STAN LEE, 1922-2018
For the characters he created, for his movie cameos, for his role as an ambassador for comic books, Stan Lee will be remembered.
For area comic book professionals he'll be remembered for a lot more than that.
Lee, the former editor-in-chief of Marvel and creator of famed comic book characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, passed away Monday at the age of 95.
After his death, we spoke to a variety of locals in the comic industry — artists, writers, podcasters and comic shop owners — about their memories and impressions of Stan Lee.
Some knew him personally, some met him once or twice and many only knew his work. But he made a mark on them all.
(Contributions were edited for length and clarity.)
When I first got work at Marvel, I was treated to "the spiel" that every new artist received as long as Stan was still in New York. You were ushered into Stan's office and he would explain how action was supposed to work in Marvel comics. He did this by standing on his chair, going from there to the top of his desk and miming how emotion, punches, flying and everything else had to be larger than life because, of course, Stan himself was larger than life.
He was held in awe by most of us Marvelites, or the "Merry Marvel Marching Society" as he put it. In 1975 when I started, most of us were fans who had been reading the unique work Stan had been building for years. Nothing could dim that awe, not even when Stan was walking around the office with a bandaged head after getting a hair transplant.
Stan had moved to Los Angeles in the '70s to pursue Marvel comics as films. It took 30 years to get it right. I'm glad Stan lived long enough to see his dreams come true.
— Bob Hall, artist
When I was a young cartoonist, my friends and I would road trip to Chicago comic-cons just so we could show our portfolios to editors. Before the start of the con, we were all gathered in a lobby area. A hand slapped me on the back and we all heard, "You boys having a good time?" We turned to see a smiling Stan Lee beaming at us with that constant smile, always the ambassador for comics. He wasn't simply wandering the grounds looking to recognized. He was welcoming the next generation of talent into the industry even before we were on the doorstep.
He brought an enduring humanity to our monumental heroes, and became one himself along the way.
— Phil Hester, artist
About 20 years ago, I won a contest to meet Stan Lee at a local comic shop in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. This was a big deal to me. Stan Lee was practically my entire childhood. And now I have stumbled into a chance to converse with the Man himself! The day came, and Stan was gracious and charming and spent a great deal of time talking with the fans.
The comic industry has lost its greatest ambassador. Stan Lee had a hand one way or another in creating all of the heroes that filled my imagination (and still do). I never did grow up to write or draw comics, but I own a comic store and I don't know if that would have happened if not for the Generalissimo himself.
— David DeMarco, coowner of Legend Comics & Coffee
I met Stan Lee twice, and you didn't get a lot of time to talk because there was always a huge line.
I took a moment after getting my autograph to observe him in action. A gentleman brought up a VHS of "Mallrats," in which Stan had appeared, and Mr. Lee said "Oh wow! I haven't seen a copy of this forever! You've really made my day! Are you sure you want me to sign this?" The gentleman assured Mr. Lee that he did indeed want him to sign it. I continued to watch for a few minutes more, entranced at Mr. Lee's excitement over each item to sign. As I was about to walk away, another fan brought up a VHS copy of "Mallrats." Stan grabbed the tape and with a sparkle in his eye said, "Oh wow! I haven't seen a copy of this forever! You've really made my day! Are you sure you want me to sign this?" Again, the eager fan requested the autograph and smiled when he walked away.
Stan had a way to make each fan feel like they were his favorite fan.
— Dean Phillips, owner of Krypton Comics
The first comic I ever laid my eyes on was a coverless copy of Amazing Spider-Man No. 9 from 1964, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. It was already almost two decades old by the time it got to me, but it left an indelible mark on my life.
Stan Lee was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was a flawed man, a consummate showman with a contentious relationship with his collaborators, but for many people, he embodied comics. I literally would not be the same person without his work.
— Joe Patrick, co-host of "The Two-Headed Nerd Comic Book Podcast"
As a boy living in Council Bluffs in the '70s, Stan Lee's legacy brought me a world of imagination and excitement that fired my creativity like nothing else did. Stan was like your cool uncle who knew EXACTLY what you liked.
I got to meet Stan in person in the late '80s in Chicago. I told him, "Thank you for being America's 'cool uncle.'" He laughed, asked about the reference, and I told him the above description. He enthusiastically nodded and patted my hand. "I like that moniker!" he said. At that moment, I felt like I had just been blessed by the Pope. Excelsior!
— Fredd Gorham, artist
I don't think anyone has had a bigger impact on my life through their work than Stan. In co-creating Spider Man with Steve Ditko, Stan threw me a lifeline.
As a skinny, introverted Army brat, I moved around a lot in my youth. There was plenty of bullying, and these stories were not only an escape, but a beacon that I wasn't alone in these experiences and, more importantly, that there was strength and confidence to be found through it.
— Eric Gapstur, cartoonist
It's impossible to really encapsulate everything Stan Lee meant to me. He had a unique voice that, for me, is what Marvel Comics are all about. It was a voice that could be funny, dramatic, empathetic — sometimes all in the same sentence!
Even if you didn't have mutant abilities or couldn't shoot spider webs, you could identify with feeling misunderstood, discriminated against or just isolated. Even at the age of 6, I was completely fascinated by his way with words, and I could hardly wait to see what he would do next.
I have met many of my idols in the comic industry over the years, but I was never lucky enough to meet Stan. Still, I got to know him through the thousands of stories I enjoyed as a child, a teen and an adult. I still revisit those stories over and over again. I'm sure that I always will.
— Bruce McCorkindale, artist