Though I didn’t make it into the panel room for Stan Lee and Frank Miller in conversation at C2E2, I wasn’t surprised that a room limited to holding 1100 people was already full way ahead of the panel. Instead, however, a number of fans were able to watch the streaming video of the panel in a nearby room and I took the opportunity to hear what two legends in the comics industry had to say, especially together.
Once the streaming started, Frank Miller and Stan Lee were announced to great fanfare, Miller in a Superman t-shirt, and Lee in his more or less classic uniform of yellow shirt and pull over sweater.
Miller said that he’d desperately wanted to draw comics since he was a little kid, and his father was a “go to it” guy. Miller had been folding paper to draw his own comic books, and around age 9, his father said he ought to meet the people he’d been talking about so much. His father drove him to New York City and took him to the Marvel offices and got to meet several of the people. He briefly saw Stan Lee and got a note from him later. His note said Miller “wasn’t quite up to Marvel standards yet, but you should keep at it”. Later, he came back and worked with Marvel. On his second three page job for Marvel, he met Stan Lee. There he got the “Stan Lee Lecture” on how to make superheroes. The thing that sticks with him was that every single superhero should tell you who he or she is when they show up. They had to be recognizable and their powers identifiable. For instance, having Spider-Man jumping up and sticking to a wall when suddenly startled.
Stan Lee was asked to comment on how Spider-Man was created. Lee grandstanded and said that Miller needed another lesson in how to do a panel, and jokingly told him to come back another time. Lee commented on not being able to hear what the microphones were conveying, but kept a sense of humor about it. He then praised Frank Miller, for being “tops” in all his creative fields of writing, directing, and art. He also liked Miller’s black fedora. He promptly told a story about a hat company, who had a jingle on the radio that was incredibly prominent at one time. The jungle became maddening. Right around the corner from where Lee lived, there was an antique shop, and they later found out that the owners were the two folks singing on the jingle. That was Lee’s first brush with celebrity. Now he gets to sit next to Frank Miller, Lee laughed, to applause. Lee did eventually get a hat, and he looked “cute as hell”. Lee praised Miller for refusing to give up on hats. “Somebody has to do it”, Miller replied.
Asked how he got into comics, and “how the hell he got into comics“, to laughter, Lee said that he “used to be a reasonably normal person”. Miller told him “not to start with a lie”. Lee said when he got out of college, he knew a magazine company, Timely Publications, needed an assistant. Mainly magazines, but a few comics, were being published at the time. In the comics division, two men were running it: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. It was his job to erase the pencil lines from the pages, Lee said, and fetched sandwiches for lunch. Little by little, they brought him in to re-write lines and such. One day, Joe and Jack left Timely. He never knew whether they quit or were fired. The publisher walked in and asked him to run the department “until I find a grown up”. At age 17, he took over, and they “never found a grown up”.
Miller commented on being influenced as a young person by the “explosive artwork of Jack Kirby” and the masterful work by Steve Ditko. Something that also impacted him was seeing the names inside the comics and realizing that other people made comics and he could too.
Discussing the Hulk character’s creation, Miller said he noticed at first Hulk was grey and he liked that, but when it was changed to green, he wasn’t so sure. Lee said he did it because he knew “somewhere out there, this is going to knock Frank Miller for a loop”, to laughter.
Talking about Spider-Man, Stan Lee said that he was asked to “come up with another hero” by his publisher. He said he went home and was watching a fly crawling on a wall. He thought it would be “cool” if a hero could stick to walls like a fly, or rather “groovy” was the word he would have used at the time. He went through a list of possible heroes, and Spider-Man stuck, then thought to make the book really different, he’d make him a teenager. He also decided to give him a lot of “personal problems”. His boss got really excited, and said, “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard!” People hate spiders, teenagers are sidekicks, and heroes don’t have personal problems, his boss said.
Lee decided to put the character out anyway, on a book that was being cancelled and “threw Spider-Man into the last issue”. The sales came in and Spider-Man had been their best-selling book that month. His boss definitely changed his tune and suggested they give the character his own series, as if he’d always liked the idea, Lee said.
Talking about Daredevil, Miller said he was doing various jobs for Marvel Comics, and had fill-in issues of Spectacular Spider-Man that featured Daredevil. The idea was that Spider-Man had gone blind and needed Daredevil’s help. Miller liked the idea that Daredevil didn’t have an empairment but a power. During this story, he really became attracted to the Daredevil character and started lobbying to do it. At that time, Gene Colan left his very long Daredevil run and Jim Shooter took a chance on Miller being brought onto the book. He “stole” the Kingpin from Spider-Man and planted him in Daredevil to make it a crime comic. It made it possible for him to do “Daredevil vs. the mob” at which point he brought Elektra in.
Asked if he watches the Daredevil show, Miller said “no”, and it’s because he knows himself well enough to know he’ll disagree with what other people are doing, and he’d be “ancy” about it. It’s easier not to watch and therefore not to have to answer questions about it, making him a happier person who’s easier to be around, he said.
Asked what it would take to get Miller directing again, he said, “a phone call”, to applause. He demurred to give details on what “dream projects” he had in mind, but instead hopes to just “show” everyone at some point.
Miller commented on the “mixed blessing” of comics and film and tv teaming up, which can make comics a little “film obsessed”, but it also opens up opportunities for writers and artists and for fans.
Asked how it’s been for Lee to see the Marvel Universe turn into a cinematic universe, Lee said, “It’s nice”. Asked if there was one which he felt “they did right”, Lee said, “They did it all right”. He didn’t like Fantastic Four #1, because they didn’t “do Doctor Doom right”, Lee said, to applause.
Talking about Doctor Doom, Lee said, he’s actually “not a criminal” because he wants to “rule the world”. Police can’t arrest a person like that. Miller said that Doom is not a criminal because he has “diplomatic immunity”. Lee said Miller stole his line, and they continued to banter.
Asked what draws him to urban characters, Miller said that it’s “where I live”, but he also has that kind of imagination. He also feels like these characters are only important “if the world needs them”, making the setting more serious.
Asked why he likes “light-hearted” characters, Stan Lee said, “My characters are just better, that’s all”, to applause.
Miller joked that Sin City, which Lee praised, was “light-hearted, right?”
Asked if there’s a favorite character they’ve created, Stan Lee says he feels that way about all of them, and loves “making Frank Miller jealous”.
The banter between Miller and Lee continued throughout the panel, pretending that they hated each other, and alternately praising each other. They insulted each other’s accomplishments, appearance, public standing, and more throughout, easing the difficulties Lee had hearing Frank with the microphones.
Lee was asked if he’s created characters recently who haven’t been introduced yet, Lee said, there’s one called the Annihilator, that’s going to a movie format rather than as a comic book. And in a year people will be talking about it.
Lee also said he has two cameos in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
He said that Miller could “audition” for a cameo in a Marvel film if he’d like to.
Lee commented that he and Miller would probably be together on stage again, and we ought to enjoy it, but it was laced with humor.