Stan Lee, before and after the launch of the Marvel Age of Comics.
Here’s what happened between these two pictures: Seduction of the Innocent was published; there were Senate subcommittee hearings about comics’ contribution to juvenile delinquency; the entire Timely staff was fired; Joe Maneely died; Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko returned; the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hulk, Iron Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, and dozens if not hundreds of characters were introduced; Steve Ditko left; Martin Goodman sold the company; Jack Kirby left; Martin Goodman retired as publisher; Stan Lee became president and publisher.
And here’s what was happening at the moment of each photograph.
Martin Goodman moved operations to Madison Avenue, above the Boyd Chemists drugstore and cafeteria. With a carpeted office and a short walk to Central Park, he was headquartered at ground zero of 1950s consumerism, where legions of well-dressed martini-lunchers, responsible for approximately half of the advertising dollars in the country, ducked into newly built towers and straightened their ties at the elevator banks. At 655 Madison, most of Goodman’s new office space was dedicated to his magazine line (the creatively titled Magazine Management, Inc.), which had evolved from its pulp roots into a mixture of true confessions, movie gossip, crossword puzzles, and, under the editorial stewardship of Bruce Jay Friedman, mildly smutty action-adventure titles like Stag, Male, For Men Only, and Men’s World. But off to the side, Stan Lee was overseeing more than sixty different titles and, in the words of Friedman, “a sea of employees.”
In a surprise twist, Goodman’s successor, Sheldon Feinberg, gave Lee a double promotion, to president and publisher of Marvel Comics. Lee would no longer have his hands tied. He could publish black-and-white comic magazines; he could have final say on covers; he could bring back the Silver Surfer. “It’s time for Phase Two to begin,” Lee proclaimed in his “Bullpen Bulletins” column. “No man, no group of men, no publishing company can rest on its laurels—and Marvel’s still much too young, too zingy, too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to settle back and bask in the sun of yesterday’s success… . If you think we turned you on before, the best is yet to be—wait’ll you see what’s coming! Hang loose! Face front! Marvel’s on the move again!” Restless from all the time spent in Martin Goodman’s shadow, Lee quickly began casting around for new, more sophisticated ventures. He started to line up luminaries like Anthony Burgess, Kurt Vonnegut, and Vaclav Havel to write a line of adult comic books (Tom Stoppard expressed interest as well). He asked former Mad editor (and father figure to the underground comix scene) Harvey Kurtzman to edit a satirical magazine called Bedlam. Lee also turned to the legendary Will Eisner, who wrote to prospective contributors that he’d be publishing a Marvel-funded magazine that was “neither sophomoric, nor foul- mouthed or tasteless.” Lee invited underground publisher Denis Kitchen to New York to discuss packaging an anthology title that would feature left-of-center artists like Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman, and Basil Wolverton.