What Stan Lee Meant to Me

As a writer, there have been a handful of creators I’ve really looked up to in different stages of my life: JK Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Sabaa Tahir, Jerry Bruckheimer, Lin-Manuel Miranda . . . people who pour their hearts and souls into a spark of an idea and nurture the flames until their blaze becomes bigger than them.

As a person, there are characters I’ve grown up with, and I aspired to be just like them. I wanted Wolverine’s resilience, Captain America’s moral compass, Spider-Man’s charm and ability to bounce between his contrasting dual-lives so fluidly (but not perfectly) . . . I wanted Iron-Man’s brains and dry sense of humor. I wanted Black Widow’s sheer “badassity” and a group of friends with a bond like the Fantastic Four. These were characters my mom used to hold up to me when I was battling cancer as a little boy. As much as I didn’t want to eat, sleep, or take my medicine, the goal of growing up to be “big and strong like Wolverine” and the fact that the nurses were bringing me “Spider-Man food” trumped all fears I ever had, and the effect endured long after my recovery.

I mourn today for the loss of Stan Lee, a creator who left behind an immortal legacy. His worlds gave us an escape, and then he showed us how there’s hope in our own worlds. His characters gave us something to aspire to, and then he showed us how they’re just like you and me. His imagination gave us something to get excited about, to geek out over, and to hold in our hearts.

I’ll never forget when I saw Mr. Lee at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con . . . a tiny, ordinary-looking man with a presence that was larger than life, standing nearly ten feet away from me and providing opportunities for photo ops. Seriously, my jaw dropped. How many times had I cheered in a crowded movie theater because this man graced the movie screen in front of us for no more than five seconds? I had the money ready in my hand and I was ready to tell him everything I just wrote down . . . and then I simply couldn’t do it. I didn’t think I could say anything to him without getting choked up. But he knew his effect on the world. You don’t build an entire empire without knowing you’ve changed lives. Even being in the same room as him for a few minutes was more than I could’ve dreamed as a kid. Those who were lucky (and brave) enough to thank him often got a moving reply of, “I did it all for you, kid.”

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And now, as creators, we get to remember Mr. Lee and the wonderful vision he left for us to enjoy. I will always be inspired by his vivid imagination, colorful worlds, and flawed but phenomenal characters, and I can only hope to leave behind even the tiniest fraction of what he created.

Thank you for everything, Mr. Lee. May you rest in peace.

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