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Marvel's legendary creators and editors offer their favorite Stan Lee memories

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Nov 12, 2018, 9:54 PM EST

The news of Stan Lee's passing on Monday morning gave rise to a bittersweet mix of mourning and celebration from fans, movie stars, and other luminaries around the world. The characters he co-created and the ethics he preached proved to be a magic combination for generations of loyal comic book readers; with the help of some other creative titans, Lee remade the medium and built his own legend, becoming bigger and more timeless than any of the immortal superheroes he helped bring to life.

Outside praise is often gratifying — and Lee clearly enjoyed his celebrity — but there is no more validating accolade than the admiration of one's peers. And that Lee had in spades. Immediately following the news of his passing, generations of creators who both worked with Lee and admired him from afar paid tribute to Stan the Man, both for his endless creativity and his generosity of spirit. SYFY WIRE reached out to many of Lee's former colleagues and fans to get their thoughts on the titan's passing — bookmark this page, as more words of praise will be coming in over the next few days.

George Perez (Avengers, Fantastic Four, many more):

"Sad day. Even though it really wasn’t unexpected, the death of Stan Lee has hit me harder than I thought. He was the first comic book creator I ever saw by face. He inspired me to both read and eventually create comics myself.

He gave my first raise and always took the time at conventions to come over and say hello to me. At one time he said he regarded me as a nephew, to be the smiling face of comics after he was gone.

I lost an uncle today and while I am saddened by the loss I am also oh so grateful for getting to know him and being able to personally thank him for all he did to enhance my youth, to inspire me to dream and to give me the inspiration to achieve those dreams. RIP Uncle Stan."

Todd McFarlane (The Amazing Spider-ManSpider-Man): 

"I think Stan’s legacy will only continue to grow. I think as decades pass, the impact of what he helped put into motion will keep expanding. Just like Disney kept growing after Walt died, you’re going to see Marvel evolve and grow.

As time goes by, other creators will build more around those characters Stan helped create. And the universe is going to get bigger. His legacy to me is giant — we may need to come up with a new word to describe it. I think 20 years from now, you and I will have a conversation and we’ll talk about how we sold him short. What Stan Lee set in motion will not stop spinning, and will only continue to do so.

Stan also had a lot of traits that it seems we as humans should all try and emulate. Being happy, gregarious and enjoying the company of other people. Not saying too many negative words. I wish it wasn’t just when those people pass away that we stop and say, 'Wow, those things are really precious.'"

Walt Simonson (ThorFantastic Four, and more):

"Stan is one of the three comic creators (along with Carl Barks and Jack Kirby — might be more if I think about it longer) who are responsible for my developing an abiding interest in comics, and eventually for my entering the field as a professional. I came across Marvel Comics a few years after their beginnings when I was in college. Within a few months of reading my first issue of a Marvel Comic (Journey Into Mystery #113), I was buying all the monthly Marvels and, without my realizing it at the time, my future course was set.

I think probably the most important lesson I got from both Stan and Jack was that you could tell any kind of story you wanted as long as you kept a straight face and kept faith with the reader, no matter how outrageous and far-fetched your tale might be. The stories could have plenty of humor but you never made fun of the material itself. That was gold.

I did meet Stan several times and worked with him twice, once for Marvel and once for DC. Always a pleasure. He was flexible on the plots and wrote a lean script, capturing some nice moments in both stories. Really a bucket list accomplishment for me. I hope it was good for Stan too."

Jim Salicrup (Uncanny X-MenFantastic Four, and more):

"Stan was one of the major influences on my life. I worked at Marvel from 1972-1992, getting to work with Stan directly for the first ten years and then thousands of miles away for the second ten years, and then as Senior Writer/Editor (not to mention Stan Lee’s Evil Clone, a character Stan created for the website, that I wound up writing and do the voice for when Stan got too busy) at Stan Lee Media in 1999-2001 (I moved to LA for Stan, then hurried back to NY when that company closed).

More recently, at Papercutz, the company where I’m the Editor-in-Chief, we published The Zodiac Legacy, a new group of teen super-heroes created by Stan. Stan Lee was a hero of mine, a mentor, a father-figure, and a friend. I truly loved and respected the man, and feel eternally grateful for all the opportunities he so often and generously afforded me. I miss him already.

I cherish every moment I’ve since spent with him. As a 15-year-old kid from the Bronx, getting the opportunity to work in the fabled Marvel Bullpen was beyond just a dream come true. I got to meet my comic book gods, and Stan was the merry ringleader. When I came out to LA to work for Stan again, something I never thought would be possible after I left Marvel, I had a broken ankle. Stan couldn’t resist taking a photo of him kicking me while I was on crutches. And no, I don’t have that photo. Stan enjoyed that I was on crutches and would joke, 'We only hired you to prove that we at Stan Lee Media hire the handicapped.'

At Stan Lee Media, each day would start for Stan with a meeting with his two assistants to plan out his day, etc. Then the next meeting would be with me. I worked on all the things on the website that weren’t webisodes, except for Stan’s Evil Clone. I would do silly things such as write the Stan Lee Trivia Quiz, and ask 'What’s Stan’s shoe size?' (It’s 9 1/2) or 'What did Stan have for lunch today?' (He really had cheese and crackers, but he changed it to 'A hot dog and a Pepsi'!), in addition to questions someone could actually answer.

I wrote a column called 'The Wart Report,' because Stan had renamed me the Wart. His official reason was that he claimed that like a wart on his butt, every time he turned around, there I was. But I preferred to think that Stan, no stranger to classic literature and mythology, was thinking of what Merlin dubbed young Arthur, the once and future king… 'Wart.'"

Jim Shooter (Former Marvel EIC)

"Starting when Marvel was new and I was ten, Stan's stories changed the course of my life. They were more than innovative, they were revolutionary. They were moving.  They gave you things you could relate to, new insights and inspiration. I learned a lot about writing by reading and studying his work.  Three years after I read my first Marvel comic, I was writing Superman and other titles for DC.  I sought work at DC because Stan wrote everything for Marvel then, and besides, I knew I wasn't ready yet for Marvel.

I worked with Stan on the Spider-Man syndicated strip for two years, 1977 and 1978. I wrote the plot and did layouts, John Romita drew the script from my layouts (improving them tremendously), Stan wrote the dialogue and, of course, supervised everything.  Stan and I worked together daily and I learned a million things.  Also, from 1976-78, I was editor of the comic book line. Once a week Stan and I would sit down and go over the printer's proofs of the latest comics. We'd discuss the books, he'd make comments, suggestions, and offer ideas.

Two memories stand out:

Once we were at his home in the Hollywood Hills, out on the patio by the pool, standing there looking at the lights far below.  We were, well, marveling at how far we had come.  We both started out scratching a living writing comics.  Years passed, and despite all kinds of adversity, so many wonderful and amazing things had happened, and there we were. I was doing pretty well and I thought I had a future. He was living a dream come true.

The second is this: Once, Stan, who was given to hyperbole, remember, told me: 'You're the best we ever had.' He said it in private, quietly, and I believe sincerely. I don't care if he was exaggerating, that will always be special to me."

Axel Alonso (Marvel EIC): 

"Stan Lee invented heroes that any little kid could relate to because they were more than just heroic silhouettes, they were people with problems and insecurities and bullies to contend with.  His heroes helped shape my young imagination and inspired me to aspire.

The first time I had had contact Stan, he called me to discuss a book I edited that had gotten a lot of attention in mainstream media. It was like God had parted the clouds to say he totally got what we were doing, and supported it.  The last time I saw Stan, it was Marvel Day at the San Francisco Giants' ballpark, a little more than a year ago.  He yelled, “Play ball!” and I threw out the first pitch.  He was incredibly sweet to my family, especially my mother."

Christopher Priest (Black PantherPower Man and Iron Fist, and more):

"Stan Lee, whom I first met 40 years ago at age 17, was one of the kindest and most genuine human beings I have ever known. He was a person who set a standard for integrity, professionalism, and fairness for an impressionable teen. It was the thrill of my young life to have had the opportunity to sit with him and be taught sequential storytelling (using Jack Kirby original art, no less).

During those four decades, Stan never once made even a single passing reference to my ethnicity but rather accepted me as just another in what surely have been tens if not hundreds of thousands of kids he has encouraged in his lifetime. It was amazing to have this legend smile at me in the hall ('Hiya Jim!'), to work with him on my very first solo editing gig ('The Marvel No-Prize Book') and, years later, on a Power Man film project with Stan and Reginald Hudlin.

There was never a time, in all the years I have known him, where I have ever personally observed Stan being anything less than gracious, kind, and patient with the many of us who eagerly learned from him. Like millions of others, I am deeply saddened by his passing. In a world grown irrationally and perhaps irretrievably cynical and polarized, the hopeful universality of Stan’s 'World Outside Our Window,' with his earnestly conflicted Peter Parker, ribaldly hopeful Steve Rogers and faultlessly noble King T’Challa at its center, will live forever."

Rob Liefeld (X-ForceThe New Mutants, and more)

Stan’s writing and imagination were unparalleled and shaped my youth. All of the comics he wrote were coming out under the reprint banners when I was a kid. I can remember that there were three spots in town, a corner mart, a 7-Eleven and a liquor mart, that had had comics when I growing up and I was just a skateboard ride away. He transported me into those worlds and sparking my imagination and as far as I’m concerned he’s responsible for the two greatest runs in comic book history, his Spider-Man run and the first 100 issues of Fantastic Four. Those two books also have some of the greatest rogues galleries in comics and the most incredible supporting cast as well.

One of my good friends, John, took care of Stan when he finally had those awful people removed from his life and he was like the Stan-whisperer, taking care of him for the last five or six years. So, he’d take him on tour, fly with him, take him to premieres, make sure he was fed and even put him to bed. John truly loved Stan. Knowing he was back in the care of someone who truly cared for him alleviated a lot of burdens.
John called me in August and told me Stan was a little bored and wanted to see some fresh faces and asked if I’d come up. Of course, I said yes.

When I was traveling with Stan in 2016, we did five shows in six weeks and crisscrossed between cities like Cincinnati, Boston, and L.A. We were always booked on the same flight and occasionally I gave up my seat to him because he didn’t like being near the bulkhead. I just thought, you can’t be tired, this guy is 45 years older than you and his energy is still off the charts. When you’re on tour like that you get to know a guy a lot better and I came to love him like a family member. On that tour, I saw close up how he fed off the fans. He would instantly become 30 years younger and all of his energy came from them. It’s what kept him going."

Marv Wolfman (The Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and more):

"I think it's safe to say that without Stan comics may not have survived the '60s or '70s. Comic sales were falling. Most comics were still aimed at a very young, 7-12-year-old audience, and all of us Baby Boomers were getting to the age where we very well might have stopped reading comics altogether. But Stan, along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and all the others, aimed their books at an older audience, allowing us to keep reading comics into our teens, 20s and beyond.

And beyond the stories, Stan's Bullpen Bulletins and letter columns spoke to us directly, making us feel we were part of something big and fun and...  definitely nothing to ever being ashamed about. He treated his letter columns as if he was speaking to his peers. We weren't in any way, but the power of his wonderfully crafted enthusiasm made us all part of his exclusive club. And we were so happy to be even a small part of that.

Stan always said he handled Marvel like it was an advertising campaign. And it worked. It worked more than any of us knew. Baby Boomers not only stuck with Marvel and DC, but as Stan's target audience grew older, we took the visions Stan and the others created and turned them into today's TV and movie empires. Characters that once only the most diehard comic fan ever heard of were now known across the world. Ant-Man? Guardians? C'mon.

I had a chance to work directly with Stan and I always found him to be a great boss and someone who encouraged his people not to copy his style but to find our own voice.

There is so much I could say about Stan — all positive by the way — but for now let me just say thank you, Stan, for making me continue to love comics and pretty much everything that has happened to me since.

The last few years have been tough for Stan. So you definitely deserve to Rest In Peace, now and forever."

Danny Fingeroth (The Amazing Spider-ManDarkhawk, and more):

He built the edifice that many comic writers built on, including me. It was an approach to comics and superheroes that was very effective in creating rapport with the readers and concern for the characters' fates. I think the most important lesson was to connect with the reader when telling a story. Not just to give the plot details, but equally, or more important was, how are the characters feeling? How do the emotions they're experiencing enable them to connect with the readers?

I have many fond memories. One example: In 1984, I was editing The Amazing Spider-Man Annual, which Stan was scripting, and he was the most professional writer I ever worked with. Any edits I had that he agreed with, he complimented me on and accepted, and those he disagreed with, he stated his case for why he was right, but if I wasn’t convinced, he went with my suggestion or rewrote it himself. He was a true professional. It was quite the surreal experience to be editing the guy who we all were trying to be as good as.

Jimmy Palmiotti (Marvel Knights, DeadpoolPunisher, and more):

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be Stan Lee. I wanted to create my own superhero characters and be able to tell stories of other worlds, superpowers, and tales of good triumphing over evil. I met Stan in the Marvel offices when I first got started in comics and he gave me words of encouragement and advice that I took to heart to this day.

Later in Stan’s life, I was asked many times to host Stan’s panels when we found ourselves at conventions together — a dream come true on many levels. We would talk offstage about the normal things in life like family and travel, and inevitably, he would check in with me and ask if I had enough work, and if I needed more, he can make some calls. I would glow for days after these conversations. To say this man influenced my dreams and who I am is an understatement of tremendous magnitude.

So here I am, many years later, working on comic books and creating my own characters and watching them go from the page to screen and thinking I could never have gotten here without Stan’s inspiration and a lot of hard work, something he always said was a key ingredient in any success. His dreams and visions will live on for generations to come and I take comfort in that as I am slowly realizing I will never again be greeted by his warm handshake and big smile. Rest in peace, my friend."

Dan Slott (The Amazing Spider-ManFantastic Four, and more):

"Imagine a world where if you loved Shakespeare, you could get a job writing the ongoing adventures of Hamlet. (Bad example because of the final act, I know.) But you get the idea. I love Stan's work. I love the universe he and his legendary comic book artists co-created. It's my favorite place in all of fiction and I never want to leave it. It's impossible to write a Marvel comic and not be inspired by Stan Lee. Especially Spidey and the FF.

In December of 2012, I killed Peter Parker. We shoved Doc Ock's brain in Spider-Man's body, left Pete to die, canceled Amazing Spider-Man at issue #700, and gave that new Superior Spider-Man his own book. And we did that right around Stan's birthday. He had it out with me over social media, 'thanking' me for that surprise 'birthday present,' killing off his favorite character. A few days later I got a call. Stan wanted to know if Spidey was really dead, and if he wasn't, how was I going to bring him back? I will treasure that forever. My favorite storyteller throughout my entire life, and for one, brief moment I got to be his Scheherazade."

Bob Layton (The Incredible HulkX-Factor, and more):

"This man's stories were so profoundly compelling to me that I devoted my entire adult life to following in his footsteps as a creator of fantastic characters and marvelous worlds. There will never be another like Stan Lee. And now, he takes his place alongside those other legends.

When I started at Marvel, Stan still had an office there. One of my fondest memories was one where Stan wasn't there at all. The Stan Lee Museum, his traveling show that created fantastic displays which highlighted his career at conventions, asked me to fill in for Stan, who was under the weather at the time. I took pictures with the fans and signed autographs in his absence. All the time feeling, in a small way, what it must've been like to be revered as much as that man was. Hard to forget.

A lot of my influence came from Stan's sharp business acumen. I emulated the structure of the original Marvel Bullpen when I co-founded Valiant Comics in the 1990s. We were the only modern comic book company who had in-house artists who worked full time in our actual offices. So much of how I structured that work environment was based on the successful model created by Stan Lee in the 1960s."