Last weekend, Stan Lee returned to New York City, the place where he created some of his most memorable comic book characters, to attend the 2nd Annual New York Comic Con. He was there for two reasons: to promote his new line of animated DVDs through his company POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment and to look for potential contestants for the second season of his SCI FI Channel reality show "Who Wants to be a Superhero?"
In this brief interview with Superhero Hype!, it was obvious that "The Man" hasn't lost a step as he continues to make cameo appearances in movies based on his creations–he gave us a few tidbits on what to expect from his upcoming cameos in Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer–as well as creating characters like Mosaic and The Condor for a series of DVD live-action and animated films. (Before the interview, I'd been talking with a colleague and noted how much of everything going on in comic books and movies today could be attributed back to Lee in some way or form, something which is even more obvious when in a place like Comic Con.)
Superhero Hype!: Welcome back to New York. Is this your first convention here in some time?
Stan Lee: The last convention I was here was when I did a cameo for the "Spider-Man" movie some months ago and before that, it was a long time ago, I don't get a chance to get here often, so I'm very pleased to be here now.
SHH!: And you have two movies of your own that you're presenting, "Mosaic" and "Condor." What's your involvement with those and how closely are you associated with them? You create the characters?
Lee: You said it perfectly. My involvement is creating the characters. I come up with the basic concept for the characters and the story and then I find a script writer to write it, and I sort of collaborate in the sense that after he writes it, I go over it, we edit it together and then we go ahead and produce it. So the first one we have is called "Mosaic," a female with superpowers. She's a teenage actress but she gets involved in having saved the world, which puts off her acting career for a little while. The other one is a Hispanic hero called The Condor, who kind of resents that his parents speak with a Spanish accent and he has these personal problems, but by the end of the story, after he too has saved the world with his superpower, he decides rather than "The Condor," he'd rather be called "El Condor" because he has seen the light.
SHH!: I love the logo of "Mosaic" but I'm surprised that we don't actually see her in any of the posters.
Lee: You gotta see it in order to see it.
SHH!: Who did you get to write the scripts for those?
Lee: Scott Lobdell [former "X-Men" writer] wrote "Mosaic" and Marv Wolfman wrote "El Condor." Wolfman had worked with me for years at Marvel and so had Scott Lobdell.
SHH!: So does "Who Wants to be a Superhero?" tie into these animated movies?
Lee: No, that's an entirely separate thing. That's produced by POW! Entertainment in conjunction with Bruce Nash Entertainment. Last year, we had six episodes on SCI FI, and this year we have eight. Next year we'll probably have a dozen and after that, a hundred. We're hoping that every season we'll do more.
SHH!: But every season concludes with a winner?
Lee: That's right, every season we find a winner.
SHH!: Do you look at every single person that auditions?
Lee: No, I don't, but what they're doing all over the country they're having auditions and putting them on tape and at some point, they'll gather all the tapes together and we'll sit in a room with the people from the network and the production company. We'll look at all the tapes and then we'll decide who we want.
SHH!: How is New York stacking up so far? You've had a lot of New York superheroes in your comics, so there must be some winners here.
Lee: There were some very interesting ones in New York, I must tell you.
SHH!: Well, there are certainly a lot of mutants in the subways.
Lee: (laughs) Yeah, right.
SHH!: Are you still interested in writing comics at all?
Lee: I write an occasional comic when they ask me to, but not on a regular basis.
SHH!: With "Who Wants to be a Superhero?" the winner basically gets a comic book based on their character?
Lee: I've written a comic book about the winner of the first episodes, a fella named Feedback, and the book will be finished I guess in a few weeks, it's at the printer now. Dark Horse is publishing it.
SHH!: Is it important to find a character that will be popular enough to sell comics? In other words, what do you look for in a superhero?
Lee: Well, this was a prize. The winner was supposed to get his own comic book, it was something we had to do, but naturally, I hope the comic book will become popular and they'll do more of them.
SHH!: And what happens to the contestant once they become a superhero? Do they have to go around the country making appearances like Miss America?
Lee: He's been doing that. I don't know what he actually has to do, but he has been doing it and seems to be enjoying it.
SHH!: In the last few years, you've become a bit of a movie star, making cameos in Marvel movies like "Spider-Man," "Daredevil," and "X-Men," so did that give you the bug to do more movie stuff?
Lee: The only problem I have is my name isn't yet above the title, but I'm working on it.
SHH!: You probably will have to get into the directing game in order for that to happen.
Lee: No, I'm the one person in the world who has never said "I'd like to direct," because whenever I'm on a movie set and I see the work the director has to do, I don't find the work as difficult, but I think the standing around and having to shoot a scene over again and over again and over, and from a different angle and wait while the lighting is changed. I'm too impatient. I couldn't do it.
SHH!: Some of the best directors know the best people to hire who can do all that stuff, so they can just call "action" and "cut."
Lee: But he still has to be there while the lighting is being changed.
SHH!: Is there any character you've created that you'd like to be see made into a movie that hasn't quite happened yet?
Lee: They're all being made. Every one of them are in the works at Marvel, believe it or not, just about every one.
SHH!: Do you deal with the Arads on a regular basis to keep in touch with what's going on?
Lee: No, I'm not involved in the movies, but they tell me what they're doing so I know which ones they're doing.
SHH!: One of your most beloved cameos was when you showed up as postman Willie Lumpkin in "Fantastic Four."
Lee: Oh, yeah.
SHH!: Are you going to be in the upcoming movie as well?
Lee: Yes, I have even a better cameo in the new one. I'm not Willie Lumpkin, but I can't tell you what it is, but it's very funny and I have a few lines of dialogue. They call me by name, "Stan Lee." You'll see it, and I have a good one in "Spider-Man 3" also where I actually talk to Peter Parker, say a few words to him. I enjoy doing those cameos.
SHH!: I can imagine. I still remember your appearance in "Mallrats" which was quite a long time ago.
Lee: That was a long time ago.
SHH!: Have you had a chance to see the Silver Surfer yet?
Lee: I've seen it in a trailer, and it looks great. And they showed it to me when I was doing my cameo for the movie. He's going to be fantastic.
SHH!: That must be amazing to have a character with such a great visual look as good as it does in motion.
Lee: Yes, yes.
SHH!: Of all the characters you've created over the years, how exciting is it seeing them come to life on the screen in these big movies? What goes through your mind when sitting in the theatre and you first see Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four on screen?
Lee: Well, I'd like to give you a wonderfully clever answer, but all I can say is that it feels great!
SHH!: With these characters you've created so long ago, how personal are they to you? Do you still try to keep in touch with how they're being used in comics or movies?
Lee: No, I have to let them go. Once another writer takes over something you've done, that other writer wants to put his own imprimatur on it, you can't stop him. If I took over James Bond or Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan or whatever, I'd want to make some changes just as a matter of pride. I wouldn't want to feel like I'm copying what the other guy did, and I understand that. So every writer makes his little changes and I've learned to live with it.
SHH!: At this point, what would you consider the pinnacle of your career?
Lee: Being interviewed by you.
SHH!: Well, that's very kind, but more like something you've done in your career that whenever you end up at the Pearly Gates, you can just say one thing and that'll be enough to get you in.
Lee: I guess to the world at large, anybody who cares about it, they'd say "Spider-Man." I don't think about it. It's not something I dwell on so I don't know. I think every day is a new peak, I just love what I'm doing and each thing I do will be very successful and be the next Spider-Man.
SHH!: Thanks for talking to us, Stan.
Lee: Well, that was painless.
Stan Lee photo by Bradley Balfour of TimesSquare.com
Source: Edward Douglas