Stan "The Man" Lee and Forty Bucks

A column article by: Zack Davisson

I get to meet Stan Lee. That's awesome. I could hardly believe when I saw his list on the name of attendees at this year's Emerald City Comic Con and had to refresh the page a few times just to make sure it was real. I know Seattle's comic convention has been growing every year from the small local gathering it once was, but having Stan Lee come to town was moving up to a whole different league. This was probably the first year I was giddy with excitement for the Con.

Stan "The Man" Lee. Wow.

Some of my more cynical comics pals had given me guff over my enthusiasm at meeting Stan Lee. He's a self-promoting fraud, they said, who traded in on family connections to get a job in comics, and then rode on the shirttails of more talented individuals taking credit and accepting riches for what wasn't his. And maybe there is some truth to that. But frankly, I didn't care. The King is dead and not likely to show up at a convention anytime soon, and the world has too much cynicism in it anyways. There is nothing wrong with a bit of child-like bliss at getting to meet someone who has been such a presence in your life for so long.

Besides, it was Mr. Stan Lee who filled me with an excitement for the world of superheroes and comics from a young age. It wasn't Jack Kirby's or Steve Ditko's, but Stan Lee's voice who came from my television in 1982 announcing the arrival of The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, letting me know that I could safely settle back for an hour of action-packed cartoon adventure.

"What would you do if you had all the power in the universe? This is Stan Lee sharing the wonder with you as we watch the world's most diabolical villain, Dr. Doom, striving to seize that power."

"What if Firestar met someone with power as great as her own? This is Stan Lee tipping you off. His name is Sunfire and you'll never forget him!"

"Hi gang. This is Stan Lee. We all know that Firestar is really Angelica Jones. But today we're going to learn how she got that way. Unless the Juggernaut catches her first. What's that? Who's the Juggernaut? Oh boy…just you wait!"

"This is Stan Lee saying Excelsior!"

Aren't those cool? I had no idea who Stan Lee was at the time, but the way he said his name and the way he announced the episode always gave me the feeling that he was someone who could deliver excitement. "This is Stan Lee…" you don't say your name like that unless your name carries some serious weight. "This is Zack Davisson…" just doesn't quite cut it.

So I was ready for a full-blown geek attack, allowing my enthusiasm to bubble over, and telling my cynical friends they could all sit in the corner and ruminate on how informed and cool they are. To hell with them. I was excited to meet Stan Lee. On a list of living comic creators I would like to meet, he would be right up there at the top, maybe competing with Alan Moore for the pole position.

The only real conundrum was what to have him sign? There was clearly going to be a long line, and I couldn't exactly pack in the truck-full of long-boxes I would like to have him sign. There is etiquette for such things, you know. With a favorite lesser-known creator, it's all right to have a stack of comics. No one is waiting. But with the folks getting top-billing, I figured a maximum of three books to be polite. I had already decided on having him sign my battered copy of X-Men #1, and my copy of Fantastic Four #51 ("This Man, This Monster," largely considered to be the greatest Kirby/Lee corroboration). I had too many tittles vying for the third slot, when Stan Lee himself made my decision for me.

Stan Lee is charging $40 per autograph.

Now, I have been to a lot of conventions to my times and met some hallowed and famous creators. That is the whole point of going to conventions, of getting a chance to see someone whose work you admire, to talk to them for a brief moment, and to take away a keepsake of the meeting in the form of a signed comic. My signed comics are the treasures of my collection, and I have never sold a single one of them. I never will.

I have a copy of The Spirit Archives #1 signed by Will Eisner, who was a very charming and affable man. My early hardcover of The Watchmen has a Dave Gibbon's drawn Rorschach, saying "Zack, hurm…" which Dave drew without prompting, saying "Now you've got a little picture of Rorschach saying your name." Dick Sprang happily signed a splash page in my The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told paperback because I didn't own any original comics that he had drawn. He liked the picture, he said, because it was "the one with all the crooks." Terry Moore drew me a picture of Katchoo from Strangers in Paradise wearing a Supergirl outfit because I asked him too, although he couldn't get the "S" –shield right. Kevin Smith, whose line was very long, took time to banter with me when he signed my Criterion Collection Chasing Amy DVD. Kurt Busiek, a local, has signed every issue of Astro City for me, and will be at the con again this year to sign the ones that were released since I last saw him. Mike Mignola broke his own rule and sketched a Hellboy into my copy of Hellboy Library Edition Vol. 1 which I will treasure forever. I could go on.

None of these people charged a dime for their time. Or their signatures.

I always figured the creators got as much out of it as we did, being able to make a connection with their fans and to be adored for a bit. No creator I ever met made going to a con seem like a burden, or even work. No one asked for money other than possibly to make a donation to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, or maybe asked that you check out some of their upcoming projects. I did commission a piece of art from Golden Age artist Sheldon Moldoff that I paid for, which I was also happy to do because not only was it a beautiful painting but also because, in lieu of a retirement fund, that was how Sheldon made his living nowadays. But for the rest, sketches and signatures were all free.

At the bigger conventions, there might be a few "media guests" who charged some sheckles for their picture and signature. To be honest, I always felt sorry for them. They seemed like old actors who were doing this to scrape by, their popularity long since faded and their only real purpose in life to be remembered for a character in whatever genre show they had once appeared in. It is hard to begrudge these folks the opportunity to make a little spare cash where they could.

Now Stan Lee, on the other hand, he just doesn't seem poor. He doesn't seem like he really needs my forty bucks. (That is $40 per autograph, by the way. If you want two things signed, it is $80, or $120 for three.) I know that Stan Lee Media took some hits back in 2000, but I don't think he was personally touched by that, and besides, he is popping up in every Marvel movie recently as well as making some moola off of the Disney acquisition of Marvel comics.

So why is he charging? No other comics creator at the Emerald City Comic Con are charging. You can go meet Marvel comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada for free, and I am sure he will sign your copies of Ash with a smile. Kevin Maguire is on hand to put his name on those issues of Justice League International (Bwa ha ha!) that we love so much. Brian Azzarello, Brian Michael Bendis, Geoff Johns…all available for no more than the price of your entrance ticket.

I suppose he is charging because he can, and because people will pay. It sucks, but that's the way the world works right? That's the American way, to charge what the market will bear. Supply and demand. There is only one Stan Lee, after all, and he isn't going to be around forever. The guy is 87 years old, and I am sure he knows just how much people could make selling his signature on eBay. I suppose he figures he might as well get a little taste of that.

I am paying, of course. Just the $40 for one signature, although now it is now a toss-up on which comic I will have him sign. But the demand for a signing fee has killed much of my enthusiasm for meeting Stan Lee, reducing it to a mere financial transaction rather than a cool opportunity to meet someone I admire. If it was a matter of overwhelming numbers and people wanting signatures, there are other ways to solve the problem: a limit on items signed or a "Stan Lee signing ticket" received with entrance fee…but no, the cold truth is Stan Lee is selling his signature. And I am buying it.

Sigh…maybe the cynics are right…

"This is Stan Lee saying…give me your cash…"

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