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Number 1 Shimbun

Marvel Legend Stan Lee Visits the FCCJ

No1-2018-01 Stan Lee

 

Marvel Legend Stan Lee Visits the FCCJ

by Catherine Makino

"When I saw a fly on the wall I thought, ‘Wouldn't it be great if we had a superhero who could stick on walls, like a fly or any other insect? It would be fun.’ But somehow calling him Fly-man didn't sound dramatic enough, so I thought, ‘What else could it be? Mosquito-man?’ And then I said, ‘Spider-man!’ It sounded so dramatic.”

Lee, who besides Spiderman has created other modern superhero myths – the Incredible Hulk, X-Men, and more – talked about his characters and their creation at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on November 30.

The 94-year-old chairman emeritus of Marvel Entertainment was visiting Japan for December’s Comic-Con event and had spent the first part of the day being driven through the city in a Super Mario cart.

Lee explained that his success in creating globally iconic figures lies in the fact that he writes for himself. “If I liked this story I felt it has to be good, cause I’m a normal guy and I like it,” he said. “If there’s a story I like, there must be millions of other people with similar tastes and they’d like it too. So I never, ever wrote for other people. I always wrote for myself. I wanted to please me.”

When advising aspiring writers, he warns them that “so many people try to write for other people. By that I mean they’ll say, ‘I think this story would be good for people from 25 to 30’ or ‘this would be good for somebody from 18 to 22.’ . . . I never tried to write for any particular age group or social group.”

Lee grew up in New York City during the Depression. His father often was unemployed, so he took jobs as office boy, dress cutter and usher to help his family. For a while he prepared obituaries for aging celebrities who were still alive, but he quit that gig because it was "too depressing.”

His mother, he recalled, “thought I was the greatest thing on two feet. I'd come home with a little composition I had written at school and she'd look at it and say, ‘It's wonderful! You're another Shakespeare!’”

Shakespeare in fact was one of his inspirations. Others were Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle.

“I always assumed I could do anything. It really is amazing how much that has to do with your attitude.”

Lee shared his secrets for inventing a successful superhero. Such a character, he said, must be one we haven’t seen before, an exaggeration of real life but, at the same time, believable. “You always need to come up with different ideas. The hero's life has to be interesting and the villain has to appear stronger than the hero.”

Take Spiderman, for example. Lee wanted to make the character different, interesting, a different kind of hero, so that the reader would care about him. For that, he would have his own personality, hang-ups, quirks and problems.

Indeed, Spiderman emerged as a teenager with personal problems, including a lack of money. His publisher initially thought it was a bad idea, because heroes were not any of these things.

It’s people who have problems, he told Lee, “not superheroes.” But after Spiderman became the bestselling comic of the month, the publisher asked for more superhero stories like it.

The world of comics has changed from when Lee started writing them when he was 17 years old. At that time, teachers and parents condemned comic books because they were just about people punching each other, according to Lee. Later, people realized the medium could be used to tell good stories, and comic books and graphic novels have become a form of literature.

Today the genre “is selling bigger and better than ever,” Lee said. “Movies have helped the comic books and the books helped the movies.” He's happy about the way the studios have handled his characters, and always takes a cameo role playing other people in each movie. His favorite part was in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” where Thor, a famous god in Norse mythology, had told him not to take a drink, but he did anyway and became roaring drunk and had to be carried out.

There’s more to come. “The next one will be a villain who is the most powerful villain that has ever appeared in comic books,” Lee said. “If our heroes, the Avengers, don't conquer that villain, it will be the most dangerous threat mankind has ever faced.”

His apocalyptic focus aside, Lee remains funny and energetic. When asked the secret to his longevity, he laughed. “Greed,” he replied. “Maybe being busy is one of the best tonics,” he added, “because when you're busy working on something, you're not thinking about yourself – as long as you're not busy being a villain. That’s not a good way to be busy.”

Published in: January 2018

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