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Stan Lee: Speaker-Man

Throughout his long life, Stan Lee appeared on just about every type of modern-day platform or medium one could name: movies, television, radio, video games, books, magazines, newspapers, digital media, and of course, comic books. Heck, he even took the stage at New York’s famous Carnegie Hall in 1972!

But Stan, whose comics career began in the early 1940s, wasn’t always instantly recognizable or inundated with interview and appearance requests—in fact, it wasn’t really until the 1960s that he started becoming more visible and known to the public, specifically fans of Marvel Comics. This increased exposure came from different avenues: during the early 1960s, letters pages in comics gained considerable popularity, and Stan personally chose and answered the questions published on those pages; in 1964, Marvel’s fan club the M.M.M.S. (Merry Marvel Marching Society) launched, quickly racking up members; and in 1965, Stan continued communicating directly with readers through Marvel’s “Bullpen Bulletin’s” page where he shared news, previews, profiles, and, beginning in June 1967, Stan’s Soapbox.

In Taschen’s recently released book The Stan Lee Story, author Roy Thomas, who succeeded Stan as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, wrote that the M.M.M.S. helped usher in a new vocation for Stan: public speaking and appearances. The fan club prompted the establishment of M.M.M.S. chapters on college and university campuses around the country, and with this, Stan began receiving invites to deliver lectures and discussions at these schools, stints which would become some of his earliest speaking engagements. (Though Thomas did point out in the book that in June 1964 Stan presented a comic book-related talk at Bard College in New York for a fee of $50, which I would guess is probably one of his first, if not the first, paid addresses.)

Ironically, Stan wasn’t a fan of giving speeches and often structured his discussions as question and answer sessions, a method much preferable to him—and now familiar to fans that have seen him on panels at comic conventions around the globe. The frequency and scope of these community appearances would increase exponentially over the years, to signings at comic book shops, aforementioned conversations at comic conventions, and everything in between—which even included a well-publicized 1966 drop-in at a local Long Island cleaners, Burachio Bros. Drive-In! These appearances helped foster a rapidly growing public awareness of both Marvel and Stan, as he became the public face of the company; luckily, he was more than happy to be Marvel’s “Promoter-in-Chief,” as Thomas termed him!

Below are a selection of ads promoting a handful of Stan’s earlier appearances found in the Stan Lee Papers at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.