Biography of Stan Lee: Creator of Legendary Marvel Superheroes

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Stan Lee was a renowned comic-book writer and editor and the former chairman of Marvel Comics. Coming to prominence in the mid-twentieth century, his creations included Spider-Man, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Iron Man. Stan Lee died November 12, 2018, in Los Angeles, California.

Fast Facts: Stan Lee

  • Full Name: Stanley Martin Lieber
  • Born: December 28, 1922 in New York City
  • Died: November 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
  • Parents: Celia and Jack Lieber
  • Spouse: Joan B. Lee
  • Children: Joan Celia Lee and Jan Lee (died as an infant)
  • Known for: Creator of many of Marvel's most successful superheroes, including Spider-Man, The Hulk, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Iron Man, and Fantastic Four.

Early Years

Born Stanley Lieber to first generation Romanian-Jewish immigrants in 1920s' New York, Lee and his family struggled through the Great Depression. As a young child, he escaped into the high-flying adventures of characters in pulp novels and early adventure films—Errol Flynn was a particular favorite. When he was nine, Lee’s younger brother, Larry Lieber, was born, the pair shared a sofa bed in a pokey Manhattan apartment during their teen years. Following graduation, Lee worked variously as a Broadway usher, sandwich delivery boy, and obituary writer; all whilst dreaming of penning the Great American Novel.

As it happened, the young Lee had an in to the publishing industry: his uncle Robbie Solomon got him a job at Timely Comics, which produced pulp magazines and comic books.

He was hired by Joe Simon, who had co-created Captain America with Lee’s later recurring collaborator Jack Kirby.

He quickly worked his way up from dogsbody (buying lunch, making sure artist’s inkwells were full) to proofreading scripts, eventually adopting the professional pseudonym of Stan Lee for his comic book writing debut—a text piece in an early issue of Captain America.

From there he regularly produced back-up stories in some of Timely’s biggest comic book titles, a level of responsibility which lead to his being installed as editor when Simon and Kirby left in the early 40s.

Following a spell in the military during the Second World War where, amongst other things, he wrote manuals, training films and cartoons for army newspapers, he returned to his editorial position at Timely, which had then be re-branded as Atlas Comics. The interests of the comic book industry had shifted, and Lee found himself writing stories in the science fiction, horror, and thriller genres, all of which would inform his later work.

The Marvel Age

Although Superman and Batman had debuted a decade earlier, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the superhero really took hold in the public imagination, eventually leading to the dominance of the comic book form entirely. DC had begun to gain a greater market share by focussing on masked vigilantes and Lee, burnt out on the sort of titles he had been overseeing, took a gamble on focussing Atlas attentions in the same area.

The publisher changed their name a third time, and this time it stuck. Marvel Comics made a splash with their first superhero team, the Fantastic Four, a group of flawed, complex human characters in comparison to the unassailable, mythic icons of DC.

The FF, Hulk, Thor, X-Men, and Iron Man were all co-creations of Lee and Jack Kirby, the Timely artist who had been coaxed back to the fold. A lot of these early creations were banded together to form the superhero team the Avengers, who you might have heard of.

In 1961, Lee was struggling to come up with another hero that fit into his tried-and-tested formula, but stood out against his previous creations. The initial spark of inspiration came when he saw a spider walking up a doorway in his office—Lee thought an insectoid hero, with a similar ability, could work. It took a while for the idea to gestate, eventually being combined with his desire to have a character the same age as his mainly adolescent audience.

After Jack Kirby’s initial designs for the character didn’t really jive with his conception, Lee teamed with artist Steve Ditko to create Peter Parker—a milquetoast teen by day, superhero by night!—in the final issue of an anthology titled Amazing Fantasy. ​Soon he was spun off into the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man series, which quickly overtook Fantastic Four as Marvel’s bestselling title, and allowed Lee to tackle contemporary concerns like the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam war.

Lee wrote a dizzying amount of Marvel’s books throughout the sixties, mainly by judicious use of the so-called “Marvel Method”: he would provide artists with a loose outline, they would draw it, and then he would add dialogue and captions after the fact.

Post-Spidey

By the 1970s Lee had stepped back from writing comics, working instead as overall publisher and brokering deals in Hollywood for multimedia Marvel adaptations. It was during this period that he got The Incredible Hulk TV show on the air, as well as the early Spider-Man animated series, and failed attempts at various movies (including an abandoned X-Men production that would’ve starred Danny DeVito as Wolverine). 

During this period, Lee became more of a totemic figure for Marvel, the public face of the company. Already he had made a point of talking to fans directly, answering readers’ letters in the backs of the titles he wrote, penning a regular “Stan’s Soapbox” column, which was included in each book Marvel published, as well as attending conventions and other public appearances. As time went by, Lee scaled back his publishing work, too, eventually leaving Marvel entirely after a brief spell as president of the whole company.

During the 1990s, he formed a new studio, Stan Lee Media, dedicated to producing new superhero characters in various media. The endeavor was far less successful than Marvel, eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2001 in the midst of an insider trading scandal.

From the ashes of Stan Lee Media rose POW!

Entertainment (the “POW!” standing for “Purveyors Of Entertainment”), with whom Lee created the animated superheroine series Striperella, starring Playboy model Pamela Anderson.

Later Work

Lee continued to try and capture his past glories, although many of his efforts collapsed amidst dodgy dealings and lawsuits. Most recently, Lee had been putting together a new publishing line, Stan Lee’s Kids Universe, aiming to produce comics aimed at a younger audiences. He also sponsored the Los Angeles Comikaze Expo and wrote his autobiography.

Stan Lee died on November 12, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. He was 95 years old.