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Why I think our books sold well


Iron Man and what set us apart from the competition
Stan Lee Writer
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Then I decided I would go against… I would try a tough one. All the kids… there was some war going on at this time – either Korea or Vietnam, I can't remember – but everybody was against the war. So I thought, I'm going to get a guy who makes munitions, and I'll make him a real industrialist. Something the kids would hate, you know… what did they call the… the… there's a name for it, I can't think of it. The something industrialist… Military industrialist. Military industrial… something... complex. Complex. Thank you very much. The military industrial complex. The kids in those days hated it. I've never been known for my memory. Oh, speaking of memory. I've been asked why do so many of your characters have the same letter in the first name as the second… Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, and on and on. And the reason I did that is because my memory is so bad, and was, and is… if I could at least remember one name if gave me a clue as to what the first letter of the other name was. So it would make it easier for me to remember it. See I'd be worried, my memory is bad now, I'd be thinking, oh, I've got to have Alzheimer's. But it's always been bad so I'm not worried about it. At any rate… so bad that I forgot where I left off.

So… oh, the military industrial complex. I made up a guy named Iron Man who was sort of like Howard Hughes. He was an inventor, an industrialist. He made munitions. All the things kids hate, but I said: ‘I'm going to make the kids like him’. And apparently they did, Iron Man was a very successful strip and it's still… they're making a movie of him now. And then I did… let's see, it's hard to remember them all. Iron Man… I did Sergeant Phil… Oh this was funny. My publisher Martin said to me at one point, ‘I don't understand why these books are selling so well’, which was a funny thing to say. And I said, ‘Because the style is different than all the other comics'... I'm writing… oh, and I also injected a lot of humor. For example, one thing I was proud of were the credits I wrote. For example, a lot of the other books didn't even give credits. They never mentioned who wrote it, who drew it, it was just a strip.  Or sometimes they'd put the artist's name down. You know, the artist would just sign his name. That was it. But I tried to make it like a movie. I'd say… and I tried to write the credits in a funny way, so that the kids would read them... for example, ‘Written with passion by Stan Lee’;‘Drawn with… enthusiasm by Jack Kirby’; ’Lettered with a scratchy pen point by Artie Simek’. The last one was always something that was a different rhythm than the first two, you know? And I'd make the credits some sort of gag every time. The kids liked it. And then I started a… a page called the Bullpen Bulletins page, when I'd write announcements of things that were happening. And I wrote a column called Stan's Soapbox where I would philosophize about anything in the world, sometimes nothing to do with comics. And what happened was, I became like the living symbol of Marvel Comics. I was the one guy everybody knew and they thought I was talking to them. The readers thought of me as a kindly old uncle, maybe with a sense of humor. And the reason I did that, when I was a kid I was a voracious reader, and one of the books I read was The Adventures of Jerry Todd. Nobody ever heard of that except me. But the writer… it was a series of books like The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. One thing the writer did at the end of the book, he had a couple of pages where he would talk to the reader, and ask how the reader liked it, and tell how he happened to write it. And of all the books I read I felt I knew this writer, because of those pages. I think he wrote… he signed his name Leo Edwards. God knows if that was his real name, because nobody used their real name in those days but, Leo Edwards, I was so impressed with him. So I tried to get that feeling in the comics, and I think… I think it worked because wherever I go, or went, people would feel they knew me 'cause they had been reading the books, you know?

So at any rate, I had the Bullpen page, I had the Soapbox page, and even on the covers, I tried… to put things on the covers that would make the readers think that we're real people and they know… for example, one cover I remember, one book… I don't remember what book it was but I wrote: ‘This may not be the best story you've ever read, but we've given you enough good ones you owe it to us to buy this one too’. Everybody thought I was crazy for writing that, you know that was one of our best selling books. And I got more mail from the readers. ‘We think it's great that you wrote that. Oh man, we got such a kick out of it’. And… oh, another thing I did on the letters pages… and I'm only stressing this 'cause I think it's all these things that set us apart from the competition, who did none of this. After… I loved having letters pages. Letters to the editor, 'cause people would like to read what other kids had to say and liked to read our answers. Now our competition, they would have a letters page and the letter would say, ‘Dear Editor, I like your book or I didn't like your book, signed Charles Smith’. And their answer would be, ‘Dear Charles, thank you, it was nice hearing from you. Glad you liked it or sorry you disliked it. The Editor’. Well I didn't do anything like that. I wanted it warm and friendly, so if a guy would write ‘Dear Editor’, when I printed the letter I changed it to ‘Dear Stan’, or ‘Hi Stan’. And if he signed it ‘Charles Smith’, when I answered I'd write, ‘Hey Charlie, glad to hear from you’. And after a while the readers started doing that. Everyone said, ‘Hi Stan’. And he'd sign it ‘Charlie’. And so there was a warmth and a friendliness in our books that the… the competition had no idea why we were outselling them, and this was funny too.

The creative genius of American writer, Stan Lee (1922-2018) 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: Vietnam War, Howard Hughes, Iron Man, Marvel Comics, The Adventures of Jerry Todd, Martin Goodman, Jack Kirby, Artie Simek, Leo Edwards

Duration: 6 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008