Take a glance at any movie theater marquee and you’ll realize it’s the summer of superheroes. And who do we have to thank? We can think of no greater person to blame than that most titanic champion of men in capes and women in tights—writer, editor, producer, publisher and former president of Marvel Comics, Stan “The Man” Lee. The characters he created—from Spider-Man to the Fantastic Four to The Avengers—have been pop cultural icons for more than 40 marvelous years.
Lee will be in Albuquerque in June to make an appearance at the inaugural Albuquerque Comic Expo. We took the opportunity to chat via email with the man, the myth, the legend about all things superheroic.
This summer will see the release of three movies (Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger) based on Marvel Comics and one from the Distinguished Competition (Green Lantern). Over the course of your career, did you ever think you'd see a day when comic books would become such a widespread pop cultural force?
I always knew they were—but never dreamed there’d be a time when the whole world realized it, too!
Some of the most original work you (and the many talented artists you worked with) created was undoubtedly “the cosmics.” Characters like Thor, the Silver Surfer and Galactus moved beyond traditional crime-fighters in costumes to create a whole new modern mythology. What inspired you to build a true “Marvel Universe”?
It was simple, really. I was always trying to outdo myself. After the strongest man in the world (The Hulk), how could I come up with something even bigger and stronger? It had to be someone from outer space or another planet or another dimension or a god. I had no other choice!
“Believe it or not, I—of all people—have never really been a comics collector because I let my big chance slip by!”
Thor started off the summer movie season with a bang. Kenneth Branagh did an impressive job of translating the worlds you and Jack Kirby imagined to the big screen. What was it like seeing those fantastical settings come to life?
It was indescribably wonderful. Any description I could give you would fall far short of the true emotion!
Will you be shooting your cameo on The Avengers when you pass through Albuquerque this summer for the Albuquerque Comic Expo?
I hope so. It’s up to the director, but I heard he’s considering it.
Avengers is the big one, featuring multiple major Marvel characters. Have you had the opportunity to speak to director Joss Whedon and impart any wisdom/advice?
Not really. I met Joss years ago when he was nice enough to make a short speech when I received an award. But we have not met since. I’m really looking forward to seeing him later.
Is there a particular character/comic of yours you'd love to see in movies that hasn't been tapped by Hollywood just yet?
Dr. Strange. But I’ve a hunch he won’t be left out much longer.
I can’t imagine how many original characters you’ve dreamed up over the course of your long career. What’s the most unusual character you think you’ve ever created?
Irving Forbush! [Mascot for the short-lived ’60s humor series Not Brand Echh.] Or perhaps Willie Lumpkin! [The Fantastic Four’s famed mailman.] Seriously, the Silver Surfer would have to be a strong contender.
Weird question: Do you collect comic books yourself? Is your house filled with long-boxes full of bagged back issues of Marvel Age and Journey Into Mystery?
Sorry you reminded me! Unfortunately I was never smart enough to save the original books years ago. Believe it or not, I—of all people—have never really been a comics collector because I let my big chance slip by!
Seriously ... between movies, TV shows, comic books and animated series, how many projects are you working on right now? When do you sleep?
My company, POW! Entertainment, always has a few dozen projects in the works—but remember, I don’t write the scripts. I just come up with the original concept and then we hire the best writers we can find. That gives me time to work on many projects at once—movies, TV, comics, whatever. As for sleep—what’s that?
Do you think you'll ever run out of ideas?
Not if I can help it!