Stan Lee’s Lesson to All Creative Individuals

Your creative work has real value.

Yesterday, the man behind Marvel, the Generalissimo himself who has appeared not only in all of the Marvel based superhero movies but also web viral videos like Geek and Gamer Girls, Stan Lee tweeted about his early days in the comic book industry.  Mainly he was responding to whether or not he had a complete collection of every first edition Marvel comic.  His response was a bit shocking but is a lesson to all creative types.

Stan Lee (@TheRealStanLee) tweeted:

A Brigadier [member of Stan Lee’s] asked if I have my own set of every Marvel comicbook. Hey, if I did I’d be able to buy Twitter, instead of merely using it!

So many people say their mother made them throw out their comics years ago. I can’t even use that excuse. My mom was glad I was reading.

Neither I, nor most of the guys I worked with in those early days, ever thought our comics would be worth anything later on. And so—

I hate to say it but we threw them away or gave them away, Oh yeah, we comicbook maestros were real smart businessmen!

I want to highlight a section of those tweets.  He never thought his comics, his creative endeavor, would be worth anything beyond the initial sale of the book.  And why should he think it would be?  Parts of society declared comic books to be trash right from the start.  Even thought comic books were part of the decline of the moral fabric of the nation.

The lesson is quite clear and I will repeat it. Your creative work has real value. You wouldn’t be going through the process of creation if you didn’t value it yourself, and despite what your kindergarten teacher wanted you to think, you are not a unique snowflake on this snowdrift we call a planet.  Quite the contrary, if you like it and value it, there is a significant probability there is another person out there who likes it and values it and if you are really lucky, there are a couple million people with similar tastes.

The writer Harlan Ellison, the genius behind The Glass Teat, often talked about how writers get the short end of the stick.  Writers always are asked to work for free.  New writers are often led to believe they have to get their works out to the public and become known before they can get any money for their efforts. The entertainment system actively devalues writers and thus the writers have a hard time valuing their own work.  I’ve never worked on a television program or movie set, but I have seen more than enough Craigslist ads asking for artists and writers to give their work up for a compensation of ‘getting your work out there’.  There is a distinction that needs to be made between projects where no one is getting paid to projects where they are only asking the creative talent to work for free.  If no one is getting paid and the project is being done on spec by everyone, that is different than a situation where everyone else is getting something and the writers and artists are expected to be appeased by credit and publicity.

It may feel like I’ve drifted from the original point but I haven’t.  Your creative work has value because you value it.  It may not have widespread acclaim and it may not buy you a second house, pay your mortgage, or even get you a sandwich at Subway, but it is still worth something and should be treated like everything that has value.

Stan Lee, in his early days in the comic book industry, bought into the idea that what he and his fellow creatives were doing didn’t have lasting value. Learn the lesson from him and realize that your work does have value.  Don’t give it away, don’t let people convince you it is worthless and thus you should let them have it for free, and don’t think that just because it isn’t selling to any of the available markets that it must not be worth anything.  Sometimes there just isn’t a market ready for what you are offering.  And yes, sometimes you’ve created something only you and your mother appreciate, but sometimes your mother’s appreciation is all the gold you need.

2 thoughts on “Stan Lee’s Lesson to All Creative Individuals

  1. A very timely post, at least for me.

    I’ve been cartooning for 30 years although I’ve barely published anything, on the web or otherwise. Most of my cartoons that have made it into the wild were for work projects – billboards, print and web ads, small website decorations. I haven’t put many of my cartoons out there for their own sake, always battling the “good enough” monster. Strangely, I’ve had no problem putting my graphic and web design work out there and have made a good career out of it. Just not my cartoons.

    Two days from now I’m taking a giant leap and participating in 24 Hour Comics Day where I have to write, draw and ink a 24 page comic in 24 hours, solo. It’s a nudge, or more like a swift kick in the ass, to force myself to publish my art and hopefully continue doing it.

    You’re absolutely right. I’ve constantly fought that tiny voice that says my art doesn’t have real value, and you have to keep fighting it. Thankfully, unlike Stan Lee, I’ve saved nearly every drawing I’ve ever done.

    • Good luck on the 24 hour comic day. I was thinking about stopping by to see the work everyone was doing. At some point, I think it all boils down to self-confidence. We don’t think we are good enough that someone else would actually pay money for what we do. Yet, there is always someone eager to take our work and use it for their own benefit.

      Are you ‘in training’ for the 24 hours? Powernapping, energy drinks, protein bars, and Clockwork Orange style eyelid openers?

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