Five Things Stan Lee Taught Me
Stan Lee, one of the most influential minds behind Marvel Comics, spoke at the American Library Association conference this year. Here are five lessons I gleaned from his presentation and interview that filled an auditorium to capacity:
- “Reading is very good. And you can quote me!” – Okay, so Stan Lee wasn’t telling us librarians entirely new information. “I’ve been asked to talk to you about reading. Well, that would be like going to a bankers convention and explaining to them about money. What the [bleep] can I tell you about reading that you don’t know a thousand times better than I do? … When I was a kid, I couldn’t afford to buy the books I wanted, but three blocks away there was a public library, and man, to me, it was a magic place.” Lee described how comics appeal to readers of all levels,
- You won’t know until you try. Back in the olden days of comics, Stanley Martin Lieber created a pseudonym for writing comics: Stan Lee. Lee said most comics were written at a poor, juvenile level that most writers found shameful, and he didn’t want to be associated with comics at that point in his career. When he was ready to leave comics, his wife suggested that he write a comic the way he wants, then even if it fails, there’s no big loss. This led Lee to create the first issue of Fantastic Four with Jack Kirby, “one of the greatest artists in comics history,” in 1961, sparking a resurgence in the industry.
- Comics helped win World War II. This lesson was tongue-in-cheek but no less true. Lee was originally trained to repair communications cables. Lee predicted he would be one of the first to die, as his position usually moved ahead of the combat unit and would get picked off by the enemy. Before he was deployed to the front lines, someone asked if he had experience with comics and publishing, and Lee was reassigned to creating instructional comics for soldiers. These comics would teach soldiers the vocabulary and maintenance of their equipment, as well as how to conduct themselves in different countries. According to Lee, his manuals sped up training time and reduced the number of infections overseas.
- Time management is everything. Lee kept four clocks in his office, one on each wall. This is because he could be working on as many as 40 comics at a time, coordinating different writers’ and artists’ schedules in quick order. While Lee considers writing to be an essential creative outlet in his life, a great deal of his work at Marvel involved keeping tabs on many other people.
- The immersive power of reading. Lee commented on his cameo appearances in Marvel films, saying his favorite was playing a librarian in The Amazing Spider-Man. Lee claims there was a subtle commentary in that scene: “What we were trying to suggest was that books are so immersive and all-consuming that there could be a spider-man fighting a giant lizard and you wouldn’t even know!”
If you would like to learn more about Stan Lee or watch footage of his ALA appearance, check the links below.