Thursday, January 6, 2011
Stan "the Man" Lee
(From Clay --)
Stan Lee received a star on Hollywood Boulevard. He is 88 years old. He is a genius.
Not because (he claims) he created Spider-Man or Fantastic Four or X-Men or any of Marvel's menagerie. Everyone knows the creative process is collaborative, particularly in comics, and all those great characters owe as much to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and many others, as they do to Stan. What Stan did was create Marvel, at least to me. During my childhood, he was the face and the voice of Marvel. His corny hep-cat lingo made Marvel comics fun, even while the books themselves were often relatively dark, or at least darker than the Distinguished Competition of the day. He was the guy on "Stan's Soapbox." He was guy with the 'Nuff Said! and Face Front! and all that wonderful blather. He was the guy that made Marvel feel like a clubhouse full of exciting, amazing characters and creators...and he was inviting me to be a part of it.
THAT was Stan's genius. The creation of Marvel as an idea.
Stan Lee was one of the formative figures of my life...as a writer and a creator. He's one of the Big 3 who shaped my childhood. I've been privileged to meet all of my Big 3, and I'll write about the others at some point in the future. But this is about Stan.
I've met Stan a few times; mainly brief handshakes at conventions. But the first time was the most interesting. It was back in the late 1980s, during the first trip Susan and I made to DragonCon. The entire convention was housed in the Atlanta Hilton in those days. One evening we were waiting for an elevator in the lobby with the mob, and I looked over and saw a guy standing by an elevator, by himself, not surrounded by a crowd, not talking to anyone. I said to Susan, "That's Stan Lee."
This was during the era when Stan was at his lowest ebb of popularity with fandom. He had come off very badly during Jack Kirby's battles with Marvel. The King was a fan favorite; he was the man standing up to the big soulless corporation that stole people's creativity. Stan was seen as a company man and a glory hog, who selfishly cast a shadow over the role that others had played in the foundation of Marvel. He was an old man whose best days were behind him, and who was either forgotten or despised by comic fandom.
But he was still Stan "the Man" to me. And he was standing completely alone in the Atlanta Hilton. So we went over and introduced ourselves. He gave us that Stan Lee grin and we all talked for awhile. He's one of those guys who created a persona over the years and can play that character at the drop of a hat. No matter who he really is, in public he is always Stan "the Man". With the smile and the corny phrases and the wild gestures.
Then after a few minutes, the elevator came. We shook hands and he took off. That was it.
In the years after that, Stan recovered his place in fandom and has become the Grand Old Man of comics. I've seen him several times since at conventions, but I never saw him alone again. He always had an adoring entourage. And now he has a star on Hollywood Boulevard. Nice.
But I'll always remember him from that night standing alone waiting for an elevator. And for just those few minutes, I had Stan "the Man" Lee to myself.