Stan Lee, Purveyor of Wonder

Mon, March 25th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Keith Giles, Staff Writer

[Stan Lee]The name Stan Lee is synonymous with comic books. As Disney is to animation and Gates is to computers, likewise Stan Lee is to comics. More than a living legend, Stan Lee is the first true celebrity of the comic book world. If you're reading this, you're very likely aware he's had a hand in creating some of the greatest icons in comic history such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and the list goes on.

This year, one of Stan Lee's most popular icons, Spider-Man, a character he co-created with Steve Ditko, hits the silver screen and even though Stan's about to turn Eighty years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. "You know, people ask me why I don't retire. But, I figure, the reason most people retire is so you can quit working and start doing all the things you really want to do. But I'm doing all the things I want to do now, so why stop?"

Lee has nearly completed all of the scripts for his "Just Imagine" series of titles over at DC Comics, re-imagining all of the iconic characters of Marvel's distinguished competition that he didn't create in a whole new light. Now that this challenge is complete, Lee has only one real plan, to wait. "You know, I never really make any plans. I hadn't really planned ['Just Imagine'] either. They just asked me if I'd do it and it sounded like fun. I don't have any comics to write at the moment. But I never know what will come my way later."

(L-R) John Cassaday, Michael Uslan, Stan Lee and Mike Carlin at Comic-Con: International in San Diego, 2001.
Lee's return to comic book scripting was quite a surprise to many comic book fans. Even though there were more than a few years between his early comics work and his return on the "Just Imagine" series, Lee found that it wasn't that difficult to get back in the saddle again. "Well, things didn't change that much for me. Years ago, when I was doing the most comics, when I was starting Marvel, I would give the artist a synopsis and then he would illustrate the pages and then I would add in the dialog captions later. I actually did the same thing with the DC books and the Spider-Man movie adaptation. For me the only difference has been that, fifty years ago when I was writing comics, I was also the editor and the art director so I was working very close with the artist. In fact, I selected the artists, and I would tell the artists how I wanted it to go. Now, I'm simply the writer. Someone else is doing all the other stuff."

This January legendary comic artist John Buscema passed away. Ironically, the last comic he worked on was the "Just Imagine Superman" comic with Lee. The experience was something that Lee remembers fondly. "It's always been wonderful working with John. In fact, I've been the luckiest guy in the world because I've worked with some of the best artists who were also terrific people and John was one of those kinds of people."

With the "Just Imagine" series soon to wrap up over at DC in a few months, one wonders if DC and Lee have discussed doing another follow-up series of titles in the future. "No, we haven't and I'm kind of hoping we don't (laughs). I've still got two more to write, 'Sandman' and 'Crisis,' and I've already done ten of them. It's been a lot of work. It wouldn't have been hard but I've had to sandwich it in between all my other writing."

What Lee has to pen next is the movie adaptation of the film based on his most widely known creation, "Spider-Man," for Marvel Comics. While the film does take a few liberties with his characters, Lee is mostly thrilled with what Hollywood has done. "They were pretty faithful. When you make a film you have to make some changes to make it cinematically suitable. By and large, the Spider-Man you're going to see on the screen is pretty much the same Spider-Man I had written years ago."

[Just Image Stan Lee creating Superman]Still, the thing that excites Lee the most about the new film? "Well, the fact that if you look quick you can see my face!"

Lee's walk-on part for the film was a personal thrill, even though the original plan was for more than a simple cameo. "I had a bigger scene where I actually said a line, but the film ran too long and that part got cut. Maybe I didn't say it as well as they'd have liked. They call me 'One Take Lee.'"

Lee's schedule is a busy one. When he's not on Hollywood film sets, he's either busy writing scripts or he's making a Convention appearance. "It's always great to be seen. But, the thing about Conventions is that anytime I spend there is time I could be spending writing."

Writing, when all is said and done, is one of Lee's greatest passions. "Mostly I'm working on movies and television projects. I've made what they call a 'First Look Deal' at MGM. That means whatever I write they get the first chance to see if they want to do something with it before anyone else. So, I have an office up at MGM and I'm developing a few movies and T.V. shows."

Lee has made a smooth transition between printed comics and the world of television and film. But, when pressed to choose a favorite medium of expression, Lee throws up his hands. "To tell you the truth, I enjoy any kind of creative work. But, I guess I'm enjoying this because it's different. I've done comics for, what is it, forty or fifty years, and also, between you and me and the world, movies and television are just a bigger field than comics. So, it's just a little bit of an advancement. But, I still love comics. Any opportunity to write a comic, I'd be glad to do it."

At the moment, the most exciting thing Lee has under wraps is a project with a very famous Playboy bunny and starlet. "Well, we're working on an animated feature. It stars Pamela Anderson and we're photographing her for what they call 'motion capture' so that when we animate her figure it will really be her, if you know what I mean. And I'm working on a movie, but you know I can't really tell you anything because the studios will want to make the public announcements and they would be angry if I told you anything."

Lee has long since left the building over at Marvel Comics, opting instead to let younger, faster talent run the ship and guide the stories based on the characters he imagined years ago. But, he does keep his eye on them and he likes what he sees. "I think there are good people at the top. Bill Jemas is doing a great job. I think Joe Quesada is doing a terrific job. He's managed to bring in some of the best artists and writers into the fold and that's what it takes to turn out good books. I think everything looks very rosy at Marvel right now."

A few months ago, Lee's own business venture, StanLee.Net, experienced a complete scandal and bankruptcy when Lee's partner in the business betrayed him, taking much of the companies financial holdings and fleeing the country. "The company is still working its way through bankruptcy. My ex-partner is still in jail in Brazil. It was probably, professionally, the worst thing that ever happened to me. Not even professionally, but socially. I had thought this guy was a very good friend. It was a terrible, terrible thing to happen."

Not one to lay down and die, Lee has now launched a new entertainment enterprise to channel his creative energies into. "It's called 'POW! Entertainment' and I'm sure you've deduced by now that this stands for 'Purveyor's Of Wonder!' (Laughs) Now, what's funny is, the company I used to have, Stan Lee Media, we had over a hundred and fifty people. With 'POW!' we have four people and I hope we're not a little over-staffed. We're lean and mean."

'Nuff said.

 
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