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A Purveyor of Wonder -Stan Lee takes on DVD

Walking into the meeting room at the New York ComicCon, you might think the gray-haired 84-year-old man sitting there, in the tan cableknit sweater and large dark glasses, was perhaps the great-grandfather of one of the convention attendees, taking a breather from the manic gathering of freaks and geeks. And in a way, Stan Lee is like a grandfather to every one of them, as one of the creators of some of the most well-known superheroes ever. But he's certainly not the shy, retiring type.

"Some men like to play golf," says Lee, as a camera crew stands ready to catch his latest bon mots. "I like to do the work I do. That's my golf." (Hear Stan Lee.)

If that's the case, consider Lee to be Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods wrapped up in one charismatic package. After giving life to Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and many other heroes some four decades ago, Lee's managed to stay active and relevant not only in comics, but in popular culture as a whole, well past any expected expiration date. Incredibly, he's more visible today than he's ever been, with his famous cameos in the movies based on his characters and TV shows like "Heroes," his fun "reality" show "Who Wants to be a Superhero?" and his latest creations, developed by his new company, POW! (Purveyors of Wonder!) Entertainment.

Anyone looking for proof regarding his place in the pantheon of American icons could find it in a large exhibition room at the ComicCon, as Lee, flanked by writer Scott Lobdell and actor Kirby Morrow, introduced the large crowd to his new direct-to-DVD heroes, Mosaic and The Condor. Fans young and old listened with rapt attention as Lee quipped about his experience in the comics industry, the creation of these new characters and anything else that happened to come up, showing the kind of quick wit that men a third his age wished they possessed. That such a huge number of people would turn out, at the same time that famed novelist Stephen King was making a rare public appearance in another part of the building, is a testament to Lee's appeal.

"When I started in comics, nobody gave a hoot in hell about superheros except very young kids," says Lee. "I could have never dreamed that one day there would be conventions like this where at least half of the people are adults. In fact, more of them are grown-ups than kids. It's a wonderful feeling." (Hear Stan Lee.)

It's hard to say which side of that generational divide Lee belongs with. Sure, he looks his age, befitting one of the industry's elder statesmen, but he doesn't act his age at all. Taking the stage for his DVD presentation, he skips the stairs, and leaps up in a single bound. His youthful enthusiasm almost costs him though, as his brisk stride crosses paths with the unforgiving supports of the room's large display screen, sending him flying, not once, not twice, but three times. Each time though, he evades harm, much like his heroes, and continues on his way. It seems like nothing will slow him down, which is how he's able to be involved in so many projects at once, especially the new DVD projects under the "Stan Lee Presents" banner.

"It's easy. I don't do everything," he says with a smile. "I come up with the ideas. Let's say, the DVDs... I come up with the idea for the show, and write that down in three or four or five pages, then we get a screenwriter to do the actual script. I work with him, I consult, but he does the writing. In that way, I can work on a lot of projects at the same time." (Hear Stan Lee.)

"One thing that keeps you from getting bored and keeps your interest up is working on many different things. You don't have a chance to get tired of them."

Working on a lot of projects is something Lee knows well, as his POW! Entertainment has plenty of irons in the fire. The female-focused adventure Mosaic, starring Anna Paquin, released in January on DVD, was just the start, as the Hispanic hero The Condor, featuring Wilmer Valderrama, arrives in March, followed by an animated film titled "Ringo," a comedic adventure starring Beatles drummer Ringo Starr. (Hear Stan Lee.)

"I think the DVD market is sensational... I love it," says Lee. "It's very important to be able to come up with something and film it, and get it out there to the public right away as a DVD. I'm very high on the DVD business." (Hear Stan Lee.)

Having the chance to reach specific, underserved audiences via DVD is one of the medium's best advantages, in the storyteller's opinion.

"I'm trying to have the kinds of heroes and heroines everybody can relate to," he says. "Probably more females would buy something like Mosaic, which features a girl, than they would buy Conan the Barbarian, let's say. And certainly something like The Condor, which is really for everybody, but I would imagine someone who's Hispanic would tend to pick that up too." (Hear Stan Lee.)

After decades working in print, Lee has fully embraced home video, with more films in the pipeline. And though he's only recently jumping into the DVD business, he's been on the cutting edge of the field, creating "special features" for his comics way before the first commentary was ever recorded.

"I used to have a column called 'Stan's Soapbox,' where I would talk to the readers, and it was on a page called 'Bullpen Bulletins,' and I wrote that page also. I wasn't officially explaining any particular story, but I was talking to the readers and telling them what we were trying to do and so forth." (Hear Stan Lee.)

"I don't think our readers really need much explanation, you know," he says with a laugh.

As excited as Lee is to talk about his new characters and the new ventures he's undertaking, it's obvious that the DVDs and movies have energized him once again. One wonders if the animation world is offering him a better way to tell his stories than the reams of paper he's spilled ink onto in his life.

"I think the print page has as much ability to tell a story as an medium at all," he says seriously. "I mean especially a comic. When you can combine words and pictures, you can tell a story magnificently."

"But there are so many other ways to do it. Being a name dropper, I'll mention that Steven Spielberg once said to me, 'You know, Stan, you and I do essentially the same thing, except my pictures move.' A movie is really just a comic book with pictures that move. The reason we're lucky at POW! is we're working with live action and animation and movie-length pieces and shorts and mobisodes for telephones." (Hear Stan Lee.)

After so much time in the industry and so many achievements though, no one could blame Lee from taking a break and enjoying some down time with Joan, his wife of nearly 60 years. But it seems, that's the one thing he seems incapabale of doing.

"I would never want to take a break, because I don't feel like I'm working," says Lee, satisfied with his career. "Writing stories and working with artists and writers...that's like playing."

"Doing interviews is working!"

- Francis Rizzo III

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