The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah can be an intense and emotional time for many a young filmmaker hoping to get their work picked up on a national level. But in the increasingly strange world where film and comics cross over, this year’s event became the staging ground where one longtime comics fan had an intensive and emotional encounter with legendary comics writer Stan Lee. Of course, it being Sundance, it should come as no surprise at Sundance that the fan was KISS guitarist Gene Simmons. The pair teamed up for a special live event on comics, media and more, and CBR News was on hand for the action.
During a live broadcast demonstrating the abilities of Ortzbo.com, a universal language translator that translates your computer, phone or tablet conversations in real-time almost anywhere in the world, Simmons and Lee answered questions from fans around the globe. Three rows of audience members flanked the back of the room where one very enthusiastic reveler proudly displayed his KISS t-shirt, and flatscreen televisions featuring the livestream broadcast adorned the front.
After a production person counted down from 10 seconds, the live show began, Simmons hosting and Lee cracking jokes from the get-go. As each question was read, the two oozed chemistry and humor. The Q&A kicked off with a user named Cecily from Denmark, who asked about the first comic book Lee ever read. “I think it was probably ‘Captain America,’ when I was a kid,” Lee responded. “I couldn’t believe it, how exciting it was and how well drawn it was. It really got me interested in comics.”
Comics-related questions would prove to be a theme for the session, with the next caller, Nick in Columbia, asking what advice Lee has for aspiring writers and artists.
“Write comic books!” Lee laughed. “No, obviously the first thing you have to do is read the comics and get familiar with them, and you find every comic book is written in a different style. Decide what style you prefer. You can’t write something unless you’re familiar with the medium, so you have to steep yourself in comics first, and then you either have the ability or not. There’s no magic formula.”
Simmons then got a question from Rachel in the Philippines — but not about music. The KISS frontman was asked to reveal his favorite comic book character, prompting a joke from Lee.
“You better answer that correctly,” Lee said, chuckling.
“Norrin Radd, that’s my favorite character,” Simmons replied.
“The Silver Surfer — mine too!” Lee interjected. “Because he was able to say all the things I wanted to say — I could get my own little bits of philosophy into his dialogue.”
Simmons went on to wax poetic about the character arc of Galactus, to which Lee said, “This man has a photographic memory. He’ll tell you what he read, what issue it was, what page it was and what panel it was on. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast!”
The conversation took a surprisingly intimate turn when Genevieve in Canada asked what accomplishment Simmons and Lee considered most significant.
“I think maybe getting married to my wife,” Lee divulged. “Everything else pales in comparison.” As the audience emitted an audible, “Awww,” Simmons added, “I’d like to help answer that question from the other side.”
“You’ve changed my life,” Simmons said, motioning to Lee. “You’ve changed millions of people’s lives. I used to publish fanzines — and I sent basically a love letter to Mr. Lee — about how wonderful I think it all is. I must’ve been almost 13 and I actually received, and I still have it, an actual post card from Stan Lee. ‘You will do great things in life. — Stan Lee.’ He signed that to a 13…” Simmons trailed off, choked up and visibly emotional, so Lee cut the silence in his typical style. “I sent the post card,” he laughed, “I couldn’t afford the 3 cent stamp!”
Once Simmons composed himself, he continued. “I take that as a lesson,” he said. “Whenever you meet a new, young, fresh mind, to empower them, make them think big, no limitations, the world can be yours — [Stan] did that to me, he did it to millions of people.”
Shifting the focus to film, Jennifer in Canada asked Lee about his opinion of the upcoming, franchise-rebooting “Amazing Spider-Man” film. “I think it’s something they had to do,” Lee said. “You know, whether you’re writing comics or whether you’re doing movies, the one thing you’re always afraid of is you’re going to start repeating yourself. I’m just guessing what the producers of the Spider-Man movies said, but, ‘We’ve done three Spider-Man movies, they’ve all been successful — so what are we gonna do, a fourth movie where he fights another supervillain? How can we give it a different angle?’ The new twist they thought of was the reboot, and I think they did very well.
Lee went on to praise the franchise’s new star, Andrew Garfield, saying, “Garfield is a perfect Peter Parker, he’s a perfect Spider-Man.”
Ty in the United States asked Simmons how it felt to finally be married to his girlfriend of 28 years, Shannon Tweed. The answer was an outpouring of dating advice from the famed former playboy.
“Look, men are immature,” Simmons laughed. “We’re basically 14-year-old boys for most of our lives. We don’t really grow up. A word of caution to all women: Don’t go out with young guys. Look for the mature guys who’ve got their careers in order. I’ve never been married — I got married when I was 62. It’s the only marriage I’ll ever have, to death do us part, or she’ll kill me — whichever comes first.”
“You sure don’t make snap decisions!” Lee joked. “I got married when I was 25 and we’re still working at it, but everybody’s different…I don’t think you can give a rule. Most people would find it tough to wait until they were 60 to get married.”
“I was busy,” Simmons deadpanned as the audience roared with laughter.
A question from Hansa in Canada ,about which comic book character the two relate with the most, sparked a discussion between the two icons about the rivalry between Professor X and Magneto.
“Magneto is very interesting to me as a personality,” Simmons said.
“They’re two of my favorites — Professor X and Magneto,” Lee said. “What I’d planned to do — eventually I would’ve let it develop that we learn they were brothers. And for that reason, they can’t get themselves to destroy each other.”
The producers held up a sign advising them to “wrap,” and the broadcast ended. Afterward, the two icons happily stood for photos, hugging, laughing and posing in wacky positions, delighting the fans who turned out to spend a short time with their idols.