Comics: Meet the Artist
With Stan Lee
Cartoonist, "The Amazing Spider-Man"
Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor
Friday, March 14, 2003; 1 p.m. ET
Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. This week, Tobin is joined by Stan Lee, creator of the cartoon "The Amazing Spider-Man." Lee is also the chairman of Marvel Comics and Marvel Films. Hundreds of characters grew out of Lee's fertile imagination, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, The X-Men and The Fantastic Four.
Tobin and Lee were online Friday, March 14 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss "Spider-Man," Marvel Comics and the art of cartooning.
Lee's concept of heroes who possess everyday human foibles and frailties —- characters with whom people can empathize —- were crucial to expanding audience for the entire comic-book industry. "Stan the Man," as he's known to fans worldwide, joined Marvel Comics in New York City at the age of 16, and a year later became the youngest editor in the industry. During his first 25 years at Marvel's helm as editor, art director and head writer, Lee scripted no fewer than two, and sometimes as many as five, complete comic books per week. Additionally, he wrote newspaper features, screenplays and radio and television scripts. By the time he was named publisher of Marvel Comics in 1972, his comics were the nation's biggest sellers. In 1977, Lee brought Spider-Man into the newspapers. The seven-days-a-week strip, which he has written and edited since its inception, is among the most successful of all syndicated adventure strips, appearing in 500 newspapers worldwide. Lee was born in 1922 in New York City.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
washingtonpost.com: Greetings, comics fans and welcome to a VERY SPECIAL edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist" with the legendary Stan Lee, who revolutionized the comics industry back in the early '60s and brought an entire need adult readership to the comics. Our Post readers know him as the creator of "The Amazing Spider-Man." Welcome, Stan, and thanks for joining us Live Online.
Stan Lee: Glad to be here, Suzanne.
Washington, DC: Why does the Simpsons keep making fun of you?
Stan Lee: That was friendly fun, they weren’t really making fun of me…I was on the show, they drew me in, and I used my own voice.
Alexandria, Va.: Can you get me a speaking part in the "Spider-Man" sequel which is being filmed in New York City?
Stan Lee: Unfortunately, I’m not a casting agent
Crystal City, Va.: Say, just who was Irving Forbush, anyway?
Stan Lee: Irving Forbush was a name I had made up just for fun, and the readers remembered, and so I started using it more and more just as a gag.
Montgomery Village, Md.: What's the status of the Fantastic Four movie? Any chance we'll see it sometime soon?
I don’t think you’ll see it soon, but it is in the works, they’re working on the script right now.
Leesburg, Va: Are you going to have a cameo role in the Spider-Man sequel?
Stan Lee: I don’t think so, I don’t have time to be in every movie. I’m trying to have a cameo in the first movie that’s done for each character. And wait’ll you see me in “The Hulk”!!!!
College Park, Md.: Hi Mr. Lee,
Your comics meant so much to me growing up, and I still enjoy reading them. One of the things that Marvel always impressed me with was using real places and current issues in the storyline. Are there plans to address the upcoming war in any storylines?
Thanks for doing what you do!
Stan Lee: It's not so much that there are plans, but when writers write stories, they can't help but being influenced by what's going on when they're writing in. So I'm quite sure there will be mentions of the war, if there is a war. The political situations and whatever the social situations are always seem to creep into the stories somehow. Thanks for the kind for the kind words.
Arlington, Va.: I was so dismayed to see you scoffed at by that dolt Comic Book Guy on "The Simpsons." Could you please put that nosebleed in his place?
Stan Lee: I have to tell you that they really weren't scoffing at me, it was just a fun thing that we all did, and I great kick out of it as did all my friends who produce the Simpsons. It was really all in fun.
Worcester, Mass.: I stopped reading Spiderman after feeling betrayed by the "clone" revelation. You must know that Spidey's slogan "with great power comes great responsibility" was at least part of the reason that Spidey products sell so well, so why did you allow Spidey's moral teachings to become so muddied? Your storylines became almost evil. First Iron Man and the Hulk, then Daredevil, and finally even Captain America and Spiderman's stories were lacking in solid teaching fables. WHY?
Stan Lee: Actually, I stopped writing those stories toward the end of the '60s and I began to concentrate on our movies and television and animation. So I can't really tell you why the emphasis in the stories have changed. But things around the world were getting a little darker and grimmer, and even comic books reflect what's going on in the world. Sometimes I think I'm in a lucky position. I can take the credit for the good stuff at Marvel, and if there's anything you don't like I can say, "Hey, I didn't do that!"
Chicago, Ill.: Long time Amazing Spiderman fan.None of the papers in Chicago run the daily or Sunday strip. I am having a hard time Where can you find the Daily and Sunday strips online or in compilation form? I love following the daily adventures, but have searched everywhere for them. HELP!
Best wishes for continued health and prosperity!
Thanks to The Post for offering this forum.
Stan Lee: I think you can get the strip online from The Post's Web site, if not you can try to get the strip online from its syndicate, King Features. And another bit of self-serving advice, get a free thousand of your fans to write letters to your newspaper demanding that they run the strip and you'll be amazed at the results you'll get!!!
Arlington, Va.: First off, thank you for hours of wonderful reading. I was too young to have read the original Fantastic Four, Hulk, etc. when they came out in the 60s, but read the collections that came out in the 70s repeatedly (especially "Bring on the Bad Guys").
You seem to draw from many sources in your scripts, from mythology to the classics. Is there a particular work or author you've gone back to frequently for ideas?
Stan Lee: I've never gone back to anyone but what happens is everybody seems to remember things to remember things that they've read or seen or heard as they go through life, and when I'm writing I guess that the stories and the authors who most impressed me subconsciously are still there with me, and I guess I draw upon them.
Baltimore, Md.: Are there any characters in the Marvel Universe that you didn't create (Wolverine?) that you were able to sit back and say, "Good Job. They got it right."
Also, did you kill Gwen Stacy?
Stan Lee: I'm sorry to say that I didn't create Wolverine. And I certainly sit back and think "Man, they sure got that right!!!"
It's a funny thing about Gwen Stacy, I had written a story earlier in which he killed her father, Capt. Stacy. Later, after I had stopped writing the strip, another writer name Gerry Conway, killed Gwen. I couldn't believe it! It must have looked like Marvel Comics had a vendetta against the Stacy family.
Raleigh, N.C.: Laura Ingraham, the conservative pundit, has a quiz on her radio show to determine whether a guest is liberal or conservative. One of the questions is: "Superman or Spiderman?" If you like Superman, you're a conservative; if you like Spiderman, you're a liberal. What do you think about this "test?" Spiderman seems a rather conservative character to me, and Michael Medved, the conservative critic, made the same point when the movie came out last year.
Stan Lee: I never think in term of liberal or conservative. Personally, I think of myself as an independent. Therefore, I think of my characters as independents. But I do feel that it's great that people who read Spider-Man and the other strips feel they know the characters well enough to determine their political leanings.
Fairfax, Va.: As chairman of Marvel Films, how much say did you have in the creation of the blockbuster "Spider-Man" movie last year starring Tobey Maguire? Did you see the hysterical sketch poking fun at the upside down Spider-Man kiss scene done on "Saturday Night Live" with Horatio Sanz and Kirsten Dunst?
Stan Lee: Oh, I am so sorry that I missed that sketch. Now I'll have to see if anyone has a tape of it. I can't wait to see it. I used to be the chairman of Marvel, now I'm the chairman emeritus which is really an honorary title, and I have very little to do with the movies themselves, except for the fact that they're all based on the earlier comic books.
Annandale, Va.: Kevin Smith has worked comics into most, if not all, of his films. And comics played prominently in M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable." I was wondering what you think of Smith and Shyamalan's work, and of their efforts to include comics, and characters in the comics business in their movies.
Stan Lee: Kevin Smith is a very good friend of mine, in fact I had a role in his movie "Mall Rats." He and I starred in a DVD together which was called, "Stan Lee's Mutants, Munsters and Marvels," in which Kevin interviewed me for about an hour or so. Kevin is a brilliant writer, director and filmmaker and I'm very proud that comic books mean so much to him. I'm sorry to say that I have not yet met M. Night Shyamalan, but I feel he is one of our greatest screenwriters and directors, and I have become a tremendous fan of his.
Springfield, Va.: Stan the Man! I have loved your comics and your ideas of the non-traditional hero since the 60s, yes I am pretty old. I also love the latest marvel movies.
Two questions: 1. What do you think of the changes in your characters by the movies, i.e. webs from Peter's hand. 2. Is a new Fantastic Four movie in the works? The first one, which I have on VHS tape, was not the quality your fans have come to expect.
Stan Lee: It's impossible to do a movie exactly like a comic book, or like a novel, or like a play, or whatever the movie may be based on. Very often, small changes have to be made in order to make the production succeed, if it's being done for movies or TV, or whatever. I don't mind the changes at all as long as the movie itself is true to the character. And no one can deny that Spider-Man was incredibly true to the character as I had conceived him.
Believe it or not, that old Fantastic Four movie that you're referring to, was never meant to be released and seen by the public. There's a long story behind it that we don't have time to get into now, but I promise that the Fantastic Four movie that you will soon be seeing will be a lot different and million times better.
Washington, D.C.: Besides the Hulk, and the X-Men and Spiderman, and Daredevil sequels (and the Electra spinoff), what movies based on Marvel characters are in the works?
Stan Lee: There's one called Prime, there's The Punisher, Iron Fist, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Ghost Rider, Man Thing, Doctor Strange, Deathlock, Werewolf by Night, Cloak and Dagger, Black Widow, Silver Surfer, Sgt. Fury, Luke Cage and that's just for starters.
Augusta, Ga.: If you were not doing what you do now, what else do you think you might have done in life?
Stan Lee: Believe it or not, there are so many things that I enjoy doing and that I would have liked to do also. I would have loved to have been an actor, or a lawyer, but not the kind of lawyer that sits in an office and works on documents, I would have wanted to be the kind of lawyer or argues cased in front of a judge, like in the movies. And I wouldn't have minded being the President of the United States but I was always too busy to tackle that, which I'm sure will break a lot of people's hearts.
Fredericksburg, Va.: I've heard mixed stories of where you got your inspiration for Spider-Man. Can you untangle this Web of mystery?
Stan Lee: I have told this so many times that for all I know it might even be true. While I was looking for an idea for a new superhero I saw a fly crawling on a wall, and I thought, "Wow, wouldn't it be great to have a hero who could crawl on walls?" And the rest is history!!!
Potomac, Md.: Stan: Just curious, did you know and talk with the late great William M. Gaines, who founded Mad and several other classic comic books in the 1950s? If so, what did you think of him and did you keep in touch through the years? Thanks for responding. (For those who don't know, William M. Gaines is, like Mr. Lee, considered a pioneer in the world of comics.)
Stan Lee: William Gaines is someone I did know and admired greatly. There was one strange thing about him. When I first met him he had short hair, was clean-shaven and looked a little a little bit like what we today would call a nerd. A few years later he became as heavy as Santa Claus, had a dark beard, which was bigger than Santa Claus's, had hair worn down almost to his waist (no I'm exaggerating that, but he did have very long hair) and he looked like the Ultimate Hippie. I never worked for him or with him, but many of my friends did, and they've told me that he was the greatest guy to work for. He was really a wonderful person.
Washington, D.C.: When I lived in New York in the late '80s, I went on a guided tour of the Marvel Comics offices. Are they still in the same location, and are tours still offered? Do you need an advance reservation for a tour?
Stan Lee: No, they're in a different location now, but there still in New York, and since I'm out here in Los Angeles, I don't know what the custom is about tours, but if you phone their office, I'm sure they'll be glad to tell you.
Edenton, N.C.: You were in The Trial Of the HULK, were you ever in any of the episodes?
Stan Lee: No, that was the only one I was in, and that's a funny story too. I was the foreman of the jury during the courtroom scene. At one point, the Hulk lifts up the whole jury box with the whole jury sitting in it. He only lifts it about two feet off the floor, and the jurors were supposed to jump out of the jury box in terror. When it came time to jump out of the jury box, Bill Bixby, the director, said "Cut!" And he said I had to leave and be replaced by a stunt man. I said "Bill, I could jump two feet with my eyes closed and one leg tied behind me!" He said "It doesn't matter, you're not a member of the stuntmembers' union!" So I missed my big chance to be an action star. I think Schwarznegger was behind it, he didn't want the competition.
Washington, D.C.: I remember when Marvel first introduced black superheroes like the Falcon, Luke Cage and the Black Panther in the '70s. Can you tell me a little about how those characters came to be?
Stan Lee: Very simple. I decided I wanted us to have some black characters. A lot of people said they didn't think it was a good idea, but Marvel proved them wrong, because the black characters proved to be very popular. In fact, one of our black characters was Luke Cage, Power Man, and many people don't know that Nicolas Cage, one of our greatest stars, was a fan and took his professional name from Luke Cage.
Landover, Md.: I love Spider-Man in all his forms and wanted you to know how much joy and fun you two have given me for the last 30 years or so. Please keep up the great work and keep Peter in danger.
Stan Lee: Thank you. Those words are music to my ears, and to Spidey's too!
Hyattsville, Md.: Have you given any thought to what you might do with all your archives and such you've accumulated over the years? If Charles Schulz has his own museum, you definitely deserve one, too.
Stan Lee: That's very flattering, but I've never collected that many things, and if I ever get a museum, someone else will have to do it for me, because I'm still too busy writing stories and having fun.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: HI Stan, I was wondering, out of all the characters you invented, how many did you invent and actually had to scrap?
Stan Lee: Believe it or not, none of them. All of the ones that I did in the '60s, starting with the Fantastic Four, are still being published today. Now there were many characters many years ago when I started that fell by the wayside. I can't even remember some of their names. But since the early '60s when we changed our name to Marvel Comics, I'm happy to say that all of those characters are still with us today, with the possible exception Howard the Duck.
Mike, Washington D.C.: Any plans to put some of the good old villains (Doc. OC, Green Goblin, Dr. Doom) into the daily strip? I'd love to see them!
Stan Lee: As a matter of fact, we are planning to do that. In fact the next storyline we do, although he's not a villain, will feature Wolverine. After that we'll be doing the Hulk. Years ago we featured Dr. Doom and the Kingpin, and sooner or later you'll start seeing our Marvel villains appearing also. I've always loved our villains at least as much as the heroes.
Speaking of Spider-Man: What kind of a guy was Steve Ditko?
Stan Lee: Steve Ditko was the greatest guy to work with. He was talented, imaginative and he was a terrific artist. He was never late with a strip. And I don't think that Spider-Man would have been the success it was if he hadn't illustrated it and given it the mood and look and feeling that it had. One thing about Steve, he's a very private person, unlike me, he doesn't like to give interviews and I don't think he likes people to write about him, which is a shame because he deserves more fame than he has.
Maryland: I still read comics, even as an adult. They are fun and light and often beautifully drawn. When I was a child, I was continually impressed by the strong female roles in comics, especially in the X-Men. Who can argue that women aren't equal to men when faced with Storm or Rogue? They are both feminine and powerful. I guess I just wanted to say thanks.
Stan Lee: You are very welcome, and I'm glad you said what you did because I love female heroines (even though that's a redundancy) and enjoyed portraying them as much as possible.
Arlington, Va.: Since you write the Spider-Man newspaper strip, and your brother Larry Leiber draws it, how closely do you work together?
Stan Lee: Very closely. He lives in New York and I'm in Los Angeles. I send him the strip, he draws it in pencil, and then he sends it back to me and we both check it over to make sure it's done the right way. Then it goes to an inker and a letterer. We communicate with each other all during the week to make sure the strip is done the right way.
Laurel, Md.: What do you think of the practice of comic books coming out with new "Issue #1" as supposed collectors items. The original issues of classics like Superman are rare because a lot of them were destroyed in WWII paper drives.
Isn't this just a lot false hype like the Franklin Mint, Billy Beer and Beanie Babies?
Stan Lee: Actually, I think the publishers do this because many of the readers like to have a book that says Issue No. 1. They know that it's not the original time the character appeared. I don't think it's done to fool anybody, I just think it's done because readers like to have something that says No. 1.
New York, N.Y.: Is the Hulk vulnerable to pain anywhere on his body? What about, let's say, his groin area?
Stan Lee: I've always been too embarrassed to ask him.
Silver Spring, Md.: Will we ever see comic strips based on other Marvel characters? A strip on Captain America in the days of WW2 might be interesting.
Stan Lee: I don't know, that's really up to the newspaper syndicate. If a newspaper syndicate would want a strip of that sort, I'm sure Marvel would be happy to provide it.
Denver, Colo.: Please tell. When you go grocery shopping: paper or plastic?
Stan Lee: I much prefer paper. I hate those plastic bags. And I appreciate your interest in comics and in Marvel, and if you have any more questions about Marvel, I'd be happy to answer them.
Silver Spring, Md.: Of all the characters that you created, which one would you most like to return to writing? Exclude Spider-Man, since you ARE doing the writing on the strip in the paper.
Stan Lee: Maybe Dr. Strange, because I used to love making up all of those funny incantations that he used to utter. Or perhaps the Silver Surfer, because I loved his unending philosophizing. Or the Fantastic Four, because I got a big kick out of the four of them always arguing with each other. Now that I think of it, I'd like to do them all.
Fairfax, Va.: Can you comment about your lawsuit with Marvel? Please do not dismiss my question.
Stan Lee: It's a very simple thing. We have a disagreement about a certain clause in my contract and the easiest way to reach a decision is to let a judge decide. But this is probably the friendliest lawsuit in the world. Because I love Marvel and I love the people in Marvel and sooner or later the whole thing will be settled.
Silver Spring, Md.: How much time is there in between a strip's being finished and it's being printed?
Stan Lee: Well, it used to be anywhere from a month and two months when I was working on the comic books. But now, technically, things are so much more advanced, that I don't really know the correct answer to that.
Norfolk, Va.: I,m reading Kavalier and Clay which revolves in part around the comic book business. Have you read it and if so what do you think of it?
Stan Lee: Everybody tells me to read it because they tell me I was mentioned in it. So I bought a copy. I haven't had time to read it, but I thumbed through the pages, very quickly, looking for my name. I didn't find it, so sooner or later I'm going to have to thumb through it again.
Silver Spring, Md.: You crossed company lines when you co-write the "Just Imagine" series at D.C. Will we ever see you write an actual issue of, say, Superman or Batman, or any other D.C. character?
Stan Lee: Not unless they ask me to. I enjoyed doing those books for DC, and the people at DC are good friends of mine, but I really don't have the time to write any more comics, at least not right now. I'm spending most of my time working on movies and TV shows.
washingtonpost.com: Who is your favorite writer?
Stan Lee: I'm sorry, I'm too modest to answer that.
Stan Lee: I'm sorry our time is up, I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed this, and to all of my fans--both of them--I want to say a hearty "EXCELSIOR!"
washingtonpost.com: Thank you, Stan, for taking time out to answer our readers' questions. We'll look forward to seeing more of your project on the big and little screens!
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