EVERETT — T. Andrew Wahl’s introduction to Stan Lee came via the Tom Thumb grocery store in Lake Stevens.
“Stan Lee was the most important comic book editor of all time,” said Wahl, 48, who is head of the journalism and media communication program at Everett Community College. “He had awesome gifts as a writer, but business, public relations and his role as an editor was where he stood out.”
Lee, who revolutionized the comic book and introduced characters such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, died Monday. He was 95.
As a kid in Lake Stevens, Wahl would ride his bicycle to the grocery store. There, he would pocket a few dollars painting window signs.
“That was all to buy comics,” Wahl said.
As the top writer at Marvel Comics and later as its publisher, Lee was widely considered the architect of the contemporary comic book.
“People like to look for him as the unmentioned guest in Marvel movies,” said Amy Meredith, co-owner of Subspace Comics in Lynnwood.
Lee created the Marvel universe with co-creators, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, said Wahl, who teaches a course called the “History of the Comic Book.”
That universe included characters with longings and flaws.
“He always wrote about characters that people could relate to — characters who were on the outside but wanted to fit in,” Meredith said.
Patrick Mest, 32, who grew up in Edmonds, recalled meeting Lee in 2010 at the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, a gathering of comic book fans and comic book dealers.
“That was eight years ago. He was still in his 80s,” Mest said.
Mest and his father — and a lot of other fans — queued up for what seemed like hours to get their picture taken with Lee.
In the minute or two it took to smile and snap a photo, you could tell that “he loved interacting with his fans,” Mest said.
“What he’s done for the industry is immeasurable,” said Mest, an avid collector. “Not just for comic books. There were TV shows in the 1970s. Cartoons in the 1980s and 1990s. And in the last 20 years, Marvel properties have dominated the box office.”
Funko’s product lineup includes scores of Marvel Comics characters. The Everett-based company makes figurines of pop culture characters, as well as stuffed animals, home decor and apparel.
“All of us at Funko are deeply saddened to hear about Stan Lee’s passing,” Brian Mariotti, the company’s chief executive, said Monday. “Stan was a phenomenal creator whose artistic abilities took us to places beyond our imagination. We honor Stan each day through the pop culture moments, characters and magic he gave us. Our thoughts are with Stan’s family and friends as the world mourns the master inventor of comics.”
Marvel’s comics and characters draw in readers and viewers with their realism, Mest said.
“He shows characters bickering. They have financial problems, normal problems,” Mest said. “His characters aren’t just about their costumes, but about their normal street life.”
Recent projects Lee helped make possible range from the films “Avengers: Infinity War,” ”Black Panther” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” to such TV series as “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” and “Daredevil.” Lee was recognizable to his fans — he had cameos in Marvel films and TV projects — his hair gray and his glasses slightly tinted.
“I think everybody loves things that are bigger than life. … I think of them as fairy tales for grown-ups,” he told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview.
He hit his stride in the 1960s when he brought the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man and numerous others to life.
According to Wahl, one of Lee’s ambitions was to become a novelist.
“His real name was Stan Lieber,” Wahl said. He took the name Stan Lee, saving his real name for the great American novel he hoped to write.
His heroes were a far cry from virtuous do-gooders such as rival DC Comics’ Superman.
“That’s the great thing about Marvel. Most of his characters were outcasts and minorities. He showed them as normal people,” said Joel Bowyer, 42, owner of Phantom Zone Comics in Lynnwood.
“One of the first comics I started reading was Spider-Man. Spider-Man was such a great book for me just because he was a kid, an everyday guy,” Bowyer said
A teenage character, Spider-Man was a stand-alone, Wahl said. “Unlike Robin, he wasn’t a sidekick. Who wants to be a sidekick?”
“We lost a legend,” Wahl said.
Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.
Janice Podsada: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods.