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Stan Lee

Talk to America

VOA Online Discussion: Comic Book Heroes
Date: 15 August 07
Guest: Stan Lee, Comic Book Legend 
Moderator: Erin Brummett

Photo Courtesy of Media Dynamics Inc.

Our 15 August 07 chat featured the man who co-created comic hero characters Spider Man and Hulk, among others. He helped revolutionize the comic book industry, leading the expansion of Marvel Comics. Stan is CEO of POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment, which develops film, television and video game properties.

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Erin:
Welcome to T2A web chat for August 15th as we meet Stan Lee, the man who co-created comic hero characters Spider Man and Hulk, among others. He helped revolutionize the comic book industry, leading the expansion of Marvel Comics. Stan is CEO of POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment, which develops film, television and video game properties.

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Marcien, Cameroon (email): At the time you co-created comic heroes, was your intention to challenge the world of cartoons dominated by Walt Disney? Do you consider yourself an entertainment icon?

Stan: When I was originally doing these books many years ago, I was the biggest fan in the world of Walt Disney and his work, Snow White and Bambi and Fantasia and all the wonderful cartoons he produced. I never thought we were challenging Walt Disney. I would have given nearly everything in the world to be as good as Walt Disney. We were a very small company at that time. On the second question, I'm very flattered but that's not for me to say, it's more for the readers to judge and form their own opinion.

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T2A_Amazing_SM_546_colHio, Philippines (email): What advice do you have for young people who would like to follow in your footsteps? My six-year-old son is a Spiderman fanatic. He was disappointed when the theaters here did not allow him to enter and watch the movie Spiderman 3.

Stan: We've always tried to write things good for any change, exciting enough for young people and still interesting enough for older people. The best advice as a writer that I have is to read as much as you can, not just comic books but everything. Read current literature, the classics, plays, comic books, movie scripts, any kind of book you can lay your hands on. the more you can read and recognize different writing styles, the more your taste becomes keen enough to tell good from bad writing, the better chance you'll have of becoming a better writer yourself.

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Erin: What is on your nightstand right now?

Stan: I have a small radio and before I go to sleep I put it on to the station with the news and set the timer for about a half hour and I listen to the news for a half hour and then the radio automatically shuts off and I go to sleep. If you were expecting me to say the name of a book...many years ago I read before sleep but frankly I am so tired now after so much writing during the day that the minute I hit the pillow, I'm ready to fall asleep.

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Sanjeev, Canada (email): What made Spiderman come into your thoughts as you started to create him?

Stan: I was trying to create a new super hero and I had already done a lot of super heroes, one of them The Hulk, the strongest person in the world, the Human Torch. So I was trying to think what new power can I come up with because it's so important to think about what makes them super.  While I was thinking, I saw a fly crawling on the wall and I thought it would be interesting to have a hero who could crawl on the wall like an insect. Fly, no. Mosquito? No. Then I thought of spider and that seemed dramatic and frightening and I called him Spiderman and that's how it happened.

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T2A_First_Spider-Man_Appearance_150Niraj, Canada (email): Where do you get the inspiration for all the characters, especially Spiderman?

Stan: I don't know that you could call it inspiration. It's a lot of thinking that goes into it. I'm not the kind of person walking down the street and all of the sudden and idea hits me and I think, ooh, an inspiration! When I have something to write I sit down...years ago I used a typewriter, now I turn on the computer and think and if I'm lucky I have an idea and if not, I'll try it again tomorrow.

 

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Erin: Do you see yourself as a purveyor of ideas, then?

Stan: I really see myself as a writer. I hope that the things I write have enough ideas in the stories that will make people think and will interest people and make them come back and want to ready more. I'm just an average catchpenny type of writer. I think every writer is a purveyor of ideas because when you write on paper and it's fiction it has to be based on an idea, so you could say that about all writers.

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Anil, India (email): Comic characters Baital and Tenaliram are very big in India. Do you have plans to incorporate anything from Indian culture into your comic books or films?

Stan: Yes as a matter of fact I do. I'll meet next week with someone from Virgin Comics in India. There is a lot of Indian culture that's very interesting that I would like to explore and to write about.

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A C Rathinavel, India (email): While creating Spiderman and Incredible Hulk, did you ever suspect they would become so famous with children all over the world?

Stan: No, not at the time I was writing them. Frankly when I was writing them I was just hoping that people would buy the comic books so that I could keep my job and be able to pay the rent each month. I never expected that one day I would be doing interviews with the Voice of America and talking with people all over the world this. I'm very impressed with the whole thing.

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Erlinda, Germany (email): I like the Spider Man.   I even watch the films.  Will there be more about him in the future?

Stan: Oh yes, as long as people keep buying the comic books and as long as people keep going to the movies, you can bet that there will be more about Spiderman.

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Ashok, India (email): Why can Spiderman not marry his love and also remain a super hero?

Stan: Well, as a matter of fact he can and the strange thing is in the comic books and in the newspaper strip, which I write, he IS married. He's been married for YEARS. It's only in the movies that they have not married him yet. Speaking of married heroes, the first of the Marvel superheroes I did, the Fantastic Four, I married the two leading characters, Mr. Fantastic and Sue Storm. So there's really no reason why a hero could not get married.

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T2A_ASM042CVRLazarus (email): How long did it take to develop Spiderman?

Stan: I wrote the story that took about a day. Then I called an artist and he drew it and that took two weeks, and then we sent it to the printer and about a month or so later the book was printed, so it took about three months before the books were on sale.

 

 

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Bill, China (email): I am a student from China. I like Mr. Lee's comic so much. Is there a Chinese version of Spiderman available in our country?

Stan: I don't believe that there is. I wish that there were. It's funny. I went to China a few years ago and spent time in Beijing and a lot of people there were very familiar with Spiderman but it likely was because they had seen the movie because I don't think Spiderman comics are made or are available in China.

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Wondwessen, Ethiopia (email): What is the impact of action heroes like Spiderman on our society and implications for the future?

Stan: I hope that the impact of action heroes like Spiderman is to make young people who read the books decide that they too would like to do heroic and good things and help other people the way the super heroes do and the implications for the future. I would hope that if enough people read these books, they will take the lessons from the book, lessons being we should love thy neighbor and help people as much as we can and it's better to be good than evil. If we took those things to heart the implications for the future would be very good.

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Erin: Are these comic stories YOUR good works or do they also inspire you yourself to do good works in your community?

Stan: The thing that inspires me the most is the letters that I receive from fans and when I realize how important these stories are to the fans, I realize how careful all of us who write these stories have to be, that we make them the kind of stories that will present the right images to the readers and that will in some way benefit the readers and help make them better people.

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Chris, CA (email): What is your favorite comic book story of all time?

Stan: That's hard to say. Actually (laughing) it's rather odd, I think I'm my own favorite fan. The story is one I wrote a long time ago, a Silver Surfer story called Parable, illustrated by a great French artist. I was really proud of that story we did six or seven years ago.

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Kenn (email): You are credited as the sole creator and even the artist of the most famous Marvel characters/licensing properties. This is more the fault of the media than yours, but your notoriously bad memory and the controversial “Marvel method” of co-creation also help keep the spotlight away from the person who clearly contributed the most to these creations: Jack Kirby. What can be done to get Kirby more credit and visibility in the major media?

Stan: I think that Kirby has gotten as much credit as anybody could get. I've always mentioned that he was the artist I worked with the most. He was brilliant and was largely responsible for the success of the scripts that we did. As far as who is the creator, on my work with Kirby, I was the one who created the character and idea and I was the one who hired Jack to do it. I have always considered this work collaboration. I felt we co-created them. As far as who contributed the most, that's for the readers to decide.

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Stan: Back to previous question, I've never claimed that I was THE artist behind these characters.

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Kenn (email): Also, do you think that the page rate he received for his art was fair compensation in light of how much money these characters/licensing properties generate nowadays with the megabuck Hollywood movies?

Stan: At the time that Jack was drawing these strips and I was writing them -- this also applies to the illustrator of the Spiderman book and all the other artists we worked and the writers working there. I think we received fair payment for what we did in those days because we were not doing motion pictures or television shows, they were just comic books and I always thought it was fair.

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Erin: Talk about the challenges and complications, or at least what you can, of copyrighting in this industry.

Stan: It's a very simple thing. The publisher of the comic books used to copyright every one of the stories so that meant that the publisher owned all of the characters and all of the stories. Today I no longer do comic books, I don't create characters for comic books any longer, I haven't done that for many years. I'm now working on movies and television shows, under my own company. I don't know what the relationship is today, if an artist or writer creates a new character for a comic book company. But years ago, it was very simple. We go paid pre page by the page and the publisher owned the characters.

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Jonathan (email): Where's all the news from POW? Investors and fans alike are anxiously waiting to hear what POW has been up to, anything big in the works right now?

Stan: POW stands for Purveyors of Wonder. We're doing movies, television shows, DVDs, video games, everything in entertainment. We presently have two movies in development with the Disney company which makes me happy because I've always been such a fan of Disney. We have a television series syndicated all over the world, called Who Wants to Be a Super Hero, a so-called reality show. We have a cartoon featuring Ringo Starr, one of the Beatles. There's a lot I cannot discuss right now, but I keep very busy working on these things and I'm enjoying it tremendously. One of the latest things is T 7 -- this will be a very big thing in the next few months.

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Erin: Any plans to retire?

Stan: No, that's a word that isn't even in my vocabulary. I'm really enjoying what I'm doing too much. Most people say I can't wait to retire so I can do all the things I want to do, but I'm doing all the things I want to do, I wouldn't know what to do if I retired.

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Brad (NY): What is T 7?

Stan: This is one of the biggest secrets in entertainment but you'll find out in a few months.

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William: In a sense you're a storyteller, to a great many kids and older people. You entertain people with stories, and sometimes wake them up to new ideas. How is that role for you?

Stan: It's a very enjoyable role for me because I love telling stories and interacting with fans. For example, I love doing interviews like this because it's a chance to talk to the fans even though I'm not in the same actual room with them. I love communicating with people and one of the best ways to do that is by writing the stories that people all over read.

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Mark: How do you feel about online distribution and e-books? Do you think it is better or worse than print as a means for graphic media to be distributed?

Stan: I myself don't think that anything is better than print. But there is a place for everything. There are times when e-books could be useful. There's room for every type of communication. I remember when television first became popular and people thought that would be the end of book publishing, but books are bigger than ever. I think there's room for books, for television, for DVDs, for entertainment on the Internet, for e-books and the world is big enough to accommodate all of them. As far as which is better or worse, that's for the individual person to decide.

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Bradley, New York (email): Four years ago I remember you were working on “Foreverman”. With such a great name, I was wondering what was going on with the development of the character?

Stan: Believe it or not, we got so busy with other things we put Foreverman on the back burner, but I still have the story and title and sooner or later I'll get back to it again.

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Erin: How has the internet impacted comics?

Stan: I think that the internet will actually be good for comics because there are more and more websites that are devoted to comics. You can't go into the internet and start browsing through the websites without running into one after the other without running into comics. Each one of those websites get a lot of hits with lots of people logging onto them and this is good for comics because it gives fans to meet on some common ground and it keeps the interest in comics percolating all the time.

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Brad (NY): I think Brad Pitt would make a great Foreverman? Whadda ya think?

Stan: My favorite villain is called Dr. Doom. The reason I like him is because he is the king of his own country, Latveria. It sounds like such a real country. The main reason I like Dr. Doom is because inasmuch as he is a king, he could come to the United States and he could do almost anything and we could not arrest him because he has diplomatic immunity. Also he wants to rule the world and if you think about it, wanting to rule the world is not a crime.

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Erin: Who is your favorite comic book character you did not create and why?

Stan: Wolverine, the character from the X Men, because he's the type of character I would have created if I had done so.

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Erin: Do you feel like any of your characters possess any of your personal qualities?

Stan: All of them do. Whenever I write a character, I become that character and try to imagine I am that character and then I try to imagine what I say if I were the character? In a way I have to become all of them while I'm writing about them so I don't whether it's more accurate to say I am them or they are me but either way we are very much alike.

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Erin: If you were to do it all over again, would you change anything – if so, what and why?

Stan: No I really can't think of anything I'd change. I enjoy everything I've done and all the people I've worked with. No I don't think I would want to change a single thing.

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Erin: What is the next generation of comics going to look like?

Stan: Your guess is as good as mine. They are going to become more and more like illustrated books. One problem with selling comic books, especially here in America, is there are not enough places where you can sell comics, so it's important to get them into book stores that sell real books so that way to do that is to make comics that look like real books. These are graphic novels. I think that might be the wave of the future, at least here in America. I don't know if the same thing holds true in other countries.

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Johnathan: How about you being a superhero?

Stan: You mean I'm not?

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Erin: The industry seems to be getting away from using the term comic books – why?

Stan: The graphic novel separates the more expensive, larger version from the comic book. Actually one thing that always bothered me, here in the United States, comic book is written as two words...to me that seems to me to be humorous, a comic book. I think it should be one word, comicbook that refers to that specific publication. I think I'm a lone voice on that issue.

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Erin: Tell us about the typical reader of your comics and has this changed over the years?

Stan: the typical readers of comics have changed over the decades. When we started around 1940, comics were read by very very young children. I used to get fan mail written in crayon. After a while when we started Marvel Comics in the early 1960's I tried to upgrade the comics and use a better vocabulary and concentrate on the dialogue and make the stories more meaningful. Then letters came in pencil, then ink, then typed, then in computer. Over the years our readership has grown older. Today there are as many adults, maybe more adults than younger people reading comics. Now there are many writers who write screenplays and television shows, who are novelists who also are writing comics because they enjoy comics and the comics are much more respected than they were years ago.

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Erin: Your work is so successful but no doubt it included failures – discuss those…

Stan: This is the hardest question. I really can't think of any failures. Most all of the scripts I've done have done very well. We were very lucky. I was lucky enough to work with some of the finest artists you could find anywhere and they made the characters look so good with their artwork and they all sold so well, I cannot think of any particular failures.

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Donald Ames: I saw on your website that Kelly Preston is going to be Supermom? Is this true? Thanks

Stan: We started working on that movie three years ago and a lot of things came up and we put it aside and we may get back to it, but right now we're not working on it.

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William! (NV): Has there been a cartoon or live-action adaptation of your work you've especially liked, or had a soft spot for?

Stan: I've absolutely loved the Spiderman movies and I think the X Men movies are also excellent. Those are my absolute favorites. I also like the Fantastic Four. I guess I've liked almost all of them.

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Martin, Rhode Island: how do you maintain such an active lifestyle?  Most people your age are sleeping.

Stan: (laughing out loud) That's very funny! The reason is because I love what I do. If you love your work you don't feel as though you're working, you feel as though you're playing. A lot of people my age play golf. Well I love to do what I'm doing so I can't wait to get to the office and start talking about stories and movies and television shows. If you are doing what you enjoy, that keeps your energy level up.

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Bradley: If you could have dinner with 3 people who would they be?

Stan: Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Ray Bradbury.

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Mark: Graphic novels are generally done for popular series, and can cover many issues worth of material. They also represent a bigger investment by the publisher and authors than a single comic book. Do you think that a move to emphasize graphic novels will stifle creativity in the industry? What happens to singles and more experimental series?

Stan: There's no reason why a graphic novel could not be experimental. Many of them are. That will not stifle creativity. The form does not matter, as long as stories are published. There will always be an outlet for creativity.

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Erin: That’s it for today’s T2A web chat. Thanks for joining us. Our thanks to Stan. You can learn more about him from the link on our webpage and you can find the transcript of today’s chat. Just go to voanews.com and click on the T2A link. Remember to tell us if you had any difficulty with our live chat. It’s important to hear from you. Join us next Wednesday, August 22nd, when we meet Mary Matalin, publisher and prominent Republican commentator. She formerly served as assistant to President George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mary has made frequent television appearances as a political commentator, and has written for various periodicals including Newsweek and The Los Angeles Times.  Matalin also co-authored the best-selling political campaign book “All’s Fair: Love, War and Running for President” with her husband, James Carville, a prominent Democratic strategist.

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