Everyone knows the name Stan Lee. Or, mostly everyone. Whether you’re a fan of blockbuster hits or golden age comics, odds are you have heard his name come up from time to time.
That is because Stan Lee is one of Marvel’s titans, a long time comic creator who over the years has brought us international sensations like Spider-Man, X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and more. At 94 years of age he continues to run the convention circuit, remaining a pillar of the comic book and pop culture community.
Preceding his upcoming planned appearance at Washington DC’s Awesome Con, Stan Lee sat down with a host of press today for a conference call to answer our burning questions. The conference began with a look into Stan Lee’s inspiration. People today read his creations and are inspired to create, but what inspired him as a young man? He loved Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Shakespeare. According to him, he read anything he could get his hands on.
He shared when asked about his thoughts on DC that in 2001 he collaborated with DC Comics on their Just Imagine… project. The interviewer asked him if he had a favorite character and he said no, because the only three he really knew off the top of his head were Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. He, understandably, wasn’t a big DC fan.
Moving on to his early career and his thoughts on how the comic industry has changed, Stan Lee shared that he started writing under the name he is known by now in order to keep his real identity a secret. At the time he started writing “people hated comics.”
He was embarrassed and did not want anyone to link him to his work. However, times changed and the world he sees now is completely different from the world he started writing in. It is safe to say we are all glad he continued writing despite the stigma and it is, as Stan Lee said, “indescribable” what comics have become.
He did have a few things to say about early comics though, admitting that many of the early ones were poorly written. At the time he started writing teachers and parents condemned comicbooks because they were just “about people punching each other.”
When he first got into the publishing world he was encouraged to disregard character development and plots. All the publishers wanted was “a lot of action and a lot of fight scenes.” Of course Stan Lee eventually grew away from that philosophy and even spent time lecturing in favor of the comicbook format, making an argument for how it could be used effectively to tell good stories.
He also wanted everyone to know that “comicbook” should always be spelled as one word, because “comic book” as two separate words just means we’re talking about a funny book. Comicbooks on the other hand designates a unique type of literature. To that effective, for at least this article, we’ll roll with it.
The next question on the agenda was what he thought about coming to DC for Awesome Con. Was there anything he was looking forward to seeing at the nation’s capitol? He said jokingly that he “doesn’t know if Trump will have time with me or not, we’re still working that out.” Stan Lee also said that he is looking forward to meeting with fans and being with everyone at the convention. Of course we’ll keep holding out for the “comicbook summit” with Trump and Stan Lee.
Before the press conference we were allowed to submit questions for consideration and thankfully mine was chosen. It came next: I wanted to know if there was a piece of advice Stan Lee had received during his career that stuck with him. He said no, but that he had a piece of advice he liked to share with people, particularly aspiring writers:
A lot of people ask what they should write, they want to be writers, and how should they write, and what should they write, and I always tell them so many people try to write for other people. By that I mean they’ll say ‘I think this story would be good for people from 25-30’ or ‘this would be good for somebody from 18-22,’ or whatever it is… I never tried to write for any particular age group or social group.
I always tried to write stories that I myself might enjoy reading because I feel I’m not that unique. If there’s a story I like there must be millions of other people with similar tastes and they’d like it too. So I never ever wrote for other people, I always wrote for myself. I wanted to please me, I was my toughest critic. If I liked this story I felt it has to be good ’cause I’m a normal guy and I like it, so it is probably good.
Powerful words from a man who knows a thing or two about writing. I know the advice reconfirmed my own personal belief that if we don’t write for ourselves in some capacity, then we will lose the joy of writing. I think that is the heart of writer’s block sometimes.
There was a lot of love for Jack Kirby in the back half of the interview who is just as responsible for Marvel’s success as Stan Lee. They collaborated and co-created so many characters we know and love today, and Stan Lee said that working with Kirby was one of the greatest experiences of his life.
He praised Kirby’s vision and skill, claiming he could have been the greatest film director of his time if given the chance. When he put pen to paper, Kirby did not go back. When he drew, it was like he was tracing something that was already there and never had to go back and erase what he had done.
The interview ended with a final question: what was Stan Lee’s favorite Marvel cameo to date? It is well known that he does his best to have a moment in every Marvel movie and it is always a game of “where’s Stan Lee” when we’re sitting in the theater.
So far, he liked his cameo in one of the Thor movies where he was sitting at a bar with Thor, who was drinking mead. He decided to drink with him, even after Thor insisted he would not be able to handle his liquor, and it turned out the old god was right: in a second scene, Stan Lee was carried off.
Stan Lee shared that it was the first time he was in two scenes instead of one and claimed that soon enough he’ll be able to work his way up to a costar position. We’d all like to see that.