I’m writing this on the day we all got the news that, at age 95, Stan Lee has died. As a comic book fan since I was a kid, and I was a Marvel kid, the name Stan Lee has been in my life for a long time and I found myself sadder than I thought I’d be at this news. It prompted me to pull out a couple of things from my collection to post on social media and contemplate them.

The first thing is the magazine program from a 1975 comic convention that was signed by Stan Lee. You might think there is a story that went with the program about me going to the con and meeting Stan Lee but there is not. I’m not even sure who got the autograph in person at the con but I’ve had it since about 1977.

Back in the late 1970s in the suburbs of NYC there were no comic shops. If you were a ten year old kid your choices in comics were limited to what you could find on the newsstand. Back issues were usually nonexistent except on the occasions where word would come down the kid-grapevine that some kid in some other neighborhood was selling comics. We’d jump on our bikes, ride over to another suburban street, ask around if anyone was selling comics, and then knock on that kid’s door. Usually they would be selling the comics for a nickel a piece. Occasionally a friend of a friend would hear I liked comics and take a trip over to my neighborhood to see if I wanted to buy or trade comics.

Those back issue excursions probably only happened about a dozen times over the years, I remember such occasions being fairly rare, but a few of them were memorable. I have a vague memory of getting the Stan Lee autographed program at my house so it must have been an instance where the guy came to me. What I remember most is being confused.

Whoever this fellow was, who I made the trade with, is now lost to my memory. All I remember is that he was older than me. I was probably eleven or twelve and he was fourteen or fifteen. I don’t even remember what I traded away or got in return. What I remember is that after the deal was done and we handing over the books to each other he insisted on throwing in the program. I was baffled. The deal was done, the terms were met, so what was he doing changing the deal? He must have gotten frustrated with my suspicions because he finally said, “Just take it. It has Stan Lee’s autograph on it. Some guy traded it to me and I don’t want it.” So I took it. What else was there to do?

I’m not an autograph person. Despite having many chances I usually don’t get things signed just because it doesn’t cross my mind. But this is the autograph I’ve had in my possession for the longest time. Every time I’ve pulled it out over the years it not only reminds me of Stan Lee but makes me wonder about the two people who owned it for a short time before me who didn’t want it. Who were they? Why didn’t they want it? One who didn’t want it so much that he gave it to me just to get of it. Strange but makes me think.

The second piece that I pulled out was the book “Origins of Marvel Comics” by Stan Lee. It’s a book that I got in about 1976. It’s a reprint collection of early 1960’s Marvel comics that comprise the first issues of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and others. It was the only way I could get to read those fifteen year old comics. But it was also an interesting history book.

Even as a child I loved history. I used to take out history books written for kids from the library. So a history of comics was of special interest to me. Before each comic that was presented Stan Lee wrote a few pages about the story behind the comic. How each one was created. I loved that stuff and read it and the comics over and over. It also taught me a little something about reading history with a skeptical eye. As much as I loved the text pieces I began to suspect that Stan Lee was telling some tall tales. Once again I had suspicions.

My ah-ha moment came a year or so later when, for another birthday or Christmas present, I was given the book “Son of Origins of Marvel Comics.” It was the same format as the first one, and I loved it just as much, but I found my smoking gun in one of Stan Lee’s text pieces.

From the first volume I was already familiar with the “Marvel Method” of making comics. Stan would write a loose plot or maybe just have a conversation with Jack Kirby, the artist of the Fantastic Four, and then Jack Kirby would go off in draw the whole comic. After the comic was pencilled Stan Lee would get the pages and add dialogue to them. Seemed simple enough but still left a lot of room for a twelve year old to wonder who really came up with what.

Then in the section before the first appearance of the Silver Surfer we were told of his origin. Stan Lee writes that when he got the pencilled pages back from Jack Kirby there was a little figure flying around them and Stan Lee asked Jack Kirby who that was. Jack answered that he thought that a villain as powerful as Galactus (it was his origin story too) should have a herald and that’s who the Silver Surfer was. Stan Lee wrote that he thought that was a great idea and he ran with it.

The problem my twelve year old brain had with Stan Lee’s telling of this story was that it didn’t jibe with the actual issue. The Silver Surfer wasn’t some minor character on the fringes of the story he was the main mover of action. He was the story. How could the writer of the story not know what was in the story? That’s what my young mind tried to figure out. Of course the inevitable answer was that Stan Lee was not the writer of that particular story. Jack Kirby was. In between the tall tales a little truth snuck in.

I still love those Stan Lee text pieces in those two “Origins” books and the few that came after them but I learned to look at history with a more skeptical eye. Over the years Stan Lee’s stories about the origins of Marvel Comics have been shown to be flawed but he always was good at writing an origin story. And I enjoyed reading them.