*Artwork by me.

 

I don’t have any photos with Stan Lee. I was never lucky enough to meet the man in real life – So, on top of that, I also don’t have any touching anecdotes about how I met him in an elevator once, or how I sat down next to him at a convention, or anything else I’ve been grateful to read about him on the day of his death. Stan Lee never encountered me once during the 95 years he roamed our Earth – he didn’t know I even existed.

And yet the mark he left on me was indelible, and though he didn’t know I existed – he knew lots of people LIKE me. I was an archetype in his world. Underdogs, the kids who were picked on – the heroes of Marvel fought to protect those like me, and the stories he had a hand in creating, those were stories I found strength in when I was just a boy and going through things that a young boy shouldn’t have to be a part of.

My favorite Marvel character has always been Spider-Man. I drew him when I was little, collected the comics, and even more recently I was drawn back into the comic-collecting world by the events of Spider-Geddon. Though Stan Lee was a corporate mascot of sorts, he was akin to Walt Disney in that he made himself into a character. Uncle Stan, Grandpa Stan, whatever you wanted to call him – he was as much a part of the Marvel Universe as Hulk or Thor or Spidey.

Comics taught me to read. Comics taught me to draw. Comics taught me to write. Comics, and by extension Stan Lee, helped to shape my childhood in ways that my real life couldn’t afford me. In my real life, I was surrounded by poverty, filth, and misery for much of my childhood. Marvel Heroes were like an oasis in the sea of detritus that surrounded me and I stayed there as often as I could, as long as I could – clinging to tales of heroism and excitement. Though I suffered hunger, sickness, abuse, bullying in my childhood, and though I could barely pay bills, succeed in a relationship, or juggle school and work and a personal life as an adult – Marvel Heroes were always there to show me that despite all that, you could still be a good person. Spider-Man struggled with bills, Hulk struggled to be understood and not feared, the X-Men struggled to be accepted. Yet, they all remained true heroes and almost always did the right thing despite their circumstances.

When I heard the news about Stan Lee passing away, I cried. More than with David Bowie, or Robin Williams – I openly cried. Then, I fell asleep for a few hours because my brain was just in an overload of emotion and thoughts that I couldn’t process. I knew that his time must come, as is the case with all childhood heroes, and eventually for me as well, but Stan seemed at times more character than man. And, though I know he had his faults as a human being, the character of Stan Lee is what shone through the darkness and gave kids like me hope. In fact, some of the best Marvel Heroes were ones who were flawed – just like Stan the Man – like the conflicted Hulk or the bad-luck-beset Spider-Man or the alcoholic Iron-Man. I personally think that the good Stan Lee gave to the world outweighed the bad, and by a large margin.

Rest in peace, Stan. The world mourns you so fiercely because it needs you now more than ever, but you’ve given so much to so many and you couldn’t do it forever. I will always appreciate your legacy, and if I have children, I hope they find the world of comic books as magical as I did when I was little. #Excelsior