I don’t remember the first time I ever saw a picture or video captured image of Stan Lee. I do remember the first time I heard his voice though. It was during an episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends that aired during the show’s second season after Stan began to do the narrations. “So that’s what the guy who writes those Soapbox things and has his name in every comic book listed as ‘Stan Lee Presents’ sounds like” I thought. At the time, the early 1980s, Marvel Comics were pretty much the only comics that existed for me. To me his voice sounded like that of an awesome grandpa or great-uncle that was always fun to visit or hang out with. The kind that always had an old comic book or two in his possession that he’d either let you read, or better yet gave to you, to keep you busy when he and your Dad were done playing baseball with you or whatever and had to keep you busy so they could visit with each other and their wives. This was before the age of the mass availability of video games, and kids were actually entertained by something at which they actually practiced a real skill (i.e. reading) while the adults spent their time catching up during family get togethers. Of course, as I grew older I read as much as I could about Stan Lee, watched many interviews with him, and devoured his Stan’s Soapbox articles in each comic that they appeared. I never forgot the first time I heard his fun and excitement filled voice though. I wouldn’t react similarly to the sound of any major pop culture icon’s voice that way again until I heard the same voice, live and in person, for the first time while waiting in line to get my first (and possibly only) ever autographed piece of memorabilia from The Man himself.
The process that I, and many other Marvel Comics fans, endured during this year’s Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC en route to our moment with Stan wasn’t exactly a pleasant one. When my group was called to get ready to line up, I came across the scene of a photographer going more or less crazy and laying out his commands as to how he was going to do the fan photos with Stan. This was something that I hadn’t paid for, so it didn’t directly affect me, but the good people who run Heroes Con (who had set up a process for moving the lines and getting people cued up) had a dilemma on their hands as the quite belligerent photographer was really messing up the flow of things. All ended up getting straightened out, but for a while mass confusion reigned. Eventually, I was sent upstairs to a conference room in the Charlotte Convention Center for waiting then marched back down to the cueing area, and finally into the line. It took a couple hours to get through the whole process, but the experience was made enjoyable by the awesome people that were in line around me. We talked about the silliness of the whole thing while I feverishly fretted over which item I wanted Stan to autograph for me. (I had three different options, but had only paid for one autograph). After a while, the whole thing began to seem silly to me en total. Why had I paid $50 for an autograph of a guy whose scrawl I had seen in countless comic books over the years? I could have gotten 50 dollar bin comics with that money. Then I heard Stan’s voice…
Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what it was he was saying, but it was something of a gracious nature to a fan at the front of the line whose item Stan had just autographed. It was the same energetic and incredibly young sounding voice that I had heard for the first time almost 30 years ago coming out of my parent’s old 1970s floor model TV. I won’t deny that the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I was really about to get the chance to say a few words to the man that had brought so much joy, excitement, and enlightenment to so many souls through his progressive and touching stories about finding your place in the world, learning how to handle responsibility, growing up, and always striving, if not always succeeding, to do the right thing. Stan Lee himself, I can only imagine, would be embarrassed by this description of his life’s legacy, but it is nevertheless true. What Stan Lee brought to the pop culture world is just as powerful as what Milton and Shakespeare have brought to the world of letters and literature. Stan Lee’s stories, creative direction, and the heart he put into them have influenced several generations of forward thinking and thoughtful men and women as well as boys and girls. I so wanted to make my thoughts on his legacy known to him, but I’d only have a few seconds while he signed the item I chose for him to sign (what that item ended up being is a story for another time). I also SO didn’t want to be “that guy.” You know the one I’m talking about: the one that has to be told to basically shut up and stop holding up the line. So as he signed my chosen item, during a bit of an awkward silence because I ended up being almost TOO silent during the few seconds it took him to write his name, I simply, with a voice that wasn’t quite as steady as I like to remember it being, simply said “Thank You.” Stan looked up at me, and with the mental faculties and sparkle in his eye of those of man of half his age or less simply responded, in his own very heartfelt way, “No, Thank You.” Then he smiled and the moment was over. It was a moment though that I’ll never forget.
Meeting Stan Lee, if only for a few seconds, was an experience I’ll never forget. So once again Mr. Lee, if you happen to ever come across this recollection, thank you for all the years of fun, joy, excitement, and moments of transcendence that you’ve brought to all of us over the years with your creations, enthusiasm, and heart.