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In his own words: Stan Lee reflects on his legacy

Contributed by
Nov 12, 2018

The world of comics has lost its most illustrious creator, with the passing of Stan Lee at the age of 95. One of the great hallmarks of Lee's career was always being game for an interview, but some chats were heftier than others.

In many instances, he was always good for a funny story about Spider-Man or his friendship with Bob Kane. In others, he got a little more serious and self-reflective. It was the latter interviews, in which Lee took a very serious look at his legendary career, when the real gems came. 

So, to commemorate The Man and his extraordinary pop culture contributions, here's Stan Lee reflecting on his life and work, in his own words.

On the impact of his work:

"The thing is, I used to think what I did was not very important. People are building bridges and engaging in medical research and here I was doing stories about fictional people who do extraordinary, crazy things and wear costumes. But I suppose I have come to realize that entertainment is not easily dismissed. Beyond the meaning (of a work of art), it is important to people. Without it, lives can be dull. Singing a song, playing sports — anything that entertains, that takes people away from their own problems, is good. Sounds obvious, but it's good to be reminded."

- Chicago Tribune, 2014

On creating so many iconic characters, including the X-Men:

"To be honest, I could have done it earlier; I could have done it later. It was only because my boss asked me to do it. For instance, after I had done Fantastic Four, Martin, my publisher, said, 'Give me another bunch of heroes.' He also wasn’t thrilled that our competition, DC Comics, had the Justice League. So I did what I knew how to do. I created another group of characters.

"First I had to come up with an origin. How does this group get their superpowers? Well, the Fantastic Four had been clobbered by cosmic rays. The Hulk was hit with gamma rays. Incidentally, I had no idea what cosmic rays or gamma rays were, but they sounded good. And they were the only rays I knew. I had run out of rays, so what the hell was I going to do for this new group? I took the cowardly way out and said they were born that way; they’re mutants."

Playboy, 2014

On trying to bring realism to comics:

"For me, to enjoy what I was writing, I needed a superhero story as realistic as I could make it. I never tried to write for other people. I liked people who had problems I might have, because we all have insecurities, regrets. I like heroes who were not 100 percent perfect, who things [sic] to take care of."

Chicago Tribune, 2014

On the credit controversy:

"Some people always say 'Stan Lee didn't do that much with these characters...' All I did was come up with the ideas for these characters, then I hired artists to draw them, and I wrote the actual stories... I worked with the best artists in the business and they made my stories even better than they actually were. I was very lucky to work with artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and John Romita, and anything I wrote was by 'Stan Lee and Jack Kirby' or 'Stan Lee and Steve Ditko' and their name was always as large as mine on the page. Plus, I called myself 'co-creator.' So I don't know what else I could do. But there are still people who insist Shakespeare didn't write his plays."

Chicago Tribune, 2014

On realizing Marvel superheroes were a hit:

"We’d get letters from all over and then visitors, including some famous ones. I remember being visited by Federico Fellini... I wanted to talk about him and the movies he’d made, and all the others. He wanted to talk about Spider-Man. Years later he was nice enough to show my daughter around Italy and take care of her. It would have been interesting to collaborate with him. He would have been good with X-Men. Fellini and Magneto would have been an interesting combination."

Playboy, 2014

On success:

"I mean, certainly early in my career, before The Fantastic Four, I struggled. I felt I was never going to get anywhere. Even afterward, I was embarrassed to say I wrote comic books for a living. I had a lot of shame about that. Even when I made a good living, my dad didn’t think of me as a success... Some of that rubbed off on me. I was always looking at people who were doing better than I was and wishing I could do what they were doing — Steven Spielberg or a writer like Harlan Ellison, or even Hugh Hefner. Part of me always felt I hadn’t quite made it yet."

Playboy, 2014

On superpowers:

"For years, kids have been asking me what's the greatest superpower. I always say luck. If you're lucky, everything works. I've been lucky."

The Hollywood Reporter, 2016

On dying:

"I know [my obituary] is already written. It’s sitting there in the New York Times computers somewhere. It’s all ready to go. You can’t stop it. I’ve had a happy life. I don’t want anyone to think I treated Kirby or Ditko unfairly. I think we had a wonderful relationship. Their talent was incredible. But the things they wanted weren’t in my power to give them.

"I’m always looking ahead, even at this age... Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time. Nothing lasts forever... I’d hate to leave my wife and my daughter, but heaven knows it’s beyond me. And I don’t even really believe in heaven."

- Playboy, 2014

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