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Stan Lee, Super-Heroic Promoter Of Comics And Pop Culture, Dies

Stan Lee, who created comic-book characters that populated an entertainment empire unlike any other in the known branding universe, died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 95.

“A writer, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive and tireless promoter (of Marvel and of himself), he played a critical role in what comics fans call the medium’s silver age. Many believe that Marvel, under his leadership and infused with his colorful voice, crystallized that era, one of exploding sales, increasingly complex characters and stories, and growing cultural legitimacy for the medium,” write Jonathan Kandell and Andy Webster for the New York Times.

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“On his own and through his work with frequent artist-writer collaborators Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, Lee catapulted Marvel from a tiny venture into the world's No. 1 publisher of comic books and, later, a multimedia giant,” writes Mike Barnes for the Hollywood Reporter. “In 2009, The Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, and most of the top-grossing superhero films of all time -- led by Avengers: Infinity War’s $2.05 billion worldwide take earlier this year -- have featured Marvel characters.”

“I used to think what I did was not very important,” Lee told the Chicago Tribune in April 2014, Barnes adds. “People are building bridges and engaging in medical research, and here I was doing stories about fictional people who do extraordinary, crazy things and wear costumes. But I suppose I have come to realize that entertainment is not easily dismissed.”

“In the early ’60s, Lee was asked to come up with a team of superheroes to compete against DC’s Justice League. With the notable help of artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he helped instigate a revolution, though Lee didn't see it that way at the time,” write Todd Leopold, Lisa Respers France and Brian Lowry for CNN Entertainment.  

“Many of the characters were developed for television with varying degrees of success. But it was the emergence of the ‘Marvel Universe’ in the movies, especially with the ‘X-Men’ franchise and the Sam Raimi-directed 'Spider-Man' (2002), that truly made the brand ubiquitous.”

By the time of the Disney purchase, “Lee had long since become more of a company figurehead rather than a writer and editor in the day-to-day trenches. He became the company's editorial director and publisher in 1972 and eventually immersed himself in spreading the Marvel gospel (often with the exclamation, ‘Excelsior!) He’s had bit parts in most of the films featuring the company’s characters,” they add.

The Guardian has put together a short reel of Lee’s best cameos in various Marvel flicks over the years.

Lee was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center early yesterday. The cause of death was not immediately determined but he “had suffered several illnesses over the last year or so -- he had a bout of pneumonia and vision issues,” TMZ reports. “Lee is survived by his daughter, J.C. His wife of 69 years, Joan, died in 2017.”

“Lee spent much of the past two decades on new business ventures outside of Marvel,” Ben Fritz reports for the Wall Street Journal, but they were not very successful. 

“An internet company founded in 1998, Stan Lee Media, was meant to produce animated video based on its namesake’s creations, but filed for bankruptcy under a cloud of controversy two years later,” Fritz writes.  And POW! Entertainment, “which aimed to exploit his new creations throughout media … struggled for years. … Lee earlier this year filed a lawsuit against POW! for alleged fraud that was quickly dropped.”

Anthony Breznican, who interviewed Lee for the AP in 2002 just before the first Spider-Man movie starring Tobey Maguire hit the big screen, tells the entrepreneur’s origin story in a piece for EW. Lee started working at Marvel at 17 when it “was known as Timely Comics, and he was known as Stanley Lieber, son of Jewish Romanian immigrants from the Bronx. His dream was to become a writer. A novelist, maybe.”

He took the pen name “Stan Lee,” he tells Breznican, because “nobody had any respect” for comic books. He later regretted the decision. One thing he never regretted was fighting to get the Spider-Man story into print despite the objections of his publisher on several grounds, including the fact that neither teenagers nor arachnids made for a plausible superhero.

“The thing that saved Spider-Man’s life was the death of one of the brands,” Breznican writes -- a magazine called Amazing Adult Fantasy. “When you’re doing the last issue of a magazine you’re about to kill, nobody really cares what you put in it,” Lee told him. So Spider Man wound up on the cover and “a couple months later, when sales figures came in, the publisher came to me and said, ‘Stan, you remember that character that we both liked?’”

There’s no doubt a lesson there for anyone who is reporting to someone in a corner office.

1 comment about "Stan Lee, Super-Heroic Promoter Of Comics And Pop Culture, Dies".
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  1. Bob Batchelor from Cultural Historian and Writer, November 13, 2018 at 8:58 a.m.

    A sad day for comic book fans and popular culture fans worldwide. Stan Lee was one of America's great creative icons and will be remembered for not only co-creating so many amazing superheroes, but creating and solidifying a narrative that has great consequence for so many people. Countless fans love him because he was so authentic and human in his relationship with them. A true great...Excelsior!

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