At 91 years of age, Stan “The Man” Lee is still going strong. The co-creator of the Marvel Universe is responsible for many of the most popular characters in both comics and movie history – including Spider-Man, the Avengers and the X-Men. But he’s not one to settle quietly into retirement. Recently there was the return of Lee’s popular YouTube channel World Of Heroes for a second season, and more of his screen cameos in the next wave of Marvel films. Fortunately, we managed to nab him on one of his rare days off, and put forth questions from you, our beloved readers. So face front, true believers – The Man speaketh!
Were any of your characters based on yourself when you were younger and if not were you ever tempted to create Stan-Man?
Well, I never thought of Stan-Man. But I guess everybody was based on the way I wanted to be. So you might say they were based on me.
What question have you never been asked but wish you had been? And what’s the answer, natch.
I think maybe the most important one is “Can we finish this interview now and let you go out and play?” No, I think I’ve been asked just about every question imaginable over the years.
Is there anything you wish people would ask more often?
No, I get asked everything too much. The one question that drives me crazy is – inevitably, if there’s a group of interviewers, at least one will say, “Who is your favourite character?” And the other one is “What power would I want?” So I come prepared for them. I tell them my favourite character is me, and if I could have any power at all it would be luck. Because if you’re lucky then everything falls your way.
What’s the one piece of casting news from the Marvel movie universe – confirmed or rumour – that had you the most concerned? Did the end product prove you wrong?
Oh, no, no. I was always very happy. The only one I was a little disappointed with… In Fantastic Four , I would have wanted Doctor Doom to have been portrayed differently. But other than that I was very happy with all the movies, including Fantastic Four . I thought they were well done, and they’ve started something that’s never happened before in movies. There’s a whole group of characters who have become the world’s most popular characters, and every movie that’s made of them gets a bigger and bigger audience. This is incredible. It really is.
Out of all the Marvel characters put on film or TV which one do you personally think has been the most successful? I’m talking artistically and creatively rather than financially.
Well certainly Iron Man has been incredible, the Avengers have been, Spider-Man has been. Thor has been, Captain America has been… you can just go down the line, they’re all incredibly successful and fascinating movies.
Out of all the characters in the Marvel Universe which do you relate to the most?
I relate to all of them the same. But I will say that, usually, for the purposes of an interview I say, “Spider-Man”. Because the interviewer expects some answer, and that’s the answer that they always expect [laughs].
When was the first time that Marvel was contacted by filmmakers wondering about the cinematic rights to them? (The 1944 Cap serial doesn’t count.)
Jack Duckworth’s Pigeon
Oh, years ago. Years ago. In fact, I’m not sure Marvel was contacted – I think Marvel did the contacting. I think we started with the movie Blade , if you remember that, the vampire hunter. That did well, and that started the whole thing off.
Beginning in the ’70s, a lot of other worlds (Conan, Dracula, Doctor Who, Transformers) were integrated into the Marvelverse. What did you feel about this decision of licensing in other characters?
Jack Duckworth’s Pigeon
To tell you the truth, those other worlds were good for us, because we had a lot of artists and writers, and sometimes we didn’t have enough to keep them busy [laughs]. So we could give them a Conan book or something like that to keep them busy. From that point of view it was good. But the Conan series turned out to be very successful, and a lot of the other series we did which weren’t based on our own characters turned out to be successful. It was thought in those days Marvel had the magic touch.
Do you wear superhero pyjamas and have the matching duvet and curtains...?
No. I hope I don’t sound disloyal, but I’ve never had a pair of Marvel pyjamas or underwear. I do have a lot of Marvel figurines at home in a cabinet. Every time they make a new Marvel figure I put it in my cabinet.
Michael Winner once told me you did a comic strip based on Captain America for him when Cannon planned a Cap movie. What are your memories of this, and Cannon/Golan-Globus when they tried to make a Cap and Spider-Man movie?
Jack Duckworth’s Pigeon
It never happened. I wanted to. Cannon Films, they wanted to do a Spider-Man movie, they wanted to do a Captain America movie. I thought they would, but unfortunately they never got around to it. That was before the current slate of movies that we have now.
Since leaving Marvel, how do you feel about the way the company has treated you?
Oh I have no complaints. I think the company treated me well. I think I treated the company well. And I think we’re on very good terms. Just the fact that I do these cameos – I love doing them. Oh I’m sorry, I used the wrong word – just the fact that I have these magnificent supporting roles in movies.
The Thing! Is his dork made out of orange rock like the rest of his body?
Well, if I had to guess I would guess so. But your guess is as good as mine! Cos we’re never going to see it [laughs].
Your YouTube channel World Of Heroes is entering its second year, which is rare in today’s ever-changing internet culture. What do you think accounts for its success?
Well of course people love heroes. That’s one of the explanations. But we’ve been lucky. When you enjoy doing something, that comes across to the public, to the audience, also. And we enjoy the things we have on the World Of Heroes. Because they are things we ourselves would like to see. Like we have this animated cartoon, “Bad Day”, which pokes fun at all the superheroes and so forth. It’s brilliantly done. We have my own “Rants”, where I talk about all the things that drive me crazy. (I never realised there were so many things until I started making a list.) And we have everything that in any way pertains to superheroes; and somehow there are enough fans that are interested in superheroes, that I guess are interested in the way we portray what we’re doing, that the show has caught on. It’s getting bigger all the time, and I’m thrilled. I really am.
Can you say what you might be ranting about this season?
Yeah. Probably about reporters who, every time that I think the interview is complete, start saying, “Oh, by the way…” [laughs] I just remembered – I think the world’s worst phrase is “Oh, by the way…”
This is a version of an article which appears in SFX's Ultimate Guide to Superheroes bookazine, which is now on sale until the end of February. Don’t miss it! Order it in print from MyFavouriteMagazines.co.uk or search for it in SFX ‘s Apple Newsstand container app today.