Stan Lee recently took the time to answer a series of questions during Awesome Con 2017. Known for his extensive work and creations for Marvel Comics, his joy was palpable as he gave insight into what it was like starting in the comics industry during its early days and how the scene has changed over the years. He also gave advice for aspiring writers and talked about his cameos in the #MCU. For any pro or aspiring creator, and for fans of #StanLee, #Marvel, and comics in general, this is a must-read. Check out the full interview below:
Awesome Con: "I’ve got to say, this is fantastic. Stan, how are you this morning?"
"You just said it. Fantastic!"
AC: "All right, great! One of the first questions we want to ask you is: What authors did you read as a child? What stories launched your imagination?"
"I don’t know which ones specifically, but I loved reading Edgar Allan Poe. I read Mark Twain, I read Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne. I read everything I could lay my hands on. I even read Shakespeare. I loved to read. George Bernard Shaw. I read him. Charles Dickens. H. G. Wells. I could go on and on. I read anything I thought was worth reading."
AC: "That’s great! Second question is: Back in 2001 you worked with DC Comics on a 13-comic series called Just Imagine. How did this come about?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, it came about by somebody at DC asking if I could do that. At first I thought they were joking, but they meant it. So I tried writing this series of books."
AC: "What’s it like watching comics grow from the newsstand days of the '40s to a multi-billion dollar industry with tens of millions of fans all over the world?"
"It's indescribable. I never thought it would happen. When I got in, my name was Stanley Martin Lieber, that was my birth name. I intended someday, hopefully, to write a good book, and when I got into comics people hated comics so much. Most parents didn't want the kids to read them. I couldn't understand that, I thought comics were a good way to tell a story. But I will admit a lot of the stories were badly written in those days. At any rate, people disliked comics so much that I changed my name.
I wrote under the name Stan Lee because I didn't want to embarrass my real name. In case I ever wrote something meaningful, I didn't want to be plagued by being known as a comicbook writer. But of course that’s changed tremendously. Now I'm very proud to be known as a comicbook writer and the public, their perception of comics has changed completely. But, actually, most teachers and parents were right years ago in condemning a lot of comics, because all the comics were were stories of people punching each other and fighting each other. I remember when I first came to work for this company, the publisher said don't bother with characterization and involved plots, just give me a lot of action, and I want a lot of fight scenes. So that that's what it was years ago when I got into the business.
I never in a million years thought it would turn out the way it did. I used to lecture, I used to go around the world. I went to Italy, to Germany, to all over. And I'd speak at colleges and places, telling them that comics were really a good way to tell a story. You're seeing the action and you're reading the dialogue. Not much different from going to the theater and seeing a Shakespeare play. You hear the words and you're seeing the action. Well the difference is in comics the characters don't move, but it's the same thing. You hear the words and you're seeing the action, so there's nothing wrong with the comic form. It's a great form, it's just how well you do it.
Oh, one thing that I'm going to mention parenthetically. The word "comicbook" should never be written as two words, because if it's written as two words it means, “a funny book, a comic book.” It should be one word, “comicbook.” That makes it a unique type of literature. And please don't ever let me catch you writing it as two words. (laughs)"
AC: "Everyone be warned! So what are you most looking forward to about coming to Awesome Con and to Washington DC? I don't know the last time you visited DC, but what's top on your list?"
"My list is just to meet with the fans as I always do. Meet with my fellow artists and writers and just have a good time."
AC: "Right, great! And is there any one piece of advice that you received during your career that stuck with you?'
"Well, no, not really, but there's a piece of advice I'd try to give people because 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 to 30, or this would be good for somebody from 18 to 22 or whatever it is. Or this will be good for people who like this type of thing. I never try to write for any particular age group or social group. I always try to write stories that I myself might enjoy reading, because I feel I'm not that unique. If there is a story I like, there must be millions of other people with similar taste 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 like a story I felt it has to be good, because I'm a normal guy. If I like it, it's probably good, and I think if you try to write for other people, it's a lot more difficult to do than just writing something that you yourself would enjoy. End of school lecture."
AC: "I think that's great advice. So next question, which Marvel character that you created or worked on do you think is underrated or under-appreciated, and is due for a revival either in comics or in film?"
"I think the Silver Surfer has been underrated. I think he's a great character, and the thing I like about him, I was always able to get in a lot of bits of philosophy that he would utter. They don't use him as much as I wish they would. He's one of my favorite characters."
AC: "OK. So, sort on the same vein in regards to all the comic characters you've created over the years, has there been anything that you'd regretted in the creation of any of them? Would you change their sex, their age, their ethnicity, anything like that? Any you'd love to go back and say, 'I’d do it differently.'"
"You know, I've never thought of that before. But now that you mention it and I'm thinking about it… No, no. I must be very easy to please but, you know, I think they’re all just about the way I wanted them."
AC: "So you've been involved in the industry since 1939, and you've been involved with so many amazing achievements. Is there a proudest moment of your career?"
"I mean, I don't think about it much. I just go on trying to live from day to day, each day is exciting, each day there’s something new that comes along. And I can't think of a proudest moment. Really, there have been so many proud moments."
AC: "Great! So one of my favorite parts of Silver Age Marvel was your constant credit jokes at the expense of letterers Artie Simek and Sam Rosen. Do you remember how that tradition started?"
"Sure. I always wanted to put the credits down, I felt that it would be good to treat comics like movies. In a movie you get the name of the director, the screenwriter, and all the other people too. And I thought, wouldn't it be fun – nobody ever gives the letterer credit. I’ll have the letterers, I’ll have the production people, have the editor, any name I could think about, I'll put in the credits. But then it occurred to me. Hey, why not keep it friendly and funny, and make it easier for the kids to remember. I'll give them all nicknames. So I try to put little nicknames in for each person – and I don't even remember all the nicknames now – but it was enjoyable to me, and the fans seemed to like it, and that made me happy. And the editors and letterers and proofreaders, they liked it too because they were finally getting some recognition."
AC: "Right, OK. So, next question. Jack Kirby. You obviously have had an opportunity to work with Jack in your career. What is any favorite story about working with Jack that you'd share with us?"
"I'm not good with favorite stories. My life has been so many stories. But working with Jack was one of the great experiences of my life. Jack would have been one of the world's greatest film directors. He knew how to picture a scene and how to get the most drama out of an incident of any artist that I knew. The thing about Jack, whatever he tried to draw, whether it was someone running or hitting, or somebody looking surprised or frightened, or whatever it was, once he drew it you couldn't picture it any better. No matter what he drew, it was as though he always drew things as well as they could possibly be drawn, nobody could improve on them. He extracted the same amount of drama and excitement in every panel. He could just have two people talking to each other, and there was something interesting about the way he did it. He was a fantastic storyteller."
Max: "And there’s one thing I can elaborate on a little bit. When Stan talks about Jack, there is a story that he told me about how he would watch Jack draw like the image was there already. He wouldn't go back and erase anything. It was just done, one time, and that’s how it went. It's like when you have a rock, and a sculptor’s just chipping away the pieces that they don't need in that rock because the image has always been there. That was Jack's way of drawing which Stan told me."
"Yeah, very often watching Jack draw, it was as though he was tracing a drawing that had already been there. His pencil strokes were so sharp, and so definite, and he would never draw a line and then erase it and do it over again. It's as though it had been there before and he was simply tracing it, and it was perfect."
AC: "That’s amazing. Great, great story, guys. So, OK, I'm going to a wrap up with one final question here I think. At least one of my favorites, and I know thousands and millions of other fans agree, your cameos in the Marvel films, is there a favorite cameo so far?'
"Well, yeah the whole lot of them. The ones in the new movie, The Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I got a kick out of. But my all time favorite was the one where I was with Thor in a bar. Thor was drinking a Norse drink, and I said hey, let me have some. And he said I couldn't drink it, it's too strong for a human being. And I said, nonsense, I can handle it. And anyway, he gave me a sip of his drink and then the next scene they were carrying me out. But the thing I loved about that cameo is, if you think about it, that is the only cameo I've done that had two scenes. It was more than a cameo, it was almost like a role in the movie. So now I'm shooting the cameos that have three scenes, four scenes. Eventually, I hope to be the co-star. (laughs)"
AC: "That's great. So, that concludes our questions. Max and Stan, thank you so much for taking the time, and thanks everybody so much for taking the time today.'
"And thank you. I really enjoyed it, they were good questions."
This year's Awesome Con took place June 16–18, 2017. Next year's event is scheduled for March 30 — April 1, 2018. For more information about Awesome Con, click here.
What else would you have wanted to ask Stan Lee?