I scratched an item off of my bucket list Saturday.
If you were following me on my social media this past weekend, you know that I attended C2E2, a convention held in Chicago, to meet comic book legend Stan Lee, the creator of most of the Marvel Comics universe. I would rank Mr. Lee among the top five most influential writers on my life. Indeed, Mr. Lee might be among the most impactful writers of the last fifty years.
After a harrowing three-hour trip with my friends Sergio and Jude (which included breakfast at IHOP, a brief Walmart run, and a shorter-than-expected battle with traffic), we arrived at McCormick Place. We got tickets and the lay of the land, so I changed into my Captain America cosplay and hurried to a huge auditorium for Mr. Lee’s panel with fellow creator Frank Miller (who I like but not nearly enough to bother meeting since the man is now insane). I was concerned I wouldn’t get in because it was crowded. You see, Mr. Lee is 94 years old(!), and 2017 is his last year for appearing at conventions, so this would be the last time most people would get to see him in person. I passed the time making friends with my “line-mates” (a word I coined that day), including a 20-something Chicago girl standing behind me. Thankfully, we made it in.
Unfortunately, the panel started 20 minutes late due to technical difficulties. My annoyance was drowned by my excitement, though. Mr. Miller came out first, but it was Mr. Lee who got the biggest cheer. What’s hilarious is the Chicago girl and I had joked about how it’d be hilarious if Mr. Lee passive-aggressively mocked Mr. Miller—and he did! In fact, Mr. Lee spent much of his time roasting Mr. Miller, making fun of his artwork and writing and his comic series Sin City, among other things. Mr. Lee also made frequent comments about how his eyesight was fine but his hearing was going out, so he couldn’t hear Mr. Miller or the moderator when they spoke into microphones (which he demonstrated by making garbled sounds), but he could hear them when they didn’t speak into mics.
My favorite moment (besides the Mr. Miller roasting) was his story about creating Spider-Man. At first I didn’t want to hear it because it’s a story I’ve heard from him in interviews many times, but he put a new spin on it. He was told by his editor to create a new hero, and when Mr. Lee was sitting at his desk to write, he saw a fly on the wall and thought it’d be “groovy” to have a hero who could stick to walls. He decided to call him Spider-Man and make him a teenager with lots of personal problems. He took that to his editor, who shot it down, saying, “You can’t call him Spider-Man! People are scared of spiders! You can’t make him a teenager because teenagers are always sidekicks! He’s a hero! Heroes don’t have personal problems!” Here’s the part I never heard before, though: Mr. Lee disregarded what his editor said and sent it to the printer because it was going into the final issue of Amazing Fantasy #15 and he figured no one would remember it. The next month, sales figures came in and showed that was the bestselling book that month, so the editor told Mr. Lee, “Remember that hero you made that we liked? We’re giving him his own series!”
Tenacity and guts. I love Stan Lee.
I realized during that panel that Stan Lee is the most endearing cranky old man ever. If anyone could be granted immortality, I hope it’s him.
My primary goals for the day after that were to get his autograph and a photo with him. I’d bought a photo-op in advance, but I had to stand in line for the autograph—for 2 ½ hours! It was much like waiting to ride a roller coaster at Cedar Pointe: multi-hour wait for a 60-second thrill. Was it worth it? Oh, heck yes! Again, I made friends with my “line-mates,” several of whom want to check out my books. (Hello to you, new readers!) If I got the chance, I wanted to ask Mr. Lee one of two questions. One wasn’t related to his work while the other was somewhat related. Regarding the former, a lesser-known fact is that Mr. Lee has been married to his one and only wife, Joan, for nearly 70 years(!), so I was gonna ask him what was the secret to a lasting marriage. If not that, I was just gonna ask him for writing advice. However, the organizers had to move the line fast, so I was only able to say, “Hello, Mr. Lee,” to him. Even then, there were two guys sitting on either side of him who had to point me out to him when I said that while he was signing my copy of Essential Captain America, Vol. 1. I guess he really is hard of hearing. He did smile at me, though.
Finally, there was the photo-op. Sergio joined me for that. He’d insisted the day before that he would not join me if I wore my costume, all but demanding that I “dress formal” for Stan Lee out of respect. I got the message, although my garb is more semi-formal. Anyway, it wasn’t nearly as long of a wait for the photo-op, but it was a brief meeting. This time, though, Mr. Lee said, “Hi, fellas!” to us. Sergio boldly went stepped forward and shook his hand, so I did the same, unsure if we were allowed to do so. Nobody said anything. The photo was snapped, and we hurried out.
So, there you have it. I sacrificed going to Indiana Comic-Con the week before to meet their multitude of amazing guests and missed the chance to meet most of the multitude of other guests I liked at C2E2, but it was worth it.
As Stan Lee always says, “Excelsior!”