This week everyone is talking about Spider Man. Everyone except my kids. They’re still talking about The Hulk because it was the most intense roller-coaster ride they’ve ever experienced. I’m talking about it, too. Your humble columnist isn’t afraid of much, but being whipped around upside-down at 95 m.p.h. until your kishkes are in your mouth is enough to leave anyone frazzled? I’m on that rare vacation, gang, and this installment if Past Masters is coming to you from sunny–and seriously humid–Orlando, Florida, tourist capital of the south, where Universal’s Islands of Adventure is living proof that if you create a few cool superheroes and keep them active for two score, there’s a couple million accidental tourists only too happy to line up and fork over their $58 each so you can turn them upside-down and whip them around and shake up their kishkes.

Whether your senses are spinning from the Hulk ride or the new Spider Man 2 movie, you’ve got to hand it to Stan Lee. Never content to rest on his laurels, he’s still spinning out new ideas and projects with the same enthusiasm and energy he churned them out with back in the fabled Silver Age. Just recently, IDT Entertainment announced that it had acquired a minority equity interest in Stan’s company POW! Entertainment and the two companies are planning to co-produce and co-develop at least six animation projects for direct-to-DVD distribution and broadcast.

Sounds exciting? It does to me. That’s why I’ve just accepted IDT Entertainment’s offer to join their Creative Development team. A chance to work with a living legend like Stan Lee might only come once in a lifetime. We won’t nudge Stan for a comment right now, but you shouldn’t be shy about asking him about it when he appears at San Diego’s ComicCon in July. You can find him at the IDT Entertainment booth, right next to your favorite SBC columnist. (No, Tim Hartnett won’t be there. I meant me.)

This week, I’ve dusted off more of that extensive interview I did with Stan nearly two decades ago. As previously noted, parts of this interview were used in the now defunct publications Home Viewer and Comics Scene, but a lot of this is virgin material. Enjoy.

Meth: You’ve spoken of the writers you admire. How are these people helping shape values?

Lee: I don’t think of that at all. I figure anybody who does anything well is usually a good guy. I’m interested in can a fellow write well; does he write things that I like to read; do people say things that I like to hear. I don’t like to hear things are negative or destructive or that are downers. So I assume usually that the people I like and admire are good people. But I must admit I’m not saying to myself is this guy good for America, good for religion, or good for the human race. I don’t get that deep into it.

Meth: Who reads comic books?

Lee: Everybody. Young people, of course, but everybody. Since Marvel Comics, the age group has increased radically. It used to be, before Marvel, the kids who read comics were mostly five to ten or eleven. Now, they still start at five but they go up to college and beyond. What happened since the advent of Marvel Comics, they seem to stay with the comics longer. They don’t drop out as much because a more intelligent teenager seems to find something to enjoy. Thirty years ago, you’d read comics and throw them away. There was nothing to think about. They were all formula.

Meth: You mentioned that you used to put your philosophy into your stories. How would you characterize your philosophy?your outlook?

Lee: I don’t have any one philosophy. I used to write a lot of stories about the problem of bigotry. I’ve always felt it’s perfectly fine to dislike anybody you want to dislike. But don’t dislike them because of their religion or their color or their national origin. That’s bigotry and that’s bad. You can dislike a Black Man or a Catholic or a Jew or a midget or a giant or anything, but dislike him for a good and valid reason, as an individual. If you say, “I don’t like all giants” or redheads or guys with beards, you’re a fool?you’re a bigot. So I used to put a lot of those thoughts into my stories. Today, I write the Spider Man newspaper strip where I express my feelings about crime. I think that one of the worst things in the world is to let a criminal go free because some officer didn’t read him his rights, or there’s some technicality. They break into an apartment and find a guy who is a murderer with all the evidence, but the guy goes free because they didn’t have a warrant to break into the apartment. I think that’s terrible. I don’t feel that crime should be considered a game like baseball?the guy is safe because you didn’t touch first base, or something like that. If the policeman forgot to read the guy his rights, then punish the policeman; put him on suspension for a week, fire him, shoot him, I don’t care?but don’t let the criminal go free.

Meth: Do you see comics fitting into the educational system?

Lee: Sure. When I was in the army, I was in the signal corps and my job was to write instructional books for the troops, teaching them how to do all sorts of things. One of the types of books I used to do was comics. I remember a crazy thing: In the finance department, they weren’t training officers fast enough and this was hurting army morale because there would be guys overseas in foxholes who were getting their butts shot off and they weren’t getting paid on time because there weren’t enough finance officers to come around on pay day. It was very important that we find a way to speed up the training. Now you will say, what in hell do comic books have to do with finance, but I did a book entitled The Adventure of Fiscal Freddie. I made a little cartoon character who used to run around with payroll forms. While following his adventures, we were teaching the embryonic officers how to do the payroll. We were able to cut the training period in half, and I’d like to think that I won the war single-handedly.

Meth: Who should play Stan Lee in “The Stan Lee Story?”

Lee: Let’s see? I could go for Robert Redford, Paul Newman? Errol Flynn isn’t around anymore? Marlon Brando would probably be interested?

Meth: If you could interview any three people throughout history, who would they be?

Lee: Shakespeare? I don’t want to answer too quickly? Hmm. I never thought of this before. Leonardo daVinci. And maybe either Edison or Einstein. I might change my mind ten minutes from now if I think about it some more. It’s like which book you’d like to take to a desert island with you. Every time I think about that, I come up with a different title.

© 2004, Clifford Meth

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