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Creating characters


'It's clobbering time'
Stan Lee Writer
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You know, one thing I love is expressions because you can remember a character, and you can remember people by the expressions they use. In fact… funny thing about getting to be my age, you become a little bit of a bore because it's hard to tell a straight story, 'cause while you're talking everything you say reminds you of something else. So many things… again, when you get to be 83 so many things have happened in your life. And while I'm telling you this I just thought… when I was a kid one of the books that I read was… there was a series of books called Bomba the Jungle Boy. And it was like a teenage Tarzan, and he was a kid in the jungle and his adventures, but the reason I'm bringing him up, it has to do with expressions. There was one expression that the artist had Bomba use all the time. Whenever he was in danger and something was about to happen to him, the… the… not the artist, the writer… the writer would write: ‘With Bomba, to think was to act’. So he did this, or he did that. Then you'd get to the next chapter, a snake was about to bite him. ‘With Bomba, to think was to act’. So he'd jumped out of the way of the snake. Then the next chapter, a lion is going to get him. ‘With Bomba, to think was to act’. I mean… and I wondered, didn't that editor ever say to him, you're using that expression too much. But I never forgot it. ‘With Bomba, to think was to act’. So anyway… Sherlock Holmes who always said, ‘It's elementary’. The idea of little expressions that you remember and… and you tie them in with the story or the character, I love them. So in everything I wrote I tried to put little expressions in. In The Fantastic Four, whenever Ben Grimm — The Thing — was going to get into a fight, I'd have him shout: ‘It's clobbering time’. I can't tell you how many colleges I've gone to — to lecture — where I was introduced, ‘And now Stan Lee’ and in one voice the audience would shout: ‘It's clobbering time’.

And, let's see, there… there are so many other… Oh, one thing that happened; in Spider-Man I had used the expression that I made up: ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. That has caught on so... I see that all over. Somebody told me someone on Oprah's show did that the other day. At any rate, about two years ago the… Attorney General of the State of Rhode Island contacted me. He was using that… he had taken that expression and made a bronze plaque, and he put it outside the door of his office: ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. He said he's a big fan; he's always loved that expression. Would I fly to Rhode Island for the ceremony when he puts that on his door? Well I wasn't able to, but he came out here some time later and we got together, and he was the nicest guy. But, it's funny how sometimes you can have a little expression and it… it… I'll tell you another thing about expressions. When I used to write Stan's Soapbox, which was the column I put in the magazines all the time, where I was talking to the readers, I didn't like to end it by saying, ‘Yours truly’ or ‘Sincerely’ or in any way that anyone would have done it. So I'd made up little expressions, like at the end of the message I'd say, ‘Hang loose, Stan’ or ‘Face front, Stan’. Little things like that. Or ‘Keep the faith’. No matter what I did, I found later on the competitors were doing the same thing. Our competitive magazines were… were using my expressions. That got me angry. So I said I'm going to come up with something that A, they won't know what it means and B, they won't know how to spell it. So I dug up the word, excelsior, which to me is wonderful. It's an old English word which means, upward and onward to greater glory. So… I found out later it's actually the emblem… the motto on the great seal of the State of New York; I didn't know that at the time. So at any rate, I would end everything with the word, excelsior. Thank goodness nobody has used it yet, in fact I think we've copyrighted it.

The creative genius of American writer, Stan Lee (1922-2018) brought us 'Spider Man', 'X-Men' and 'The Hulk'. They climbed tall buildings and fought the bad guys, but had normal worries too, about love, acceptance and family. Readers loved them and Marvel Comics, with Lee at the helm, went on to become hugely successful. In 2010 the Stan Lee Foundation was founded to focus on literacy, education and the arts. On January 4, 2011 Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Listeners: Leo Bear

Leo Bear is a Hollywood-based features writer. Her background is in news and features writing. Leo spent five years on the entertainment newsdesk at BBC Worldwide before going freelance and moving out to Los Angeles. She specialises in writing lifestyle features, celebrity interviews, health stories and travel features for publications including Eve Magazine, OK! Magazine, Total Film, TV Hits and Conde Nast Gourmet Travel Guide.

Tags: Bomba the Jungle Boy, The Thing, Fantastic Four, Spider-man, Rhode Island

Duration: 4 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008