Stan Lee – A Comic book Convention Story
…but it’s not his fault. Well, not really. I don’t think… I think he schedules too much for himself at conventions. He is literally going from a signing to a photo-op, to another signing, to a brunch, and back again to the beginning to do it all over again. It’s like a cattle call. Thousands of people descend on this comic legend for autographs. They all want to meet their hero! Stan Lee! How could any person live up to everyone’s expectation? Stan has managed it for years, but I think it has taken its toll.
My first exposure to Stan “the Man” Lee was Spider Man and His Amazing Friends. His very recognizable voice narrated the intro for each episode. He was my hero. He created The X-Men, Captain America, the Avengers (premiering at the Tribeca Film Fest tomorrow!), Spider Man, and the Hulk! These fictional characters were pretty much my childhood best friends!
When I was 13, my younger brother bought stock in Marvel comics. Every year we went to the stockholder meeting, and at each event we got real one on one time with Stan. I think he appreciated that there were kids there. He flocked right to us, because WE were his audience. At these events he was nothing but warm and inviting. He was like ‘Uncle Stan.”
About a year later, I had the opportunity to meet him at an open autograph session at my local Barnes and Noble. Once again, he was nothing but wonderful. He smiled. He asked what our favorite comics were, and posed for a picture. He was still in ‘Uncle Stan’ mode.
Jump ahead 22 years! Now I have a son. Stan no longer works for the company he built. Actually, that company no longer exists. They filed chapter 11. It is now Marvel Worldwide, Inc., which is a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, which was acquired by Disney in 2009. The funny book company has gone disgustingly corporate.
But Stan has a new company, POW! Entertainment. I’m a stock holder in this new(ish) endeavor. They are creating a catalog of characters for licensing in various forms of media. I still haven’t received a dividend…
I had the pleasure of encountering my hero Stan for the tenth or so time in my life at the horrible, I repeat, horrible, comic book convention known as the Mike Carbo’s New York Comic Book Market. This is simply the worst convention on the face of the planet. I could go through a list of why it was so terrible, but I’ll simply give you two line items: 1. At one point during the show a short rotund man wearing a cowboy duster wandered through with a mega phone screaming that we should all protect our belongings because there are thieves on the floor stealing belonging from people’s bags. 2. While waiting in line for Stan, the very nice gentleman in line behind me pointed out another man who was wearing a 70’s era suit. It was the show’s namesake, Mike Carbonara. Mike yelled for people to get out of his way. The people in his way were children. I heard someone compare him to Doctor Detroit, and I have to admit the comparison was dead-on.
The problem with Stan: One single autograph requiring 1.5 seconds of his time cost $50. A second autograph was an additional $50. A photo with Stan Lee? You guessed it, $50. To attend a mixer with Stan? $175, which would include one autograph. There was some kind of V.I.P. pass as well, which would entitle you to 2 autographs and a bag full of stuff. I think that was in the $300 range. So, basically, with every breath that the man takes he’s making a couple of hundred dollars while at the nefarious NYCBM. You’d think he’d be happy about it. You’d think that he’d at least look the people in the eye that he was taking money from. Nope. Maybe he was ashamed?
Quick digression: I’m assembling a library of books for my son inscribed by my favorite authors with words of encouragement about being creative. I’ve gotten Dave Gibbons, James Robinson, Paul Levitz, Robert Kirkman (twice), Walt and Louise Simonson, Carmine Infantino, Chris Claremont, Garth Ennis, and many others all writing the nicest things in the world to my son.
When I got face to face with Stan, I attempted to ask if he could write something to my son, “maybe just an Excelsior!” Rather than speak to me himself, some ‘Security’ guy cut me off and told me he’ll only sign it. A little put off, I held out a piece of paper that had the spelling of my son’s name on it. I asked him to sign it to him at least. Reluctantly, he did. I was blown away by the lack of respect Stan had for the thousands of people who came to see him, the tens of thousands of dollars that were spent by his fans to meet him for a fraction of a second. I just couldn’t believe he didn’t even look in their direction. I hung around for a few minutes after to see if it was just me. Maybe Stan just didn’t like the cut of my jib. Nope. Every fan was treated in the same brusque manner. No look. No smile. No thanks. No glance. It was as if their adoration was expected and then summarily disregarded.
What happened to cool ‘Uncle Stan?’ I just don’t know. Maybe he’s lost respect for his fans. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe he’s a grump now. Maybe he’s sick of signing autographs. Maybe he just over extended himself that day. Well Stan, if any of those hypotheses are correct, maybe you should stop attending cons. The whole thing felt like a bad date at an expensive restaurant, and frankly it made me feel sorry for you after I finished being selfish and angry.
To end on a positive note, not all convention experiences are like this. I’ve met hundreds of people over the years at cons who were wonderful warm individuals. For example, I’ve met Robert Kirkman, creator of the Walking Dead numerous times. I was at the dead-end of a line for him once, and he stayed an extra hour or so just to be sure he met everyone that was there. When he got to me I thanked him profusely for staying. His reply to me was “I had to. Without you I’m nothing. If you don’t like me and my writing, then you’re not going to read my book, and I’m not going to have a job.”
Celebrities are only as popular as we allow them to be.
It was nice to see Kirkman being so honest and frank about how much he really appreciates his fans. He signed a bunch of books for me, and wrote an awesome inscription to my son,. He even posed for a goofy picture.
Another amazing person I met at a con was writer, director, artist, and Renaissance man Michel Gondry, who felt compelled to draw a picture of me. When I explained that he was one of my wife’s favorite directors he included himself in the drawing saying hello to her.