Stan Lee’s origin story begins that he was born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922, in New York City. He started working young and landed his first job in comics at 19, a career that lasted until his death on Nov. 12, 2018.
He and his artist partners, like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, revolutionized comic book superheroes in the 1960s, entangling them in mortal and topical issues like family dynamics (Fantastic Four) and prejudice (X-Men). He battled the censorship of the Comics Code Authority, and made comics interactive through exchanges of letters with fans.
Lee was the face and voice of Marvel Comics as a writer, editor, creative director, publisher and ambassador, and he’s had cameos in most Marvel Universe movies. He was adored by his fans and he adored them, which was apparent in his lifelong devotion to this shared universe of the imagination he helped create.
There are legions who contribute to that expanding universe, and a lot of them are coming to the Salinas Valley Comic Con. Here, in their words, is a tribute to what Stan Lee has meant to them.
Ricardo Padilla is the co-founder (with Javier Hernandez) of the Latino Comics Expo, the largest gathering of Latino/a comic book and pop culture creators. Both will table at the event and Padilla will moderate a panel on women in comics. He describes Stan Lee’s work as his “bridge to literacy.”
“It’s hard to describe the excitement and love I had for the Marvel comic books I bought for 25 cents at the local liquor store spin rack,” writes Padilla. “Especially, for me, growing up in the barrios of East L.A., Stan Lee provided an outlet for creativity and imagination that meant so much to kids like us.”
One tattoo artist, painter and podcaster coming to the con goes by the name X (or, informally,Brushes of Doom) and was raised in King City.
“You don’t really have much of an option to see yourself doing anything but day to day work sometimes,” X writes. “Programs [and] resources are few and far between.”
He counts, among Lee’s greatest feats, his partnerships with artists: “You don’t have even half the characters you recognize today in film, TV and media without them. But Stan… saw potential and longevity in the universe they would create.”
Alex Schumacher makes comics based on real life that come at his subjects with the vitriol of Derf Backderf and the decibel of Lewis Black. He even drops a counterpoint among the tributes.
“Stan’s influence on my development as a creator has been minimal. While a part of me laments his unwillingness to fight for the artists who assisted him in building his worlds, I won’t begrudge him the legacy he leaves behind.”
He’s referring to charges that Lee sided with Marvel Comics over his artist colleagues as they tried to stake claims on valuable characters they created.
Cammie Duvall is a transgender woman and a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in gender and sexuality among the young LGBTQ community. She’s also a cosplayer.
“I believe cosplay can be a fantastic way to explore one’s identity safely and freely,” she writes. She’ll dress up as a character, judge the cosplay contest, and conduct a workshop on confidence and mental health through cosplay.
“[Stan Lee’s] work generating characters based of aspects of self also has really guided my work as a therapist who uses ‘parts work’ therapy and drama therapy to guide my clients to wholeness,” she says.
Matt Loisel has written a comic book called Murder, a horror series about farm animals linking telepathically, partially set on the Central Coast, including Prunedale.
“Black Panther was the first comic book I remember reading,” he writes. “And growing up, my favorite superheroes were members of the X-Men. I would not have a deep love for superheroes I have today if not for Stan Lee’s work.”
Marisa Garcia founded Chunky Girl Comics to show depictions of heavier, fuller-figured, heroic superhero women that girls of all sizes can relate to. They’ve expanded into body image and diversity workshops and public speaking engagements, especially for teens.
“My favorite encounter was back in 2013 where I was an exhibitor at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles,” she writes. “Before the doors opened, he came around to every single vendor, shook our hands and said thank you for being here. I was absolutely blown away.”
And finally, a word from the sponsor. Tara Spada is the National Steinbeck Center’s education and events programs coordinator, and she finds meaningful connections between John Steinbeck and Stan Lee.
“Most notably in their character creation,” she writes. “Focusing on characters is what make stories memorable.
“They did not shy away from tackling tough subjects and advocating for their beliefs. Steinbeck with workers, migrants and the poor, among others, and Lee addressing controversial topics [and] encouraging diversity, tolerance and other progressive ideas.
“[And] both of these behemoth creators had the best skill ever in common: working really, really hard to make their work succeed.”