The world has lost a legend. Stan Lee the incredible visionary behind Marvel Comics has passed away at the age of 95. Stan Lee obviously had an indelible impact in regard to comics, movies, and pop culture as a whole, but one of the more underrated aspects of Stan Lee’s impact is his effect on education.
Stan Lee was able to get millions of children to read who otherwise would have never picked up a book. I was one of those children.
When I was in elementary school, I didn’t read. I wasn’t a struggling reader; I was a reluctant reader. I read only when it was absolutely necessary which of course stunted my growth as a reader. My teachers and mother attempted to find materials that I would read but to no avail. The required readings at my school like Hatchet, The Great Gilly Hopkins, and Tuck Everlasting did nothing for me. Neither did the Captain Underpants series that guy at the book fair swore to my mom would get me to read.
Then one day for whatever reason my father decided to share his old passion with me. He took me to a local comic book store called The Great Escape. It was a cool hole in the wall store that had toys on the wall. It wasn’t boring like the other bookstores I had been to prior. The entire store was cool. My father walked me straight to the back where the 25¢ comics were, which was understandable when shopping for a boy who hadn’t willingly picked up a book ever.
I rummaged through the comics and immediately realized why most of them were 25¢ as they were mostly comics I didn’t recognize, but I did find a copy of Spider-Man. It clearly wasn’t a normal issue. It was a stand-alone issue meaning it didn’t link to any over-arching story. In hindsight, it was probably a promotional issue like the ones that used to come with action-figures or video-games. Either way, it was the one I picked. My dad told me he had read that one before and it was a “good one.” I knew he was lying but whatever.
Because my dad, bought the comic for me I felt like I had to read it. So, I opened it up during the car ride home and started thumbing through the pages pretending to read… and before long, I actually was. To my surprise, the comic got and kept my attention. There were a number of reasons:
- It was about Spider-Man whom I already liked.
- The pictures made the words on the page more engaging.
- The story was fun, interesting, and action packed… unlike the books I read in school.
And just like that, I was hooked. Before that experience, I had previously thought of comic books as something people read because they didn’t have televisions. I understood why my dad would read an X-Men comic book in the 60s, but I had Saturday morning cartoons. Despite the cartoons, I came to value comics as a medium.
This would be a nice story if it stopped there; however, there’s more. As it turns out, reading is a gateway drug. As I continued to read more comic books, my endurance for reading words on a page increased. By the time I was assigned to read The Giver in middle school, I had no problems pushing through. I found the strength to read books that I didn’t even like.
As a teacher, I have used comics to nudge my students who were like me in that same direction. It works almost every time. I can technically only speak for myself, but I am quite positive that I speak for many more. Stan Lee directly increased reading capacity in American children for the better part of 50 years.
Lee didn’t invent comic books. He didn’t invent super-heroes, but his characters resonated with the general public because they were real people. He realized that having superpowers didn’t necessarily make you a super person. You may have extraordinary ability or talent but still be a flawed individual. We were able to follow his characters on their journeys of growth while simultaneously living our own. For me, that was reading. For millions of other people, it was something else. I can’t speak for all of them, but I’m sure that like me they appreciate the contribution Stan Lee made to their lives.
Thank you, Stan Lee: 1922 – 2018
This post originally ran on the Indy K12 Education blog.