STAN LEE — the man, the mastermind, the seemingly tireless global goodwill ambassador for comics — is spinning his way toward a milestone: On Friday, he turns 90.
So how does Stan the Man feel about becoming a nonagenarian?
“One bit of philosophy I made up some time ago,” Lee tells Comic Riffs this week, “[it’s] a bit of a paradox: Everyone wants to live to a ripe old age — but no one wants to be old!”
Although he had pacemaker surgery this past fall, Lee defies a sense of seeming “old.,” forever moving like a human torch of kinetic energy. He even wrote in September upon his return: “In an effort to be more like my fellow Avenger, Tony Stark, I have had an electronic pace-maker placed near my heart to insure that I’ll be able to lead thee for another 90 years!”
Stanley Lieber has been in comics since his teen years — the first Timely/Marvel editor, “Captain America” co-creator Joe Simon, hired Lee as an office boy during the World War II era — and his career arc began to bend toward greatness about two decades later, when he created the flawed superheroes who make up the Fantastic Four (what he calls “the turning point of my life”). As all fans know, editor-writer Lee — working with such greats as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan and John Buscema — helped transform the comics industry as Marvel soon unspooled Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and X-Men.
[THE STAN LEE PROFILE: A sit-down with the legend]
Today, even as that same industry still wrestles with creators’ rights and compensation, Lee is the biggest living name in comics — the face of the superhero business to millions, both ebullient convention-hopping ambassador and Hollywood’s Marvel cameo king.
Wherever there are masses of comics fans, there seems to be smiling Stan Lee (who has been a special guest at Baltimore Comic-Con each of the past two years). When he warms to a spotlight, the throngs, in turn, heat up. And what is a star, ultimately, but a shining presence in its universe that gives off heat?
[THE STAN LEE INTERVIEW: The co-creator upon Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary]
At 90, this is how Stan Lee sums it up to Comic Riffs:
“I‘ve enjoyed every minute of my work all these years, and especially dealing with all the great fans.”
Upon his birthday, Comic Riffs asked several fellow creators and editors to share their thoughts on Stan. Fans of his themselves, here’s what they say:
“Stan’s that rare figure who, while he’s adopted a larger-than-life persona in the eyes of the world, is the same person off-camera that he is on screen — he’s just as energetic, enthusiastic, bombastic, a touch corny, and charming even when he’s just picking up the mail or buying groceries. Because that’s not a persona — that’s the real deal.”
— Veteran Marvel editor TOM BREVOORT
“He’s still a big kid. He’s got a great sense of humor.. I mailed my ’Spider-Man’ Sunday [strip last week] and I always write him a little note. I must have 500 notes from him [that] I’ve kept through the years — every one funnier than the previous. ... I enjoy so much talking to him. Sometimes he’s not feeling well, but you’d never know it. He’s always so joyful. He’s a fun guy to be around.”
— Top Marvel inker JOE SINNOTT, 86, who says he has worked with Stan, off and on, for six decades
“Stan should be remembered as the man who brought increasing humanity and realism to the comic-book superhero, and thus began to attract the older readers who otherwise would mostly have quit reading comics, never to return, by the time of puberty or thereabouts.
“Of course, along with having the initial ideas for superheroes like the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk et al., he also became one of the most influential writers in the history of the field — and, as editor, he kept ever in mind the idea of an interrelated ‘Marvel universe’ even before the term was created [by fans]. His greatest gift to comics is the concept of the Marvel Universe — and the idea that superhero comics need not appeal only to sub-teen readers. Readers should understand that
“Stan Lee did this all as a professional, to make a living, not as a fan — but that he’s as big a fan as anyone could be of [the talents of] artists-creators like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Bill Everett and others.”
— ROY THOMAS, the Hall of Fame writer-editor who immediately succeeded Stan as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics
“Co-creating Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and so many other iconic characters is an incredible legacy all on its own. Ditto for creating a personal bond with his readers through the letters pages and the bullpen bulletins, and for creating and building the Marvel brand identity. And becoming the goodwill ambassador for comics as whole is an amazing accomplishment. Stan informed and reminded people that comics as a medium is a valid and valuable part of our cultural smorgasbord.
“Stan’s combination of creative genius, promotional savvy and a work ethic that won’t quit are an impressive array of talents with which to engage the world. ... Somehow, together with his collaborators, Stan initiated ideas and developed them in ways that resonated with countless numbers of people across multiple generations. Who did exactly what? No one was in the room or in their heads when Lee and Kirby created their characters and stories together, and my impression is they worked together in different ways at different times. They had a synergy that resulted in elegant concepts, brilliantly developed and executed. ...
“It’s amazing that [Stan] is so active and available. Considering how tiring it can be, and the fact that there are those elements of controversy that trail him, it would in many ways be easier for him to spend his time at his home or office. It was pretty impressive that, less than a week after having a pacemaker put in, he was spending long days at the recent New York Comic-Con. ...
“He’s ... one of those people without whom we might have no comics industry — and therefore none of the media spinoffs — today.
— DANNY FINGEROTH, the veteran writer-editor (notaby edited Marvel’s Spider-Man books), educator and co-author of the 2011 treasure-trove that is “The Stan Lee Universe”