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Why Stan Lee saw Spider-Man as a regular guy

Stan Lee once explained to CBC why it was so important for his superheroes to have problems like the rest of us.

'He's pretty good at catching bad guys, but he's apt to get an allergy attack while he's fighting'

In this March 21, 2006 file photo, comic book creator Stan Lee poses beside art featuring Spider-Man at the Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)
In addition to the challenges of stopping super-villains, Spider-Man has often had to deal with more run-of-the mill issues within the panels and pages of his comic-book adventures.

"He's pretty good at catching bad guys, but he's apt to get an allergy attack while he's fighting, he worries about dandruff, he'll have an ingrown toenail, [he] tears his costume," creator Stan Lee told CBC-TV's 90 Minutes Live back in 1977, when listing some of the non-heroic problems in Spider-Man's life.

"His Aunt May won't let him go out to save the world because he's not wearing his galoshes and it's snowing out."

'I could actually have fun'

This humanizing of superheroes like Spider-Man wasn't something that happened during Lee's early days in the business — and was not an approach he set out to use in the first place. But it was one that he found worked well with audiences.

Stan Lee on Spider-Man's everyday problems

44 years ago
4:48
In 1977, Stan Lee explains why he sees Spider-Man as being a regular guy. 4:48

"The funny thing is I started doing that as a gag and really to keep myself awake, you know, and I found that the readers are as crazy as I am — they started enjoying this sort of thing," Lee said.

"So, after 20 years of writing pap ... I suddenly realized, yeah, I could actually have fun with what I'm doing."

Giving heroes 'feet of clay'

Lee said the approach became part of an effort at Marvel Comics to "make our characters have feet of clay," making them more relatable and more rooted in everyday life — even if those same characters, like Spider-Man, have super powers that the rest of us don't.

In this Jan. 10, 1976, file photo, Stan Lee, standing, publisher of Marvel Comics, discusses a "Spider-Man" comic book cover at Marvel headquarters in New York. (The Associated Press)

Beyond Spider-Man, Lee, who recently died at the age of 95, was the creative force behind many iconic Marvel characters including Iron-Man, The Hulk and The X-Men.

The comic book legend would return to make another appearance on 90 Minutes Live, about a year after this interview.

Lee also made an appearance on CBC's Beyond Reason, a game show in which a "psychic panel" tried to guess the identity of a mystery guest. 

The man who had created so many iconic superheroes went unidentified — though one panellist, astrologer Geof Gray-Cobb, guessed Lee was "a multi-millionaire who has talent for making money."

But Gray-Cobb wrongly thought Lee was Hugh Hefner.

"I sort of wish I were," Lee said, laughing, as he reacted to the guess.

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