Since the dawn of the 21st Century, movies based on Marvel Comics properties have become commonplace on the silver screen. In most of them there’s been at least one common thread, a cameo from legendary comic book creator, Stan Lee.
But who is Stan Lee? You may know him as a creator and the king of cameos, but do you know these facts about the man behind characters such as The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four?
Here are 11 Things You Didn’t Know About Stan Lee.
12 Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber
Stan Lee was born on December 28, 1922. The son of Romanian-born Jewish parents, Lee was always a keen writer and was heavily influenced by the adventures of Errol Flynn playing heroic roles in movies.
When Lee was in school he worked various part-time jobs, including writing obituaries for a news service and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center. He was determined to be a professional writer and took every opportunity to put pen to paper. As he dreamed of one day writing the “Great American Novel” he chose to save his real name for that and adopted the pen-name “Stan Lee” to use in the meantime. While he has yet to write his Great American Novel, his career has spanned 8 decades and the name “Stan Lee” has become synonymous with comic books and various other media outlets.
11 He became interim editor of Timely Comics at the age of 19!
With the help and support of his uncle Robbie Solomon, Lee became an assistant at the Timely Comics division of Pulp Magazine. Timely Comics would later become Marvel Comics.
His initial duties were prosaic. Lee would later recall in interviews that artists would dip their pens in ink and his job was to ensure the inkwells were full. He would also fetch lunches and proofread, as well as erase pencil lines from the page. All the while, the young Stanley Lieber was learning all there was to know about the industry he would later become an integral part of.
His comic book debut would come in 1941, writing some text filler for Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941). It was here that he used the name Stan Lee for the first time. When Simon and his creative partner Jack Kirby left late in 1941, following a dispute with Goodman, the 30-year-old publisher installed Lee, just under 19 years old, as interim editor, having been impressed with the youngster’s writing talents on Captain America and other titles.
10 He joined the Army in 1942
Stan Lee entered the United States Army in early 1942 and served the US in the Signal Corps, initially repairing telegraph poles and various other communication equipment. He would later be transferred to the training film department where he wrote training manuals, slogans, and occasionally did cartooning. His military classification at this time was that of “Playwright,” a classification given to only nine men in the service at the time.
Vincent Fago, editor of Timely's "animation comics" section, which put out humor and funny animal comics, filled in until Lee returned from his World War II military service in 1945. After the war, Lee would resume his former duties.
9 He Nearly Quit Comics!
Stan Lee nearly quit the comic world when he was asked to use simpler words during a time when comics were seen as childish. In the late 1950s, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz had revived the superhero genre and had an unexpectedly big hit with the updated version of The Flash. In response, Publisher Martin Goodman asked Lee to create a new superhero team. Planning for the Fantastic Four to be his last comic creation, he deliberately, in an act of rebellion, upped the complexity. Far from the slapstick adventures his superiors had expected, Stan had hit upon something extraordinary instead.
His characters, unlike the traditional heroes that all got along just fine, argued amongst themselves. They had real-world problems that readers of all ages could relate to. Initially hesitant, having expected something closer to the Justice League of America (with it’s ideal archetypes), the publishers gave him their full support when the series became a financial success. Teams such as the Avengers and X-Men followed soon after, both following the pattern of having individuals with egos and issues, and being less than flawless.
8 He Created the Shared Universe
Not only is he is credited as creating the Marvel Comics characters in the 1960s which introduced more complex characterizations for super-heroes. He also is credited for popularizing continuity, which gave the various series a sense of narrative flow and an interrelated common world for the characters.
In part this was due to not knowing how to end a particular story and deciding to let it roll into another issue. When this worked, and realizing that it was a hit with the readers, he concocted a shared universe where a character from one comic book could effortlessly pop up in another title and team up with the headline character. While this had happened before, the level of complexity hadn’t.
7 He Pioneered the Marvel Method
Lee’s revolution in the ‘60s didn’t just change the stories presented in comics, it changed the ways in which comics were written. He introduced the practice of regularly including a credit panel on the splash page of each story, naming not just the writer and penciller but also the inker and letterer. He also interacted with the readers on the “Bullpen Bits” page, which was written in a friendly style. The readers were encouraged to write in, and in a mark of how successful the new style was, titled their letters to “Stan and Jack” rather than “Dear Editor.” Stan considered this friendly interaction between the creators and fans to be one of his biggest successes of the era.
He also introduced the “Marvel Method” of writing. Due to working on so many titles at once, Stan would explain to an artist what was going to happen in each issue and then go back and write in the dialogue afterwards. Prior to this, a writer would have scripted the entire book before a panel was drawn. This new method made the writer and artist collaborate in new ways and produced some of the most successful runs of all time.
6 He Helped Modernize the Comics Code Authority
The US Department of Health, Education and Welfare had asked Lee to write a comic book story about the dangers of drugs. Lee pushed through a 1971 “Amazing Spider-Man” storyline where Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborne almost died from a drug overdose. Initially, the Comics Code Authority refused to grant its seal. Despite the context, their rules at the time forbade the depiction of drug use. With Martin Goodman’s support, the title was published anyway, without the seal. While the Comics Code Authority had been unwilling to allow negative portrayals of substance abuse, after the acclaim and healthy sales of this storyline, they changed their position.
This began a period where Marvel, and Stan Lee in particular, would often provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, with titles dealing with racism and bigotry. “Stan’s Soapbox” would from time to time address issues of discrimination or prejudice, as well as publicize upcoming projects.
5 He's been in more movies than most movie stars!
He had a special clause added to his contract: he specified that he must appear in any movie based on one of his characters. This has made him the king of cameos, with eagle-eyed fans looking out for him in the backgrounds of movies such as X-Men (2000) and The Avengers (2012). In fact, he’s appeared in most of the Marvel movies (even those produced by Fox and Sony) of the recent era.
Stan has appeared both in character and as himself in not just the movies, but in comic books and cartoons also. He recently voiced “Fred’s Dad” in Big Hero 6, a character that physically resembled Lee. Between the Marvel properties and popping up in other places, such as an episode of The Simpsons, he’s earned himself a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Lee admitted he'd always hoped to play the character of J. Jonah Jameson in a film adaptation of Spider-Man, but praised JK Simmons for his portrayal in the Sam Raimi series.
4 He Hasn’t Just Written for Marvel
He's mostly known for Marvel but in the early 2000s he wrote a series for DC called “Just Imagine” where he re-imagined the DC superheroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash. As an in-joke to the fans of his seminal work, Lee changes several of the civilian names of the most famous DC superheroes to alliterative ones in reference to his tendency to use them for his Marvel Comics characters; for example, Peter Parker / Spider-Man.
He also wrote the risqué animated superhero series Striperella for Spike TV, and in 2008 he wrote humorous captions for the political fumetti book Stan Lee Presents Election Daze: What Are They Really Saying?
3 He had a tv show - Stan Lee's Superhumans
The show ran between 2010 and 2014 on History and was hosted by Stan Lee and followed contortionist Daniel Browning Smith as he traveled the world searching for real-life superhumans - people with exceptional physical or mental traits.
During the show’s run, Stan and Daniel met incredible people such as ones that could withstand fatal amounts of electricity and a blind man that could sense the world around him using echolocation, like a real-life Daredevil.
The show ran for 31 episodes.
2 He wrote an autobiography in graphic novel form
Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir is a full-colour graphic memoir illustrated by celebrated artist Colleen Doran. In it, Stan Lee tells the story of his life with the same inimitable wit, energy and offbeat spirit that he brought to the world of comics. He tells of his early life as an impoverished child, growing up in New York right through to the modern era.
It’s not the first time he’s appeared in print however. He’s often been seen in the comic books, either as himself or as a character that merely looks suspiciously like him. For instance, when Luke Cage married Jessica Jones, the priest looked uncannily like Stan!
For decades now, Stan Lee has been a staple of comic books, TV and Movies. The man himself has never lost his wit, charm, or sense of wonder. It’s these things that continue to earn him legions of fans the world over.