When my daughter was born a few years ago, I shared the news with a panel from Fantastic Four Annual #6. Reed and Sue had just welcomed Franklin into the world, and I said that, like so many things, Stan and Jack got it right.
I woke up today to the news that Stan Lee had passed away. The lifetime of joy that I’ve had from reading comics is largely down to him. Stan got me hooked.
There will be endless tributes out there to his work. What I’ve come to admire most about him though is his perseverance. This is a guy who started working as an assistant in 1939 and got his first writing gig in 1941, with a back-up strip on Captain America #3. Yet the Marvel revolution he helped usher in with Fantastic Four #1 didn’t begin until November 1961.
Think about that. It took him 22 years before he cracked it. If he had given up in 1960 and got a different job, he’d be nothing more than a footnote in comic book history. I’ve read he wanted to pack it in, but his wife persuaded him to give it one final go.
His career spans from almost the dawn of the Golden Age of Comics through to the streaming age of Netflix and the multi-billion Marvel Cinematic Universe that has powered the film industry in the 21st century. The world has caught up to his vision.
And there’s some irony that a man who wanted to write the Great American Novel has co-created something that may be even more enduring. The characters he wrote will be around for hundreds of years. They’ll become as big as Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, The Three Musketeers and Frankenstein; characters that were very much of their time, but which have become timeless. The same will happen with Stan’s co-creations, there will be endless interpretations as new generations discover them. People that have never read a comic already know that story of Spider-Man, Iron Man of the Hulk. That’s when a character becomes timeless, when it permeates into our collective consciousness.
I hope that with his passing, the controversy about who deserves what credit between Lee, Kirby and Ditko can end. For me, they’re co-creators and they all did their best work together.
I’ll just finish with the one story I have about meeting him. There’s nothing spectacular about it, I was just another fan in a queue and tens of thousands of people will have the same story. This one is mine.
It was, Friday, November 15, 1991 and Stan was doing a signing tour in Britain for the big Marvel book by Les Daniels (he had penned the introduction). One of the stops was Forbidden Planet in Edinburgh, handy for me since I had just moved to the city to study journalism at Napier.
I was beyond excited, bit there was a strict limit on what you could get signed. So I asked two guys on my course that I barley knew, Shaun Milne and Murray Cox, to come along with me and stand in line. To their credit, they did. They didn’t read comics but I think they realised how big a deal this was to me. And when it got to our turn, Stan commented on how there was three guys in a row called Bob. What were the chances?
That was the first time I had ever met a hero of mine. I said a brief hello and told him how much his work meant to me. Of course, he had heard it a thousand times before but he was smiling and laughing and I floated out of that shop on a high.
I took along a few things for him to sign, including FF #25 and #26, but I bought two of the Marvel Masterworks that day, the ones that had the first 20 issues of the FF. They cost around £40 each I believe, which was a lot of dough back then as you could still get a pint for a quid. And it was a big chunk of my student grant, but what the hell I thought, this might be the only chance I get to meet Stan Lee.
It was, but he gave me so much through his work and will continue do so.