Despite Stan Lee’s constant claims of a boring history, his life through an economic depression, a World War and the creation of the Marvel Comics powerhouse speaks differently.
Students and staff at California State University, Long Beach spent Monday evening with the legend himself, enjoying stories born only from a past that spans over 90 years.
Lee grew up in New York during the years of the Great Depression and World War II, using books as both an escape and an inspiration. Lee said that he read so often, he had a book stand by his dining table so he could read while he ate. Lee took that passion for stories and started working for Timely Publications (later Marvel Comics) at the young age of 17, filling inkwells for the artists before later moving up to editing and writing.
“I wasn’t an editor at Marvel very long during World War II, because I enlisted in the army,” Lee said. “But while I was there, it was lousy because I felt [like] I’m writing stories and other guys are in the army winning the war or [at least] trying to.”
Lee eventually went on to create some of the industry’s most popular superheroes, like Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
“None of my characters came from anybody that I know, they came from people that I thought I would like to know,” Lee said. “Maybe Peter Parker was a little like me… I know I’m certainly nothing like Iron Man.”
The stories Lee wrote put Marvel on the map by evening out the playing field and allowing new superheroes to compete with DC’s iconic Superman. Lee said that the new characters were created for children, but that he hoped adults would learn to enjoy them too.
“To me, superhero stories are like fairytales for grownups,” Lee said.
William Salazar, the moderator and a program assistant for the University Student Union Program Council, said that Lee’s characters stuck with him from childhood to adulthood.
“I was really excited [to interview Lee] in the beginning, but then when it got closer to the day I was kind of nervous,” Salazar said. “Growing up, X-Men was pretty much everything to me.”
Lee’s comics had a similar impact on many fans – Marvel shirts and hoodies showed up often across the sea of excited, cheering college students.
Though Lee clearly reveled in the adoration of the students at the event, he spoke his kindest words about his life outside of comic books. When asked about the one Marvel character he would marry if he could, Lee’s first thought went to someone not currently in the funny pages.
“The first thing I would have to do would be to make my wife a comic book character,” Lee said. “I’m really rather fond of her.”
Yasmin Cortez also contributed to this article.