Marvel Comics Chairman Emeritus Stan Lee died Monday morning, leaving behind a long legacy of beloved characters and plenty of memorable quotes.
Lee was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his daughter J.C. told TMZ. Lee was 95 years old.
Here are some of his most memorable quotes:
On His Success
Lee grew up in the Great Depression with his Romanian immigrant family struggling to make ends meet. As a teenager, Lee began working for Timely Comics as an assistant, according to an obituary on Marvel’s website. After refilling artists’ inkwells and fetching lunches, he got his big break writing a prose story “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in the May 1941 issue of Captain America Comics. As Timely Comics grew to Atlas Comics and then Marvel Comics, Lee’s career morphed into Editor-in-Chief. With the help of iconic artists and writers like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Gene Colan and John Romita, he created the characters that would put Marvel on the map: The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, and more.
Today, Marvel Entertainment is one of the biggest entertainment giants in the industry. In 2009, The Walt Disney Company bought the company for $4 billion. Avengers: Infinity War is the fourth highest grossing film of all time with over $2.05 billion dollars.
However, Lee never thought that his comics would be so popular.
“In never thought that Spider-Man would become the world wide icon that he is,” Lee said. “I just hoped the books would sell and I’d keep my job.”
Lee talked about how important entertainment was to people’s lives.
“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers,” Lee told The Washington Post in 2010. “And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”
On Drugs, Bigotry and Politics in Comics
Lee’s writing and characters became iconic not only for how fun and fantastical they were but because he portrayed his super heroes as actual human beings. They didn’t just face super villains and world-ending calamities but the kinds of problems everyone faced. Their relatable problems added a level of complexity that wasn’t well known at the time in the world of comics.
“Just because you have superpowers, that doesn’t mean your love life would be perfect,” Lee said. “I don’t think superpowers automatically means there won’t be any personality problems, family problems or even money problems. I just tried to write characters who are human beings who also have superpowers.”
At a time where comic books were being demonized for encouraging juvenile delinquency and the nation was in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, Lee pushed the boundaries of what could and could not be portrayed in comic stories. A 1971 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man dealt with drug abuse.
“I never understood why people take drugs,” Lee said. “They’re habit forming and they can kill you. I didn’t need anything to pep me up or make me feel more creative, and I didn’t need them to help me with women.”
The premise of X-Men revolved around bigotry, with the main conflict being if the mutants should fight back against the oppressive human race or make peace with them.
“The main idea was to show that bigotry is really a terrible thing, and we should all get along with each other no matter how different we are,” he told Rolling Stone.
Lee made his views on bigotry and politics very clear in his column “Stan’s Soapbox,” which ran in comics from 1965 until 2001 according to Inverse. One of his most famous is a December 1968 column where he called bigotry and racism “among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today.”
But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater — one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen — people he’s never known — with equal intensity — with equal venom.
Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race — to despise an entire nation — to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God – a God who calls us ALL — his children.
Lee even addressed the politics in his comics when he responded to letters from readers “who wonder why there’s so much moralizing in our mags” in the column for The Avengers #74.
They take great pains to point out that comics are supposed to be escapist reading, and nothing more. But somehow, I can’t see it that way. It seems to me that a story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul. In fact, even the most escapist literature of all — old time fairy tales and heroic legends — contained moral and philosophical points of view.
At every college campus where I may speak, there’s as much discussion of war and peace, civil rights, and the so-called youth rebellion as there is of our Marvel mags per se.
None of us lives in a vacuum—none of us is untouched by the everyday events about us — events which shape our stories just as they shape our lives. Sure our tales can be called escapist — but just because something’s for fun, doesn’t mean we have to blanket our brains while we read it!
Throughout his life from College campus talks to social media posts, Lee has talked extensively about the comic writing process. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he popularized a comic book writing process known as “the Marvel Method” where Lee brainstormed a story with an artist and then wrote a synopsis. The the artist drew the story panels while Lee filled in the word balloons and captions. But a constant in all his writing was to give those characters vulnerability.
“If you’re writing about a character, if he’s a powerful character, unless you give him vulnerability I don’t think he’ll be as interesting to the reader,” Lee said.
Lee also talked about how he stays original with his writing.
“I try not to do anything that’s too close to what I’ve done before,” he said. “And the nice thing is we have a big universe here. It’s filled with new ideas. All you have to do is grab them.”
Lee’s comics attracted audiences young and old, and he never wrote with a demographic in mind.
“Everybody wants to feel that you’re writing to a certain demographic because that’s good business, but I’ve never done that … I tried to write stories that would interest me,” Lee told Brandweek in 2000. “I’d say, what would I like to read?… I don’t think you can do your best work if you’re writing for somebody else, because you never know what that somebody else really thinks or wants.”
Lee also addressed how he was able to manage the creation of so many heroes.
“It’s a tremendous challenge, because there have been so many characters created over the years,” he told Esquire in 2012. “Every time you think you come up with a great name, you find out somebody has already done it. Dreaming up the stories isn’t that hard, but coming up with a good title is the toughest part.”