SU­PER STAN

The sprightly Stan Lee con­tin­ues to make waves in pop cul­ture.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Philip Berk

STAN Lee, the leg­endary cre­ator of Marvel Comics, has made him­self a house­hold name by virtue of his sly ap­pear­ances in Marvel movies.

But it’s his amaz­ing ca­reer that puts him in a class by him­self.

Born into poverty, he per­son­i­fies the Amer­i­can dream.

While still in his teens, Lee dis­cov­ered his tal­ent for draw­ing. And over the course of 70 years, he not only cre­ated Spi­der- Man, The Fan­tas­tic Four, The In­cred­i­ble Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and Dare­devil, he turned Marvel Comics into a fi­nan­cial be­he­moth.

At one point he ven­tured into run­ning the com­pany, but his first love has al­ways been artis­tic ex­pres­sion.

And this has been the key to his still vi­brant per­son­al­ity. Even at 93, he’s as young in spirit as his pre- teen read­ers, prov­ing con­clu­sively that if you can con­vert some­thing you love to do into your life’s work, you have found the key to ul­ti­mate hap­pi­ness.

And un­ques­tion­ably Stan Lee is a happy man.

At his press con­fer­ence for the Hol­ly­wood For­eign Press As­so­ci­a­tion, he’s as spry as ever and much fun­nier than you ex­pect.

Your cameo ap­pear­ances in Marvel movies have be­come leg­endary. Was it re­ally ( direc­tor) Bryan Singer’s idea?

It all came about ac­ci­den­tally. Bryan needed some­one in a scene and he said, “Stan, why don’t you stand there? You are sell­ing hot dogs on the beach, and when the man passes, just go Oooo!” Which took a lot of act­ing!

So, I did that. And then when they did a Spi­der- Man movie, the direc­tor said, “Hey you were so good in the X- Men, I will give you a cameo in Spi­der- Man.”

And then after a while it just be­came like a habit.

What in­spired you to cre­ate those su­per­heroes? Was it be­cause you were bul­lied as a child?

You know, it would make such a great story if I could tell you I was picked on as a kid and that’s why I wanted to in­vent su­per­heroes, but the truth is I had a very peace­ful child­hood.

If any­body wanted to start a fight with me, I would talk them out of it. I would talk so much they would for­get what they in­tended to do and leave me alone.

No, my in­spi­ra­tion was Charles Dick­ens and Mark Twain and all the good writers. All their he­roes were su­per­heroes to me. My favourite was Sher­lock Holmes. To me, Sher­lock Holmes was the great­est.

And then when Su­per­man came along – and I am ashamed to say I did not cre­ate Su­per­man – my pub­lisher said to me why don’t you do some su­per­heroes?

So, that’s when we started with the X- Men and Spi­der- Man and Hulk and all the oth­ers.

What ig­nites your imag­i­na­tion?

I don’t know. Maybe just think­ing. For ex­am­ple with Spi­der- Man, it’s re­ally a funny story. I had al­ready done The Fan­tas­tic Four and The X- Men. I was work­ing for a pub­lisher and the pub­lisher said to me, “How about com­ing up with an­other su­per­hero?”

When you work on a su­per­hero, the first thing you have to think about is what is his or her su­per­power.

So, I saw a fly crawl­ing on the wall, and I said, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great to have a hero who could stick to walls?” Then, I needed a name. First I thought Fly Man? No. In­sect Man? Nah. Mos­quito Man? And then I thought of Spi­der- Man, and it sounded dra­matic.

I thought I would make him a teenager, be­cause there were no teenage su­per­heroes and that would make him dif­fer­ent.

And fi­nally, I thought I would give him a lot of per­sonal prob­lems, be­cause again, the other su­per­heroes I knew didn’t have per­sonal prob­lems. I got so ex­cited, I ran to my pub­lisher and I said, “I have a great idea for you!”

I told him, and this was the re­cep­tion I got, “Stan, that is the worst idea that I have ever heard!”

He said, “First of all, peo­ple hate spi­ders, so you can’t call him Spi­der- Man. And you can’t make him a teenager, be­cause teenagers can only be side­kicks. And you want him to have per­sonal prob­lems? Su­per­heroes don’t have per­sonal prob­lems, that’s why they are su­per­heroes!”

I was an un­happy man when I left the of­fice. But at the time we were killing a book,

Amaz­ing Fan­tasy; it was go­ing to be the last is­sue, and when you kill a book, no­body cares what you put in the last is­sue.

So, to get it out of my sys­tem, I had the strip drawn and I put it on the cover, Spi­der- Man, and I for­got about it. We sent the book out.

A month later the sales fig­ures came in, and my pub­lisher came run­ning over to me, and he said, “Stan, Stan, do you re­mem­ber that Spi­der- Man, the char­ac­ter of yours that we both liked so much, let’s do it as a se­ries.”

And that was a very long an­swer to a very short ques­tion.

What do you con­sider your most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the comic book cul­ture?

When I started in the busi­ness, there weren’t very good comics be­ing writ­ten be­cause most of the writers as­sumed that comics were read by very young chil­dren.

So, when I started do­ing comics, I de­cided I am go­ing to write for grown- ups, for me, the kind of story I would like to read. I de­cided to use a col­lege vo­cab­u­lary. I fig­ured if a kid didn’t know what a word meant, he would un­der­stand by the use and the sen­tence, or if he had to go to the dic­tionary, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

So that is my main con­tri­bu­tion. I wrote the kind of sto­ries that I would want to read. Most writers write for some­one else, maybe a story that would be good for peo­ple 14 to 18 years of age, or from 20 to 30. I never think that way. Every story I write must be some­thingth­ing that I would like and hope­fully a lot of other peo­ple will too.

The great Ital­ian direc­tor Fed­erico Fellini was a huge fan be­cause, as he said, you hu­man­ised your char­ac­ters, and no one had done that be­fore. Did you ever meet him?

Yes, he came to visit me once. I had an of­fice in New York City, he came with five as­sis­tants and they were all dressed the same way – with black rain­coats – ex­cept Fellini had his rain­coat over his shoul­ders.

We had a nar­row lit­tle walk­way in our of­fice, so they came in sin­gle file, Fellini was first, and they all fol­lowed ac­cord­ing to height. It played out like a scene in an an­i­mated car­toon.

But he was a great guy, and when my daugh­ter went to Italy a few years later, he showed her around; he was a very great direc­tor and a very nice man.

Was there al­ways a ri­valry with DC Comics?

You can’t be ri­vals with some­body that you are so much bet­ter than. I used to joke about that, but I knew them very well, and of course we are all friends. But I was al­ways teas­ing them.

I will give you an ex­am­ple how dumb they are. We used to be called At­las Comics, and when our books be­came re­ally pop­u­lar, I said we ought to get a new name. And I thought of Marvel Comics, be­cause I like ad­ver­tis­ing, and with a name like Marvel, you could say, wel­come to the Marvel Age of Comics, or Marvel Marches On.

There were so many things you could do with that word, so I changed the name to Marvel. Now, they had been called Na­tional Comics, and when we changed our name to Marvel, they de­cided to change their name. So, get this: we be­came “Marvel” and they be­came DC. Need I say more?

When you first cre­ated these char­ac­ters did you ever think one day they would be made flesh and blood on a big screen?

I never in a mil­lion years thought they would be­come movies. The only thing we, the artists and the writers, hoped for was that the books would sell well enough, so that we would keep our jobs and be able to pay the rent.

Which of the Marvel movies do you think cap­tures the essence of what you cre­ated?

I thought they were all good, but Iron Man stands out. They were lucky to have Robert Downey Jr play the role.

And the first Spi­der- Man I think is very good. But most of them are pretty good. The

X- Men are good. I don’t even re­mem­ber all of them be­cause there are so many, but I re­mem­ber my cameos.

You have a lot of young fans. What do they say when they meet you?

They think I’m Santa Claus. But chil­dren are so nice. Some­times I will be sit­ting in a restau­rant and a woman will come over with a lit­tle kid, “Ex­cuse me, I don’t want to bother you, but my son recog­nised you and he wants to have his pic­ture taken with you.” And I love it.

Some of your char­ac­ters are on tele­vi­sion. Do you watch those shows and what do you think of tele­vi­sion in gen­eral?

I know about the shows, and I wish I could watch them. I hate to sound like I have one foot in the grave, but be­cause I don’t hear too well and it’s hard for me to see what’s on the screen, I don’t watch those shows.

But I read about them and I know how they are do­ing. I think I have done a cameo or two in some of them. Which is of course why they are so suc­cess­ful.

But I am sorry to say, I can’t even en­joy the movies. I go to the screen­ings when they have a red car­pet open­ing, and I sit there, and I see the pic­tures on the screen, but I can’t make out who they are re­ally and I can’t make out what they are say­ing. And so I sit there and when it’s over I ap­plaud like crazy, but I don’t know what I was look­ing at.

Your sto­ries al­ways have so­cial and po­lit­i­cal un­der­pin­nings. Do you keep up with what’s hap­pen­ing in the coun­try?

I try to. I lis­ten to the news on the ra­dio a lot, so I know what is go­ing on a lit­tle bit, and oh sure, what­ever is hap­pen­ing in the world, we try to let those things touch on our sto­ries too, so the read­ers feel like they are read­ing some­thing that has some mean­ing to it.

That was an­other thing we did that hadn’t been done be­fore. If you think about it, Bat­man lived in Gotham City, and Su­per­man lived in Me­trop­o­lis.

But I had our char­ac­ters liv­ing in New York. So we tried to keep every­thing re­al­is­tic and rel­e­vant to what­ever was hap­pen­ing in the world at the time. Even though these were comic book pages, they had au­then­tic­ity to them.

Over the years did you ever con­sult with sci­en­tists?

I al­ways tried to make things sound au­then­tic. For in­stance, The Fan­tas­tic Four, they got their power be­cause they were bom­barded by cos­mic rays. And Bruce Ban­ner be­came The Hulk be­cause he was sub­jected to gamma rays.

Now, I have to be hon­est with you, I have no idea what a cos­mic ray is. I wouldn’t know a gamma ray if I saw it. But it sounded sci­en­tific. That’s why peo­ple think I am this great sci­en­tist.

The Marvel movies gross bil­lions of dol­lars. Have they made you a rich man?

Now you’re break­ing my heart. No, no I don’t get any resid­u­als. But that’s OK. They treat me nice. I get my cameo.

And as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer?

Yeah, they put my name on the screen as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer so my wife doesn’t for­get about me when she goes to the movie. But it doesn’t trans­late into money.

Is she your in­spi­ra­tion? ( Lee mar­ried voice ac­tress Joan B. Lee in 1947)

She was the great­est in­spi­ra­tion, be­cause she left me alone. Se­ri­ously, I spend al­most all day at home on the type­writer; most wives would say, “You never pay any at­ten­tion to me, and why don’t we go out? You are sit­ting here at the type­writer all the time.”

But my wife was able to keep her­self busy; she loves dec­o­rat­ing our house, and whereas most women are par­tic­u­lar about wear­ing a new dress when­ever they go to a party, my wife is that way about the house.

If peo­ple come over, she has it all dec­o­rated nicely, and if the same peo­ple are go­ing to come over the next week, she changes all of the dec­o­ra­tions!

So, she keeps her­self busy with her house and with wor­ry­ing about my daugh­ter. We also have dogs,

But she lets me work, which was won­der­ful. I don’t think she has ever read a comic book. As long as I bring home enough money to pay for the dog food and re­dec­o­rate the house. But I am the luck­i­est guy in the world. She’s won­der­ful.

What would you say was the high­est and low­est point in your ca­reer?

The high­est point for me was when that Spi­der- Man comic book sold after my pub­lish­ers had said how ter­ri­ble the idea was. And the low­est point was years ago, when Marvel had a num­ber of dif­fer­ent own­ers who ran the com­pany.

I said to one of them, “You know, we ought to make movies of these char­ac­ters.” And that id­iot said to me, “No, I don’t want to!” I asked him why and he said if peo­ple don’t like the movie, they won’t buy the comic book any­more.

So, DC got there first with the Bat­man movies, and we had to wait un­til we had some­body smart enough to fig­ure we ought to do movies too.

Your next su­per­hero is Chi­nese. Did you go to China to re­search the char­ac­ter?

Just the way that I didn’t have to go to a sci­ence lab­o­ra­tory to learn about cos­mic rays. No, it’s easy enough to write about a Chi­nese per­son or any other be­cause I know what Chi­nese peo­ple are like.

If I had to go to all the places where my sto­ries take place, I would never have time to write the sto­ries, I would be trav­el­ling all the time.

( Top) Lee, cre­ator of The Hulk, and ac­tor Lou Fer­rigno, who por­trayed the comic book char­ac­ter on tele­vi­sion in the 1980s. It has be­come a tra­di­tion for Marvel to in­clude Lee in a cameo role in its movies. In Fan­tas­tic Four, Lee makes a cameo as post­man Wil­lie Lump­kin. Stand­ing next to him is the film’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer David Gorder on the movie set in Van­cou­ver, Canada.

— Pho­tos: Filepics

Lee not only cre­ated Spi­der- Man, The Fan­tas­tic Four, The In­cred­i­ble Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and Dare­devil, he turned Marvel Comics into a fi­nan­cial be­he­moth.

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