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Stan Lee Was My Guru, By Sharad Devarajan

Stan Lee was a mentor, friend, inspiration and teacher….he was my guru.

As a young child, Stan’s work shaped my life and spoke to me in a way that no other author or creator ever has, and probably ever will. To have had the honor to work with him and to create superheroes with Stan was like being able to paint a picture with Picasso or write a poem with Shakespeare. It was quite simply one of the greatest joys of my life.

Stan’s characters are so much more than masks and tights – they are the modern mythologies of our time, transcending race, religion and culture to speak to us in the primal language of human imagination. I bet more people today will recognize the face of Spider-Man than even that of the Mona Lisa.

As a storyteller, Stan always reminded me to focus on the simple human story and that “the powers mean nothing, if you don’t care about the person.” Stan’s characters have been so relevant for generations because he focused on their private lives as much as he did on their adventures. Having a superpower didn’t mean the character was lucky at love or had money to pay the bills. Powers didn’t bring them total success. Those human flaws grounded the superhuman abilities, or as Stan would say, “Achilles, without his heel, you wouldn’t even know his name today.”

I have so many wonderful memories with him that I will treasure. I remember how ten years ago in 2008, I did a panel with Stan at the New York Comic Con, one of the world’s biggest pop-culture events. Before the panel, thousands of fans lined up across the convention to see him, which of course was no big surprise, because he is such a legend. What did surprise me, though, was when Stan told me he was going to go out there and try and shake every one of their hands.

I walked with Stan as he went out and traveled the entire convention shaking everyone’s hand that he could – hundreds, if not thousands of people! By the end of that walk I was exhausted, and I could only imagine how Stan felt at 85 years old. While the experience left him a bit tired, Stan always wanted his fans to know how much he cared for them.

Within no time, his energy was back to normal, and we went on stage where he wowed and entertained the entire room. That was the amazing thing about Stan; just like his characters, he never gave up, found the strength to do the impossible, and always would put others before himself. His optimism was his real superpower. Any time you met him, you always walked away feeling better about yourself and the world we were in.

One of my earliest memories as a young child is reading the legendary 1978 Silver Surfer graphic novel by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It was epic, and I was hooked. Stan started the book with a quote from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which set the tone that this book was going to be more than just a silver guy with a surfboard. As with so many of Stan’s great works of fiction, by launching a Western cosmic superhero story with a passage from some very Eastern ancient wisdom from the Rubiyat, Stan united the world through the power of storytelling.

When I met Stan for the first time, I asked him about it and he immediately recited the entire verse from memory. I’ll never forget the way he said it, as if he was sharing a secret wisdom of the universe with me.

“There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil through which I could not see:
Some little Talk awhile of Me and Thee
There seemed — and then no more of Thee and Me.”

Stan made us all seekers. He told tales that challenged us to search for the big mysteries of life. Who are we? What is the purpose of our existence? What is the destiny of mankind and how does it end? Not the typical questions found in a comic book, at least not before Stan and his amazing partners redefined what the medium would become for generations thereafter. Thanks to them, great comics continue to be philosophical treatises on the state of life and the world, allegories to the societal and human questions that we struggle and strive with.

For me, perhaps Stan’s greatest legacy, even beyond all of the unforgettable characters he created, is the lesson he gave us about how to live our lives. Work was never a job for him. He lived each day with a passion – an unquenchable desire to create that lasted until the end. He followed his life’s purpose. He followed his dharma. I remember Stan said the following in an interview, which epitomized the way he lived:

“I think if you enjoy what you do it’s like playing and you can’t stop. Most men want to retire at a certain age. They say ‘I can’t wait to retire so I can play golf or travel,’ or whatever it is. But I’m already doing what I want to do. It’s so much fun.”

Being around him made anyone feel like a kid again. Stan had a way of not only defying age, but to also make everyone around him instantly feel young as well. His genius as a storyteller was only surpassed by his kindness as a human being.

Stan was fascinated with the legends, stories, and fables of gods and heroes from around the world. He was particularly interested in Indian culture, which he found deeply philosophical and rich in tradition and morality. Stan mentioned once that he always found Brahma to be a personal favorite due to his role as the creator. A fitting inspiration for a man whose characters and stories have brought joy and hope to billions. I can’t think of any greater legacy to leave behind.

Thank you Stan Lee, for allowing us all to dream in the universes you created.

Excelsior!

– Sharad Devarajan, Co-Founder, Graphic India