Stan Lee's decade-long victory lap reached new heights when "The Avengers" shattered box office records, and the man is still having a blast at 89.
Stan is still “The Man.”
Lee is the iconic comic book writer who in 1962, after 20 years laboring in a looked-down-upon industry, took his wife’s advice and started writing comic books his way: with superheroes that had personality and were just as flawed, neurotic, petty and downright mixed-up as Lee knew he and his audience sometimes felt themselves.
Working with some of the finest artists/co-plotters in the industry at the time – the legendary Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko at the forefront – Lee created the Marvel Age of Comics and, infusing a distinctly chummy, cheeky voice directly into his editorial persona, became almost as much an icon to the comics-reading crowd as Spider-Man and the Hulk. Today, Lee is enjoying a career victory lap the likes of which comic book creators have never seen – thanks to big screen adventures based on his revolutionary tales, his many still-vibrant and vital characters have become some of the most famous and profitable icons across the pop cultural boards.
“Stan Lee is an inspiration,” says documentarian Morgan Spurlock, a longtime fan who teamed with Lee the Hollywood producer for the film “Comic-Con Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope.” “He's someone that I've idolized since I was a kid, who at 89 has as much passion as he must've had when he was 20. This guy is so excited about everything that's going on.”
“Put yourself in Stan Lee's shoes,” adds Spurlock. “Imagine not only are you the guy that created 'Spider-Man,' which is awesome, but now you've seen all of these other characters that you've created literally become bigger than life and all of these dreams that you must've had when you writing have come to fruition, movies around 'The X-Men' and 'Thor' and now 'The Avengers.' It's remarkable. I idolize the guy. It's good to be Stan.”
PopcornBiz spoke with Lee himself and got a sense of just how good it is.
On enjoying his moment in the pop cultural sun:
“People call me ‘legendary’ now, and ‘iconic.’ I don’t even know what those words mean, but I seem to have become associated with Spider-Man and with most of the Marvel characters and I love it. It’s a great feeling, to feel that something that people like that much, something that brings people so much enjoyment somehow I’m linked to it as well as all the other people who were involved. In fact sometimes fans will come over to me and they’ll say ‘I just want to thank you.’ And I say ‘Why – did I give you something?’ They say ‘No, no – For all the enjoyment your stories have brought.’ I find that very touching. It’s really something that makes me very happy.
On which member of “The Avengers" cast got the closest to the character you created.
“All of them are pretty good. I think every one of them is very close. The casting director is a genius…Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic. We had lunch before the movie and we talked about the character and I told him what little I knew. All I kept thinking was ‘What a nice guy – and what an intelligent guy!' He asked the cleverest, most intelligent questions, and I wasn't talking to a screen star. I was talking to a guy who really wanted to do his best and he wanted all the information that he could get to help him do his best. I was very impressed with him.”
On the success of his recent bestselling graphic novel Romeo and Juliet: The War, a sci-fi take on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers:
“My God, we're taking the world's greatest writer, Shakespeare. We're taking the world's greatest romance that he wrote, 'Romeo & Juliet,' and we're giving the Montagues and the Capulets superpowers. They fight a war. We project it 200 years into the future. We have both the romance and a superhero action story. And you ask me if I thought it would be good? Probably one of the greatest things ever produced! [Laughs]”
On suggesting to Spurlock that he shoot a film on Comic-Con, which he also produced:
“I don't want to take credit for the whole damn thing – I take credit for everything as it is! I like the fact that it wasn't just showing a lot of people in crowds, but he concentrated on four people, each with a totally different objective and desire, and he made it personal, which is what I always tried to do with all the comics I wrote. Besides the action and the superhero stuff, I always try to discuss the personal lives of the people, their hopes and dreams and aspirations.”
On what he still hopes to achieve professionally:
“Oh, you never achieve all your goals. I still haven't written the great American novel…I mean, I think I want to, but I'd never have the time to do it. It's fun to think of that.”
On the latest of his now-famous Marvel movie cameos, in “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-Man”:
“These cameos are the two funniest I've ever done. For no other reason that you go to the movie, you have to go for my cameos…. They are very funny, incredibly funny, because I'm a very funny person. You can't tell by listening to me. In interviews I'm as dull as dishwater, but leave me alone by myself and I'm funny.”