Not many comic book creators can get away with being almost a half hour late to their own spotlight panel, but hey, not every comic book creator has the legendary profile of Stan Lee. The beloved icon and co-creator of some of the biggest pop culture properties in history has been delighting crowds at Comic Con International in San Diego for years, and it was no different at the show last month — it was just delayed a little. When Lee arrived, his appearance was slightly more than his famous film cameos, but even though his spotlight panel was brief, Lee’s natural charm won over the Comic Con faithful in seconds.
When Lee hit the stage to raucous applause, he told his adoring fans, “I have a confession to make — five minutes ago, I was somewhere else signing autographs at a table with a thousand people on line. All of a sudden, my friend comes over and says, ‘Stan, we have to go to a panel,’ so I said, ‘What panel?’ So you all know more about this than I do.”
Late arrival aside, Lee looked healthy and energetic in his Captain America zip-up, and was ready to do what he does best: entertain.
Stan began the panel by quipping, “Who knows what the purpose of this panel is?” to which the Comic Con crowd shouted “You!” in unison. “But I know all about me,” Lee joked to the crowd’s delight.
Lee opened the floor to questions, and the first fan asked if there were ever any Marvel movies or TV shows that the legendary creator didn’t like. “No!” Lee quickly replied. “Under the word perfection in the dictionary, what does it say? ‘Marvel.’ After my name, that is.”
The second fan asked who would win in a fight, Stan or the Hulk? “It’s not even a contest,” Lee answered. “I’d be a squish on the floor… I hate to say there’s someone more powerful than I am, but I think the Hulk might have the edge.”
A young fan then asked, “What is your favorite superhero that you created?” to which, after a moment’s pause, Lee answered, “I have to say Spider-Man. He’s the most successful of all of them. Years ago, you could go to any part of the world, if you saw a picture of Mickey Mouse, everyone know what that was. Well, Spider-Man has become like that. You can go anywhere and see kids wearing Spider-Man jackets. How can I not love a guy that popular all over the world? He’s almost as popular as I am!”
The next fan brought up Lee’s famous film cameos and asked what future cameos could fans look forward to. “I can’t tell you what the cameos are,” Lee teased. “But I just did a cameo for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy [Vol. 2].’ I was so great, when you see it you’ll all write letters to the producer asking ‘Why didn’t Stan star in the movie?’ I also did a cameo for the upcoming ‘Doctor Strange.’ But the third one is a secret, it’s for a special Disney project — and I have no idea what that means.”
The next fan followed up the cameo question by asking which film appearance is Lee’s favorite. “I did one where I was somewhere with Thor, God of Thunder and Thor was drinking some potent Asgardian drink. And I said, ‘I want a sip of that… I can handle it,'” Lee answered. “I took a sip, and the next scene I’m being carried out and slurring ‘Excelsior.’ Now, you may wonder why a scene that portrays me in such an unfavorable light is my favorite… I’ll tell you, this cameo is the only one I can think of where I had two scenes. Maybe next time I’ll have three!”
A fan asked where Lee gets his ideas as a creator. “I copy them for other people,” Lee joked. “I don’t know where the ideas come from. I like superhero stories, I like stories about people that no one has written about before… I write things I myself enjoy reading… I thought I’d enjoy the Black Panther, I didn’t care what anyone else thinks.”
Lee then gave a rather serious and informative answer to a young fan who asked what inspired Lee to make comic books. “Greed,” he joked, before giving the real answer. “I had to make a living. I was about 17 years old. It was the Great Depression, and my father wasn’t working and money was hard to come by, so I had to get a job somewhere. I heard this magazine company had an opening. They published war stories, horror stories, love stories, detective stories and they had a little division that published comic books — it was the least important part of their business. But they needed somebody to assist the two guys doing the comics — two guys named Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.”
Lee paused as the crowd erupted at the legendary names of Simon and Kirby. “So,” Lee continued. “I applied for the job, and I must have been the only one who applied, because I got it. I didn’t even know it was in the comic division, I just needed a job. So they gave me to Simon and Kirby. They needed somebody to help them erase the pages and get them their lunch. I was a gopher, but little by little I’d say, ‘Hey, this sentence doesn’t make sense,’ or ‘Maybe you ought to write it this way.’ So they started to let me do some writing… At some point they were fired, I never knew why, there I was all alone in the department, the guy that would get the sandwiches. The publisher said to me, ‘Will you run the department until I hire a grown up?’ So at 17, what did I know, I said, ‘Sure, I can do it.’ I think they forgot about me, and I stayed there ever since.”
The final question asked Lee for any advice for an aspiring comic writer. “Write,” Lee exclaimed. “Seriously, things are so different now. Today, comic books have become so big, so important, that they hire the best writers who have written movies or have written novels. If you’re somebody just trying to get into the business, I don’t know what to tell you. The odds are against it if you’re not the guy who wrote a bestselling novel. It was easier when I broke in.”
Lee ended the panel by telling the crowd that he has been playing “Pokemon Go” — and whether that is true or not, the Comic-Con crowd certainly enjoyed it.
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