This week's newsletter will be a little different, as I would like to talk about the life and legacy of Stan Lee, and what he meant to me as a fan of comics as well as an comic creator.
As most of you know, we lost Marvel writer, publisher, editor-in-chief, and the public face of comics Stanley Martin Lieber yesterday at the age of 95. In the span of his 80-year career in comics, Stan Lee helped make the genre accessible to mainstream audiences in print, live action, animation, and most recently in film. Many of his most popular co-creations such as The X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man, have been around for decades in the comic and on TV, but it wasn't until the first Spider-Man film in 2002 that the general public embraced the web-slinger as an iconic pop culture character on the level of DC heroes Superman and Batman. The same can definitely be said for most of the Avengers (save for The Hulk, who was probably the most well-known Marvel character to the mainstream with his early '80s live action series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno). I always joked that before the first Iron Man film was released in 2008, most non-comic fans would first think of the triathlon of the same name, or even the song of the same name before thinking of the armored hero. Just as important though, is just how Mr. Lee made these characters attractive to the general public: He, along with artists such as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, helped to create superheroes (and some supervillains) that were flawed just like everyday people. Spider-Man, for all his abilities, was still a young adult with not alot of money and lived with his aunt. The members of The X-Men (my personal favorite comic series he co-created), are ostracized by society because of their strange abilities, the same society they try to save, while there's a constant struggle between the X-Men's founder, telepath Charles Xavier, who believes society can eventually accept those who are different, and sometimes villain Magneto, who believes the opposite, and thinks mutants (the new super-powered race of humans they belong to) should rule over non-mutant humans. Who can't identify with stories and characters like that?
For me personally, I've always admired Stan Lee's consistent enthusiasm in both his work, and life in general. Pull up any Stan Lee interview, cartoon voiceover, or even the many cameos he's done in any of the Marvel movies, and you'll see what I mean. He had so much excitement in his voice whenever he spoke, that it never failed to bring a smile to my face every time I heard it. It was that alone that kept me drawing and writing from age 8 through today. I first heard his joyful voice on an episode of the 1980s cartoon Muppet Babies, as one of their many signature live-action cameos, and followed that voice through Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, and the little-known 1989 pilot for the first X-Men cartoon, as he was the narrator for both. While I was never lucky enough to meet him one-on-one or snap a photo with him (I missed a chance to have a Spider-Man drawing I did signed by him at a local hawaii comic shop at age 14, and then missed another appearance at age 21 during the release of the first Spider-Man movie), I did get to attend a short speaking engagement he did in Hollywood. The closest I got to a one-on-one encounter was actually a one-on-several hundred people during a San Diego Comic Con panel back in July 2006. At a panel for the then-upcoming Marvel Ultimate Alliance video game, I was able to ask him a question (I was the last in a long line of people to do so, and was almost turned away) about future Marvel Movie Cameos, which he replied that he would get his first speaking role cameo in Spider-Man 3 the following year. I prefaced the question with how he inspired me to create my own character, of course. My only regret is not being able to snap a quick photo with him as he left the hall. If only I had a buddy with me at the time.
So Thank You Stan Lee, for shaping my life as a comic creator (as you did for many, many others), and sharing your infectious energy, and overall great attitude with the world. But most of all, thank you for just being you.
You will be missed, but your legacy will live on forever.