A tribute to Stan "The Man" Lee
It is with great sadness that I read about the death of Stan Lee. It is impossible for me to explain just how much of an influence on me he was right from the start. I loved superheroes from the time I was maybe three or four and I have devoured superhero TV shows and cartoons since the 1970s.
I was obsessed with Spider-Man as a youngster. I first saw him in the kid's show Electric Company, which ran on PBS here. The show came on after Sesame Street and while that show was great, it was Electric Company that had Spidey. Sure, the short little vignettes with a man in a Spidey costume were silly, but Spider-Man only spoke in word balloons. While others talked, you had to read Spidey. My mom read his dialog to me at first, then I started to read them on my own. Spider-Man, and Stan, basically taught me how to read.
Then I got hooked hopelessly and helplessly on the Spider-Man cartoon. You know the one from the 60s, with trippy backgrounds, funky music and Spider-Man web-slinging all over town. From this show, I got to know villains like The Scorpion, Vulture and, of course, Green Goblin. I loved them all. I had the Spider-Man web-shooter, which I thought might actually allow me to swing around the neighborhood. It didn't.
I didn't start collecting comics until junior high. My friends were telling me about this Marvel Secret Wars series and I started there. Then I got Spider-Man. Then I fell in love with Daredevil, ventured in X-Men and then I started going to conventions and collecting back issues.
I got to meet Stan Lee once. At the Chicago Comicon when it was still held out in a hotel ballroom near O'Hare and not everyone there showed up in costumes. I stood in line and had just purchased a $50 copy of X-Men #1 (it was not in great shape, but it was a huge purchase for me). I got Stan to sign it and he was amazed it was a #1. There was a camera crew there filming all of us for 20/20, too.
The conversation was minimal, but it stuck with me to this day. I met STAN THE MAN. The man who created all my favorite heroes and villains.
I tried writing comics and read about his "Marvel method." This method got the artists involvement as creators of the characters and story. Stan would outline the story he wanted, detail the action, but did not break down the pages into number of panels, or tell the artist exactly how to lay out the page. He let the artists add their own spin, which is why the true creative team behind Cap, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Hulk and others were the greatest comics team up: Jack "King" Kirby and Stan "the Man" Lee. I wish the Marvel Method was used by more comic book companies these days, to be honest.
Stan was in the army when he was young. He wanted to write more than comics, but found his niche. He was embarrassed by what he did in his early days, but soon came to realize his characters appealed to more than just kids. His voice was on many of the cartoons I watched and the twinkle in his eye was evident in every appearance he ever made. Stan's Soapbox was part of the letters section of the comic books he created and he interacted with fans.
That was the thing about Stan. As great as he was, he seemed to go out of his way to show that he was just a man. That we could all achieve great things. He addressed racism and antisemitism in the letter section and the comics he wrote. He changed pop culture. He changed how we viewed heroes. His heroes had flaws, just like us, and were not above making huge mistakes. That was Stan. Always accessible. A great creator, but still a man.
In my writing career there have been many influences. Peter Benchley got me thinking about making writing a career. Stephen King helped me find the genre I love. It was Stan Lee, though, who first set my imagination free. To imagine humans who could reach fantastic heights and a teenager who could become a hero.
Stan Lee achieved immortality. His characters will live on as long as there are people. From a little Jewish boy growing up in New York, to one of the greatest storytellers of modern times. It’s not a bad legacy.
Rest in peace, Stan, and always and forever: Excelsior!