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Comic Book Legend Stan Lee’s Legacy Lives on at UW American Heritage Center

November 15, 2018
Man standing in hallway
Legendary comic book superhero creator Stan Lee, who died Nov. 12, also was known as an advocate for literacy and education. In 1994, Lee participated in educational events at the University of Wyoming. UW’s American Heritage Center houses nearly 200 boxes of Lee’s working drafts, photos, videos, articles and fan mail. The records are open to the public for research and viewing. (UW American Heritage Center Photo Files)

It is hard to imagine, but comic book legend Stan Lee -- known worldwide for creating timeless characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four -- has strong ties to the University of Wyoming.

His legacy lives on at UW’s American Heritage Center (AHC). Lee -- comics industry pioneer, collection donor and AHC benefactor -- died Nov. 12 at age 95 in Los Angeles.

The AHC houses nearly 200 boxes of Lee’s working drafts, photos, videos, articles and fan mail. The records are open to the public for research and viewing. An exhibition featuring Lee’s long career will be on display at the AHC beginning Tuesday, Nov.19.

“Stan was such an advocate for the American Heritage Center,” says AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener. “Despite his busy schedule, he kept us on his radar through social media and by steering those in the comics industry our way so that we can continue to document the industry’s history.”

Waggener says a frequently asked question at the AHC regarding Lee’s papers is how they came to Wyoming.

In a January 2012 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Lee explained: “I have this little archive at the University of Wyoming. You may wonder why I picked that university but, when they asked if I would archive my material there, they said that Jack Benny had his archive there. And I was a big fan of Jack Benny’s and I figured, if he’s there, I want to be there.”

Lee’s papers are a valuable educational resource, particularly for UW students, Waggener says.

“Students and faculty in multiple disciplines use Lee’s collection to study literature, American Studies, social studies education and more for research papers, theses and curriculum development,” she says. “From his papers, students learn about different facets of U.S. culture from the 20th century, including politics and social constructs; for example, the Civil Rights Movement.”

man and man in Spiderman costume staring at each other
Stan Lee stares down Spider-Man, one of the many well-known superhero characters he created. (Stan Lee Papers, American Heritage Center Photo)

Open to the public, Lee’s papers also are a resource for anyone who is interested -- whether for personal interest or for academic study.

“For these reasons, Lee’s comics and papers are frequently used, and are a valuable asset to the AHC collections and the education of its students and the wide number of people across Wyoming and the globe it serves,” Waggener says.

Lee, born Stanley M. Lieber in 1922 in New York City, landed his first job with Timely Comics in 1939 as an office gofer. Two years later, he wrote a text filler piece, titled “The Traitor’s Revenge!” for Captain America No. 3. He used the pen name, “Stan Lee,” because he was so embarrassed to have his real name associated with lowbrow comics.

By the 1950s, Lee was ready to quit the comics industry, but was encouraged by his wife, Joan, to experiment with stories he preferred. Acting on the advice, Lee created superheroes that bucked the archetype of ideal perfection. Lee’s characters were flawed, complex and naturalistic. They were human. The first superheroes Lee and artist Jack Kirby created together were the Fantastic Four. It was an immediate success, according to Lee’s biography.

Timely became Marvel Comics in 1967. By 1972, Lee had become publisher of the Marvel Comics Group. Nine years later, he moved from New York City to Los Angeles to develop Marvel’s television and motion picture concepts. He also helped form Stan Lee Media, an internet site that introduced comics to the web. Even after retirement in the 1990s, Lee was the public figurehead for Marvel, frequently making cameo appearances in movies based on Marvel characters. The Marvel character-based movies have been a worldwide phenomenon.

In recent years, Lee was credited as associate producer on many of the blockbuster movies -- including multiple sequels -- starring Marvel characters such as Iron Man, X-Men, the Avengers and Captain America, in addition to Spider-Man. The Marvel Comics chain of films has grossed into the billions of dollars worldwide, according to industry sources.

Lee continued independent creative ventures until his death.

For more information about Lee’s papers, call the AHC’s reference department at (307) 766-3756 or email

About the AHC

The AHC is UW’s repository of manuscript collections, rare books and university archives. The AHC is the laboratory for citizens and scholars to engage with primary sources in all formats that support the creation of historical narratives, interrogate the past, build community, and pose and answer questions about human experience. The AHC holds collections of distinction, serving citizens and scholars in Wyoming and beyond.

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