Jules Verne Festival Pays Tribute to Icon Stan Lee
They were born nearly a century apart – one into a well-to-do family in 19th-century France, the other to working-class immigrants scraping by in Depression-era New York.
The Frenchman planned to be an attorney, but found a passion for writing and became a novelist. The other aspired to write the great American novel, but had to “settle” for becoming the seminal figure in the comic book genre.
Although they came from different cultures and generations, it’s a safe bet that in an alternate reality Jules Verne and Stan Lee would have been friends, perhaps even collaborators. And who better to imagine such a reality but the men who have introduced some of the best fantasy and science fiction to the world?
So it’s easy to understand why the creators of the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival, which runs Dec. 5-9 at the Shrine Auditorium and 14-15 at the Los Angeles Theatre, are presenting Lee with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Other honorees at the 15th annual festival are William Shatner, Tippi Hedren and Jean-Michel Cousteau.
But it’s Lee who will close the festival in Downtown Los Angeles by being honored, according to festival literature, “for his innovative, larger-than-life, but always intimately personal storytelling; for his imaginative re-casting of our anxieties, fears and dreams; for bringing myth to our very doorsteps.”
While Lee, who turns 85 on Dec. 22, is known for his comic creations, he also often displays a self-effacing humor. Upon hearing that thousands would gather to applaud his 66-year career, he replied, “I guess I can endure it.”
Those decades of work, for anyone who has successfully avoided all pop culture since 1941, center on his years as editor, writer and publisher of Marvel Comics. During his reign, Lee co-created Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and myriad others in his crowded universe of superheroes.
Lee cited Verne, along with H. G. Wells and Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, as authors who shaped his formative years leading up to his first comic book writing assignment, in 1941, for Timely Comics’ Captain America series.
Though a popular writer during the early years, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Marvel and Lee hit their stride, thanks greatly to Lee’s decision to create superheroes with human frailties and everyday problems.
“As a writer you can be weak and write about the strongest person in the world. Or you can be poor and create a world of castles,” said Lee from his office at the development company POW! Entertainment. “But I found people connected most to characters if they were like them.
“I wanted Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) to be an average teenager and to feel the same as the average kid. He is not tremendously popular with the girls. He is not a star athlete. He has financial problems and has problems at home. People can identify with that because most of us feel we have shortcomings of one kind or another.”
On the Film Front
The outsider heroes boosted sales during the socially turbulent ‘60s. But it wasn’t until the last decade that the characters and stories crossed over into film, thanks largely to advances in special effects.
The Spider-Man series (starring Tobey Maguire), with its latest entry being the most expensive movie ever made, has broken several box office records.
Lee said he is thankful that filmmakers are finally able to bring to life the visions he and other Marvel artists had.
“They have all been tremendous, from Spider-Man to X-Men and Fantastic Four,” said Lee, who makes cameo appearances in all movie versions of his Marvel characters. “Even Daredevil and The Hulk were great, even if they didn’t have quite the same success.”
Though he is credited with introducing a darker tone to comics, and for touching on social issues such as racism and drugs, Lee said he always tried to maintain one theme throughout his work.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he said. “I think that’s an important message that I tried to get through.”
Though he is well into his 80s, Lee shows no interest in slowing down. In fact, he cited several projects he and POW! are currently developing.
“We’re working on an animated cartoon series with former Beatles member Ringo Starr,” he said. “We also have a cartoon with Paris Hilton that will be a lot of fun.”
Of particular pride to Lee is that Walt Disney Studios entered into an exclusive multi-year first-look deal with POW! Entertainment.
“It’s like the realization of a dream. Ever since I was a young boy, Disney represented the best and most exciting film fare to me,” Lee said in June after the deal was announced. “I look forward with indescribable enthusiasm to being a part of that world and contributing whatever I can to keep the legend alive and growing.”
Despite all the accolades, when it comes to assessing the enduring popularity of his work, Lee graciously seeks to share the praise.
“I will say that I was lucky to have worked with some of the best artists, who made it so easy for me to put the words into [the characters’] mouths,” he said. “And I’m lucky that when I stopped writing that such excellent writers took over for me.
“It’s not really for me to say whether it was the beautiful writing. That’s for other people to decide.”
That’s exactly what the organizers of the Jules Verne Festival have done. So, comfortable or not, Lee will have to endure the applause for his achievements. If he needs someone to blame, he can pick on Verne, for filling his mind with endless possibilities.
Stan Lee will be honored Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival. The festival is Dec. 5-9 at the Shrine Auditorium, 665 W. Jefferson Blvd., and Dec. 14-15 at the Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway. Ticket prices vary. Information at (213) 748-5166 or jvaff.org. Tickets available at Ticketmaster, (213) 480-3232 or ticketmaster.com.
The Award Goes to…
Comic book icon Stan Lee is not the only figure who will be feted during the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival. The first Los Angeles installment of the event launched in Paris in 1992 will also honor (clockwise from top left) actor Tony Curtis, actress Tippi Hedren, business magnate Ted Turner and explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau. “As kids, we discovered these people and they helped build who we are,” said festival founder Frédéric Dieudonné. “They let you escape everyday life and think outside the box.” The lives and accomplishments of the four will be celebrated Thursday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Shrine Auditorium.