Stan Lee's creative process, as explained to kids on CBC

Over four decades ago, Stan Lee tried to explain his method of coming up with popular superheroes.

Marvel Comics legend said coming up with successful new superheroes was a tough task

'Do you know about Spider-Man?'

44 years ago
Stan Lee takes questions from young people on CBC's For Kids Only. 3:01

The kids watching at home were probably more used to seeing Stan Lee's characters on TV, as opposed to the man himself.

But the kids they were watching on screen were undaunted by meeting the Marvel Comics legend four decades ago. And they had a lot of good questions for him.

"How do you think of the characters like Spider-Man?" a boy asked Lee, when he appeared on CBC's For Kids Only, back in 1978.

The answer might have surprised fans of the prolific comic-book writer and editor.

"With great difficulty," Lee replied. "But, I really don't know how."

Taking stock of the Marvel universe

He went on to explain that it normally involved looking at who was already a resident of the Marvel Comics universe.

Stan Lee is seen posing with actors Eric Kramer (shown in costume as Thor) and Lou Ferrigno (shown in costume as The Incredible Hulk) in 1988. (The Associated Press)

"If we need a new character, I'll sit down and I'll say: 'Well, we need a new character," Lee explained.

"Now, let's see: we already have a guy who crawls on walls and spins webs, we already have a guy who's the god of thunder and a fellow who's got green skin and he breaks buildings up and so forth. What haven't we got?"

The next step was to think of who that next character to join the Marvel universe might be.

"Then you sort of sit and eliminate. You say: 'Well, we don't have a fellow, perhaps, who can counteract the power of gravity. Maybe a person who can walk on air and we'll call him 'Anti-Gravity Man,'" said Lee, giving an example of how he would select such a character.

"Or maybe a fellow who can walk through walls, you know, and we'll call him the Wall Walker."

'Getting the idea is easy'

The work didn't end there, though.

"Getting the idea is easy," Lee said, noting the tough part was figuring out "what can I do to this character to make the readers care about him?"

Another child asked Lee how he kept his stories interesting as they went along. The Marvel man said it came down to ensuring there were enough twists and turns for readers to enjoy.

Above all, the characters needed to make readers want to root for them, Lee explained.

"It doesn't matter if the character is ugly, or is handsome, or is weak, or is strong," he said, noting what was most important was for there to be "something about the character that makes you like the character and care about the character."

Lee, who died at the age of 95 in 2018, made several appearances on CBC-TV in the 1970s.

He was interviewed on 90 Minutes Live on two occasions and he also appeared as the mystery guest on Beyond Reason.


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