Stan Lee, Marvel Comics visionary, dead at 95

The best superhero movie of all time? Easy. That’s the 2002 Spiderman with Tobey Maguire in the title role. The best line? That came from Aunt May, who cautioned her nephew about pushing himself too hard: “You’re not Superman, you know.”

Big laughs from the audience. But I didn’t laugh. To me, that line summarized what made the classic Marvel brand of the 60’s and 70’s better than all the other comics. No, Spiderman was not Superman — he was way cooler. Superman and Batman bored me. Too goody-goody. Too full of their supposed goodness. The bad guys they fought were just — bad. Bad for the hell of it.

Marvel, on the other hand, offered flawed heroes, men and women racked with self-doubt who often got mad at each other. Sometimes the good guys fought with other good guys. Reading Marvel comics as a kid and teen, I thought, wow, these superheroes are like my family. They have faults. They bicker.

And Marvel’s bad guys were more realistic, too, with understandable motivations for their actions, just like other famous bad guys, such as Shylock and Macbeth. In fact, young Stanley Martin Lieber changed his pen name to “Stan Lee” because he had dreams of becoming a famous novelist, and didn’t want potential publishers to associate him with comic books, which many regarded as pedestrian trash.

Guess he showed them, huh?

So it is with great sorrow we say goodbye to Stan Lee, the man who made it all happen. Stan Lee has passed away at the tender age of 95. Thanks for the memories — and the inspiration.

photo by Alan Light

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On Trains As Writing Spaces

Train StationHere are some interesting insights on the writing process from author Panio Gianopoulos. I wholeheartedly agree with this:

The exaggerations of the arts notwithstanding, there can be something meditative about riding a train. It’s both soothing and inspiring to feel the steady rhythmic rush of its passage, the thundering momentum as you race past a sun-flecked pastoral landscape and, when you briefly intersect a city, the sudden appearance of buildings rising and falling like the perforated notes on a player piano roll.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted lately is because I’m immersed in my latest project, which has taken on a life of its own. Looks like it’s going to evolve into a novel. I started it back in June, when my wife and I took a meandering vacation from Charlotte to New Orleans to New York. We flew to New Orleans, but took Amtrak the rest of the way. Yes, that’s a lot of time on the rails, and what Gianopoulos says about the rhythm of the rails stimulating the creative process is true. The train rolled mile after mile, and I wrote page after page. And even though the trip is done, the experience generated momentum I’m still drawing from.

Gianopoulos makes another powerful point about the creative process, one that seems counter-intuitive but nevertheless true. Commenting on how productive he is on short train rides, he observes that constraints actually spur him on:

On weekends, once the children have been anesthetized with iPads and I’ve ducked up into our attic with my laptop, I find that somehow I get less writing done in two hours. I’ll get lured into answering emails or researching online, frittering away the brief time before my children demand actual live parenting from their father (the nerve!). Many days, I don’t even make it to the attic; I’ll get distracted by laundry or the mail or yard work, telling myself I can always write later. Having all day to do it, however, means I never end up doing any of it—not even 35 minutes. Perversely, I’m more creatively productive on my busiest workdays. There is something about the entrapment of the space and the temporal limitation of the train ride that animates me. I don’t think I’m alone in this. We are a weird species. Give us vastness and we wilt. Corner us and we thrive.

I’m guilty of this as well. On days when I’m relatively free to write, I often fritter away my time, while during brief writing opportunities, I’m far more productive. In fact, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that getting away from what I imagine to be my optimal working environment often energizes me.

As Gianopoulos says, humans are a weird species. And then there’s that sub-species called writers …