[I want to preface this with a brief disclaimer. Whenever somebody who is widely liked and praised dies, there is always the handful of malcontents who chime in with, “Yeah, but they did THIS bad thing and THAT bad thing.” Well, you’re right. Minimal internet research will reveal Stan Lee wasn’t perfect. But, neither is anybody else. Nobody on the internet wants to admit that they’ve ever done anything wrong, especially when calling somebody else out, but we’ve all screwed up somewhere along the line. I would like to believe the good Stan Lee brought to the world FAR surpasses the bad. So cram it and read my dumb blog.]
All right, so we have to talk about Stan Lee. The comics legend passed away yesterday at age 95, leaving behind a mountain of creative work, and a couple of mountain ranges worth of comics, television, movies, and other media based on his original creations.
When I first heard about his death, I had the same reaction I do any time a renowned celebrity dies: Aw, that’s sad. He did a lot of good work and made a lot of people happy.
Then, my inner reason kicked in: Hey, Stan Lee is probably THE reason you started making comics, so this is a way bigger deal than you’re letting on.
I grew up on Marvel Comics. I’ve mentioned in this No Good Blog at some point or another that my brother Craig was a fan, and as soon as I could read well enough, I picked them up, as well. X-Men was his (and therefore my) favorite. We had X-Men comics, action figures, video games, board games, and so on. Then, the animated series launched, and I couldn’t have been more hopelessly enchanted. X-Men offered everything I wanted in entertainment: action, suspense, comic relief, colorful characters with complicated backstories, cause, misunderstood heroes, friendship, hardships, romance, balls-ass-crazy time travel and alternate realities, and guys who could teleport or turn their entire bodies into metal with just a thought.
From there, I glommed onto Spider-Man, Iron Man, and a huge roster of Stan Lee creations. Only a few of them were aliens or millionaires—most of them were ordinary people with ordinary problems, but extraordinary abilities. The X-Men, and really all of Lee’s characters, were relatable. If these jokers could be superheroes, it wasn’t that unreasonable to believe that I, too, could be a superhero one day. I was just a spider-bite or some cosmic radiation away from using my new powers for the benefit of mankind. Or, better yet, maybe I was a mutant and just had to wait until I was a teenager for my latent abilities to manifest!
Please understand that I know Stan Lee’s writing days at Marvel were well past him by the time I started reading comics. But, he was still part of the reason it all existed. As a fan, I owe a lot to Stan Lee.
However, as a comics creator and a person, I owe roughly my entire passion to Stan Lee. His creations helped me out a lot when I was younger, and got me started on a hobby and a dream that I’m still pursuing 25 years later.
Like a lot of kids, I struggled with acceptance. I was overweight and I wasn’t athletic or any good at sports, all of which were major social factors on the playground. I don’t want to go so far as to say that my friends and I were bullied, but we also weren’t anybody’s first choice to hang out with. Comics were one of many places I could go to get away from that. Then, when I started making my own comics in fourth grade, I finally had something other than good grades to make me feel accomplished. It was an easy medium for a 9-year-old to get into—drawing pictures with words. I couldn’t make video games because I didn’t have the know-how. I couldn’t make cartoons, movies, or TV shows because I didn’t have the equipment. But, I had all the tools and knowledge I needed to make comics. Stan Lee and everything and everybody that came after him at Marvel gave me the spark I needed.
Suddenly, I had a passion. I was drawing all the time. I could pump out pages of crudely drawn space fights and laser-gun battles in a day’s time. Mom and Dad must have noticed all of my comic-making. They bought Craig and me a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way that Christmas, written by none other than “The Man,” himself. Not only did I find inspiration in Stan Lee’s work and characters, but I was also getting lessons from him on how to hone my craft! I still use that book to this day, and the binding is so worn that most of the pages are falling out.
It’s hard to say how I would have turned out without Stan Lee. I probably would have still liked comics—there is a lot of non-Marvel material out there that I enjoy. But would Marvel exist? Would the characters he helped create still exist in one form or another? Would I have ever started making comics? Those are the kind of questions that are interesting to think about, but it’s a reality I wouldn’t actually want to live.
To read and enjoy someone else’s comics is one thing. To read and enjoy someone else’s comics so much that it inspired me to create my own is something so bonkers and short-sighted that, at first thought, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, ever. It’s been a lot of hard work and frustration and wrist pain and eye strain, all without much critical or financial success. And I haven’t even done that much—just a drop in the bucket compared to all of my favorite creators. On the other hand, making comics has been one of the most fun and fulfilling things I’ve done with my life, and I wouldn’t change anything. And it’s all Stan Lee’s fault. Thanks for everything, buddy, and Excelsior!