This caught my ear on “The Writer’s Almanac” today.
It’s the birthday of comic book writer Stan Lee (books by this author), born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City (1922). He spent most of his childhood watching Errol Flynn movies and reading boys’ adventure stories. He decided to be a writer at an early age, and won a writing contest sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune three weeks in a row.
This means he’s 90, folks. I saw him a few years ago on a reality TV show on SyFy wherein people created their own superheroes and Stan Lee set them challenges. He looks good. What are his superpowers, I wonder?
His humble beginnings befit many a superhero.
He got a job just out of high school as a gofer for a publishing company called Timley Publications, which put out comic books. At first he got people coffee, swept floors, and ran errands, but eventually he began to proofread, and then write the occasional script, because he said, “I knew the difference between a declarative sentence and a baseball bat.”
When he began to write scripts regularly, he chose to write under a pseudonym. He said, “I felt that those simple little comic books weren’t important enough to deserve my real name. I was saving that for the Great American novel that I hoped to write one day. So I just cut my first name [Stanley] in half and called myself ‘Stan Lee.'”
Lee was just 18 years old when the editor of the publishing house quit, and he got the job as head editor and writer. It was supposed to be temporary, but he wound up staying for more than 30 years.
At first, Lee wrote comic books without taking them very seriously. He said: “I was the ultimate hack. I was probably the hackiest hack that ever lived. I wrote whatever they told me to write the way they told me to write it. It didn’t matter: War stories, crime, Westerns, horror, humor; I wrote everything.”
One of my yoga teachers has confessed an admiration of superheroes. And in a watershed workshop two years ago, Desirée Rumbaugh suggested that a superhero doesn’t ask what she believes, but what a particular belief can afford her. Patanjali’s yoga sutras refer to siddhis, “powers,” but more appropriately “perfections” or “attainments.” Some mythic figures associated with yoga, most notably Hanuman, have and use such powers in their exploits.
But I love how Stan Lee saw fit to outfit his superheroes with imperfections.
But in the 1960s, Stan Lee began to regret all the time he’d spent writing mindless entertainment. At parties, he was embarrassed to admit that he wrote for comic books. He told his wife that he was fed up and he was going to quit. She suggested that if he had nothing to lose, he should try creating a comic book he could be proud of, since it wouldn’t matter if he got fired anyway. He agreed, and decided that the most important thing lacking from comic books was complex characters. All the good guys were entirely good, and the bad guys entirely evil. Stan Lee said: “[I decided to create] the kind of characters I could personally relate to. They’d be flesh and blood … they’d be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they’d still have feet of clay.”
Instead of creating just one new comic book series, Lee created more than half a dozen, including The Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange.
But his most successful character of all was The Amazing Spiderman, about an awkward teenager named Peter Parker who develops superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He was the first superhero to be filled with self-doubt, the first superhero to struggle with the question of whether he wanted to be a superhero. Stan Lee’s boss hated the idea, but the first issue featuring Spiderman sold every copy that was printed, and Spiderman went on to become one of the most popular superheroes ever invented.
via The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. for December 28, 2012
It being the holiday season and therefore comparing expectation with reality, I can’t help but be reminded about what Brené Brown said last year about the holidays being a perfectionism minefield. Also, I’ve just completed my semester of teaching, and I always wonder what I could have done differently or better. Lastly, it’s been a while since my last teacher training module, and it will be a while until my next. I miss my colleagues and I feel a little distant from the vision and focus of that effort. But I have plenty to keep me busy: a new semester and old homework for teacher training.
My daughter doesn’t like Spiderman because she thinks he’s whiney. Well, that’s his work then, and we all have our work, even we yogīs/superheros. I sound whiney in the paragraph above. But I also mention my work. Discipline and faith enter where it’s not clear to me from this vantage point that the work will bring the inspiration.
On this day following “the long night moon,” the last full moon of 2012, may we live the tension between our superpowers and our imperfections, as “perfectly imperfect” yogīs.
- STAN LEE TURNS 90: Colleagues salute the Marvel legend and ‘goodwill ambassador for comics’ (musicnfilm.wordpress.com)
- DVD Of The Week: With Great Power… The Stan Lee Story (2012) (heropress.net)
- Stan Lee Birthday: The Comic Genius Turns 90 In 2012 (PHOTOS) (huffingtonpost.com)
- Happy 90th Birthday to Stan Lee (firewireblog.com)
- Peter Parker dies in Spider-Man #700, writer gets death threats (Video) (examiner.com)
- Legendary Stan Lee honored at Savannah Film Festival (savannahnow.com)