Before I could even read a comic, I knew who Stan Lee was. My Dad would sometimes take us grocery shopping, and there used to be a section of VHS tapes at ShopRite that you could rent. (We didn’t get a Blockbuster in Monroe until years later.)
Most of those VHS tapes were collections of ‘80s Marvel cartoons, most notably, “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.” Stan Lee did the introduction and narration for each episode of that show. I had no idea who he was then, but I knew his voice. Later my Dad would tell me the guy talking during the cartoon also wrote all the comics back when he was a kid. We know today that Stan co-wrote and co-created most of those characters, with my favorites, She-Hulk and Daredevil, being among them, created alongside Bill Everett and John Buscema. But back then, my mind was kind of blown at the concept that one person could create an entire universe of characters.
I never got to meet my heroes. George Carlin died in 2008, and my only real interaction with him was with his agent who sent me George’s performance rider. It requested a limousine and a copy of the day’s New York Times, which inspired my lifelong readership of that paper.
I never met Walt Disney, but given his alleged feelings about my people, that’s probably for the best.
I had a chance to meet Bill Cosby, but as it worked out, it’s better that I didn’t. Stan Lee was the last one on that list of Heroes I looked up to. Or did, in the case of Cosby.
But I figured Stan was going to be around forever, so there was never any real rush to meet him. And even if I did meet Stan, I was always a little scared that I wouldn’t have anything to say. Usually, I’m a great talker, but when I’ve met the few celebrities I actually gave a crap about, I found that I became speechless. William Shatner comes to mind. He still thinks my name is Richard because I was getting a picture autographed for my Dad and that’s what I said my name was. I was too dumbfounded by being in his presence to say much else.
But even though I never met Stan, and my own career in comics is still in its infancy, I feel like I knew him well. I knew his voice since I heard it all through my childhood, and I had heard all the wonderful stories everyone seemed to have about him as an adult. Stan didn’t feel like a distant celebrity, but an uncle we all had that everyone loved. And even if that uncle sometimes said or did things we didn’t agree with, we still enjoyed their company and always looked forward to seeing them again.
And in recent years, we saw Stan a lot. My Dad knows Stan as the guy who created an entire comics universe, I knew him as the guy who narrated my favorite cartoons, and my nieces know Stan today as the funny old guy who shows up in all the Marvel movies. That’s a hell of a thing, and also a hell of a way to be remembered. Stan existed beyond the comic book world in a way that a lot of creators have yet to emulate successfully. But he left behind the blueprint all creators should strive to build upon. We don’t need another Stan Lee. We had one, and he was great. But because of Stan we know as creators what we need to do to transcend comics and better promote the medium, and ourselves, because of his example.
Even though I never got to meet my heroes in person, I feel like I got to know Stan real well. And like George Carlin, there’s hours of footage and interviews out there that Stan’s left behind. As far as we know, there are still even a few more cameos to come in the films. So although we miss Stan, we won’t miss him too much, because he’s not truly gone from this world, and that’s something we should all be thankful for.