His gig as the world's most celebrated comic geek happened almost entirely by accident, but 70-some years later and it's clear Stan Lee wound up in the right place. Here, the brain behind Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk – appearing this week at Fan Expo in Toronto – shares some of the secrets to his success
The job you're meant for may not be the one you apply for
A lot of my early career came down to luck. I applied to a magazine company to work as a writer – I didn't even know they made comics. I started off as an office boy, getting lunch for the two guys that I worked for – I'd bring them up a sandwich, I'd erase pages. After a while, they let me try writing copy and it turned out I was kind of good at it. That was a different time, though. There weren't really any great writers in the business. Almost anybody who could put a few words together could write a comic strip. It got harder and harder over the years, but lucky for me, I was already there.
Don't listen to the poo-poo-ers
It has been really rewarding to see the reputation of comics change over the years. When I was starting out, most parents didn't even want their kids to read comics. They were really considered junk. Today, some of the finest screenwriters in the world are working on comic book stories. I don't want to sound like a name-dropper, but I was once talking to Steven Spielberg and he said to me, "You know Stan, you and I do pretty much the same thing except my pictures move."
The corner office isn't for everyone
When they made me the president of Marvel [in 1972], I was suddenly involved in the business end – all sorts of financial decisions – and I realized pretty quickly that it really wasn't my thing, and I wasn't any good at it. I was asked to provide a five-year plan for where the company was heading. Hell, I don't even know what I'm going to have for dinner tonight! I decided to step down. It was a lesson in knowing your strengths.
The secret to loving your boss
It's easy for me to decide which projects I'm going to get involved in because I come up with almost all of the projects I work on, and since I'm my own biggest fan I like almost everything I do! I have always valued freedom in my career and I've been lucky to have quite a lot of it, though I guess you could say that the drawback is that if something goes wrong, there's no one to blame but me.
Stan Lee will appear at Fan Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from Thursday, August 22 to Sunday, August 25.