Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy 89th Birthday, Stan Lee!

Face Front, True Believer!

Stan Lee is one of the most recognizable comics creators ever. His name is synonymous with Marvel Comics and he has been an iconic figure for 50 years, promoting comic books and himself in many venues.

The man who was born Stanley Lieber did not begin his comics career auspiciously. He was hired as an assistant at Timely Comics as a favor to his uncle. There, he did odd jobs and provided text pieces for comic books. Saving his real name for the novel he one day was going to write, he chose the pseudonym Stan Lee. He kept moving up in the field, writing back-up stories, main stories, editing and even becoming the art director. He wrote all kinds of stories for Atlas Comics (the company that followed Timely), romances, westerns, monsters, science fiction, depending on what the latest comic fad was. Finally, he felt like he was burned out and at the end of his rope, just churning out trite stories. When his wife told him to write some stories the way he wanted to, because he was going to soon quit any way, he followed her advice and started a sensation.

The first series he wrote in his manner was The Fantastic Four, co-created with Jack Kirby. A melange of superhero and monster comics, the FF featured characters that argued, had flaws, and behaved more humanly than the typical superhero of the day. The success of the series drove Lee to move in the same direction with other titles and soon enough some of the most recognized superheroes ever, such as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, and the Avengers, proliferated. The Marvel Age of comics had begun.

Marvel courted all types of fans, created fan clubs (F.O.O.M. and M.M.M.S.), and forged an identity (somewhat overblown) as a jocular and tightly knit group of creators. The company became a major player in the comics business, competing with and eventually overtaking long-time dominant force DC Comics. Lee was head writer, then editor-in-chief, then publisher, and then he decided to move out to the west coast to oversee and promote Marvel Comics properties being translated into different media. Lee's public persona was to be the ringleader/cheerleader of the company. All the while Marvel Comics still came out bearing the intro phrase "Stan Lee Proudly Presents."

This byline was controversial in part because of an ongoing dispute over how big a role Lee had in creating the Marvel characters. Lee has not been shy about claiming sole creatorship and has even been erroneously credited with creating Captain America, who was the product of Joe Simon and Kirby, though he quickly corrects those who make the error. Jack Kirby, and now his heirs, have long contended that he had as much or more of a role in creating some characters. For many years relations between the two former collaborators were frosty at best, with Kirby famously parodying Lee's bombastic personality as the villainous con-man Funky Flashman.

Today, Lee is an established ambassador of comic books. He still is associated with Marvel but also has side projects such as POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) and the now defunct Stan Lee Media. Additionally, he hosts the reality show Who Wants to Be a Superhero? and makes cameos in just about every Marvel Comics movie adaptation.

'Nuff Said!


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