Stan Lee – One Person who Made a Difference.
For the record, this has been really difficult to write. Outside of my friends and family, Stan Lee was the person who has undoubtedly had the biggest effect upon my life, so I had to make sure I did this right – for him.
Born in 1922 into a family of Jewish Romanian immigrants, Stan was born to be a writer, adamant as a kid that he would pen the next Great American Novel. In his teens he took any part-time job that allowed him to put pen to paper. After years of running odd jobs here and there, Stan was hired as an assistant at Timely Comics (give it 20 odd years, and this company would become Marvel Comics itself). It’s all too easy to imagine the patient frustration a young Stanley Lieber felt as he ran errands and erased pencil lines all day – he was paying his dues, he was working his damnedest, he just had to hang on and hope that one day he would get the chance to prove his worth. In 1941, that chance presented itself. Stan made his debut as a writer with a text filler piece in “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” under the pseudonym Stan Lee. He didn’t want to use Stanley Lieber; that name was reserved for seminal literature and novels of great importance. Stan Lee would do for now, he thought.
By the 1950s, Stan had become somewhat disenchanted with writing fillers here and there for comic books, and he despondently contemplated a career change. No great novels were getting written here. It was at this time that DC underwent a serendipitous renaissance, and Stan’s publisher, Martin Goodman, needed to keep up or get left behind. Goodman tasked Stan with creating a new superhero team to compete with DC’s growing popularity, and Stan accepted. He wanted a career change anyway, so why not give it a go before he left? What was the worst that could happen?
Time for a change
Stan wanted to create something different; something that didn’t follow the blueprint of an infallible hero. His characters, he decided, would be delightfully, beautifully flawed and fantastically human. They might be able to move planets, but they would laugh, cry, hurt, and feel just like regular people. Just like us. This simple but wonderful decision is one that would become a defining characteristic of Stan Lee’s characters. This decision gave us The Fantastic Four. Their instant popularity eventually led to the creation of the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Dr Strange, Black Panther, Daredevil, and Spider-Man.
Stan began to add full credits in his comic books, crediting everyone from the writer to the inker. He added a bulletin page with updates on the comics and their creators. Stan sought to create a type of reader engagement and sense of family that had not been widely seen in comic books before. His regular “Stan’s Soapbox” section became just as much of a reason to buy the comics as the stories themselves. I can’t overstate the impact and importance of these columns, especially to young readers. Stan was reaching out to us, talking to us as equals, reassuring us and telling us that, after all, things were going to be okay if we just trusted ourselves and fought for what was right. Sometimes, that was just what we needed.
Marvel was proving to be an unstoppable Juggernaut (pun intended) that was showing no signs of relenting. From paper comic books to glossy graphic novels and eventually to cinema screens, Stan Lee had become the face of Marvel, and Marvel had become the face of popular culture.
It’s hard to say whether back in the 1940s as he was cleaning inkpots and writing obituaries that Stan Lee thought he would be to thank for quite so much. As of this year, 40% of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time are members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and star characters that he created. Comic books can be found in every newsagents, library, and entertainment retailers. I promise you that if you walk down the street, you will see at least one thing that will make you think of Stan Lee. Be it a t-shirt, a poster, a movie theatre, or a kid in a superhero costume.
Thank you Stan Lee
It was hard not to make this article all about me, and just how much Stan Lee has changed my life, but that seemed unfair. I would not be even half the person I am today without this man; I would not be in my job, I would not have the dreams and aspirations that I do, and I would not be writing this now. I wanted to celebrate the achievements of Stan Lee, to try and shed just a glimmer of light on everything he has done for the world of popular culture. I wanted to show how his hard work and personality meant that he became the force behind some of the most iconic, relatable, and deeply loved characters in literature. I wanted to show how he spread joy and love and how, even though he may be with the Silver Surfer now, he is still a warm lighthouse of hope. They might not have been the “Great American Novels” you envisioned, Stan – but my word, they were so much more. Thank you. Excelsior!