STAN LEE On Comic-Con, A Rebooted Spidey, and More

STAN LEE On Comic-Con, A Rebooted Spidey

If you’re one of the 125,000 people attending the San Diego Comic-Con this week, be on the lookout for a tall drink of water moving rapidly across the convention floor. It may be a blur, because he’ll be moving as fast as Spider-Man through the skyline of New York City, but make no mistake. That’s Stan Lee.

You will be hard pressed to find a busier person in San Diego over the next five days than the 87-year-old comics industry legend.

Lee is booked for multiple panels and promotional appearances each day of the Con, which despite its evolution in recent years remains the greatest celebration of comics in the world. But who’s got time for nostalgia? Lee has too many projects to talk about.

Along with the projects under his POW! multimedia imprint, Lee will be discussing partnerships with other comics companies such as Archie, BOOM! Studios and even Japanese manga publisher Shueisha. He’s even teaming up with fellow comics icon Neal Adams for a series of educational motion comics dealing with the Holocaust, “They Spoke Out: American Voices Against the Holocaust.”

He’ll also squeeze in time to discuss his voice work as the mayor in Marvel’s animated “Super Hero Squad,” and watch the debut of the long-in-the-works documentary on his life and career, “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story.”

Before he headed off to San Diego, he took a few minutes to talk to Newsarama in a wide-ranging conversation that touched on everything from his feelings about the upcoming Spider-Man reboot, which comic book character he thinks will be a big Hollywood star, his Twittering, and what he’d really like to do while he’s in San Diego.

[Possibly interesting side note: I conducted the phone interview from the steps of a Manhattan brownstone on 93rd and Madison Avenue. Lee would later inform me that the first apartment he and his wife Joanie lived in after getting married was right around the block, on 94th between Madison and Fifth Avenue.]

Newsarama: You have so many projects being ‘officially’ unveiled at Comic-Con, including some you can’t really discuss until the convention. What can you talk about?

Stan Lee: The things I can talk about are, these two Japanese projects we’re going to be discussing. One is a manga book called “Ultimo” that’s selling very well, and they are now printing it in English and its selling in this country. And we’re doing an animated cartoon in Japan called “Heroman” [for Bones] which is also doing very well, and it’s coming to this country.

Nrama: What can you tell us about your upcoming collaboration with Archie, Super Seven, which you not only created, but will feature you as an actual character?

Lee: It was a proposal they initiated, and I couldn’t say no because it sounded so exciting. A chance to start a whole new group of heroes for a new company. Archie isn’t a new company, but they are new to super heroes.

Nrama: Is it easier or more fun to write for a younger audience, such as the one that typically reads Archie Comics?

Lee: I never really wrote for an audience according to age. I really always write for myself. I try to make the stories -- I don’t really know what word to use -- clean enough, let’s say, for the youngest kids. But exciting enough and hopefully intelligent enough for older readers. I never said to myself, ‘I’m going to write for young children or I’m going to write for old men or for college kids. I just write whatever I would like to read, and then I try to write it so that it will be good for anybody of any age.

Nrama: You’ve never shied away from publicity. But documentaries are a different animal. Have you remembered or learned anything new about your career in the process of making the documentary, “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story”?

Lee: No I don’t think so. There’s very little about my so-called career that I don’t know. I lived through it (laughs). But it was fun seeing a lot of that old stuff.

I have an archive at the University of Wyoming. The people producing the documentary had gone to the archive and they found photos and interviews from 30, 40, 50 years that I had forgotten all about. So that was very interesting to me personally. I hope it is to the viewers. They’ve been filming it for two years, and finally they’re going to show it at the Con. I’m kind of …excited about that, I guess.

Nrama: What’s it like seeing Marvel become the powerhouse it has become, as well as joining the Disney empire?

Lee: I always likened our company to Disney [Note: Lee discusses this in detail in his autobiography, “Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee”]. I felt, people loved the Disney characters and they loved our characters. Why couldn’t we grow like that? With the success of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies, everyone realized, ‘Hey, we have a treasure trove here. Let’s take advantage of it.’

Now that my little company POW! is part of Disney – they took a small stake in our company – and now that we’re working with Disney and I have offices that I go to twice a week on the Disney lot, it’s almost like a childhood dream come true for me.

Nrama: “Iron Man” was a big surprise to a lot of people because he wasn’t as well known outside the realm of comic book readers. What other characters in the Marvel Universe do you think have the best shot at surprise mainstream movie success?

Lee: I think Dr. Strange will do very well. I think the Black Panther, eventually, will do very well. Would you believe they’re even talking about doing Ant-Man? I think that will be a movie people will want to see, just because it would be so different. The nice thing about the Marvel characters is that all of them are so unique; they can find their own audience. I don’t think people will feel, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that before. ‘ Every one of them has their own unique qualities.

Nrama: They’re rebooting the Spider-Man movie franchise and taking him back to high school. Do you think Peter Parker as a character, works better as a teenager?

Lee: He works well depending on how well he’s written. Everything depends on the script. He could be fascinating as a teenager, discovering his powers. When I wrote him, in the early days, he was a teenager for a long time, for many, many issues. Finally, after a few years, we got a lot of fan mail saying, ‘hey, isn’t it about time he grew up?’ So I had him go out of high school and into college. Eventually, he graduated from college and got married, but … a teenager with super powers. Certainly you can get a lot of great stories out of that premise.

Nrama: You’re obviously not thinking about retiring anytime soon. But let’s talk hypothetically, about the Last Stan Lee story. Which character would you choose to write about?

Lee: First of all, you just said a dirty word. Never use the ‘R’ word with me. But I haven’t really thought about that. Maybe the Silver Surfer. I could have fun with him, because he was always the most philosophical of all of them.

Nrama: You’ve amassed quite a following on Twitter (TheRealStanLee), yet you rarely promote your projects on your feed. I think it’s fair to say you’ve never been shy about publicizing your work before. Why don’t you use Twitter to sneak in a plug or two?

Lee: It’s a funny thing. Many, many people think of me as a huckster, but I really don’t like to think of myself as someone who’s just out there selling things. I feel if I do a comic book, or a movie or television series or whatever, it ought to stand on its own merit. I’ll mention that it exists and I hope you’ll like it, but I’m not going to keep touting it. What I really try to do, whether I’m…Tweeting or Twittering, or whatever you call it, or writing a Soapbox or a Bullpen Bulletins page, or doing anything, is entertain people.

I don’t want to sound like I’m a commercial on a television show. ‘Here comes the sales pitch.’ If I do a sales pitch, I try to do it in an amusing or an entertaining way so it isn’t just a hard sell. Although I know everybody has the feeling about me that that’s all I do, is pitching things (more laughter).

Nrama: Having seen the convention change and evolve so much over the years, how do you view Comic-Con these days? Are you still able to enjoy it?

Lee: Well, it’s gotten so big, and it’s so…it’s so professional. Now you have people, top names in movies and television and video games, and toys. Everything you can think of. There almost isn’t room for comic books. It used to be, when all of this started, you’d see a million kids hanging around, with a few adults. Parents who had to go because their son or daughter was too young to come alone. Now you see a zillion adults with a few kids, because the adults wanted to come and couldn’t leave the son home alone. It’s almost like it’s for grownups now.

Nrama: That is a mix of good and bad, isn’t it?

Lee: Everything is a combination of good and bad. You know, entertainment is so important to most people’s lives. Most people, their lives aren’t as exciting or fulfilling as they might be, but at least they can get some enjoyment in the books they read, or the movies and TV shows they see. It’s an important thing for most people. [Comic-Con] is a chance for them to get together and actually meet some of the people who provide that entertainment. So I guess that’s a really good thing.

Nrama: Are you actually able to catch up with old friends and colleagues in the industry?

Lee: Hardly at all. I just don’t have a chance. I go from panel to panel, I’ll meet some of them at various panels, but it’’s indescribable how busy I am when I get there. I’m not complaining because I love every minute of it. But I wish sometimes, I could go there in masquerade where nobody would recognize me and just poke around, and look up old friends. But I can’t do that. It’s impossible.


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