Though mainstream fans of Disney’s Marvel movies may recognize him as that kindly old man that keeps making cameos, true comic book fans know Lee as the man who turned Marvel Comics into a household name. With the help of talented creatives like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Lee brought iconic characters like Thor, Black Panther, and the Fantastic Four to millions of readers.
One of his most famous achievements was the so-called “Marvel revolution,” which took place between the late 1950s and early 70s. Supported by a talented team of illustrators and writers, Lee revitalized the traditional idea of the comic book superhero by “making them real characters in the real world.” The more realistic, complex characters Lee helped to create laid the groundwork for Marvel’s resurgence and brought older readers into its audience. Now those characters dominate the box office, exciting millions of new fans across the world.
“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers,” Lee told the Washington Post in a 2010 interview. “And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”
Throughout the years, Stan Lee’s image in the mind of fans was bolstered by his larger-than-life personality, often expressed in his public appearances and his famous catchphrase “Excelsior!”, which he invented after other rival publishers kept stealing his slogans. In an interview with io9, he told them he wanted to create “one expression that they’re not going to know what it means, and they won’t know how to spell it. And that’s where excelsior came from, and they never did take up on it, thank goodness.”
Lee has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors over his career, including having his hands and feet immortalized outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Among all his famous quotes, both in the pages of comic books and in real life, one stands out:
Cover image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0