Stan Lee - 1922 - 2018
Born December 28, 1922 with the name Stanley Martin Lieber. Usually billed as the original creator for Amazing Spider-Man and many other Marvel Comics characters, nearly 100% cameo appearances in Marvel-based movies, and perhaps the most famous person in the popular imagination as the man most associated with comic books.
The basic history of Stan Lee is that he got his position because in the early days of Timely Comics (which became Marvel later) via his cousin Jean Goodman, married to Martin Goodman, a publisher in New York City, who needed help in his rapidly expanding business. Not quite 18 years old in 1940, Stanley Lieber joined Goodman's payroll as an assistant working for Joe Simon (who had co-created Captain America with Jack Kirby), becoming one more relative on Goodman's list of employees. The Timely offices specialized in using freelancers to fill up their pages, but Goodman's relatives were there to make sure the core publishing business (which did more than comics) was run efficiently. Lieber's duties eventually included some writing work, fill-in material that wasn't even illustrated, and in between chores as mundane as sweeping the floor. Lieber changed his name to Stan Lee for purposes of keeping his legal name "clean" from the stigma of comic books (then looked upon as one of the lowest ranks of publishing) so he could use his birth name later as a novelist, screenplay writer of playwright.
Official Marvel history (which I guess is now really Disney history) is that Stan Lee imbued his tales with "a message" when he wrote them, not a particularly different event in comics that utilized contemporary moral lessons readily, but because Stan Lee, along with the sometimes mentioned Jack Kirby, were on the cutting edge of civil rights, as far as it existed at all in comic books, there was a marked difference in the pages at Marvel compared to competitors. Under Lee's tutelage, Marvel Comics broke barriers for minority representation, and on top of that he used an evolving writing style that changed the tone of comic books to be in synch with the rapid generational changes happening in America in the 1960s.
This 1960s resume demonstrates that Stanley Lieber did not get free from comic books to write novels, that he instead stayed with the business as it evolved each decade, and in fact he eventually legally changed his name to the disguise, becoming "Stan Lee" because, he would explain, 'it just got too complicated having two different identities.'
By the 1980s, Stan Lee was on the West Coast to manage Marvel properties, trying to guide them toward success in TV and movies and so boost licensing sales, something which was financially overshadowing actual comic book printing profits which were steadily decreasing across the entire industry. The future for the characters was elsewhere, and Lee wanted a California climate and proximity to deal-making for that future to have his input. It took until the release of X-Men in July 2000 to show that this jump was clearly a giant success, and the culmination of Hollywood picking up comic book properties to film instead of holding their noses was a financial bonanza.
Original Page May 2019 | Updated Feb 2020
The Spectre - Volume 1 (DC Archive Editions)