One of pop culture’s biggest strongholds is finding ways to capture the current moment in accessible and relatable ways.
When creator of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, passed in 2018, Geoff Johns, head of Mad Ghost Productions and former executive DC entertainment tweeted: “Thank you for sharing your genius and your heart with the world, Stan.” But what made Lee’s work with Marvel break that code of pop culture?
Stan Lee’s History with Marvel
The man behind Spider-Man, X-Men, and Iron Man was born Stanley Martin Lieber in Manhattan on December 28, 1922. Stan Lee attended the College of the City of New York in the early 1940s and landed a job at Timely Comics after the First World War. During his time at Timely, he co-created the character, Atlas, with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
In 1966, the year the company was rebranded as Marvel Comics, Lee moved from being the editor-in-chief to being the publisher. Since the ’60s, Lee helped push the boundaries of what a comic book can do.
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Stan Lee’s Style of Writing
It was Lee’s talent for putting words on the page that made him so popular. His blend of funny and drama brought his heroes and villains to life on the page. The genius behind this was the sly wordplay Lee used to frame every panel. His superheroes such as Spider-Man and the Hulk are larger than life, but their flaws and shortcomings are all too real.
Stan Lee’s Legacy
Lee wrote or co-wrote over 1,000 Marvel Comics throughout his 70-year career as well as co-creating numerous characters including Spider-Man, X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and Black Panther. While Lee didn’t write his work from an altruistic point of view, his reverence for American culture and national pride kept him churning out two-page comic strips that reflected America’s fighting spirit.
But Lee didn’t just reflect American culture and the hardships of the Great Depression. He also used his works to paint the #MeToo movement and include a portrayal of an empowering female character, the new superhero Ironheart.
Smithsonian Magazine’s tribute, Stan Lee Helped Shape the Story of What It Is to Be American, epitomizes his contribution to our culture.
The Marvel universe is so distinct and refined, in fact, many modern comic fans believe that Lee created the modern-day comic book character.
Stan Lee’s Word Ethic
“When we create things like Stan Lee’s characters we write them with a sensitivity to culture because the whole idea of what we do is take someone from obscurity and make them super famous,” said Mary Ellen King, Marvel’s Manager of Visual Development and Stan Lee’s former personal assistant.
Lee would not have been the creative force without his work ethic. “The important thing is if you stick with it and do it for a long time and you don’t do it for the money it can be a really good career and if you can have a connection with the audience, then you’re doing something right.” said King.
Lee’s unique methods took him from teenage comics creator to being a household name for tens of millions of people worldwide. Including today’s forces in comics like Geoff Johns.
Comic books are vastly different today than what they were even five years ago. The graphic style is more realistic, the word balloon is now a typical element that is found in comics. Most importantly, as Teague Boholen of Westworld, wrote: “It was in being the quintessential American that Stan Lee was able to affect American culture so deeply.