“Stan Lee is not just the elderly mustachioed man who cameos in every Marvel movie. The spry 93-year-old also co-created most of the comic book company’s stable of superheroes — from Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Avengers to Spider-Man, Iron Man and even Guardians of the Galaxy’s sentient tree, Groot.
Working with artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee introduced these soon-to-be iconic characters in an unparalleled burst of creativity during the early 1960s. Of course, at the time he had no idea they would last, much less eventually take over, post-millennial popular culture a half-century later.
“I never thought of it that way,” Lee tells HuffPost Canada over the phone from his California home where he’s “multitasking” by signing posters he’ll be bringing to his last trip to Toromoraeynto’s Fan Expo, which runs Sept 1 – 4. (He’s healthy, by the way, just will no longer be attending comic conventions back east because he’s, well, 93.)
“I would write the stories, and hope the public would buy them and like them, and then I’d be able to pay the rent. I never really spent time thinking how how long will that last, because I knew if the character became unpopular, I can always write another one.
“I was always writing other ones.”
Indeed he was, and some of them pushed beyond the white, mostly male superhero blueprint laid by DC Comics a few decades earlier with Batman, Superman and later the rest of the Justice League. The 1960s was an era of social and political upheaval, and that bled into Lee’s work, though he demurs somewhat.
“You were always aware of all those social issues, but I wasn’t writing political stories or social stories. I was just trying to write stories that people of all ages and sexes would enjoy reading. If we touched on any issue, I did it very lightly,” he says. But when he was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2008, the dedication cited that “these new stories provided a medium for social commentary. In 1972, when he became the publisher, he used his editorial page, ‘Stan’s Soapbox,’ to speak to the comic book reader about social justice issues such as discrimination, intolerance, and prejudice.”
And it wasn’t just on the back pages…”