Stan Lee’s legacy lives on at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center (AHC). Stan Lee – comics industry pioneer, collection donor, and AHC benefactor – died November 12, 2018, at age 95, in his home city of Los Angeles.
The AHC houses nearly 200 boxes of Lee’s working drafts, photos, videos, articles and fan mail, and these records are open to the public for research and viewing. An exhibit featuring Stan Lee’s remarkable career is on display at the American Heritage Center beginning November 19, 2018.
Young Stanley M. Lieber, born in 1922, landed his first job with Timely Comics in 1939 as an office gofer. Two years later, he wrote a text filler piece titled “The Traitor’s Revenge!” for Captain America No. 3. He used the pen name “Stan Lee” because he was so embarrassed to have his real name associated with lowbrow comics.
By the 1950s, Lee was ready to quit the comics industry, but was encouraged by his wife Joan to experiment with stories he preferred. Acting on the advice, Lee created superheroes that bucked the archetype of ideal perfection. Lee’s characters were flawed, complex and naturalistic. They were human. The first superheroes Lee and artist Jack Kirby created together were the Fantastic Four. It was an immediate success.
Timely became Marvel Comics in 1967. By 1972, Lee had become publisher of the Marvel Comics Group; nine years later, he moved from New York City to Los Angeles to develop Marvel’s television and motion picture concepts. He also helped form Stan Lee Media, an Internet site that introduced comics to the Web. Even after retirement in the 1990s, Lee was the public figurehead for Marvel, frequently making cameo appearances in movies based on Marvel characters. He continued independent creative ventures until his death.
A frequently asked question at the AHC regarding Lee’s papers is how they came to Wyoming. In a January 2012 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lee explained: “I have this little archive at the University of Wyoming. You may wonder why I picked that university, but when they asked if I would archive my material there, they said that Jack Benny, he had his archive there, and I was a big fan of Jack Benny’s and I figured if he’s there I want to be there.”
Open to the public, Lee’s papers are also a resource for anyone who is interested, whether for personal interest or for academic study. For these reasons, Lee’s comics and papers are frequently used, and are a valuable asset to the AHC collections and the education of its students and the wide number of people across Wyoming and the globe it serves.