Jim Steranko and Stan Lee are both comics legends with strong personalities, and back in the day that led to a little tension.
Steranko made a name for himself in comics with daring art and innovative storytelling, and he continues to be one of the industry's favorite raconteurs, regularly holding court on Twitter and appearing at conventions to share stories with fans (in addition to, of course, continuing to work). Steranko also appeared at San Diego Comic-Con last month, and talked everything from how he developed his style to slapping Bob Kane (a great story) to working with his longtime editor at Marvel Comics, fellow legend Lee.
Steranko has a reputation as a guy with daring storytelling ideas who wants to do things his way, and that led to frequent disagreements with Lee. Among them was Steranko's decision to leave the now-iconic cover to Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 mostly white, something Lee felt would make the comic hard to spot on a newstand full of brightly colored competitors. Steranko argued that the subtlety would serve the book well, saying "when everything shouts, nothing shouts." Steranko won out.
Other Steranko decisions that riled Lee included writing a then-quite-unorthodox nine-issue arc for Nick Fury in the pages of Strange Tales, and then concluding the story with a four-page spread. Reflecting on such arguments at Comic-Con, Steranko cited his lack of traditional training as one reason for the contention. He didn't follow the rules, in part, because he never learned them.
"I never had an art lesson. I was just a poor kid. I barely made it through my teens," he said. "Every time I brought an idea in, I'd always get flak."
Steranko's biggest fight with Lee came over a short horror story Steranko wanted to do, and he made it very clear that he wanted it published without Lee's fingerprints on it.
"I decided to do a mystery or horror story. I did what I consider my most innovative story. I called it the 'Lurking Fear at Shadowhouse' after [HP] Lovecraft. And I got into an argument with Stan," Steranko said. "I said, 'Please don’t edit this book, this story.' It was only a seven-page story."
Steranko felt so strongly about publishing the seven-page tale exactly as he'd written and drawn it that he told Lee he'd quit if anything was changed.
"The only time I've ever seen Stan angry was that moment. He fired me on the spot," Steranko said.
The story was eventually published as "At the Stroke of Midnight" (Lee's title) in Tower of Shadows #1 from 1969. The rift between Lee and Steranko didn't last, though. Within a couple of months, Lee and Marvel were calling Steranko back, and Lee has since called Steranko a "son."
So this particular bout of creators clashing has a happy ending. Steranko's standoff with Bob Kane ... not so much.