The Life and Legacy of Stan Lee
By: Meg Bonney
Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922 in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City to poor Romanian immigrants. Writing was a large part of his childhood, having worked part time jobs as an obituary writer and creating press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center. After winning a high school essay competition, it was suggested to Lee that he pursue a career in writing. Lee claims that moment “probably changed [his] life.”
He graduated high school early at sixteen and entered the Federal Theatre Project, a program funded by the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency. There he wrote a few plays but left in 1939 after hearing that Timely Comics had an opening for an assistant position. It wasn’t until 1941 that he got his first story published but only as a text filler. It was also the first time he used the pen name Stan Lee, which he eventually had his name legally changed to. The same year, he and his artistic collaborator, Jack Kirby, took charge of the company. Eventually, they changed the name to the more familiar moniker of Marvel Comics.
Together, Lee and Kirby worked to create a spectrum of characters that would soon be loved by the masses, including the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, and the most successful – Spiderman. Under Lee’s leadership as editor-in-chief, Marvel Comics pioneered a new form of comics, changing the way of storytelling in order to address more serious themes. Lee stated that “comic books to me are fairy tales for grownups,” which proved to be true as by telling the stories in this revolutionary way, Marvel attracted a plethora of readers and kept them reading well beyond their teenage years. Marvel still sees so much success today because of its appeal to a variety of readers.
In 1980, Lee moved to California to help bring his characters to the attention of Hollywood. The appeal was there, leading to numerous TV and movie adaptations of the superhero stories. The release of Iron Man in 2008 marked the beginning of a new era for Marvel, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans flocked to the theaters to see the fantastic portrayals of their childhood heroes in big-budget films with modern special effects. By 2015, the MCU was integrated into the Walt Disney Studios. The movies that had already put young and old fans alike in awe, became even more astounding. Lee worked closely with the production teams of each movie, being credited as an executive producer. The heart and soul that he and the entirety of the cast and crew poured into each film has paid off as the MCU holds four of the top ten spots in the highest grossing films of all time. Though Lee is mostly credited with his efforts behind the scenes, he made an appearance in each film. Marvel fans sit excitedly for Lee’s notable cameos. His persona became a sort of symbol for fans, who were known to cheer with excitement when Lee graced the screen in his usually quirky roles.
Stan Lee’s impact is undeniable. The creation of his characters shaped the childhoods of generations of fans. There is a sense of unity amongst fans, as despite differences in age or social status, Lee’s stories have a way of bringing people together. In fact, Marvel is so popular today that its almost unheard of to not be a fan. Despite Marvel’s seemingly immortality, Lee passed away on November 12, 2018 at the age of 95. He lives on through the empire that Marvel Comics has become and through the hearts of every fan he touched with his talent of storytelling. Lee himself summed up his own impact perfectly, “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”
Meg Bonney is a Staff Writer for The Comment.