Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

November 11, 2018

An Initial Thought Or Two On Stan Lee’s Passing

I don't have any personal anecdotes to share about the late Stan Lee. I know he didn't like the book I co-wrote about him, though it did come from a place of great affection.

imageLee's DNA is all over modern comics, to the extent that the way comics and comics creators approach things can frequently be traced back to something Stan wanted, or an ambition he had. The fact that comics are frequently boiled down to concepts -- where Fantastic Four is a "comic about family" instead of a a stupendously drawn science fantasy with endearing characters -- I might argue comes mostly from Stan and his desire to be a Hollywood ideas man.

I think Lee also perfected a way for fans to extend their relationships with a certain kind of comics story by presenting a second story marking their creation, with the comics' creators replacing the characters on the page as the heroes of the narrative. Eight-year-old Marvel readers wanted to be Spider-Man. 16-year-old Marvel readers wanted to be the guy drawing Spider-Man. Lee found a way to wink at readers that never felt like he was making fun of any potential serious devotion to the narratives.

It's also noteworthy that Lee had a hosting function with the work that unlike Walt Disney's similar efforts had to push against dismissive and disdainful attitudes about the material itself. As a kid in the 1970s with no comics-reading friends, it felt like Stan Lee was sticking up for me.

I could go on forever, and probably will. Lee's reluctance to advocate for his artists as co-creators isn't comics' original sin but is perhaps its most unnecessary and therefore extra-troubling. His not-unique orientation towards film and TV as a legitimizing force has had a unique ripple effect, not all of it good. His last years had significant elements of personal tragedy. There are lessons in those last three decades for every creator of anything.

As is the case for many comics creators and comics industry professionals, I owe Stan Lee. He is certainly one of those public figures that if he were absent from my life things would have turned out very differently. I appreciate his accomplishment and in ways both good and bad his example. Excelsior and RIP.
posted 10:30 pm PST | Permalink

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