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What if Stan Lee had created the DC universe?

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The Silver Surfer: my philosophical outlet
Stan Lee Writer
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The… the other character that I liked was called The Silver Surfer. I worked with an artist who was the greatest, named Jack Kirby. I don't think my stories would have looked as good if Jack hadn't done some of them 'cause he… he was brilliant. In fact, all the artists were brilliant. There was John Romita and Steve Ditko and John Buscema. I… I was the luckiest guy alive 'cause… I think I could have done a mediocre story, they made them look as though the stories were great 'cause they were so beautifully drawn. But Jack one day… One of the most important things is to come up with villains. The heroes are… you know, you come up with a hero and you've got him, and every month he's the same hero. But you need a new villain every month, and you're always trying to top yourself. So I had done everybody as a villain, and one day I said, ‘We ought to do somebody who's like a demi-god’, and I came up with this character Galactus — really kind of silly but Jack made him look good. He's a guy who travelled through the galaxies and he destroyed planets, and he wasn't a bad guy. He only destroyed planets 'cause they provided him with his nourishment. He would drain all the energy out of a planet to keep himself alive. He was huge and he had this huge space ship, and he didn't want to harm anybody but he had to live. So it's like us catching fish. If we're starving we catch a fish, we eat it, we don't want to hurt the fish but we need to live.

So I had this character Galactus, and Jack drew the story, but in the story, he drew a fellow on a flying surfboard flying from planet to planet and ‘Who the hell is that?’ and he said, ‘Well, I figured anybody as big and powerful as Galactus ought to have a herald who flies ahead of him to find planets for him’. Maybe that's not a bad idea, but I loved the way he drew this character. This character looked so heroic, and so noble, and so dramatic that I gave him the name The Silver Surfer. And instead of just a guy flying around finding planets, I made him a philosophical observer of the world and the universe. And I had him talk in semi-Shakespearean and biblical language, and… he became my mouthpiece for how I feel about a lot of things. I told Jack: ‘I want to use this character a lot’. And he came to Earth and he would say things like – and I don't remember the exact words, I'll just paraphrase it – but he would talk about the fact that we live in the greatest planet we could ever want. It has everything: it has clean fresh air, it has sunlight, moonlight. It has all the water we could need, most of the planet is water. It has beautiful growing things, all the food we could want, room for everybody. Why do we fight each other? Why do we hate each other? Why is there… what's the matter with us? Are we insane? And all the… and the kids loved him. And whenever I would lecture at college… I don't know if I mentioned this but I probably lectured at colleges more than any human being. When I… I became publisher in 1970 or thereabouts, from '70 to '80 I don't think a week went by that I wasn't flying to some city in Canada, America, England… somewhere, lecturing about Marvel Comics. Or life in general. And during these lectures, inevitably — mostly at colleges — some kid would get up: ‘Stan, tell us about The Silver Surfer, and do you equate his Judeo-Christian philosophy with that…’ and they'd get into all of this deep stuff, which I loved. Speaking of that, I had a character called Doctor Strange who was a magician — master of the mystic arts. He was another one who was popular. And when he would do his magical thing I couldn't just have him say abracadabra or something, so I made up incantations for him. Like he would say… if he wanted to throw a bolt of lightning at a villain he'd say, ‘By the hoary hosts of Hoggath so let it be’. Or things like that. ‘By the shades of the shadowy seraphim’, I had dozens of them. Well, when I would lecture at colleges inevitably a kid would get up and say, ‘We've been studying the various incantations of Doctor Strange and it's obvious that you got them from ancient Druid writings’… or from this, or that. And I hated to have to disappoint the kids by saying no, I dreamed them up. So after a while I'd say, well as a matter of fact I did do some heavy research. But I found… you can't write anything that people aren't going to read things into, that you didn't even think of, you know, which is one of the nice things about being a writer. You can often be thought of as being much deeper than you really are.

The creative genius of American writer, Stan Lee, who was born in 1922, brought us 'Spider Man', 'X-Men' and 'The Hulk'. They climbed tall buildings and fought the bad guys, but had normal worries too, about love, acceptance and family. Readers loved them and Marvel Comics, with Lee at the helm, went on to become hugely successful. In 2010 the Stan Lee Foundation was founded to focus on literacy, education and the arts. On January 4, 2011 Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Listeners: Leo Bear

Leo Bear is a Hollywood-based features writer. Her background is in news and features writing. Leo spent five years on the entertainment newsdesk at BBC Worldwide before going freelance and moving out to Los Angeles. She specialises in writing lifestyle features, celebrity interviews, health stories and travel features for publications including Eve Magazine, OK! Magazine, Total Film, TV Hits and Conde Nast Gourmet Travel Guide.

Tags: The Silver Surfer, Galactus, Marvel Comics, Doctor Strange, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Steve Ditko, Steve Buscema

Duration: 5 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008