Thursday, December 28, 2006

Happy Birthday, Stan Lee

As we near the end of 2006, I was thinking back on the more than three hundred posts I've uploaded this since February 6, among them quite a few tributes to deceased celebrities, from Don Knotts to Jerry Ford, and I was thinking that I might like to write something nice about someone who's still breathing.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber, Stan Lee entered the comics industry in the early 1940's, working for cousin-in-law Martin Goodman's Timely Comics, which you might know better as Marvel. He stayed at Timely through thick and thin for two decades, until, as he tells it, he was fed up and ready to quit in order to pursue his dream of becoming a novelist. Thus, when tasked by Goodman to create a new super-hero team to compete with DC's Justice League, he, with encouragement from his wife, decided to create the kind of comic he'd always wanted to write. After all, he reasoned, he was going to quit anyway. The comic he wrote was Fantastic Four and from there, he, along with artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, went on to create what we now call the Marvel Universe.
At least, that's Stan's version. It has been quite rightly noted that, whatever his talents as a comics writer, Stan Lee's real gift was for self-promotion and his greatest creation was Stan Lee himself, and it has been shown by Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon in their book Stan Lee and The Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book that quite a few of the stories he tells of his early years are merely part of the myth that he has built up around himself.
That is part of the reason I so admire Stan. It is his gift for self promotion and hype and for creating, both on the comics page and in his own life, larger than life mythologies that makes him a quintessential expression of the American character and one of the most significant Pop Culture figures of the Twentieth Century.
Very much alive and kicking, Stan Lee today celebrates his 84th birthday.

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