Stan Lee was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was one of the greatest comic book creators of all time. With the help of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, he forged what Marvel is today. But more importantly than his contributions was his ideology. He believed that one person could make a difference and how art is important for people. He wasn’t without flaw, but he knew that. That’s why he created flawed characters. What he taught us was that no matter who you are or what you do, you can matter. You dear reader, can be something extraordinary.
There is no way for you to be reading this and not already know who Stan Lee is and have some idea of the career the man had. I know a few kids that only know him from his various cameos in movies. He helped create Spider-Man, The Hulk, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Thor, Doctor Strange, and Iron Man along with hundreds of other characters we all draw inspiration and hope from. Before comic book superheroes were the powerhouse titans of the silver screen, and before it was cool to be a nerd, kids would read the pages of comics for a quick and cheap way to keep their attentions out of their lives. But the reason these characters have lasted for over 70 years, growing, evolving, and capturing more and more audience members is because of men like Stan Lee that put a level of care into the pages that connects to the reader.
“If you’re writing about a character, if he’s a powerful character, unless you give him vulnerability I don’t think he’ll be as interesting to the reader.”
Stanley Martian Lieber was born December 28th of 1922 and died 95 years later on November 12th of 2018. He lived a full life. Sixty Nine of those years he was happily married to his wife Joan. He grew up in New York and when he was a kid he dreamed of becoming a great american novelist. That is actually why he wrote comics using the pseudonym ‘Stan Lee’ while working for his uncle at Timely Comics. He didn’t want people to associate his name with something as embarrassing as comic books when he finally became a professional novelist. His very first contribution was for a character called Captain America in 1941. The creator of Captain America was a man whom Stan would end up becoming good friends with named Jack Kirby.
Stan Lee worked on various other comics and worked his way up from proofreader to editor, to eventually the company’s main publisher. Eventually he left and joined the United States Army and worked in broadcasting divisions, helping with television, training programs, and even a bit of propaganda. After returning from service his uncle’s company had changed and become Atlas Comics. Stan continued to work on comics but it wasn’t for superheroes. In the 50’s many parents and concerned adults were very interested in destroying any comics they deemed toxic for the children. In turn the only real stories left were for Westerns and Romance comics. Stan Lee did his job but was ready to leave the business all together.
Another comic book company had successfully revamped the superhero genre by targeting all ages of readers instead of just children. This company was DC Comics. In order to compete, Atlas Comics asked Stan to create some superheroes of his own. This is when he decided to create main character with flaws and depth. If DC was going to make superheroes for people of all ages then he would do it to, by writing about real struggles and issues that every-day-people have to face. Along with Jack Kirby, Stan Lee created The Fantastic Four. The first family of Marvel. During this time the team, eventually including Steve Ditko, created many of the heroes we know him for today. And even came up with the brilliant idea to combine the individual characters together to form The Avengers.
Stan Lee didn’t just help with the stories but made a lot of leaps for the business itself. He pushed for colorists and inkers to be given full credit for their work. He wanted news and upcoming story lines to be included in the issues. He wanted people to know about what was happening in the background, behind the pages, and made an effort to connect to the audience members on a personal level. A lot of other comic companies followed suit and soon Stan was helping revolutionize the industry. Many people started using the “Marvel Method” by creating a story with the art and panels themself instead of just having the pages tell the reader what was happening. He spent a couple of decades creating some of the most admired stories for some of the most beloved characters as well as pushing new boundaries and topics belonging in the pages.
“Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end.”
After he retired from writing comics in 1975, he still stayed on and became the face of Marvel. He helped many new creators get their work into the hands of audience members. He spoke at schools and traveled the world to inspire people to follow their dreams and become artists. In 1998 he attempted to revolutionize the industry again by creating a company for internet based comics. Unfortunately due to illegal activities the company had to file for bankruptcy but the Generalissimo kept moving forward. He helped create TV shows, video games, and movies based on the Marvel characters as well as other comic properties. He made it a point to try to diversify the industry by helping get characters with disabilities so more children could connect with the comics.
In the 2000’s he even crossed over the massive wall and decided to work with DC Comics and re-imagined some of their biggest characters. He was a business man but at the end of the day he was an artist. And more importantly than that he was someone who cared about the world around him and the people in it. The Stan Lee Foundation is a fundraiser he founded to help with national illiteracy, diversity, and to help spread culture and arts. Towards the end of his career, pushing into the late stages of life, he still wanted to go to conventions in order to meet the fans. Many people remember him from the cameos in superhero movies, but in a weird way I feel like he was the real life hero in those films.
Some of you might have heard about some news of the end of his life. A report came out in 2018 that he was being taken advantage of, as well as abused, by his daughter and manager. His wife of 69 years had died recently as well. When I read the original story it broke my heart. I don’t think we should ever treat other people in this world with ill intent, especially when they are a family member or friend. We will never know the truth behind another man’s life, but when I heard the news of him dying I thought “Damn 95 is a long fucking time to be alive on this planet.” He lived as full a life as any of us can. And I hope he is happy and at peace with Joan somewhere only the Silver Surfer can reach.
I actually met Stan Lee once. It was at C2E2 in Chicago a few years ago. I showed up as soon as the doors opened and told the friends I was with that I will be waiting in line to meet Stan Lee before doing anything else. I still don’t think they understood how important that was for me. I waited for 3 hours and paid $180 dollars for some autographs. I basically only had a few seconds to thank him and he thanked me and I was moved along. But later that day he had decided to cancel the rest of his day. My friends were in the bathroom and I was waiting for them while talking to a guy that was cosplaying as the kid from The Brave Little Toaster. And walking right next to me was Stan Lee surrounded by several huge body guards. I didn’t try to take a pic like everyone or try to tell him he as the best. I just waved and smiled. And he waved and smiled back.
It’s actually a little hard not to tear up while writing this. He was such a cool guy. He cared about the people, all of us. And he really did change lives. Many people read his comics, and still read the characters he created, because they find encouragement in those pages. Life is rough some of us, and getting to dive into another world for escape is great. And then to find out that the people you are reading about, are people who overcome incredible traumas and weakness. We get to see characters that strive for greatness. We observe families, communities, nations, and bonds that show us what we wish to see in our world.
Stan Lee was the last of the original creators from the beginning of the modern superhero. Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Joe Simon, and so many more; These men created icons that have lasted longer than themselves. We will use these characters for generations to inspire people to be better. I look at comic book superheroes and see funny suits and cheesy catchphrases. But I also see metaphors for the struggles we all face, and the power we all have inside of ourselves to be better than superheroes, to be responsible, good, and decent people. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.
Article written by: A True Believer