The Big Bang that ignited the Marvel Universe took place on Long Island, where artistic greats including Jack Kirby, co-creator of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and much more, lived and worked. And there was one more Long Islander who wrote most of the scripts those first few years, and around whom everything coalesced: Marvel editor Stan Lee.
"I think to fully understand Stan Lee, you have to know about Long Island because it was such a big part of his life while he was co-creating the most well-known Marvel characters," says Danny Fingeroth, 66, author of "A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee." He reads from the new biography and gives a presentation at Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. (Full disclosure: A quote from this writer's 1994 Stan Lee interview is used in the book.)
Lee, who died a year ago Nov. 12, lived with his wife Joan and daughter J.C. in two homes on Long Island — first on West Broadway in Woodmere from 1949 to 1952, then on Richards Lane in Hewlett Harbor until about 1980, including the 1960s period in which Marvel introduced its superheroes-in-the-real-world approach that revolutionized comics. (They later had a Hamptons weekend home, on Cutler Lane in Remsenburg.)
During that time, Lee not only edited the burgeoning line but also wrote or co-plotted the bulk of it. "Stan made an arrangement where he would take two to three days a week to do writing at home," says Fingeroth, "because there was so much always going on in the office that he couldn't focus. But he was always available for phone calls and to meet with his artists, many of whom lived on Long Island as well. Instead of having to schlep all the way into the city, they would drop the art off at his house."
They were all part of the postwar movement to the suburbs, something that, Fingeroth believes, "enabled him to keep in touch with that regular-guy side of things. … I think there's a lot of Long Island both in the subtext and in the main text" of Marvel at the time.
And sometimes overt specifics. "There is an Iron Man villain named Jack Frost [now Blizzard] whose civilian identity was a Dr. Shapanka," says Fingeroth. "That was the name of a family that owned a candy store near one of Stan's homes." The Fantastic Four's Reed Richards may have been named after Richards Lane, he adds, though he concedes Lee never said that directly. And while doing research in Lee's archives, Fingeroth found "a flyer for a signing he did at a dry cleaners in Hewlett Harbor — which seems like an odd place for Stan Lee to be doing a signing but it must be because he had become friendly with the person who owned it."
In ways big, small and odd, says the author, "I think Long Island served a very important role in his life and in Marvel's development."