Thursday, October 24, 2019


            In his biography Sid Caesar tells his story about the origin of Caesar’s Hours (2003),
"In a sketch, Paul Douglas and I play scientists who send a termite into space and expose it to cosmic rays. As we retrieve the capsule, while I reach in to get the termite, it bites my finger. Moments later I develop an insatiable appetite for wood, ripping the arm off a chair and eating it... Two short years later, a young man named Stan Lee wrote a comic book about a teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and develops remarkable powers. I assume Stan Lee was a fan of our shows. Although I can’t prove it, I suspect Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen may be indirectly responsible for the creation of Spider-Man
When we showed this to Stan he replied to us personally: “I seem to be in good company with Ditko, Gelbart and Allen! But, while I was a big fan of Sid’s and would never miss a show, I have absolutely no recollection of the termite from space. In fact, since they say he was exposed to cosmic rays, they might as well take credit for the F.F., too

Danny Fingeroth’s new book, "A MARVELOUS LIFE: THE AMAZING STORY OF STAN LEE is a Timely addition to Danny’s previous books, named below, and it starts a little earlier than the Sid Caesar show.

Danny's first Marvel credit in 1977.

I was eager to read the book because I so enjoyed Danny’s Superman on the Couch, Disguised as Clark Kent, and The Stan Lee Universe. I knew Danny’s take would be different from any others. First, Danny was not only a fan of comics, he was an insider.  He loved comics as a kid. He started out reading Popeye, the Sailor Man and graduated to the Superboy stories in Adventure Comics.  Believe it or not, it led to his first Marvel comic, Millie the Model, which was my first Marvel title, too! Danny and I (very separately) graduated to the Fantastic Four, with #4 being his first issue. (I started out with #1!)

Jim Salicrup wrote: While I read The Amazing Story of Stan Lee: A Marvelous Life, it’ll be like spending time once again with one of my favorite human beings of all time. Thanks, Danny! You have no idea how much that means to me. 

Thinking that comics were an interesting field to work, Danny interviewed at Marvel with Larry Lieber, Stan’s brother in late June/early July 1977. His first day working for  Marvel was July 18, 1977.

An Early Fingeroth Credit, What If #33, 1982

Danny was hired to be his assistant in Marvel's British Department. His counterpart in the UK was Neil Tennant, later one of the Pet Shop Boys music duo. Danny wrote many issues of Deadly Foes of Spider-Man and Lethal Foes of Spider-Man in the '80s and '90. He also edited or supervised hundreds of issues of the various Spider-Man titles in the '80s and '90s. His first credit was a co-editor credit (when Larry was on vacation) in a Captain Britain story in an issue of Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain (#245) in 1977.

I asked Danny when he first met Stan, “It's vague to me. He was just always there at the offices in 1977. You just saw him around. My guess would be that, at some point when Larry was on vacation, I probably met with him to get some British Marvel covers approved. But I have no memory of my first actual meeting with him.

Danny does a terrific job here of not just being the narrator of this story of Stan Lee, but a fair and honest mediator.  Let me explain.  There is no great mystery or scandal in the life of Stan Lee. He was not a Nazi, a drug runner or a TV talk show host. (Although Danny points out that he wanted to be.) The only controversy, really, is that many feel that Stan did not give enough credit to others for the work they did and Stan got too much acclaim. Danny brings this out thoroughly and well, mostly with events involving Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Danny gives us the facts, often applying logic to the events and takes no sides, he just provide information.

Danny, in his preface, says something very important and true but sometimes is a bit sad for comic book fans.  That is, the public has recognized Stan Lee as the creator of these comics while others, especially Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, are not. Fair or not, it is a fact we have to accept.

If there is one thing repetitious about Danny’s book, it is the beginning. That is, almost all books about the great comic creators begins with Jewish immigrants coming from Europe who are desperately poor.

Danny traces Stan’s early life and how Stan winds up in a menial position at Timely Comics, being the office “gofer” for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon when he was just 17.  Kirby and Simon had created Captain America for publisher Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics (which we now call Marvel).  

Goodman was also related, as Danny explains, to Stan Lee in two ways: through a cousin and also an uncle. Simon and Kirby, after creating and supervising ten issues of Captain America secretly accepted work with Timely’s competitor, the company we now call DC. Somehow, Stan had learned about this. When Goodman found out about this, he fired the pair.  While Simon didn’t think Stan had anything to do with it, Kirby was convinced it was Stan who told Goodman.

To this day, many fans of Kirby hold this against Lee, who had said he never turned them in. While Danny didn’t take sides, I will. Stan was related and loyal to Goodman who gave him employment during the Depression, a hard time to find work even in 1940. Simon & Kirby were helping their competitors.  If I were Stan, I know I would have told my boss, my relative, to keep the  company I worked for going. Besides, it’s no great leap to see that Simon and Kirby’s work for the competitor would have been recognized the moment it was published, even if they had not signed it.

Let’s flash forward for a bit to the New York Comic Con in 2008.  I attended a panel on Timely and Marvel that featured Stan Lee, Joe Simon, Dick Ayers, Gene Colan and a few others. At the end I went up to Dick Ayers, who I was friends with.  I wanted to get an autograph from Stan on his 1947 book, Secrets Behind the Comics. As I approached, Stan Lee grabbed Joe Simon and gave him a big hug and whispered in his ear, “I have never had the chance to thank you. You taught me so much and I have used what you taught me throughout my entire career.”  I wrote that down immediately because I didn’t want to forget it. I know Stan intended it to be a whisper, but with both men near ninety years of age and their hearing diminishing, whispering can get quite loud!

Stan Lee’s first published work for Marvel was a two-page text story that appeared in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941) entitled “Captain America and the Traitor’s Revenge.” At that time, mail subscriptions were very important to publishers and the Post Office required a publication to have a least two printed pages to be eligible for the lowest postal rates. Hence, the inclusion of two-pages of text in every comic book. Few people, if any, ever read those. Stan’s first comic script was the “The Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge,” which was illustrated by Al Avison in issue #16.  Danny outlines Stan’s life at Timely and the time Stan spent in the service.  And how they overlapped!

From MArvel Super-Heroes Annual #1 1966

From Captain America #16
The Destroyer was one of Stan's first assignments

I am going to be frank.  When reading the bios and history of the comics in the 1950s, there is always a large section of every book explaining the congressional hearings that led up to the Comics Code. This is material we’ve heard before; it’s repetitious and boring.

Not here.  Much to my surprise, Danny took a far different approach on this subject in his chapter, “The Psychopathology of Comic Books.” While outlining the events, Danny presents numerous quotes from the newspapers and the people involved and this becomes one of my favorite parts of the book.

Stan in 1967

For example, he quotes Judith Crist, who in 2008, was looking back on when she was a reporter for the Herald Tribune in the late 1940s. She remembered meeting Fredric Wertham.He was a very impressive man,” she wrote. “He was also very charming. We kind of kept in touch vaguely. I believe he sent me a copy of his collected essays or something. I think that he was a thoroughgoing ego test. He didn’t see very far beyond his own principles. (He was) Not a man that I worshiped  in any way but he did stick in my memory.”

Crist had an article published in the March 27, 1948 issue of Collier’s magazine. In it Wertham claimed, “the comic books, in intent and effect, are demoralizing the morals of youth. They make violence alluring and cruelly heroic. If those responsible refused to clean up the comic book market the time has come to legislate these books off the newsstands and out of the candy stores.  Wertham would further state, “the fact that child psychologists endorse comic books does not prove the healthy state of the comic books. It only proves the unhealthy state of child psychology.”

What makes this so interesting is that Danny flashes forwards over a decade to November 12, 1968. Stan is now on the Barry Farber radio show and he is on with a psychiatrist and educator, Dr. Hilde Mosse, who was a close associate of Wertham. The two were pitted against each other with her bringing up all those crazy ideas of the 1950s. Danny writes that after Marcy, in a dismissive and condescending tone, made some broad points about how children imitate of violent media, Lee fired back:
For the past 20 years, I have heard this particular speech. I have heard the same arguments, and the same answers. Dr. Wertham and his followers have never swayed from their point of view. If you had your way completely it would not be a healthier world. If there were no comic books, and if every television show with violence, were taken off the air, I do not believe the mental climate of this country would be improved one iota because other things which are far more serious within affected children even more, and there would be no relief in fantasy.
Mosse replied, in part comparing the super-heroes to Nazis: “They are exactly, exactly, but anyone who knows anything about what fascism stands for, what Nazi-ism stood for, they are the ideal that people had in the Hitler era.”

Jack Kirby returned to Marvel in the late 1950s. When Stan sought to revive the Rawhide Kid in 1960, he gave that assignment to Dick Ayres. A few days later Dick received a phone call from Stan saying that Jack Kirby insisted on doing the Rawhide Kid but Lee would have Dick ink it, so he would not lose a job.  Dick was proud of the relationship he had with Stan. As with Gene Colan, both men, freelancers, felt loyalty to Stan because he gave them so much work. Dick even kept a letter from him, framed in his office. Ayers was disappointed when Stan stopped writing Sgt. Fury.

You did a swell job inking Kirby’s Monstro story.
So, here’s the cover of that mag for you to ink also. It’s due this Friday, August 28 if possible, if not Monday will be okay.

I have enclosed another six page strip as well for you to ink it has a long deadline. I won’t need it until September 10. Of course if you send it to me sooner, that’s fine. But you needn’t rush. I’ll try to send you as much inking as I can. Don’t expect too much because we didn’t have that much. These 12 pages is an unusual situation. However does come along I’ll give you the first track at it. All best Stan.

We all know that the Marvel Age of Comics began in 1961 when Martin Goodman had Stan Lee and Jack Kirby create the Fantastic Four. In fact, using the Marvel method those two along with Steve Ditko would create some of the greatest comics ever produced.

There is a small controversy about how The Marvel Era all started. Martin Goodman heard that the Justice League of America was selling very well at DC. He then told Stan to create a superhero team. In later years Jack Kirby was to say he came up with this idea.

Stan and Fabulous Flo Steinberg 

It is really vague on who told Martin Goodman that the Justice League was selling well. Let us use logic. Who would know this information and who would be talking to Martin Goodman about circulation? Although Independent News, the distributor for Marvel comics, was owned by the parent company that owned DC they had the most to gain, and the most to profit, by telling Goodman what comics were selling well. So it was probably the distributor. But there could be two other sources. Another source could be the actual comic itself, in this case the Brave and the Bold where the JLA first appeared, which in October published the statement of circulation that’s needed for the post office.  Michael J. Vassallo, who is a contributor to this book, describes in  "The Secret History of Marvel Comics," how publishers had scouts looking at the newsstands to find out which of their comics was selling and probably their competitors. This was because it took six months to get results from the distributor and the publishers wanted to know immediately how well their comics were doing. The Justice League was copied in more ways than having a team of super-heroes.. Stan adopted their format.

  In that era, full length stories in comics were rare. Comics usually had two or three stories in them.  The Justice League had full length stories and chapters, a style adapted by Lee for the Fantastic Four. In 1961, Lee began experimenting with longer stories in his monster titles, expanding from 8 to 13 and occasionally 18-page stories. The latter was first seen in Tales of Suspense #14 (Feb. 1961) I Created the Colossus. While Lee would return to featuring four-stories per issue by mid-year this shows that he was looking to deviate from the standard format.
Michael J. Vassallo and Danny Fingeroth

Stan wrote an outline in the spring of 1961 and Lee and Kirby produced one of the greatest comic books ever.

Stan's outline for Fantastic Four #1

As the Marvel age exploded, Stan received more and more letters from fans, including me. Stan had learned from Bill Gaines the publisher of EC comics and was inspired by reading the Poppy Ott books by Leo Edwards that he can develop a closer relationship to his readers. No longer were letters printed that said “Dear Mr. Lee and Mr. Kirby.” That was changed to “Dear Stan and Jack.” He replied as if he knew the readers personally. He even sent out personal letters, as Flo Steinberg  told me were often written by her and signed by Stan

He added letter pages that often contained a special announcement section.
Special Announcements, October 1963 

 Soon that developed into the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins which also listed and publicized the other comics available. And, uncommon in comic books, Stan began an editorial section entitled, “Stan’s Soapbox.”
First Bullpen Bulletin, Oct./Nov. 1965
First Stan's Soapbox, June 1967

Roy Thomas said, “The Marvel Universe,” ...was really his (Stan’s) construct, far more than anybody else’s. He had the idea that this was a consistent world where all these people lived...”

By the mid-1960s there was a radical slogan, “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” This didn’t apply to Stan, everyone under 30 seems to have trusted him.

Danny explains how Marvel grew and artists such as Johnny Romita, Gene Colan and John Buscema, who had previously worked for Marvel, returned. Throughout the last half of the book Danny discusses the comings and goings of Steve Ditko, who first leaves Marvel in 1966. Danny shows that in the years ahead, both Stan and Steve would show both appreciation and resentment of each other in many ways. Stan, as Danny points out, did not understand exactly why Steve left. Stan did not ask Steve, but, years later, asked a few of Steve’s friends why that happened.

Some fans can be unduly harsh with Stan.  Danny brings up the controversy of who should get the credit for the creation of Spider-Man. In his heart, Stan always gave himself full credit. Here, Stan is wrong, but he is NOT lying.  He is telling the truth as he sees it. For me, Stan thought up the concept of a Spider-Man but it was he and Steve Ditko who created the finished and iconic character. Many of the same people who criticize Stan for this point of view will then say that the Silver Surfer is totally Kirby’s creation. While Kirby gave him form, Stan gave him substance and that is often dismissed with these critics.

Jim Salicrup: After answering several questions regarding the creation of Spider-Man and others, (at a convention in Madison, Wisconsin ) Stan was less kind in his references to his erstwhile boss (Martin Goodman)  than he had been for decades, referring to him as “my idiot publisher,” Stan suddenly went off-script, as he shared what he must’ve been thinking at that moment, “Y’know, it’s funny, back then I would’ve never imagined that one day I’d be in front of so many people like this, talking about what I was doing back then… That so many people would be interested in seeing me…” Again, realizing he expressed his wistful thoughts aloud, he quickly moved on, saying, “I don’t have a punchline for that, I was just thinking that it was funny, that’s all.”

In 1968, Marvel is bought by Perfect Film and Chemical for $14 million. As much as they wanted him, Stan, apparently, felt a bit like a new employee. Jack Kirby leaves Marvel in 1970 and heads over to DC when he could not successfully negotiate with the new owners. According to the New York Times at DC Kirby would make about $31,000 a year.
Stan Lee, at Carnegie Hall stage in 1972 headlining “A Marvel-ous Evening with Stan Lee"

Roy Thomas had told me: “The Incredible Hulk” wasn’t a book I particularly wanted to do, but when Stan said do it, I did it. I think he had just gotten bored with it. I could see his point.
After nearly 35 years Stan Lee was tired of writing and meeting deadlines. By 1972, Marvel had virtually tripled their titles from just a couple years before. They were now approaching 40 and that would prove a huge burden for the many editors that came after Lee.  In 1970, when Martin Goodman left, he expected his son Chip to become the new publisher. Stan let the owners know that he would quit if that happened and he is made publisher. But as Danny explains the corporate structure is far more complex than that and it is interesting to read. So Stan Lee does not follow the creative and parallel path of Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. He moves perpendicular and up the corporate ladder to becoming publisher.  He left writing and editing behind.

The friction between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby really began, as Danny points out, in a Herald Tribune article from 1966. The reporter, who seemed never to have read a comic in his life, idolized Stan and put down Jack Kirby.

Nat Freedland wrote: “Lee arrives at his plots in sort of ESP sessions with the artists. He inserts the dialogue after the picture layout comes in. Here he is in action at his weekly Friday morning summit meeting with Jack “King” Kirby, a veteran comic book artist. A man who created many of the visions of your childhood and mine. The King is a middle-aged man with baggy eyes and a baggy Robert Hall-ish suit. He is sucking a huge green cigar and if you stood next to him on the subway you would peg him for the assistant foreman in a girdle factory.”  (Robert Hall, in the 1950s, was an inexpensive place to buy men’s clothes.)

Such a representation was difficult for Kirby to recover from, if he ever did.  When Kirby moved to DC, he created a character patently based on Stan named “Flunky Flashman” (for Mister Miracle #6, Jan-Feb 1972). The character was an egotistical, annoying parody of Stan Lee. It was truly offensive. Yet, four years later when Kirby’s contract at DC had ended and he wanted to come back to Marvel, Stan let him.

Roy Thomas in 2008: When (Kirby) came back in 1975, there were some people at Marvel that didn’t really want him back I understood. Stan called me and said, “Do you think Jack would wanna come back?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, I’ve got a couple of guys around here *who are serious but the thing is they really don’t think I should let Jack come back.” I said, “Well, don’t let him write.” He said, “Well, I need him to write. If he’s gonna come back, he insists on writing.” I said, “Well, have him back and write.

A major part of Danny’s book is how Marvel comics were produced. What did the people do? What did they look for? What did Stan need from his creators?

 From Multiple 1960s Marvel Annuals, Bullpen Pictures

In 2002, I had dinner with Julius Schwartz, Carmine Infantino and Arnold Drake. These were retired businessmen and you never really felt that they were comic book creators. They discussed putting together a comic like I would discuss a conveyor belt producing cookies. They needed the ingredients in exact proportions. They didn’t care where they came from. Schwartz told me that the plot of the story was not important. What was important was the cover and the splash page—that’s what sold comics. The scripting and the plotting did not seem important to him. Arnold Drake agreed, he said that if he needed to sell a script because he needed the money he would first lay out a cover and the splash page of the story was not very relevant.

Stan and Carl Burgos appear in a Human Torch story in Strange Tales
I asked them what about Marvel, why did they think Marvel succeeded? The prelude pretty well ignored the question, with Schwartz waving his hand away. They certainly didn’t get Jack Kirby. Schwartz and Infantino told me that the Fourth World books did not sell and every issue sold less than the issue before. Whether or not this is true I don’t know. But Danny was able to draw a very sharp contrast about how Stan handled his artists and writers, so differently from that pair at DC.

 From “The International Journal of Comic Art”
Stan wanted to give his readers what they wanted and had no hesitation admitting that. About 2005, there were rumors going around that Percy, one of the Howling Commandos, was gay. This was impossible. Percy in the annuals was portrayed as being a ladies man owning Playboy type clubs in Great Britain. There was even an article published in “The International Journal of Comic Art” (Volume 14, no 1.) by Justin Raymond, subtitled, “Homosexual Masculinity in Sgt. Fury.” You can’t make this stuff up! Mr. Raymond writes and I quote: “Though there are seven Howlers, multiple frames reveal that there are only five beds in the room.” In the 1960s, the Comics Code would not allow even a hint of homosexuality. In fact, part of the reason the Code was created was to make sure there was no inference of homosexuality. The cares who created Percy and drew him for the first time thought this was ridiculous and called up Stan and asked how did this get started. Stan simply said to Dick, “Give the people what they want.They wanted Percy to be gay so he was gay.

The penultimate part of the book chronicles Stan’s journey into Hollywood which was not always successful. Stan was able to work with studios to produce numerous animated shows for Marvel, but he was not able to persuade the studios to make major motion pictures. Danny points out that he was known for bringing projects to studios that he knew they would not accept. In this era of big Spider-Man and X-Men movies people forget that the first Marvel hit was the movie Blade. The most interesting part of that is that it was a book edited by Roy Thomas, written by Marv Wolfman, and drawn by Gene Colan. Stan had nothing to do with it. But it was a hit.

Art by Gene Colan

Jim Salicrup: (At Wizard World convention in NY) Danny and I walked Ken (Bald) back to his table, and then we decided drop by Larry Lieber’s table to say hi to our mutual friend. We weren’t at Larry’s table for more than a few minutes when we were suddenly surprised by Stan Lee dropping by. From out of nowhere it seemed an army of photographers were taking a gazillion pics of Stan with Larry and Ken. Spotting awestruck Danny and me in the crowd, Stan suddenly insisted that we join him for this impromptu photo-op. Neither of us could ever say no to Stan, plus we’re both just as big a ham as he is! It all happened incredibly fast, and the next thing we knew, Stan and the  paparazzi  were gone. While we were both recovering from that unexpected brush with fame, it dawned on me that neither of us had thought to ask anyone to take pictures of us with Stan with our cellphone cameras. But Danny is nothing if not determined, and sure enough, he was able to track down one of the photographers and get us copies of our pics with Mr. Lee.

The last time I actually saw Stan, was at a convention in Madison, Wisconsin. Stan was being interviewed onstage by Max Anderson, while I was sitting in the audience next to Danny. It was the year before Stan passed, and not long after Joan had passed away. In fact, there was a short announcement before Stan came on requesting that to keep the mood upbeat and not to depress Stan, that the audience neither ask questions about Stan’s dear departed wife or offer well-intended condolences. I’m happy to say the audience complied, and it was a delightful, and highly entertaining Q&A with Mr. Lee. Despite his terrible personal loss and his failing health, he was still on—being the Stan Lee that the audience had come to see. Anyone who has been a fan of Stan’s since the 60s (and that has to be just about everyone reading Barry’s Blog!) has probably heard most of the questions and Stan’s answers countless times, but there were a few unique moments as well. Several children asked some silly questions, and Stan, bless him, did his best to provide entertaining answers. I don’t have a transcript, so I’ll try to capture the gist of what Stan said as best as I can. Here are a few exchanges that tickled me…

Fan: What’s your favorite milkshake?
Stan: Vanilla, of course!

Fan: What’s your favorite kind of wood?
Stan: I can’t believe I came hundreds of miles to be here to be asked what’s my favorite wood! (Stan couldn’t think of a suitable answer and was about to move onto the next question, when suddenly he had his answer:) I just remembered! It’s Biedermeier wood! We have furniture that’s made of Beidermeier wood, it’s great! Very expensive, though. That’s my favorite wood! (As Maggie Thompson later informed me, there’s no such thing as Biedermeier wood. Beidermeier was an influential German style of furniture design that evolved during the years 1815–1848. But, hey—close enough!)

Fan: What’s your favorite toothpaste?
Stan: (This was the most surprising answer of all from Smiling Stan:) I gotta make a confession—I don’t use toothpaste! I brush my teeth with hot water, but I don’t use tooth paste. Years ago, my dentist tried to get me to use a special toothpaste, and when I came back a for my next appointment about a month later, the Dentist’s assistant asked me if I was using that toothpaste. Well, as you all know I’m really good at lying… (Stan suddenly realized what he just said in front of this large audience, and quickly started to spin…) I mean, when it comes to unimportant matters such as toothpaste! So, I just said, of course I used that toothpaste! And the dental assistant said they could tell, because my teeth were obviously so much better, and that convinced me I didn’t ever need to use toothpaste!

Danny describes Stan’s last days, his outliving his beloved wife of 69 years, Joan, and presents comments of his passing. Working together with so many others, Stan produced some of the greatest comic books there will ever be. Their characters have been extended into television and movies and have made a great many people happy.

Jim Salicrup: For years, my routine after seeing Stan speak was to then run backstage and hang out with him a bit. But for the first time ever, I chose not to. I knew Stan was not in the best of health, and I decided that I wanted my last memories of seeing Stan be what I just witnessed onstage—Stan in top form, entertaining a large audience, making everyone feel special, and enjoying himself at the same time. Besides, I was beginning to feel selfish. I had known Stan at that point for 46 years, had on many occasions expressed my admiration, gratitude, and love for him, and now I thought, I should let those folks paying big bucks for an autograph or a photo-op, have their moments with Stan. I’ve certainly had mine.

There is another Marvel Age, but it is in heaven now.  Jim Mooney, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Jerry Robinson, Gene Colan, Dick Ayers, Gary Friedrich, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Steve Ditko, Sol Brodsky, John Buscema, Joe Maneely, Don Heck, Syd Shores, Stan Goldberg, Marie Severin were all waiting for Stan, to get the next outline. Stan is now standing upon a cloud, motioning how the angels should be drawn.

 Jack and Roz’s granddaughter,  Jullian posted a message from her father after Jack Kirby was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2018. Let these be the last words:

This past Friday I had the honor of accepting the Disney Legends award on behalf of my father. Stan Lee, also receiving an award, very graciously and emotionally paid tribute to my father. I am mentioning this as, over the last two days, I have seen mean-spirited remarks about Stan Lee. Regardless of how you may feel about events that occurred years ago it is time to be done...

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Stan Lee Interview, OUI Magazine, 1977

I don’t claim to be a comic book historian; I like to be considered a “discoverer.” There is so much in this medium needed to be discovered or re-discovered. So, I enjoy finding old interviews that are relevant even today.  Here is an interview from OUI magazine from 1977. (OUI, at that time, was an offshoot of Playboy, designed to attract younger readers.)  At the bottom are copies of the original magazine article.

  OUI  Magazine, 1977

The mastermind of Marvel Comics talks about his life with The Hulk and Spider-Man, the transformation of dime-store superheroes into post-atomic myths and how VD. made him what he is today! 

 In his cozy, comfortable executive office high above the murky miasma of Madison Avenue, behind the hurly burly and hubbub and the heedless hurrying hordes, sits Stan Lee, pondering the peerless plethora of incredible, inimitable inventions that his ever burgeoning brain has bounteously brought forth throughout the endless eons of the Age of Marvel to everlastingly enthrall the mavens of Marveldom and munching on a tuna sandwich from the downstairs deli. I you have never read a comic book, then you may not know or care who Stan Lee is. But if, like most of us, you grew up wishing that you could make sticky stub come out of your hands and feet so you could climb up the side of a building like Spider-villain, or shout "Flame-on!" and flash through the air like the amazing Human Torch, or hurl your invincible Uru hammer with the mystical might of Thor the Thunder-god, or rip evildoers into shreds with your bare hands like The Incredible Hulk, then you have Stan Lee to Than for it.

Whether encouraging these fantasies was strengthening or debilitating to our emerging psyches is a point for psychologists and sociologists to debate—and they have, endlessly. The fact is that Lee, as editor, art director and finally publisher of what is now called the Marvel Comics Group, is responsible for the creation of The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Dr. Strange, The X-Men, The Avengers, Daredevil, Nick Fury and The Silver Surfer. Lee came to the world of comics as a gorier at the age of 17 and has stayed for 35 years. To many people, Stan Lee is Marvel Comics. Lee used to write many of the books himself, sometimes turning out a story a day, Ile is an acknowledged haste- of the purple prose that characterizes comic-book narration— alliteration being his specialty. He is also the star of the letters pages that appear in many Marvel comics, on which he keeps up a flow of chitchat with his readers and makes household-name stars of all the artists and writers in "Stan's bullpen."

Lee started life in New 'or k City as Stanley Martin Lieber. The reason for the name change? "So young and witless was I at the time I started writing comics that I felt I couldn't sully so proud a name on books for little kiddies." His original name is still being held in reserve for the title page of the great American novel that his wife Joan says he must write someday. In the meantime, Simon Schuster has published three books under the Stan. Lee byline, "Origins of Marvel Comics" (1974), "Son of Origins of Marvel Comic? (1975) and "Bring on the Bad Guys" (1976), with several other sequels in the offing, The first thing one notices on meeting Lee is how great he looks. Ile is tall and skinny and craggy faced leading-man handsome sort of a Jewish Gary Cooper. In the Sixties he had shoulder-length hair; now it's cropped short. He wears cowboy boots. Ile seems really relaxed and casual, except when he is talking about something that interests him—and then great waves of energy go zinging forth. At 54, he is head of a very prosperous corporation and pining for fresh worlds to conquer. Asked what he thinks of the fact that comics are finally being recognized as a serious art form, Lee says, "It's like recognizing a mountain: It was always there."

Interviewer Anne Beaus comments, "When I was growing up in the Fifties, comics were supposed to rot your brains. I wasn't allowed to buy them. So my sister and I would. smuggle our favorites into the house, take them upstairs and hide them under the bed to read them. Stan Lee has brought comics out from under the bed and into art galleries and college classrooms and I am really grateful to him for that, But I still prefer to read them under the bed."

OUI: Comics seem to be more respectable these days. Do you have a favorite theory as to why this is so?
LEE: When comic books were read only by prepubescent kids and cretinous adults, nobody accepted them as an art form. The acceptance came only when older readers turned to comics. Also, many parent& felt comics would prevent kids from being good readers, because they were just looking at pictures. Ironically, today comics are the only tool we have to teach kids to read, because television has weaned them away from other reading material. As far as comics being a viable art form-let's suppose Michelangelo and Shakespeare were alive today and Shakespeare said, "Hey, let's team up and do a comic You draw; I’ll write." If that happened, nobody would say that comics weren't a worthwhile form of art. My point is, there's nothing innately wrong with the comic-book medium.
 OUI: It's as good as the people who do it?
LEE: With certain exceptions, until Marvel came along nobody had been doing it very well at all. Most of the people in the field didn't respect comic books themselves. They figured they were just writing for young kids, so why bother to make it good. The companies were owned by people who were not really very literary, who for the most part just stumbled into the comics business from other areas of publishing or   from some other industry. For them, comics were a way to make a buck. They hired somebody and said, "Turn out some comics for me." It wasn't like other forms of art. It wasn't like the theater or ballet or opera or even movies or television, where the people are dedicated and study the business.
 OUI: What caused that change?
LEE: I'd like to think that I had some part in it. At Marvel, we have tried to upgrade the medium by upgrading the vocabulary in our books. We use college-level language now and concentrate on incorporating relevant psychology, sociology, philosophy, satire—things that nobody paid much attention to before. Before the Marvel style came along, you'd see a superhero walking down the street wearing his costume—a mask, a cape, red underwear—and nobody would notice him. Then he would turn a corner and meet a bug-eyed monster 15 feet tall with scaly skin and eight arms; the hero would say, "Oh, a creature from another planet! I'd better capture him before he destroys the world." That was the level of writing in those days. A Marvel hero today would say, "I wonder what that nut is advertising." We take a whole different slant. Our Spider-Man character, for instance, is a guy who climbs walls, sticks to the ceiling and has the strength of 20 men. Obviously that's a fairy tale. But what would happen if such a person really existed?
 OUI: You put the fantasy in the context of day-to-day reality?
LEE: And it immediately becomes more interesting. And this is why the older, more intelligent reader can accept and enjoy our books.
 OUI: How did this change begin at Marvel?
LEE: With the Fantastic Four in 1961. Here was a team of four people, and I asked myself, why do they have to like one another? Why do they always have to get along? Let them argue occasionally. Let the teenager in the group say, "I want to cut out. I'm not getting enough money." Their headquarters was a skyscraper on Madison Avenue. In one episode, they got evicted because they didn't pay the rent The leader of the group had invested their reward money in .bad stocks and they were wiped out The other members wanted to kill him: "Some leader you are. You lost all our dough. You blew the whole bit." This was a new attitude for comics to take.
 OUI: Was it simply a case of making the language more true to life?
LEE: Right. With The Fantastic Four again, I tried to get the kid to talk like a kid, and the leader to talk like a stuffy, pompous intellectual. We had a character called The Thing and I tried to give him movie dialog-sort of a cross between Jimmy Durante and James Cagney. When I work on my new characters, I take them very seriously. I ask myself, now if I were Dr. Strange and I had to deliver oaths and incantations, what would I say that would sound genuine? And when Thor was up in Asgard visiting Odin the king, the supreme god, I had to give Odin authentic supreme-god expressions. Odin couldn't say, "Hey, Thor, knock it off, would you." He had to say things like "Cease and desist, thou base varlet." The words had to sound right. The reader had to accept them. A character can't say do, when it ought to be dost or doth.
 OUI: Did you research the language?
LEE: I read the Bible. I'm not a religious guy, but I love the rhythm of the Bible. I love the writing. I'm a big Shakespeare buff, too. If you combine the styles of the Bible and Shakespeare, you get a colorful, flavorful type of language, and I tried to throw that into Thor whenever I could.
 OUI: How did you know you were on the right track with this new approach?
LEE: I wasn't even looking for a track. The whole thing started out of sheer boredom. The readers were dying of boredom; I was dying of boredom. Every day I would tell my wife that I wanted to quit, and she kept saying, "Instead of writing the same old  slop, write something better." But I knew we were onto something when the fan mail started coming in. We had never gotten fan mail. I couldn't believe it. I answered every letter. Even now, if I get a letter written in pencil from some five year- old, I can't go to sleep unless that kid has received an answer. It's a compulsion. And in those days, we were getting hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters a day. More than the Beatles, I think. I read every one. I almost went blind reading all those letters until four in the morning. I had to stop after a few years.
 OUI: Weren't you the first to publish letters from readers?
LEE: And answers to them. I kept it w warm and friendly. I got sick of seeing letters beginning Dear Editor and signed Charles Smith. So I'd answer the letter,  “Dear Charlie” and I'd sign it Stan. And little by little, the kids caught on and started writing, "Dear Stan and Jack," "Hey, you nuts in the bull pen"—that type of thing. Which is the feeling I like. Comics should be fun. I can't tell you how many letters began, "Dear Stan, I've got a problem. We've never met, but it's something I can't ask my parents, and I know this will sound crazy, but I'm closer to you than to any other adult I know." There's one letter I'll never forget. A woman wrote to me saying that her son was graduating as class valedictorian and that she and her husband thought I should know, because the three of us did a great job of bringing him up. It was such a nice letter.
 OUI: Do you have adult readers today who have grown up with Marvel?
LEE: Yes, and that had never happened in comic-book history. Before Marvel, kids would start reading comics at age five, and by the time they were 13, it would have been goodbye forever. Marvel, on the other hand, has readers who have remained loyal beyond college age. I’d be lecturing at a college or doing some radio or TV interview and some guy 30 years old will say, "Hey, you're Stan Lee. Jesus Christ, I've been reading your stuff since I was" And he'll get me in a corner and ask how come The Hawk did such and such last issue.
  OUI: And you still attract young readers, despite television?
LEE: We've kept the kids because of the superhero scripts. If we were doing just Westerns we wouldn't be as successful, since television can do Westerns better. Same with romance or crime books. But no medium can do a science-fiction fantasy story as well as a comic book. Animation is too expensive for television or movies, and the animation people can't turn stories out as often or as fast as comics can. We can present a whole galaxy in one little illustration.
 OUI: But science fiction has a limited readership. You must be doing something more than that.
LEE: Our books are fairy tales for older readers. Every kid in the world loves fairy tales, but when he gets to be 12 years old, a kid feels that he's outgrown fairy tales. Then, suddenly, he discovers Marvel Comics. Now he reads about giants, people who fly through the air, people with super powers, villains who are bigger than life. Our stories are not pure science fiction, which can get dull, pedantic and too technical. And they're not just adventure tales. Marvel stories are the closest thing to fairy tales for older readers.
 OUI : Do you also find that more talented adults want to write comics these days?
LEE: There were always people who wanted to get into comics, but there are . many more now. Whereas years ago kids wanted to write for television or movies, today there are lots of young people for whom the be-all and end-all of life is to work for Marvel Comics. Roy Thomas, for instance, who became the editor here after I became publisher, was a big comic-book fan when it wasn't quite so fashionable. He is probably deeper into comics than I am or was or ever could be.
 OUI: How did you get into comics?
LEE: Nothing was more natural. In the beginning, back around the time of Noah's ark, I wanted to be an actor. I was with the WP A Federal Theaterme and Orson Welles. I'd like to feel he's doing an interview right now, saying "Yes, there I was with Stan." Anyway, you couldn't make any -money in the theater in those days. Acting was just something to keep people off the streets. I had a whole family to support-my mother and my father.
 OUI : Has the acting experience helped with the comic-book writing?
LEE: Yes. I now get to play God. I kill. whomever I want and destroy planets, galaxies. I create new universes. We're the only people in the world who can resurrect people. Ever since Christ died, it hasn't happened too often.
 OUI: When did the acting stop and the writing begin?
LEE: I had always been fairly good at writing. The New York Herald Tribune used to run an essay contest for high school kids and I won it three weeks in a row. So the editor called me down and -told me to stop entering the contest and give someone else a chance. He asked what I wanted to be when I became a human being. I said an actor. He said forget it, become a writer. So I got real stupid jobs. One was writing obituaries for people who were still alive. But writing in the past tense about living people soon got to he very depressing. Then I heard about a job opening at Marvel Comics, which was then called Timely Comics. It seemed an easy way to make money. How could anything be easier than writing comics? My first jobs there were to sweep the place, proofread and write stories. Within a few weeks, though, I became the editor, because the guy I worked for left and I was the only other guy there. I was 17 years old. The publisher asked me if I thought I could hold down the job until he hired a real editor. I said I'd try. I've been here for about 38 years.
 OUI: When did Timely Comics finally become Marvel Comics?
LEE: We were Timely Comics for about 20 years. We weren't exactly making any inroads into the cultural life of America, just following the leaders in the field. When Western stories sold, we did Westerns; when the trend was to horror stories, we did horrors. When all the world was into funny little animals because of the Walt Disney comics, we brought out Terry-Toons and a lot of funny little animals. Sometimes we outsold the others; sometimes they outsold us. But business was going nowhere until we came up with The Fantastic Four.
 OUI: Did you write all the comics?
LEE: The majority of them. Sometimes I'd hire a writer, and he'd say, "Oh, gee, I write Westerns but I don't write mysteries." Or, "I write mysteries but I don't write war stories." I never understood that. A story is a story. If it's a Western, you call the guy hombre instead of mister; if it's a war story, you use a couple of battlefield expressions. Out: What about love comics?
LEE: I wrote them all. Maybe I wrote them badly, but they came easily to me.
 OUI: Are the first 30 years the hardest?
LEE: I hope so. I think I feel somewhat secure now. I once jokingly told an interviewer that the publisher was probably still looking for an editor and the article came out saying that Stan Lee was leaving Marvel Comics. I made up my mind right then that I would never again try to make an interview interesting.
 OUI: Never tell the truth in interviews, just make it fast and funny.
LEE: That's the story of my life. It was nice talking to you.
 OUI: So you have always been the editor?
LEE: I was the editor and the head writer. I was always the art director, too. You can’t be a good editor in this business unless you have a strong visual sense. The art and the script are really a unit  
 OUI: Where did you get your art  raining?
LEE: When I was in the Army during World War Two, I was classified as a playwright-one of nine in the entire U.S. Army with that classification. What this really meant was that, when the Army needed some creative job done, I got the call. Because of this, I drew one of the most famous posters of World War Two. It was a poster about venereal disease, which the Army was very concerned about at the time. V.D. was a bigger problem than losing the war. After a GI had had carnal knowledge of a girl he was supposed to go to a prophylaxis station and be cauterized, or whatever the hell they did to him; ,so I drew this poster of a proud, smiling soldier walking into a pro station, and the sign read V.D.? NOT ME. The Army must have printed 12 billion of them and distributed them all over the world! The Army had another serious problem in the war. A guy would be in a foxhole getting his butt shot off. Comes payday, he's not getting paid, because the finance officer isn't available, or something. So I was given the exciting task of rewriting the training manual for finance officers. Now, I know as much about finance as I do about brain surgery. I read the old manual and decided that the new manual should be done as a comic book. I created a little cartoon character called Fiscal Freddie to tell the story. That comic book cut training time by 15 percent. I'd like to think that that was the second "way I won the war singlehanded!  
 OUI: You don't seem like the war hero type.
LEE: I was a very skinny, pink-cheeked, curly-headed kid. I didn't look like a buck-ass sergeant; I always felt a little embarrassed to be a three-striper. Mine wasn't the typical Army life. So I tried to wear the oldest fatigues and keep my face dirty. When I'd see a combat soldier approaching, I'd spit a lot and roll up my sleeves.
 OUI: After your Army poster success, didn't you want to be a commercial artist?
LEE: No, and I'm not sure I really wanted to be a writer, either. I wanted very much to be an actor. I like the idea of being a writer but, God, I hate to write. I've never been the kind of writer who could even have the radio on when he's working. I used to live on Long Island, in a house with a tiny little swimming pool and a terrace around it. I wrote outside. I'd wear a pair of swimming trunks and I'd put a table by the pool, with another table on top of it so I could write standing up. I'd be standing there and I would write facing the sun; as the sun would move, I'd keep turning around. I went blind and ruined my skin, but I loved it. I went to the office only two days a week and was out by the pool the other five days. After awhile, my wife forgot that I was a writer, because I was underfoot all the time. She would have her friends over and they'd be on the terrace talking, laughing, gossiping, and I'd be six feet away at the table, typing. I wasn't able to participate in the conversations and this frustrated me. So I hate to write. But there's no nicer feeling in the world than when you're through writing and you're holding those pages in your hand and you've finished it.
 OUI: It's like hitting your head against the wall, it feels good when you stop.
LEE: But I could never stop for long, because comic books come out once a month, and at that time, I was writing about 12 or 15 of them each month. So I would no sooner finish one and another one was due.
OUI: When did you originate your new way of scripting comics?
LEE: This was back in the Sixties when I first began working with a lot of different artists. I would be writing a story for Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko would come in and say he needed a Spider- Man script. And I'd say, "Steve, I can't write it for you. I haven't finished Kirby's story yet." But I couldn't let Ditko hang around with nothing to do. So I'd say, "Look, Steve, let me give you the plot. You go ahead and draw anything you want and bring it back to me. I’ll put in the dialog." Don Heck would walk in and I'd give him a plot. So I'd keep a lot of artists busy. I got better stories that way. Because all I usually was concerned with was the plot, not details. The artist would go home and decide which were the very best illustrations to tell the story. In the past, the writer had to dream up the illustration ideas as well as the dialog. If you give the artist first crack at the drawings, he wilI very often throw things in that you would never even have thought of.
 OUI: Any favorite examples?
LEE: Well, this is how Jack Kirby and I created The Silver Surfer, one of our most popular characters. most popular characters: I gave Jack an idea for a Fantastic Four story about Galactus; when Jack brought in the drawings, there was The Silver Surfer character. I said, "Who's this?" He said, "Well, I figure somebody as powerful as Galactus ought to have a herald." On seeing the pictures, I gave The Silver Surfer a personality and speech patterns I thought he ought to have. But had we not worked this way, there would have been no Silver Surfer.
 OUI: And now you have institutionalized the procedure?
LEE: Today the artist and writer discuss the story, the artist goes home and draws it and then gives it to the writer. The old way, the writer's creating dialog for a mental image; the new way, he's looking at the character's face and he can pinpoint the dialog. We have had artists who didn't follow the plot carefully. Sometimes they'd bring in something  that was so different; I couldn't remember what the plot was. I really enjoyed that, because then I had to create a whole new story based on the drawings. It was like doing a crossword puzzle.
 OUI: Weren't you also responsible for making the public aware of the people who created the comics?
LEE: I guess so. I always wondered why we were anonymous_ So I thought that, when we started The Fantastic Four, it would be fun to put some credits on the strip. First we wrote, "By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby." After awhile, "By Smilin' Stan and Jolly Jack." And "Lettered by Adorable Arty," and on and on. Even the inkers; "Inked by Joltin' Joe Sinnott." And I put in these nicknames just to give all of us a personality that would appeal to the kids. I treated Marvel like one huge advertising campaign with catchwords and slogans: "Make mine  Marvel!" "Welcome to the Marvel Age in comics!"
 OUI: Do you have a favorite strip?
LEE: Even if I did, it wouldn't be right to say.
 OUI: What about The Hulk? Many readers have the feeling that The Hulk is your favorite. Or Spider-Man?
LEE: Well, I certainly love them both. I get a kick out of The Hulk. We made a hit out of a monster. The Hulk was like Frankenstein’s monster. I always thought the monster was the hero of Frankenstein and everybody else came across bad, like those idiots who chased him with the torches. Here was this poor little monster who didn't want to hurt anybody, and everybody was hounding him. And I said, "Let's get a guy like that." So I love The Hulk. I like Spider-Man, because he's the most successful. And I'm crazy about The Silver Surfer. I love Thor because I love his kind of dialog. I love the bigger-than-life situations. I like writing about gods. You like them all. Whichever one I am writing I like best at that moment,
 OUI: You once spoke of the flawed superhero who has problems in his life. Is that the philosophy behind heroes like The Hulk or Spider-Man?
LEE: In the past, most of the characters had been superhero stereotypes. The good guys never made mistakes, always won in the end. This is ridiculous, I think of myself as a good guy, and very heroic, but—and this will come as a great shock to you—I have made a mistake or two in my life. And I imagine there are some bad guys who still love dogs and send their mother a Mother's Day card every year. I've argued with the people at the Code of the Comics Magazine Association about this subject when they objected to a book in which the hero didn't win at the end or in which the villain escaped. They'd say it was bad for the kids. And I disagreed. The best thing you can do for kids is to equip them to face life. There are such things in life as corrupt politicians and corrupt cops and corrupt parents. A kid can keep his nose to the grindstone all his life, never tell a lie, go to church every Sunday and still contract a horrible disease. It's ridiculous to give kids a fairy-tale notion that if you alias do everything right, you'll marry the fairy princess and live happily ever after. The trick is to let them know that life is unpredictable, but that it's better to play it the right way. We live in hope that the world will be a better place if we're all honest, if we all love one another.
 OUI: Does everything you publish have to be submitted to the Code?
LEE: Oh, yes. But there's no problem. No matter how hip and offbeat we try to be, we're aware that there are many young kids reading our books, so we never get too sexy or too violent or too shocking in any way. There's really nothing that the Code requires that we wouldn't do without a code. out: But didn't you once bring out a book without the approval of the Code?
LEE: I might as well tell the whole story. Years ago I got a letter from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, saying, "Your books have such great influence, and drug addiction is such a problem, that it would be great if one of your stories pointed up the dangers. "I felt that was a worthwhile project, so I did a Spider-Man series, a story that ran for three issues, The drug-addiction theme. was peripheral. I don't like to hit a kid over the head with a lecture. Spider-Man was fighting the Green Goblin, and one of his friends was taking an overdose. Spider-Man ended up giving his friend a lecture on what an idiot he was to take the drugs, We sent these books to the Code and they wouldn't give us the seal of approval. It was forbidden in the Code to mention. drugs. Well, we didn't mention them in an appealing way. And we had been asked to do the story by HEW. "No, we're sorry," the Code said, "you can't do this, blah, blah, blah...." So I figured the hell with it; we sent out  the issues without the Code's seal. Right after that the Code was Liberalized; now we're allowed to mention drugs. Not that Marvel continually does. It's funny, because National Comics immediately felt that if we did it, they would do it. But they went all out. They had a cover showing a guy giving himself a needle in the arm. I don't know what the hell they were trying to do.
 OUI: Did the absence of the Code seal affect the sales?
LEE: Not a bit.
 OUI:  Weren't you also involved in a venture with underground comics?
LEE: Kirby and I were once on a radio show at WBAI and the interviewer said, "Boy, you guys are getting so successful," I said, "Well, we're still just a little outfit trying to keep alive" And Jack said, "Oh, come on, Stan. You know we're the biggest. We sell more copies and we're the most successful" covered up the microphone and said, "Jack, that isn't the image we want. The minute people think you're the biggest, they start rooting for somebody else. It's human nature. I like the image that we're still a little company, yapping at the heels of the big boys—like National Comics, which has Warner Bros. behind it." Jack said, "No, I think when you're big you should say you're big." I didn't want the public to think of us as a nice, respectable, staid comic-book company. So I figured it would be great if Marvel could do an underground book, even if it didn't have the seal. got Dennis Kitchen, one of the cleverest guys in the underground field, to edit the book and produce it for us. We were going to call it Comix Book. But I realized that for it to really be an underground book it had to be kind of sexy and shocking. I didn't want anything that would hurt Marvel or alienate any parents,
 OUI: In other words, you were going to give the underground people a shot at the newsstand?
LEE: Yes. I thought it was a good idea. But it turned out to be a rather emasculated underground book. And although I thought it was good, it. jut wasn't sexy enough. And it didn't sell well enough. So finally I suggested to Dennis that he take the whole book so that Marvel would have no connection with it. And that's what he did.
 OUI:  But is it still Marvel-funded?
LEE: I can tell you exactly what it is. We made a deal that Dennis would pay us maybe five percent of profits —I don't remember—but a very small royalty  for the use of the Comix name we had copyrighted. And maybe someday we'll buy it back and go into it. Actually, I should be doing more underground stuff. I have a million new ideas that I haven't had time to follow up on—that I can't do while I'm at Marvel. I don't want people to start to say, "Ah, Lee is old and tired and doing the same thing day after day."
 OUI: Do you feel that you've been in a rut?
LEE: Not really. I was always involved with outside writing projects. 1 used to ghostwrite radio shows and TV stuff. I even did newspaper comic strips that were eminently forgettable. I worked for a while on the Howdy Doody strip. I did a strip called Mrs. Lyons' Cubs about cub scouts. I did a strip called Willie Lumpkin, which was a funny experience. The one thing I'm not good at writing is bucolic stuff; it just isn't my style. So one day I came up with an idea for a comic strip about a cop in New York City; it was going to be a hip, humorous strip about the people on the cop's beat. I called it Barney's Beat. So I took the idea to the syndicate and the head of the syndicate liked it. I figured I was off and running, that this was going to be the biggest thing since Peanuts. Then he said, "I just want you to make one little change: instead of a cop on a beat, make the character a mailman—a lovable mailman in a small town; let's call him something like Willie Lumpkin+" So all of a sudden I was doing a bucolic strip—the one thing that I shouldn't write.
 OUI: What about movies? Is it true that Fellini is one of your fans?
LEE: That was a funny thing. I'm sitting minding my own business and the receptionist tells me that someone is here to see me, someone named Fellini. I said, "Fellini who?" I figured she is going to say Irving Fellini. "Federico," she said. 1 didn't know what the gag was, but I went along with it. I said, "OK, show him in." A minute later this guy walks in,          black coat over his shoulders —no Italian director would be caught dead putting his arms in the sleeves—a big hat with a big brim, and a big cigarette holder. He had an entourage, a half dozen guys who followed him single file in descending order of height.
 OUI: They looked as if you could put them inside one another?
LEE:! Exactly. I couldn't imagine why Fellini wanted to see me. When I realized that it really was FeIlini, I wanted to talk about him. All he wanted to do, though, was talk about me and Marvel Comics. After a while I was sure he was going to say, "All right, I want you to come to Italy and write all my movies." But no, just talk; then he left
 OUI: He used to be in comics, didn't he?
LEE: He had once been a cartoonist and is very interested in the whole field.
 OUI: Was that meeting the end of your relationship?
LEE: We've exchanged quite a few letters. Nothing more. Then, a few years later, the same receptionist tells me, "Stan, Alain Resnais is here to see you," I said, "Oh sure, send him in, What took him so long?" Alain came in with a camera, and he kept snapping pictures of me while we were talking. I thought it was the funniest thing in the world: the internationally famous director who did Last Year at Marienbad and Hiroshima, Mon Amour taking pictures of me. Alain said he practically learned to speak English by reading my comics. Now be and I work together on screenplays. We're best friends. We did a screenplay called The Monster  Maker. As far as I know, the thing is still on the shelf. So we have a new one now that has to do with the whole universe. I figure if you're going to write a movie, write big.
 OUI: The whole universe? Can you give us a 25-word synopsis?
LEE: It explains what's going on in the universe—what ifs all about; why we're here. I figure it's about time I let people in on that. It's called The Inmates. I think it's sensational.
 OUI: Do you have any TV projects?
LEE: I'm negotiating, now to do a Spider-Man series, like Six Million Dollar Man, on prime-time television. Spider-Man is also going to be a newspaper comic strip with the Register and Tribune syndicate. And I sold another strip called The Virtue of Vera Valiant, a soap opera along the line of Mary Hartman. I have an idea for two rock operas using our Fantastic Four characters. One I wrote the treatment for. The other I haven't put down on paper et. I'd like us to be involved in 'every form, shape and type of media. I'd love for us to do movies, television, stage shows—everything. We ought to have a Marvel Land, like Disneyland. And then I've still got to write a novel pretty soon, since my wife will never think of me as a writer until I write a story between two hard covers and have it made into a movie starring Robert Redford.
 OUI: What's your greatest ambition?

LEE: To have a week's vacation.