Stan Lee

From Academic Kids

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Stan Lee and his most famous co-creation, Spider-Man.

Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922) is an American writer and editor, who - with several artists/co-creators, especially Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko - introduced complex characters and a thoroughly shared universe into superhero comic books. His success helped change Marvel Comics from a small publishing house to a large multimedia corporation.


Early career

Lee was born in New York City, New York. In his teens, he began working as a copyboy for publisher Martin Goodman at Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel Comics. Goodman was married to Lee's cousin. His first published work, a text filler page under the pen name "Stan Lee", appeared in a Captain America comic book in 1941. He soon graduated from writing filler to actual comics, becoming the youngest editor in the field at age 17.

During World War II, Lee enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Signal Corps, writing manuals, training films, slogans, and occasionally cartooning. His military classification was "playwright"; only nine men in the U.S. Army were awarded the title.

After World War II, Lee returned to his position at what would become Marvel Comics (a name Lee claims to have chosen). At the time, a decency campaign led by psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham and Senator Estes Kefauver blamed comic books for corrupting young readers with images of violence and sexuality. Comic book companies responded by implementing strict internal regulations, and eventually adopted the stringent Comics Code.

Remaining at Timely/Marvel throughout the 1950s, Lee wrote comics in various genres, such as romance, westerns and light science fiction. By the end of the decade, he had become dissatisfied with his career and considered quitting the field.

Marvel revolution

In the late 1950s, DC Comics revived the super hero genre and experienced a significant success with the super team Justice League of America. In response, Martin Goodman, Marvel’s publisher, assigned Lee to create a new superhero team. Lee’s wife urged him to experiment with stories he preferred since the threat of getting fired was meaningless. He acted on that advice, and suddenly, Lee's career changed completely.

Lee gave the superhero a flawed humanity, a change from the ideal superheroes that were typically written for pre-teens. His heroes had bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity, greed, etc. They bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, and even were sometimes physically ill. Before him, superheroes were idealistically perfect people with no problems: Superman was so powerful that nobody could harm him, and Batman was a millionaire in his secret identity.

Lee's superheroes captured the imagination of teens and young adults who were part of the population spike known as the post World War II baby boom, and sales soared.

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Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), the first appearance of Spider-Man, Lee's most famous co-creation, with cover art by Jack Kirby

The superhero group Lee and artist Jack Kirby produced was the superhero family the Fantastic Four. Its immediate popularity led Lee and Marvel's illustrators to produce a cavalcade of new titles. Lee created the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Mighty Thor and the X-Men with Kirby; Daredevil with Bill Everett; and Doctor Strange and Marvel's most successful character, Spider-Man, with Steve Ditko.

Throughout the 1960s, Lee scripted, art-directed, and edited most of Marvel's series, moderated the letters pages, wrote a monthly column called "Stan's Soapbox", and wrote endless promotional copy, always signing off with his trademark phrase, "Excelsior!" (which is also the New York state motto). To maintain his taxing workload yet still meet deadlines, he used a system that was used previously by various comic book studios, but due to Lee's success with it, is now known as the "Marvel method" or "Marvel style" of comic book creation. Typically, Lee would first brainstorm a story with the artist and then prepare a brief synopsis rather than a full script. Based on the synopsis, the artist would then fill the alloted number of pages by determining and drawing the panel-to-panel storytelling. After the artist turned in penciled pages, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and then oversee the lettering and coloring. In effect the artists were co-writers, whose first drafts Lee built upon.

Because of this system, the exact division of creative credits on Lee's comics is still disputed, especially in the cases of comics drawn by Kirby and Ditko. Although Lee has always effusively praised these artists, some observers argue that their contribution was greater than they are given credit for. The dispute with Ditko over Spider-Man has sometimes been especially acrimonious.

In 1971, Lee indirectly reformed the Comics Code. The US Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked Lee to write a story about the dangers of drugs and Lee wrote a story in which Spider-Man's best friend becomes addicted to pills. The story was slated to be published in Amazing Spider-Man #96 but the Comics Code Authority refused it because it depicted drug use; the context within the story was considered irrelevant. With his publisher's approval, Marvel published the comic without the CCA seal of approval. The comic sold well and Marvel won praise for having a social conscience. The CCA subsequently loosened the code to permit negative depictions of drugs among other new freedoms.

Later career

In later years, Lee became a figurehead and public face for Marvel Comics. He made appearances at comic book conventions around the country, lecturing and participating in panel discussions. He also moved to California in 1981 to develop Marvel's TV and movie properties. He has been an executive producer for, and has made cameo appearances in, recent Marvel film adaptations. He can be spotted as a hot dog vendor in X-Men, as a festival salesman in Spider-Man, about to cross a street with a newspaper in Daredevil, as a security guard leaving a building in Hulk, and as a pedestrian dodging debris (while saving a girl) in Spider-Man 2. In the 2005 film adaptation of Fantastic Four, Stan plays his first actual role, as Willy Lumpkin, a kindly mailman to the title characters.

Lee also made a cameo in Kevin Smith's motion picture Mallrats, recorded an interview with Smith as Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels and appeared as himself on The Simpsons. He also voiced a character on the 2003 Spider-Man animated series produced by MTV.

During the dot-com boom, Lee lent his name and likeness to StanLee.Net, an online multimedia company administered by others. It attempted to blend internet animation with traditional comic strips, but unfortunately the company became infamous for its mismanagement and dubious accounting.

In the 2000s, Stan Lee did his first work for DC Comics, launching the Just Imagine... series, in which Lee reimagined several DC superheroes including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash.

Lee created the risqué animated superhero series Stripperella for Spike TV, and in 2004 announced plans to collaborate with Hugh Hefner on a similar superhero cartoon featuring Playboy Playmates.

In August 2004, Lee announced the launch of Stan Lee's Sunday Comics [1] (, to be hosted by, where monthly subscribers will be able to read a new, updated comic every Sunday. As well, Stan's Soapbox will be a weekly column run alongside the Sunday strip.

Funky Flashman parody

Jack Kirby, during his years of working for DC Comics in the 1970s, created the character Funky Flashman as a blatant parody of Stan Lee. With his hyperbolic speech pattern, gaudy toupee, and hip 70s Manhattan style beard (a style Lee sported at the time) this ne'er-do-well charlatan first appeared in the pages of Mister Miracle.

Cameos in Marvel movies

Stan Lee - acknowledged as the Godfather of Marvel comics - has appeared in cameo roles in several movie adaptations of his comic characters.

  • X-Men (2000): as a hot dog vendor
  • Spider-Man (2002): as a bystander at the World Unity Festival
  • Daredevil (2003): as a man crossing a street
  • Hulk (2003): as a security guard
  • Spider-Man 2 (2004): as a man dodging debris
  • Fantastic Four (2005): as the Fantastic Four's mailman, Willie Lumpkin

External resources

  • Lee, Stan. Excelsior! : The Amazing Life of Stan Lee. (Fireside, 2002). ISBN 0684873052
  • Raphael, Jordan and Tom Spurgeon. Stan Lee: And the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book. (Chicago Review Press, 2003). ISBN 1556525060
  • Ro, Ronin. Tales To Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution. (Bloomsbury USA, 2004). ISBN 1582343454

External links


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