See you in the funny papers – Stan Lee

Stan Lee poses in front of one of his many iconic characters, Spider-Man.

By Rudy Hemmann

The Surveyor

Stan Lee has died. Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922, passed away Nov. 12, 2018) was a giant in the world of comic book adventure stories and in the development of superheroes. While the characters co-developed by him did not appear on newsprint his passing was, no doubt, felt by all who enjoyed reading comics of any type.

Lee “learned the ropes” of the comic book industry by working diligently for a family-owned business, Marvel Comics. He became well versed in all phases of the company until he eventually, beginning in the 1960s, became writer, editor and publisher of a new type of comic book hero – the adult superhero.

Wikipedia reports that Lee, along with fellow Marvel Comics collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, co-created many popular fictional characters. Included in the ménage are “Thor,” “Hulk,” “Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four,” “Black Panther,” “Scarlet Witch,” “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” “Daredevil” and “Iron Man.”

He had one younger brother, Larry Lieber. The two boys, along with their parents, lived in a series of two- and three-room flats in Brooklyn.

Lee attended DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City during the depression. He did all manner of odd jobs after school in order to help his family’s financial situation. In spite of working every day after attending classes he was still able to graduate from high school at age sixteen-and-one-half. He continued working odd jobs until an uncle, Robbie Solomon, assisted him in getting with a new company, Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics.

According to Wikipedia, in 1939, Goodman purchased comic book content from a company which did comics packaging, Funnies, Inc. Goodman’s intention was to break into the newly emerging comic books field, which he did with the publication of “Marvel Comics #1.”

It was at this juncture that Lee began his long and storied career by joining Timely Comics as reported by the website imdb.com, at the age of 18.

In a 2009 interview he stated that his duties at first were dull and uninteresting. Lee stated, “In those days (the artists) dipped the pen in ink. I had to make sure the inkwells were filled. I went down and got them their lunch, I did proofreading, I erased the pencils from the finished pages for them.”

He was eventually tasked with writing text for the third edition of the original “Captain America” comic book. He also introduced Captain America’s famous ricocheting shield-toss in that third edition.

He rose steadily through the ranks at Timely Comics, which later became Marvel Comics. He used the pseudonym Stan Lee which he would take as his legal name years later. In his autobiography and in many other sources, because of the low social status of comic books he was too embarrassed to use his real name for fear that someone would connect his name to comic books.

Lee developed or co-developed other characters through early 1942 when he joined the United States Army. He was assigned to the Signal Corps and was later transferred to the Training Film Division where his tasks included writing manuals, producing training films, slogans and the occasional cartoon.

During his time in the Army Lee received letters every Friday from the editors at Timely detailing what, and by when, they needed copy written. Lee would write the story over the weekend and mail it back on Monday. One week the mail clerk overlooked the incoming letter and told Lee there was no mail for him. Lee walked by the locked mailroom the next day and noticed there was a letter in his box. He did not want to miss a deadline and requested that the officer in charge to unlock the mailroom, but he refused. Undeterred, Lee found a screwdriver and unscrewed the mailroom hinges to get the letter. The mailroom officer, upon noticing what Lee had done, turned him in to the base captain, who had a strong dislike of Lee. Luckily for Lee, the colonel in charge of the Finance Department stepped in and saved Lee from some serious time behind bars.

Following the war, Lee was released from military service in 1945, got his job back with Timely, and by the mid-1950s was writing for several different types of comic books for the company that was by then known as Atlas Comics.

Included in the genres he was writing for were romance, westerns, humor, medieval adventure, horror, suspense and science fiction. By 1957 he teamed with a comic book associate, Dan DeCarlo, to create and produce the syndicated newspaper strip “My Friend Irma.” However, by the end of the decade Lee had become so dissatisfied with the direction of his career that he thought seriously of leaving the field.

In the late 1950s the editor for DC Comics, Julius Schwartz, brought back the superhero paradigm and had considerable success with an updated version of the “Flash” and also the “Justice League of America.” To respond to this development, publisher Goodman tasked Lee with creating a new superhero team. Lee reluctantly agreed to take on the assignment not knowing how to make it a new or different experience for the comic book reader of the day.

His wife offered this bit of advice. She said simply to experiment with stories he preferred, since he was planning on changing careers anyway and had nothing to lose.

Lee took the advice to heart and gave his new brand of superheroes flawed humanity. This was quite different from the perfect, flawless archetypes which were written for preteens. Lee introduced complex characters who could express anger, get moody, have a bad day, show vanity and jealousy or bicker with each other, even trying to impress girlfriends.

The first superheroes that Lee and artist Jack Kirby created together were the “Fantastic Four” based on a previous superhero team “Challengers of the Unknown” developed by Kirby for DC Comics. The new superhero team was an instant hit, and the rest, as they say, is history. By the 1980s Lee had been named Executive Vice President of Marvel Comics. He had created a company that was a multi-media success.

Rest in peace Stan Lee – you’ll be a superhero to millions of conic book readers and movie goers for years to come.

I’ll see you in the funny papers.

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