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Stan Lee, a North American comic book writer, editor, publisher and former chairman of Marvel Comics, attends the premiere of & # 39; Doctor Strange & # 39; in 2016. Lee, has passed away today at the age of 95.

Frazer Harrison / NPR


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Frazer Harrison / NPR

Stan Lee, a North American comic book writer, editor, publisher and former chairman of Marvel Comics, attends the premiere of & # 39; Doctor Strange & # 39; in 2016. Lee, has passed away today at the age of 95.

Frazer Harrison / NPR

"Stan Lee" was a pseudonym. Which means: an alter ego. A personality greater than life, whose secret identity was that of the not-particularly-kind writer Stanley Martin Lieber.

Stan Lee's story of origin lacks the life-altering, cataclysmic trauma suffered by the many heroic characters he co-created. But it is so relatable, as it is marked by the kind of frustrated hopes and frustrated dreams that many of us experience. Son of a costume hunter, Lieber dreamed of becoming a novelist – but he landed a job as an office boy at Timely Comics, which belonged to his cousin's husband. By the age of 18, he had been hired as an editor. And this was essentially: The work was demanding, but he clung to the notion that one day he would find time to become Stanley Lieber, Great American Novelist, author of short stories, novels, essays, and high-level plays. To keep this possibility alive, he decided to produce his comic work under the name of Stan Lee.

These romances? They never happened. Stanley Lieber never found time to write them, because Stan Lee got too busy. The characters and stories he created instead – with a very of help from artists and co-conspirators like Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and others – have infiltrated the cultural ether, the very semiotic air we all breathe. All over the planet, they are not merely recognized, embraced, imitated, discussed. Especially this last thing.

It would be easy and flashy to call Stan Lee a superhero (a word best read in Brooklynese: "SOO-puh-HEE-row!"). There is a story of mild origin, of silent despair, on the one hand. In addition, he was a much more complicated character than his most diverse superhero creations. But you can not say that the guy did not come with a distinct look, and a set of skills and abilities that set him apart.

So if not a superhero, certainly something like one. Consider:

NameStan Lee

Secret identityStanley Lieber

Function: Co-creator of a vast, complex and strangely fragmented universe of ideas, worlds and heroes (strangely pugnacious).

Costume: Aviator sunglasses, leisure clothing, gold chains, salt and pepper chops, mustache (Note: This is your 1970 version, the most iconic).

Signature Phrases: "Excelsior!" "Frontal face, true believers!" "Nuff said!"

Skills and Abilities:

1. Myologizing

Stan Lee, in most cases, came up with bold features. He would invite an artist to his office and start acting the story, throwing his body through the action. He would leave them to draw the costumes, the backgrounds and the panel-to-panel breaks. When they were finished, he would take a look at what they had drawn (which, if the artist was Kirby or Ditko, often differed greatly from the outline Lee had provided) and filled the dialogue.

He asked them to be bigger in each panel. Why do characters talk when they can scream? Frown when they could cry? Discuss when they can fight? No story, no page, no panel would be wasted on the nonessential, the mundane. He told his artists to infuse the stories with great emotions, with metaphors the size of giants that could eat planets. Timely / Marvel's DC Comics competitors had their own superheroes, of course, but they were put on conference tables and cooperating with each other. As a result, their stories seemed serious, neat. Small.

Stan Lee made comics of superheroes great.

2. Marketing

But Lee has always been a guy in the company – an executive. It is true that he often asked his bosses to raise the artists' fees, but when it came time to fire them, he obediently threw the ax man.

His true talents – the secret of his incredible success – were intimately tied to the company man's understanding of what the audience wanted. In 1961, he realized that the children in whom the comic books historically targeted were now teenagers, even young adults. The superheroes of the 1940s appealed to their hopes and infantile whims – to fly! be the strongest! be the smartest! – but these were tropes, not conflicts. Not stories.

He knew that superhero comic book readers wanted – they needed to see themselves in their pages, and if readers were now teenagers, that meant that superheroes now had to reflect – had to radiate – teen emotions. Instead of joy, anger, sadness (the emotions of the elementary school playground) he imbued his heroes with anguish, envy, depression, feelings of inadequacy (the emotions of the high school cafeteria and gymnasium).

They fought. They cried. They felt overwhelming guilt. They fought giant cosmic battles as they bothered to pay rent.

As a result, they have become a sensation.

Like Marvel Comics itself under Lee's administration. Always a tireless marketer, he knew how to turn this new approach into telling stories about superheroes into something more than just a narrative style – he made it a mark.

3. Elegance

He did this by putting himself – or at least a representation of his own smiling face – into editorials and columns of letters in the comics themselves, and cultivating a chatty prose style full of cornball brio, phrases of effect, a propensity to appeal to officials Marvel ("Sparkling Solly Brodsky! Jolly Ol 'Jack Kirby!") And a great contempt for DC Comics (which he called "Brand Ecch").

The net effect was not simply to please himself, and the Marvel comic, to the readers, but to induce a kind of papal schism of comic publishing. Suddenly there were DC fans (booooo!), And there were members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, who met under the slogan "Make Mine Marvel."

He made readers want to be part of the exciting world of Marvel Comics and helped accelerate a process that had already begun: the transformation of discrete readers into an interconnected network of devotees, from fans to fandom.

Plus, he looked great doing it: the leisure outfit, the chains, the mustache, the shadows, the California tan. The guy it warms up in his celebrity, and made sure we knew it.

4. Self-mythologization

It is the least surprising thing in the world that the men who gave the world so many modern myths would indulge in a self-mythologizing of their respective roles creating these myths.

Lee, as a Marvel executive, was well compensated for his work – he made sure of it. But artists / co-conspirators like Kirby and Ditko and others were essentially freelancers who were denied equitable monetary compensation for their contributions. Absent this compensation, or the ability to retain the rights to the characters, the creators of comics value the notion of legacy. But for the world to recognize their roles, they must receive credit, something that Marvel and DC have been disgusting to share.

Lee's story with credit sharing was patchy. He exaggerated, then, when challenged (often by Kirby), he displayed contrition and corrected the record. However, his public reputation – cemented by his frequent appearances in Marvel films – is that of a man who alone has created a universe of comic books.

He did not do that. But having helped to be born, he took on a role that his co-creators avoided. He became his tireless salesman, his cheerleader, his smuggler, his benevolent king of the gods.

We probably will not have more Stan Lee appearances after next year, and this is terribly sad for those of us True Believers, for whom the mere sight of the guy could spark a wistful smile. It was complicated, that smile – it is a caring affection for the man himself, and for the children we were, when we were reading one of his Bullpen Bulletins and we heard his voice – that performer, insolent and playful, Noo Yawk voice – inviting us to a world that he helped to create, but which belonged to us.

We will hear this voice forever, catching our attention with its ubiquitous exclamation points:

Face Front, True Believers!

Excelsior!

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