How I Met Stan Lee (and Steve Ditko)

With NY Comic Con coming up next weekend, I thought I’d tell the story of how I met Stan Lee.  Especially since I’m doing a panel Saturday at 1:30.  If you’re attending the con, come on by and say hello. 

I grew up in New York City during the Marvel Age of comics.  My friends and I were huge Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Doctor Strange fans.  We even liked Sgt. Fury (as the lead said, “The war comic for people who hate war comics.”)  We read every page of every issue, joined the Merry Marvel Marching Society, and even ordered the miniature armies offered on the back (re-enact all of WWII for just $1.00!). 

So it was only natural one day, while perusing the letters page and declaiming to one another from Stan’s Soapbox, that we finally noticed where the company was headquartered.  625 Madison Avenue. 

625 Madison Avenue!  That wasn’t much more than thirty blocks from our school.  An easy walk, and an even easier bus ride. 

So we went the next day.  Turned out the Mighty Marvel Bullpen was located about two blocks from F.A.O. Schwartz, at the time the Holy Land of toy stores, which seemed only appropriate.  Two such mighty cultural centers had to exist side by side.  The only thing missing was Disney. 

It also turned out that 625 Madison Avenue was a midtown office tower about twenty-five stories tall.  I think it’s still there.  Back then all office buildings had large information boards in the lobby with the building’s tenants listed alphabetically.  There was no security, just a steady stream of men and women passing in and out through the revolving doors.  No one took any notice of four eleven year old boys at all.  We found the company on the bulletin board and rode an elevator upstairs. 

I think the Marvel offices were on the seventh floor.  There was a door at the end of the hall – double wooden doors with large gold letters attached spelling out MARVEL COMICS.  At least that’s how I remember it forty years later.  One of us opened the door and peeked in.  On the other side was a waiting room with another set of double doors in the far wall and a receptionist behind glass beside the doors. 

“Come on in, boys,” she said.  “Are you Marvel fans?” 

One of us, braver than the rest, asked if we could meet Stan Lee.  She apologized.  Mr. Lee was in a meeting.  Would we like to look at some back issue order forms instead? 

We were disappointed at not being able to meet Stan, but back issue order forms were well worth the time and trouble of coming all the way to midtown.  We were pooling our money, about eight-seven cents, which, at the time, would have bought us five or six comics, and arguing over whether we wanted Thor 167 or Tales to Astonish 182, when suddenly the second set of double doors burst open and four men strode into the room. 

“HI, BOYS!  ARE YOU MARVEL FANS?” 

It was Stan Lee.  We were in such a state of shock we hardly noticed the other three guys.  We just stood there, our mouths open, while Stan got some official company stationery from the receptionist, had the other three guys sign each piece of paper, then signed them himself (“HIYA, SAM!), while doing all the talking.  Only when we got back on the city bus, still trembling with the aftereffects of religious rapture, did we realize who the other guys were.  Their names were right there next to the pictures of Millie the Model and the Two-Gun Kid: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Wally Wood.  Holy Moly!  The whole Yancy Street gang! 

Our euphoria lasted for weeks.  But, being eleven year olds, we lost the autographs by summer.  In a couple of years we graduated elementary school and went our separate ways.  Our mothers threw out our comics.  When we ran into one another every once in a while, we always lamented the fact that all four of us had lost our precious autographs.  In time, the whole adventure began to feel like a dream, the way Narnia did for Susan. 

Only it wasn’t.  One day in my thirties, I decided to reread my battered old copy of Dune.  Something fell out as I picked it up, a piece of paper folded into fours.  I unfolded it, and there they were.  Stan, Jack, Steve, and Wally, just the way I’d remembered.  Except for what looked like a cigarette burn just above Stan’s name. 

I framed it, of course.  It hangs on the wall outside my office, (the most valuable thing I own, as far as I’m concerned).  My daughters, in their late teens and twenties, periodically fight over who will get it when I move on to that great four color process in the sky.  For now, however, it is a constant reminder of why I write. 

And why I’m still a fanboy.

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  1. 1. C.E. Murphy

    “HI, BOYS! ARE YOU MARVEL FANS?”

    *laughs*!

    That sounds just like every story I’ve ever heard about Stan Lee. Last summer on the way home from San Diego Comic Con, I was sitting across from a guy who’d met Stan. Actually, this is what had happened:

    Our fellow (We’ll call him Jack) was heading one way, and Stan Lee and his entourage were heading the other way, and they met in the middle. Jack, in a moment of utter fanboy idiocy, bellowed, “OH MY GOD, YOU’RE STAN LEE!”

    And Stan, apparently just as excited, bellowed, “OH MY GOD, I AM!” back at him and shook his hand and pounded him on the back and he got swept up in the entourage for a while, and it was The Best moment of the convention. It was practically *my* best moment of the convention.

    *beams cheerfully*

  2. 2. S.C. Butler

    C.E. – So Stan Lee, in fact, that I remember the moment, and the quote exactly, 43 years later. (Or at least I think I do.)

  3. 3. Daryl

    This is a great story, Sam. I am so jealous.

    –d

  4. 4. NewGuyDave

    Great story! Hopefully NY Comic Con on Saturday will yield similar results for me. Maybe I can meet the guy who met Stan Lee, huh?

  5. 5. S.C. Butler

    Daryl – It’s all luck. Had I grown up in Illinois I’d never have had the chance.

    Dave – See you Saturday. And I’ll have to introduce you to whomever I’m with. That way you can meet the guy who met the guy who met Stan Lee!

  6. 6. Katterley

    How wonderous! Thank you so much for sharing such a great experience!

  7. 7. Nick Caputo

    What a wonderful story! The titans of Marvel together in one of the best and creative periods in comics.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Stan at the Marvel Com in 1975 and have converse with him lately and he is as funny, enthusiastic and warm as ever. Stan is a real classy guy and I believe genuinely loves his job and the attention he gets.

  8. 8. S.C. Butler

    Nick – I’m sure Stan always loved his job, even when he was writing comics under a pseudonym to save his real name for his novels! We’re both lucky to have met him.

  9. 9. James Robert Smith

    What a sweet story! Really tugs at your heart strings (especially if you’re a diehard comic book fan).

  10. 10. Paul

    Say, can you post a pic of the framed treasure?? We’d all LOVE to see it!!!

  11. 11. S.C. Butler

    Paul – I’ve been meaning to post something for a year, but my scanner is malfunctioning. When I do, I will trumpet it to the skies.

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S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.

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