Monday, January 1, 2018

Stan and Me

On the occasion of Stan Lee's 95th birthday, I thought it was time I tell the story of my history with the man who watched me grow up amid an ocean of geeks and only very vaguely knew it (because I told him).

Our story begins sometime in the 80's with a little Paul and his father (larger Paul) attending a comic convention in Manhattan, perhaps at the Roosevelt Hotel? I seem to remember attending a lot of mini comic cons there. Stan Lee and Jim Shooter were doing a signing (most likely for free!!) and lil Paul proudly approached the table with an X-Men Files book...not at all published by Marvel Comics. Stan looked at the book, apparently his first time seeing it, flipped through it a bit, showed it to Jim, and then, with an extra big, super amused grin said "Are you SURE you want me to sign this??" I said Yes, Please and he replied OK THEN! I've got that dumb book somewhere and, to this day, don't have anything Stan Lee actually wrote, signed by Stan Lee.

I may get the rest of this out of order, so bear with me.

San Diego Comic Con. Hasbro is re-introducing Marvel Legends to the world and is throwing a party to celebrate. In attendance is a young Tyler Mane (who played Sabretooth in X-Men, clearly repping mutants everywhere), several Marvel heavyweights to tease future projects and Stan Lee. At this point in my life, I'm partnered up with and its UK founder, Adrian Faulkner. As I took it upon myself to do the bulk of the toy photography, I told our crew I'd shoot and then would  grab food and a drink, then take their tour inside, if memory serves, a vault downstairs. After Stan finished his bit of the presentation, I shook his hand and asked if he'd point out his reps as I wanted to work with his new company. He did so and was very happy I wanted absolutely nothing else from him! As I completed my work and headed into the depths of the building, Adrian and 2 of our co-worker/friends lined up to get an autograph from Stan Lee. It was late and probably well past time for Stan to get some sleep. As Adrian came up next in line, his handlers had decided he had enough and pulled him, thanking everyone for coming. Adrian was IRATE and took to our happy little toy website that hoped to be the first to branch out into an all encompassing geek news site and plainly stated that Stan Lee was rude and other ridiculously catty things. I woke up, saw the post and woke up the rest of our hotel room yelling into the phone that the post had to come down IMMEDIATELY or I was going to come to his room and shake him by the neck til he turned purple. He took it down. Further down this time line, Adrian was set to leave the website and sign it over to me, but instead made up a wealthy investor with a James Bond spy name who bought the site and thanked me for 8 years of "volunteer work". I just mention this because Adrian never even gave me access to my past work so I could share it someplace else, and that sucks. Be sure to tell him so.

New York Comic Con. Still in its infancy but boasting both Stan Lee and Stephen King as guests. This year, for some insane yet hysterically genius reason, the producers of the show decide all guests of high importance will be escorted by ...Stormtroopers!! We all wondered what would happen if a crowd got rowdy and ambitious and rushed a stage. Would these men in Star Wars costumes forget themselves and attempt to "fire" on the crowd, learning all too quickly they are woefully unarmed? These are my comic con thoughts. In this instance, Stan proudly trode a side hall on the second level, flanked by Stormtroopers, looking like he was loving every minute. I looked up from my schedule and yelled "Mornin' Stan!" Stan yelled back "Good morning! You see this?!" I laughed my ass off.

I believe it was my first year with Dread Central, attending San Diego Comic-Con and we'd not been invited to many parties, so we were sort of finding out where they were and talking our way in...which was going fantastically! On the street trying to figure out where the Scifi Channel party was, we ran into Seth Green, who was, as always, insanely nice and accommodating of my incredible dorkiness. We parted ways as we located the party building and headed up, but the name we dropped at the door was for a friend that worked at Scifi at the time who had already ditched for bigger and better parties. Lucky for us, our new friend Seth Green came up the elevator seconds later and announced our whole crew was with him. See? SUPER NICE GUY! So we are in the party, which is probably our 3rd of the night so I'm about 4-5 drinks in, feeling no pain, politely, and certainly not feeling apprehensive about saying hi to anyone. I spotted Stan Lee hanging by himself and asked one of the women with us if she wanted to meet him. DUH, YES! Was the response and she grabbed her friend and we headed over. Stan was more than happy to meet two beautiful women and took them in his arms while they shamelessly took selfies. He was having a fantastic time and leaned into me to ask "I'm so sorry...who are you again??" as he laughed. I told him no apology was necessary as I'd distracted him with ladies and that's really all that mattered. He agreed. Later that night we all crashed in my shared hotel room ...something like three people to a bed...and as the sun rose to wake us up, one of the women rolled over and said "Paul...I think Stan Lee grabbed my butt." I answered Yes, that happened. She replied "Yea...I didn't dream that." And off we went for another Comic-Con day.

From this point on, I seemed to possess a super power allowing me to run into Stan Lee and Jhonen Vasquez (one of my favorite artists and comic creators) at any event they were attending, totally by accident. In the lobby of a hotel I'd just done an interview in...there's Stan. At a party for Activision..there's Stan. He'd become the Where's Waldo of my convention coverage experience, though I was never really actively looking. One time I was standing between the NECA booth and the food court at San Diego Comic-Con talking to a cosplayer that made his light up Iron Man armor out of cardboard. The group said they'd love to see Stan Lee before the show was over. I explained my super power and assured them if they hung around me long enough, he'd pop up. They all laughed. As if summoned, I swung around just as Stan Lee walked by, on his way to the top of the NECA booth. HI STAN! "HEY!" He shouted back happily. I turned back to the cosplayers and said...and there he goes. They were dying. I have fairly useless super powers, but they are definitely fun.

Flash forward to New York Comic Con 2016. The show is blowing up and they've moved all of the big panels and interviews over to Madison Square Garden, which means there are now entire days of the show where I've never even touched the floor at Javits. I believe we were up in the labyrinthine halls of MSG after Dreamworks Trollhunter interviews and coming down a way that almost spit us out into the stage. We find a side exit and as we follow the corridor which seems to lead to the lobby, we roll past a quiet little room with three people sitting in it, one of which being Stan Lee. I'm with two women from a Harry Potter news website (that's obviously branched out) called Mugglenet and one of them says "Hey...did you see who was in there? Mother (frikken) Stan Lee!!" We'd all stopped in our tracks at this point. The woman bemoans her desire to go say hi, which is obviously curtailed by some anxiety over making the actual move. Luckily, they are with me! I was ready to walk out the door but then offered a bit of advice. "You know, his crew are very nice, and in my experience, a quiet hall like this with very polite people asking with no expectations and very little geeking out might get us a hello and a handshake at the very least. If the ladies stick their heads in and ask nicely, we'll probably get a yes." All eyes lit up and they immediately turned to try out the plan. I was just about to stand in the hallway and wait for them before my brain said "GET IN THERE AND GET IN A PICTURE!!" Oddly, in all the times I've ran past and met Stan, I'd never gotten a pic of him and me together. Heads popped in the door, happy faces greeted them and before we knew it, we were posing behind a couch with Stan. I told him "I've been meeting you for many years now and I've never gotten a picture with you, so I'm really happy we ran into you today." He asked why I never asked before. I answered "I always had girls with me and ..well..they were the priority!" Stan admitted he couldn't argue that point and added "And now you've got your picture so I never have to see you again!" I laughed and said "Yup! Goodbye!" and he laughed along with me.

As I enter the new year, I hope that I can always remember that, at 95, Stan Lee is still inspiring people to create new worlds and populate them with amazing, mythic characters who are starkly human at all times. Here's to the worlds we create and the lives we touch in 2018!

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