I’m sure by now you’ve heard the heart-breaking news of the recent passing of Stanley Martin Lieber aka Stan (The Man) Lee.
I could go into great detail on the adventures and career that made up his life. The partnership and conflicts he had with artist and fellow comic creator Jack Kirby. The way he was able to rather cleverly and sometimes accidentally circumnavigate The Comics Code. The way his wife Joan convinced him to stay in the industry. Basically there’s so much that could be said for him and his 95 years of life.
But I would much rather talk about what Stan and his work meant to me.
My first real exposure to Marvel was a combination of the Spider-Man cartoon from the 90’s and an old paperback collection book containing Spider-Man comics from back in the 60’s that belonged to my dad. Said book contained stories like Spider-Man fighting Mysterio for the first time, saving J. Jonah Jameson’s son John, teaming up with Daredevil for the first time to battle the Circus of Crime. The kind of stories that were incredibly cheesy yet always fun to read.
As I grew older I was exposed to plenty more superheroes, usually through the aforementioned 90’s series. The X-Men, Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the list goes on. But the thing I noticed was that everyone of them was so very different from the others. The Fantastic Four were four dysfunctional people who nevertheless came together to become a family. The X-Men were every marginalized and persecuted group on the planet who still rose above the hate to become heroes. Captain America, a man out of touch and out of time who was still able to pick up his shield and fight the good fight. And Spider-Man, the humblest of all and mistrusted by many but at the same time could be any of us. And that’s what I loved so much about Stan Lee’s work, that these spectacular characters came from every walk of life. From veritable gods to African kings to timid teenagers, all of them had the potential to rise up and be the hero we need.
I had the honor of meeting Stan Lee five years ago. It was at a book signing event at my local comic book store. I was rather surprised to find out that he had actually visited it before when it opened twenty-five years ago. I brought along a little poster that came with a history of Spider-Man book, it contained Spider-Man with all of his supporting cast and villains in the background. I geeked out for a bit, got it autographed, and got my photo taken. But what I remember the most was actually this seven or eight year old kid that was in line in front of me, carrying a sketchbook he wanted to show to Stan.
It was rather fun to watch Stan excitedly flip through his book and compliment his drawings (from what I saw they were rather good) and encourage this kid to keep up his artistic drive. And that is what I like the most, if Marvel could teach us that a hero could come from anywhere and anyone, then the same could be said for any creative soul.
And so we say good-bye to a great man, who taught us that life will be hard, you will make mistakes, you will suffer losses. But life can be sweet as well, you can learn from your mistakes and grow from them, and no matter the loss you will never be alone. And with a little bit of heart and a lot of determination, you can accomplish anything.