It was damp out, as it often is in Seattle, and a bit chilly. I was sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton next to the Seattle Convention Center, just having finished an Emerald City Comic Con meeting when I saw Stan Lee walk by into the valet port, and then quickly into an alcove near the door, along with, shall I say, his muscle.
It turns out his muscle was pretty nice and I got to chat with Stan for a few minutes and slip him my card.
I never heard from Stan, but I did get to see him a few more times. At Silicon Valley Comic-Con his quick wit entertained from the stage as he bantered with fanboy-prime Steve Wozniak. I saw him in-person at the WebToons launch at San Diego Comic-Con a couple of years ago. Once he arrived, he turned a dry press conference into an event.
Though my friend and colleague Rob Salkowitz and I talked about a lot about Stan during our presentations on the Jewish origins of the comic book industry, Stan’s history is better documented by others.
I want to focus on his contribution. While saddened by his passing, I am grateful for what he left behind. Few people get to create entire universes that will outlive them. Stan got to do that, in some ways, many times over.
As I went through my twitter and Instagram feeds yesterday, I realized quickly how many of the people in the entertainment industry owe some portion of their celebrity and success to Stan’s imagination.
I also realized that without Stan, I would never have been able to find my way bravely through the barriers of entertainment to share a few moments with some of those people who embodied his characters, or drew them, or placed words in their mouths.
Stan created a world full of superhumans. I like that description better than heroes because the hero doesn’t capture the flaws and quirks that make those who populate his stories so real. We relate to Tony Stark, Spider-Man, the Hulk, even Thor—and certainly Nick Fury, not because they are better than we are, but because they are us, trying to be better than we are.
The inspiration comes as much from the effort as from the outcome.
Stan continued pushing humanity forward. Through deep metaphors that rang of differences, he scolded us for not being as good as we could be. When we watch or read about persecuted X-Men, we should reflect on society, on ourselves, and we should cringe at our own prejudice and injustice.
The world remains a richer place for having allowed Stan Lee to publish his words and the words and drawings of his colleagues.
While we may bemoan that Disney and Sony and others own many rights to Stan’s creations, we should celebrate that what could have been obscure books spawned a movement that offers another way to acceptance and inclusion.
When my daughter Alyssa first arrives at a comic-con each year, we always remark that it is good to be back among our people. Stan did a lot to legitimize the geeks and nerds, fanboys and fangirls that are our people. And we also proudly acknowledge that much of Stan’s sensibilities were informed by his own otherness as a Jew in early 20th century America. Stan and his creations will forever be a symbol of inclusion and justice.
May peace be upon him.