“Face front, True Believers!”
As a kid, that iconic phrase by Stan “The Man” Lee never failed to raise my adrenaline levels. But as I write this article, that very same phrase comes with a tinge of sadness, knowing that the man who laid down the foundation and template for super-heroism is no longer around to speak those authoritative words.
My journey with The Man began 40+ years ago thanks to my dad, who was a big comics fan – which also made me the “luckiest” son, as he preferred that I read about Spider-Man’s neverending battles, over the “educational” content in Reader’s Digest.
Over the years, I owe it to comics for honing my creativity and imagination. Of course, Dad can’t take full credit for that, as the main source of inspiration was Stan Lee!
He was certainly the personification of inspiration, as evident by the legacies he left behind in every media form, past, present and future.
There will never be another Stan Lee and to make this localised tribute different from the bulk of articles since The Man’s passing, I won’t be bidding him adieu alone… as I am mourning in solidarity with fellow comic fans from the MY Comics Community – Malaysia’s most active Facebook Comics forum.
Together, we revisit The Man’s 10 biggest contributions to comics.
Under Lee’s pen, superheroes didn’t just live happily ever after. They had bills to pay, girlfriends to please and an Aunt May with constant heart attack scares.
We can relate to Peter Parker’s constant juggling between saving the world and attending classes, and understand why Namor believes he has a chance with Sue Storm/Richards.
“I love what I do. If I had to do anything else, I’d be miserable. If I weren’t coming into the office and working with the people here, I would be sitting at home, watching television,” Lee once said.
That turned out to be great for us, as his name and co-creations have appeared in over two billion comic books and in countless languages across his almost eight decades in the business.
Make mine Marvel
Lee’s reign (60s-70s) was simply stylish – from the trademark grinning face on the editorials and letter columns, to his penchant for nicknaming Marvel staffers (“Jolly Ol’ Jack Kirby!”), Lee generated excitement in every thing that Marvel (then) produced and stood for.
Even wearing a T-Shirt with the word “MARVEL” made me felt ….Marvel-lous then.
Stan the showman
Lee was a real showman and a spokesman for Marvel. He was the ultimate marketeer and he certainly knew how to address the fans and even his own team.
Famed for the “Bullpen Bulletins” page and “Stan’s Soapbox”, Lee succeeded in developing a friendship bond between fans and comics creators.
An even bigger achievement came in the form of using these forums to address social issues such as racism, discrimination, intolerance and prejudice.
Breaking the walls
Never mind the fourth wall, even Deadpool would concede that Lee has broken every “wall” there is in comics.
From his first comic book appearance (coincidentally with the late Jack “King” Kirby) in The Fantastic Four #10 (January 1963) to his cinematic cameo appearances, Lee’s very presence is purely rejuvenating!
Respect my authority!
Before Vertigo and MAX, comics rarely hit the PG-13 grade, courtesy of the Comics Authority Code.
However, Lee was instrumental in “reforming” the code via a collaboration with The US Depart-ment of Health, Education and Welfare, who asked Lee to write a story about the dangers of drugs.
This story saw print in The Amazing Spider-Man #96–98 (1971), dealing with Harry Osborne’s addiction to prescription drugs.
Despite its anti-drug message, the CCA refused to grant its seal because the stories depicted drug use.
Ignoring the seal, sales soared and Marvel even won praise for its socially conscious efforts. Inevitably, the CCA loosened the code to permit negative depictions of drugs!
Lee’s masterplan/blueprint for the Marvel Universe is beyond comparison. From the proliferation of characters to interlocking them on Earth and beyond, the never-ending imaginary building blocks he had in his mind is enough to render Black Bolt speechless!
The best legacy is one that keeps giving, which is what The Stan Lee Foundation stands for. Founded in 2010 to focus on literacy, education, and the arts, the Foundation supports programmes and ideas that improve access to literacy resources, whilst promoting diversity, national literacy, culture and the arts.
The Marvel method
Born out of necessity, Lee inadvertently created the Marvel Method of storytelling – which involves the artist working from a story synopsis from the writer (or plotter), rather than a full script. The artist independently creates page-by-page plot, after which the work is returned to the writer for the insertion of dialogue. This approach was tried and tested via the creation of Spidey, Fantastic Four and every other Marvel character we see today.
From the simplest form of using credit panels to give recognition to writer(s), penciller(s), inker and letterer, Lee also had this penchant of giving (verbal) credit to everyone he worked with.
In return, the recognition and adulation he gets from the masses of comic fans and movie goers are a testament to his contributions.
However, arguably THE biggest recognition he ever got came was from “Brand Ecch” aka DC Comics in 2001-02. While DC had previously hired (and humiliated) Jack Kirby to draw Superman, Lee was granted carte blanche rights to reimagine DC universe’s finest, i.e. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash.
To end this tribute, let’s revisit how Lee started off in the comics industry via this interview excerpt taken from IGN Film Force from 2000.
“I applied for a job in a publishing company … I didn’t even know they published comics. I was fresh out of high school, and I wanted to get into the publishing business, if I could.
“There was an ad in the paper that said, “Assistant Wanted in a Publishing House.” When I found out that they wanted me to assist in comics, I figured, ‘Well, I’ll stay here for a little while and get some experience, and then I’ll get out into the real world.’ … I just wanted to know, ‘What do you do in a publishing company?’ How do you write? … How do you publish?
“I was an assistant. There were two people there named Joe Simon and Jack Kirby – Joe was sort-of the editor/artist/writer, and Jack was the artist/writer. Joe was the senior member. They were turning out most of the artwork.
“Then there was the publisher, Martin Goodman … And that was about the only staff that I was involved with. After a while, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left. I was about 17 years old (sic), and Martin Goodman said to me, ‘Do you think you can hold down the job of editor until I can find a real person?’ When you’re 17, what do you know? I said, ‘Sure! I can do it!’ I think he forgot about me, because I stayed there ever since.”
Nuff said! Rest in peace, Stan!
(See next page for more Stan Lee comic book cameos!)