I’ve been sharing quotes, pictures, and thoughts on my own social media all day since word of Stan Lee’s passing came out. Despite all of the words already written and said today I feel that I will regret it if I don’t add mine.
No, I never met the man. I don’t have any direct connection. I can’t share a first hand story about him.
I can only share who he was to me. What was the first time I was aware of the name and the man known as Stan Lee? That’s not fair, because the first meeting does not mean the fandom started the same day. I remember the Hulk series and the Spider-Man cartoon. Super heroes were great, but when I grew up in the 1980’s they were also a dirty word. Cartoons were cheap, Hulk was really a monster show, Adam West Batman was silly, and Christopher Reeve’s Superman was passing from “you’ll believe a man can fly” to “your kids can watch this on TV this weekend.” Those were the only options. Even though comics were proving they were more than “biff bam pow comics aren’t for kids anymore” this fact had not yet made its way into the general populace. Someone needed to open not only doors, but minds. Super heroes didn’t need a gatekeeper. They needed a door opener.
Marvel Comics has been called the House of Ideas. All my life I saw that as just a nickname. Today I see it as an actual house and Stan Lee was always there, waiting for someone to ring the doorbell. He’s always lived in the same house in your neighborhood all your life. You walk by, wave, maybe exchange pleasantries. He’s patient. He’ll wait until you’re ready. One day something piques your curiosity. You ring the bell, Stan opens the door, and from the doorway all four colors of Ideas command your attention. Stan invites you in with words like amazing, incredible, and uncanny. Every room and every shelf within holds more characters. He offers all of it to you and as a guest, you limit yourself to one. But he knows you’ll be back, and he will keep his excited attitude at its peak for you. The only thing that matters more to him than the contents of his House is you and every other visitor. Without company, what is the point of the home?
I’ve told the story before, but my comic book origins go back to 1987. My family was taking a 3 hour flight and while we were at the local book store the day before I was told to buy something to read on the flight. I bought a comic. One. Regular size 32 pages Marvel comic. Spider-Man was on the cover and it looked neat. That was it. The entire story was read before take off. Three more hours await. I read it again, but now I read everything. The advertisements for other comics, the credits, the letters page, and of course Stan’s Soapbox.
Somehow I knew his voice. At some point before that he must have been interviewed on something, or maybe there is a deep memory of when he would introduce the cartoons. Either way, I had an idea who Stan was. I could hear his voice through the page. He was the Host for not only Marvel Comics, but all of Comics. There is not a similar person in DC, or any other comic publisher that was out on the streets barking about comics, welcoming anyone in. His love for his creations was so great it infected all of us. Sadly, I can’t think of anyone today who can fill that role.
I filled school notebooks with more doodles than facts from the chalkboard. I sought out everything about comics from the library. Hemingway can wait until tomorrow, I just found a reprint of The Coming of Galactus. There were countless insults due to loving such a “silly” thing instead of sports and the like. It hurt, but it never swayed me. These stories taught morals, expanded vocabularies, and exposed readers to science and history they may have never come across otherwise.
Then something funny happened. The rest of the world caught up. Saturday morning cartoons, video games, bookstores getting larger and needing inventory. All of this combined to make superheros more noticeable and accepted. Years later, the movies came and changed the entire film and television industry. There was Stan. Still. Decades later. Sitting on the porch of the House of Ideas. Wondering what took you so long to stop by.
I’ve bought, sold, and traded comics. I’ve read many and written some. I have cover blurbs to my name. I’m just slightly older than Stan Lee was when he wrote Fantastic Four #1. Which means I haven’t even started. My greatest creation is next to me, playing with his Marvel Legos. I’ll feel lucky and blessed if my stories and the creations within are considered one tenth as good as anything Stan created.
It wasn’t fantasy when a kid from Queens (Peter Parker) or Brooklyn (Steve Rogers) changed the world. Stan Lee was just a kid from New York too. So am I. So is my son. You the reader deep down are just a kid from your hometown. Capable of changing the world in your own way. All you have to do is be a true believer in yourself.