Stan Lee led the American comic book revolution in the 1950s and 1960s as president of Marvel Comics. Under his astute stewardship he built a strong and loyal fanbase for a host of groundbreaking titles such as the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men and the iconic Spider-Man series. He also was responsible for turning Marvel Comics into the giant multimedia corporation it is today. The veteran publisher talks to us about Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, the latest videogame featuring his stable of characters …
What was the role you played in developing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2?
In all honesty I'm not involved with the development. Activision deserves 100% of the credit. But when the game is done they show it to me, and I'm usually so impressed that I tell them, next time you have one of these conventions you'd better have me there so I can talk about it.
What do the characters get up to in Ultimate Alliance?
It has more characters than I have ever seen, more characters that you yourself can take the identity of. You can play it with three other people, and I think it has 150 different ways of having fusion with their powers. It's based on a theme from Marvel Comics about the superhero wars where the superheroes fought each other. They use their powers exactly the way they do in the comics, yet it's highly original and a new experience.
Did you have any idea back when you were creating them that in 2009 these characters would be living on in this way?
I'd love to be able to sit here and say, "Oh sure, I knew these things were destined for greatness," but no, I had no idea at all. We were sat in this dusty little office, the artists and me and we were drawing them and writing them and we just hoped people would buy the magazines. That was as far as our aspirations went.
If you were starting out now, do you think you would have started out in games rather than comics?
If I were young now and I wanted to do stories, I would very much want to get into the videogame business because it's the most exciting. Videogames and movies are the most exciting forms of entertainment. But a videogame in a way is more imaginative, it has more variety. In a movie you stick to the plotline, in a videogame you go in a million different directions. I have no idea how they're able to do that. It's like a miracle.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Well it's like anything else, if he or she wants to be a writer they should first study writing. Don't study comic writing, study writing – read literature, read the best writers you can find. Learn the language, learn how to use it. If you want to be an artist, you've got to study the best artists in the business and try to draw as well as they do. But too many people try to become artists in comics and they're not as good as the ones that are presently drawing the comics.
Are you working on any other projects?
We have a new company called Pow! Entertainment. The only thing I can give away is we have three movies in development at Walt Disney.
Have you been surprised by the way recent superhero movies have reinvigorated the comic book genre?
It doesn't surprise me at all. There is still nothing that can take the place of a comic book, just as nothing can really replace a videogame, or a movie, or a double-rich ice cream sundae!
What do you think is the greatest misconception about comic books?
The fact that it isn't really literature. As far as I'm concerned, a really great comic-book story is every bit as creative and important as a great story done in any other form of the media.
Of all the comic-book icons, you seem to be one of the most recognisable personalities. Do you cultivate that?
Somehow anonymity seems to have eluded me. Since becoming Marvel's editor in what feels like a zillion years ago, I always tried to talk up Marvel and promote all our stories and writers and artists, and in so doing, I guess I became like the figurehead for the company. So, like it or not, I've been the Marvel spokesman for decades – and after all this time, I think I've managed to get used to it.
Which character did you wish you had created?
I wish I could've created all of them. Imagine how great it would be to say, "Oh yeah, Superman is mine and I dreamed up Batman when I had some spare time!" I've always liked offbeat characters, so it would have been nice to have created DC's Lobo, and I wish that I could have dreamed up Wolverine. Another favourite of mine is Jack Kirby's Darkseid.
Which of your characters is the most like you?
They all are. When writing about a character, the only way to make him empathetic and believable is to imagine that you are that character. All of them are representative of me – especially Irving Forbush.
You recently announced a TV project concerning a gay superhero. How's that progressing?
So far it's looking real good. We're waiting for the final decision from the network.
How much of a difference has it made now that Marvel is able to make its own movies?
A great difference. Nobody knows our characters or what makes them popular as well as Marvel. Now that they have complete control of the movies it's certain that each production will be as true to the characters as possible.