Stan Lee has given the world a wealth of iconic fictional heroes, pop-cultural references and words of wisdom.
But when he started out at Marvel, the fledgling comic book publisher that came to be synonymous with his name, he was just hoping his new titles would sell so that he could keep his job and pay the rent.
“If I had known it would be that big, I would have become an actor. I want to be Robert Downey,” Lee joked to a Fan Expo audience last month, referring to the star of the Iron Man series of films.
Lee – born Stanley Lieber – was making his third appearance at Fan Expo, the annual Canadian science fiction, fantasy, horror, anime and gaming convention in Toronto, and he kept everyone in stitches at a question-and-answer panel session moderated by Teddy Wilson, co-host of Innerspace on the Space channel
The 90-year-old Lee, the man behind some of the most notable and beloved comic characters of all time – a short list includes Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor – showed that his creative mind is still full of stories.
He spoke of working alongside fellow artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, whom he called “the greatest visual storytellers” of their time, during the years that have come to be known as the Silver Age of Comics.
He said they never imagined how successful the heroes they created would all become.
Giving fans a glimpse into his personal life, Lee, who has been married to his wife, Joan, for the past 66 years, was asked what he believes makes a strong marriage.
He said that as a young man, he happened one day to bump into the very girl he had fantasized all his life about marrying, so “I grabbed her.”
“I was very, very, very lucky.”
You can hear in his voice that he adores her. “She’s just great,” he said.
She also keeps him grounded.
He might be treated like a celebrity at places such as Fan Expo, but when he gets home, his wife will ask him, “Can you take out the garbage?”
After a pause, he corrected himself.
“She doesn’t really say that. She says, ‘You better take out the garbage.’”
Not that they haven’t had their disagreements.
Lee said he used to write all the stories for the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and other characters on a Remington Noiseless Portable typewriter – “It really made noise. The name wasn’t accurate” – and one day, when they were having an argument, Joan became mad at him – “She’s Irish and has a hot temper” – that she took the typewriter and “smashed it on the floor” and it broke into a million pieces.
“I said to her the other day, ‘Do you know what we could auction that typewriter for and all the things I could have bought you with that money?’… so I had my revenge,” he joked.
For more from Lee, check out the videos on The CJN’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/CanadianJewishNews.