Interview: Stan Lee, Godfather of Marvel Comics

The great Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame died yesterday, November 12, 2019, at the age of 95.  I refer to him as “The Godfather” because over the past six decades, his involvement with the venerable comic book house found him wearing many hats. Lee was a writer and editor in his earliest days with the company, becoming its editor-in-chief andthrough the early Seventies, and then, as he led Marvel’s expansion from a publishing house to a growing multimedia corporation, he was its executive publisher and chairman.

I had a chance to speak with The Godfather back in the summer of 2008, when the Marvel’s cinematic universe was ruled by Spider-Man and the X-Men and Lee himself was promoting The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard, the feature version of the first arc of the animated TV series The Spectacular Spider-Man, which ran for two seasons. My conversation with Stan the Man isn’t particularly vital in terms of the series, a small morsel of the Marvel Comics Universe pie, but it does capture the vitality, humor and positive spirit of the legendary co-creator of Spidey, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man,  X-Men, Black Panther, Ant-Man, The Hulk, Doctor Strange and Daredevil.

Excelsior!

Laurence Lerman: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!

Stan Lee: Pretty damned nice of me, isn’t it?

LL: Oh yes…and we’ve heard you can be a real son-of-a-bitch!

Lee: (laughs) Those are just stories…

LL: Let’s talk about The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard, on which you’re credited as executive producer.

Lee: It’s great, isn’t it? I watched it from beginning to end and the story flowed so beautiful, and the animation was great. And there are a bunch of great villains in there, too.

LL: Forty years ago, could you have guessed that Spidey would be the biggest break-out star of those you created in the Marvel Universe?

Lee: I think I would have. He’s always been the most popular of the Marvel heroes as far back as I can remember. Readers liked that he was a teenager and that he wasn’t doing that well in his civilian life, which is something that people can relate to. And the costume that Steve Ditko designed for him was a masterpiece. It’s a very compelling costume—not a guy wearing a cape. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was a New Yorker.

LL: Would you like to see Spidey grow out of his 20s and continue to fight crime as a middle-aged or even elderly superhero?

Lee: I don’t think we’ll ever make him too old. We have aged him—from a teenager to high school to grad school, and then we got him married. But with every comic book character, different writers take the script over at different time, just like in the movies. Every new writer likes to put his imprimatur on the character, so there’ll always be changes of some sort.

LL: At the 2007 Comic-Con, Hasbro introduced a new Stan Lee action figure. Do you have any sales numbers?

Lee: I’m not sure how it’s doing. I’ve got on one my shelf, just to knock people’s eyes out. I’m pretty sure two or maybe even three of them have been sold to members of my family.

LL: You pop up regularly in all the Marvel superhero film adaptations. Is it as much fun as it looks?

Lee: I love doing them. I almost feel guilty—I come on the set to do one line, and I have my own little trailer and everybody is so nice and they’re always asking me for autographs and pictures. It might be more than I deserve, but I must admit I enjoy it.

LL: Comic books, movies, TV, animation, consumer products…did you ever imagine that the Marvel stable of superheroes would have such a global impact in so many different markets?

Lee: The thought never occurred to me. I just hoped that the books would sell and that we could keep our jobs and make a living. But I did begin to see how popular those characters were in the late Sixties and early Seventies through the fan mail. As the circulation grew, I sensed that their popularity could move beyond the books. We couldn’t really promote them until years later when Marvel got its present management, people who were able to realize that these characters had such potential.

LL: Like all great things, it took time and the right people.

Lee: The only thing that’s wonderful about the fact that it happened now is that if these movies had been produced at a much earlier time, we couldn’t have the special effects that we have now, so they might now have worked as well. Just as long as the studios don’t become so dependent on the special effects that they lose the human qualities. Marvel seems to be good at striking the right balance.

LL: Marvel certainly is. Okay, I’m looking pretty good here, Mr. Lee, so I was hoping that as one New Yorker to another, you could give me your signature sign-off, so I can tell my friends I heard it from the man, himself.

Lee: Are you ready?

LL: I am.

Lee: Excelsior!

 

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.