A Small Biography of…, or Happy Birthday, Stan Lee

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Welcome, true believers and newcomers alike!

Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922. Imagine that. He changed his name because he’d once thought that, as a writer, he was going to go on to write the Great American novel and follow in the steps of Mark Twain and Steinbeck and didn’t want to use his real name on comic books. He later came to legally change his name to Stan Lee.

Ironically, and some might say oxymoronic, he went on from being an assistant in 1939 at the new Timely Comics division of the publisher Martin Goodman to being co-creator of the iconic spider-man, the Hulk, the XMen, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and many other comic book icons, and creating such a vastly shared universe for the Marvel characters to live in.

When he started as an assistant to the pulp fiction artists and writers here, most of his work was as you’d expect an intern’s work to be. Small, mundane jobs; proofreading, fetching lunch, erasing the pencil lines from sketches and pretty much what naively I wanted to do as a foundation to becoming a manga artist. Following on from this, Stanley Lieber got his first work published as text filler in Captain America Comics No.3. This is where his pseudonym came from, filling his notion that he’d later go on for more literary goals. ‘Headline Hunter, Foreign Correspondent’ came two issues later, which was his first official comic despite being a backup feature.

Lee’s first superhero co-creation was the ‘Destroyer’ in Mystic Comics No. 6 (August 1941).

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Jack Kirby, who worked above Stan, left the company in late 1941 following disputes with the owner Martin Goodman, who now had cause to promote Stanley Lieber to Interim Editor. Some of the more astute amongst you may note that Mr. Lieber was only eighteen years old at this point. His natural talent in this position had him remain as the comic-book division’s editor-in-chief and art director until 1972, when he would succeed Goodman as publisher.

One of my personal favourite moments in history, World War II, was well underway at this point in time and America had just joined the conflict following a divine wind. Stanley Martin Lieber entered the military in early 1942, serving in the homeland in the Signal Corps. This saw him writing the manuals for the plethora of military equipment and exercises, training films and slogans. As well as the occasional cartooning, which seems really fitting, doesn’t it? He was only one of nine people to be given the military classification of ‘Playwright’ in the US Army (or so he says). The gap in his career at Timely Comics that was WWII had one Vincent Fago fill in his position until Playwright Stanley Lieber returned from service in 1945.

In the mid-1950s the company became known as Atlas Comics, where Lee wrote under a number of genres. In this time period he became unhappy with this line of work and considered quitting his career in it. Imagine that. None of this new-fangled Avengerwotsits, Spider-men, XY-Men or this Christian Bale-as-Wolverine thingamabub.

So where did our beloved and MARVELous brand come from?

When it came to the late 50s, DC Comics revived the archetype of the superhero and, with Flash running at the forefront of this success, gained a considerable success which caused the Justice League to be created. Thus, Goodman assigned Lee to act as a Prof. X, if you will, and create a superhero team for the publishing and distribution for Atlas Comics.

There’s something known amongst fans called the ‘Golden Age of Comics’ and the ‘Marvel Revolution’. This refers to what Stan Lee committed to after some advice from his wife came from his want of leaving the system. She urged Lee to experiment with stories; Lee was suggested to write what he wanted, rather than what was archetypical at the time. This came down to the reason that if he were to leave the industry, he would have nothing to lose and so should enjoy what he was doing rather than being miserable about what he was working on. Oh oracle, Joan Lee, giver of wisdom!

Yay, for so it came to be that Stan Lee wrote with characters who, despite being superhuman, had a flawed humanity. Rather than the archetypes of perfect superhumans who were written with no serious or lasting problems and could solve all of Earth’s problems with a fist in the villain’s face, Lee introduced a revolutionary idea of giving characters with naturalistic and complexities. They would have vanity, enduring moments of melancholia, argued with other heroes and had generally bad manners. Some would worry about paying bills or got bored. Some even became ill with the common cold. I’m sure that you can think of Marvel characters that fall under these divisions.

The Fantastic Four were born from this very issue, along with artist Jack Kirby. The blue-decked foursome gained immediate popularity which led what had become Marvel to produce new titles with Kirby primarily at the helm of the illustrators.

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Here, Lee created the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men; with Bill Everett, Daredevil; and with Steve Ditko, Spider-Man and a strange doctorly fellow named Doctor Strange. All of which shared the same universe, which is why you get the Avengers and other moments such as Thor vs. Hulk or that time Spider-Man crossed paths with the X-Men.

Stan Lee’s MARVELous (sorry :P ) revolution went beyond just the characters and plots and into the manner with which the comic book held the audiences and created more of a sense of a community between the fanship and the creators themselves. Written in a friendly, non-formal manner was a bulletin page which gave readers news that informed them about upcoming stories and staff members. There also came to be a credit panel which detailed the letterers and inkers of the comic as well as the writer and artist.

In later years, Lee became a figurehead and public face for Marvel Comics. He would make appearances at comic book conventions around the New World, giving lectures and participating in panel discussions. He was briefly president of the entire Marvel company, but soon stepped down to become publisher instead, finding that being president was too much about finances and whatnot and not enough about the creative process he so enjoyed.

At the turn of the millennium, Lee turned to darkness and gave some creative work to DC Comics which sparked off the ‘Just Imagine…’ series, in which Lee reimagined the DC superheroes Batman, the Green Lantern, the Flash, someone called Superman and Wonder Woman. He still worked with Marvel though, so don’t panic. He just gave some stuff to DC.

Founded in 2010 to focus on literacy, education and the arts, the Stan Lee Foundation set goals for support programmes and ideas that would help to improve access to resources of literacy, the promotion of diversity, national literacy, the arts and culture. Stan Lee himself has donated sums of his own personal effects at various moments from 1981.

This isn’t to say that these are all of his achievements or collaborations. Stan Lee has done work with a number of companies and artists that span as far as Japan. I’m only listing a number of the ones that I found interesting here. There are much much more, and that’s not to mention the awards and cameos he’s been given and perpetrated over the last Emperor knows how many years.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned Stan Lee’s birthday. You may have noticed but if you just scrolled up to check you may feel foolish when I say it again here: December 28 1922. That’s right. His 90th birthday is [at the time of this article’s publication] approaching so make sure you wish him a happy birthday!

Excelsior!

[The original article can be found here: http://www.nerdsraging.com/2012/12/27/happy-birthday-stan-lee%5D

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