Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber on 28 December 1922. His parents, Celia Solomon and Jack Lieber, are of Jewish descent but were raised in Romania. They migrated to the United States but the Great Depression soon affected Jack’s trade as a dress cutter. Most of his childhood years were spent in Fort Washington Avenue, in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Stan was nine years old when his only sibling, Larry, was born.
Their quality of life did not improve much as Stan and Larry grew up. The family moved to The Bronx where they rented a one-room apartment when Stan was in his teens. It wasn’t an easy life and what kept Stan feel better were books. He enjoyed reading the works of Stephen King, H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Harlan Ellison and loved watching Bruce Lee films.
Little did he know that it’s his love for reading that would take him to greater heights one day. What seemed to be only a hobby shaped Stan’s personality and influenced his writing style. It also exposed him to different literary styles of writing. Being a bibliophile led him to aspire to become a writer when he was still a young boy. In his eagerness to write and out of necessity, Stan accepted assignments in newspaper obituaries and did some news and press release articles for the National Tuberculosis Center. He also delivered sandwiches around the Rockefeller Center and worked for a trouser manufacturer as an errand boy. He also became an usher at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway and sold subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. Due to Stan’s sheer diligence, he graduated at 16 and a half years old from DeWitt Clinton High School and then joined the WPA Federal Theatre Project in 1939.
Joining Timely (which would be later known as Marvel)
It was Stan’s Uncle Robbie, on his mother’s side, who helped him get hired as part of the pulp magazine division of Timely Comics, owned and managed by his son-in-law, Martin Goodman. Timely Publications was then known for their Captain America series that became a hit to the readers in 1941. A year prior the Captain America series, Timely released the android superhero created by Carl Burgos called the Human Torch. It was also the year when Bill Everett's Namor the Sub-Mariner was released. Before having Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in the team, Martin relied on Funnies, Inc. to give them the contents.
Stan was only around 17 then but he was thrilled to join a publishing company. For a teenager, it was a stepping stone even if he was only asked to get the cartoonist and writers their lunch and refill their inkwells. According to Jack Kirby, Stan was a kid who liked to peer over their shoulder to look at what they were working at. He kept doing that in spite of being told not to because it distracted artists. All Stan wanted to do was learn from the best and he was doing everything he could to somehow do more than just being the company’s office boy. Although not quite sure yet, Stan knew there’s more to him than erasing pencil marks on the artists’ final work.
He slowly rose through the ranks, so to speak, when he was given the opportunity to make his comic-book debut with "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge" in Captain America Comics No. 3 released in May 1941. That was the first time he used the pseudonym Stan Lee. He intended to use his real name, Stanley Lieber, for other literary works. But Stan Lee would soon become his legal name as he got more and more followers. That Captain America story sold well largely due to the new visual effect that Stan added: the ricocheting shield-toss. It mesmerized readers and proved to Martin that the young Stan could do something else other than run errands for them. "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge" ushered Stan’s “promotion” to do actual comics. The sale of his initial work impressed Martin and he was given an assignment in Timely to co-create the Destroyer in August 1941 of Mystic Comics No. 6. Another Stan creation became a hit in the Captain America Comics No. 6: Jack Frost. Despite his young age, the success of his works proved his worth as a creative storyteller.
Talented as he was, Stan was overwhelmed when the editorial position was turned over to him when Joe Simon left before 1941 ended. They also lost Jack Kirby, their most talented artist. He was pretty much left on his own. Martin no longer wanted to keep regular employees and told Stan that he’d be in-charge of everything including looking for freelance artists who would draw their characters. The plan was for Stan to do the job while Martin looked for people who fit the bill.
He oversaw Timely but had to leave when he joined the United States Army the following year where he served stateside in the Signal Corps. His career as a writer was far from stalled because he was given writing jobs, like putting together manuals, training films, slogans, and even cartoons to keep the soldiers entertained. While Lee served in the army, Vincent Fago, Timely’s animation comics editor filled in his post. He stayed in the United States Army for three years and was among the nine people in history who was ever given the title “playwright.”
Upon being released from service in 1945, Stan went back working for Martin. According to Les Daniel's book, Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, as written in Wikipedia:
"Goodman's business strategy involved having his various magazines and comic books published by a number of corporations all operating out of the same office and with the same staff. One of these shell companies through which Timely Comics was published was named Marvel Comics by at least Marvel Mystery Comics #55 (May 1944)."
That was where Stan got the inspiration of naming Timely “Marvel Publishing, Inc.” eventually.
Stan Lee Marries
Stan settled down with Joan Clayton Boocock before he turned 22 in 1947. The couple soon had a daughter in three years’ time named Joan Celia or J.C. Another three years passed and Joan became pregnant and gave birth to Jan Lee in 1953. Unfortunately, the baby only lived for three days. It was a trying time for the family even though Stan was already making considerable money to afford buying a home at 226 Richards Lane in the Long Island town of Hewlett Harbor, New York. Stan and Joan would raise J.C. in that home and live there for the next 28 years.
From Timely to Atlas Comics
Around the fifties, Martin changed the company’s name to Atlas Comics. With the war just ending, the superhero followers were kind of disillusioned and their sales dropped to a considerable percentage, leading Martin to use the globe logo of the Atlas News Company, a newsstand-distribution company he also owned, on their comics. Rather than insist writing about superheroes, Martin had Atlas release horror, Westerns, humor, funny animal, men's adventure-drama, giant monster, crime, and war comics, and later adding jungle books, romance titles, espionage, and even medieval adventure, Bible stories and sports stories. Atlas also tried their hand at teen humor titles, such as Dan DeCarlo's Homer the Happy Ghost, akin to Casper the Friendly Ghost; and Homer Hooper akin to Archie Andrews, after they failed to revive the Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner around 1953 to 1954.
It was during that time when Stan teamed up with Dan DeCarlo to produce a newspaper strip titled My Friend Irma, inspired by the radio comedy starring Marie Wilson. Stan was yet to see success. With a family to support and no longer a teenager, Stan wanted a decent job. He said in his previous interviews that people working for comics publications during his younger years were stigmatized and branded as second-rate literary writers. It wasn't even considered work.
From Atlas to Marvel
Unlike Atlas then, DC Comics was doing quite well in their superhero genre. They succeeded in reviving the Flash, Green Lantern, and other members of the Justice League of America. Seeing that the market was again ready for superhero stuff, Atlas began to introduce the Fantastic Four in 1961. It has an interesting backstory as told by Stan himself when he was interviewed about his characters:
“Well, I had been writing a lot of stories for this publisher I worked for and after I think it was about 20 years I really wanted to quit because the stories were fine and I was getting paid fairly I thought, but he didn't believe that anybody but very young children and not very intelligent adults read comics, and he might have been right in those days. So he didn't want me to use too much dialog, he didn't want me to concentrate on personality or characterization, and he just said, "Give me a lot of action, you know, a lot of running around and fighting," And that's fine and it's easy to do but as I say when I finally grew up I felt gee, I think I'd like to do something different that would mean something and I was about to quit. And my wife, bless her, she said, "You know, Stan, if you want to quit anyway, why don't you write one book the way you would like to do it? The worst that can happen is he'll fire you but you want to quit."
So that's when I wrote the Fantastic Four and I tried to violate some of the usual comic book rules. I felt I wouldn't give them secret identities because I've always felt if I had a super power, which is not to say that I don't, there's no way I would want to hide the fact I mean, I'm a conceited guy. I'd run around, "Hey, look at me. I'm super." I wouldn't wear a mask and I certainly wouldn't walk around in a stupid costume. I'd wear a suit or jeans or something. I wouldn't want people to stare at me like I'm a nut. So none of the things in comics really seemed that real to me…” (Source: National Endowment for the Art)
Needless to say, Fantastic Four became an instant hit! It spawned Stan’s long partnership with Jack Kirby who came back working as a freelance artist for what was then known as Marvel Comics.
Stan Creates More Interesting Characters
With Stan’s Fantastic Four series doing well in the market, he has proven that superheroes need not be perfect to get readers interested in them. In fact, they soon found out that it was their imperfection that makes them alluring even to adult readers. Stan did not only revive the comic-book industry, he recreated it by giving the characters more pathos and revealing their vulnerability. Somehow, Stan gave the readers something they could relate to in their superheroes.
Fantastic Four was only the beginning. Marvel Comics was soon competing head-to-head with DC, then considered as the Hollywood of comic-books according to some writers. Then Spider-Man came. When asked how he came to create what would be known as his greatest work, Stan gave the following response:
“… when you want to do a superhero the most important thing you have to do is figure out what is his or her super power, and I had already written about the strongest guy in the world and a fellow who could burst into flame and fly and a girl who was invisible and on and on. And I was thinking what else is there? But I had to come up with something or I might have lost my job and I saw a fly or a bug or something on the wall and I thought hey, what about somebody with the power of an insect who can stick to walls and climb up and down a wall and be on a ceiling? So that sounded cool to me. No—in those days I don't think they had the word "cool." It probably sounded groovy to me <laughs> at that time.
At any rate, okay. So now I needed a name, so I went down the list. Fly-Man didn't sound that good. Mosquito-Man, I don't know. Bug-Man, Insect-Man, and I got to Spider-Man and somehow Spider-Man—and also when I was a kid there was a pulp magazine called The Spider, Master of Men, had absolutely nothing to do with spiders but he was a guy who wore a mask sort of like the Spirit—if you remember that—and a hat and a coat and he went out and fought crooks, but they called him the Spider. And I read those things when I was about eight years old and I thought it was so dramatic.” (Source: National Endowment for the Art)
Iron Man, Ant Man, X-Men, and Daredevil followed suit and before he knew it, Stan was being spread thinly writing around 20 books a month. It was impossible for him to oversee things the conventional way, so he began giving artists synopsis of the story instead and had them draw the sequence and the characters any way they want. He’d then write the dialogues after the artist have plotted the story in pictures. It worked for them and expedited release of books. However, it would soon lead to disputes over who really created the characters. Jack would leave Marvel to work for DC where he would no longer share story credits with Stan.
The Story behind Lee’s Excelsior
Stan has been known in and out of the comic industry as the man who created Spider-Man and other interesting and tragic superheroes. He had successfully left his mark and sought to bring in readers into the picture. He created the Bullpen Bulletins page where staff members shared upcoming stories in a personal, laid-back style. He ended it with "Excelsior." When asked why he chose that word, he had this to say:
“Well, you know, when I was writing these columns at Marvel I used to—I told you I liked advertising and slogans and catch phrases, and I said, "Damn, I've got to come up with something that a) they won't know what it means or how to spell it and b) then therefore they won't copy it." So I thought and thought and I remembered the motto of the State of New York. The motto on the seal of the State of New York says "Excelsior" and of course It's from an old English thing. It means upward and onward to greater glory. So I started ending my columns by saying "Excelsior," and I was right. They never tried to copy that so it became a little catch phrase for me and I love it. The only bad thing about it: If you look it up in the dictionary, "excelsior" the first definition, it's that kind of sandy stuff they use when you wrap a package and you don't want it to break you spell "excelsior" in the box, so I got so many letters from kids. "How come you end your column with stuff that stops packages from breaking?" So I had to answer and tell them, "You got to get a big dictionary and look for the second definition, which is upward and onward to greater glory or, as we say in my circle, excelsior." (Source: National Endowment for the Art)
In the 1970s, Stan was approached by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare to help them raise awareness about the bad effects of using drugs. Stan welcomed the request and published a Spider-Man story where Peter Parker’s best friend got addicted to pills. The Comics Code Authority refused to grant them their seal but Stan, with Martin’s approval, released the story anyway. They were lauded for their efforts in injecting social causes in their stories. The CCA heeded by relaxing their policies to accommodate stories with sensitive content to drive a point.
Appearing in Cameos and With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story
Because of the success of his characters, most of Stan’s creations were made into movies. Stan Lee’s followers would always watch for his cameo appearance. In 2012, a documentary about his life was produced by Epix.
Stan has founded his own foundation called Stan Lee Foundation and championed a literary project called Stan Lee’s Kids Universe that will target kiddie audience and address the lack of comic-book material intended for kids.
With Peter Paul, Stan began his Stan Lee Media in 1998 but was not able to foresee the development of the internet. Furthermore, Peter proved to be a scheming lawyer and was manipulating illegal stocks behind Stan’s back. Stan Lee Media is now defunct but what replaced it was POW! (Purveyors of Wonder), a game, TV, and film developer. In 2000s, Lee began writing for DC in the Just Imagine… series. In 2012, Stan launched his YouTube channel, Stan Lee's World of Heroes.
At over 90 years old, Stan is still very much involved in the comics industry. He’s having so much fun and so are his readers.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The Stan Lee Foundation
- Stan Lee’s Kids Universe
Awards and Achievements
- 1939: Graduated from high school at 16 and a half years old
- 1941: Made his comic-book debut where he introduced Captain America's trademark ricocheting shield-tossner
- 1941: His creations, Jack Frost and Father Time, debuted at number 1
- 1941: Became interim editor before he turned 19 years old
- 1942: Entered the United States Army
- 1971: Became instrumental in the revision of the Comics Code
- 1981: Developed Marvel's TV and movie properties
- 1981 and 2001: Donated personal effects to the University of Wyoming
- 1990s: Hosted the documentary series The Comic Book Greats
- 1994: Inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame
- 1995: Inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame
- 1998: Started the Stan Lee Media with Peter Paul
- 2001: Formed POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment
- 2006: Marvel commemorated Lee's 65 years with the company
- 2008: Started creating a line of suprehero for Virgin Comics
- 2008: Awarded the National Medal of Arts
- 2009: Collaborated with Bones to produce Heroman
- 2009: County of Los Angeles and City of Long Beach declared October 2 as Stan Lee Day
- 2009: Received the Comic-Con Icon Award
- 2010: founded the Stan Lee Foundation
- 2010: Created superhero mascots for the National Hockey League
- 2010: Hosted History Channel documentary series Stan Lee's Superhumans
- 2011: Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- 2012: Comikaze Expo was rebranded as Stan Lee's Comikaze Presented by POW! Entertainment
- 2012: Launched Stan Lee's World of Heroes
- 2012: Received the Vanguard Award from the Producers Guild of America
- 2012: Became subject of Epix cable-network documentary, “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story"
- 2001: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Batman (with Joe Kubert)
- 2001: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Superman (with John Buscema)
- 2001: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Robin (with John Byrne)
- 2001: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Green Lantern (with Dave Gibbons)
- 2001: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Wonder Woman (with Jim Lee)
- 2001: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Shazam! (with Gary Frank)
- 2002: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Sandman (with Walt Simonson)
- 2002: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Secret Files and Origins (2002)
- 2002: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: JLA (with Jerry Ordway)
- 2002: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Flash (with Kevin Maguire)
- 2002: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Aquaman (with Scott McDaniel)
- 2002: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Catwoman (with Chris Bachalo)
- 2002: Just Imagine Stan Lee creating: Crisis (with John Cassaday)
- 2004: DC Comics Presents: Superman No. 1
- 1959–1962: Tales of Suspense (diverse stories): No. 7, 9, 16, 22, 27, 29–30
- 1962–1980: Amazing Spider-Man
- 1963–1966: Avengers
- 1968–1971: Captain America
- 1964-1969: Daredevil
- 1965–1967: Strange Tales (diverse stories): No. 9, 11, 74, 89, 90–100 (1951–62); (Human Torch): #101–109, 112–133; (Doctor Strange): #110–111, 115–142, 151–158 (1962–67); (Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.: #135–147, 150–152
- 2001: Daredevil (backup story)
- 1980: Epic Illustrated No. 1 (Silver Surfer)
- 1961–1972: Fantastic Four
- 1962–1963 and 1966: Journey into Mystery (Thor)
- 1962–1965: Tales to Astonish (diverse stories): No. 1, 6, 12–13, 15–17, 24–33 (1956–62); Ant-Man/Giant Man: #35–69
- 1963–1966: Sgt. Fury
- 1963–1968: (Iron Man): plotter #39–46 (1963), writer #47–98
- 1963–1966: The X-Men #1–19
- 1964–1968: (Captain America): #58–86, 88-99
- 1964–1968: Incredible Hulk: #59–101
- 1965–1968: Sub-Mariner: #70–101
- 1968–1970: Silver Surfer #1–18
- 1980: Savage She-Hulk No. 1
- 1982: Silver Surfer vol. 2, No. 1
- 1987: Thor #126–192, 200 (1966–72), 385
- 1988: Silver Surfer: Parable #1–2
- 1989–1990: Solarman #1–2
- 1992–1993: Ravage 2099
- 2011: What If (Fantastic Four) No. 200
- Ultimo (Manga original concept)
- How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way
Wikipedia (Stan Lee)
Celebrity Net Worth (Stan Lee)
National Endowment for the Art (Transcript of an audio interview with Stan Lee)
Comic Book Database (Stan 'The Man' Lee - 'Stanley Martin Lieber')
20th Century Danny Boy (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby et al...The Birth Of The Marvel Universe)
Top Business Degrees (10 Millionaire Entrepreneurs Who Bounced Back From Bankruptcy)
Wired (Stan Lee Ain’t Joking About Comics’ Movie Magic)
Comic Book (Stan Lee Does a Q&A At His Own Birthday Party)
The Huffington Post (Stan Lee Interview: The Comic Book Creator On Adventures, Women & Which Superhero Has The Highest Value To Humanity: MY LA)
Wikipedia (Marvel Comics)