A Marvel Of A Man: Stan Lee Dead At 95
Paying tribute to the American comic writer, creator, and publisher
I'm Jade Heinzman and you're listening to midday edition on PBS. Marvel Comics Stanley died Monday at the age of 95. He leaves behind more than 75 years of work including the code creation of Spiderman and Black Panther case PBS arts reporter Beth Komando speaks with Robert Scott owner of kamakazi bookstore. A.J. Shevlin comic specialist and manager at super 7. But first Chris royal editor in chief at Skybound recalls asking Stanley to write the intro to his book. The book is comic books 101. So it was intended as this primer for people that maybe don't know the industry that well don't understand why Superman and Spiderman can't meet on a regular basis just kind of as movies started getting more and more prevalent and bringing in new fans. We wanted a book that explained the industry to people and so Stan was certainly one of the guiding lights of this book. And so at the time that the book was about ready to go to print the person that agreed to do the intro for me just didn't do it and finally said I can't do it. So we're we're very 11th hour. There's no way Stanley who is like I guess a sort of the guiding light the reason for this whole book and our love of comics existing he's never going to be able to do this thing. He's too busy he's too important he's too Stan. But I dropped him a line anyway and Stan said Well tell me about the book. And so we told him what it was and he said well that's great. We need to bring new readers into this business and I agree to do it and not only did he agree to do it but about four hours later that same day he wrote this beautiful intro and sent it to me and it was just it was ready to go. Didn't need any editing didn't need anything it was just that I always felt like that was the WHO Stan was with this guy who was not only willing to talk about comics to anybody and everybody but also somebody willing to help and just do whatever he could to sort of proselytize and just keep spreading the message. That was Chris Reille talking about Stan Lee. And now I want to talk to you gentlemen about Stan Lee and kind of the impact he had on you T.J. What was your first memory of a Lee comic or of Marvel Comics. I was a little kid in the 80s and I grew up in the 90s so I was at a really kind of cool point for Marvel Comics where Marvel comics in the media was becoming this really big new thing. Spiderman Spiderman. The earliest family memory that I have is on the cartoon Spiderman and his amazing friends where Lee would open every episode narrating it would get you know although they are true believers and that Stan Lee sort of way that was always kind of cool. But the big thing I guess is the first two comic books that I ever got. The first one was Avengers 2 64 and then the other one which is amazing spiderman 3 50. But the common link between those two is on the opening page there's always kind of a little border up top that would give you the rundown of who these characters are with the Avengers and you know and there came a day a day like any other. But after that I would always say Stan Lee presents even as a kid if I didn't know who Stan Lee was because my time reading comics came well after the original Marvel bullpen working on these books. I always knew his name because of his name above the comics or him narrating the cartoons. So it was always kind of cool even though he wasn't working on the books in that way. He was a constant. And Robert you didn't come to Stanley's comics as a child. So when did you get introduced. Yeah I was actually kind of more of a D.C. kid so I wasn't aware of Marvel Comics until probably junior high school. I'm also a little bit older than T.J. So I came into these back in the 70s there weren't any Marvel cartoons at the time. And then being in San Diego we were pretty insulated from a lot of stuff. And one thing that I did that immediately drew me to Marvel was Stan Stan was talking to me and every issue his face was there. He had his face front true believers in excelsa yours stand soapbox. I really felt like there was a friend of mine that was making these comics and I couldn't wait for every month when a new issue would come out and I would you know could race through the book and then I could go see what was going on in Stan's world as well. Really really drew me in in a way that DC Comics never did. And were you also drawn in by some of the kind of social content that was in there something like an x man the kind of issues that were dealt with in the. Absolutely. I think it was parroted in most of the Marvel Comics that they were very three dimensional characters wasn't they weren't you know 90 percent of the time in costume fighting they had real lives. And you would watch you know a team like the Xman where you could really feel for you know all these people who are trying to save people trying to do right trying to fix things and ostracized because of their mutant abilities. You know I think everybody at one time or another has felt like a mutant. You know there's always something in biology that somebody can find to pick out. So there's always some kind of grounding and some kind of a connection that you could find with these characters. A lot of that is due to stand in the way that he decided to voice these characters. A.J. what do you think his legacy is. How do you think he changed comics or made them different. He certainly made them more mainstream in a way that they had never been. Whether it was you know the college campus tours throughout the 70s or being the face not just of Marvel Comics but comics especially as comic books gained more prominence and a little bit more acceptance even if you didn't know comic books you knew who stan was. So that was always something that was kind of neat as far as accessibility went. And as far as feeling like you were on that you were reading it with him. That's definitely a big part of the impact. The other part I mean let's let's be real look at where comics are today. It's comics are kind of a catch all term for superheroes and that's a pretty amazing thing too. We all know that there are more genres to comics than just superheroes but that's the first thing you immediately think of. And now with the success in Hollywood with people not just knowing who characters like Spiderman and the x men are but now you've got characters who may become a little after stand's time timelike Starlord or characters that are kind of in that deep cut era or stand like group. It's it's pretty amazing that now these characters have rides at Disneyland. That's kind of the beauty of the world that Stan and his cohorts brought up. Was any character can be your favorite character so if you had to sum up Stan Lee How would you describe him or how would you describe kind of the feeling that his comics give you. I guess if I had to pick up one word I would say joy whenever you would see him he was joyous. He had just had so much fun. I think that that that transcended everything that he did. So you know the comics that you would pick up they had a joy to them as well even if they were with more serious subjects you just couldn't help but feel good after you sat down and read one A.J. almost transcendent. There's this ability with these comics to keep your feet on the ground. And at the same time you're looking up to the stars because of all of these characters and how rare is that that you get something that can be both of those things all at the same time and so much that has to do with the fact that Stan even had a point in your life where especially at that period where people tell you that you have to do the thing that's going to help you pay the bills. He was a dreamer. And isn't that what all of us want to be. That was Beth Accomando paying tribute to the late Stan Lee with Robert Scott and T.J. Shevlin.
Stan Lee died Monday at the age of 95. He helped create modern comics and leaves behind more than 75 years of work including the co-creation of such memorable characters as The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and Black Panther.
Lee gave us superheroes we could identify with, characters who allowed us to suspend our disbelief because they reacted to bizarre situations like you or I might. Or like Spider-Man or Deadpool might with a wisecrack.
I interviewed Lee at Comic-Con in 1998 when the first “Blade” movie was about to be released.
“Before Marvel started, any super hero might be walking down the street and see a twelve-foot tall monster coming toward him with purple skin and eight arms breathing fire, and the character would have said something like. ‘Oh! There’s a monster from another world, I better catch him before he destroys the city,’” Lee said. “Now if one of our Marvel characters saw the same monster, I’d like to think Spider-Man would say, ‘Who’s the nut in the Halloween get up I wonder what he’s advertising.’”
Robert Scott runs the San Diego store Comickaze: Comics Books, and More and grew up with Lee’s creations.
“He would talk about prejudice, racism, I mean the X-Men, here was a group of people who were only trying to do good things and only trying to help and they were constantly ostracized by being mutants,” Scott said.
And that’s exactly what Lee intended: “I think that’s important, the person viewing the cartoon or reading the book should have something to think about not just look at mindless pages of running around.”
Born Stanley Lieber in New York City in 1922, he took the pseudonym Stan Lee to save his real name for more literary pursuits. But those pursuits never came. Instead, Lee devoted more than six decades to the comics industry, co-creating Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Iron Man and Daredevil. In 1970, he successfully challenged the restrictive Comics Code Authority with a story about drug abuse in Spider-Man.
He also helped usher in the first black superhero in mainstream American comics with "Black Panther." Many of Lee’s creations found their way into the movies. David Goyer was the first to bring a Marvel black superhero to the screen with “Blade” in 1998. He appreciates the revolution Lee brought to comics in the 60s and 70s.
“He was the first one to create with Spider-Man, superheroes who doubted themselves, who were tormented, who were unhappy,” Goyer said when I interviewed him in 1998.
The increased complexity of Marvel's characters broadened their appeal to older audiences. Lee, always a savvy businessman, spearheaded the expansion of Marvel Comics from a division within a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation.
Lee's larger vision was to create a shared Marvel universe in which characters from one series would cross over into another. He cited one example at Comic-Con in 2008: "There was one I loved, I think it was the Fantastic Four, and they were at a ballgame at Yankee Stadium and there were a lot of press photographers there. So I told [comic book artist] Jack Kirby to draw Peter Parker in the background with a camera. And we made no mention of it, he was just in the panel, and we got about a million letters saying, 'We saw Peter Parker at the game. That's terrific.' And it made it seem like these were real characters who live in the same world and occasionally they get together. And that was something I got a big kick out of."
Lee built a sense of community between fans and creators. He engaged readers through his column, Stan's Soapbox, and often signed off his letters to fans with the catchphrase "'Nuff said" or "Excelsior!" And he became as recognizable as his superheroes through his many cameos on TV and in movies.
After entering the comics industry as a teenager and helping the medium to mature and expand, Lee's impact on comics was recognized with numerous awards including the American National Medal of Arts in 2008.
This is from his cameo in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”: “Hey wait where are you going? Hey you were supposed to be my lift home. How will I get outta here, aw gee, I have so many more stories to tell.”
And he will continue to tell them through the characters he created.
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