For one precious hour, students and members of the Irvine community basked in the presence of a pop literature god. Stan “The Man” Lee worked with comic artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to co-create what would become some of the biggest characters in comics—superheroes like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Iron Man, Daredevil and the Hulk, to name a few. Stan Lee’s career spans over 60 years in the comic industry, and on Thursday May 8, he took time out of his busy schedule to be a part of a rare Q&A with students and members of the community lucky enough to score tickets.
The event, including a post-interview showing of “Spider-Man 2” at HIB 100, was organized to be the climax of the Film and Media 130: American Superheroes class that was offered this quarter. The class is the brainchild of visiting film and media professor Matt Yockey, who contacted Lee’s people about visiting for a discussion. As chance would have it, Lee would be in the Los Angeles area for a book signing on Saturday, May 10 to promote his new political humor book, “Stan Lee Presents Election Daze: What Are They Really Saying?” He graciously agreed to spare an hour to speak with the students of UCI.
After a heartening introduction by Yockey, Lee took the stage, quickly dismissing the microphone to speak directly to his audience. Lee gave a brief talk about the nationality of superheroes, citing their origins in Homer, and Chinese and Indian mythology, but also respecting Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for introducing the world to Superman, who cracked open the door for more costumed heroes to follow. “It was really on their work that everything else was built,” Lee said, “[Comics] are really an American art form. … Comic book-wise, boy, we were the first!”
The remainder of the hour consisted of questions from members of the audience. Though Lee had not had time to prepare for the discussion, he was nevertheless quick-witted and relished the opportunity to tell a story.
As much as Lee was enjoying the opportunity, the audience hung onto his every word and frequently laughed at his snappy lines. Clearly age has not dimmed his easygoing nature and energetic rapport with his fans, though Yockey had to repeat or clarify some questions to the comics legend. The questions ranged from the nostalgic “How was the creative process with [artist and co-creator] Jack Kirby?” to the inquisitive “Will they still be reading comics and making comic movies 100 years from now?”
The best question of the night – “How is the comics industry reacting to Manga reaching larger audiences of women than traditional comics?” – was somewhat lost in translation, with Yockey dumbing down the question to, “How come comic books don’t appeal to girls?” Lee responded with, “There are a lot of girls who like comics!” at which the small population of women in the audience cheered.
Lee went on to cite the comic book movies as points of interest that have been drawing female readers into the world of comics, which implied that the comics industry hasn’t, and probably wouldn’t change to explicitly attract female interest. Instead, the new female readership is incidental and results from the cross-pollination of comics into other mediums. On a related note, Lee answered a later question about rumors of his involvement in writing for Manga books, stating that he is currently working on three separate books, one of which, titled “Ultimo,” will be illustrated by Hiroyuki Takei, creator of the anime “Shadow King.”
Lee also answered several comic-specific questions, defending the controversial decision by Marvel CEO Joe Quesada to undo Spider-Man’s marriage in a recent storyline titled “One More Day.”
“I did the same thing years ago—I’m the guy who decided that Spider-Man should get married, many years ago. And we had the same complaints that Joe gets now. When you enjoy something, you want it to stay the way it is and enjoy it, but if it really stays the way it is too long, people start getting tired of it,” Lee said.
Eventually, time ticked down to 7 p.m. and Lee relinquished the stage amid much applause, exiting with his trademark phrase, “Excelsior!” Attendees of the discussion were invited to continue the night’s events and convene in HIB 100 for a screening of “Spider-Man 2.” About half of the 284 students and members of the community that were stuffed into the sold-out Social Science Hall watched the 2004 film.
Yockey proposed the idea of a discussion and movie event night to Lauren Steimer, professor in the department of film and media studies and director of the Film and Video Center. With Yockey engaging Lee’s attendance, Steimer and assistant director Kimberly Yaari worked hard to secure the lecture hall, organize ticket sales and support equipment and advertise for the event. Though concerned about possible poor interaction between Lee and his audience, Steimer was relieved at the attendance and light-hearted tone of the event.
“[Lee] kept saying that this was the best group of students, he actually said that, that these guys were so great,” Steimer said. “And I think it was because they were respectful and didn’t bombard him with autographs, they simply stood there and listened to what he had to say. I think that’s something great we have here at UCI. At some other schools, it’s difficult to have that kind of reverence for such a popular figure.”
The Film and Video Center will end its superhero screenings and feature several films from its French New Wave theme, as well as New Hollywood films later this