A: No, that came mostly out of trying to write stories that I wanted to read. I didn't enjoy stories that took place in a Gotham or Metropolis. I didn't know where those places where! Why couldn't it be a New York, Chicago, Los Angeles? For me, to enjoy what I was writing, I needed a superhero story as realistic as I could make it. I never tried to write for other people. I liked people who had problems I might have, because we all have insecurities, regrets. I like heroes who were not 100-percent perfect, who things to take care of.
Q: How did you come up with names?
A: There was no trick. I would sit and think. It was never easy, though. Spider-Man, I wanted someone with the power of an insect, who could crawl on walls and stick to the ceiling and you wouldn't know he was there. But Insect Man? Mosquito Man? None sounded right. Then I hit on "spider," which sounded dramatic.
Q: How close were you with Marvel's rivals, DC Comics?
A: We all knew each other, actually. Bob Kane, who did Batman, was one of my best friends. He was a nice guy who loved being the guy who did Batman. He would embarrass me with it at times. We would have dinner in a restaurant and he would say to the waiter: "Don't you know who I am? I'm Bob Kane, I created Batman. Look I'll show you." And he would draw the waiter a little picture of Batman. It was embarrassing.
Q: And like Kane, whose role in creating Batman is often questioned, you've long been controversial with comic-book fans. Does it bother you that questions of authorship linger on?
A: Well, I don't know how to answer that. Some people always say 'Stan Lee didn't do that much with these characters...' All I did was come up with the ideas for these characters, then I hired artists to draw them, and I wrote the actual stories. So I don't know what else to say. That's the way it worked. I don't think of these (characters) as originals exactly. I worked with the best artists in the business and they made my stories even better than they actually were. I was very lucky to work with artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and John Romita, and anything I wrote was by "Stan Lee and Jack Kirby" or "Stan Lee and Steve Ditko" and their name was always as large as mine on the page. Plus, I called myself "co-creator." So I don't know what else I could do. But there are still people who insist Shakespeare didn't write his plays.
Q: You must have thoughts on how you want to be seen. You started as an obituary writer ...
A: Right, but when you're dead, you're finished. I have no thoughts on what (my obituary) should say. My wife is about my age. We'll go about the same time. My daughter knows who I am. That's all I care about.
Q: But you probably have ideas about how you see your legacy playing out. You could become known to younger generations as that guy who made those goofy cameos in a bunch of superhero movies. But did you ever want comic books to be thought about widely as more than just a medium for telling superhero stories? Do you still follow the storylines of your own creations?
A: Not at all, actually. My eyesight isn't good enough. I have no input into storylines. And I don't interfere. I do promotion for (Marvel). Sometimes they ask me to do a little feature for a new book. But as a rule, I'm not involved. They do those movies beautifully, and that reflects on me. But I did do westerns, romance, mysteries. I wrote poems, songs. I've had my own company (since 2004), Pow! Entertainment, and we also work on movies and TV series. So I'm not complaining. I have come to see myself simply as an entertainer.
Q: In the spirit of comic-book conventions, one last question, a deeply geeky non-question question: How excited is Stan Lee for the next Avengers movie, "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"?
A: I look forward to everything now. But I didn't create Ultron. I looking forward to seeing who the hell he is.
5 things to do at C2E2
Five things to do (other than meet Stan Lee) at C2E2 this weekend:
WATCH the C2E2 Crown Championships of Cosplay. C2E2 organizer ReedPOP claims it will be "the biggest and most prestigious costume contest in the United States," and since this is the inaugural contest, who are we to argue?
LAUGH at a steal of a stand-up show: Chicago native Kyle Kinane and nerd-centric comic Brian Posehn —along with former Chicago stand-up staple/current Los Angeles resident Dan Telfer — lead a solid evening of comedy. Plus, it's included in the price of the C2E2 ticket.
ATTEND one of several chances to see the fantastic "Thrilling Adventure Hour" podcast players — including Scott Adsit of "30 Rock" (and Northbrook) fame — in an improv show (Friday night), a panel discussion (Sunday afternoon, with Peter Sagal of "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me") and Nerdist podcast taping (Saturday night at DePaul University's Merle Reskin Theatre; admission requires a separate ticket, $32-$65).
MEET one of a bunch of Oh-Yeah-That-Guy TV stars, including Walter White's son from "Breaking Bad" (R.J. Mitte), Xander from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Nicholas Brendon) and Theon from "Game of Thrones" (Alfie Evan Allen).
GRUMBLE through star-studded comic-book panels on the state of Spider-Man (Saturday, 1:45 PM) and Batman (Saturday, 2:45 PM). Your chance to whine to superstar writers Mark Waid (Spider-Man) and Scott Snyder (Batman) about that plot twist that makes no sense and has ruined everything you love in the world!
The Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo
When: Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Tickets: $35 (Friday), $45 (Sat.), $40 (Sun.), $70 for 3-day pass; at the C2E2 box office at McCormick, c2e2.com