The Passing of Stan Lee

Nov 12, 2018 by

By Shirrel Rhoades
Former Publisher Marvel Comics 

Sad news today, the loss of Stan Lee. Given the success of today’s Marvel movies and the ongoing comic books, it might be said that Stan the Man is the greatest creator of iconic characters who ever lived.

I was privileged to get to work with Stan in the late ’90s when he selected me to succeed him as Marvel’s publisher. I was just getting ready to sign the contract when the corporate lawyer came rushing in to breathlessly reveal that Stan’s contract specified he remain “publisher for life.” So they gave me the title of Acting Publisher until Stan called them up and said, “Give ’em the title. He’s doing the job.”

My first face-to-face with Stan Lee (Marvel headquarters was in New York City; Stan resided in California) was a dinner to celebrate my hiring. Stan, as predicted, said, “Well, I think we’ve finally got the right team.” Stan was never anything but positive.

It was explained to me that part of my job was to not let Stan do anything to hurt his legacy. Around the editorial floor, he was revered as a god. A later president’s attempt to make changes to Stan’s canon was met with great resistance. The Marvel Universe would stay intact.

There may be no better job than storytelling, entertaining people. But it was especially fun when you got to work with one of your boyhood heroes – the man who co-created Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, and many other superheroes.

I enjoyed picking Stan’s brain about the old days and how he came to create so many archetypical characters. In a modest moment, speaking one-on-one, Stan would drop his trademark bravado and admit, “I’d always loved the Frankenstein story. With Hulk I wanted to make a hero out of the monster. So I made him like Jekyll and Hyde, both a man and a monster. Later on people said the Hulk represented mankind’s inner rage – and he does, I suppose. But in the beginning I was just trying to come up with something different that would sell some copies so we could keep our jobs. Guess it proves that if you have a great idea – and, of course, all my ideas are great – that people will read what they want into them.”

A personal bonus were my visits with Stan in his Santa Monica office and going out to lunch. Sometimes he’s take me to a Mega Marvel restaurant (a fashion of the time) and I’d watch the waiters fawn all over him. Or we’d go to an outdoor café where he would introduce me to people like Stedman Graham, Oprah’s longtime boyfriend. Everybody knew Stan. And Stan knew everybody. If he didn’t, he’d fake it.

Stan had played the bombastic-but-self-deprecating version of himself for so long it was hard to tell where one started and the other left off. But there was no question about this schizo persona when the lights of television cameras flicked on.

Talking quietly with David Hasselhoff and me at the Sand Diego Comic-Con, the very second a TV crew approached, Stan go into his “Hi ya, how are ya!” greeting. Like turning on and off a light switch.

If you didn’t know Stan he made you feel like you did, or that you wanted to.

Maybe we all did know him. After all, we grew up reading his comic books.

As homage, I plan to help popularize Stan’s legacy and his methodology for superhero creation in the biggest country in the world. He deserves it.

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