Telling Stan Lee's AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE Life Story
a PopFam exclusive interview
Peter David is afraid of heights, and he'll never understand the game of football—but the guy sure knows how to write a story! He's published over 50 novels and written popular TV and movie scripts to boot. Still, Peter's best known for the prolific number of comic books he's written over the years, including groundbreaking stints on timeless characters like the Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, Supergirl, Spider-Man, and many many more. He's won more awards than can be mentioned (including the coveted Will Eisner Comic Industry Award)—and perhaps best of all, he's personal friends with legendary Marvel icon, Stan Lee. Niice.
No surprise then, when it came time for Stan the Man to pull together a graphic novel that retold his life story, he asked Peter David to be his biographer. Who else could do that job as well? Nobody, of course. The result of their collaboration was the fun, fascinating book, AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE (illustrated by the superb artist, Colleen Doran).
After reading AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE, we cornered Peter David and demanded that he spill some behind-the-scenes secrets about his work and the whole Stan Lee graphic memoir experience. He was generous enough to tell us all. Here's what he had to say...
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To start off, how did you first discover Stan Lee and Marvel Comics?
I remember that very distinctly. I was a kid and at the time I just read DC Comics. Then one day I was visiting my cousin's house and he showed me a copy of a Marvel Comic. It was the Fantastic Four annual where Reed and Sue got married. That comic featured pretty much every superhero and villain in the MU, and yet I was able to understand everything that happened.
That shows how well Stan could write, that someone with no knowledge of anyone in that universe could follow it. And if you'll recall, Stan and Jack showed up at the end of the issue and were refused entry to the wedding. That's probably why Stan's cameo in the second FF movie is my favorite; because it recreated that moment.
What happened the first time you met Stan Lee in person?
I was working as the assistant direct sales manager at Marvel Comics. Stan didn't work in the NY office at that point, but he would come around periodically to visit. That was the first time. And since his memory is notoriously bad, every time he would come around I would introduce myself again. And then about the fifth time, I ran into him in the hallway and he said, "Hello...Peter!" And I thought, "I've arrived. Stan Lee knows who I am."
What goes into writing a biography like AMAZING, FANTASTIC, INCREDIBLE?
Fortunately I had a ton of help. First, Stan had written his own autobiography called "Excelsior!" so that was a good place to start. There are also hundreds of interviews with him on the Internet, and various essays that he wrote.
And I also went out to Los Angeles and sat down and interviewed him for additional material. Then it was just a matter of putting on my Stan hat and recreating his personality for the graphic novel.
Bonus! Click here to read a full review of AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE by Stan Lee & Peter David
What are three behind-the-scenes secrets that nobody knows about AMAZING, FANTASTIC, INCREDIBLE?
Three people, really. There are three people who were instrumental in the book being produced that haven't really been discussed. The first is Susan Crawford, Stan's agent, who was the one who came up with the entire project and sold Touchstone Books (Simon & Schuster) on producing it.
The second is Matthew Benjamin, the editor who produced the book under sometimes less than ideal conditions.
And Max Anderson, Stan's employee who came up with some key moments and photo references, including what is to me the best moment in the book: the scene where Stan encounters the enthused man down at Disney MGM who talks about how much Stan's work has meant to him.
After a parent and a teenager read AMAZING, FANTASTIC, INCREDIBLE, what do you want them to talk about? Explain.
About whether it impacted their opinions about Stan.
I've discovered that everyone has opinions about him. Indeed, the few negative reviews the book has gotten were written by people who made it clear that they resented him and therefore disliked a book in which he talks about his life. I'd be interested to know if the book made the reader view him more generously, or reaffirmed opinions they already had, or changed opinions.
For example, a couple of people have stated that they felt much closer to Stan after reading the sequence in which he discusses the sudden death of his and Joanie's second child. They were so accustomed to the showman Stan from conventions and such that that very human moment touched them deeply and gave them a peek behind the curtain.
That was really my goal in the scripting: to provide those humanizing moments so that people could see beyond the surface traits and get a sense of the man beneath.
Imagine you and I are sitting around at a barbecue, calmly solving the problems of the universe. What would you say is the most important thing in life—and how does that show up in your work?
The correct use of power. That's what the world really comes down to: people who have power using it correctly, ideally to benefit others in specific and the world in general. That's one of the reasons I get so angry with modern politicians who seem to regard intelligence as threatening and experts as people to be ignored.
And I suppose that in writing superheroes and such, that is a recurring theme. People who have powers and trying to figure out the best ways to utilize them. I suppose Stan did say it best: "With great power comes great responsibility."
What’s the one question we didn’t ask in this interview, but should have asked—and how would you answer it?
"How you doing?" "Fine."
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Bonus! Peter David Answers
"The Dirty Dozen" Quick-Pick Questions!
1. Best gift you ever received?
My four children.
2. Worst advice you ever received?
It was from my father. When I was 18, he said, "Your hobbies are fine, but you can't make a living out of science fiction and comic books."
3. Hidden talent?
I bowl okay.
4. Thing you can’t do to save your life?
6. One unusual fact about you?
I don't drink and I've never done drugs of any kind. Considering I grew up in the 1960s, that's pretty unusual.
7. Favorite memory from your childhood?
Travelling. Going to Paris, Switzerland, Israel.
8. Best compliment anyone could give you?
I love your children.
9. Favorite movie quote?
"Have fun storming the castle!"
10. Favorite book of all time?
"Tarzan of the Apes."
11. Three things you’d want with you if stranded on a desert island?
A boat, a bottle of water, and a copy of "Amazing! Fantastic! Incredible!"
12. Best way for fans to get in touch with you?
Via Facebook or Twitter or just write me snail mail at PO Box 951, Bayport, NY 11705
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Photo credits: Peter David; Touchstone Books, 2015