FAN EXPO: Spotlight on Stan Lee – Part Two

Stan TorontoThis second part continues off directly from Part One of the Stan Lee Spotlight panel that took place at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto.

TEDDY WILSON: You seem to be very supportive of young talent. Do you think it’s a good time for comic creators and people who are creating characters now?

STAN LEE: It’s always a good time, it’s always a difficult time. It’s not easy to break in, but people who… anybody who’s honest about what he does, any producer or editor, should always be looking because you always have to keep finding new talent. So, now is a good time, ten years ago was a good time and ten years from now will be a good time because no matter how many great people there are in the field, you’re always looking for the second generation that’ll come along and do better… because I hate that when I gave up doing comics, people came along and did better, but I try to ignore that.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: When you did STAN LEE’S SUPERHUMANS, what was the most extraordinary power that you encountered?

SL: There was so many. One that I remember — again, I wondered what made this guy decide to wake up one morning and try this — but he had a thirty-foot tower and he’d climb up to the top of it — it was really big, he was high up — and there was a little children’s wading pool — a little plastic pool with about three inches of water in it — and this idiot jumped from the tower, belly-flopped right on the water and got up and walked away. That was his thing and again, what made him wake up one morning and say, “Boy, I bet I can jump into three inches of water from a thirty-foot tower!” I don’t understand these people, but they’re wonderful.

TW: What caused you to create Spider-Man? Do you remember the moment in which you conceived of it and what were your hopes for the character?

SL: Well the thing that compelled me to create Spider-Man of course was greed! I wanted to make money! Actually, my publisher said, “Stan, we did well with the Fantastic Four so I want you to do another one.” So I wanted to do something different; a teenage superhero, we don’t have any of them. And why not a superhero who has a lot of problems because most of them didn’t. A guy like Superman, his only problem was  that if he took off his glasses, he was afraid that someone would know… whatever the hell, he’s Superman. There was more to that, but I forgot. Anyway, so I thought that that would be good, but I didn’t have a name and what would his power be? I’ve told this story so often, it might only be true, but I saw a fly crawling on the wall and I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t that be a great superpower to crawl on walls?” So now the next thing I needed was a name. So I thought, Fly-Man… it didn’t have the right ring to it. Mosquito-Man, Insect-Man and then I got down to Spider-Man… which just gave me goose-pimples. So I decided to call him Spider-Man and I decided since he’s a teenager, I’ll give him a lot of problems. Every teenager has a lot of problems! They usually keep them most of their lives, so I brought the idea to my publisher and I told him, and he said, “Stan, that is the worst idea I have ever heard of you come with.” I didn’t think that I came up with any other bad ones, so I said, “What’s wrong with that?” He said, “First of all, you can’t call a hero Spider-Man because people hate spiders. Also, you can’t make him a teenager. A teenager can only be a sidekick. And finally, you say you want him to have problems? Stan, don’t you know what a superhero is? They don’t have problems, they’re superheroes!” Well, I walked out of the office with my tail between my legs. I was  really shocked and unhappy, but what happened was, we had a book that was getting killed called Amazing Fantasy. Now, when you’re going to kill a book, nobody cares what you’re going to put into the last issue because you’re killing it anyway, so I figured, just to get it out of my system, I put Spider-Man in that book. I tried to get Jack Kirby to draw it, but he made it look too heroic, so I said, “Forget it, Jack,” and I gave it to Steve Ditko who didn’t draw heroes as heroic as Jack and he gave it just the right look. I put it into the book and featured it on the cover and forgot about it after I wrote it. About a month later, after the sales figures came in, my publisher called me into his office, “Hey Stan, do you remember that Spider-Man character of yours that we both liked so much? Let’s make a series out of him.” And that’s how Spidey was born!

TW: You mentioned Steve Ditko and you also mentioned Jack Kirby. Why did you love working with those two artists in particular so much?

SL: Oh, because they were the greatest storytellers with pictures. In the beginning, I would give them very detailed plots I wanted them to draw and they would draw the story that I had given them and then I would take their drawings and put the dialogue in. That’s the way we worked. Instead of me giving a full script with dialogue, I would rather put the dialogue in while I was looking at the pictures because I could make the dialogue match the drawings perfectly. If I did the dialogue first, sometimes the drawings wouldn’t match it perfectly. Steve and Jack were both great with coming up with ideas and when I would give them a plot, I would tell them what I wanted the story to be and who I wanted the villains to be and what the problem was and how the hero would win in the end and that was it. They would put in a lot of things that I hadn’t even thought of. For example, one day with a Fantastic Four story, I had happened to look at the drawings and there’s some naked guy on a surfboard flying around in the sky and I would think, “Where did he come from? I didn’t tell you about him.” It was the Galactus story. And Jack said, “Well I figured anybody as powerful as Galactus who keeps destroying planets ought to have a sentinel who goes ahead of him and finds the planets for him.” And to Jack, it was just a throwaway character that we would use in that one issue and that was it, but I loved the way he drew him. He looked so noble and heroic so I began to feature the Silver Surfer and that’s how sometimes things would come along. If you have a good collaboration — if a writer like me is lucky enough to work with artists like Jack or Steve — it makes it easier to do really good stories.

AQ: How did you get involved with VIDEO GAME HIGH SCHOOL and what do you think of the show?

SL: Did I get involved with that? To tell you the truth, I am involved in so many things that I don’t even know what they are. For example, I’ve played characters in some of the Marvel animated series — one of them is a Spider-Man series or something else — I never have time to see anything! I never have time to read the whole script, but they give me a script with just my lines, so I go to the studio and I read them — magnificently, I might add. And as far as video games go, I’m a big fan of a number of video games where you can actually — one of the characters, if you have nothing better to do — you can actually be me playing in this video game. I don’t even remember the names of the video games — it’s hopeless — so I’m not sure which one you’re referring to, but it’s probably something that I’ve done that I’ve never seen.

TW: We talked a bit about you creating Spider-Man, so I want to ask you about creating Iron Man. I’ve read — and I don’t know if it’s accurate — that you wanted to create a character that people might not like. Is that true?

SL: Not exactly, but the character… yes, actually yes. It was during all the communists and we were worried about war and we hated the military industrial complex. Young people hated people who made armaments, they hated people who did anything that would help us in war, they hated war — which they have every right to hate — and I thought that it would be fun to try and take a character that represented everything that the young readers hated and see if we could make them like him, so I came up with Iron Man. I fashioned him really after Howard Hughes because he was an adventurer, he was a great businessman — he owned an airline — and he was also a little bit nuts. Towards the end of his life he was very nuts. So anyway, I fashioned him after Howard Hughes and another thing, I gave him a weak heart — he had to wear something in his heart to keep it going, I forget — but because of that, we got more mail from females for Iron Man than for any other character and it wasn’t hard to figure out. Here was a man who was a multi-millionaire — now he’s a billionaire — who was very handsome, who was very intelligent, very sexy, and even if he represented people who made armaments, the girls still loved him, so he turned out to be very popular. Now with Robert Downey, Jr. playing him — I remember when I said, “Bob, let me teach you how to act this role.” He was so grateful.

AQ: I remember when you said that out of all the Marvel characters who have not had a film made, that Deadpool should be one with his own film. Now that there’s an actor, a script, the writers and director already signed on, they’re only waiting for funding. What do you think is the main delay with the DEADPOOL film going into production?

SL: Oh, that goes for a lot of characters. We were all ready to do Ant-Man, we were ready to do Doctor Strange, the Black Panther, Deadpool, and believe it or not, Marvel and Disney are actually trapped by their success. There aren’t enough days to work on all these products; there are not enough people. You can’t put out one big movie right after another, you have to let the public enough the one movie — to go to it and see it — then when they’re all through with that, bingo, the other movie comes out. You don’t want to put them out at the same time, so one of the biggest problems they have is figuring out, when will I do the next Spider-Man sequel and Iron Man sequel — and Thor’s sequel and Captain America and the Avengers’ sequel — when will I do the next Deadpool and Doctor Strange, Black Panther, the Inhumans and the Guardians of the Galaxy… they may be thinking of others that I don’t even know about. It’s not a case of not wanting to do it, but there are just so many hours in the day and so many people to work on them. It’s a great situation to be in. I mean, Marvel and Disney have the greatest success with these movies; I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it. One hit after another and the awful thing about it, I have absolutely nothing to do with them. But despite that, I enjoy it and I think it’s great that it’s happening. Deadpool isn’t being prejudiced against, I promise you.

AQ: Are there any superheroes or characters you created that never really made it to the public that are kind of locked away in those unreachable corners of your mind?

SL: Believe it or not, every hero that I have come up with that we’ve used in the comics, by some strange accident, they’ve all done well and they’ve lasted. I can’t say that I’m really tortured by the fact that I haven’t been able to get this one done. See, also, I was in a good position. I was not only the head writer in the company, but I was the editor, so whatever I wanted to do — whatever I wrote as the writer — I would look at it as the editor and say, “Wow, that’s pretty good.” I wasn’t frustrated; all my ideas were used.

AQ: Is there any Marvel story out there that you would re-write if you had the chance?

SL: Yeah, there’s one; I don’t remember what the story is. I came up with a villain and Jack and I were under a heavy deadline; we needed a book done. It was very important — one of the biggest problems we had was getting the books out in time. There was a time where we were doing thirty, forty, fifty books a month. I sat in my office and I had a clock on all four walls so no matter which way I was facing, I could see what time it was because this book had to be at the printer at this hour and this book had to be there and so forth. Anyway, we were in a rush for a new Fantastic Four issue and I didn’t even have a story, so I quickly made up a title and a villain, Diablo, and I thought it was a great name for a villain. I wrote something and Jack drew it and we sent it to the printer. To this day, it’s the only story I’ve written where I had no idea what it was… I don’t know if it was any good… we batted it out and never read it when it was printed — never had the time — so whatever it is, I think that I would like to do it over because it couldn’t have been that good because I think I would’ve remembered it. (Asks the crowd if anyone read Diablo; one person says that they read it and that they didn’t mind it.) Really? Okay, then there’s nothing. (The crowd bursts into laughter.)

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Part Three coming soon!

~K

About the author

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | Ken loves film -- whether it's collecting them or making them. He's a massive fan of creature features and giant monster flicks and hopes to create one himself one day. He also obsessively collects ThunderCats, King Kong, Pacific Rim and The Last of Us memorabilia.