Stan Lee is 94 I am surprised to learn. I met him once, way, way back in the late sixties when he came to London and did a personal appearance. Too long ago to remember where but if memory serves correct, it was in a tiny room with a tiny stage and there was less than a hundred people there and not every seat was taken. I saw it advertised, probably in Time Out and trekked across to West London to hear him speak. He would have been in his mid-thirties then . . . does that sound right? . . . if he is ninety-four now; not tall, quite stocky with brown hair swept back and a bushy moustache. Very genial guy, smiling and outgoing. Can’t remember what he talked about, comics one assumes but which particular aspect is beyond my recall. He hung around to sign autographs and chat and that was how I came to meet him.
At that time I wanted very much to make my living as a professional artist; ideally as a strip-cartoonist and I spent every night drawing layouts and story-boards, making up my own tales not of Superheroes but of everyday people in alarming circumstances. ‘No guns; no police’ the same blurb for Riccarton Junction, forty-years later. I sent some stuff off to Marvel and I think, DC in New York but really it wasn’t good enough and they sent me a couple of lines of rejection. I later learned that they were pretty much one-man operations so there was never ever a workforce, a team of artists to join. Although I had A-Level Art from school, I was untrained. My friend and close neighbour, Paul Leith did attend Sunderland Art College which had a terrific reputation, I believe Brian ferry went there, and he was trained. But they made him do experimental sculpture and textiles and pottery and other stuff that I didn’t consider to be ‘Art’ and I didn’t want to be diverted from what I wanted to do; draw comic strips.
I should have applied.
Strangely, there were and perhaps still are diverging schools of comic drawing. It isn’t the uniquely American Artform everyone thinks it is. Spain was where the leading artists practiced, sexy drawings of half-naked girls fighting off weird creatures with swords. Some of the work was tremendous, every panel carefully sketched, head and shoulders above what Marvel was doing which to me then appeared production line, with little elegance. Yeah, yeah, I know Jack Kirby is venerated now but back then the imaginative Spanish and Italian geniuses ruled for me and many, many others.
Eventually, I had to choose whether to starve in an attic in Golders Green or stick with the day-job of doors and hardware.
Stan Lee was a big influence, it must be said, on everyone who was interested in the art-form. What he did apart from turning the American Comic Book Industry into the multi-million dollar media monster it is today was to root his characters in reality. Spiderman was a real guy with special powers; he didn’t live in Gotham City and flew over tall buildings, he lived in New York and part, indeed the main part of their attraction was how conflicted the heroes were about using their Superpowers.
Not a lot to add, I saw a little article about him recently praising his maverick genius and I thought I would write up my memories of him. Marvel almost went bust in the sixties and again in the mid-eighties post-Star Wars so his present heroic status didn’t come easy at all.
And . . . he was a liberal leftie.