I didn’t know Stan Lee. You probably didn’t either.
Yet, within the past week, you’ve likely been touched by one of his creations.
Me? I finished watching Season 3 of Marvel’s Daredevil this past weekend. I will confess that every time I see the red background of the Marvel production logo before a movie or television episode, I get a warm, comfortable feeling inside. This is going to be good.
That’s the power of Stan Lee and his massive creative genius.
The flesh-and-blood engine behind Marvel Comics created or co-created over 360 characters — from Daredevil and the Fantastic Four to Captain America and my personal favorite, Spider-Man. That’s not to mention the hundreds of worlds, planets, dimensions, realms, weapons, and superpowers that populated the pages of the comics he published.
Lee’s own imaginations have spun off in countless ways — movies, TV shows, books, toys, conventions, and cosplays.
His most enduring legacy, however, will likely remain unquantifiable — the millions of children and adults he inspired to dream, to believe, to see themselves as heroes and to see heroes as themselves.
Starting out, nobody could have predicted the cultural hyperspace that the Marvel behemoth would fill up. And, through it all, Stan Lee remained a man of the people, a fan-pleaser, always game to bring people together in the “Marvel family.”
As a writer of fantastic tales (I use that word with the genre definition in mind), I’m fascinated with Lee as a creator. While some may have discounted him because of his originating medium (comic books), he’s certainly a giant among storytellers. The brain capacity needed to spin out the multitude of tales that he created — complete with complex characters, histories, and motivations, and to keep them interconnected in the way that he did — is astonishing. God-like, even.
I don’t know if Stan Lee struggled with self-doubt all those years ago when he was first coming up with his stories and trying to get them printed. He certainly seemed like the optimistic, enthusiastic type. But, he deliberately injected his superheroes with a massive dose of authentic self-doubt. That’s one of the reasons why millions find them relatable. So, I’m sure Lee was familiar with the feeling.
Self-doubt can be crippling to a creator. Criticism, from others, yes — but from one’s self primarily, is what causes half-finished manuscripts to be stuffed in bottom drawers never to see the light of day again.
I’ve suffered from self-doubt in the creative process. Self-doubt is present with me even as I write this blog post.
But I take inspiration from Stan Lee. If he can create hundreds — possibly, thousands — of individual stories; if he can create a multitude of self-perpetuating worlds and characters — so much so that they live independently in the imaginations of millions; if he can invite the young and old of all cultures, races, and nations “upward and onward to greater glory” — surely I can make the fractional number of realms that exist in my head as real and as marvelous as his. After all, Stan Lee has given me permission. And he’s given you permission too.
Permission to create boldly.
Permission to tell tales of wonder and fantasy.
Permission to be enthusiastic — fanatical, even — about fictional worlds.
Permission to shape, with pen and ink, real characters of flesh, blood, and bone.