- Matt Linton
Comics Collective Splash Page!
SPLASH PAGE (noun) - Often the first page of a comic, it is generally a full page image designed to introduce the story and draw readers in.
Hi everyone. I'm interrupting our irregularly scheduled SPLASH PAGE to share my thoughts on the passing of Stan Lee.
STAN LEE (December 28, 1922 – November 12, 2018)
This is a difficult piece to write. Not out of an overwhelming sense of grief, because, however full of exuberance and life he always seemed, the reality is that Stan Lee was 95 years old. And, viewed from the outside, he lived a pretty amazing life in those 95 years. What makes it difficult is the idea of trying to accurately convey that life, and all of its complications, accusations, and exaggerations - essentially to try to both solve a mystery that is likely unsolvable (just how much credit does he actually deserve and how much did he simply claim?) and impossible to reconcile with the Stan Lee I know. So, I'm not going to try to do that, because I didn't know Stan Lee, the person. I grew up knowing Stan "the Man" Lee, the myth he created, and it's a myth that's both reached its end, and will likely never truly die.
While I have a far from perfect memory (not unlike Stan Lee), I'm pretty sure the first time I encountered him was through the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon in the early-80s, long before I ever thought of reading a comic. And thinking back, it might have been before that. I have a vague memory of owning a Spider-Man album when I was very young, and there's a very good chance it was narrated by Stan Lee. I wouldn't start reading comics until I was eleven, and that's probably when I realized that he wasn't just some weird Spider-Man affiliated voice, but the co-creator of the character, and a ton of other superheroes I knew. And long before he started doing cameos in the Marvel films (even going back to the Raimi Spider-Man and Singer X-Men) he was someone that I regularly encountered through his "Stan's Soapbox" columns that appeared every month in Marvel comics. It was part of what gave Marvel their singular identity, their voice, and it was also my first real encounter with the history of comics (and, yes, that would become complicated for me later on).
In my early days as a comic reader I aspired to draw comics, and so I was one of many aspiring comic artists of that generation that owned a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which Stan did with artist John Buscema (a legend in his own right, having acclaimed runs on The Avengers and Conan the Barbarian in the 60s and 70s). And, so, Stan Lee, along with Buscema, taught me to draw. That I never got especially good at it shouldn't be a reflection on that book (or, later, the VHS version of it, which I also owned). It's still one of the best books on how to create comic art I've seen.
Illustration by me.
From the time I started reading comics, Stan Lee was a fixture, an ambassador, making comics seem cool because he thought they were so cool. Hell, he made every Marvel TV show or film (whether it ever came out or not, and whether it was any good or not - usually not) seem cool, too. And when Marvel finally started getting good, he championed those, as well. Ultimately, that's the Stan Lee that I "know" - the champion for comics, and specifically Marvel comics. The voice, in, of, and for those comics. There's obviously no single reason why Marvel has remained at the top of the industry for most of its existence, and at a minimum the starting point of that would have to be Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, regardless of the degrees of their collaboration. But I think Lee's unquestioned contribution - that voice - is a big part of it.
So, while I'm not grieving the loss of Stan Lee, it is the end of a particular era. Stan, Jack and Steve were the architects of the Marvel Universe. Kirby's been gone almost 25 years, having died in 1994. Ditko died earlier this year, and I shared my thoughts about him in the first Splash Page column. Now Stan Lee is gone. Someone on the internet (I can't remember who, or where) described it as finding out Santa Claus had died, and that's not too far off. Stan Lee, the man, and Stan "the Man" Lee, are both gone, and they both had a pretty good run.
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