Working with Stan Lee at his POW! Entertainment on a daily basis, I would sometimes forget just how legendary and influential he actually was.
Then I went to Comic Con with him.
Going to Comic Con with Stan Lee was like being dropped into a bucket of ice water… filled with thousands of screaming fans. It was unlike anything I imagined, and I was completely unprepared for it.
Every year Stan traveled to various conventions across the country and the world. It was a schedule that rock stars a fraction of his age would have had trouble keeping up with. I attended New York Comic Con once or twice, but being based in Los Angeles, I mostly just tagged along at local Southern California cons, including the monster of them all: San Diego.
Stepping into the Comic Con world with Stan’s entourage, as they called it, was a shock to the system. Stan was constantly swarmed. We would have to dodge and weave and duck for cover while moving through the mass of humans. There were more than a few instances I thought we would be trampled. It was mayhem!
Stan, on the other hand, always treated walking the convention floor like he was bounding down a wide-open sidewalk on one of his afternoon strolls. The crowd parted ways for him, with fans shouting, “Stan!” “Excelsior!” and “The Man!” Stan would reach out his hand and give high-fives, handshakes, and take selfies. Fans would thank him for their childhood, for teaching them how to read, and even for giving them their moral compass.
I can only imagine the bliss Stan’s long-time assistant Mike describes as SDCC before the attendance boom of the 2000s. Despite all the craziness, I have a lot of fond memories of the few years I was able to attend with Stan, the first trip having been when I was one of POW!’s interns.
There were about six interns back then. We all shared rooms and experienced the magic of the con together. On the Saturday night of our first con, Stan got us into a party where we were introduced to some of the biggest names in comics and movies. Stan had no compunction over bringing us lowly interns. You want to meet Brandon Routh? You’re going to meet Brandon Routh! How about McLovin? Right this way! (Superman Returns and Superbad were big that year.)
Stan did more at the conventions than go to parties and walk the floor. Whether it be an autograph signing, a panel, or a behind-the-scenes meeting, Stan was ever on the go at the con. But getting Stan where he needed to be was never easy…
One year, in an unusual turn of events, Stan knocked out one of his front teeth right before he was expected on a panel! A crown had popped off in the bathroom. Stan came out smiling and showing off the missing tooth. He was proud of the silly gap in his teeth! He wanted to go on stage with his not-so-toothy grin. We had to rush around San Diego trying to find a dentist open on Saturday to do an emergency fix an hour before Stan’s panel. He was a bit late, but thankfully Stan made it, smiling bigger and brighter than ever.
Sometimes getting Stan around the convention floor took more than a sturdy pair of getaway sticks. More recently he could be seen jetting around on his trusty scooter… with a group of stressed security guards chasing after him.
In other instances, Stan rode in style on a golf cart through the underground tunnels and backstage passageways of the convention center. One year he gave us all quite a scare when he almost fell off the back of one of the carts. Stan was chattering away as usual when the wagon went around a sharp turn and Stan almost went right off the back! Luckily none other than actress Olivia Munn was there to grab him and help Stan back up to safety. Stan continued talking, almost completely unaware that he almost got off at the wrong stop.
Once Stan was secure backstage at a panel, he often liked to pop a power nap before going before the masses. Stan would find a little corner in the green room and fall immediately to sleep, as if on command. When it was showtime, someone would have to wake Stan up. Most people are groggy after being jolted out of their slumber, but Stan would jump to his feet and lunge out on the stage teeming with energy.
Stan would occasionally do interviews, talk shows, and even a rare improv sketch in between panels and signings. He always looked forward to his IMDboat interviews with his director pal Kevin Smith. Some of their appearances together have become legendary comic con moments, like the time they improvised a scene from Kevin’s upcoming movie Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Check out the video below.
In 2009 Stan was asked by Jimmy Fallon to shoot a comedy sketch for his late-night television show while at the convention. The sketch revolved around Jimmy pitching a new superhero character idea to Stan Lee… the solar powered RECHARGER! The hero had the useful power to charge anyone’s cell phone. Stan had a ball hamming it up with Fallon. “Did this come out of your own mind, Jimmy!? Your twisted, gnarled, mixed-up mind!?” he shouted with enthusiasm as only Stan could.
Out of all the amazing things I was able to bear witness to while tagging along with Stan at San Diego Comic Con, the quieter moments were my favorite. Even with Stan’s high-profile, it was still difficult for all the fans to see the icon because of all the madcap madness of the con.
A not so hush-hush secret was that if you wanted to catch a glimpse of the always on-the-go Stan Lee, he could sometimes be found in the lounge area of the Marriott hotel lobby in the early mornings before his schedule started, or at night, relaxing after a long day in one of the large high-back chairs.
Stan would sit and talk about comic cons past and present. Fans would occasionally wander up for a picture or autograph and Stan would happily oblige, often chatting for a bit, giving them a more personal experience.
Watching and listening to Stan during these moments were my most memorable times at the San Diego Comic Con and always reaffirmed just how important Stan was not only to the world, but to me as well.
-Steve Voccola, POW! Head Writer