Stan Lee on With Great Power & Marvel Movies

The co-creator of Marvel’s greatest superheroes talks to us about a new documentary based on his life and more!

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

This weekend, the Epix movie channel is premiering a documentary on Marvel superhero creator Stan Lee. As part of their Marvel Heroes Week, Lee will host the films Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America in anticipation of The Avengers.

Lee is also the subject of the Epix original documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, which follows him from his humble beginnings at Marvel to the red carpet premieres of the films based on his creations. It also gets rather personal with Lee and his wife and addresses some of their family tragedies.

We got a private audience with Stan Lee to follow up on subjects from the documentary. Lee marveled, pun intended, at my tiny recorder and shared his wisdom on the comic book industry. With Great Power premieres Friday April 27 at 8 on Epix.

CraveOnline: I was surprised how personal the documentary goes. Did they warn you they were going there?

Stan Lee: No, it just happened. I just answered any questions they asked me. Then they said, “Let’s do something with your wife.” I was led around by the nose. I did whatever they wanted me to do.

CraveOnline: Do you normally talk about subjects like the daughter you lost?

Stan Lee: No, unless it comes up for some reason, it’s something we try not to think about. I talk about my wife all the time.

CraveOnline: I was gratified to see you have a messy room. That makes me feel about my organization.

Stan Lee: Of course I don’t think it’s messy. To me it’s perfect. My wife thinks it’s messy.

CraveOnline: Is that just something creative types have, just one room that’s the way they like it?

Stan Lee: I can’t speak for others but when you write and you have to keep reference material, I need my fax, I need my copier, I need my printer, my computer, a little bed, everything. So how else can you arrange them but the way I have them?

CraveOnline: Was there ever a time when you thought there would never be any movies about Marvel comic book characters?

Stan Lee: I never thought there would never be any movies but I never thought there would be. I never thought in terms of movies at all. When we were doing the characters I just hoped the books would sell. That was as far as I could go. I hope this one’ll sell and we’ll continue doing it.

CraveOnline: Now they keep doing the origin story. Even after they’ve done an origin story they go back and do another origin.

Stan Lee: I know. It’s amazing.

CraveOnline: Do you think it’s time to move past the origin story and just tell stories about the heroes?

Stan Lee: It’s a good question. Enough with the origin stories. I hadn’t thought about it. I think what happens is maybe it’s too hard to keep coming up with a new movie idea with a new great villain or something. While they’re thinking about it, “Oh, do the origin story again. That’ll keep them from forgetting about it until we can come up with the next story.”

CraveOnline: Do you have a good cameo in The Avengers?

Stan Lee: Oh yeah. And wait ‘til you see the one in Spider-Man. I love those cameos.

CraveOnline: Can you tell us anything about the ones you have coming up?

Stan Lee: No, I’m not allowed.

CraveOnline: What is it like for you to see a movie poster with all your characters on it: The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and more?

Stan Lee: Unbelievable. It really is incredible. I don't know why DC didn’t do it earlier. They could have done it with Justice League, but we beat ‘em to it!

CraveOnline: When you wrote the first stories, did you imagine what the art would look like?

Stan Lee: Not really. I had a vague idea because I knew how [Steve] Ditko drew, I knew how [Jack] Kirby drew. So I had a vague idea but not exactly. I always let them create the look themselves.

CraveOnline: What do you think of the way comic books are read now with iPad apps?

Stan Lee: Well, it’s the coming thing. I imagine that comic books will never sell the way they did in the past but there’ll always be comics. They’ll just be on your iPad, iPhone, on whatever devices we have.

CraveOnline: Do you think artists will get the same opportunities with those mediums that you did when you joined Marvel?

Stan Lee: Oh, I think probably there are more opportunities than ever for artists now, because these things are becoming so popular that there’s more and more stories like this. So whether you see them on your iPad or in a comic book or on your television screen, somebody has to do them. And those are the artists and the writers.

CraveOnline: After all these years and documentaries is there anything you haven’t discussed about your comic book career?

Stan Lee: No, I think there’s nothing more I can do in comics really so I’ve got this little company called Pow Entertainment. We’re working on movies and television and things like that and that’s fun.

CraveOnline: Did anything surprise you about making the documentary?

Stan Lee: Not really. I didn’t have much time to spend on it. Every time they wanted to film something, I said, “Make it fast. I have work to do.”

CraveOnline: How much of your old archival material have you saved?

Stan Lee: Oh golly, I was never smart enough to save anything. Other guys would say, “My mother threw away all my comics.” My mother didn’t care. I could’ve saved them. I was such a dumb kid. None of us knew in those days. All the artists and writers, we gave away our old scripts, our artwork, everything.

We didn’t have anything room. We had a small office and if a guy would come to deliver a sandwich to us from the drugstore downstairs, we’d say, “On your way out, will you take some of these books with you? We have no place to put them.” That’s the way it worked.

CraveOnline: Did you read the DC comic books?

Stan Lee: Did I read DC? Not really. I didn’t have the time. I would look at the covers just to see what they were doing but I haven’t read the stories.

CraveOnline: I would get in trouble for reading both. They said you had to pick one or the other.

Stan Lee: Nah, if I had the time I would’ve read them too. Most of the guys who did the DC books were friends of mine, just as Marvel. We all knew each other but I literally did not have the time to read the books.

CraveOnline: When you got to play your role in Mallrats, what did you think of that script and the way Kevin Smith saw Stan Lee?

Stan Lee: The script was good. It was a little too raunchy for my tastes in some areas, but Kevin Smith is a genius to me. He’s a great guy and I love my role. Funny thing about that though, I was saying something to Jason, the star of the movie, about I too had a girl that I once loved and I’ve never been able to forget her. When I went home, my wife said, “Who’s this girl you were talking about?” I said, “Honey, that’s a movie. It’s a script.” It took me a while to convince her that I was just reading a script.

CraveOnline: But even in the movie you say that was just a lie you told him, that you just got it from one of your comic books.

Stan Lee: I think my wife didn’t get that part of the movie.

CraveOnline: Well, you didn’t have to be raunchy. You got to be the wise man.

Stan Lee: That’s right, as I am. I’m incredibly wise.