STAN LEE: A Tribute by Roy Thomas

The pupil salutes the master…

Cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

UPDATED 12/28/19: The late, great Stan Lee was born 97 years ago. This column by his protege, Roy Thomas, was written in celebration of Lee’s 95th birthday in 2017 — but it’s just as meaningful today. — Dan.

Stan Lee turns 95 on 12/28 and as it happens, TwoMorrows’ Alter Ego is celebrating its 150th issue. So the magazine’s editor, Roy Thomas — Lee’s protege and first successor as Marvel editor-in-chief — has dedicated the issue to his mentor.

Dig the table of contents:

In this EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT, Thomas kicks off the issue with a heartfelt letter to Lee, which we present in its entirety:



I remember well the first time I met you—on Friday, July 9th, 1965… just three days after I’d spoken to you on the phone, all the way from my hotel room on 23rd Street to your office between 58th & 59th on Madison Avenue, Manhattan.

That Friday, as I’ve oft recounted, I sneaked north over my lunch hour at National/DC to meet you to discuss the “writer’s test” you’d had me pick up on Wednesday. I was every bit as much awed as I’d been at meeting such DC luminaries as Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox, and Joe Kubert. And when you offered me a job, fifteen minutes into that meeting—well, Superman editor Mort Weisinger would’ve had to be a very much nicer person than he was, to keep me from jumping ship after just two weeks at DC.

From being severely downcast in my previous job, I went to being ecstatic about my new one—as “staff writer” for Marvel. Soon I was trying to churn out dialogue for stories in an office where gal Friday Flo Steinberg had to be constantly on the phone and Sol Brodsky was forever upbraiding artists to get their work in—while you immediately began to lean on me for things like backup proofreading, telling you where Dr. Doom last appeared, etc., until I was reassigned as “assistant editor.” I felt like the luckiest guy in comics to be standing to your left, with Sol on your right, as you went over scripts you’d written and the changes you wanted made in the artwork (along with the why). It was like Comicbook* Editing 101… no, it was like skipping that level entirely and graduating straight to a Master Class in comics writing, editing, and art direction. (*See Alter Ego #150 for explanation of spelling!)

Working at Marvel then was a fabulous job—and you were a great boss! Sure, we had our arguments from time to time (which I nearly always lost), but I admired the fact you never bore a grudge. When a disagreement was over, it was over. Period. It was instantly so far in the past, it might as well never have happened. Today and tomorrow—that’s what you were all about.

So many highlights, so many memories—personal mile-markers along the highway of my professional life:

That late-’60s day when you suddenly glanced left at me and announced: “They’ll never know why I fired you! It’s because of all that hair!” (I’d started wearing my blond locks a bit longer by then.)

The occasion when, upon my return from a con in St. Louis, you snapped at me because I’d taken an extra day off to elope. (But soon after Flo departed, you offered Jeanie a job as your secretary.)

The moment when you suddenly looked at me in a quizzical way and said, “You know—I could’ve been your father!” (True. You’re just a few months younger than my mother was.)

The time when, severely depressed during a separation from my first wife in early 1973, I was screwing up, finding excuses not to come into the office, and you talked to me like a Dutch uncle… firm about my responsibilities, but very understanding about the place I was at, and eager to help me get through it. (You did, and I did.)

Also available from TwoMorrows.

So many more memories… good and bad, but mostly good. I’ll have to save them for my autobiography. Which will be read, understandably, by maybe .001% as many people as have read yours in either prose or comics format.

You’re soldiering on—now without Joan, the rock you could always depend on—and you’re inspiring not just an old Stanophile like me but a whole new generation of comics readers and moviegoers who can feel in their bones what you’ve meant to heroic fantasy (and just plain fun) over the past three quarters of a century. You’re an inspiration to them all, Stan… and you’ve been one to me since that long-ago day when you changed my life by looking out your window onto Madison Avenue and saying in a casual voice:

“So—what do we have to do to hire you away from National?”

Happy 95th, Stan — and see page 83 for your present!



This letter was edited slightly due to the reference to the spelling of comicbook. Wanna know what that’s all about? Pick up the issue, which is out now. Ask your shop or purchase it directly from TwoMorrows. (Click here.)

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Enjoyed Roy’s letter to Stan! Great to see that MARVEL AGE cover, which I was the editor on, illustrate this piece on Stan. That’s actually a painting by JayJay Jackson of Mr. Lee on that cover. Oh, and happy to see that Stan will explain the reasons behind spelling comicbook as one word– that’s official Papercutz editorial policy to spell it that way– based on Stan explaining it previously elsewhere. Otherwise, Happy Birthday, Mr. Lee! Excelsior!

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