This past summer, the scene on the CBR yacht was very consistent: At any given moment, CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland was conducting or prepping for an interview while a writer or two quickly pecked away at their keyboards, filing a story from Comic-Con International in San Diego. For all intents and purposes, the CBR yacht was a floating newsroom.
Until Stan Lee boarded the yacht.
At that moment, everyone set aside their laptops and suddenly became a fan again. Sure, those of us living on the yacht over the weekend had already seen a fair share of celebrities. Stephen Baldwin, Method Man, Grant Morrison, among others, had already joined us on the soothing waters of the San Diego marina. This time it was different - this was Stan "The Man" Lee.
Arranged by the Hero Initiative and Comic Book Resources, Lee brought with him five lucky fans, all winners of an eBay auction supporting the non-profit that helps comics creators in need. The auction billed the event as, "Meet Stan Lee at San Diego! Photo op! Autographs! And it's on a super-cool boat! You'll be led to the yacht, where you'll meet Stan. It's about a million percent better than standing in a line for three hours just to get to say 'hi' for 30 seconds!"
A million percent better may have been a conservative estimate.
Lee worked the room and was gregarious, warm, funny and charming with each fan.
One young comics reader, Luke, was particularly jazzed. According to his uncle, he was so excited to meet Lee he hadn't been able to sleep.
"I'm just going to take a wild guess, and say you want me to sign some of these for you?" Lee asked as Luke handed him old issues of "Amazing Spider-Man."
"Well, actually, I thought we should get a couple beers to drink?" Luke quipped.
"Alright, let's do that, we'll go have a couple of beers! Hey, he's got a sense of humor, son-of-a-gun!" Lee said. "What made you decide to come in here?"
"You're Stan Lee. You created Spider-Man," Luke said with a sense of awe.
"I like his attitude. Thank you, that's very nice," Lee said. "Hey, what do you mean Spider-Man? I created some other stuff too - how soon they forget!"
"But Spider-Man is your crown jewel," Luke said, once again impressing Lee.
"Very perceptive," Lee said approvingly.
Every Stan Lee autograph was more than a simple scribble of seven letters, it was a process. "Where do you want me to sign this? Don't make a snap decision! Where?" Lee asked Luke. "That's a good spot. I can do it here. How's that? Is that alright with you? I'm not pressuring you? Look at that beautiful white space. How about there?"
"Yeah, Stan, sign 'Nuff said,'" Luke asked.
"How about I put 'Stan Lee' there, and I put 'nuff said' there? I take up two spaces? 'To good ol' Luke.'" Lee said as he signed the comic.
Lee sat in the captain's chair and posed for photos with every fan. When one photo took a little longer than usual, Lee quickly made light of the situation. "If we do this much longer we'll be engaged," Lee said to the fan sitting close to him. "All you do is push the button!"
One fan came to Comic-Con from northern Idaho. "That's a long way to go to ride in a boat for five minutes!" Lee joked.
That fan, himself a comic book artist, showed Lee an homage painting he had created and dedicated to John Romita, Sr. There was a catch, though - some of the artwork was actually created by Romita himself.
"I can't tell where Romita begins and where you begin," Lee said of the artwork. He then found a piece that he could tell wasn't Romita's. "This is yours."
"Nope, that's John," the fan corrected.
"Shows you what I know!" Lee laughed. "I can't get over this, this is really beautiful."
Another fan was then brought up to Lee. "This young gentlemen is next," Lee was told.
"No, I'm sorry, I'm bored with this," Lee said, evoking a laugh from the group.
"This is one off my bucket list I get to scratch off," the fan told Lee.
"I'll see you next year, we've got to keep this bucket list going!" Lee said.
The fan told Lee his brother had a speech impediment, and Lee's comics helped him work through it. "You actually put some vocabulary in your writing," he said.
"I tried," Lee remarked. "I used to say, the readers will either get it by its use in the sentence, or if they have to go to the dictionary, that's not the worst thing that can happen."
The fan said Lee had lived a fascinating life, and asked the comic book legend about serving as a "playwright" in World War II. "There were only eight other men who had that title," Lee explained. "I didn't know this until way later. There was [author] William Saroyan, [director] Frank Capra -- I was the token nobody who was in that group. I was writing training films. When I was discharged, I looked at the paper, and it said 'military class indication: playwright.' And I couldn't believe it."
Lee asked the fan to say hello to his brother for him before moving on to the last autograph. This fan wanted Lee to sign something for her best friend."As much as a signature would mean to me, my best friend all the way across the country has wanted his entire life to meet you," she said.
"Don't tell him what a disappointment it was," Lee replied.
The fan then told Lee her friend was an aspiring comic book writer, and she hoped he could write something encouraging to him. "Yeah, 'get into another business,'" Lee laughed.
The time was up. The Stan Lee meet-and-greet was over, and Lee was off to another appointment.
Everyone left the yacht with a smile on their face. It was only 30 minutes in real time, but to the fans on the yacht that day - CBR staff included - it was a moment that will last a lifetime.