Saying Farewell to Stan Lee

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A parent didn’t show for a conference so I checked in with the rest of the world and discovered Stan the Man had left for Valhalla. I had wall to wall meetings until a little while ago and as I drove home, I finally had time to process his loss and his place in the world.When did I first see Stan? At the disastrous night he headlined at Carnegie Hall, a slapdash affair with more spirit than coherence.When did I first meet Stan? I couldn’t tell you. I do know that we began spending time together when I launched Comics Scene. He and Jim Shooter agreed to be interviewed for our inaugural cover story and John Clayton joined me at the Marvel Offices for a photo shoot. They couldn’t be more congenial and a year or so later, I was out in California interviewing people to stockpile stories for the magazine.My wife and I went to the Marvel Animation offices and Stan took us out to a small courtyard. He was unbuttoned nearly to the navel, letting the sun bake him as he sipped orange juice and answered anything I asked. He posed for my wife and we had a lovely afternoon.Later, I’d encounter Stan here or there and he’d say hi, be friendly, and of course had no idea who I was. After all, by the 1980s and 1990s, he was largely removed from the comic book community and had met so many people, been interviewed by so many, that it had all become a blur.When I began commissioning intros from him for DC Collected Editions, I had brief but cordial calls with him. He’d agree to the terms, ask me to confirm what I was looking for in writing and sure enough, well before deadline I got the piece, using my notes as the framework.Back in 2008, Stan had agreed to mastermind a series of How To books for Dynamite but, of course, was still an incredibly busy guy. He asked for help and I was thrilled to be asked to help write Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics, even happier to receive co-writer credit (buried on page four but nonetheless…). I received his outline and notes and began to work but every now and then I had questions and a quick email later, I had my answers. He must have liked what I did, although he never told me, because soon after I helped ghost pieces for him here and there (much as I did for Dick Giordano back in the day – I wrote for giants).Every year on his birthday, we’d exchange two lines notes but in the last few years that dropped off as his eyesight and then his health failed him.Many, many others have far more intimate stories to tell and have begun sharing them. His legacy, already dissected the last year or two as he became a pawn in other people’s games. For even longer, there has been a debate over his actual involvement in the creation of this or that character. It became fashionable to come out against Stan.But here’s the thing: Stan has an entire career of achievement that doesn’t often get discussed. He ran Timely when Joe Simon ankled for DC Comics, keeping talent so busy there was a glut of inventory that was hidden for years. He became a one-man show writing and editing whatever fad titles Martin Goodman wanted, subsuming his own desires to move into magazines, humor writing, comic strips, and even novels – anything but comics. But he stayed and kept Timely, now Atlas, running despite the best efforts of the Comics Code Authority and the failure of American Distribution.It was Stan who continued to work with the best talent available at whatever prices they paid to fill those anthologies, churning out story after story, from Millie the Model to Tales of Suspense. While his wife Joan gets all the credit for telling him to cut loose after Goodman asked for a super-team to compete with the Justice League. We’ve seen that first Fantastic Four plot so know how much of it came from him. We know it was his dialogue that breathed life into those characters, gave them personalities the likes of which we never knew.He ran a small comics company and turned it into something huge. He did it with help, of course. Credit was given to his brother Larry Lieber along artists from Jack Kirby to Dick Ayers to Don Heck to Steve Ditko. Heck, he turned the Production Department into stars. He shared credit although his famously porous memory meant details got forgotten or events mixed up.And when the little company became a bigger company, he rode the zeitgeist, transforming himself from obscure, balding middle-aged manager into the hip, mustachioed champion of the four-color comic book. Others have said it better but it bears repeating that without Stan, the comics field we love today may well not be here.He trained a small coterie of writers and editors who in turn ushered in a new generation in the 1970s and they in turn trained others. His work ethic became legendary and influential. He loved them all, sang their praises, and became a universal spokesman for graphic storytelling.Sure, creatively he was pretty much done by 1972 and spent the 1980s and 1990s lending his name and input to one failed project after another, but he never stopped trying to create fresh things, embracing webcomics and digital storytelling long before others. He was a creative genius but a poor businessman as you will learn from biographies and obituaries. Yet, his brand rarely tarnished; and, was brightened when he began cameoing in the Marvel movies, most of which owe their entire existence to his work (as writer or editor or publisher).Stan kept the field alive, gave us a universe of characters beloved around the world and became as recognizable as the webhead. He was a true pioneer, a workhorse, a friend, a mentor, and truly a legend in the entertainment field. He has more than earned these accolades and his rest.

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