In my eyes there have been three figures whom I have long admired that during the past 100 years (I believe) transformed a creative industry, raised a standard and cultivated talent that have produced iconic figures that will forever remain in popular culture and the public’s conscious, those names are Walt Disney, Jim Henson and Stan (the man) Lee. Sadly we lost Stan Lee yesterday and although it was inevitable, it’s still a sad fact that from this moment on, we now live in a time in which Stan Lee is referred to in the past tense.
Yes, opinions differ as to his actual claim of ownership for many of the characters (please don’t bother; I know all the stories) that never really entered into it for me, I didn’t just hold him as just the ‘creator of’, that was Bob Kane’s “shtick” Stan Lee was more than that, Stan lee WAS Marvel comics. He was the kid with ambitions of someday becoming a writer that started out as an assistant at Timely Comics in 1939, whose main duty was making sure the artist’s inkwells were filled but by 1941 was the interim editor (aged only 19) where he continued to climb the ranks as not only a writer but the comic-book division's editor-in-chief, art director and eventually its publisher in 1972. By then he had molded the company into the Marvel Comics we know and love today, establishing a distinctive writing style, for many the very definition of what a comic book is. Even during the later years when he was no longer involved with the comics themselves he was still the figurehead and public face for Marvel be it through numerous comic convention appearances and colleges lectures before moving to California in 1981 to develop Marvel's TV and movie properties assuring continued success for the Marvel heroes for many years to come and it was here that Smiling Stan managed something that no other comic book contributor had; he was no longer just known to comic readers he had made himself a household name, because even if you hadn’t read a Marvel comic in your life you would have seen his name on the credits of something, heard his voice on Spiderman & His Amazing Friends or even (if you were extra geeky) spotted him on the jury in, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk! (But this of course was long before his cameos were a staple of a Marvel movie). The simple fact is, Stan was always there- he was a salesman and loved the attention and so he had a knack of getting his face into everything and this ultimately led to the ill feeling between him and his fellow-creators. A great shame.
I on the other hand I relished all he did, by the early 90’s I had an after school/summer job at a vintage comic warehouse and so if I wasn’t reading the comics themselves or his Soapbox columns I was reading Wizard Magazine, Comics International, Previews or Duncan McAlpine’s Comic Book PriceGuide for Great Britain so it seemed that not a week would go by without Stan’s name cropping up in something, I even had the pages of How to Draw Comics the "Marvel" Way and Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics practically committed to memory! Then in (I think) around 1995 Stan appeared on Children’s BBC of all places promoting the Spider-man series, as he delivered all the classic lines it struck me, “I want to meet Stan Lee” I, at that point still had a notion that I would be working in comics and it would only be a matter of time before our paths would cross, however the years rolled by and my life took a different route, and it seemed the only opportunity to see him presented to me was in the background of Marvel movies but I was still determined to meet him, more so when a seemingly reputable convention dashed my hopes in 2012 but the ambition was finally realised in 2014 at the London Film& Comic Con in what had been billed as his last ever-European signing appearance. OK, it was a massive event, thousands of people in attendance and so it was a limited ‘meet and greet’ I didn’t get to spend an hour with him, discuss his work and natter about comic book movies, show off my portfolio but I did get to thank him for all that he had done, for always being there, and I got to see that familiar smile and twinkle in the eye in return, in person, an important moment to me.
So long Stan, thanks for everything. Excelsior!
© Arfon Jones 2018. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.