Stan Lee—the man, the myth, the legend—graced Dragon Con goers on Friday at 1PM in the Marriot Atrium Ballroom for, perhaps, the last time. Lee, who will turn 95 this year, is the American comic-book writer known for many of Marvel Comics’ beloved, celebrated superheroes: Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four (his first creation, as he reminded the audience), Daredevil, and Spider-Man, arguably his most famous character and his personal favorite.
As attendees asked over a dozen questions of the nonagenarian, Lee, wearing his signature glasses, offered some sage advice and often filled the room with laughter, thanks to his snappy one-liners, jokes, and just general wit. He deadpanned that a man of his caliber, incredibly handsome and intelligent that is, should not have to pay taxes, told one admirer to send him money, explained that comic book means something different from comic-book, and declared that of all of his characters, Hugh Hefner best represented him.
“They all represent me,” he then said. “Dammit, I made them.”
He joked that Superman was his “least favorite” personal creation, but he paid homage to Jerry Siegel, who did actually invent the man of steel in the 1930s and later worked for Lee. He was complimentary overall of Marvel’s rival—DC Comics, which is responsible for the Justice League characters that Lee was asked to “reimagine” approximately twenty years ago.
“I was sorry I had taken the assignment,” he said, calling the characters already perfect—except for The Flash, which he felt he bettered. “It was tough to really improve on them.”
He also spoke candidly about artist Jack Kirby, his frequent co-collaborator who drew Captain America long before Lee took over the writing. Kirby was “simply the greatest” and could “make any story look exciting and intelligent,” Lee said. “He positioned his characters perfectly in every panel.”
When someone asked, somewhat jokingly, if Lee could use his influence to get overweight superheroes into the mix so that extra-large men could better cosplay, Mr. Lee was honest in saying ,“I don’t know how to answer your question,” before discussing how he was cognizant of not wanting to promote something like obesity amongst children while believing “superheroes should represent all people.”
“If I have been deficient in having overweight characters, I’m sorry,” he said.
In the past decade, Lee has become just as known for his cameos in The Avengers film franchise as he is for his comic-book contributions. His favorite role was in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, mostly because he got two short scenes—the before and after shot of drinking a potent Asgardian alcohol offered up by Thor. He hopes to get three scenes in his next appearance.
He also addressed the theory that, added together, these cameos point to him being a member of an extraterrestrial species: the Watchers. “I don’t like you, an ordinary citizen, to pose a question of such magnitude,” Lee joked, before saying that while he can’t give a definitive answer, he could affirm that people may be on the right track.
On writing and storytelling, Lee told aspiring artists that he works “the same way you do” and that it doesn’t matter what genre you work in, just make sure the reader wants to turn the page. “I want the characters to be interesting as hell.”
“Think of all the things that might happen,” he later said, when discussing how to develop a story arc for a specific character, “and pick the one you like the most.” Lee said that, for him, that was key. “Please yourself. Chances are, you aren’t that unique.” In other words, if you like it, someone else probably will too.
Lee was pensive when offering advice for developing a creative process, saying that everyone’s path is different and that there are no secrets, as genius can be found in the backyard with a handheld camera as much as in the classroom while at film school. He encouraged people to find what they love, watch and critique, and then do it themselves, absorbing all the lesson they learned when critiquing.
He was genuinely shocked when asked how he feels about Captain America’s newest storyline, which has him as a member of the fictional criminal organization, Hydra. “Captain America went to Hydra!” Lee shouted. “Why did he go to Hydra, may I ask?” Lee reasoned that there is surely a good reason for this, but just the same, he’s going to follow up. “When I’m outta here, I’m gonna make some phone calls.” He does, however, like Cap’s most recent look, especially in the Avengers films, and was happy that long ago he changed the shape of Cap’s signature vibranium shield from triangular (which he hated) to circular.
Lee got serious shortly before the panel ended when asked what he thought was the best advice he wrote in the past that resonates today. Instead, he spoke briefly about promoting respect and solidarity through his Hands of Respect campaign and saying that—regardless of religion or non-religion—if humans just lived up to one 10-word adage, the world would be a better place: “Do unto others as you have others do unto you.” Of course, as reminded by the moderator, these are sentiments Lee has spoken on and written eloquently about since the late 1960s, when he challenged America to expose racism (to end it) after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
Don’t worry. Lee may be aging—he repeatedly apologized for not remembering more details and thanked the audience for being patient with his failing hearing—but he will still be popping up in cameos, as he recently filmed four for upcoming films. He could not say which, though he did mention that Black Panther and Ant-Man and The Wasp are coming out soon. His memory is not what it once was, but Stan Lee is still as great as he’s ever been.