Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee:The Final Chapter (1922-2018)

Copy written by Stan Lee promoting the nascent line of Marvel Heroes.  House ad appeared in Fantastic Four # 14, May 1963. Art by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko; lettering by Artie Simek; colors by Stan Goldberg.  

With the passing of Stan Lee the Marvel Age of Comics has ended. The triumvirate of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Lee initiated an exciting, innovative and freewheeling atmosphere at Marvel Comics in the early 1960s. Lee had worked for decades as editor, writer and art director for publisher Martin Goodman's comics, previously known as Timely, followed by Atlas (before becoming Marvel) and produced countless successful, long-running titles, from Strange Tales to Millie the Model. In those years he collaborated with a plethora of talented artists: Syd Shores, Bill Everett, John Severin, Russ Heath, and one of the most prolific and versatile of them, Joe Maneely, who died a few years before the superhero boom. It was Jack Kirby, however, who rejoined Lee after Maneely's passing in 1958. He along with a small group of artists, notably Steve Ditko, began to revitalize the line, producing dynamic, entertaining and moody fantasy stories, featuring over-sized monsters and weird thrillers. 

Lee utilized tropes he honed initially in romance and humor comics, incorporating them into the new superheroes that slowly overtook the monster titles. As co-creators of that era, Kirby and Ditko were no doubt instrumental in bringing a wealth of creativity and concepts to the table. Lee, however, led the charge as promotional wizard for the Marvel line. He infused everything - cover copy, replies to fan letters, editorial pages - with a child-like enthusiasm, making him the perfect company cheerleader. Most importantly, Lee conveyed a  bemused, self-deprecating mockery in a period when other editors echoed the tone of a stern school principle. From this framework Lee molded the "Marvel Comics Group" into an entity which was not only successful in terms of the bottom line (which was the primary concern of publisher Martin Goodman) but was critically acclaimed by older fans and cognoscenti of the medium.     

There are those who have questioned Lee's persona, opining that it was all an affectation. I don't believe so. I think Lee was a big kid who never quite grew up. My conclusion is based on personal correspondence, which often displays the same jocular writing style. From 2009 or so I began to email Lee (thanks to my pal Michael J. Vassallo), sometimes on serious questions related to the field, other times in a more humorous vein. Lee always replied to my emails promptly, and they were clearly his words, not those of an assistant. That raised the bar in my respect for him, because he could easily have ignored, or had someone else reply, to my missives. I thought I'd share a few here in tribute to the man.

In this email dated March 27, 2008, Lee replies to a question I asked about how important he felt letters pages and fan interaction were:    

  Stan often seem the most energized when I sent him satirical letters. In this one, dated June 21, 2009, he follows up on a joke I made about one of my favorite goofy villains, Paste Pot Pete:    

My email to Stan on learning about Disney purchasing Marvel, dated September 8, 2009:    

Stan's reply: 

  Since Stan often employed humor in his stories so I inquired as to what comedians he admired (December 16, 2009):

 From March 6, 2010. My comment on a cameo video (was this really at the Academy Awards?) and his reply:

From June 22 & 23rd, 2011, I questioned Stan on some of the editors who he looked up to in the comics industry and received a serious and illuminating response:

I'll end with another aspect of Stan Lee that I admired, his forward-looking attitude. I wrote him lamenting the superhero movies and my belief that they would replace the comics themselves. His reply, from May 24, 2012: 

 And there you have a glimpse of Stan Lee, not under the lights of a camera or surrounded by throngs of fans at a comic con, but in one-on-one personal correspondence. I think these words gives a glimpse of his true personality, one that echoed throughout his career and brought a buoyancy to the countless comics he authored over the decades. 


Lefisc said...

A great tribute and a great way to remember Stan, in his own words

Kid said...

Having been fortunate enough to meet him once, Nick, I can vouch for what you say. He was everything I expected him to be - and then some. I'd say your assessment about him being a big kid that never grew up is spot on. I know someone else like that, but his name escapes me for the moment.

msven said...

Hey Nick,
You flush out something Bob Fujitani told me on more than one occasion: Stan would call and talk Charles Biro for advice. I think the Biro influence on Stan is profound, and it is great to see Stan confirm the relationship. After Charles Biro had left the industry Bob recounts a story about Stan calling Biro for advice when comics were not selling. He asked Biro "What does the industry need?", to which Biro responded "The industry needs ME!" I have the Bob Fujitani interview on tape, and it was going to be an article in Alter Ego, but Bob got skittish about it because he talked about his friend Fred Kida's religion and the influence it had on their relationship. (Both Fred and Bob had one Japanese parent, and were Americans living through World War II) I withdrew the interview per his request. Later Roy had someone else interview Bob, asking basically the same questions. That one was printed.

Stan's denial of knowing the golden age Daredevil always brought a smile to my face. Much like Julie Schwartz denial of ever reading Doc EE Smith's Lensman series.

Ditko and Stan Lee in the same year. They had long full lives, but it is still hard to process.

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks, Barry. I thought it would be appropriate.


I think a few of have the "big kid" in us, and I hope it remains that way!


I thought it was worthwhile to print his comments about Biro, which shows he was aware of the competition and know who was good. Sorry to hear that interview was never published though.

Yes, Ditko and Lee only months apart. It is hard to process.

Ditkolad said...

I cannot find words to how this touched me, Nick. Your inter communication with Stan felt much like his soapbox. I like the way you gave us a glimpse into his fan interaction with you, it warms the heart. I'd like to think Stan inspired everyone he talked to. Thanks for passing it on.

Nick Caputo said...

Ditkolad, I'm very glad to have shared it with you. These letters were very special and speaks volumes about the person.

SMR said...

Thank you for sharing these, Nick. A bright spot on a sad occasion.

Nick Caputo said...

You're very welcome, SMR. I think Stan would have appreciated a little humor when celebrating his life.

Jethro Tull said...

A lovely tribute Nick. I was born into the Silver Age (1956 and still going...) and I have fond memories of those early Marvel comics when I was a schoolboy. Today, I am the proud owner of a lovely collection of Silver Age titles which I have built up over the years, and still growing. Of course, the name that was central to all this wonderful, crazy creativity was Stan Lee. A tribute to his skill, endurance and creativity is the still-fresh superhero films loved by so many today. One could write a thesis on this wonderful story of American comicdom, but I will remember him and his wonderful colleagues such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck et al till my dying breath. Thanks for the memories Stan and rest in peace.

jom said...

Your observations on Stan's personality are spot on.
I always thought he was just a big kid enjoying himself, and it showed through the best in one of his recent Marvel cameos where he commented on "how the 60's were so much fun, but he's paying for it now."

Hilarious! If that isn't Stan poking fun at himself and that era, I don't know what is. I was born in 1952, and started reading coverless copies of some of Stan's Kirby's & Ditko's early work during the Atlas / Marvel era. I cherish every one of them to this day!

Thanks for sharing your personal communications with Stan!
Tom Wilmoth

Nick Caputo said...

Jethro and Tom,

Thanks for the kind words. I also grew up in that 1960s era, when every week a trip to the candy store was an adventure. Stan Lee helped make that period exciting, dramatic and fun. It has been a great thrill to meet most of the creators of that era, and a great saddness that most have them are gone.

Doccomix said...

Very interesting comments about Stan's respect for Charles Biro. I'm working on an Alter Ego article for a Stan Lee issue, and I plan to do it on Biro's influence on Stan. I'd appreciate it if Msven would contact me at:

Dan Hagen said...

I interviewed Stan several times, and had the same experience as you. He was affable, upbeat and genuine, and always spoke highly of the artists he worked with. He never said a word against Jack Kirby even when Kirby was busy attacking him.

Nick Caputo said...


I'm glad to hear that your experience with Stan was also positive.