Co-creator of Spider-Man™, The Incredible Hulk™, X-Men™, The Fantastic Four™, Iron Man,™ and hundreds more.
Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber; December 28, 1922) is an American comic book writer, editor, actor, producer, publisher, television personality, and the former president and chairman of Marvel Comics.
In collaboration with several artists, most notably Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he co-created Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and many other fictional characters, introducing complex, naturalistic characters and a thoroughly shared universe into superhero comic books. In addition, he headed the first major successful challenge to the industry’s censorship organization, the Comics Code Authority, and forced it to reform its policies. Lee subsequently led the expansion of Marvel Comics from a small division of a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation.
He was inducted into the comic book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1995.
Early life and career
Lee was born in New York City, New York, in the apartment of his Romanian-born Jewish immigrant parents, Celia (née Solomon) and Jack Lieber, at the corner of West 98th Street and West End Avenue in Manhattan. His father, trained as a dress cutter, worked only sporadically after the Great Depression, and the family moved further uptown to Fort Washington Avenue, in Washington Heights, Manhattan. When Lee was nearly 9, his only sibling, brother Larry Lieber, was born. By the time Lee was in his teens, the family was living in a one-bedroom apartment at 1720 University Avenue in The Bronx. Lee described it as “a third-floor apartment facing out back”, with him and his brother sharing a bedroom and his parents using a foldout couch.
Lee attended DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx, where his family had moved next. A voracious reader who enjoyed writing as a teen, he worked such part-time jobs as writing obituaries for a news service and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center; delivering sandwiches for the Jack May pharmacy to offices in Rockefeller Center; working as an office boy for a trouser manufacturer; ushering at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway; and selling subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. He graduated high school early, at age 16½ in 1939, and joined the WPA Federal Theatre Project.
With the help of his uncle, Robbie Solomon, Lee that same year became an assistant at the new Timely Comics division of pulp magazine and comic-book publisher Martin Goodman’s company. Timely, by the 1960s, would evolve into Marvel Comics. Lee, whose cousin Jean was Goodman’s wife, was formally hired by Timely editor Joe Simon.
His duties were prosaic at first. “In those days [the artists] dipped the pen in ink, so I had to make sure the inkwells were filled”, Lee recalled in 2009. “I went down and got them their lunch, I did proofreading, I erased the pencils from the finished pages for them”. Marshaling his childhood ambition to be a writer, young Stanley Lieber made his comic-book debut with the text filler “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941), using the pseudonym “Stan Lee”, which years later he would adopt as his legal name. Lee later explained in his autobiography and numerous other sources that he had intended to save his given name for more literary work. This initial story also introduced Captain America’s trademark ricocheting shield-toss, which immediately became one of the character’s signatures.
He graduated from writing filler to actual comics with a backup feature, “‘Headline’ Hunter, Foreign Correspondent”, two issues later. Lee’s first superhero co-creation was the Destroyer, in Mystic Comics #6 (August 1941). Other characters he created during this period fans and historians call the Golden Age of comics include Jack Frost, debuting in USA Comics #1 (August 1941), and Father Time, debuting in Captain America Comics #6 (August 1941).
When Simon and his creative partner Jack Kirby left late in 1941, following a dispute with Goodman, the 30-year-old publisher installed Lee, just under 19 years old, as interim editor. The youngster showed a knack for the business that led him to remain as the comic-book division’s editor-in-chief, as well as art director for much of that time, until 1972, when he would succeed Goodman as publisher.
Lee entered the United States Army in early 1942 and served stateside in the Signal Corps, writing manuals, training films, and slogans, and occasionally cartooning. His military classification, he says, was “playwright”; he adds that only nine men in the U.S. Army were given that title. Vincent Fago, editor of Timely’s “animation comics” section, which put out humor and funny animal comics, filled in until Lee returned from his World War II military service in 1945 and rented the top floor of a brownstone in the East 90s in Manhattan.
He married Joan Clayton Boocock on December 5, 1947, and in 1949, the couple bought a two-story, three-bedroom home at 1084 West Broadway in Woodmere, New York, on Long Island, living there through 1952. By this time, the couple had daughter Joan Celia “J.C.” Lee, born in 1950; another child, Jan Lee, died three days after delivery in 1953. Lee by this time had bought a home at 226 Richards Lane in the Long Island town of Hewlett Harbor, New York, where he and his family lived from 1952 to 1980, including the 1960s period when Lee and his artist collaborators would revolutionize comic books.
In the mid-1950s, by which time the company was now generally known as Atlas Comics, Lee wrote stories in a variety of genres including romance, Westerns, humor, science fiction, medieval adventure, horror and suspense. By the end of the decade, Lee had become dissatisfied with his career and considered quitting the field.
In the late 1950s, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz revived the superhero archetype and experienced a significant success with its updated version of the Flash, and later with super-team the Justice League of America. In response, publisher Martin Goodman assigned Lee to create a new superhero team. Lee’s wife urged him to experiment with stories he preferred, since he was planning on changing careers and had nothing to lose.
Lee acted on that advice, giving his superheroes a flawed humanity, a change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written for pre-teens. His heroes could have bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity, greed, etc. They bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, and even were sometimes physically ill. Before him, most superheroes were idealistically perfect people with no serious, lasting problems.
The first superhero group Lee and artist Jack Kirby created was the Fantastic Four. The team’s immediate popularity led Lee and Marvel’s illustrators to produce a cavalcade of new titles. With Kirby primarily, Lee created the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men; with Bill Everett, Daredevil; and with Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange and Marvel’s most successful character, Spider-Man.
Comics historian Peter Sanderson wrote that in the 1960s:
DC was the equivalent of the big Hollywood studios: After the brilliance of DC’s reinvention of the superhero … in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it had run into a creative drought by the decade’s end. There was a new audience for comics now, and it wasn’t just the little kids that traditionally had read the books. The Marvel of the 1960s was in its own way the counterpart of the French New Wave…. Marvel was pioneering new methods of comics storytelling and characterization, addressing more serious themes, and in the process keeping and attracting readers in their teens and beyond. Moreover, among this new generation of readers were people who wanted to write or draw comics themselves, within the new style that Marvel had pioneered, and push the creative envelope still further.
Stan Lee’s Marvel revolution extended beyond the characters and storylines to the way in which comic books engaged the readership and built a sense of community between fans and creators. Lee introduced the practice of including a credit panel on the splash page of each story, naming not just the writer and penciller but also the inker and letterer. Regular news about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which (like the letter columns that appeared in each title) was written in a friendly, chatty style.
Throughout the 1960s, Lee scripted, art-directed, and edited most of Marvel’s series, moderated the letters pages, wrote a monthly column called “Stan’s Soapbox,” and wrote endless promotional copy, often signing off with his trademark phrase “Excelsior!” (which is also the New York state motto). To maintain his taxing workload, yet still meet deadlines, he used a system that was used previously by various comic-book studios, but due to Lee’s success with it, became known as the “Marvel Method” or “Marvel style” of comic-book creation.
Typically, Lee would brainstorm a story with the artist and then prepare a brief synopsis rather than a full script. Based on the synopsis, the artist would fill the allotted number of pages by determining and drawing the panel-to-panel storytelling. After the artist turned in penciled pages, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and then oversee the lettering and coloring. In effect, the artists were co-plotters, whose collaborative first drafts Lee built upon.
Because of this system, the exact division of creative credits on Lee’s comics has been disputed, especially in cases of comics drawn by Kirby and Ditko. Similarly, Lee shares co-creator credit with Kirby on the two Fantastic Four films, while also sharing the same credit with Ditko with the Spider-Man feature film series.
In 1971, Lee indirectly reformed the Comics Code. The US Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked Lee to write a story about the dangers of drugs and Lee wrote a story in which Spider-Man’s best friend becomes addicted to pills. The three-part story was slated to be published in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, but the Comics Code Authority refused it because it depicted drug use; the story context was considered irrelevant. With his publisher’s approval, Lee published the comics without the CCA seal. The comics sold well and Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. The CCA subsequently loosened the Code to permit negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.
Lee also supported using comic books to provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, often dealing with racism and bigotry. “Stan’s Soapbox”, besides promoting an upcoming comic book project, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance, or prejudice. In addition, Lee took to using sophisticated vocabulary for the stories’ dialogue to encourage readers to learn new words. Lee has justified this by saying: “If a kid has to go to a dictionary, that’s not the worst thing that could happen.”
In later years, Lee became a figurehead and public face for Marvel Comics. He made appearances at comic book conventions around America, lecturing at colleges and participating in panel discussions, and by now owning a vacation home on Cutler Lane in Remsenburg, New York and, from 1975 to 1980, a two-bedroom condominium on the 14th floor of 220 East 63rd Street in Manhattan. He moved to California in 1981 to develop Marvel’s TV and movie properties. He has been an executive producer for, and has made cameo appearances in Marvel film adaptations and other movies. He and his wife bought a home in West Hollywood, California previously owned by comedian Jack Benny’s radio announcer, Don Wilson. Lee was briefly president of the entire company, but soon stepped down to become publisher instead, finding that being president was too much about numbers and finance and not enough about the creative process he enjoyed.
Peter Paul and Lee began to start a new Internet-based superhero creation, production and marketing studio, Stan Lee Media, in 1998. It grew to 165 people and went public, but near the end of 2000, investigators discovered illegal stock manipulation by Paul and corporate officer Stephan Gordon. Stan Lee Media filed for bankruptcy in February 2001, and Paul fled to São Paulo, Brazil. Paul was extradited back to the U.S., and pleaded guilty to violating SEC Rule 10b-5 in connection with trading of his stock in Stan Lee Media. Lee was never implicated in the scheme.
Some of the Stan Lee Media projects included the animated Web series The 7th Portal where he voiced the character Izayus; The Drifter; and The Accuser. The 7th Portal characters were licensed to an interactive 3-D film attraction in four Paramount theme parks.
In the 2000s, Lee did his first work for DC Comics, launching the Just Imagine… series, in which Lee reimagined the DC superheroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash.
Lee created the risqué animated superhero series Stripperella for Spike TV. In 2004 he announced a superhero program that would feature Ringo Starr, the former Beatle, as the lead character. Additionally, in August of that year, Lee announced the launch of Stan Lee’s Sunday Comics, hosted by Komikwerks.com, where monthly subscribers could read a new, updated comic and “Stan’s Soapbox” every Sunday. The column has not been updated since February 15, 2005.
In 2005, Lee, Gill Champion and Arthur Lieberman formed POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment to develop film, television and video game properties. POW! president and CEO Champion said in 2005 that Lee was creating a new superhero, Foreverman, for a Paramount Pictures movie, in tandem with producer Robert Evans and Idiom Films, with Peter Briggs hired to collaborate with Lee on the screenplay.
In 2006, Marvel commemorated Lee’s 65 years with the company by publishing a series of one-shot comics starring Lee himself meeting and interacting with many of his co-creations, including Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, the Thing, Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom. These comics also featured short pieces by such comics creators as Joss Whedon and Fred Hembeck, as well as reprints of classic Lee-written adventures.
In 2007, POW! started a series of direct-to-DVD animated films under the Stan Lee Presents banner. Each film focuses on a new superhero, created by Stan Lee for the series. The first two releases were Mosaic and The Condor. In June of that year, Walt Disney Studios entered into an exclusive multi-year first-look deal with POW! Entertainment.
On March 15, 2007, Stan Lee Media’s new president, Jim Nesfield, filed a lawsuit against Marvel Entertainment for $5 billion, claiming that the company is co-owner of the characters that Lee created for Marvel. On June 9, 2007, Stan Lee Media sued Lee; his newer company, POW! Entertainment; POW! subsidiary QED Entertainment; and other former Stan Lee Media staff at POW!
In 2008, Lee wrote humorous captions for the political fumetti book Stan Lee Presents Election Daze: What Are They Really Saying?. In April of that year, at the New York Comic Con, Viz Media announced that Lee and Hiroyuki Takei were collaborating on the manga Karakuridôji Ultimo, from parent company Shueisha. That same month, Brighton Partners and Rainmaker Animation announced a partnership POW! to produce a CGI film series, “Legion of 5″. That same month, Virgin Comics announced Lee would create a line of superhero comics for that company. He is also working on a TV adaptation of the novel Hero. He wrote the foreword to the 2010 non-fiction e-book memoir Skyscraperman by skyscraper fire-safety advocate Dan Goodwin, who had climbed skyscrapers dressed as Spider-Man.
In 2009, he and the Japanese company Bones produced their first manga feature, “Heroman”, serialized in Square Enix’s Monthly Shōnen Gangan; the feature was adapted to anime in April 2010.
Lee is set to guest-star in season five of Eureka. He said he has a guest appearance in season seven of Entourage.
Awards and honors
• Lee has received several awards for his work, including being inducted into the Harvey Awards’ Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1995.
• On November 17, 2008, Stan Lee was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
• The County of Los Angeles declared October 2, 2009 Stan Lee Day.
• The City of Long Beach declared October 2, 2009 Stan Lee Day.
• Lee won the Comic-Con Icon Award 2009 at Scream Awards.
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