“And now, until we meet again, may the blessings of Asgard be showered upon you!” – Stan Lee
Stanley Martin Lieber, or as we nerds know him, Stan Lee, was born on December 28, 1922 in Manhattan, New York. Stan grew up in many different areas of New York as his parents moved around so that his father could find work. No matter where the family landed, Stan once said he was always finding a library so that he could read books, particularly those with Errol Flynn playing heroic roles.
While Stan was growing up, he often mentioned his dream to write the “Great American Novel.” To help him meet that dream, he took different jobs such as writing obituaries for a news service and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center. At one point in his youth, he even delivered sandwiches for the Jack May pharmacy to offices in the Rockefeller Center and to the towering floors of the Empire State Building. It was here in the Empire State Building that Stan said he would find a window where he could sit and stare out over the city and imagine. He imagined what it would be like to be able to fly from the top of one building to another in the city (we wonder if maybe this was the beginning of Stan’s superhero mind working). While in high school, Stan entered an essay contest sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune. The contest was, “The Biggest News of the Week Contest”. While Stan has never said what he wrote about, he won the contest for three weeks in a row until the newspaper wrote to him and asked him to allow someone else to win for once. Stan states the paper suggested to him in this letter that he start writing professionally, which he claimed, “probably changed my life forever”.
When Stan was only 17 years old, he got his first start working in the comic book world. In 1939 with the help of his uncle, he became assistant at the new Timely Comics. Stan got his comic book debut with the text filler, “Captain American Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in Captain America Comics #3, cover dated May 1941, using the pseudonym of Stan Lee (of which he later legally changed his name to). Stan expressed in an interview later, that because of the low social status of comic books, he felt embarrassed and used the pen name so that so that no one would associate his real name with comics when he wrote the Great American Novel. The young Stan Lee would become interim editor in 1941, then editor-in-chief of the comic book division and art director for most of his time there. By the 1960’s, Timely Comics would evolve into the world-renowned, Marvel Comics. Then in 1972, Stan would succeed Goodman as publisher of Marvel comics. Stan’s first superhero co-creation was the destroyer, in Mystic Comics #6. He went on to co-create other hero characters during this time such as Jack Frost in U.S.A. Comics #1 and Father Time, in Captain America Comics #5.
In the 1950’s, the DC Comics were rapidly evolving with new characters and super powers. Publisher Goodman asked Stan to come up with something new to rival the DC characters that were giving them much success. Stan acted on this request, giving his characters flawed forms of humanity. They came from naturalistic backgrounds where they could have bad tempers, fits of melancholy, and everyday worries such as how to pay their bills, impressing their girlfriends and even becoming physically ill. These new superheroes co-created by Stan and Jack Kirby were the Fantastic Four. Then came a cavalcade of new titles such as Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and X-Men. Next was the co-creation of Daredevil with Bill Everett and Doctor Strange and Marvel’s most successful character, Spider-Man, with Steve Ditko.
Stan’s revolution extended beyond the characters and storylines to the way in which comic books engaged the readership and built a sense of community between fans and creators. Regular news about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which (like the letter columns that appeared in each title) was written in a friendly, chatty style. He introduced the practice of regularly including a credit panel on the splash page of each story, naming not just the writer and penciller but also the inker and letterer. Stan remarked that his goal was for fans to think of the comics creators as friends and considered it a mark of his success on this front that, at a time when letters to other comics publishers were typically addressed “Dear Editor”, letters to Marvel addressed the creators by first name such as, “Dear Stan and Jack”.
Later in life, Stan became the figure head of Marvel Comics. In 1981 he moved to California to develop Marvel’s TV and movie properties. Here he was an executive producer and made cameo appearances in numerous Marvel films. Stan would occasionally return to comic books writing with/for various projects. In the 1990’s Stan stepped away from regular duties at Marvel. Even though he was not in the day to day activities any longer, he still received an annual salary of $1 Million to be Chairman Emeritus.
On July 6, 2017 Stan had the saddest day of his life. His beloved wife of 69 years, Joan died from complications of a stroke. She was 95 years old at the time of her death. Then on the morning of November 12, 2018 Stan was rushed to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with a medical emergency. Later in the day, it was confirmed that the Marvel world lost the greatest legend of comics at the age of 95. This day will always be remembered as the day of “Excelsior!”.