Fantastic Four by Stan LeeX-Men
'The Fantastic Four' issue #1 (November 1961) and 'The X-Men' issue #16 (January 1966), artwork by Jack Kirby. 

Stan Lee was a U.S comic writer and editor, world famous for his contributions to Marvel Comics. He is generally credited with co-creating and writing for several of their most iconic series (albeit not without controversy). Among them: 'The Fantastic Four' (1961-   , with Jack Kirby), 'Spider-Man' (1962-   , with Steve Ditko), 'Thor' (1962-   , with Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber), 'The Incredible Hulk' (1962-   , with Kirby), 'The X-Men' (1963-   , with Kirby), 'Iron Man' (1963-   , with Lieber, Kirby and Don Heck), 'The Avengers' (1963-   , with Kirby), 'Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos' (1963-    with Kirby and Dick Ayers), 'Doctor Strange' (1963-   , with Ditko), 'Daredevil' (1964-   , with Kirby and Bill Everett), 'Hawkeye' (1964-   , with Heck) and 'The Silver Surfer' (1966-   , with Kirby and John Buscema). He and his staff reinvented the superhero comics, appealing to more mature readers. Real-life problems, like prejudice, drug abuse and death, were woven into the plots. Psychological and social issues became just as important as the action. Characters battled with their conscience and had self-doubts. Marvel’s stories felt more in line with the rapid social changes of the 1960s and beyond. Nevertheless, they still reached a global mainstream audience, even people who usually don’t enjoy superhero comics. During Lee’s tenure, Marvel rose to become the direct rival of DC Comics. Their comics also defied the decades-long censorship of the infamous Comics Code, the medium's official censor commission. The board effectively disbanded itself later, opening more creative possibilities for cartoonists. Lee built a strong bond with Marvel’s fans through his editorial columns. He addressed readers directly and credited many previously anonymous scriptwriters, artists, inkers and colorists. Through frequent media appearances, Lee himself became somewhat of an unofficial mascot of Marvel. Together with Walt Disney, Stan Lee is one of the few comic authors whose name and face was recognizable to a broad segment of the general public. Already during his lifetime he was one of the rare comic writers to become more famous than the artists with whom he collaborated. Yet Lee’s contributions to several of Marvel’s bestselling series have also sometimes  been contested. Some have argued he was a larger commercial talent than a creative one. He excelled in describing a basic concept, letting his artists work it fully out, streamline it through editing and then market it to the masses. Other critics have downright accused him of shameless self-promotion. The question what his exact role was in the development of the comics he is credited with, remains fuel for heated debate. Nevertheless, nobody can deny his central role in building Marvel into the successful company it remains today. 

Early years
Stanley Martin Lieber was born in 1922 in Manhattan, New York. He came from a Romanian-Jewish family, and his parents had arrived in New York City in the early 20th century. His father was a dresscutter, working in Manhattan's Garment District. Lee’s younger brother, Larry Lieber, later became a notable comic writer and artist for Marvel in his own right. As his father was largely out of work during the Depression years, the boys' upbringing was poor. As Stan would later describe in his memories, he loved to explore the city on his bicycle. He was also an avid reader, enjoying newspaper comics like 'The Katzenjammer Kids', 'Skippy', 'Dick Tracy', 'Smitty' and 'The Gumps', but also popular novels, for instance the work of H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and Edgar Rice Burroughs. A favorite were the swashbuckler adventures of 'The Scarlet Pumpernickel’, by Baroness Orczy. As he grew older, he also discovered Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Edmond Rostand, Émile Zola and William Shakepeare. The early Modern English from both Shakespeare and the King James Bible shaped his future writing. Another influence on Lee's future style was the evocative and rhythmic use of language on pre-war radio serials, for instance featuring Edgar Bergen and W.C. Fields.

Determined to become a writer, Lee participated with a competition held by his local high school, DeWitt Clinton, in the Bronx. Pupils were motivated to write a short text about a current event, which would then be printed in The New York Herald Tribune. As Lee would later often recollect, he managed to win the contest three times in a row, prompting editors of the paper to ask him if he would let others have a chance and instead focus on making writing a professional career. Looking into this matter, Abraham Riesman - author of the 2021 posthumous biography 'True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee' - discovered that Lee did indeed participate, but only reached seventh place in the first week and was then among 39 other honorable mentions in the next two weeks. An early example of Stan Lee's talent for mythmaking. 

Following the alleged advice of the newspaper editors, in 1939 he found a job at the Federal Theatre Project. This federally funded arts program enabled U.S. theaters to produce plays, even at the height of the Great Depression. Lee helped writing and editing theatrical drafts. Unfortunately, the project was soon shut down again. 

Timely Comics (Marvel)
In 1939, through his uncle, Robbie Solomon, the 17-year old Lee first entered the comic industry. Solomon worked for a New York publishing company, Timely Comics (nowadays Marvel). Lee got a job as office boy, keeping artists’ supplies in check. He sharpened their pencils, filled their inkwells and bought them food during lunch breaks. His most rewarding task during those early days was proofreading comic pages. Lee wrote his first script in 1941, as part of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s patriotic superhero series 'Captain America’. In the third issue of America Comics (May 1941), his story 'Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge’ appeared in print. The episode is notable because Captain America is first seen spinning his shield through the air, to disarm a villain in a boomerang-like fashion. That same year he created his first characters, the Destroyer (with either Jack Binder or Alex Schomburg; Historians still debate the issue), The Witness (with an unknown artist), Jack Frost (co-created with Frank Giacoia and Carmine Infantino) and Father Time, whom Lee thought up in collaboration with Jack Alderman. By the end of 1941, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon left the company over a salary dispute. The 19-year old Lee was promoted to assistant-editor, soon rising to become chief editor.

In those days Lee saw his comics work as a temporary vocation. He still wanted to become a novelist, with the high ambition to create the “Great American novel”, a literary masterpiece on par with foreign examples from Europe and Asia. Out of fear that a comic book writer would never be taken seriously as an author, Lee used pseudonyms. Among them: 'Reel Nats’, 'S.T. Anley’ and the one he’d eventually settle on as his official name: Stan Lee.

Lee’s blitz career was interrupted in late 1941, when the United States entered World War II. Like so many young men, he was drafted. As part of the Signal Corps Training Film division, he wrote scripts for U.S. military propaganda media and army instruction films. Lee made contributions to instruction manuals, training movies and Hollywood pictures. Among his fellow recruits in this specific division were Charles Addams and Dr. Seuss. During Lee’s absence, Vincent Fago replaced him as editor at Timely Comics. Still, he kept in touch with the company’s creative and administrative proceedings. His colleagues gave him weekly updates by mail, while he sent in new comic scripts. After World War II, Lee returned to his home country, taking up his job at Timely again.

My Friend Irma
'My Friend Irma'. Artwork by Dan DeCarlo

Atlas Comics (Marvel Comics)
From 1945 until 1957, Lee remained a prominent editor and scriptwriter for Timely Comics, who in 1951 changed their name in Atlas Comics. Attempts were made to relaunch their old success series, like 'Young Men’, 'Sub-Mariner’, 'The Human Torch’ and 'Captain America’ in 1954-1955, but they didn’t catch on. Eventually they discontinued most of their superhero stories in favor of any genre that sold. For instance, to compete with E.C. Comics, Atlas published horror and mystery comics. Their romance comics were an answer to Archie Comics’ similar popular titles. Since Dell’s funny animal stories were bestsellers, Atlas also jumped on that bandwagon. Although Atlas tried every possible genre in order to survive, they couldn’t compete with their rivals. In 1956 they took on a new distributor, the American News Company. Unfortunately they were found guilty in a court case of restraint of trade. When the American News Company went bankrupt, it sucked many of their business partners with them, Atlas included. In 1957 they released their final issue under that title. 

My Friend Irma
Atlas Comics also produced several comics based on popular radio and TV shows. Lee worked on one of them, 'My Friend Irma’ (1950-1955). The original show was a radio sitcom about a dumb but good-natured blonde, Irma Peterson. In 1952 the series would also be adapted for television. Atlas brought out no less than two different comic book versions of 'My Friend Irma’. Between 1950 and 1955, over 48 comic book issues were produced, scripted by Lee and drawn by Dan DeCarlo. In 1952, Atlas also launched a newspaper comic incarnation, syndicated by Mirror Enterprises, scripted and drawn by Jack Seidel. Since the ‘My Friend Irma’ newspaper comic was far less popular than the comic books, Seidel was replaced by Lee and DeCarlo after two years. Nevertheless, like so many celebrity comics, 'My Friend Irma’‘s success was highly dependent on the popularity of the original media show. Once the show went off the air, the comics were discontinued too. 

Marvel Comics
Between 1957 and 1961, Atlas Comics survived under distribution of Independent News, who also published National Comics (nowadays DC Comics). No longer in charge of their content, the company took a long time before they could rebrand themselves. Another albatross around their neck was the increased influence of the Comics Code. Halfway the 1950s, comics had become victim of a severe witch hunt, being blamed for many of society’s ills. An official censor commission, the Comics Code, was founded to keep U.S. comics as family friendly as possible. Naturally, this severely limited writers and artist’s creativity. Lee was one of the people who felt increasingly dissatisfied with the situation. His company mostly churned out bland comics, bowing to the demands of money-hungry executives and the conventional demands of the Comics Code. A case in point was Lee’s attempt at a newspaper gag-a-day comic, 'Barney’s Beat’, about a police officer. Although he was very satisfied with his concept, it was rejected because “small towns would care less about it than people in big cities”. Instead he was told to make the character a mailman instead. Lee felt belittled by this inane explanation, let alone the publisher’s alternative. So, to mock him, he came up with a ludicrous name for the character, 'Willie Lumpkin’, which was instantly accepted. Between 7 December 1959 and 6 May 1961, 'Willie Lumpkin’ ran in U.S. papers, syndicated by Publishers Syndicate and drawn by Dan DeCarlo. From 28 May 1960 on, it received a Sunday page. This watered-down version of Lee’s original idea never caught on. But two years later, Lee and Jack Kirby would use the same character and redesign him as a regular cast member in 'The Fantastic Four’.

By 1961, Lee’s company changed its name to Marvel Comics. But he was on the brink of quitting comics for good. His wife convinced him to try a final story, more in line with his personal taste. Since he had nothing to lose, Lee went ahead…

The Fantastic Four
In 1961 Lee teamed up with Jack Kirby to launch a new superhero series for Marvel. The end result, 'The Fantastic Four’ (November 1961), was meant as their answer to DC Comics’ 'Justice League’, developed by Gardner Fox. The Justice League brought several characters from DC’s superhero series together as a team. This crossover delighted readers and popularized the idea of a “shared universe”. The Fantastic Four are also a superhero team. Reed Richards is Mr. Fantastic, the team's leader, who is able to stretch his body into incredible lengths. Ben Grimm, The Thing, is a strong monster made of rock. Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, can generate force fields and make herself invisible, and teenager Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, can fly and create fire. Within this quartet, only the Human Torch was actually an older character used by Marvel when their company was still named Timely Comics. The other three were brand new creations.

At the time, The Fantastic Four were notable for their innovations. This team has no secret identities. Sue and Johnny Storm are siblings, and Reed Richards and Sue Storm are married to each other, creating family dynamics within the group. Over the years, each team member would receive their own eponymous spin-off series. Lee and Kirby even changed the Fantastic Four's line-up for several issues. Various side characters introduced in the franchise, like the supervillains Dr. Doom (1962) and Galactus (1966), also appeared in other Marvel series. But what attracted young readers the most was that The Fantastic Four were relatable. Certain cast members struggled with teenage angst. Their language wasn’t stylized, but peppered with slang. The Fantastic Four quickly became an overnight sensation. With each issue, sales increased. Lee decided to stay and received more creative freedom.

Emotions and doubts in Amazing Spider-Man #97: 'Green Goblin Reborn!' (May 1971, art by Gil Kane).

'Spider-Man', who debuted in August 1962 in partnership with Steve Ditko, is Marvel's most famous character. He is also the third most recognizable superhero in the world after 'Superman' by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and Bob Kane's 'Batman', both owned by DC. In contrast to these two adult superheroes, Spider-Man is not an adult but an adolescent. Spider-Man is the secret identity of a high school pupil, Peter Parker. The character was unusual for the time, because he operated without a mentor or sidekick. As a result, Peter Parker has to make his moral choices and decisions alone - a heavy burden caused by his decision not to tell anybody about his secret life as a superhero. Another challenge is combining his “great power” and “great responsibility” with his teenage life. Spider-Man thanks his name to the fact that he's able to shoot spider webs which help him swing from one building to another. He is also able to see, hear and feel things others can't observe, which spawned another famous catchphrase: "My spidey-sense is tingling." The franchise is known for its colourful supervillains, of whom Dr. Octopus (1963), Sandman (1963), The Green Goblin (1964) and Venom (1988) are the best known. Highly influential in his own right, Spider-Man's design inspired various other superheroes since, most notably Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld's 'Deadpool' (1991). 'Spider-Man' reached a wider audience through the animated TV series 'The Amazing Spider-Man' (1967-1970), of which the theme song, "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can" (composed by Paul Francis Webster and Bob Harris) is still well-known today. It has even been covered by Woody Shaw, The Ramones, Aerosmith and spoofed by Matt Groening's Homer Simpson in 'The Simpsons Movie'. The most critically acclaimed 'Spider-Man' adaptations so far have been the movies Sam Raimi directed in the 2000s, with Tobey Maguire as the titular character.

Bruce Banner turns into the Incredible Hulk (Incredible Hulk #2, July 1962, artwork by Jack Kirby).

The Incredible Hulk
Another recognizable Marvel hero is 'The Incredible Hulk', which Lee and Jack Kirby introduced to the world in May 1962. Slightly based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', it tells the tale of Bruce Banner, a neurotic scientist who becomes victim of gamma radiation. He survives, but whenever he gets anxious or angry he transforms into a big, green, monosyllabic muscular monster who smashes everything up. As iconic as the character is nowadays, the original series only ran six issues. A year and a half after his debut Lee and Kirby picked up where they left and continued its production. The Hulk struck a nerve with many people who could relate to his anger problems and inability to properly express himself. His pop culture fame increased when the TV series 'The Incredible Hulk' (1978-1982) with Lou Ferrigno went on the air. It introduced Banner's familiar warning: "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I get angry", which was later added to the comics as well. The show was also adapted into a newspaper comic, scripted by Stan Lee and drawn by his younger brother Larry Lieber. Rather than use Marvel's comic characters it opted for a more realistic look, modelled after the actual TV actors. After a few episodes Lee let his brother write the stories too. In 1979 Lieber passed both writing and drawing to Rich Buckler, until he too was succeeded that same year by Alan Kupperberg, who would continue the series until its final run.

In September 1963 Lee and Jack Kirby created two other similarly famous superhero teams, namely 'The X-Men' and 'The Avengers'. The X-Men are a group of mutants who fight for peace and equality between humans and mutants. Lee made them mutants to avoid having to think up an actual origin story. The original quintet consists of the laser-eyed Cyclops, the animalistic but genius Beast, the winged Angel, the telepathic and -kinetic Phoenix (Marvel Girl) and the ice-creating Iceman. Together they fight the mutant Magneto, who is far more distrustful of humans and wants to exterminate them all. Rather than make him an one-dimensional villain Magneto's distrust is given some basis, since the humans don't like mutants at all. Various 'X-Men' stories work around the theme of prejudice and notably star characters from all different races, cultures, religions and sexes.

The Avengers
'The Avengers' are a more traditional superhero crossover team. Over the decades both 'X-Men' as well as 'The Avengers' gave Marvel the opportunity to use all their characters from all their series. This provided possibilities to introduce or popularize characters, as well as let their individual personalities work off one another.

DaredevilMighty Thor
'Daredevil', issue #11 (December 1965, artwork by Bob Powell) and 'The Mighty Thor' issue #126 (March 1966, artwork by Jack Kirby).

Throughout the 1960s Marvel introduced many other enduring superheroes. 'Thor' (1962) was based on the Norse mythological god of the same name and updated him to modern times. The original artist was Jack Kirby.

Iron Man
'Iron Man' (1963), created by Lee, Larry LieberJack Kirby and Don Heck, stars a man, Tony Stark, who is forced to wear an armor suit full with technological gadgets. Lee deliberately made him an unlikeable weapons industrialist to provide a challenge to make his readers sympathize with his fate. Stark is arrogant, corrupt and morally irresponsible, but also a vulnerable man who struggles with alcoholism and a chest wound he received during a kidnapping. As he grows into his superhero modus he starts to rethink his life and tries to become a better person. The series often referred to real-life criminal organisations and political issues, such as the Vietnam War and later the Gulf War.

Dr. Strange
'Doctor Strange' (1963), which Lee created in collaboration with Steve Ditko, features a brilliant but vain surgeon who dabbles in black magic. Its mystic themes and frequent psychedelic imagery particularly appealed to hippie readers.

'Daredevil' (1964), a creation of Jack Kirby and Bill Everett, stars a man who is blinded by radioactivity but develops a radar sense. He is one of the few Marvel characters whose popularity later increased under the pen of a different writer, Frank Miller, who fleshed him out in the 1980s and 1990s.

Another character who only became popular later was 'Hawkeye' (1964), created by Don Heck and Lee. The master archer originally appeared as a remorseful antagonist in the science fiction series 'Tales of Suspense' (1964) and was later recruited as a helpful member of the Avengers.

Fantastic Four 49
The Silver Surfer was introduced during the "Galactus trilogy" in Fantastic Four #48-50 (March 1966, art by Jack Kirby).

The Silver Surfer
Of all characters Lee was involved with, 'The Silver Surfer' (1966, with Jack Kirby) was his personal favorite. The extraterrestrial astronomer hails from the planet Zenn-La, which he protected from being destroyed by emperor Galactus by offering the tyrant his services. He became his official heraut, set out to find new planets to conquer. The Silver Surfer thanks his name due to the fact that he is covered in indestructible silver and uses a surf plank to travel through space. Blessed with gigantic cosmic powers, but cursed by living an almost emotionless existence, the space traveller lands on Earth. There he threatens our planet, but the Fantastic Four manage to defeat him. Silver Surfer changes teams and condemns Galactus, who banishes him to live on Earth for eternity. 'Silver Surfer' ran for only 18 issues during its original run, but the protagonist proved memorable enough to frequently appear in 'The Fantastic Four' series. One of the character's strengths is that he tries to understand mankind, even though their actions and deeds often make him wonder how "civilized" they actually are? This philosophical dimension made him popular with college-educated youngsters. In 1987, after a few one-shot specials, the 'Silver Surfer' series was finally revived, with scripts by Steve Englehart and later Jim Starlin, Ron Marz, George Pérez, J.M. DeMatteis, Ron Garney, Jon J. Muth, J. Michael Straczynski and Matt Fraction. Among the artists who've drawn the series are John Buscema, Tom Grindberg, Ron Garney, Moebius, Jon J. Muth, Esad Ribic and Mike Allred. The character 'Dr. Manhattan' in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 'Watchmen' (1986-1987) is an obvious satire of 'The Silver Surfer', down to his design. A faceless Galactus can be seen on the cover of 'Monster Movie' (1968), the debut album of German rock band Can. The Silver Surfer also appears on Joe Satriani's 'Surfing with the Alien' (1987) album, while Bal-Sagoth's record 'The Power Cosmic' features several songs inspired by the series.

Sgt. Fury
While most of Lee's creations were superheroes, he, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers also created a series more grounded in reality. 'Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos' (1963-1981) featured sergeant Nick Fury, officer of a special military unit during World War II. The series was notable for its multicultural cast, including the Jewish Private Isadore Cohen, Italian-American Dino Manelli, British Percival Pinkerton and African-American Gabriel Jones. 'Sgt. Fury' also features a German, Eric Koenig, who joined the squad after deserting the Nazi Army. 

Stan Lee and Spider-Man
Stan Lee and a Spider-Man actor, 1960s. 

Thematic style
Stan Lee is widely admired for elevating superhero comics from the basic “good vs. evil” battles in safe, family friendly universes to more challenging narratives set in modern worlds. He endowed the super-human characters with human failings and emotions the reader could identify with. Peter Parker ('Spider-Man') is a geeky teenager who is often bullied and full of recognizable self-doubt, even questioning why he - of all people - should be saving mankind. The Thing and The Hulk also regard their superpowers more as a curse than a blessing. It left them with a monstrous appearance that repulses or scares their environment. Iron Man is forced to wear armor due to a shrapnel stuck through his heart. And even though Lee’s protagonists are heroic, they still have recognizable vices. The Fantastic Four, for instance, often argue which other. Bruce Banner’s temper problems make him transform into the Hulk. Likewise, villains like Dr. Doom (‘The Fantastic Four’) and the Green Goblin (‘Spider-Man’) are more tragic antagonists. They have personal problems that explain their motivations and provoke pity. Lee also deliberately avoided using sidekicks, something that had already become a cliché in other superhero comics. 

Lee also presented Marvel as one big family and all their respective characters as part of a “shared universe”. The idea for this concept had been borrowed from Gardner Fox, who pioneered the idea at DC Comics. All of Marvel's characters are able to interact with each other, making countless crossovers possible. 

Lee enriched dialogue by having characters speak in slang. Characters used language that fit their respective personalities, often with snappy expressions, like The Thing’s catchphrase “It’s clobbering time!” Previous superhero comics had more stilted, bland dialogues that felt increasingly corny and old-fashioned among post-war readers. Lee gave both his narration and dialogues a hip, fluid and more direct style that has often been imitated since. When crediting artists at the start or end of each story, Lee had fun inventing honorary nicknames for each contributor. His own nickname, 'Stan the Man', was soon adopted by fans. 

Realism and racial diversity
Marvel’s series also felt authentic because they addressed real-life issues. Lee didn’t shy away from condemning racism and drug abuse. Both he, his fellow scriptwriters and artists went ahead in discussing these taboo topics, hereby defying the authority of the official censor commission the Comics Code. The Black Panther (co-created with Jack Kirby, 1966), The Falcon, (co-created with Gene Colan, 1969) and Luke Cage (created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr., 1972) were the first African-American super-heroes in mainstream comics.  One particular 'Spider-Man' story in issue #96-98 (1971) dealt with Peter Parker's best friend coping with his drug addiction. The Comics Code heavily objected against the depiction of this taboo subject in a children's medium. However, after publication the story drew so much praise that the Comics Code lost a lot of their authority. Within a few years they were practically gone, allowing more creative freedom for U.S. comic publishers. One of the groundbreaking stories that otherwise wouldn't have been published was the 'Spider-Man' episode 'The Night Gwen Stacy Died' (1973), written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, John Romita Sr. and Tony Mortellaro, which shocked audiences by having a major character in the franchise permanently die off.

Addressing fans
Lee strenghtened the bond with fans through his own monthly column in Marvel's readers' pages Bullpen Bulletins (1965-2001), titled 'Stan's Soapbox' (December 1965-January 1982). He talked to his readers as if he was a personal friend, discussing upcoming publications and media events.It increased his personal fame, but Lee also gave several comic artists, inkers, letterers, colorists and scriptwriters regular attention. While many U.S. comics typically didn’t give their staff credit, Lee printed their names for everyone to read. He also praised them individually in his column, making them household names among fans. Lee coined a few catchphrases fondly remembered by longtime readers, such as “Excelsior!” and his tradtional closing sentence “’Nuff said.”

Karakuridóji UltimoHeroman
'Ultimo' and 'Heroman'. 

From the 1960s on, Marvel managed to reach a more mature demographic than most other superhero comics. Adults weren’t ashamed to admit that they enjoyed Marvel’s comics, appreciating the complex, contemporary tales and stunning artwork. Since Lee’s name popped up the most in credits, he often acted as the company’s spokesman. He was invited to lectures, comic-cons, book signings and interviewed in magazines and on radio and TV. Lee also had cameos in TV series, most notably Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons’. He played himself in the episodes 'I Am Furious (Yellow)', (2002), 'Married to the Blob' (2014) and 'Caper Chase' (2017). In several Hollywood adaptations of Marvel series, Lee was featured in Hitchcockian cameos, making a humorous nod to viewers. It all made him one of the most recognizable comic authors in the world. In many ways Lee was a non-fictional mascot of Marvel, a “superhero” to his legions of admirers. As he grew older, fans respected him as a kind of "cool grandpa" figure. 

Many celebrities wanted to meet him. Film directors Federico Fellini and Alain Resnais told him in person how much they adored his work. Resnais even wrote a screenplay with Lee called 'The Inmates/ The Monster Maker', but this idea never materialized. Lee did play the narrator in Resnais' film 'L'An 01' (1973): an adaptation of the eponymous comic book by Gébé. In the 1980s Lee heard that President Ronald Reagan was a fan of Spider-Man, so he sent him a signed page from the comic strip, joking that Reagan "could hang it next to the Declaration of Independence." Another U.S. president with a love for the character was Barack Obama who, decades later, would be featured in an official one-shot story, 'Spidey Meets the President' (2009), written by Zeb Wells and drawn by Todd Nauck and Frank D'Armata. On 19 December 2012 Obama was also photographed by White House photographer Pete Souza pretending to be caught up in Spider-Man's webs while playing with a young boy dressed in Spider-Man costume.

Fantastic Four Annual 3
Stan Lee had several cameos in Marvel's stories. The example here features him with Jack Kirby in 'Fantastic Four' Annual #3 (October 1963). 

Since Lee’s name was attached to so many iconic Marvel series, he was arguably the most famous comic author of the company. His visibility increased through his numerous media appearances and the fact that he outlived many of his (former) colleagues. Lee’s gift for self-promotion has sometimes overshadowed his merits. Critics have often contested how much creative input he actually had in the series that built his fame and reputation. When preparing stories, Lee usually only wrote a brief synopsis. His artists would then think up and draw out the stories themselves. Afterwards Lee filled in the speech balloons and captions. Some of his artists, particularly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, held a lifelong grudge against him. Kirby created the supervillain Funky Flashman in 'Mister Miracle' (1972) as a not-so-subtle attack at Lee. Wallace Wood once wrote that "Lee only came up with two surefire ideas: ‘Why not let the artists write the stories as well as draw them?’ and ‘Always sign your name on top – BIG!”. Some critics have downright accused Lee of being a hack, a plagiarist and shameless attention seeker, getting rich on the back of other people’s talents.

The debate about Lee’s creative achievements and management of his crew still rages today. Nevertheless, Lee did give his artists more credit than most comic editors in the 1960s. He mentioned even the inkers, colorists and letterers. In his column and during interviews he often sang praise of their contributions. Much like Walt Disney, Lee’s controversial status as the “man who built a cultural empire” can also be blamed on marketing strategies. Since he was the one name and face general audiences would recognize, Marvel used him constantly to advertise their franchises and latest releases. The comic legend also deserves respect for taking a lot of creative and commercial risks, while recognizing the talent of many young artists who are nowadays huge names in the industry.

Credit byline
Typical tongue-in-cheek Marvel credit byline from 'Captain America' #101.

Stan Lee won an Inkpot Award (1974), the Saturn Life Career Award (2002) and , alongside Jack Kirby, was named a Disney Legend in 2017. In 1994 he was inducted in the Eisner Award Hall of Fame and a year later in the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. The comics veteran received the National Medal of Arts in 2008 and three years later his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2007, as an ultimate tribute, Marvel built an action figure modelled after him.In 2009 the Los Angeles County and the Californian city Long Beach declared 2 October "Stan Lee Day". 

Final years and death
In 1966 Steve Ditko left Marvel. Jack Kirby did the same in 1970. John Romita Sr. then emerged as Lee's main co-artist. In 1972, Lee became publisher and editorial director of Marvel. Two years later he and John Buscema wrote a book titled 'Origins of Marvel Comics'. 1998 saw the foundation of the marketing studio Stan Lee Media, but in 2001 the company filed for bankruptcy due to illegal stock manipulation. Lee himself had nothing to do with this crime and was thus never prosecuted. In the timespan of half a century, "Stan the Man" created countless new comic series or one-shot albums. Even in old age he remained open for innovation and experimentation. In 1977 a comic book about the rock band Kiss was published. The book 'Just Imagine Stan Lee' (2001) reinvented several superheroes from rival company DC as a one-shot joke. He even delved into manga, with the publication of Hiroyuki Takei's 'Karakuridóji Ultimo' (2008-2015) and Tamon Ohta's 'Heroman' (2009-2012). Lee also wrote funny speech balloons for the photo comic 'Stan Lee Presents Election Daze: What Are They Really Saying?' (2008), ridiculing the U.S. presidential elections. On 31 August 2009 Marvel was sold to the Walt Disney Company. In 2010 the Stan Lee Foundation was established to promote literacy, education and art projects.Two years later Lee also launched his own YouTube channel and in 2016 his digital graphic novel 'Stan Lee's God Woke', based on a 1972 poem by his hand. 

His final years were filled with declining health and painful personal issues. On 28 April 2005 a 10 million dollar financial settlement was reached after Lee had sued Marvel for receiving no royalties for any of Marvel’s film adaptations. In 2018 reports about “elderly abuse for financial gain” gained momentum as several of Lee’s managers, lawyers and even his own daughter were accused. One of the most far-fetched claims was that his nurse tapped of Lee’s blood and tried to sell it online, even supposedly mixing it with ink to sign/draw 'Black Panther' comics. While the blood story is clearly an urban legend, restraining orders were indeed made against several of his former lawyers and managers. Yet Lee’s daughter released video footage of her father denying many of the accusations, particularly regarding his own daughter. He claimed that he did sign the legal declarations, but couldn’t properly read what it actually stated, since he suffered from macular degeneration. This nevertheless didn’t stop Lee from sueing POW! Entertainment on 15 May for manufacturing a fraudulent property agreement, a statement which he once again claimed to have no memory of afterwards. Contradicting allegations like these made many wonder whether the comics legend was still in good (mental) health? In an interview with the Daily Beast, conducted by Max Ebner on 10 August, Lee once again denied any problems with his daughter, but did admit putting trust in many people who betrayed him. Stan Lee passed away on 12 November of the following year in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He was 95 years old.

Legacy and influence
Stan Lee leaves an impressive legacy behind. His ideas and clever promotional skills made Marvel the multimedia powerhouse it remains today. By introducing more mature and complex themes it gained its reputation as "the thinking man's DC", yet without losing its global audience. He approached his readers as good friends, building up a more personal bond than most other comic magazine columnists. Regardless how much creative input he actually had Lee has always been Marvel's only non-fictional mascot. Even if he is nothing but a symbol of all of Marvel's talents, his legend will endure. 'Nuff said. 

Books about Stan Lee
For those interested in his life and career, Raphael Jordan and Tom Spurgeon's 'Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book' (2003) and Jeff McLaughlin's 'Stan Lee: Conversations' (2007) are highly recommended books. 

caricature portrait of Stan Lee by Drew Freidman
Stan Lee caricature by Drew Friedman.

Series and books by Stan Lee you can order today:


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