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Stan Lee – A Comic book Convention Story

April 27, 2012

C'mon Kitty Pryde... Give the guy a chance.

…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.

It's dated, because that is the year Kirkman and I decided that my son will be allowed to read Walking Dead.

My son's V for Vendetta book. David Lloyd drew in V as well!

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.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2012 6:32 pm

    Another great tale! Stan Lee definitely sounds like he needed to do that event but really didn’t want to be there – maybe he hated the mediocrity of the event and would be in a better mood at a more classy event? If that guy was shouting “get out of my way” in front of the general public, one can only imagine how moronic he must be behind the scenes. Still, that’s no excuse for Lee to maintain an ungratefully dark demeanour…especially when people were using 50 dollars of hard earned money.

    Next time you could bring the same autograph and make a point of asking him if he now has the time to write something more meaningful!

    • July 25, 2012 9:59 pm

      Hi Roisin! Hope all is well with you! The event really was mediocre… I felt sorry for him and upset with him all at the same time. I sort of regret sharing this story. It’s not really like me to whine about something like this. I’m more of a “always look on the bright side of life!” kind of person.
      Take care!

      • August 26, 2012 12:05 pm

        Well, you were understandbly disappointed at the time! I totally understand how they must detest these events, however if people are going to spend time and money, the least they could do is be slightly more than civil. They could set up a system of “one smile per person” 😛

  2. September 18, 2012 7:27 am

    This ad deserves a blog post all of its own!

    • October 8, 2012 9:58 am

      Oh MY GOD! Brilliant! Who directed this? I need to research. I looks like something Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze would do. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Eric permalink
    November 27, 2012 6:11 am

    I can’t speak for Stan, but things like this have to be awkward for him, with his handlers constantly discouraging people from asking for free autographs. It’s not really his fault, you know. He agrees to be there to sign the paid autographs with the understanding that he isn’t really supposed to sign anything for free. I’d say you were lucky to get that autograph for your kid AT ALL. Stan probably felt really awkward about it. Not because of you, but because of his handlers. Yet he did it anyway. And that money everyone shelled out for those autographs? It’s, most likely, going to a charity of his choice. Many celebrities donate their proceeds from these conventions to charity. And, lastly… Stan is old. You’d have to imagine these conventions can take a physical toll on him.

    Stan is cool.

    • November 28, 2012 12:11 am

      I totally agree Eric, which was the point of this post in the first place. Stan is cool. It’s simply the situation that sucks. He is getting old and the convention circuit is getting ridiculous. VIP passes, autograph tickets, meet & greet passes… I met first met Stan 26 years ago, and he gave me probably ten minutes, which (no exaggeration) had a profound effect on me. To see him now with the handlers, and the prices; I just see no joy in what he’s doing. It’s a sad sight. He should focus on creating, rather than being a spectacle at conventions. (just my opinion of course). Thanks for reading Eric.

  4. karen grogan permalink
    February 17, 2013 10:26 am

    I would love a signed autograph of stan lee he is my idol and my daughters she also loves him it would make our year

    • February 20, 2013 4:34 pm

      He’s doing pretty much every major con in the US this year. If you look online, there are companies that host his signings, and will get a book signed for you and your daughter. Hope that helps. Thanks for reading!

  5. April 22, 2014 12:02 am

    Sorry things didn’t go your way at the con. Unfortunately when someone becomes so popular the media machine kicks into gear to make things as efficient as possible…otherwise too many people miss out. The inevitable result? You tend to speak to the minders more than the celebrity.

    I think, too, that the older you are the less likely that you want to risk getting stuck with aggressive fans. Or being asked to sign 20 copies of something for e-bay. Or risk messing up a personalised message or the spelling of someone’s name. So you tend to keep it simple.

    Saw Stan myself in 2013 in Melbourne. There was something like 27000 there on the first day…it seemed most were there to see Stan. Stood in line for 3 hours for an autograph as everyone was thinking “there is no way an 89 year old can sign for everyone in this queue”. However Stan sent a fellow around to assure everyone he would remain until every last person got his signature. And he did!

    I was very lucky when I met him. He actually paused to give me a choice of which page of my masterworks to sign. When I suggested the black page (in silver ink) he signed it, looked at it approvingly and smiled before proclaiming his classic voice: now ..”then there is a man with an artistic bent!” I thanked him and moved on. Best $50 I ever spent.

    He gave a great talk too, wandering the stage for an hour and answering questions in his genial style. There was also a quick photo opportunity…though of course there were so many in line he didn’t have time to say much more than “Hi there!”.

    Thinking about it, maybe the secret is not to give him something straightforward to sign. Of course if everyone did this, then the queues would move even slower and some would miss out altogether.

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