Fans around the world began to mourn early Monday afternoon when it was announced Marvel Comics co-creator, Stan Lee, had passed away.
For those who are not part of the world of comic books, fantasy, and fandom, it may be difficult to relate to the depth of emotion those of us in that world were overwhelmed by. After all, to many, Stan Lee is nothing more than another celebrity. In some respects, that’s true. But he was also so much more than that.
He was a creator, one whose vivid imagination and ability to bring characters and worlds into existence breathed life into many of us. His brilliant mind contributed to more than just entertainment or massive franchises; it enabled boys and girls, men and women, around the world to feel like maybe, just maybe, they could be something more than they perceived themselves as.
Stan Lee dared us to dream and imagine. More than that, he encouraged us.
He was a man dedicated to his craft, an artist who desired to create more than he desired anything else. Though he is regularly cited as saying that his beginnings came with the hopes of making enough to pay the bills, his passion for his work fueled him to the point work was no longer work, but his life.
“Most people say, “I can’t wait to retire so I can play golf,” or go yachting or whatever they do. Well, if I was playing golf, I would want that to finish so I could go and dream up a new TV show.”
Stan was passionate about his fans, too. He was known for regularly attending different ComicCon’s and FanExpos, and while he may have been one of the priciest celebrities to meet, most of those I have spoken to who took the plunge said it was worth it. Even for the brief few minutes they had with him, he left a positive impression.
I was told by one person, “He seemed really happy to sit for however many hours and pose with his fans. He joked that we were his girlfriends and gave us hugs when we said thank you. He seemed like your average adorable old man.”
His daughter also iterated similar sentiments, about both his passion and his love for his fans, in a statement following his death: “He felt an obligation to his fans to keep creating. He loved his life and he loved what he did for a living. His family loved him and his fans loved him. He was irreplaceable. My father loved all of his fans. He was the greatest, most decent man.”
Stan shared himself with us in the most intimate of ways; he took his heart and soul, every aspect of himself that was poured into his work, and gave it to us.
For those of us who have always been different, he taught us that different isn’t bad — our uniqueness, the things that set us apart, when embraced can be the very things that propel us forward.
He taught many of us to dream, to create on our own. He gave us a world of possibilities, of imagination, and through his work, helped us learn how to bring our own imaginations to life. When I was lonely, his characters, his worlds were there. He gave me a window into a time and place far away from my darkness, and showed me how the darkness could be beaten back.
“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. 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.”
More than that, Stan taught me you need to stand up and fight for what’s right, even if you end up screwing up. From the beginning, he was passionate about tackling racism, facism, classism — everything the evil characters he created represented. He was a World War 2 Veteran that had witnessed first hand what the evil of man can do when they fear and loathe people who are different, and he wanted to stand against that.
He wasn’t perfect — not by any stretch. But as Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher, on Star Trek, and that guy from Stand By Me) said on Monday, he was someone who learned from his mistakes and moved forward.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration for me to say these heroes and stories are part of what drove me to embrace my being a writer. There were many factors, and while I didn’t quite know who Stan was when I was younger, his worlds and characters created a fire inside of me I didn’t understand until I put pen to paper.
Now, in my 30s, his art still does that. He challenges and inspires me, as he did for many, many other people. People who are nobodies, like myself, and people who have become somebodies.
And perhaps, that is part of what made Stan so great — his status never changed that he was simply one of us. Another strange man, filled with imagination and driven by the fire to bring it to the world. A man who used his work to impact the world, to stand up for what was right, to inspire us, and to be excited about how it made so many of us feel.
The world lost a great man on Monday. That impact will be felt for many years to come. If there is one thing Stan got straight, it was that sometimes, individuals are so unique that there can never be another one of them. Maybe, he got it so right because it represented himself. There will never be another Stan Lee.
Excelsior, great one. May your legacy fuel the fires of many for years to come.