Stan Lee is CEO of POW! Entertainment.
Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, X-Men, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four are some of the characters he has helped create
The female fan audience has grown over the past years, creating a market for more super-heroines.
Lee is exploring new markets. Besides from creating a Chinese hero, he is also working on the launch of a digital comic book hero for India.
Editor’s note: Watch CNN’s TV theme week Comic Book Heroes from June 10-17 on World Report, CNN Newstream and I-desk.
Last week a smartly dressed elderly gentleman sat patiently in a crowd on a sunny afternoon in New York City awaiting his part in a super-hero movie. Unusually, for an extra, the man was attracting as much attention as the film’s A-list cast.
While Spider-man sweltered beneath his lycra suit, 90-year-old Stan Lee coolly answered questions from fans of his own, eager to know how he helped create the webbed super-hero, along with Iron Man, Thor, X-Men, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four and scores of other heroes of the Marvel Comic books.
In an interview with CNN, the Godfather of comic book heroes downplayed his role in history, claiming he just did as he was told:
“The publisher had me doing western magazines, crime magazines, men’s adventure magazines, even romance and teenage magazines and one day he came to me and he said you know one of our competitors has a book called The Justice League and it’s selling well and it’s a bunch of superheroes, why don’t we do some superhero magazines? I said OK, I wanted to keep my job so I came up with The Fantastic Four and the others and that was the only reason. If my publisher hadn’t said ‘let’s do superhero stories’ I’d probably still be doing A Kid Called Outlaw, The Two Gun Kid or Millie the Model or whatever I was doing at the time.”
Lee admits that the superhero universe he co-created more than fifty years ago was almost entirely devoid of super-heroines.
“The reason there haven’t been as many super-heroines as superheroes is when we first started doing these kind of stories, when Marvel was first doing The Fantastic Four and Spiderman and The X-Men there were many more men, there were many more males than females buying comic books so we always really directed our stories towards the male reader and we had male readers and male super-heroes.”
Nowadays he says, the female audience for comic book heroes is huge and hopes to see the shift reflected in the stories and their characters.
“Little by little this field became so popular that the boys’ sisters started reading the stories and getting interested in them. Now when we have a movie like Thor or the Avengers or Iron Man, you’ll get as many females going to the theatre as males therefore I predict you will see pretty much as many super-heroines as superheroes as time goes by.”
After half a century of seeing U.S. comic book giants Marvel and DC Comics exporting American heroes to the world, Lee feels it’s time for a change.
“We figured it’s about time that we had heroes who weren’t just all American and what we would be more and what would be more interesting than having a superhero who is Chinese?
So Stan Lee created The Annihilator – an animated character which he hopes will become the star of a super-hero movie co-produced with China.
“He has many of the Chinese characteristics and virtues that one would expect in a Chinese movie but we have successfully transferred them to a movie of worldwide appeal but we haven’t lost the feeling of what it’s like to be a Chinese young man who is suddenly thrust in to an adventure which involves a super power and a super foe but he’s guided by the background, his own background and his Chinese heritage, the things he’s learned, the things he’s experienced.”
But how will China react to such an imported hero?
“I see no reason why a Chinese audience wouldn’t love a Chinese superhero created by an American or created by anyone else as long as the character is exciting and authentic and interesting.”
Lee is also working on the launch of a digital comic book hero for India – Chakra the Invincible.
“I think that audiences throughout the world love superheroes. I mean you could go back to the time of The Odyssey, whether it’s William Tell or El Cid. Every type, every nationality, every culture has had superheroes in their legends. People love that sort of thing. The Greek gods and so forth.”
He hopes the rise of the super-hero blockbuster movie will inspire young fans to follow in his footsteps.
“Every generation has its brilliant young people who want to do these films and I think that more and more talented people get involved and as long as that happens we will always have new and exciting themes for these films.”
Lee believes that this will ensure continuing interest in comic book characters which have stood the test of time.
“The thing about superhero stories, they are like fairy tales for grown ups. Every child loved reading fairy tales when he or she was a child. They were stories about monsters and witches and giants and magicians, well superhero stories have that same flavor but they are done for adults as well as for children.”