95 facts about Marvel comics legend Stan Lee
Nov. 12, 2018, the day legendary comic book writer and publisher Stan Lee died, was a sad day for superhero fans everywhere. The former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics leaves behind a legacy of iconic characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and Black Panther.
On Dec. 28, 2018 the late comic-creator would have turned 96. To commemorate his death at the age of 95, here are 95 facts you may not know about Stan Lee.
1. Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922 in New York City.
2. Lee grew up in Manhattan with his mother Celia and father Jack, who were Romanian-born Jewish immigrants.¹
3. Lee has one younger brother, comic book artist and writer Larry Lieber. Larry is also a co-creator of the Marvel Comics superheroes Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man and was an artist for the Amazing Spider-Man syndicated newspaper strip.
With my dear brother Larry and my oldest friend Ken.<br>Excelsior! <a href="https://t.co/Ts0M4hx4uW">pic.twitter.com/Ts0M4hx4uW</a>—@TheRealStanLee
4. Growing up after the First World War and during the early part of the Great Depression, Lee has memories of his parents fighting over their struggles to get by.¹
5. His mother, Celia Lieber, encouraged his love of reading and creativity.
6. Lee's favourite books as a child were titles by authors like Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
7. His father had trouble finding stable employment, causing financial hardship for the family growing up. This instilled in Lee a strong work ethic.¹
8. Growing up, he earned the nickname "Gabby" for his charm and tendency to chat up a storm.¹
9. Lee was a student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx.
10. As a teen, he harboured dreams of becoming a famous novelist.
11. Lee earned money working several part-time odd jobs — including delivering sandwiches to offices in Rockefeller Center, selling newspaper subscriptions for the New York Herald Tribune, working as an office boy for a trouser manufacturer and being an usher for Broadway's Rivoli Theater.¹
12. At 15, Lee entered a weekly high school essay competition sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune, called "The Biggest News of the Week Contest." He claimed to have won the contest for three consecutive weeks. According to Lee, the paper suggested he look into writing professionally, which he later claimed, "probably changed [his] life."¹
13. Lee graduated from high school early, at the age of 16. He decided against going to college, preferring to find employment and help provide for his poor family. The fear of unemployment pushed Lee to value work and earn a living above all else.¹
14. As a young man, Lee is described as "agonizingly sensitive, desperate for approval and easily influenced by others."¹
15. With the help of an uncle, Martin Goodman, Lee would become an office assistant at Timely Comics in 1939. There, he worked for comics legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the creators of Captain America.
16. Simon and Kirby allowed Lieber to write a story, under the pen name Stan Lee, for Captain America Comics #3 in 1941.¹
17. At age 19, he became interim editor at Timely Comics, and then became the comic book division's editor-in-chief. Timely Comics evolved into Marvel Comics in the 1960s.¹
18. Lieber told NPR in 2015 that he initially used the name Stan Lee because he thought working in comics would be a fleeting thing and he would use his real name to write a novel one day: "I realized that people had no respect for comic books at all. Most parents didn't want their children to read comics. And I was a little embarrassed to be doing the work I did, and I figured someday I'll write the Great American Novel and I don't want to ruin my possibilities by having my name disliked this way. And I became Stan Lee."
20. In 1956, Lee's time at Timely nearly ended when Martin Goodman, Lee's uncle and the owner of Timely, wanted to stop publishing comic books after the Comics Code was instituted and altered the type of content he could promote and sell.¹
21. Lee became a member of the U.S. Army in 1942 to help with the war effort. He was originally assigned to the Signal Corps based in New Jersey, tasked with fixing communications equipment and telegraph poles.
22. While in the army, Lee received a transfer to the New York City-based Training Film Division where he worked as a playwright.
24. Lee felt invulnerable, God-like characters such as Superman were boring. Lee wanted comic books to feel real and flawed and have human emotions including anger, pride and melancholy. This idea was considered revolutionary at the time.
25. Lee would co-develop now-famous characters including Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men with artist Jack Kirby.¹
26. He would also develop characters such as Doctor Strange and Daredevil with artists Steve Ditko and Bill Everett, respectively.¹
27. Lee operated as the sole writer for many Marvel titles, using a scripting format he would call the Marvel Method. The process was based on quickly determining a plot with the artist, who would then create artwork to develop the story. Lee would later add dialogue to the drawn pages.
28. The Marvel Method allowed artists such as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby to effectively plot and script multiple issues, with input from Lee.
29. In the 1950s, Lee came close to leaving the comic book industry forever after a dispute with his publisher about the dialogue he was using. "He didn't want too much dialogue; he didn't want me to worry about characterization or story — all he wanted was a lot of action," he would tell website Comic Book Resources (CBR) in 2017.
31. While in Tokyo in 2016, Lee told reporters that the name "Spider-Man" came about after seeing a fly crawl up a wall: "Somehow calling him 'flyman' didn't sound dramatic enough. What else could he be? Mosquito man? Then I said: Spider-Man. And it sounded so dramatic."
32. The correct spelling of Spider-Man is with a hyphen. This was intentional, according to Lee, as he didn't want his hero to be confused with Superman at the time.
33. Stan Lee's 1962 debut of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 became a bestseller and was the fastest-selling book of the decade. After this early success, Lee and Ditko would work on an ongoing Spider-Man series. The Amazing Spider-Man launched in 1963.¹
34. Lee and Kirby created the Incredible Hulk in 1962. Lee was influenced by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in creating the character. "I had been wracking my brain for days, looking for a different superhero type, something never seen before."¹
35. Hulk was originally supposed to be grey. A printing error turned him into the green behemoth familiar to fans.
36. Lee was inspired to create Thor in 1962 by Norse mythology and a love of Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe and Alexandre Dumas.
37. Lee created The X-Men series with Kirby in 1963. The team of fictional superheroes — known as mutants — explores the alienated feelings that many teens experienced growing up, while also providing a father figure type with Professor Xavier.
38. Lee told Rolling Stone in 2014 that he loved the concept of supervillain Magneto and the idea of the X-Men as "hated and feared" mutants who were on the side of good.
39. The X-Men series was relaunched with artist Dave Cockrum, featuring heroes such as Wolverine, who was originally imagined as a mutated wolverine. The idea was vetoed by Lee.
41. In 1971, Lee developed an anti-drug comic book upon request from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The Spider-Man comic, about Peter Parker's best friend Harry Osborn's struggle with addiction, would not be approved by the Comics Code Authority and was published without their seal of approval.
42. Lee became a film screenwriter when he worked with documentary filmmaker Alain Resnais, whose films included Nuit et Brouillard about Nazi concentration camps. The pair worked on two films between 1968 and 1971 — The Inmates and Monster Maker — that were never produced.
43. Lee was heavily influenced by the action films of actor Errol Flynn as a child. "When I was a kid, my favourite superhero was Robin Hood," Lee said in 2013.
44. Lee ended his role as an editor at Marvel in 1971. He would move to California on a full-time basis to further pursue film and television opportunities.
45. He became Marvel's publisher and editorial director in 1972.
46. Lee was at his creative peak at Marvel in the 1970s, becoming a media celebrity by way of college tours and comic book conventions. With aspirations to be a filmmaker and screenwriter, Lee began to develop a dismissive tone towards his comic book work.
47. For three months in the 1970s Lee attempted to ban exclamation marks in Marvel Comics, deeming them childish. The ban ended after writers ignored the edict.
48. The late American industrialist Howard Hughes served as the model for Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man.
49. Lee co-created the superhero team the Fantastic Four with Jack Kirby in 1961. Like his other work, it focused on real world problems and issues, separating it from the more action-oriented books of his competitors at the time.
50. The Fantastic Four was hugely successful and proved that audiences enjoyed reading more realistic adventures. "It became fun when I was able to do the kind of stories I wanted instead of the kind of stories my publisher wanted me to do," Lee told Comic Book Resources in 2017.
51. In 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appeared as themselves in an issue of the Fantastic Four.
52. George Lucas offered Lee the chance to publish the first Star Wars comic book in 1977. Lee initially turned it down, but agreed after learning that actor Alec Guinness was slated to appear in the film. The six-issue adaption, written by Roy Thomas, sold more than one million copies per issue.
53. Lee posed nude for a Marvel Comic in the 1980s, The Marvel Fumetti Book featured photographs instead of drawings and initially included a picture of Lee covered up by a sole comic book. In the published version, he appeared to be wearing a Hulk costume.
54. Lee signed a lifetime deal with Marvel Enterprises in 1998. The contract stipulated that Lee devote 10 per cent of his time to the company.
55. The contract also stipulates that he appear in Marvel films based on characters he created.
56. Lee claims his favourite cameo was for Avengers: Age of Ultron: "Well, I think the cameo that's my favourite is the one I did [with] Thor. I'm standing in a bar with him and he's drinking this Asgardian drink, which is very powerful, and I ask for a sip and he says, 'No, it would kill you,' and I insist. And he gives me a sip and then in the next scene, they're carrying me out."
57. Lee appeared in the 2004 film The Princess Diaries 2, in a cameo as a man obsessed with Three Stooges movies.
58. Lee is often credited as an executive producer for Marvel-based television and film projects. The first such credit was for the direct-to-video Captain America film in 1990.
59. In 1987, Stan Lee "officiated" the New York City wedding ceremony of Spider-Man and his love Mary Jane at Shea Stadium, featuring actors playing the roles in a publicity stunt.
61. In 2002, Lee co-wrote his memoir, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee, with writer George Mair.
62. In 2010, television show Stan Lee's Superhumans premiered. Hosted by Lee, the show featured a search for real people with extraordinary abilities.
63. He created non-profit The Stan Lee Foundation in 2010. The organization's mandate is to promote access to literary education and the arts.
64. Lee wrote a bestselling graphic novel called Romeo and Juliet: The War in 2012. The story re-imagines the Shakespearean couple as superhuman soldiers.
66. In 2011, Lee announced a multimedia imprint specifically for children called Stan Lee's Kids Universe.
67. Lee unveiled the YouTube channel Stan Lee's World of Heroes in 2012.
68. Lee worked with DC Comics in the 2000s, launching the Just Imagine... series of books, featuring alternate versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
69. Lee had fond memories of Canada and touring the Canadian comic book convention circuit: "I'd miss the enthusiasm of the fans, I'd miss meeting them, talking to them, kidding around with them," he told CBC host Doug Dirks in 2016. "I think I'll probably keep doing this forever. If cowboys die with their boots on, I'll die with my computer on."
70. In 2016, Lee announced his last trip to Canada in 2016 at Fan Expo Canada would be his last, citing his age. "Well, I can't run the marathon and win the way I used to…. But I'm 93 years old. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to do it. I want to make this one big event," he tells the Toronto Sun.
71. In 2003, Lee worked with Spike TV to create Stripperella, an adult animated comedy series starring Canadian actress Pamela Anderson as the voice of the lead character.
72. In 2006, Marvel marked Lee's 75 years with the company with a Stan Lee Meets, a series of comic books that featured a fictionalized Lee interacting with his co-created characters Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom.
73. In 1980, Lee appeared on CBC Television's Beyond Reason. He was on a hidden stage, and was asked questions by a "psychic panel" — an astrologer, a psychic graphologist and a clairvoyant — to reveal his identity.
74. In 2016, Lee released a digital graphic novel called Stan Lee's God Woke. The storyline is based on a poem he originally presented in 1972.
75. Between 1981 and 2001, Lee donated portions of his personal effects to the University of Wyoming, including interviews, fan mail and working manuscripts of his work.
76. Lee is referred to in Michael Chabon's 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Chabon cites Lee as one of the many comic book creators he's been influenced by in an author's note in the book.
77. Lee appeared, in fictional form, as a historian of superheroes in Lavie Tidhar's sci-fi novel The Violent Century.
79. Lee lent his voice as the narrator for the 1980s animated series Incredible Hulk. He would end his narration with "This is Stan Lee saying, Excelsior!"
80. Lee narrated the Seven Little Superheroes episode of the 1980s animated show Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.
81. In the 1990s, Lee was the host of The Comic Book Greats, a documentary series featuring interviews with notable comic book creators.
82. Lee made a cameo in the 1995 Kevin Smith film Mallrats, playing himself.
83. A Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin cites Lee as a huge literary influence. His first published work was in Fantastic Four #20, a letter of praise for Fantastic Four #17.
85. In 1998 Lee established Stan Lee Media, a digital-based comic book platform. The venture lost money and his business associate was incarcerated on stock fraud charges.
86. Lee created POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment in 2001. The company's mandate was to develop film and television properties based on original superheroes. It was bought by a Chinese firm in 2017.
87. Lee filed a lawsuit against Marvel in 2005 after receiving no royalties from the 2002 Spider-Man film. He would receive a $10 million settlement with Marvel.
88. Lee would be recognized for his comic book contributions in 2008 with a National Medal of Arts.
89. Lee underwent an operation to insert a pacemaker in 2012. He was forced to cancel planned appearances at conventions.
90. Lee teamed up with the National Hockey League to form Guardian Media Entertainment. The firm is tasked with developing superhero characters for each team.
92. Lee's wife, Joanie, died from a stroke in July of 2017.
94. As he got older, Lee's eyesight deteriorated to the point where he had difficulty reading comic books, something that he greatly missed doing, he told RadioTimes in 2016.
95. Stan Lee died Nov. 12, 2018 at the age of 95.
¹Batchelor, Bob. Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel. 2017. Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.