Stan Lee is, of course a very well-known man. His contributions to comic book lore are immeasurable and he has successfully made the jump to the silver screen several times, having had cameos in multiple Marvel Comics-related films, including X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hulk, Spider-Man 2, Fantastic Four, X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and a role in the upcoming Iron Man 3.
But were you aware that Stan Lee is really his secret identity? Much like the superheroes he helped create, there’s another side to Stan Lee.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber, he attended De Witt Clinton High School in The Bronx. In his youth, Lee enjoyed writing, and entertained dreams of one day becoming an accomplished novelist. He was involved in school publicity departments, public speaking, chess, French and magic clubs as well as school law and news journals. He earned the nickname “Gabby,” perhaps due to his ability to draw in listeners. He graduated high school early, at age 16 in 1939.
But before he got started in the funny book business he worked part-time jobs; writing obituaries for a news service and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center, delivering sandwiches to offices in Rockefeller Center, working as an office boy for a trouser manufacturer, ushering at a Broadway theater and selling subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune newspaper.
With the help of his uncle, Robbie Solomon, Lee became an assistant in 1939 at the new Timely Comics, a division of pulp magazine and comic-book publisher Martin Goodman's company. Lee, whose cousin was married to Goodman, was formally hired by Timely editor Joe Simon.
By the 1960s, Timely would evolve into Marvel Comics.
His duties were fairly mundane at first, making sure inkwells were filled, delivering lunches, proofreading and erasing pencils from finished pages. Marshaling his childhood ambition to be a writer, young Stanley Lieber made his comic-book debut with the text filler “Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge" in Captain America Comics # 3 (May, 1941), using the pseudonym "Stan Lee," which he would later change his legal name to. This initial story also introduced Captain America's trademark ricocheting shield-toss, which immediately became one of the character's signatures.
When Simon and his creative partner Jack Kirby left in 1941 following a dispute with Goodman, the publisher installed Lee, just under 19 years old, as interim editor. The youngster showed a knack for the business that led him to remain as the comic-book division's editor-in-chief, as well as art director for much of that time, until 1972, when he would succeed Goodman as publisher.
Lee began implementing changes, blessing and cursing his superheroes with flawed humanities, a change from the ideal superhero archetypes that were being written at the time. Prior to this, most superheroes were idealistically perfect people with no serious, lasting problems. Lee introduced complex characters who could have bad tempers, fits of melancholy, vanity; characters who bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, got bored or even were sometimes physically ill. These were characters everyday people could identify with, further drawing them into the magic of comic books. The first superhero group Lee and artist Jack Kirby created was the Fantastic Four. The team's immediate popularity led Lee and Marvel artists to produce a cavalcade of new titles. With Kirby primarily, Lee created the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Mighty Thor and the X-Men; Daredevil with Bill Everett and Doctor Strange and Marvel's most successful character, Spider-Man with Steve Ditko.
In Hake’s Americana & Collectibles current auction, we are offering Lee’s 1939 De Witt Clinton High School Senior yearbook. Prior to the auction, we featured Lee’s portrait on the Hake’s Facebook page and asked our fans to guess as to the person’s identity. Guesses included comedians Harold Lloyd, Jonathan Winters and Bob Saget, as well as Tom Hanks and Elvis.
Perhaps the fact that Lee wasn’t wearing his trademark sunglasses or sporting his famed mustache was throwing them off. It's interesting to note that the year Lee graduated high school was the year that Timely Comics started.
Hake’s auction is now open online and closes March 19-21, 2013. For more information on these items or to see the other 3,000+ items up for bid, visit Hake’s website at www.hakes.com.