Love the action-filled, unreasonably humorous and witty Marvel movies that have been coming out for the past ten years? Love seeing Tony Stark banter with Captain Steve Rogers, or Natasha Romanov prove that women are kickass? Well, you can thank the man behind the universe – Stan Lee.
Stan Lee is a comic book writer, editor, publisher, actor, and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics. He is the creator of characters such as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor, the X-Men, and many others that can be found in the Marvel Universe. As a child he was influenced by books and movies, particularly those with Errol Flynn playing heroic roles, and he also enjoyed writing, with dreams of one day writing the "Great American Novel". Lee began his comic book career at Timely Comics, doing miniscule tasks such as refilling inkwells and proofreading for the likes of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon who would one day help Lee achieve his dreams of writing. Lee’s first go at the story telling was in Captain America Comics #3.
In the 1950s, Timely would undergo its transition to Marvel Comics in response to the emerging universe the DC Comics was producing. The editor of Timely, Martin Goodman asked Lee create a new superhero team and Lee’s wife urged him to experiment with his own stories, advice that he ran with. Lee created characters with flaws, a change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written of superheroes with idealistically perfect lives and no serious, lasting problems. Lee introduced the complex, naturalistic characters that we enjoy in the movies today. The first superhero group Lee and artist Jack Kirby created was the Fantastic Four. The team's immediate popularity led many other new stories including the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and the X-Men and Marvel's most successful character, Spider-Man. Lee was able to create a universe in which all these characters could exist and in which they could team up for initiatives such as the Avengers – a universe that has been laid out for everyone in some pretty epic movies of late. Lee is a much respected mentor in the comic book industry, and many artists and writers today can name him as their inspiration - Lee pushed boundaries of censorship, practicality and relatability to his audiences, a feat that has yet to be matched by others in the field. At 94 years old, Lee is still creating new characters and interacting with the universe he created.
Of his creative process Lee has said:
“To explain the creative process would just be to give me a lot more competitors, if anybody is listening to this. So, I would have to say I really have no idea. If we need a new character and decide we need a new project, I just go home and do some thinking, some doodling with a pencil and paper until an idea comes to me.”
I believe that the mechanism of mental imagery has a large influence on Lee’s creativity – his ability to visualize each of these characters and their stories helped him to form an entire universe in his head before applying it to the world. Ward, Finke & Smith argue that this ability to visualize in the mind is an inherent aspect of those involved in the visual arts. This aspect of creativity is obvious throughout Lee’s career and within his portfolio of achievements.
Fun fact: Stan Lee has a cameo in every Marvel movie.