Trying to think of a title to describe Stan Lee’s status at New York Comic Con this past weekend is difficult. There were many popular celebrities taking to the stages for panels and summoning long lines for autographs. But Stan Lee was different. He’s like the George Washington of Comic Con. He fought to legitimize the medium of comic books and then went on to run the show and build titles that are still important decades later. It’s clear that the masses at NYCC 2016 appreciated that fact as Stan “the Man” held court one last time in the city he built his empire.
Stan Lee Day 2016
Lee, now 93, is retiring from the convention circuit this year. His final turn in New York was memorable to say the least. Before the convention even started, the chance to snap a photo with the Spider-Man creator sold out. The images of fans donning their Marvel inspired cosplay alongside a seated Lee were being shown off all over the Javits Center where the convention was held in Manhattan. With khakis, a sweater, and his signature mustache and glasses, at first glance you might not realize who exactly you’re looking at.
That was the most surprising thing about Stan Lee when he took the stage for a massive panel at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Friday evening. He didn’t command the room like other huge celebrities do. He was unassuming. More interested in cracking a joke at moderator Kevin Smith’s expense than accepting any kind of praise or admiration. Along with Smith, Lee was joined on stage by longtime collaborators Chris Claremont (X-Men) and Walt Simonson (Thor) to share stories from their time at Marvel and their many colorful experiences with Lee.
One of the biggest moments came right at the start of the panel. An official proclamation was read from the mayor’s office praising Lee’s contribution to comic books and New York where many of his characters are set. Friday October 7, 2016 was then officially declared “Stan Lee Day” in the city of New York. Lee accepted the honor humbly before asking why all the schools, banks, and post offices are still open on such an occasion. The hour-long discussion followed suit. Smith, Claremont, and Simonson would tell stories about Lee’s work ethic, vision, or generosity and he would have a quick-witted response ready at every turn.
Stan the Mallrat
When Smith told the story of how Lee agreed to appear in Mallrats, his response to reading the script was, “I would never say this s**t.” But it turns out he didn’t want to talk about “the one who got away” as was written out of respect to his wife Joan who he’s been married to since 1947. The crowd responded with a collective “aww.” But Lee deflected the story by joking that Mallrats is his favorite cameo to date because it was the longest.
At $100 for an autograph and $100 for a photo, it’s not as if Stan was volunteering to be at the Con. But plenty of people had no problem paying for a brief encounter with the writer. I don’t know how many notifications I received across the four days that his autograph line was at capacity. Since this has been billed as his final NYCC, it was now or never for the fans. After all, along with his illustrating partners, the guy created Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, X-Men, and most of the other iconic Marvel characters that have been conquering the box office in recent years.
NYCC 2016 felt like a victory lap for Lee. No other names could compare to Lee’s status at a comic book convention. I have to admit though; I was very disappointed with the lack of Stan Lee cosplay throughout the four days. It’s not even that hard to do. But I guess it’s a lot easier to imitate a character than the icon himself. Honestly it’s hard to write about Stan Lee without heaping on praise and terms like legend and icon. He’s just the undisputed name synonymous with an entire medium. He ended his panel as he always does with his signature phrase, “Excelsior!” He says it means “upward and onward.” That’s fitting for the man who has elevated the industry for over 70 years and turned multiple generations into “true believers.”