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Stan Lee and Me
I met a childhood hero at Comic-Con.
Every industry has its biggest legend. Rock music has Elvis, baseball has Babe Ruth, soccer has Pele, martial arts has Bruce Lee and the comic industry has Stan Lee. Stan “the Man” Lee, born Stanley Lieber, has been an iconic name in the comic book industry for decades, having created some of the most popular comic book heroes ever. He started writing comics in the late 1940s. Today, at age 88, he's still at it. You have to give the guy credit for longevity.
He reached the height of his creative output in the 1960s when he helped found Marvel Comics. While working for Marvel, he wrote many comics titles per month and created quite a few of the fictional heroes who have become world famous and, in recent years, have had movies made about them.
Lee created Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Thor and many others. No other single person had ever created so many iconic comic heroes. He wrote all these titles on a monthly basis throughout the sixties, showing remarkable creative consistency and an unprecedented output of work. He continued writing through the 1970s, with his artist partner Jack Kirby, although he handled fewer and fewer books per month. He went into semi retirement in the 80s and 90s, serving as Chairman Emeritus of Marvel Comics. Recently, he's started writing again, under the banner of his own company, POW Entertainment.
As a kid, I was a comic book fanatic and these characters Lee created really helped me get through some unpleasant and lonely times. I idolized Stan Lee as a boy. I used to hope I could meet him. I never did. Until now! Now, at 45, I experienced a childhood dream. As a freelance reporter covering NY Comic-Con 2010, I got to meet the great Stan Lee, even though It didn't go quite as I had hoped.
Lee was at Comic-Con hawking two projects for his company POW Entertainment. One project was a joint venture with a new comic brand called 1821 Comics. The cross-company promotion was for a series of books updating classic literature into sci-fi stories. Lee and his associates from 1821 showed some artwork from the first story, Romeo & Juliet: the War. The second project was in collaboration with the NHL for a book called The Guardians, about a team of 30 heroes, each one based on a Hockey team. New York fans were particularly pleased with The Ranger. The idea is clearly meant to increase the limited American interest in Hockey by appealing to comic and sci-fi fans.
Watching the way he’s treated at Comic-Con by both fans and security shows just how important he is in the comic world. Where ever Stan Lee went in the large Jacob Javitzs Center, he was accompanied by a whole lot of hoopla and excitement. You knew he was coming by the buzz in the crowd and the shouts of “We love you, Stan!” from onlookers who were being shoved aside by Stan’s aggressive goon squad of security men.
While signing autographs at the 1821 booth, a huge crowd gathered around, snapping pictures and shouting praise to the old master. The security men kept barking for the fans to back away. The crowd was so big that it overwhelmed the booth next to the 1821 booth. They were pinned in by the crowd and no one seeking to investigate that particular booth could get near it. “We’re effectively closed for the time being,” one of them told me, somewhat frustrated.
A man entered the crowded convention hall and noticed the mob buzzing around the booth. “What’s going on over there?” he asked me.
“Stan Lee’s over there,” I answered.
“No $#/+!” he said excitedly and tried to push his way through the crowd to get a look at the living legend.
Other people acted more blasé about Stan “the Man” being nearby, yet they didn’t leave the area. They hung around waiting to get a glimpse of him as he was escorted out by his pushy posse. A long line assembled outside one of the private halls where Lee was going to speak about “The Guardians”. Two fellows noticed the huge line and asked me what we could possibly be waiting.
I just said, “Stan Lee.”
“Oh, that explains it,” one replied.
“You said the magic word,” the other responded and they debated about whether or not to join the endless line.
Stan Lee always projects an aura of mirth and enthusiasm which is countered by the rudeness of his big bodyguards. People were kicked off of the autograph line for not having the right book to sign. “Mr. Lee is only signing copies of The Guardians now!” they hissed, removing the offender. Stan Lee will smile, sign his name and let his picture be taken with fans. The second the photo is snapped, the security men yell “Okay, keep it moving! Let’s go!” Just when an enthusiastic fan is hoping to say a sincere “Thank you” to the comic legend, burly men crying “Keep the line moving” eject the fan from the signing area.
“That’s it?” one woman said, after being shoved away from Stan. “I just wanted to tell him how much I admire him.”
It seems ironic that Lee goes to so much effort to maintain his ever-cheerful image of friendly and approachable “Smiling Stan”, while fans end up being treated like chattel by an over-sized group of snarling security men.
As a member of the press, I got close enough to say, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Lee” before a human gorilla threw a body block and escorted me away. Stan gave me a smile and a wave as I was thrown out. I guess my expectations of having a conversation with him was unrealistic. I expect next year Stan Lee will arrive in a Pope-mobile dome, surrounded by armed soldiers, smiling all the while.
Seeing how spry and energetic Stan Lee is, I was amazed to learn that his 88th birthday is coming up in December. Looking at him, I would have thought he was 10-15 years younger than that. Maybe Stan Lee is telling the truth when he says how excited he is about his upcoming projects, because something is helping to keep him healthy. Maybe it’s his job. It’s possible that the love of his job keeps him walking with that youthful spring in his step.
Some people have called him over-rated. That’s a matter of individual opinion. Some have accused him of being a publicity monger. There’s some truth in that. But say what you will about him, when the book on Stan Lee is closed, he’ll be remembered by most as the creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, etc., and as the man who ushered in the Silver Age of comics.