There was the beginning of tears in his eyes. He looked at his mother. He tried not to worry. Both wore their "nice clothes", neat and tidy. They returned home late in the afternoon to somewhere in the west or south of Chicago.
Did this five or six year old boy do something wrong? "Backtalk", as some adults usually say? "Disrespectful", that horrible phrase for a child who is too curious and asks too many questions?
She flipped through the manila folder in her lap. He slipped closer to her. She put her arm around his shoulder. Mom smiled, love mixed with worry. "The school psychologist says you are behind in your reading." He looked at the embarrassed bus floor. She hugged him harder. "But there are these exercises and maybe a special class that the teacher said you can take, it will be fine, I love you." He smiled. In his face I saw a little of myself. In the words of his mother I also heard my mother's.
I leaned down the hall. Quiet, I said: "The same thing happened to me."
The city bus is a place where such conversations are more possible, if not necessarily welcome, in a country that is suspicious of strangers.
She looked at me, the protective look from a mother to an adult man talking to her son. He smiled. I decided to continue with my noble lie. "I was behind in my reading when I was in elementary school, then I discovered the comics."
He smiled again. His mother asked him: "Can that help?"
"Yes, I said." Images and words together. Actually, now they use comics to help adults with their own reading. Even to learn a second language. "
I asked him who his favorite heroes were. "Superman? Spiderman? The X-Men? Iron Man?"
He smiled a little more. "Spiderman," she said. "You can not have enough of Spider-Man."
"No mom! Iron man!" he said, pushing her in the side.
"Well, they're easy to confuse with each other," I replied. We all laugh.
"Mom, we can get something today, please!"
"Yes." Then he leaned toward me and whispered, "Thank you, sir, thank you."
I know that Stan Lee would have approved.
Last Monday, the writer, editor and editor Stan Lee, especially of the fame of Marvel Comics and one of the most influential voices of American and global popular culture, died in Los Angeles. He was 95 years old.
In his long career, Stan Lee was individually or in collaboration with others responsible for creating iconic characters such as Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil and X-Men. But Lee was more than a comic book creator. He was also an evangelist for the power of the art form to speak to both children and adults. He was also a type of humanist philosopher.
In his feature "Stan & # 39; s Soapbox", included in the back of all Marvel comics published from 1965 to 2001, he offered his nuggets of wisdom. Here was one:
For many years we have tried, in our clumsy way, to illustrate that love is a much greater force, a power much greater than hatred. Now we do not want to say that you are expected to go around like Pollyanna doing pirouettes, throwing posies to everyone who passes, but we want to make a point. Consider three men: Buddha, Christ and Moses … men of peace, whose thoughts and actions have influenced millions of people over the centuries, and whose presence is still felt in every corner of the earth. Buddha, Christ and Moses … men of good will, men of tolerance and especially men of love. Now, consider the hateful practitioners who have sullied the pages of history. Who continues to revere his words? Where do you still pay tribute to your memory? What banners still stand up to your cause? The power of love – and the power of hatred. What is the most truly enduring? When you tend to despair … let the answer sustain you.
The most cited directive and vision of Stan Lee was this:
Let's put it on the line. Intolerance and racism are among the most deadly social ills that afflict the world today. But, unlike a team of super villains in disguise, they can not be stopped with a punch in the snoot, or a blow from a lightning gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them, to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.
While Stan Lee may have died, the characters and stories he created will live. In his way, Lee achieved immortality. As I said on Twitter on the day of his death: "Stan Lee is living a life in another dimension that he created in his own imagination Brother Lee has just decided that his role in this part of the multiverse is over. the watchers ".
How do we separate the Stan Lee myth from the real person? What does your life reveal about the evolution of comics and graphic novels as a genre and cultural force in the United States and around the world? Who were Lee's friends and enemies? What is your last legacy?
In an effort to answer these questions, I spoke with Reed Tucker. He is a journalist and author, whose writings on entertainment and popular culture have appeared in the New York Post, Esquire, Fortune, USA Today and elsewhere.
His most recent book is "Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50 Years of Battle between Marvel and DC".
This conversation has been edited for clarity and duration.
How do we separate Stan Lee, the man from "Stan Lee", the public figure?
The man we know as Stan Lee is really a character he created as the most important public relations figure for Marvel. But I think there was a lot of his own personality there. I also believe that Stan Lee was a natural showman and a natural con man. He grew up during the Great Depression and his family did not have much money. This trained him to always be looking for the next job or opportunity. I think that no matter how successful he was or how much money he deposited, he was always willing to do the following.
I think that contributed a lot to the public persona of Lee, who helped him develop Marvel Comics and his own person and reputation. I have interviewed Stan Lee several times. Every time I have that character. As soon as he speaks on the phone, he connects and you get the guy he meets by watching him on TV or reading the comics. I would have been really interested in seeing how it was in private. That could really be him, but I do not know.
Was he comfortable with fame? How did he adapt to it?
I think he loved fame. It was something Stan Lee probably did not know he was looking for. But when fame came, I think he could not get enough. Much has been written about how he gave little thought to the artists he worked with, the co-creators and some of the other people at Marvel who were incredibly influential in the creation of these characters and in the construction of the Marvel Universe. So it has always been one of the blows on him, that he was a credit pig. Certainly, that was worse in the 70s and 80s. But towards the end of his life, Stan Lee softened a bit and, I think, tried to recognize creators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and some of the other people with whom work.
I think that's why he got out of bed every day. Fame was what drove him. I saw him in a couple of conventions walking on the ground and people treated him like a god. He also loved cameos. That meant that the general public knew who he was.
If you go back to the 1960s and read many of the interviews you gave, or heard Lee when he was on his tours to speak at the university, one of the things he always said was that the comics are not just for a niche audience . They are not just for children. They could be "bigger". We need to have a broader vision of what comics and superheroes could be. See Stan Lee realize that the vision through the movies must have been incredibly satisfying to him. I think he probably fulfilled all his dreams for Marvel Comics.
Stan Lee was 95 years old. He was one of the last of a generation, those old soldiers who saw the beginning, the middle and the end, or perhaps the future, of the comics.
Perhaps there are one or two other artists who were present at the Marvel apogee in the 1960s or who worked in DC in the 1950s and 1960s, but most of them have died. As for the great figures, he really is the last. Steve Ditko died earlier this year. Jack Kirby died in the 1990s. The Marvel editor at the time, Martin Goodman, has died. All these people have died. There are very few people who were there at the beginning to tell the stories.
What has been lost with that generation of creators that is no longer with us?
A more human take. These people were human beings. They had families. They had friends I think that what accumulates is a cardboard cutout of these people where most of the bad guys are stripped and maybe a large part of the good ones accumulate and the creation of myths takes hold. It is really difficult to dig and discover who these people were as human beings. But sometimes it was very difficult because Stan Lee was someone who admitted, very famous, that he did not have a good memory. Stan Lee would simply turn to all these stories he has been counting for 40 or 50 years. I do not know if Lee did not even know if they were true.
What do we know about Stan Lee's enemies and friends?
Many of the people he worked with over the years became enemies, including Jack Kirby. Kirby was the artist with whom Lee worked basically in the 1960s, and had a great hand in the joint creation of almost everything we know about Marvel. That includes Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, the Avengers and the like, which are now multi-billion dollar properties.
Jack Kirby felt he made a contribution to Marvel and was upset when Stan Lee began to monopolize all the credit. Kirby felt that Marvel did not pay him enough or gave him a good enough contract. Kirby went to Washington in 1970. He was very bitter about what had happened. He finally returned to Marvel, but apparently Kirby always hated Stan Lee. That was an enemy. Steve Ditko was probably another. Those two, even until his death, kept fighting for who did what and when it was Spider-Man.
In the 1990s, Steve Ditko said: "Look, I did almost everything we know and love about Spider-Man and Stan Lee, who is hoarding all the credit." Stan Lee wrote this open letter that said "I think Steve Ditko is the partner." "Spider-Man Creator." That did not really appease Steve Ditko, who said he did not agree with the word "consider."
Who were his friends, the people who loved him, his allies?
He had a daughter, J.C., who was with him until the end. She lives in Los Angeles and, judging by the news articles that have appeared in recent months, J. C. does not do much more than spend her money. Stan Lee always said in his interviews that that's why he worked, that he would do anything to make her happy. I can not judge, but the whole end of Lee's life was a little sad with the business managers, the lawyers and their daughter, all pulling in different directions and apparently putting themselves in a position so that when they died they could take their money.
His wife Joan had already passed away, and they were married for almost 70 years. She was probably his greatest ally. In addition to his family and some close friends, I'm not sure who Lee approached at Marvel towards the end of his life. There were some writers and some artists who kept in touch with him. Peter David, who for years wrote the Incredible Hulk for Marvel, was a good friend of his.
Is there a story about Stan Lee giving a break to the young creators and other talents?
Much more in the 1960s and perhaps in the early 1970s when he was involved with Marvel. But in the 1970s and beyond he became less and less involved with Marvel on a day-to-day basis.
One of the best stories about Lee helping someone get a job at Marvel is Roy Thomas, who took over as Lee's editor when he took a step back in the 1970s. Roy Thomas was a professor and a big fan of comics, and he worked in DC in the mid-sixties with an editor named Mort Weisinger. This editor was a notoriously unpleasant person. Roy Thomas hated to work for him and went back to his apartment every night and just cried.
Roy loved Marvel and wrote Stan Lee a letter that said: "Hey, I really admire what you do, I'm working in DC, it's miserable." Stan Lee called him the next day and said, "Come to the office, I'll give you the writer's proof and we'll see what happens." That's how small the industry was back then. Stan Lee was so desperate for bodies that if someone wrote him a letter, he would call the person and maybe give him a job. This happened with Roy Thomas, who was soon put in charge.
How should we evaluate Stan Lee as a businessman?
He was a terrible businessman. I think he admits it in his own autobiography. He says he was always bad with money. As I said before, Stan Lee was always desperate for any kind of work and for always having a way to make money, which meant he was prone to say "yes" to everything. I do not think it has served his legacy particularly well. When he began to become less involved with Marvel in the 1970s, at some point he went to Los Angeles in the 1980s, where his main job was to try to create films and television projects for Marvel. Nor was he particularly successful with that. Later in his life, Lee started partnering with Internet companies and also had his own company. None of them led to anything except the trials in most cases.
As a comic book creator, I really do not know what you're doing to try to make money beyond making comics. I take my hat off to Stan Lee for his gifts and successes there, but he never launched anything successful after leaving Marvel.
Why is Stan Lee such a legend?
I think one of the things that Stan Lee was very good at was public relations. Lee spoke with a voice to the fans that was very realistic and very easy to communicate. At that time, this was exactly the opposite of what was happening in the comics and especially with DC. If you read the pages of DC letters of the 50s and 60s, everything is very dry. It is very professional. There is no true attitude or personality that manifests. DC felt as if they were talking to fans the way the types of suits would in a corporate skyscraper in Manhattan, which is what they were.
Stan Lee had this true ability to make a mark. He really built what we know as Marvel. Everything we think about that Marvel is "hip", "counterculture", is friendly and innovative, came from Stan Lee.
I do not think I have enough credit for that. I think it has become fashionable, especially in his death, to beat him and claim that the artists did everything and he did nothing. I do not think that is true at all.
Much of what we love about Marvel and what makes it worth so much money came from Stan Lee. For example, the idea of a shared universe where all these characters live together, definitely comes from him. That's one of the things that makes Marvel movies work so well now. He was a great person of ideas. I think he was also very good with the dialogue. He is great at building characters.
What are some of your favorite myths and stories about Stan Lee?
He never owned any of the characters, period. They paid him very well for his contributions. Towards the end of his life, Stan Lee became the equivalent editor emeritus, and from what they told me, he was paid at least a million dollars a year, and this was in the 90s and 2000s. Basically, Marvel I was paying Stan Lee not to sue them when trying to recover the characters he created. In a way, it was money in secret. I'm sure he was happy with the agreement, like Marvel Comics.
Taking into account the narrative of his life. Stan Lee personally experimented and was part of the long arc of the history of American comics from the "10 cent plague" of the 1950s to the way that superhero comic books dominate popular culture today. How can we use his life as a reference for comics as a business and as an art form?
In the 1930s and 1940s, millions of people in the United States read the comics. "Captain Marvel" or "Shazam!" I would sell a million. "Batman" would sell a million. "Superman" was the best selling title. These comics were read by children and many adults. But the distribution of the comics began to decrease. They lost sales at kiosks; Grocery stores and the like no longer wanted to carry comics. So sales really started to decline in the 1960s and certainly in the 1970s.
At that time, the comics were really in trouble, so the way the industry tried to save them was to make them more mature and friendly for adults. This was really duplicating the things that Stan Lee did so well, along with Jack Kirby and the other people at Marvel. They took the middle of a child and made it more sophisticated, more mature and more immersive with the Marvel Universe. While, in the 1950s, you can choose a Batman theme, read it, and then the next issue of "Batman" would not continue the story.
What Marvel did was create more complex and sophisticated stories, which meant you had to buy all the numbers. As the 1970s progressed and certainly when the 1980s came, that is really what DC and Marvel did. They aimed at a specialized audience that collected comics and knew 20 years of history. This is the approach that is being taken with the Marvel Universe movies as well.
Thinking about Stan Lee's life and career: Did he win?
I think there's no doubt that Stan Lee won. I think he was probably stunned by what the comics and superheroes became, especially the Marvel characters, because in the 1960s, when he, Jack Kirby and these other guys were creating these characters, they were considered trash. They were thrown away. Many of these now iconic and great characters were created to meet a deadline, so no one really knows who should get credit, the creators did not bother to remember who did what. Then add how these characters were created 40 or 50 years ago, and the issues become even more confusing.
To see these characters and comics that were thrown into cheap newspaper and become global properties of billions of dollars, I can not imagine in any way that Stan Lee has not won. He must have overcome his wildest dreams. Good for him. I'm sure Stan Lee was incredibly happy and satisfied with what he did with his life.
Chauncey DeVega is a policy editor for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. It also features a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed in Twitter and Facebook.
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