Saturday, October 04, 2008

Stan Lee!!!!!

I had intended to write about my experience meeting Stan Lee much earlier but alas I have been too busy of late. In any case I'm very excited to say that I was able to meet Stan and on my birthday no less. Is it possible that there are people out there who don't know who Stan is? I guess it's possible – so for those who don't know – he is the co-creator of the entire Marvel comics universe. From Spider-man to the Fantastic Four, to the Hulk, to Iron Man and so on. By co-creator I mean the founder, writer and editor in chief at Marvel who for many years, working with artists like Jack Kirby, created our favorite heroes.

Quite by chance I heard about a networking breakfast where Stan was invited to be the keynote speaker. I looked at the date and was surprised to see that it was scheduled for September 25th, my birthday. It was fate I supposed and deciding to be uncharacteristically impulsive, I signed up. It was a little bit of a logistical challenge for me to get there, living 80 miles outside of LA but I made it work. I'd like to share a few tid bits that I gathered from Stan as I hastily took notes while he spoke. Here goes (his answers are paraphrased):

Stan opened by being gracious and stating that he wasn't really sure why he had been called upon to speak. As far as he was concerned he was a creative guy and didn't understand anything about the entertainment business. He may get the executive producer title a lot but he had no idea what that meant. (Note, Stan is a funny guy and had the audience laughing throughout.)

Q: What was the secret to his crazy output?

Stan said there is no secret it was just lots of hard work. He said he was usually able to think of ideas which he figured was a talent of his. Other than that he recommended that writers should read a lot to build up story ideas in their subconscious. For example the Incredible Hulk was a monster story that was inspired by the old monster movies with Boris Karloff like Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde. In his mind he wanted the monster to be the hero who from time to time turned into a regular guy.

Q: What are a heroes key characteristics?

Stan said that there was nothing in particular other than believability. He said there must be something in them that people can relate to. Even though it's a fantasy story it must appear realistic. Like Spider-man who was a teenager with real problems, a regular guy. Characters should be credible so they come alive.

Q: Excelsior! I've heard a lot about Spider-man but I've always wondered what is the origin of Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane?

Stan started by saying "Well one night their mother and father got together..." (Audience laughs) He went on to say that they weren't based on any one but that Gwen was Peter's first love. He really liked the idea of creating tension with Gwen because she blamed Spider-man for her father's death but was still close to Peter not knowing his alter-ego. He used that kind of tension and conflict a lot. He said he figured Marvel must have had it out for the Stacy's because another writer decided to kill Gwen.

He thought it was too bad that they didn't reveal Mary Jane in the movies like they had done in the comics. MJ's introduction was always one of his favorites. He loved the idea that Aunt May was always pestering Peter to meet this "very nice girl". Of course Peter avoided her because he thought she would be so unattractive. As he put it the great John Romita drew the most beautiful girl he could on the last panel of the issue. Peter was speechless because he had just opened the door and finally found out who the "nice girl" was. Mary Jane had the last line and said "Face it tiger, you hit the Jackpot."

Q: What did you read growing up?

Stan said he read everything. Dickens, Hardy Boys, Robin Hood, Oz Books, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare because he loved the words even though he didn't understand them. He even read the bible, though he wasn't particularly religious. He read pulp stuff like the Shadow and Doc Savage. He said his mother used to say that he would even read the Ketchup bottle. He went on to say that Dickens was considered "pulp" in his generation. He thought it was funny that if you waited around long enough even pulp would become a classic. He then said "See someday you can tell your kids you met the classic writer Stan Lee."

Q: What do you do at your new company POW Entertainment?

Stan said it was his job to come up with ideas. After that someone else would take it and try to do something with it in television or movies. He was excited about a new idea that was picked up by Disney. Also his "Who Wants to be a Super Hero" show was a hit in Britain as a kids show and that maybe it would be brought back to the states that way. Who knows?

Q: How did you get your start?

Stan said first of all you need to be good at what you're trying get in to. After that and important most of all is luck. Everything, he figured, came down to luck. He said he was lucky he had applied to his wife's cousin's father's (or something like that, he couldn't seem to remember) publishing company. There was an opening in the kid's comics publishing department. At that time it was not prestigious or even considered a good thing to be working for a comics publisher, comics were thought to be for the illiterate. He was about 17 at the time. When he got there there were only two artists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. It was a very small operation. The publisher didn't pay much attention to it. Because it wasn't an important department he did what he wanted and was able to become the youngest editor at the time. In those days editor also meant art director, so he picked up a number of other skills. Of course as an editor he was partial, so he always gave himself the best stories to write.

Another attribute he thought he had that was important was the ability to get along with others. He tried not to be a threat because he was always working for people older than him. Many times he was treated as a threat even though he tried hard not to be. Comics is one of the hardest business in the world and people could be very selfish so go out there and help each other and be lucky! You need to create opportunities were to can meet the right people and be lucky. If you need an agent, try to get a job at an agency. Make friends with talented people.

After a few more comments he finished by wishing everyone the best of luck and saying "We've got to do this more often."

– Patrick Scullin


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