Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber, December 28, 1922) is an American comic book writer, editor, publisher, media producer, television host, actor, voice actor and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics.
In collaboration with several artists, most notably Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he co-created Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man,Thor, the X-Men, and many other fictional characters, introducing complex, naturalistic characters and a thoroughly shared universe into superherocomic books. In addition, he headed the first major successful challenge to the industry’s censorship organization, the Comics Code Authority, and forced it to reform its policies. Lee subsequently led the expansion of Marvel Comics from a small division of a publishing house to a largemultimedia corporation.
Stanley Martin Lieber was born in New York City on December 28, 1922, in the apartment of his Romanian-born Jewish immigrant parents, Celia (née Solomon) and Jack Lieber, at the corner of West 98th Street and West End Avenue in Manhattan. His father, trained as a dress cutter, worked only sporadically after the Great Depression, and the family moved further uptown to Fort Washington Avenue, in Washington Heights, Manhattan. When Lee was nearly 9, his only sibling, brother Larry Lieber, was born. He said in 2006 that as a child he was influenced by books and movies, particularly those with Errol Flynnplaying heroic roles. By the time Lee was in his teens, the family was living in a one-bedroom apartment at 1720 University Avenue in The Bronx. Lee described it as “a third-floor apartment facing out back”, with him and his brother sharing a bedroom and his parents using a foldout couch. As a child Stan Lee wanted to become and actor, and it was first later he realised that writing was his passion.
Lee attended DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx. In his youth, Lee enjoyed writing, and entertained dreams of one day writing The Great American Novel. He has said that in his youth he worked such part-time jobs as writing obituaries for a news service and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center; delivering sandwiches for the Jack May pharmacy to offices in Rockefeller Center; working as an office boy for a trouser manufacturer; ushering at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway; and selling subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribunenewspaper. He graduated high school early, at age 16½ in 1939, and joined the WPA Federal Theatre Project.
With the help of his uncle Robbie Solomon, Lee became an assistant in 1939 at the new Timely Comics division of pulp magazine and comic-book publisher Martin Goodman‘s company. Timely, by the 1960s, would evolve into Marvel Comics. Lee, whose cousin Jean was Goodman’s wife, was formally hired by Timely editor Joe Simon.[n 1]
His duties were prosaic at first. “In those days [the artists] dipped the pen in ink, [so] I had to make sure the inkwells were filled”, Lee recalled in 2009. “I went down and got them their lunch, I did proofreading, I erased the pencils from the finished pages for them”. Marshaling his childhood ambition to be a writer, young Stanley Lieber made his comic-book debut with the text filler “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941), using the pseudonym “Stan Lee”, which years later he would adopt as his legal name. Lee later explained in his autobiography and numerous other sources that he had intended to save his given name for more literary work. This initial story also introduced Captain America’s trademark ricocheting shield-toss, which immediately became one of the character’s signatures.
He graduated from writing filler to actual comics with a backup feature, “‘Headline’ Hunter, Foreign Correspondent”, two issues later. Lee’s first superhero co-creation was the Destroyer, in Mystic Comics #6 (Aug 1941). Other characters he created during this period fans and historians call theGolden Age of comics include Jack Frost, debuting in USA Comics #1 (Aug. 1941), and Father Time, debuting in Captain America Comics #6 (Aug. 1941).
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. The youngster showed a knack for the business that led him to remain as the comic-book division’s editor-in-chief, as well as art director for much of that time, until 1972, when he would succeed Goodman as publisher.
Lee entered the United States Army in early 1942 and served stateside in the Signal Corps, repairing telegraph poles and other communications equipment. He was later transferred to the Training Film Division, where he worked writing manuals, training films, and slogans, and occasionally cartooning. His military classification, he says, was “playwright”; he adds that only nine men in the U.S. Army were given that title. Vincent Fago, editor of Timely’s “animation comics” section, which put out humor and funny animalcomics, filled in until Lee returned from his World War II military service in 1945. Lee then lived in the rented top floor of a brownstone in the East 90s in Manhattan.
He married Joan Clayton Boocock on December 5, 1947, and in 1949, the couple bought a two-story, three-bedroom home at 1084 West Broadway in Woodmere, New York, on Long Island, living there through 1952. By this time, the couple had daughter Joan Celia “J.C.” Lee, born in 1950; another child, Jan Lee, died three days after delivery in 1953. Lee by this time had bought a home at 226 Richards Lane in the Long Island town of Hewlett Harbor, New York, where he and his family lived from 1952 to 1980, including the 1960s period when Lee and his artist collaborators would revolutionize comic books.
In the mid-1950s, by which time the company was now generally known as Atlas Comics, Lee wrote stories in a variety of genres including romance, Westerns, humor, science fiction, medievaladventure, horror and suspense. In the 1950s, Lee teamed up with his comic book colleague Dan DeCarlo to produce the syndicated newspaper strip, My Friend Irma, based on the radio comedy starring Marie Wilson. By the end of the decade, Lee had become dissatisfied with his career and considered quitting the field.
In the late 1950s, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz revived the superhero archetype and experienced a significant success with its updated version of the Flash, and later with super-team the Justice League of America. In response, publisher Martin Goodman assigned Lee to create a new superhero team. Lee’s wife urged him to experiment with stories he preferred, since he was planning on changing careers and had nothing to lose.
Lee acted on that advice, giving his superheroes a flawed humanity, a change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written for preteens. Before this, most superheroes were idealistically perfect people with no serious, lasting problems. Lee introduced complex, naturalistic characters who could have bad tempers, fits of melancholy, and vanity; they bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, got bored or even were sometimes physically ill.
The first superhero group Lee and artist Jack Kirby created was the Fantastic Four. The team’s immediate popularity led Lee and Marvel’s illustrators to produce a cavalcade of new titles. With Kirby primarily, Lee created the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and the X-Men; with Bill Everett,Daredevil; and with Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange and Marvel’s most successful character, Spider-Man, all of whom lived in a thoroughly shared universe. Lee and Kirby gathered several of their newly created characters together into the team title The Avengers and would revive characters from the 1940s such as the Sub-Mariner, Captain America, and Ka-Zar.
Comics historian Peter Sanderson wrote that in the 1960s:
DC was the equivalent of the big Hollywood studios: After the brilliance of DC’s reinvention of the superhero … in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it had run into a creative drought by the decade’s end. There was a new audience for comics now, and it wasn’t just the little kids that traditionally had read the books. The Marvel of the 1960s was in its own way the counterpart of the French New Wave…. Marvel was pioneering new methods of comics storytelling and characterization, addressing more serious themes, and in the process keeping and attracting readers in their teens and beyond. Moreover, among this new generation of readers were people who wanted to write or draw comics themselves, within the new style that Marvel had pioneered, and push the creative envelope still further.
Lee’s revolution extended beyond the characters and storylines to the way in which comic books engaged the readership and built a sense of community between fans and creators. 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. Regular news about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which (like the letter columns that appeared in each title) was written in a friendly, chatty style. Lee has said that his goal was for fans to think of the comics creators as friends, and considered it a mark of his success on this front that, at a time when letters to other comics publishers were typically addressed “Dear Editor”, letters to Marvel addressed the creators by first name (e.g. “Dear Stan and Jack”). By 1967, the brand was well-enough ensconced in popular culture that a March 3 WBAI radio program with Lee and Kirby as guests was titled “Will Success Spoil Spiderman” [sic].
Throughout the 1960s, Lee scripted, art-directed and edited most of Marvel’s series, moderated the letters pages, wrote a monthly column called “Stan’s Soapbox“, and wrote endless promotional copy, often signing off with his trademark motto, “Excelsior!” (which is also the New York state motto). To maintain his taxing workload, yet still meet deadlines, he used a system that was used previously by various comic-book studios, but due to Lee’s success with it, became known as the “Marvel Method” or “Marvel style” of comic-book creation. Typically, Lee would brainstorm a story with the artist and then prepare a brief synopsis rather than a full script. Based on the synopsis, the artist would fill the allotted number of pages by determining and drawing the panel-to-panel storytelling. After the artist turned in penciled pages, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and then oversee the lettering and coloring. In effect, the artists were co-plotters, whose collaborative first drafts Lee built upon.
Because of this system, the exact division of creative credits on Lee’s comics has been disputed, especially in cases of comics drawn by Kirby and Ditko. Lee shares co-creator credit with Kirby and Ditko on, respectively, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man feature film series.
Following Ditko’s departure from Marvel in 1966, John Romita, Sr. became Lee’s collaborator on The Amazing Spider-Man. Within a year, it overtookFantastic Four to become the company’s top seller. Lee and Romita’s stories focused as much on the social and college lives of the characters as they did on Spider-Man’s adventures. The stories became more topical, addressing issues such as the Vietnam War, political elections, andstudent activism. Robbie Robertson, introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man #51 (Aug. 1967) was one of the first African-American characters in comics to play a serious supporting role. In the Fantastic Four series, the lengthy run by Lee and Kirby produced many acclaimed storylines and characters that have become central to Marvel, including the Inhumans and the Black Panther, an African king who would be mainstream comics’ first black superhero. The story frequently cited as Lee and Kirby’s finest achievement is the three-part “Galactus Trilogy” that began inFantastic Four #48 (March 1966), chronicling the arrival of Galactus, a cosmic giant who wanted to devour the planet, and his herald, the Silver Surfer. Fantastic Four #48 was chosen as #24 in the 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time poll of Marvel’s readers in 2001. Editor Robert Greenbergerwrote in his introduction to the story that “As the fourth year of the Fantastic Four came to a close, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby seemed to be only warming up. In retrospect, it was perhaps the most fertile period of any monthly title during the Marvel Age.” Comics historian Les Daniels noted that “[t]he mystical and metaphysical elements that took over the saga were perfectly suited to the tastes of young readers in the 1960s”, and Lee soon discovered that the story was a favorite on college campuses. Lee and artist John Buscema launched The Silver Surfer series in August 1968. Lee and Gene Colan created the Falcon, Marvel’s first African-American superhero inCaptain America #117 (Sept. 1969).
In 1971, Lee indirectly helped reform the Comics Code. The U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare had asked Lee to write a comic-book story about the dangers of drugs and Lee conceived a three-issue subplot in The Amazing Spider-Man #96–98 (cover-dated May–July 1971), in which Peter Parker’s best friend becomes addicted to pills. The Comics Code Authority refused to grant its seal because the stories depicted drug use; the anti-drug context was considered irrelevant. With Goodman’s cooperation and confident that the original government request would give him credibility, Lee had the story published without the seal. The comics sold well and Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. The CCA subsequently loosened the Code to permit negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.
Lee also supported using comic books to provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, often dealing with racism and bigotry. “Stan’s Soapbox”, besides promoting an upcoming comic book project, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance, or prejudice.
In 1972, Lee stopped writing monthly comic books to assume the role of publisher. His final issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was #110 (July 1972) and his last Fantastic Four was #125 (Aug. 1972).
In later years, Lee became a figurehead and public face for Marvel Comics. He made appearances at comic book conventions around America, lecturing at colleges and participating in panel discussions. He owned a vacation home on Cutler Lane in Remsenburg, New York and, from 1975 to 1980, a two-bedroom condominium on the 14th floor of 220 East 63rd Street in Manhattan. Lee and John Romita, Sr. launched the Spider-Man newspapercomic strip on January 3, 1977. Lee’s final collaboration with Jack Kirby, The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience was published in 1978 as part of the Marvel Fireside Books series and is considered to be Marvel’s first graphic novel. Lee and John Buscema produced the first issue of The Savage She-Hulk (Feb. 1980) which introduced the female cousin of the Hulk and crafted a Silver Surfer story for Epic Illustrated #1 (Spring 1980).He moved to California in 1981 to develop Marvel’s TV and movie properties. He has been an executive producer for, and has made cameo appearances in, Marvel film adaptations and other movies. He and his wife bought a home in West Hollywood, California previously owned by comedianJack Benny‘s radio announcer, Don Wilson. He occasionally returned to comic book writing with various Silver Surfer projects including a 1982 one-shot drawn by John Byrne, the Judgment Day graphic novel illustrated by John Buscema, the Parable limited series drawn by French artistMœbius, and The Enslavers graphic novel with Keith Pollard. Lee was briefly president of the entire company, but soon stepped down to become publisher instead, finding that being president was too much about numbers and finance and not enough about the creative process he enjoyed.
Peter Paul and Lee began to start a new Internet-based superhero creation, production and marketing studio, Stan Lee Media, in 1998. It grew to 165 people and went public through a reverse merger structured by investment banker Stan Medley in 1999, but near the end of 2000, investigators discovered illegal stock manipulation by Paul and corporate officer Stephan Gordon. Stan Lee Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2001. Paul was extradited to the U.S. from Brazil, and pleaded guilty to violating SEC Rule 10b-5 in connection with trading of his stock in Stan Lee Media. Lee was never implicated in the scheme.
In 2001, Lee, Gill Champion and Arthur Lieberman formed POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment to develop film, television and video game properties. Lee created the risqué animated superhero series Stripperella for Spike TV. In 2004 POW Entertainment went public via another reverse merger structured again by investment banker Stan Medley. Also in 2004 Lee announced a superhero program that would feature Ringo Starr, the former Beatle, as the lead character. Additionally, in August of that year, Lee announced the launch of Stan Lee’s Sunday Comics, hosted by Komikwerks.com, where monthly subscribers could read a new, updated comic and “Stan’s Soapbox” every Sunday. The column has not been updated since February 15, 2005.
In 2006, Marvel commemorated Lee’s 65 years with the company by publishing a series of one-shot comics starring Lee himself meeting and interacting with many of his co-creations, including Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, the Thing, Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom. These comics also featured short pieces by such comics creators as Joss Whedon and Fred Hembeck, as well as reprints of classic Lee-written adventures.
On March 15, 2007, Stan Lee Media’s new president, Jim Nesfield, filed a lawsuit against Marvel Entertainment for $5 billion, claiming that the company is co-owner of the characters that Lee created for Marvel. On June 9, 2007, Stan Lee Media sued Lee; his newer company, POW! Entertainment; POW! subsidiary QED Entertainment; and other former Stan Lee Media staff at POW!
At the 2007 Comic-Con International, Marvel Legends introduced a Stan Lee action figure. The body beneath the figure’s removable cloth wardrobe is a re-used mold of a previously released Spider-Man action figure, with minor changes.
In 2008, Lee wrote humorous captions for the political fumetti book Stan Lee Presents Election Daze: What Are They Really Saying?. In April of that year, Viz Media announced that Lee andHiroyuki Takei were collaborating on the manga Karakuridôji Ultimo, from parent company Shueisha. That same month, Brighton Partners and Rainmaker Animation announced a partnership POW! to produce a CGI film series, Legion of 5. That same month, Virgin Comics announced Lee would create a line of superhero comics for that company. He is also working on a TV adaptation of the novel Hero. He wrote the foreword to the 2010 non-fiction e-book memoir Skyscraperman by skyscraper fire-safety advocate Dan Goodwin, who had climbed skyscrapers dressed as Spider-Man.
In August 2011, Lee announced his support for the Eagle Initiative, a program to find new talent in the comic book field.
In 2011, Lee was writing a live-action musical, The Yin and Yang Battle of Tao. In October, Lee announced he would partner with 1821 Comics on a multimedia imprint for children, Stan Lee’s Kids Universe, a move he said addressed the lack of comic books targeted for that demographic; and that he was collaborating with the company on its futuristic graphic novel Romeo & Juliet: The War, by writer Max Work and artist Skan Srisuwan.
In April 2012, Lee announced his partnership with Regina Carpinelli, the founder and CEO of Comikaze Expo. Comikaze Expo, Los Angeles’ largest comic book convention, was rebranded as Stan Lee’s Comikaze Presented by POW! Entertainment.
At the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International, Lee announced his new YouTube channel, Stan Lee’s World of Heroes, which airs several programs created by Lee and other creators, including Mark Hamill, Peter David, Adrianne Curry, and Bonnie Burton.
It was announced in February 2013 that one of Lee’s recently created characters, the Annihilator, a Chinese prisoner-turned-superhero named Ming, would be adapted into a film written byDan Gilroy and produced by Barry Josephson.