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Stan Lee: A comic book hero in his own right

Created date

March 30th, 2009


Stan Lee always knew he wanted to be a writer. As a kid, he read everything in sight whether it was a book, a magazine, or the ketchup bottle s label during dinner.

Lee understood the power of words as a medium for creating fantastically imaginative stories and saw himself one day writing the great American novel. Even then he had a limitless capacity for big dreaming, which is why we know him not as a novelist but, instead, as something arguably much bigger the father of the modern day superhero.

Since 1961, Lee has created or cocreated some of the most beloved characters in the history of comics, including Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, e Fantastic Four, Iron Man, X-Men, and Daredevil. roughout his career, his name has appeared on more than two billion comic books in 75 countries and 25 languages quite an achievement for a writer who, in the early 1940s, fell into comics purely by chance.

Comic connection

I was looking for a job and one opened up at Timely Comics [later Marvel], where my cousin s husband, Martin Goodman, was publisher, Lee says. I got the job, but I never expected that it would be my field. You see, in those days, comics were like Rodney Dangerfield; they got no respect.

For the first time, comic book readers had characters that they could marvel at and relate to all in one.

Lee spent the next 20 years writing stories with characters that lacked the complexity that he, himself, wanted as a reader. Frustrated, he figured it was time to quit comics and search for more fulfilling projects.

When I told my wife I wanted to quit, she gave me the greatest advice in the world, he recalls. She said, Look, if you want to do something different, do a book the way that you d like to do it. The worst that could happen is Martin will fire you, but you say you want to quit anyway, so what do you have to lose?

This simple rhetorical question was the motivation that Lee needed to produce the Fantastic Four, a comic built around a group of superheroes with imperfections. They argued amongst themselves, had personal problems, and at one point even lost their headquarters because they couldn t pay the rent.

Merging fantastic with human

Lee had replaced the clich d formula of perfection and power with one that merged the fantastic with the human. For the fi rst time, comic book readers had characters that they could marvel at and relate to all in one.

He continued on this course with subsequent creations like Peter Parker and Spider-Man, Dr. Bruce Banner and The Incredible Hulk, and Anthony Stark and Iron Man, all exhibiting flaws and vulnerabilities once rare in comics. e result was a catalog of stories that readers could take more seriously.

The trickle of fan mail, written mostly in crayon, after The Fantastic Four, grew to a steady stream of letters in ink, then typeface, and carrying return addresses like Duke University. By the late 60s and early 70s, Lee was lecturing at colleges and traveling around the world spreading the word of Marvel Comics.

Fairy tales for grownups

Superhero stories are a great form of escapist reading, he says. You may outgrow fairy tales, but you never outgrow your love for bigger-than-life stories about bigger-than-life people and their adventures. Superhero comics are fairy tales for grownups because reading stories about people with superpowers gives you the same sense of wonder that you had when you were a kid reading fairy tales.

People around the globe share his opinion. In Europe alone, Lee s X-Men sells more than 13 million copies annually, and fi lms based on his characters have grossed over $50 billion worldwide, with Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 setting records as the biggest box offi ce openers ever.

Lee s infinite imagination has found an even bigger playground in the age of multimedia. In 2008, his production company, POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment, teamed up with Disney to create a digital comic book series called Time Jumper, which combines picture and sound to give fans a more interactive experience through the Web or their cell phones.

He also has three feature films in development with Disney, as well as a British version of his Sci-Fi Channel reality show, Who Wants to be a Superhero, due out from the BBC in 2009. ese new media vehicles may be a creative breath of fresh air, but for a guy like Lee, everything is.

I just love doing stories, he says. Whether I m doing something in print, on the Internet, or on film, all of these things are incredibly exciting to me. Doing what I do is like playing golf or poker to another guy. I don t feel like I m working; I m having fun.

And that s the stuff that dreams are made of, big dreams like the ones that define Lee s life and the characters he creates.