Stan Lee Q&A: 'As long as Marvel is around, I will always be around'
Look back at the life and career of comic book legend Stan Lee. USA TODAY
Editor's note: This story by Register reporter Courtney Crowder was first published in May 2017. Lee died Monday at the age of 95.
Stan Lee really wanted to come to Iowa.
He had a couple appearances and appointments on the books for this weekend, but when he got a call from Wizard World to come to Des Moines, he rescheduled them all.
“It’s always worth postponing whatever I have going on in order to see the fans,” Lee said in an exclusive interview with the Register this week.
And it seems the people of Iowa are pretty darn excited Lee chose the capital city for his return to the convention circuit after a few years away from Wizard World.
The Iowa Cosplay group plans to present the 94-year-old comic kingpin a handmade gift. A man is flying to Des Moines from California just to meet Lee. And no doubt countless comic fans across the city are reworking schedules, finding baby sitters and dusting off their Marvel cosplays for a chance to shake the hand of the one and only Stan Lee.
“It’s a great feeling to know people still care about me and my work, frankly,” Lee said. “It’s exciting and I like the fact that at my age I can still mingle with these people and they still relate to me and I relate to them. It’s very satisfactory.”
Ahead of his appearance Friday and Saturday at Wizard World, the Register called Lee to chat about Iowa, why comics are still relevant and what he does when he gets writer’s block. Check out our edited conversation below.
Do you have any connections to Iowa? Have you been here before?
I must have been. I have been so many places that I can’t remember them all, but I am sure I wouldn’t have not been to Iowa.
The one character of yours that I know is from Iowa is master archer Hawkeye. Any particular reason you chose to make him from Iowa?
It seemed to me that people in Iowa have good eyesight. (Laughs.) No, it was just we needed some place for him to be from and Iowa came to mind.
Why are almost all of the comic book characters you wrote from cities, not rural or Midwestern areas?
Mostly because we want the reader to associate with it and if you pick a city the reader hasn’t heard of, it won’t mean as much. That’s why we pick big metropolises, like Des Moines, for example.
Many of your characters reflected and responded to the time they were in. Do you think comics are continuing to do that?
Absolutely. I think anything you write for the public should have some essence of what is going on in the world at the time. You can’t make these comic strip characters live in their own universe and not be affected by what’s happening in reality. I was always thinking about how I would connect characters to the time in which they were published. Well, actually, it wasn't even something that I thought about separately, really. It just came to me naturally. You cannot not think about it if you are telling stories correctly.
What was your process for thinking of new characters?
I would just sit down and think and hope I came up with something. There is no trick to it. Thinking of things is the easiest thing you can do. It’s a lot easier than working, frankly.
I used to do a new story a week. Now I talk story to people and edit stories. Occasionally I come up with a new idea and I will probably ask someone else to write it because I don’t have the time.
What did you do when you got writer’s block?
I’ve never had writer’s block. The only problem I ever ran into is not having enough time to write. I was also the editor at the company and I was editing all the scripts, so in order to write a new one, I had to find the time to do that and that was my biggest problem.
What character has not been featured in the films or the TV shows that you would want to see featured?
I think I would like to see more of the Silver Surfer and I’d like to see more of The Fantastic Four. I like the Silver Surfer for all the philosophizing he does and I like The Fantastic Four because I like the byplay among all the characters.
Do you have a favorite cameo in all of the films that you have done?
Sure. The one in “Age of Ultron,” the second “Avengers” movie. What happened there was Thor was having a drink of some heavy brew from Asgard and I said I would like a taste of it and he said, “Oh, no, it’s too strong for a human,” and I said, “Don’t be silly, I can drink it,” so he gave me a sip. In the next scene, they are carrying me out.
And the reason that’s my favorite cameo was it was two scenes. All the others were only one scene, but here I had two scenes. I was practically the star of the movie.
What happens when you go on set?
All the stars like me because I don’t threaten them. I don’t play any leading parts where I might take away their role. I am no competition for them, so I am very popular.
Why do you think comic books and comic characters went from a niche interest to arguably the most dominate purveyor of pop culture?
Anything that gives people pleasure is important and I think reading these stories pleases people and the fact that they are done in comic strip or comic book form means you get the story and you get the drawings. It is almost like watching a movie that doesn’t move. The characters don’t move, but aside from that you are watching a little miniature movie and as long as we keep the stories interesting and surprising and exciting I think people will love them.
Who was the most outlandish person who told you he or she was a fan of your work?
The guys of Kiss said they were big fans. Mostly pop stars and rock stars have been the most outlandish.
Are you ever going to stop doing conventions?
Retire is a dirty word.
So you are not going to retire soon, I take it?
No. And you know why?
Greed! No, but when people retire the first thing they do is travel the world and go play golf. I travel the world to go see the fans and I figure somebody would be torturing me if they said I had to be on a golf course for four hours hitting a little ball from hole to hole.
Why would I retire from this? I wrote a couple of stories that came from my heart and I am still talking about them. As long as Marvel is around, I will always be around.