3 pieces of priceless advice from Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee

Stan Lee in his office in Beverly Hills, California.
Getty images | Washington Post

Marvel Comics' legendary writer and chairman emeritus Stan Lee, who passed away on Nov. 12 at the age of 95, had a decades-long career during which he helped create some of comic books' most celebrated characters. From Spider-Man to the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men, Lee's legacy is filled with iconic superheroes who have thrilled readers and moviegoers for generations.

Born in New York City in 1922, Lee started working at Marvel (previously known as Timely Comics and then Atlas Comics) at 17 and went on serve as Marvel's top editor, and then publisher for over five decades. During that time, the iconic comics house helped introduce characters like the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Thor — all of whom continue to be featured in popular comic books and movies today.

In the 1990s, Lee became chairman emeritus at Marvel, reportedly collecting a $1 million-a-year salary. Disney acquired Marvel for $4 billion in 2009, and Lee made a point of making cameos in every big-budget Marvel movie released in subsequent years. Over the past decade, movies based on Marvel Comics characters have grossed over $17.5 billion in total worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.

Throughout his career, Lee shared advice for achieving success, as well as some personal stories about how he overcame failure and the occasional creative block to become one of the world's most famous comic book creators.

Here is some pieces of Lee's best advice:

Don't quit before you try it your way

In a 2009 interview, Lee said his wife, Joan, gave him "the best advice in the world" one day around 1961. Lee had been at Marvel for more than two decades and was feeling creatively stifled, he told Inc. magazine.

On the verge of quitting his job, his wife Joan advised him to "write one [comic] book the way you'd like to" instead of only listening to then-publisher Martin Goodman. Joan told her husband, "'Get it out of your system. The worst thing that will happen is he'll fire you — but you want to quit anyway.'"

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Lee took his wife up on that challenge and created The Fantastic Four, a group of superheroes to rival DC Comics' Justice League.

"I tried to make the characters different in the sense that they had real emotions and problems. And it caught on," Lee told Inc. "After that, Martin asked me to come up with some other superheroes. That's when I did the X-Men and The Hulk."

Ignore negativity

Lee was in the comic books business for so long that he saw (and helped drive) the medium's evolution from derided tabloids to a unique and beloved form of literature. One piece of advice he shared in 2013, in an interview with The Globe and Mail, was "don't listen to the poo-poo-ers."

"It has been really rewarding to see the reputation of comics change over the years. When I was starting out, most parents didn't even want their kids to read comics," Lee said. "They were really considered junk. Today, some of the finest screenwriters in the world are working on comic book stories.

"I don't want to sound like a name-dropper, but I was once talking to Steven Spielberg and he said to me, 'You know Stan, you and I do pretty much the same thing except my pictures move.'"

Stay humble

Some of the best advice Lee said he ever received came from a teacher when he was only "12 or 13," Lee told Men's Journal in 2014.

"Next to my name, the teacher wrote, 'The greatest are the humblest.' I don't know why she picked me to write that for, but it always stuck with me," Lee said.

The teacher might have had an inkling of Lee's future success, or perhaps his ego. He famously eschewed humility when he declared, "I am God!" to his comic book artists in his early days at the helm of Marvel. He also wrote, "If I may be totally candid, I'm my own biggest fan," in his 2002 memoir.

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