There’s not doubt that Stan Lee is one of the most successful, talented, creative and beloved figures in comics around. His creations, including Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and Iron Man, are among the most successful and well-known characters ever to grace the pages of comics and the silver screen.
More recently, Lee has been hard at work on a new project with his partners at Disney, the multi-platform series Time Jumper, which will appear online and on portable devices such as iPods and iPhones. This new project concerns the character of Terry Dixon, who is an agent of a secret government organization known as HUNT (short for Heroes United, Noble and True).
He has a cellphone called The Articulus that has the one feature you can’t get — yet — from Apple’s iPhone: a time machine. I had a chance to talk with Lee during Comic-Con and we discussed, among other things, his new project, his thoughts on current Marvel movies and what he think the future holds for comics.
QUESTION: Stan, hi. Can you describe the process of how Time Jumper began?
STAN LEE: Time Jumper began as an idea that I had. I wanted to do a time travel story and my little company Pow Entertainment has a deal with the Walt Disney Company, it’s called a “first look” deal. Everything that we do that we wanna do we have to offer to Disney first and if they like it they do it. If they don’t wanna do it then we’re free to take it elsewhere.
So I got the idea for this time travel story and I brought it to the Disney Company and they loved it but they then hired a writer to do it and an artist and they decided it was not, I’d love to take credit for it but it wasn’t my idea, they decided to do it in a different way the next step up from a comic book or a comic strip. It’s not quite animation but it’s own type of storytelling close to animation where you have voiceovers you can hear the voices you have music in the background.
The pictures move but they’re not animated they just move and one picture will overlap another and something will shove out of the way and there will be explosions its sort of a feast for the eyes a new style of storytelling.
It was all based on me saying lets do this little time travel story about this guy who does this and that and out of that came this really terrific I think new method of telling a story which will be on mobile phones and its totally its all digital it will be on the internet. We hope it’ll eventually lead to television dvds movies publishing it can go anywhere if its as successful as we hope it will be and expect it will be and um I think that was a very good summary.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face doing a digital comic?
SL: Well, I hadn’t faced any because it’s being done at the Disney Studios. I’m functioning as the executive producer and after they do what they do they send the drawings to me and the script to me and I just give them suggestions and notes. They’re really doing it so its a great deal I mean they’re facing the challenges and I’m getting the credit for it.
Q: This has gotta be a lot cheaper than doing animation.
SL: Absolutely it is much cheaper than doing animation. As I mentioned before, it isn’t animation but it’s almost got that feeling cause there’s so much going on and so much movement and I think as it moves along it’ll get more and more expensive because they’re gonna come up with new things to do within this technique eventually it might be as expensive as animation but right now you’re right, it is less expensive.
Q: Before Disney approached you with the idea of this new method of storytelling, was pushing the medium of comics something you were interested in doing?
SL: I had never thought of pushing the medium really. I’m not a medium pusher because that’s a technical thing and I’m not really a technical person, I just like to tell stories. So if I come up with a story I say to myself do I think this would make a good movie or television show or cartoon or comic book or whatever and then I try to aim it in that direction. But I have never thought to myself here is a new way to produce a movie or show a movie cause I’m not good a that
Q: What is it about time travel that is so appealing to you?
SL: Well I’ve always found it an interesting subject I’ve written a lot of time travel stories in comics in years gone by and I thought I had an unusual type of story here because I hadn’t seen usually the average time travel story someone travels in time and gets trapped and cant get back and there are dinosaurs and stuff like that. It occurred to me I would like to do a story where they travel in time and there’s a villaness in our thing who really wants to change history.
I had never read anything like that before but if she isn’t caught if she isn’t stopped we might end up not being here because if history is changed who knows how the future will become. So I thought, there was more to it than that its just a fair summary, I thought that would make a god story and then again as I say the Disney people have embellished on it and built on it with their technique and its a whole new type of storytelling.
Q: Do you think that its going to be just as rich as a comic book or is it a whole different experience?
SL: Its a different experience and I don’t say its better than a comic book I don’t say a movie is better than a comic book or a tv show is better than a movie. Everything is it’s own type of thing. I remember when television came out everybody said this is the end of the book business nobody and magazines nobody will read a book nobody will read a magazine they’ll all they watch television.
But there’s still books there’s still magazines there will still be regular comics I’m hoping that this new type of publication this new type of really um internet and telephone entertainment will also become a staple but that doesn’t mean there won’t be comics you know I think there’s room for as many different types of entertainment as we can come up with.
Q: What are your thoughts about The Avengers and Thor on the big screen with state of the art special effects?
SL: Oh I just think they’re gonna be magnificent. I think that Thor especially with Branagh directing it because this guy is an intellectual. He’s a Shakespearean actor and he’s gonna take Thor and direct it. I must say this one I have a big disappointment in Thor but I don’t know if I should say this or not but I had lunch with Branagh and I was sure he was gonna give me the big news that I was gonna play Odin.
I was sorely disappointed that he just wanted to talk. But aside from that, even though I’m not gonna play Odin, I think Thor will be great. I think all of the Marvel movies are great, even the ones that aren’t as good. I love them.
Q: Weren’t you Hugh Hefner in Iron Man?
SL: Yeah they thought I was. I guess Time Jumper is the first time I’m playing a role that’s not myself.
Q: Do you read comics at all anymore?
SL: No. I really don’t have the time and it would drive me crazy if I say “Gee I’ve got 5 minutes before this appointment which one of these 50,000 books am I gonna read?” It’s easier not to bother at all. I look at the covers, Marvel sends them to us. I like to see what they’re doing.
I had mentioned just before on the covers of today’s books they have the name of the artist and writers. I don’t know any of those names and it is the strangest feeling. I used to know everybody in the business. I don’t know any.
They’re all new people and then I’ve sometimes I thumb through to see what it looks like and the artwork is magnificent. They’re like paintings that would hang in a gallery. It’s a whole different thing now but I don’t really have time to get into them and read them.
Q: I would love to see a feature length animation of Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, X-Men. Why haven’t those been made?
SL: Well I really can’t answer that but Marvel, as far as I know, is a company that is out to make a profit and I think as soon as the idea hits them that there may be an audience for such a movie, you’ll see one. There’s no reason not to make it. It probably never occurred to them and also they’re so busy doing the live action ones they probably don’t have the ability.
Q: You’re teaming up in the creating of Ultimo, which is a mix of manga and American comic books. Can you talk about why youy’re going that route?
SL: Why not? That was another idea I had and we’d been wanting to do work we have a lot of Japanese friends and so I presented that idea. They liked it, and again it’s based on my concept and then Hiouri Takei took the original idea that I had and he wrote it and he drew it and it is beautiful. I don’t understand a lot of it but it its a whole different type of thing than anything I’m used to seeing.
I understand its doing very well there and I’m thrilled by it and we’re working on another Japanese product called “Heroman” which you’ll be hearing about later. I think it’s not ready yet to be announced, but I love working with people in different countries, in different languages, in different disciplines.
We’re also doing some work with an Indian company and with others and it’s a lot of fun. I hope in some crazy way it will help bring the world closer together and maybe make us all a little bit friendlier.