You don’t have to be a True Believer to know the name Stan Lee. The co-creator of such popular superheroes as Spider-Man, Iron Man and Hulk, Stan “The Man” Lee helped make Marvel Comics the company it is today. In short, he’s an industry icon. And if there were ever any doubts, this past weekend erased them all.
At Spike TV’s “Scream 2009” awards show (premiering on Spike, October 27 at 10 p.m.), the 86-year-old legend was awarded the Comic-Con Icon Award. Always the showman, Lee didn’t disappoint his fans, arriving on stage via a giant spider.
GeekDad: You were just honored with a Comic-Con Icon award at the “Scream 2009” Show. What was more exciting: receiving the award from Spider-Man himself, Tobey Maguire, or making a grand entrance on a giant spider that was slowly lowered from the ceiling?
Stan Lee: Well, that crazy grand entrance was one of the scariest things that I have ever done. So speaking to Tobey Maguire was a lot more fun. [Laughs] Though everything was fun. I just love that Spike show. It was exciting. The fans loved it. There was a surprise every minute. I even loved meeting all the celebrities there. So it was a good evening.
Did you at least get to practice being lowered in the spider?
I did it once the night before and that thing I rode on was very level and nice and I thought, “Well, this isn’t hard.” But the night that I did it, the darn thing was wobbling and I thought, “This is it; I’m finished!” It stayed afloat luckily.
What does this Icon Award mean to you?
Well, it means I have to find some more room on my shelf I guess. [Laughs] No, it’s wonderful, because it’s an award that’s given by the fans and that always means so much. When you’re in entertainment, the fans are everything. If the fans relate to you, like your work, then you have succeeded, no matter what. Apparently, the fans were very excited about all of the people that were there. Including me. So it was a very gratifying evening.
Kids are always looking up to heroes. So how do you think the heroes which you helped create — like Spider-Man, Hulk and the Fantastic Four — affect kids today?
Apparently, from what I’ve been told over the years by fans, they’ve meant a lot to them. I’ve had people come up to me and say that they had unhappy childhoods and reading these stories was the one glow, the one happy thing that would happen to them. And I seem to remember when I was a kid, when I was young and unhappy, I’d pick up a copy of the Hardy Boys or a Jules Verne story and that would make me feel good. So I can relate to that. And I was so happy that people would put the stories that I had written in the same area as the things that had made me happy when I was a kid.
Do you remember what the first comic book was that you read as a kid?
No I don’t. I never knew I’d be interviewed about it later. [Laughs] In those days, when I was a kid, the comic books were mostly reprints of newspaper strips. So I’d be reading “Flash Gordon” or “Dick Tracy” or “Little Orphan Annie” taken from the newspapers. I think the first two that were original that I read were Superman and then Captain America. I liked both of those.
What do you think about the future of comics? With digital comics and online comics starting to take hold, will we see the end of comics in print?
Years ago, people thought that nobody would buy books anymore when television came along, but the book business is still good. I hope that comic books in their present form will always remain. There’ll be graphic novels. They’ll be on better paper, but still, you can carry them with you, you can fold them and put them in your pocket so to speak. You can share them with a friend. You can collect them. And you can re-read them and they’re fun and they’re pleasant. It’s just like a newspaper. I love reading a newspaper. I hope that computers never are the death knell of newspapers because there’s something about reading a newspaper — holding it in your hand and turning the pages — that nothing can replace. So I’m hoping comics will hang around.
I think there’ll always be other ways of reading stories. I’m doing something with Disney now called “Time Jumper.” You can see it on your iPhone. That’s a cross between a comic book and an animated cartoon. So there are always new things coming along, but hopefully there’ll be room for all of those new things.
There’s just something more permanent about holding a newspaper in your hand, isn’t there?
Oh, man I love it. Every morning at breakfast I have my newspaper. I rest it against the bowl. And I’m reading it while I’m eating. I just wouldn’t give that up for anything.
I’m sure fans are dying to know… what exactly do you eat for breakfast?
[Laughs] I’ve had the same thing for years. I have orange juice and then I have cereal. I have granola with berries and sliced bananas and a cup of coffee and man it’s great. I’m a creature of habit.
Is working on “Time Jumper” very different than regular comic work?
Well, everything is different because everything has its own rhythm and its own style to it. But it’s just as much fun. It’s great doing something that’s new. It’s a cross between an animated cartoon and a comic book. It’s comic book drawings so to speak, but they’re not panels. And the drawings move but they’re not animated. And you hear the voices but you still see words printed. And there’s background music. And there are actors doing the voiceovers. And it sort of rivets your eye because there’s so much going on and so much movement. So it’s a whole new way of telling a story. And I’m really excited. In fact we’re planning on doing others.
Are you taking that format to some of your other properties?
Well we may. I can’t say too much about it. I’m sorry. My lips are sealed. It’s up to Disney. But I think they’re happy with it too.
What’s your advice to any kids out there who want to be comic writers some day?
To be a comic book writer is harder and harder. It used to be that you can write comics even though you might not have been able to write anything else because they weren’t that particular. If a guy could just put a couple of panels together, he could write a comic. But today some of the best writers in America are writing comics. Just as some of the best artists are now drawing them. And we have screenwriters and television writers and novelists who are doing comics now. So the best way to become a comic book writer is first become a really, really good writer. Not a comic book writer, but a good writer. And once you’ve mastered the art of simply doing creative writing, then you start concentrating on comics. But you can’t come in to the field unless you start out by being a really good writer.
Everyone always asks why the Hulk is green but I have to ask… why are his pants purple?
I’d rather answer why he’s green. [Laughs] You know, I never took much interest in the coloring when I was doing the comics. And whoever was coloring the book just made the pants purple. And that was fine with me. And if they had made them blue or orange or any other color it probably would’ve been fine with me. I hardly noticed it until later on people would say, “How come he’s got purple pants?”
Okay, here’s a quick one for you. The X-Men villain, is it pronounced Mag-KNEE-toe or Mag-Net-o?
Well, it’s Mag-KNEE-toe for goodness sake. I feel like Noah Webster. Hey, here’s a question for you. If a word is ever misspelled in a dictionary, how would you know? [Laughs] I’ve always thought of it as Mag-KNEE-toe. It just seems somehow more dramatic.
So how did you come up with Excelsior as your catch phrase?
Well, I was using a lot of different phrases when I wrote my little editorials and my little columns [in the monthly Marvel comics]. I’d end up with things like, “Nuff Said” or “Face Front” or “Keep the Faith.” And I found little by little those expressions were getting into our competitors’ magazines. And I didn’t like that. So I felt that I’m going to come up with something that they won’t know what it means and they won’t know how to spell it. So I thought of Excelsior. And so far I’ve been lucky. That’s been identified with Marvel and with me.
It’s also the motto of the state of New York. It’s on the Great Seal of the State of New York. And people are always sending me photos. I got one the other day, somewhere in upstate NY, there’s a firehouse in a small town and the word Excelsior over the entrance. Somebody sent me something from Rome, there was some building with the word Excelsior on the side of the building. So either I’ve made it famous worldwide or I’ve taken something that is famous worldwide.
You’ve had a number of cameos in Marvel’s recent run of films. Did you enjoy doing those?
Oh yeah. I’m a real ham. I love doing those cameos. And I also have a cameo in the latest Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 video game. I’m in that as Stan Lee. And I’m also the mayor of the town in the Super Hero Squad show. I love doing those things. I’m thinking of putting a notice in Variety saying, “Stan Lee available for cameos.”
Have you been called yet for Iron Man 2?
I’ve done it already! I’ve already been told that I’ll be in the next Spider-Man movie. You know what I’m really trying for, I think it would be a kick. I don’t know why DC hasn’t asked me to do one. I’m waiting. Maybe they’ll read this interview and get the idea.
Out of all the super powers you could possibly have, which one would you want?
Believe it or not, good luck. Because if you’re lucky then everything goes right for you. Right? if somebody shoots at you, they’ll miss. Somebody takes a swing at you, they’ll trip and fall before the blow lands. If you buy a lottery ticket, you’re sure to win. I think luck is really the most important thing you could have.
Stan Lee is currently working on a three-picture deal with Disney on the projects Tigress, Blaze and Nick Ratchet. For more on the popular creator, visit PowEntertainment.com.