In November of 1961, Stan Lee created the Fantastic Four for Marvel Comics. In just a few years, along with artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others, they created Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Nick Fury, Daredevil, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, The X-Men, The Avengers, plus revived Captain America from the 1940s, and most importantly, Spider-Man. Unlike superheroes of the past, these characters had issues. Spidey was broke, Hawkeye was an asshole, Thor had daddy issues, Cap missed Bucky real bad, Doc Strange took too much LSD (not true), and Daredevil had lady troubles. Well, actually, they all had lady troubles, which not only made them instantly more interesting and relatable, but expanded their audience beyond 8-year-olds. Don’t get me wrong, those early comics could still be real dumb, but they have this innocent infectious quality to them, and you can sense Stan’s palpable excitement growing along with the sales numbers. He began engaging with fans in the letter columns, peppering his stories with inside jokes, giving himself and Kirby cameos, encouraging his artists to push artistic and creative boundaries, and intertwined the characters more and more into a truly shared universe.
Does any of this sound familiar? Flash forward 60 years later, and these are many of the same qualities that have made the Marvel Cinematic Universe a gazillion dollar success and made these characters beloved pop culture icons.
Stan, now 94 (!), could probably just sit back and relax, but no, he’s appearing at Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. on June 16-18, 2017. I had the pleasure of fake interviewing him in the form of emailing in two questions, which *might* be read by a moderator, while all media outlets sat on a conference line to listen. Not an ideal scenario, but like I said, Stan is 94 and created Spider-Man, so Stan does whatever he wants.
Right off the bat he was cracking jokes:
Moderator: We’ve got quite a few members of the media on the line, this is Greg Topalian, I’m the founder and president of Left Field Media, the company that owns and operates Awesome Con. We’ve also got Ben Penrod, who is in fact the founder of Awesome Con, so…
Stan Lee: You’re making me nervous, all the important people on the phone!
Moderator: laughs We’re expecting to have the largest and best Awesome Con in the history of the event and I think most of us would agree that having Stan Lee as a guest is probably one of those top reasons. So thank you all for being on, and Stan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us this morning.
Stan Lee: Yeah, it’s pretty damn nice of me! But, you’re welcome. laughs
Moderator: What are you most looking forward to about coming to Awesome Con and to Washington, D.C.?
Stan Lee: Well, I don’t know if Trump will have time for me or not, we’ll have to work that out.
Love him. So I wanted one fun question and one nerd question. They used them both. First, fun question:
Moderator: Which Marvel character that you created or worked on is underrated or underappreciated and is due for a revival, either in comics or in film?
Stan Lee: I think the Silver Surfer has been underrated. I think he’s a great character, and the thing I like about him, I was always able to get in bits of philosophy that he would utter. They don’t use him as much as I wish they would, he’s one of my favorite characters.
Yesssss. The Surfer is great, but unfortunately, he is still owned by FOX due to his association with the Fantastic Four property, so despite playing a huge role in the Marvel cosmic universe and the Infinity War storyline, unless some deals have happened behind the scenes, he won’t be appearing in the upcoming Avengers film. That being said, the current run of Surfer by Dan Slott (Spider-Man) and Mike Allred (Madman Comics) is easily one of the best things Marvel has done in years.
So, one of my favorite parts of the early Marvel titles were the credits, where Stan would consistently self-aggrandize himself and the artists, and hilariously bust the balls of the poor letterers, Artie Simek and Sam Rosen. This running gag gives a sense of what the early Marvel offices might have been like (hijinks), and let you peak behind the curtain a little and know that Stan was not taking things too seriously. Here are a couple examples I randomly pulled, this pretty much went on in every issue for years:
I don’t even know what kibitzing means but these still consistently crack me up when reading the old back issues, and I wanted to know if Stan remembered where this tradition came from. Well, we may never know, because he didn’t quite hear or understand the question (94), but still gave an interesting answer.
Moderator: I’m gonna give you a very specific question now.
Stan Lee: I’ll give you a very specific answer.
Moderator: So one of my favorite parts of Silver Age Marvel was your constant credit jokes at the expense of letterers, do you remember how that tradition started?
Question had to be repeated
Stan Lee: Oh yeah sure, I always wanted to put the credits down, I felt that it would be good to treat comics like movies, in a movie you get the name of the director, the screenwriter, and all the other people too, and I thought wouldn’t it be fun, nobody ever gives the letterer credit, I’ll have the letterers, I’ll have the production people, the editors, any name I could think of, I’ll put in the credits. But then, it occurred to me, why not keep it friendly, and funny, and make it easier for the kids to remember, I’ll give them all nicknames, so I tried to put little nicknames in for each guy, and I don’t even remember them now but it was enjoyable to me and the fans seemed to like it and that made me happy. And the letterers, editors, and proofreaders, they liked it too cause they were finally getting some recognition.
Well, that’s it. Two questions with Stan. Excelsior!
Here are a few more classic credit jokes and finally, a little birthday love for Artie: