Lee, who died at age 95, is credited for either creating or co-creating a vast universe of superheroes, many of which — Spider-Man, the X-Men, Thor, Iron Man — have transitioned from comic books to successful movies or television shows.
As the face of all things Marvel, Lee will forever be remembered by his fans for his cheery demeanor, witty catchphrases and unrivaled salesmanship.
Lee was arguably as dedicated to his fans as his fans were to his work. Up until just recently, Lee remained active on the comic convention circuit, making numerous appearances across the country.
Andrew Herrmann, an avid comic book fan and associate professor of communication at East Tennessee State University, had the opportunity to see Lee twice.
“There was nothing like listening to Stan Lee during a panel and a comic convention. He was hilarious, informative and you could feel the joy that poured off of him,” Herrmann said.
In a blog post published Monday on his website Profs Do Pop!, Herrmann recalled one notable meeting with Lee roughly two-and-a-half years ago at MegaCon in Orlando.
While waiting in line to get Lee to autograph his comics, including Dr. Strange’s first appearance in Strange Tales No. 110, Herrmann noticed a 10-year-old boy who appeared to be down on his luck.
Herrmann overheard the boy tell his mother that he left his comic book at home and would have to get Lee to sign his convention program.
“I reach into my backpack and pull out Dr. Strange No. 1 with its bright yellow cover. ‘Hey. You can have this for Stan to sign’... The boy takes the comic from my hand. Wide-eyed. Excited. Exuberant. Exhilarated. Full of wonder. ‘Oooooooooooh, thanks!’” Herrmann wrote.
“That’s the difference between a celebrity and a legend. A legend brings about the best in you. The legend is one who inspires you. A legend makes you want to do better and be better. Moreover, a legend is one that, even now in my 50s, I can look upon with wide-eyed wonder as if I were still a 10-year-old boy.”
Robert Pilk, owner of Mountain Empire Comics in Bristol, recalled meeting Lee at a comic convention in Atlanta some years ago.
“He was pretty much like you see him in interviews or on-screen — friendly, outgoing, approachable,” Pilk wrote in a Facebook post. “I loved his work, and I would not be living the life I have lived if not for him and Jack Kirby. He had a good run and was loved by millions of fans. The world is just a little less fun without him in it.”
Lifelong comic book fan Andrew Dunn, an ETSU associate professor and assistant department chair, remembers Lee for his relatable and groundbreaking characters.
“People don’t realize how integral he was to the whole process. Stan Lee was editor (of Marvel Comics) from 1945 until 1972 and publisher from 1972 to 1996. So if you think about the years, you’re talking about more than 50 years of Marvel Comics under his direction in some way or form,” Dunn said.
“Out of that, you get some of these amazing characters that are not only well-written (and) well-defined characters, but characters that broke a lot of new ground and did things that other companies hadn’t done or were scared to do.”
Under Lee’s directon, Marvel Comics ventured outside of the stereotypical superhero mold by introducing the first black mainstream superhero in 1966 with Black Panther. Years later, Marvel continued that trend by introducing the first openly gay superhero in Northstar and the first Muslim superhero in Kamala Khan, who goes by Ms. Marvel.
Continuing that theme, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum will host a free program Thursday at 6:30 p.m. titled “Graphic novels and under-represented stories: A talk about persons of color in comic and graphic books.”
As evident in his work, Lee remained a strong advocate for racial equality throughout his career. In 1968, Lee penned one of his “Stan’s Soapbox” columns where he explicitly denounced racism.
“Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed supervilliams, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are,” Lee wrote. “Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance.”