My first San Diego Comic Con with Stan Lee was 2011. It also happened to be my first time attending a comics convention, period. So, to say my experience was different than the average fan’s would be an understatement.

People never believe me when I tell them the quintessential SDCC experience has eluded me, especially since I always palled around with Stan at the convention. My main task at SDCC was coordinating Stan’s POW-related events and getting him where he needed to be on time, and given the behemoth that is SDCC, that proved about as challenging as… well, I’m actually convinced there is no adequate comparison; that’s how crazy SDCC was with Stan. Thus, my memories chiefly take place in rather mundane locations—but with far from mundane people; over the years, I’ve hoofed, golf-carted, and driven around the floors, back hallways, green rooms, press lounges, marina boats, and seemingly secret passages of the Convention Center and San Diego with Stan and other POW employees.

By the time I joined the POW team, SDCC had solidified itself as a cultural phenomenon, and within .0003 seconds of stepping anywhere, Stan would be instantly recognized and surrounded by adoring fans. Given the capacity-level crowds, it humored me that Stan had absolutely zero qualms about walking the floor when he needed to, as terrifying/exciting/panic-inducing as that was for the rest of us. One could occasionally spot Stan, head down, efficiently power-striding through the convention center as the POW team hurriedly and precariously tried to steer him through the masses. (Oddly enough, the sea of people always seemed to mysteriously part for him. Only him.) Since I inevitably always ended up behind Stan, assumingly due to my short stature, it was enthralling to see heads turn one by one milliseconds after he breezed past astonished fans to cries of ‘Look, there’s Stan Lee!’, ‘STAN!’ and various other calls; it was actually movie-like mind-boggling. Though on a mission to get from Point A to Point B, Stan always made it a point to greet and acknowledge well-wishers when he could. Those short jaunts through the convention madness served as a huge, humbling reminder of the legendary presence I was honored to be in.

Stan’s schedule was always go-go-go (as he liked it!), but he valued the quick moments of downtime in between the panels, signings, appearances, and parties—as did all the rest of us. Oftentimes, Stan would enjoy a green room lunch and a brief respite/power nap (I always envied his ability to sleep anywhere) during the day, and sometimes we’d go out for group dinners in downtown San Diego in the evening. After a long day full of activity, Stan would still have the energy to regale us with stories, jokes, and the like. And oftentimes, that wasn’t even the end of the night: a party or two frequently awaited us!

While the quiet times I shared with Stan, the full details of which have escaped me, rank among my favorite moments of the con, there’s two other brief memories that stand out. One of those was running into—almost literally—Twilight stars Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson in a back hallway at the convention center. Here were three hugely different celebrities all brought together by SDCC, all surprised to see each other… and of course, a mini impromptu photo shoot ensued.

Another highlight of SDCC was accompanying Stan on the IMDb boat, where Kevin Smith hung out interviewing guests the last few years (and he still does!). Simply observing Stan and Kevin riff with each other was more entertaining than most movies I see. Once we were ON the boat, everything was easy peasy, but trying to figure out the best way to get Stan through the parking lot behind the convention center all the way to the marina, which is actually just a short distance, was like plotting the playbook for the Super Bowl. And it was made even more challenging because I was doing all this from the boat—and then Stan would pop out from somewhere completely different and saunter on board! 

Those first few SDCC’s I attended with Stan were chock full of activities day and night, frequently hopping from one party to the next into the wee hours of the morning. It astonished me how Stan could do it all; heck, exhaustion set in for me after day one, and at 24, I was the youngest of the entourage! Though Stan’s schedule lightened as the years went on, he always enjoyed being part of SDCC and meeting fans. And I always relished helping him do so.

-Kim Luperi, POW! Editorial Manager