The world has just lost one of the most inspiring comic book icon of all time.

Stan Lee, arguably the most significant person behind Marvel’s successes today in the entertainment industry passed away at 95 years old on 12th November 2018. Started as a modest office assistant in Timely Comics (later renamed as Marvel Comics) in 1939, Stan Lee has been working and associated with Marvel for 65 years!

With years of Marvel’s box office successes in Hollywood, it is only normal that many would have assumed that Stan Lee is crazily rich. That’s also what I thought, at first.

However, at the time of his passing, he is estimated to have a net worth of $50 million (RM0.2 billion). In comparison, similarly prolific George Lucas (creator of Star Wars) is worth $7.3 billion (RM29.2 billion).

With that in mind, here 2 main reasons why Stan Lee is worth much less than he could have potentially been:

(1) He is not the owner of Marvel Comics

During Stan Lee’s time with Marvel, he has held the position as the President and Chairman of the company. However, while we all know him as the face of Marvel, he does not actually own Marvel Comics.

Hence, when Disney acquired Marvel for $4 billion (RM16 billion) in August 2009, his financial gain from the acquisition was not significant. In turn, he did continue to receive a lifetime annual salary of $1 million (RM4 million) from Disney.

As a side note, he was also honored as the Executive Producer in every credit scene of Marvel blockbusters, albeit not benefiting financially from it as well.

(2) He earned nothing from Marvel’s box office successes

In 2002, Stan Lee sued Marvel on the basis that his contract entitled him to a 10% cut from all profits earned off films and TV shows based on his characters. The judge was in favor of him. However, the incident ended with the two parties agreeing on a one-time $10 million (RM40 million) settlement.

Eventually, he also signed over rights to the characters making him unable to claim anything from the character he created or helped create.

To illustrate how much he could have earned, we must know that blockbusters that involved the characters he created or helped created have generated more than $25 billion (RM100 billion) in the global box office.

Should he sticked to receive the 10% royalty from Marvel, he would have earned more than $2.5 billion (RM10 billion) compared to the one-time $10 million (RM40 million) that he received years earlier.

While Marvel blockbusters made a huge buck in the box office, Stan Lee was not benefited financially from the success.

The story of Stan Lee’s wealth and financial decisions have taught us if any, 2 important life lessons:

(a) Be the owner of your work

It is of extreme importance that we own our creation or work. With this, I refer to owning the rights and legalities towards your creations, be it a product, content or ideas.

Hence, if you created something out of your creativity, it is important to have copyright and/or trademark over your creation so unlike Stan Lee, you will be paid prettily if the creation or idea is acquired one day.

Also, having your creations patented will enable you to protect yourself against any imitation of your original creation. Do you know, Samsung has been paying Apple in hundreds of millions for patent and copyright infringement lawsuits?

(b) The importance of royalty

Owning your creation or work legally is so important. This is because if you can create something that the market likes and patent/trademark it, you will be able to earn a decent recurring royalty income out of your creation.

A good practical example of how we can earn through royalty is through the creation of music and books.

In fact, royalty is such a great form of income that at an estimated sales of 450 million copies of all 7 Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling is said to have earned $1.15 billion just purely from royalty income alone!

No Money Lah’s Verdict

As a huge Marvel fan, I certainly felt the loss of Stan Lee to the world of comics and entertainment. His legacy will stay on to inspire generations to come, and I believe all of us can learn from the financial decisions that he has made throughout his life as the face of Marvel.

May you rest in peace, Stan. Excelsior!


Chin Yi Xuan

At 24, Yi Xuan is an Economics graduate from University of Malaya. He is currently a full-time day trader while working part-time as a table tennis coach and an active Toastmasters club member.

As the founder of No Money Lah, Yi Xuan is passionate in writing about adulthood topics from personal happiness to money and investment.

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