This post has been updated.
The comics legend was sitting perched against the leopard-print pillows on the couch in his POW! Entertainment office in Beverly Hills. As our afternoon with him wound down, the Post-hired photographer sought a dramatic angle and considered climbing atop a chair to shoot from on high. Before the photog could get a leg up, though, the anticipating Stan the Man— then ONLY 88 — leaped to his tennis-shoed feet, hopped his rangy frame past a table and with feline ease scaled the chair himself. In a blink, Stan struck a towering pose.
Smiling, standing, arms akimbo and nearly 9 feet tall, he loomed nearly as large as his legend.
Today, as he turns 93, Stan seems to have lost nothing in fleetness, responding to e-mails faster than you can say, “Master of the Mystic Arts.”
And as a global ambassador for comics, the man remains a Marvel.
Simply put, “There is no bigger star in all of comics,” Marc Nathan of Baltimore Comic-Con — where Stan was the featured guest last summer — has told Comic Riffs.
The path to stardom was many decades in the making. Stanley “Stan Lee” Lieber broke into the business as a teenager in the late-’30s, hired by ”Captain America” co-creator Joe Simon as an office assistant. As Simon told Comic Riffs, Stanley was soon writing the filler prose that Timely Comics (Marvel’s precursor) needed to secure better mailing rates. (Simon, the first editor at Timely Comics, died in 2011, at age 98.)
By the early ‘60s, Stan seriously contemplated quitting Timely/Marvel, which had been launched by his relative Martin Goodman. But at the advice of his wife, Joanie (they’re going on 67 years of marriage), Stan says he took a shot at writing superheroes the way he wanted to — vulnerable, relatable, full of human foible. As Stan told Comic Riffs: “It was the turning point of my life.”
Working with such fellow legends as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, of course, Lee and his “Marvel method” would launch the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, Iron Man and X-Men. (Other talents in that famed stable included Stan’s own brother, Larry Lieber, who first scripted Thor.)
“There’s no question that Stan and the innovations he came up with saved the comic book and the superhero,” Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s senior vice president of publishing, has told Comic Riffs — noting that Lee and the artists he worked with “made me want to do this professionally.”
“By crafting characters with feet of clay and personal problems — and not writing down to an audience that was perceived to be primarily 8-year-olds — Stan opened the doorway for more sophisticated and interesting treatments of any subject matter in comics,” Brevoort said. “He made comics interesting and relevant and fun again.”
And then there’s Neil Gaiman, the rock-star novelist (“American Gods”), children’s author and “Sandman” writer who admires Lee’s tireless work on behalf of comics. Asked to describe Lee’s place in the industry’s pantheon — even as the near-nonagenarian continues to create superheroes — Gaiman has told Comic Riffs that Lee’s accomplishments and ambassorship and energy can only be summed up in three words:
“Stan is Stan.”
So with that in mind, Comic Riffs celebrates the legend’s 92th birthday with our 20 Favorite Stan Lee Quotes direct from our interviews in recent years with Stan the Man himself:
1. “My theory about why people like superheroes is that when we were kids, we all loved to read fairy tales. Fairy tales are all about things bigger than life: giants, witches, trolls, dinosaurs and dragons and all sorts of imaginative things. Then you get a little bit older and you stop reading fairy tales, but you don’t ever outgrow your love of them.”
2. “To have an idea is the easiest thing in the world. Everybody has ideas. But you have to take that idea and make it into something people will respond to — that’s hard.”
3. “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing. When you’re seeing how happy the fans are — as they [see up-close] the people who tell the stories, who illustrated them, the TV personalities — I realize: It’s a great thing to entertain people.”
4. “It’s fun doing something that hasn’t been done before.”
5. “I don’t analyze things too closely. I find the more you analyze, the more you get away from spontaneity. I have only one rule: I just want to write a story that would interest me — that’s the only criterion I have. Am I eager to see how it ends? If these characters really existed, would I want to see what happens to them? … If I like something, there are bound to be millions of people who like it, too. And if they don’t, shame on them.”
6. “For a long time, there was no personal involvement with some of the superheroes. I’d read books and Dickens always had interesting characters. Mark Twain had interesting characters — so did Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the greatest fictional character of all in Sherlock Holmes. I wanted to write the kind of dialogue that would give the character personality.”
7. “The one thing I liked about Peter [Parker’s] web-shooters was the fact that they made him more vulnerable. At any crucial moment, he could run out of web fluid and be forced to rely on his wits.”
8. “I’m not a psychiatrist. All I know is, the good superhero movie has got action, suspense, colorful characters, new angles — that’s what people like. … [And] all those things you imagined — if only I could fly or be the strongest — are about wish fulfillment. … And because of that, I don’t think they’ll ever go out of vogue.”
9. “I started the Stan Lee Foundation for one main purpose: to do whatever I could to fight illiteracy in children. Any child who grows up illiterate, unable to read and write — or even semi-literate — can be considered handicapped. Competition throughout the world has grown so keen that every young person needs every possible advantage to even the competitive playing field. The ability to read well, to study, comprehend and process information is absolutely vital for success as an adult.”
10. “I don’t have inspiration. I only have ideas. Ideas and deadlines.”
11. “I told my wife Joanie, ‘I’m going to quit.’ But she said: ‘Why not write it the way you want to write it? If it doesn’t work, the worst that’s going to happen is that they’ll fire you. And you want to quit anyway.’ … Itried having heroes [Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl] in love and getting married. And the teenager was a brother [the Human Torch] who didn’t particularly want to be a superhero.
“It was the turning point of my life.”
12. “[Being a ‘geek’] has become a badge of honor. It’s geeks who really make or break a TV show or movie or videogame. They’re the ones who are passionate about these things and who collect [the paraphernalia] and talk about them. A geek is really somebody interested in communication and entertainment and [finding] the best way to avail himself or herself to it..”
13. “Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Captain America was the first comic I read that made me feel like I was watching an exciting action movie. To me, the way Simon and Kirby wrote and drew Captain America gave me the same thrill as watching Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood on the big screen. There was a sense of power and drama and excitement in Joe and Jack’s work that made it totally unique and always enjoyable.”
14. “I dreamed up Thor years ago because I wanted to create the biggest, most powerful superhero of all and I figured, who can be bigger than a god?”
15. “In the case of the X-Men . . . I wanted to do a [comic] that would point out the injustice and wrongheadedness of bigotry. As for their powers, I took the easy way out; instead of dreaming up some complicated explanation for each, I simply wrote: ‘They were born that way. They were mutants’ — and that was that.”
16. “I don’t want Brad Pitt or Leo DiCaprio to worry. I’ll stick to cameos.”
17. “Thаt Gene [Colan] wаѕ a grеаt talent іѕ beyond dispute. Bυt hе wаѕ аlѕο one οf thе nicest, kindest, mοѕt conscientious, hard-worklng people I’ve known. … Gene hаd a grеаt lονе fοr movies, аnd thаt feeling wаѕ apparent іn thе way hе laid out hіѕ strips — аѕ though each panel wеrе a scene іn a movie, each effortlessly flowing іntο thе next, јυѕt аѕ such scenes mіght dο οn thе bіg screen.”
18. “I’d just like a Cabinet position [in the current White House]. For comic books. I’d be secretary of comics — something simple.”
19. On Disney’s 2009 purchase of Marvel: “Being associated with Disney is the dream of a lifetime. The things Disney did just knocked me out [when I was young] — Mickey Mouse to Bambi and Pinocchio and Snow White. And then there were the nature movies and now movies like ’Pirates of the Caribbean.’ I think they’re wonderful movie marketers — they’re the best marketers you can find anyhwere. And to combine them with Marvel — the two companies I’m in love with the most.”
20. “I’m very lucky to still being doing this. I seem to get a good reception [when I pitch entertainment ideas]. I hope I can sell a lot more movies. And it would be nice to win an Oscar one day.”
[STAN LEE ON: Getting a new pacemaker, Iron Man-style.]