“If Shakespeare and Michelangelo were alive today, and if they decided to collaborate on a comic, Shakespeare would write the script and Michelangelo would draw it. How could anybody say that this wouldn’t be as worthwhile an art form as anything on earth?”
Stan Lee was to Comic Books what Spielberg is to 80’s classic movies: Inseparable. He created and co-created (often in collaboration with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) hundreds of characters and superheroes that were part of so many generation’s childhoods. His contribution to the building of the giganticness of the comic book universe is mind-blowing.
Oftentimes, Lee’s characters saw the light of the day through major political, social, historical movements and crises. For example, the Hulk was born during the nuclear arms race in 1963. Black Widow emerged during the Cold War as a Russian spy who finally became an ally of the United States. Black Panther became the first African superhero, created during the Civil Rights Movement in America.
Those superheroes, rooted in such realistic environments are more relevant and consequential than any other previous superheroes.
Now, to understand a little more where those characters and ideas came from, we gathered for you 10 key dates that shaped Stan Lee’s life. Let’s dive right into it.
At 17 years old Stan Lee is hired at Timely Comics, Inc. (which later became Marvel), mainly to work as an assistant. Around two years later in 1941 and after an implosion between the editors and artists in the publishing house, Stan Lee becomes editor at only 19 years old.
Stan Lee enlisted in the army after the Pearl Harbor attack. After the army noticed Lee’s ability to write and to draw, they gave him the role of military “playwright.”
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the iconic superheroes team “The Fantastic Four” after hearing that a certain “Justice League” of superheroes was selling very well at DC Comics…
Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider Man was born. Stan Lee often explained that the idea came up to him when he “saw a fly crawling on the wall and (he) said ‘Wow, suppose a person has the power to stick to a wall like an insect’ (…).” He tried to find a different name such as Insect Man or Mosquito Man, which he thought were terrible ideas. He finally tried “Spider Man” and chose it because “it sounded mysterious and dramatic”. Peter Parker was one of Lee’s favorite character because as a young kid from the Queens, he is extremely relatable for a lot of people, including Stan Lee. He said “He’s the one who’s the most like me(…) he’s got a lot of problems and he does things wrong, and I can relate to that”.
Stan Lee created a monthly column which he started signing off with his now famous expression “Excelsior!”, meaning “Ever Upward” in Latin. He wanted a phrase that would only be used by him and that no one could ever steal from him. He said “I used to have a lot of expressions that I would end my comic book columns with: Hang Loose, Face Front, ‘Nuff Said, and I found that the competition was always imitating them and using them. So, I said I’m going to get one expression that they’re not going to know what it means, and they won’t know how to spell it. And that’s where excelsior came from, and they never did take up on it, thank goodness”. It eventually became his life mantra and even started signing his tweets with “Excelsior.”
Also read: 10 Great Movies From MCU Directors
Marvel promotes Stan Lee to publisher.
Stan Lee co founds POW! Entertainment (Pow meaning Purveyors of Wonder). The American media content company specialized in the creation of films, tv series but also included publishing and merchandising.
Stan Lee sued Marvel after the company reportedly failed to pay Lee’s share of the profits of X-Men and Spider-Man movies, while Marvel had previously promised him 10% of any profits.
Stan Lee receives the American National Medal of Arts, which is considered to be the highest award given to artists by the United States government, in order to recognize “their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts.”
Stan Kee receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, a week after his 88th birthday.
Of course, these 10 dates are only the visible part of the iceberg. Stan Lee was an extremely talented comic book writer, publisher and producer. But he was also a very smart businessman and his career was full of twists and turns. The comic book publishing world is a complicated system and it gets even more so when the cinema industry gets involved. It then becomes a world of lawsuits, money, percentages, copyrights and shares. This is what happens when, what starts as a dream and as a need of creating art becomes highly profitable.
But no financial scandal could ever take away what really is and what always will be the comic book world: a world full of imagination, passion, creativity and powerful messages. The comic book world is passed on from grandparents to parents to children. It will always find its audience thanks to its multigenerational resonance.
Stan Lee’s love for comic books can be felt while reading his stories. He once declared that “Comics are stories; they’re like novels or anything else. So the first thing you have to do is become a good storyteller.” But it is also thanks to his forever collaboration with extremely talented artists and storytellers such as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby that these stories became so popular. It was a group work and the adventures we know and love so much would probably not be the same without the help of these two illustration and story plot geniuses.
That’s it for today everyone! Let us know in the comments who is your favorite Marvel superhero!