Stan Lee at the Calgary Expo 2016 talking about his life and work, writing Marvel comicbook stories © J. Ashley Nixon
Matinee at the Stampede Corral
Stan Lee has been coming to Cowtown for years to be part of the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (Calgary Expo), an annual celebration of comicbook, film and video game characters and productions. Maybe, just maybe, this was his last appearance? One that was greatly appreciated by the thousands of fans who streamed into the cool, old hockey barn, the Corral Arena, from their hot afternoon strolling around or cosplaying at the Stampede Showgrounds.
The matinee talkshow had the writer up on stage in front of a big screen showing several of the offspring he co-created for Marvel. His Calgary Expo host was Dan O’Brien, humorist and writer/songwriter for Cracked.com. He only had to ask a few questions before the audience got right in there and queued up for a place behind the microphone. Stan Lee has an impressive legacy including Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk and X-Men. The Marvel Universe has already outnumbered the Harry Potter Series as the biggest film franchise ever. With the appearance of Captain America: Civil War in Theatres (cinemas if you are across the pond) this weekend, that filmic dominance is sure to continue.
Stan Lee responded to questions from the audience in a charming, funny and down to earth manner. He recounted the story around how he co-created Spider-Man. Stan saw a fly crawling up the wall. He thought that that would be a cool idea. “I tell a lie,” he said. “At that time, I said that would be a groovy idea.” He went on: “What should I call it? Fly Man? Or Ant Man….that came later!” Stan Lee continued with the tale of how Marvel originally rejected the Spider-Man character because of arachnophobia. “They said: people are scared of spiders, they don’t like them,” he recalled. But the writer prevailed. He tucked the character into the back of an edition of Amazing Fantasy…and the publisher loved it.
Stan Lee spins the story-web around Spider-Man in some more detail in a short interview with Sarah Montague for BBC Radio 4. It’s well worth a listen, not only for the evolution of these arthropodic adventures but also a couple of other things. One was the suggestion of surprise from the writer when it was mentioned that Ice Man had recently been turned into a gay character. The second was the his acknowledgement that “the thing I am most proud of is making comics for literary enjoyment.” Comics are not only for kids.
Back to Stan Lee’s panel at the Calgary Expo, he was asked if he had a favourite movie that he himself has been in (he has played lots of cameo roles): “All of them” was his answer. “It’s hard to pick favourites.”
One of his well know phrases was part of the next question. “Can I ask you to say Excelsior?” Stan Lee chuckled. “Do you know what I get paid for saying that word?” And then he said it, loudly and with conviction. Stretched out like Peter Parker’s suit: “Ex-cel-si-or!” The audience loved it.
Advice on writing
A string of questions came from the floor about Stan Lees favourite characters, including some of the villains, which were the hardest to write about. “All all are easy for a good writer like me!” he said. “Nothing was harder or easier. You have to know the characters as living people, as if they were living with you.” He explained how he is connected to all of his characters. “I am as handsome and charming as Tony Stark. As brave as Captain America. And as smart as Doctor Strange.” He told of how he likes to write about villains including Doctor Doom. Villains “were the best to write about.”
One fan went to the microphone and asked for advice on how to finish off writing his own first comicbook. “You have to get rid of those things that get in the way.” Stan Lee replied. “You have to tell those other elements: “Stay away from me!” You have to be tough to be a writer.”
Stan Lee offered up his own reflection of how writing for yourself is so important: “How can you write something that people will like?” he asked of himself. “Don’t write for other people,” he retorted. “You don’t know what other people want. You only know what you like. A writer who writes for other people is not as good as someone who writes for themselves.”
One more question from the floor was about how he has survived creative burnout. ”I’ve never been creatively burned out,” he said, “but there aren’t enough hours in the day to write about all the things I want to write about.”
A passion for spelling
Stan Lee talked passionately of his English spelling mission. “You know? I am on a crusade (about) comicbook, written as if it’s two words. You can’t do that. It makes it sound just like a funny book. You have to use one word: comicbook!” He has a point there but he has a bit of a fight on from auto spell-check that pushes you in the direction of two words whenever you try and write it out as one. I am using one word here, comicbook in tribute to the great comic creator. Maybe Canadian Press Stylebook should take up the challenge?
Speaking of crusades Stan Lee has another picky thing. It’s about the spelling of the name of his big arachnidian character. You have to spell it like it was created: Spider-Man. That’s with a capital S and M and a hyphen. Stands out against some of the other super heroes like Superman!
The search for money clearly featured in Stan Lee’s early life. When asked what inspired him to create Marvel he said “Greed!” It was a job and he had to pay the rent. “I had to create things. It was self-preservation.” When asked what made him want to start writing comics he repeated: “Same answer, greed! I wanted to be a writer and ended up in the Comic Department writing comics.”
Happening now and up next
Beyond the latest Marvel film release this weekend (for which he gets no royalties), Stan Lee said he is currently working on “latino superheroes and Indian and black superheroes.” Complimented that he is doing an amazing job at the age of 93, he was asked how he has made it so far, so well? “Do you know a word called luck? I don’t know why. I’m glad it worked out this way for me.” That was a great segue to promote Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, starring James Nesbitt as Detective Inspector Harry Clayton. The production is currently in its second series on Sky TV in Europe. Heres a link to a trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVLxIm8oMl8