Pop culture icon Stan Lee has passed away at age 95. He made an undeniable mark on the lives of a huge percentage of the population, as a household name even if few have read his writing. The characters he co-created with the likes of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are now multi-million-dollar franchises stewarded by the House of Mouse, to be spun off, remade, repackaged, and resold into eternity.
Lee began by writing comics sold to kids on newsstands. His superheroes were meant to inspire. It could be anyone behind the Spider-Man mask. It just so happened to be Peter Parker, but it could just as well have been you.
Lee’s history as a creator and writer is complicated. In some ways he can be thought of as hogging all the credit, as for a long time many of his co-creators were denied the fame and fortune that Lee had enjoyed from their creations. In another way, he ushered in a new kind of hero, one that reflected the readers. These heroes went through everyday life while also dealing with the extraordinary.
They contrasted with the comics that had come before, which generally featured infallible strongmen. Instead, Lee’s heroes were both superheroes and fallible humans all at once. Lee and the likes of Kirby, Ditko, and John Romita Sr. laid groundwork that has turned into a web of characters who have lasted 50 years.
While the characters he co-created will go down as his greatest contribution, what Lee should gain the most credit for is being the greatest marketer and advocate of comics. He is a human mascot for the medium, a personality that was immediately recognizable through all of its forms.
His writing style was friendly and warm, and his responses in letters columns always read as sincere, a sort of zanier version of Mister Rogers. His personality flowed through the pages of Marvel’s letters column and “how to” books. Writing to you, the reader, was where he shone. He made Marvel into a big club
Lee did in paper, letters, books, and interviews what people thirst to do with Twitter and Instagram today. They want to become an icon, like him.
Lee inspired the imaginations of his readers and fans, to dream bigger and be better. He inspired them with the idea that super heroics weren’t only for the comic books.
Without Lee, generations of artists and writers wouldn’t have work and wouldn’t have been able to create. Without Lee there would have been no Frank Miller, John Romita, Mark Millar, or Chris Claremont. Without Lee, comics likely would have been crushed by the Comics Code and faded out of the American market.
If you’ve ever smiled, cheered, or cried over a superhero story, thank Stan Lee today.