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August 31, 2015

Fan Expo 2010 Day 2: Batcondoms, David Cronenberg Honored, and Mighty Stan Lee

by Aaron Broverman, posted Aug 29th 2010 2:01PM
Before I get to the Fan Expo Day 2 festivities, let me just say the crowd on Friday was only a sign of things to come. Today, police had to shut down half the street for the line-up because 3,000 people showed up before the doors were scheduled to open. Later, the convention center doors were barred because the place reached capacity, and would violate the fire code if any more people were let in.

The only thing that slightly softened the blow was an extension of the convention by an hour, but an informal poll I conducted found that most people had never seen the convention this packed in all the years they've ever attended. As I made my way through the horde, the chaos seemed to be attributed to the popularity of one person, and some variation on the following could be overheard in the line: "I want to punch Stan Lee in the face for this!"

But once inside, Lee delivered on his top billing by lampooning his own perceived industry reputation as an egotistical glory hog who steals other people's work and ideas for all the credit, during the 'Spotlight On: The One and Only Stan Lee' panel. The repartee between he and moderator, Space Network producer, Mark Askwith -- who had built a rapport with Lee through multiple interviews over the years -- was something not to be missed. Here's a sample:

Stan, why are you attracted to creating superheroes?

"I'm not attracted to it. They pay money for it, so I do it."

Stan, you love to collaborate, why is that?
I don't love to collaborate, I have to collaborate. If I could draw like those guys, you'd never hear of them. I can't draw the script, so I take these guys, I teach them how to draw, they do all the work and I get all the credit.

When the laughter died down, Lee revealed the reasoning behind inventing the famous Marvel Method for plotting comic books, or as he jokingly called it, "The Lee Method." For those who don't know, the Marvel Method is when a writer gives a brief description of the overall story to the artist, the artist completes all the panels and then the writer fills in the dialogue and emphasizes words according to what the artist came up with. "I was writing just about everything and I couldn't keep up with it," he said. "And these artists were freelancers, so if they weren't drawing anything they weren't getting paid." The Marvel Method became a way Lee could make sure his other artists had something to do, while he was busy working on more pressing scripts. "These guys were good at coming up with their own stories, as long as they had something to start with," he concluded.

As for his famous 'Soapbox' column sign-off, "Excelsior," it is an actual word. It's actually part of the state seal of New York and means "upward and onward to greater glory," though many thought it was the stuffing in parcels with the same name. "You wouldn't believe the amount of people who wrote in," Lee said. He created it because DC Comics began copying his other sign-offs such as, "Face Front" and "'Nuff Said." "I needed something that no one knew how to spell and no one knew what it meant, so they would never use it," he continued. Much of what he shared about his budding film and television career was told to Moviefone first in their exclusive interview, but he did drop the news that for his role in 'Thor,' he will be playing a trucker. "What I'm going to do for the trucking industry..." and Sunday will see him shoot his latest cameo in 'Nikita.'

TV Squad Hits Fan Expo!

The panel took a serious but poignant turn when Lee was asked to recall a young artist who worked with him on a comic called 'Black Knight.' His name was Joe Maneely and according to Lee, he could pencil a page faster than Jack Kirby -- one of the all-time greats in comics. Maneely would've been a legend himself had he lived. But in the early morning hours of June 7, 1958, on his way home from dinner, he fell between two train cars and died. Lee claims he'd been drunk, while other sources say that he lost his glasses. Nonetheless, Lee asserts he would've been one of the greats. "He almost didn't even pencil. He would take a pen and in one minute the panel was done and it was wonderful. That was my friend Joe, and we lost him too soon."

Don't worry though, no one left the panel with tears in their eyes. For many, I'm sure it was a dream come true. What I couldn't imagine at the time was, I would accomplish my own dream only hours later and meet Stan Lee in the flesh for a once in a lifetime photo-op.

Until then, I was witnessing history. A reunion of 'Batman' cast members Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar all on one Toronto stage for the first time. The discussion was called 'Return to the Batcave' and this one was so crazy, it's a wonder all three of them didn't break into the 'Batusi' right in front of us. Thank God there weren't any kids in the house, with West dropping riotous gems like "I've seen a lot of Catwomen, and it's not just because she promised to take me when she got out of jail. Julie Newmar,to me, is the definitive Catwoman... it's what you did off stage for me."

Sometimes it's genuinely hard to tell who is crazier -- Mayor West from 'Family Guy' or Adam West himself, with talk about Batcondoms in the utility belt (he said they were probably Robin's). Of course, nothing beats Julie Newmar hitting on shirtless audience members less than half her age: "Bring yourself up here so I can take a look at ya. That's a long way back, keep on walkin''" (somewhere, Mae West was smiling). When the dynamic duo was asked who their favorite guest star was, she mouthed "me" while making a grand gesture of pointing at herself with a hitchhiker's thumb.

Apparently, a lot of people have been wondering about the Boy Wonder, and Burt Ward wanted to set the record straight. Just in case you wanted to know, he did not shave his legs for the role of Robin -- he just didn't have a lot of hair. One journalist once asked him if he put cream on his legs. The answer was "no" on both counts. "I didn't shave my legs. If I did that, I'd probably really be in pain when the hair started to grow back in and I had to pull those tights on." Everything was beautifully cleared up until West confessed, "I shaved his legs!" to uproarious laughter.

There were also rumors that Ward had fought Bruce Lee, but the truth was the two lived in the same condominium complex in West LA and would often go to Chinatown for Chinese food together when Brandon Lee was just a little boy. In fact, during the Jeet Kune Do audition for the role of Kato in 'The Green Hornet,' which shared a producer with 'Batman,' Ward was Lee's sparring partner. Turns out the two sparred a lot, since Ward has a black belt in Karate. "In reality, what he and I did off the screen was a lot rougher than anything we did on the screen," Ward said.

The last panel of the day for me was with the incomparable director, David Cronenberg ('The Fly', 'Eastern Promises') . The Toronto resident has been a long-sought-after guest of honor for the Festival of Fear portion of the festivities and this year, his schedule and emotional state finally matched up with the weekend. "It's usually just a matter of timing," he said. "I kind of felt like I really wanted to get out and see people. It's not always scheduling timing, but it's emotional timing too. If you're feeling like you need to write and be alone, then you don't really feel like meeting a lot of people, but I was ready for this," he said.

He'd just came back from filming his next film, 'A Dangerous Method,' in Berlin. It stars Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, and Kiera Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, the woman who comes between them.

"She started off as a patient of Jung's," said Cronenberg. "Really she was a passionate, intelligent, very creative woman who didn't have an outlet for any of those things, so it manifested itself as madness until she met Carl Jung. She was 18, he was about 29 and they had an affair. She became his mistress. It's the story of the three of them."

He was propelled not only by his fascination with those characters, but the opportunity to do a true story about real people. "The addition of Sabina made it come alive. A strange menage a trois. Not that Sabina ever slept with Freud, but she did leave to go study with Freud and to Jung that was like a total betrayal," said Cronenberg. "It was worse than sleeping with him."

The director highlighted the difficulty in getting independent films financed in the U.S. with production arms like Miramax and Warner Independent shutting down. 'A Dangerous Method' has 11 different funding sources, including TeleFilm Canada, German territories, and private donations, and Cronenberg's name doesn't actually move it towards the money any faster. "I was talking about this with Martin Scorsese not too long ago. Everybody thinks Martin Scorsese can get anything he wants, right? Not true, not at all true. He still has to fight, still has to struggle and so do I. There's no direct correlation between your name and financing," Cronenberg says. There are no guarantees and the more unique your film is, the greater the struggle."

He still feels he has more to say in the horror and sci-fi genres, but his interests have shifted a bit. "The fact that it was a horror film wouldn't stop me from doing it, as long as it was a terrific, unique, exciting thing," he insisted. The director's tastes are very eclectic. He played classical guitar and collected butterflies as a kid, and each movie he makes is a sharp turn from the last. But his body of work speaks for itself, which is why Rue Morgue Magazine (chief sponsor of The Festival of Fear) gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. Cronenberg was totally taken aback by the honor.

Other people I met today included Darwyn Cooke, whose story of the same name inspired the 'Justice League: Final Frontier' direct-to-DVD animated feature and Doug Sneyd, who has done cartoons for Playboy magazine since 1963, but all paled in comparison to meeting Stan Lee. When I was a kid we used to play a game called Seven Minutes in Heaven -- you know the one. Sure, I wasn't locked in a closet, there were no girls and it only lasted two minutes, but getting my picture taken with the man who carved out a significant piece of my childhood and still inspires me as a writer was still heaven in my book.

Tomorrow: Ernest Borgine, William Shatner, and Sundhil Rammamurthy ('Heroes', 'Covert Affairs').

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