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?