November 12, 2018 marked the passing of a living legend of the comic book industry, Stan Lee. Born in 1922 as Stanley Lieber, his uncle Robbie Solomon ushered him into the business in 1939 as a teenage assistant at the offices of Timely Comics, published by another relative, Martin Goodman. Young Stanley’s first writing credit was a two-page text story appearing in the third issue of Captain America Comics that he signed “Stan Lee.” He claimed later that he wanted to save the use of his given name for eventually writing the “Great American Novel.”
Stan assumed greater responsibilities at Timely until becoming an editor while in his late teens. After WWII military service, Stan resumed work as the company evolved into Atlas Comics in the 1950s, producing a variety of genre series. The business floundered at times, as did Stan’s interest in it.
Superhero comics experienced a renewed popularity in the late 1950s, and Martin Goodman decided to cash in on the craze and put Stan to the task. With the partnership of veteran comic book artist Jack Kirby, the 1961 release of the Fantastic Four heralded the beginning of the modern Marvel Comics. Stan’s innovative portrayal of superheroes with flaws and hang-ups attracted a new generation of readers. Using a fresh creative approach known as the “Marvel Method,” he would brainstorm ideas with artists like Kirby and Steve Ditko, who would then develop the stories through sequential art for Stan then to script. The success of the Fantastic Four opened the floodgates to a wave of a new characters and series including the X-Men, Avengers, and Spider-Man as well as the reintroduction of Timely era superheroes Captain America and the Sub-Mariner. Stan broadened the appeal of their comics by engaging readers with editorial statements written in a friendly, informal style.
By 1972, Stan’s promotion to publisher diminished his writing output to periodic ventures such as Marvel’s first graphic novel in 1978 of the Silver Surfer with Jack Kirby and the 1980 introduction of the She-Hulk with artist John Buscema. After retiring as publisher in 1996, Stan explored other opportunities such as the re-imagining of the iconic superheroes at DC Comics in the 2001 limited series Just Imagine…
With the booming popularity of Marvel Comics in the 1960s Stan assumed the role of the public face of Marvel Comics and was a familiar sight at comic book conventions and on the lecture circuit. As publisher, he relocated to the west coast in 1981 for film and TV development of Marvel’s beloved superheroes. The Marvel Studios movie adaptations of recent years have regularly featured cameo appearances by Stan for comedic effect.
From a lowly beginning as a young office assistant, Stan Lee’s editorial direction revolutionized the comic book industry and enabled the multi-media success that Marvel Comics has grown into today. While the public persona of Marvel Comics has passed on, the rich legacy of entertainment he left behind will be an enjoyment for generations to come. Excelsior!