on eBay – he’d make a few quid that way. Having said that it’s no secret that Stan got a fair bit of money from Stan Lee Entertainment before it all fell apart. As interesting, and amusing, as it was to see Stan Lee’s name in a court case against Marvel and then the ultimate court docket - Stan Lee Entertainment vs Stan Lee, it wasn’t to be – by the time the suit was filed Stan was well on his way to earning over a million per year, so he wasn’t going to rock any boats. As it stands that case fell apart due to a series of incredible incompetent acts by both the owners of Stan Lee Entertainment and, it would appear, the lawyers acting for the case.
So here we have Stan Lee’s contract with Marvel, and with that contract are all the reasons anyone will ever need to know as to why the Kirby family loathe Lee and why Lee insists that the classic Marvel characters were co-created by himself and Kirby and that they were all work for hire. The figures in this contract would certainly make the Kirby family weep as they read them. (As usual, if you click on the images they'll enlarge so you can really enjoy 'em)