Spider-Man creator Stan Lee was the creative genius behind some of the comic-world’s most iconic characters.
And the Marvel Comics icon, who has died at the age of 95, revealed how he came up with some of his most famous heroes in an exclusive interview with the Mirror in 2002.
Stan had begun dreaming up superheroes after the runaway success of Batman and Superman at rival DC Comics.
First, he came up with The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk – who started life as grey instead of green.
“Unfortunately, in our first issue, the printer had trouble keeping the shade of grey consistent from page to page,” Stan said.
“On some pages his skin was light grey, on others it was dark grey and on some it looked black.
“So for the next issue I changed his skin colour to green, a colour the printer had less trouble with.”
Then, one summer’s day in 1962, along came a spider.
Stan explained: “I was under pressure to come up with a new character and I was trying to think of what this new hero could do. Then I saw a fly crawling on a wall and thought it might be interesting to have a hero who could do the same thing.
“I never knew it would be a success. In those days, I was just making up stories and hoping someone would buy the book and my boss would be happy enough with sales not to fire me.”
Indeed, Spider-Man might never have been drawn if Stan hadn’t been insistent.
“I mentioned the idea to my publisher and said the hero would be teenager Peter Parker, who had all the associated angst and hang-ups,” he said.
“He hated the idea and told me nobody would buy it. He said teenagers in comics could only be sidekicks for the heroes and no one would be interested in a kid with acne and personal problems.
“He also hated the name, telling me that people didn’t like spiders.”
But despite these misgivings, the first Spider-Man strip appeared in Amazing Fantasy in August 1962 and became a huge success. The 12-cent comic now changes hands for tens of thousands of pounds..
Spider-Man comic strips have appeared in more than 500 newspapers around the world and the character is one of Marvel’s most successful.
Stan believed part of his characters’ success is their fallibility. Spider-Man is racked by self-doubt, The X-Men are outcasts from society, Iron Man has a dodgy heart and The Thing is tormented by his grotesque appearance.
Ant Man and Thor, both ideas which Stan’s publishers had balked at, also became favourites.
“Drunk with power at that point, I was eager to keep going, to see how many more oddball heroes I could dream up,” he said.
“It was the spring of 1963 and teenagers were into civil rights and peace and despised the military-industrial complex.
“I thought it would be fun to create a character who would buck the trend.
"I went to my publisher, Martin Goodman, and said: ‘Let’s create a hero who wouldn’t have a chance to be a success right now and let’s find a way to make him popular.
"We’ll feature a tycoon who invents and manufactures weapons and munitions and sells them to our military. He’ll be a billionaire industrialist, the quintessential capitalist’.”
Goodman told Stan he was mad, but the result, Iron Man, became one of Marvel’s biggest successes.
Then Stan dreamt up another tough challenge.
He said: “Martin always told me my comics were such a success because they had such good titles, so I decided to try to prove him wrong by
creating a successful war book with the worst title I could think of.
“I finally zeroed in on the most unlikely title I could think of: Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos. We could barely squeeze it on the cover masthead.
“I gave our hero, Sgt Nick Fury, the most ethnically mixed platoon I could dream up. There was even a gay member called Percival Pinkerton. Everyone said it wouldn’t sell, but it became an instant bestseller and we published it for years.”
And he was a hard-worker. Even at the age of 80, he was working seven days a week.
He explained: "The weekend is my favourite time because it means I can get more done without the office calling me.”
He didn’t take holidays, recalling: "Six or seven years ago I went on a one-night cruise with my wife to a little Mexican port and I was incredibly bored. I couldn’t wait to get back.”
Born Stanley Lieber to Romanian immigrant parents, he spent his childhood in grinding poverty.
At 17 he was given a job by Timely Comics as a proof-reader and in 1942 he enlisted in the US army, where he became a scriptwriter at the Signal Corps’ training film division in Queens, New York.
When the Second World War ended, he returned to Timely – later renamed Marvel – and met British model Joan Boocock, whom he married in 1947.
They had a daughter, Joanie, now an artist. But a second girl, Jan died at three days old. “It was the most heartbreaking tragedy of our lives,” Stan said.
“Both births had been Caesareans, and, to compound the tragedy, the doctor told Joan she couldn’t have any more children.”
Joan died from a stroke in 2017, after 69 years of marriage to Stan.
Stan himself passed away in the early hours of Monday 12th November, at his home in the Hollywood Hills.
He had suffered from several illnesses over the last year, including a bout of pneumonia and problems with his vision.
His daughter paid respect, saying: "My father loved all of his fans. He was the greatest, most decent man."
RIP Stan Lee
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