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My job is to be a storyteller; who better to learn from than one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century?

Stan Lee passed away this week.

I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude. What a debt I owe!TIMES PHOTO: DANA HAYNES - A gem with a place of importance on my bookshelf.

When he was a teenager, Lee joined the company that would become Marvel Comics, serving as an assistant. In the early 1960s, he's largely credited as the creative genius who revived the company's dormant superhero line and brought it to life with Spider-Man, Thor, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The X-Men, etc.

The middle-of-the-road company became the undisputed powerhouse, rivaling then surpassing D.C. Comics (home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman).

Could Lee have done more to properly credit the artists who co-created these modern mythical characters? Absolutely. A stingy nature when it came to sharing credit is part of his legacy, too.

I'm too young to have been a fan of Lee's writing; by the time I started collecting, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway were the big-time writers at Marvel, and Stan was the editor/publisher/boss. But still: It was his circus and they were his monkeys. If they brought joy to me, as a kid growing up in poverty in Idaho, I had Stan to thank for it.

I keep my two careers fairly separate: I'm a newspaper journalist by day and a novelist by night (secret identity much?) I've published seven mystery and thriller novels, with an eighth out this March. And a lot of what I learned about plotting and "choreographing" action sequences, I learned from Stan Lee's Marvel comics.

I've had novel editors, literary agents and critics tell me I write good action sequences. I should: I learned how to describe them because of the comics I devoured.

My father, Don Haynes, is an ardent fan of novels, calling it the great art form of the 20th Century (along with musical theater). He was aghast when I became a fan of a disrespected medium like comics. He considered them beneath the attention of any half-intelligent reader. So there was always a covert pleasure in reading them.

But I grew up with the Vietnam War and Watergate. Is it any wonder I took solace in the adventures of Captain America?

If the middle-aged Dana could go back in time and tell 10-year-old Dana that moviegoers one day would be as familiar as he is with such oblique Marvel concepts such as Thor's hammer, the SHIELD Helicarrier and Vibranium, I'm pretty sure 10-year-old Dana would call me a liar. (Likewise, if I told him I'm married to a beautiful, brilliant and accomplished woman … but that's another column.)

Stan Lee is, I believe, one of the most influential writer of the 20th Century. And he has a pretty good shot to hold that title for this century, as well. He taught generations of writers, actors, artists, directors and others how to tell a great story; how to wring the most out of a character; how to make audiences gasp.

Stan Lee died on Monday at age 95.

Excelsior, true believer.

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