There’s no doubt Stan Lee (95) had the biggest influence on today’s pop culture. Getting his start at age 17 working for his uncle Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics in 1941, the young Stan was appointed editor after the departure of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, creators of Captain America. Stan spent the next two decades writing thousands of words for superhero, humor, crime, horror, western, and other comics (whatever the market dictated) until he reteamed with Kirby on something daringly different. That something was The Fantastic Four, a quartet of all-too-human superhumans that set the comic world on it’s ear. Now renamed Marvel Comics, Stan co-created with Jack and artist Steve Ditko a line-up of heroes with human foibles: Spider-Man, The Hulk, Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, and other names you all now know. Stan promoted Marvel incessantly, giving his artists nicknames, writing a monthly column (Stan’s Soapbox), lecturing on college campuses, and raising comic book consciousness to another level. The Marvel Super Heroes are now everywhere, thanks to the box office success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Stan’s cameos in the films will certainly be missed by True Believers the world over. Excelsior, Stan!
Ditko also passed away this year at age 90. His rendition of The Amazing Spider-Man helped turn the puny Peter Parker, bit by a radioactive spider, into a pop culture icon, and his trippy work on Dr. Strange set a new standard for weirdness in comics. Ditko lent his distinctive touch to Charlton’s Captain Atom and Blue Beetle, DC’s Hawk and Dove and The Creeper, and his objectivist Mr. A, incorporating the philosophies of writer Any Rand. His deceptively simple yet complex style contains much nuance, and he was truly one of a kind, on the page and in his personal life, declining interviews even after his creations became world-famous. Steve Ditko was a unique individual, and will also be missed.
Russ Heath (91) was noted for his DC war comics (The Haunted Tank), but also worked in other genres for EC and Marvel, and drew those ubiquitous “toy soldier” ads that appeared in the backs of comics. Marie Severin (89) had her own unique style; remembered for her work on The Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and others, she drew superhero satires for Marvel’s brief but memorable “Not Brand Echh” during the Swingin’ Sixties. Mort Walker (94) created the still-running Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois newspaper strips. Writer Gary Friedrich (75) is remembered for his run on Sgt. Fury, and co-created Marvel’s supernatural superhero Ghost Rider (and the now-forgotten but personal favorite of mine, Hell-Rider for Skywald). Nick Meglin (82) was the long-time editor for MAD Magazine. Carlos Ezquerra (70) co-created the legendary Judge Dredd. Takahiro Sato (41) is well-loved among Manga buffs. William O’Connor (48) illustrated the games Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering.
Science Fiction readers were saddened by the loss of Harlan Ellison (84), a true genius and noted provocateur. The eloquent Mr. Ellison wrote some of the genre’s classic short stories (“Repent, Harlequin… Said The Tick-Tock Man”), novels (A BOY AND HIS DOG), edited the essential volume DANGEROUS VISIONS, dabbled in comics (The Hulk, The Avengers), and my favorite STAR TREK episode, “City on the Edge of Forever”. Ursula K. LeGuin (88) was another genre author whose greatest accomplishment was the EARTHSEA series. Dave Duncan (85) was known to fans for WEST OF JANUARY and his SEVENTH SWORD series. Peter Nichols (78) compiled THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION. Jack Ketchum (71) was a horror writer whose books (OFF SEASON, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, RED) scared the daylights out of readers (including yours truly!).
More mainstream authors who left us included the white-suited wordsmith Tom Wolfe (88), pioneer of the “New Journalism” style (THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST, RADICAL CHIC, THE RIGHT STUFF, BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES); Philip Roth (85, GOODBYE COLUMBUS, PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, THE HUMAN STAIN); humorist Cynthia Heimel (70), a feminist who wrote a monthly column for PLAYBOY; sarcastic political columnist Nicholas von Hoffman (88); Drue Heinz (103), publisher of THE PARIS REVIEW; Jerry Hopkins (82), ROLLING STONE writer who penned biographies of Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison; and physicist Stephen Hawking (76), whose A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME became an unexpected best seller.
Businessman Wayne Huizenga (80) put Blockbuster Video on almost every block; he later owned the Miami Dolphins. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (65) also bought sports teams in his native Seattle. Charles Lazarus (94) gave us the late, lamented Toys’R’Us. Dave Edgerton (90) established McDonald’s chief rival Burger King. Fashion designers Hubert de Givenchy (91) and Kate Spade (55) became iconic brands. John Coleman (83) was a meteorologist who co-founded The Weather Channel. Dennis Hof (72) owned Nevada’s notorious Bunny Ranch; Hof was elected to the Nevada State Assembly this year… a month after he died!
Astronauts John Young (87) and Alan Bean (86) both walked on the moon. Adrian Cronauer (79) was an Armed Forces DJ whose life was turned into the film GOOD MORNING VIETNAM. Chef Paul Bocuse (91) was a pioneer of Nouvelle Cuisine. Larry Haney (70) was co-founder of the Burning Man festival. Graphic designer Art Paul (93) was PLAYBOY’s Art Director for 29 years. Whitey Bulgar (84) terrorized Boston for decades as boss of the Winter Hill Gang; unbeknownst to his criminal cohorts, he was also a rat for the FBI. Whitey went on the lam for 16 years before being captured, tried, and sentenced to prison. And you know what happens to rats in prison…
Two people who left us this year defy traditional classification. Melvin Dummar (74) was a humble gas station attendant who claimed to have found an elderly man in the Nevada desert and saved his life. That man, so said Melvin, was billionaire Howard Hughes. A handwritten will allegedly left him part of the vast Hughes estate. Melvin never did collect that money, but his story was turned into Jonathan Demme’s entertaining 1980 film MELVIN & HOWARD. Was Melvin telling the truth? We’ll never really know…
Naomi Parker Fraley (96) was working at an aircraft assembly plant in Alameda, California, during WWII when her picture was taken by a news photographer. The pic was widely distributed in the press, and artist J. Howard Miller based his famous poster on Naomi’s image…
Thanks for keeping ’em flying, Naomi. You’re still an inspiration to us all!
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