Stan Lee Talks Spider-Man Origins, Film Cameos & Creative Process

Moderator and actress Clare Kramer welcomed Stan Lee to the Emerald City Comicon stage, asking the comic book legend about the inspiration for a co-creation of his that everyone loves -- Spider-Man.

"My inspiration was greed," Lee jokingly replied. He explained that he, along with Jack Kirby, had created the Fantastic Four and the Hulk prior to Spidey. With both books doing well, his publisher called him into his office and asked him about the possibility of creating another hero.

"Well, when he asked a question like that, it meant, 'Do it or I'll fire you.'" As he was brainstorming, Lee saw an insect crawling on the wall and thought it would be "groovy" (to use the vernacular of the time) to have a hero who could stick to walls.

"Then I figured, to make him different -- I'd make him a teenager. And to make him even more different, I'd give him a lot of personal problems. I thought, 'Oh man, this is going to be a hit!'

"My publisher said, 'Stan, that is the worst idea. First of all, people don't like spiders. You can't call the hero Spider-Man. And you can't make him a teenager -- teenagers can only be sidekicks. And you want him to have personal problems? Stan, don't you know what a superhero is?' He did everything but kick me out of the office!"

The writer obviously wasn't pleased by this response, but there was a magazine the company had called "Amazing Fantasy" that would soon cease publication. According to Lee, it wasn't selling well, "but I loved it -- I did all the stories!" Since the magazine was going to end, no one at the company cared about it, so Stan put his Spider-Man story in there, showcasing the character on the cover, to get it out of his system.

"About a month later, the sales figures came in, and my publisher called me in and said, 'Hey Stan, you remember that character Spider-Man you came up with that we both liked so much? Let's make it a series...' And that's how Spidey was born!"

One of the first fans to the microphone asked Lee if he felt any of his characters are underused. He smiled and replied, "No, because we're going to be using all of them."

The next person wanted to know more about a lesser-known creation of Lee's -- Heroman, a character he created in 2009 that's been featured in manga and anime. Lee explained that Heroman is owned by Square Enix in Japan, and they control how the character is used.

Romance was in the air after this, as the creator was asked about the secret to a long marriage. Lee was married to Joan Clayton Boocock on December 5, 1947, and they're still together, living their "happily ever after." As for the key to achieving this, he grinned and replied, "Go to lots of comic book conventions, and then you can't get in trouble."

Next, surprise guest J. Scott Campbell made an appearance. Lee showered the illustrator with praise, joking that he didn't need someone who was "younger and better-looking" than him on stage. The Campbell thanked Lee for all he's done in comics and presented him the original art for his "Spider-Gwen," "Darth Vader," "Star Wars" and "Princess Leia" variant covers. The writer graciously accepted the gifts and thanked Campbell.

Going back to questions from the fans, someone asked if Marvel mandated anti-bullying messages in their comic stories when Lee was writing them, as they seemed to appear quite often in Lee's work. It wasn't a requirement -- it just naturally occurred that many characters would come up against bullies when acting like heroes. He always wanted to keep his themes and messages subtle, the best example of which was the X-Men. "When I did that, the underlying theme was to show we shouldn't dislike, fear and hate people who are different than we are."

Following this, a young boy with a homemade Ant-Man helmet approached the microphone and asked Lee how he came up with the idea for the diminutive hero. Lee answered, "The same way I came up with Spider-Man. I asked, 'What can I do that's different?' And I thought, 'Maybe a little guy.' And if you want a little guy, you're gonna call him Ant-Man. And of course, after that, we did Giant-Man -- we didn't want a good thing to go to waste! In fact, maybe the next one I'll do I'll call Normal-Size Man."

Asked about his current process for creating characters, he replied, "The first thing I ask is 'What hasn't been done?'"

He feels that this is tough to answer nowadays, as most interesting characters have already been created. The writer laughed as he mentioned that he will occasionally come up with ideas for new characters, start to research them, and then discover that the creation he came up with was already done -- by him!

Lee added that he does have a character right now that's being developed into a film in China. It's a Chinese-American co-production based on a character called the Annihilator. With any luck, fans will be introduced to this character within the next two years.

Asked whether the lasting popularity of any of his creations surprised him, Lee pondered the question and looked to the present in his response. "Iron Man, but it's really been the movie that's done that -- Robert Downey Jr. was so perfect."

Lee was then asked to consider the opposite end of this spectrum and talk about a book or character that didn't do as well as he hoped. Ironically, his answer involved a comic that launched one of his most famous creations. "'Amazing Fantasy' was actually one of my favorite books. I had written little five-page stories with O. Henry-type surprise endings. They were all bigger-than-life stories, and [Spider-Man co-creator] Steve Ditko illustrated them, and I thought the magazine was one of the best things we did. But at that time, the public just wanted superheroes. That was a big disappointment."

In addition to all his work on the page, Lee is also well-known for his cameo roles in films. When asked if he has any say in what the roles will be, the creator replied that he didn't, because he doesn't want to interfere with the filmmaking process. Lee said he just shows up and is sent to makeup and wardrobe.

It was announced recently that Lee is actually returning to play himself on film once again, having joined the cast of filmmaker Kevin Smith's "Mallrats 2." He wanted it known that he has a big role in this movie, not just a cameo.

Thinking about all the films he has appeared in, Lee chuckled and told the crowd, "Almost every day, I get invited to do a cameo in some movie or another that has nothing to do with Marvel. They just call me up, 'Hey, we're doing a movie. Do you want to do a cameo?' It's kind of funny -- I've become known as a cameo specialist."

He joked that his cameos are the real reason Marvel movies make so much money. "When people don't see my cameo in a movie, they buy another ticket to see the film again so they can find me."

The next person to the microphone asked Lee if he had ever heard a theory that some fans have put forth online, positing that all of Lee's cameos across the Marvel movies are actually the same character -- Uatu the Watcher. Upon hearing this, Lee burst into laughter. "I haven't heard that, but it's a good idea!"

The panel then drew to a close with one final question: Of all his many cameos, which one was his favorite? Lee paused, and then smiled wide. "My favorite is one I can't tell you about, but I'll give you a hint -- don't miss the new Avengers movie!"

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