Omaha business owner David Parsow remembers his friend, Stan Lee


Kamrin Baker

David Parsow with some of his favorite Stan Lee-signed possessions. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

When David Parsow was a young boy, he made his way to a Salvation Army while his mother was browsing a department store. There, he saw a book with what looked like a man dressed as a spider, swinging from web to web on the cover. He ran back to his mother, begged for a dime and bought the original copy of Spider-Man.

Now in 2018, locked away in the corner office of his namesake clothing store, Parsow’s, he has a collection of approximately 160,000 comic books.

A couple of Parsow’s favorite comic books. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

He has one man to blame for such a passion, a man who recently passed away after a lifetime of heroism: Stan Lee.

Lee was the mastermind behind the modern comic book. He created and co-created characters like Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Wolverine, the Hulk, and more. He wrote the storylines that now make up one of the largest movie franchises in the world, and when Parsow was just a lad who was decades ahead of Google, he knew Stan Lee as just a name on the cover of his favorite stories.

At the time of Lee’s death on Nov. 12 of this year, Parsow knew him as so much more.

A misprint missed appearance

The first interaction Parsow had with Lee was in 2007. They were two ships in the night at a Las Vegas convention. A misprint in the schedule caused Parsow to miss Lee’s appearance by a tiny margin—and by some chest pains. Parsow had previously undergone a bypass surgery and was experiencing some discomfort. When he learned that Lee had left his station he exclaimed, “I risked having a heart attack to meet Stan Lee!”

This turned out to be some swelling and Parsow did seek medical attention, but the organizers felt some serious sympathy and informed Parsow of Lee’s next appearance: New York City in just a few days. Before he knew it, Parsow was standing at the front of the line introducing himself to the Marvel Universe legend.

“And that was that,” Parsow said.

About seven years later, Parsow started selling his comic books. After realizing the price of a book skyrocketed with Lee’s autograph, Parsow researched his next escapade to see Lee. Arranging a private signing definitely had a cost, Parsow said, but that was no object to him. Ideally, though, he wanted to make a deal.

Tailoring precious memories

Parsow is a known tailor and suit-maker. His father owned Parsow’s before him, when it was a storefront next to the Orpheum Theater, about 66 years ago. The retailer is an Omaha staple. In fact, Parsow has worked to make Warren Buffett’s closet a better place over the years, and this legacy was vital in Parsow’s connection to his lifelong legend.

Lee’s team connected the dots when one of Lee’s friends—Jerry Blank—stayed with Parsow over the Berkshire Hathaway Weekend in 2015. Parsow offered the Lee team custom suits and shirts (valued at least at $5,000 a pop) in exchange for a multitude of autographs.

A sketch of Spider-Man by Stan Lee, as well as his suit measurements by Parsow. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

Shortly thereafter, Parsow made his way to a Dallas convention to take Lee’s measurements. He said it was one of the most surreal moments of his career, of his life.

“My late brother Jay and I used to ride our bikes to the drug store on the fourth Thursday of every month to get the new books,” Parsow said. “You had to wait a whole month to get the next book, to know what was going to happen. We would sit at the soda fountain drinking cherry Cokes, just mesmerized by the stories and pictures.”

The parallels of such precious memories were certainly apparent to Parsow.

“It was very emotional and nerve-wracking to measure this man I had idolized since I was a kid,” he said. “Everyone wanted to be a superhero, regardless of what your life was like. We could put ourselves in that place, the great escape.”

Parsow got his necessary measurements from Lee—or so he thought. Once he was back to his hotel room, he realized in his hasty nervousness, he forgot one vital number. In true heroic style, Parsow rushed back to the green room where Lee was stationed and asked for his sleeve inseam.

At this point, the two were alone. Parsow thanked Lee for making his dreams come true and told him how much his work had meant. Rather than simply responding, Lee began to engage, and the two carried a conversation that included Parsow’s praise for his favorite Spider-Man storyline: when Dr. Octopus stole the serum that was going to save Aunt May’s life.

“Yes,” Lee said. “That was a special story.”

Parsow and Lee in Texas during Lee’s suit measurements. Photo courtesy of David Parsow

Weeks later, when the suit had reached its final form, Parsow delivered it directly to Lee in Boston. Custom was an understatement: the suit was perfectly fitted to Lee’s small frame, the lining of the coat specialized with black and red Spider-Man-themed textures.

“The suit fit perfectly with the measurements,” Parsow said. “My wife and I went to Stan’s room, he put the coat on and looked in the mirror and said ‘oh, David, this is nice, I love this.’”

The perfectly tailored fit wasn’t the end of their story, though. Over the next couple of years, Parsow spent time with Lee and his team at conventions across the country. In 2017, he met with them 13 times. He said he never expected Lee to remember him, as he met adoring fans almost every day.

But every time without fail, Lee would call for him: “Where’s David?!” Parsow echoed the enthusiasm of his hero. “I want to see David! I love my suit.”

The passing of a hero

Parsow was in Tucson, Arizona when he heard the news of Lee’s passing. His eyes welled up when he reflected on the moment the grief first struck him.

“It has been very difficult,” Parsow said. “This man was a big part of my growing up. I’m shocked at how I’ve felt the last week since he passed. The thought of this man as now gone is very hard.”

He remembers Lee’s cameo appearances in all the Marvel movies and says he will definitely be bringing his Kleenex to the next showings.

Most of all, Parsow knows his grief is universal.

“Tens of millions of people throughout the world were entertained by him,” Parsow said. “One that that was always noticeable at the conventions I go to; I see many kids who have issues—both physical and mental—and to see their enjoyment of this hobby is very heartwarming. It gives them hope, it gives them something to grab onto.”

And grab onto, he will. Whether it be to the thousands of comics, the loyal customers, or the power of Lee’s motto, ‘excelsior!’, Parsow will continue ever upward.

“The world has lost a great man, plain and simple,” Parsow said. “He will be deeply missed for many, many years to come. These stories are not going away.”

Photo courtesy of David Parsow