I only met Stan Lee once. Of course, I knew of him for what feels like my entire life. I was a Marvel Comics reader before anything else — the first comic I remember reading more than one of was Savage Sword of Conan (probably too heady a book for an 11-year-old, but whatever).
That Marvel logo on the corner led me to the first Secret Wars miniseries — a well-designed introduction to an entire galaxy of characters if ever there was one — which then led to everything else. Marvel was my first universe because it was my universe: I was a kid from the Bronx. New York City was where I lived. And so to see heroes swing past buildings I knew, take trains I rode, and eat hot dogs from vendors on streets I walked made me feel seen in a way that DC’s books never quite did. I knew that Metropolis was supposed to stand in for any city, but the Daily Bugle was in my city.
This next bit is going to get a little name-droppy. But, since it’s about the time I met Stan Lee, it started name-droppy. Forgive me.
Anyway, as I grew up, I found a way to write comics. My first books were for Wildstorm, the imprint Jim Lee started at Image and later moved to DC Comics. Jim became something of a mentor and a friend. He likes a good nerd.
It was the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con. I was at some rooftop party or another — I was, in addition to a fledgling comics writer, a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly, which granted admission to some of the fancy-ass parties that take place during SDCC. It was getting late and, young as I was then, I knew that I couldn’t hang that late as I had to be functional the next day.
I was heading towards the door and I see Jim walking in. (He had, and still has, more energy than almost anyone I know.) I tell him I’m blowing out; he says that he’s got another spot to hit after this, but he came because he wanted to pay his respects to the king. “Have you ever met Stan?” I say, “no,” because that was the truth. So Jim says, “Come on.”
So we weave through this party — maybe Coolio was performing? That’s not the important part — and finally roll up on this cabana. Sitting inside, next to an aide, is Stan Lee, the OG True Believer. And Stan looked tired. I mean, I was tired, and I was a third his age with a fraction of his responsibilities and obligations. No slight against him. SDCCs are exhausting in the best way, but I have to think when you’re 85, it’s exponentially more so.
Jim walks in and Stan perks right up. He stands and gives Jim a hug. Jim says, “Marc, meet Stan Lee.” Stan takes my hand in a vice-like grip, nods at Jim, and says with a smile, “No relation.”
I’d like to say that we spent the rest of the night just talking about writing and creation and editorial and trading nick-names and phone numbers, but that didn’t happen. He and Jim talked for a few minutes before Stan withdrew back to his hotel. He was, after all, an octogenarian with a wall-to-wall schedule.
But, for a moment, I was in the presence of the man who was — as much as George Lucas or Chuck Jones — responsible for weaving the fabric of my childhood.
We should all be so lucky.