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Chasing Stan Lee

How I got to sit down with the man, the myth, the legend

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When I put on my Wonder Woman costume Saturday morning, my only expectation was to have fun at the 30th annual Heroes Convention. Like Peter Parker before he became Spider-Man, I was blissfully unaware of my superhero destiny. Donning my red boots, shiny cape and starred gold crown — and blue eyeshadow a la Lynda Carter in "The New Adventures" of Wonder Woman television series — I headed to the Charlotte Convention Center.

The talk of the three-day comics exhibition — which brought together fans, artists and writers from across the country this weekend — was one man: Stan Lee, the legendary creator of the iconic Marvel Comics characters Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men, just to name a few. The 89-year-old, whose 40 years of writing comic books spawned countless blockbuster movies, was scheduled to appear on Saturday and Sunday for non-stop autograph signings, photo sessions and panel discussions.

Little did I know that I would go on an adventure that would lead me to Lee, even though I was told multiple times that he wasn't doing interviews. The road to my moment with the Marvel legend — something many hardcore comics fans can only dream about or shell out hundreds of dollars to guarantee — was all thanks to my own superhero power: the inability to hear the word "No." When I entered the convention center, I transformed from the everyday fan to a superhero on a mission. I skipped the general admission line and snagged a press pass. After a false start running upstairs to find Lee in one of the conference rooms — all while wading through a sea of very green Hulks, a pint-size Darth Vader and an Iron Man — I got a tip that he was downstairs signing autographs

There he was, so close yet so far. The slim, white-haired icon wore his tinted glasses, looking small against the large white table. I was within earshot and could hear his distinct voice, see the melting water droplets on his half-drunken Starbucks iced coffee. My obstacle was one giant bodyguard and Lee's curly-haired handler sitting beside him — a foreboding hulk of a man whom I would later know as Max. I smiled and flashed my press pass at Max, but he was resistant to my Wonder Woman's charms. He shook his head and shouted amid the din of 300 autograph seekers, "Mr. Lee is not doing interviews today!"

Just when I was about to hang up my golden lasso, one of my friends spotted a potential ally in a pink shirt. Shelton Drum, the founder of Heroes Convention and owner of Charlotte's Heroes Aren't Hard to Find comic book store on East 7th Street, stood behind a glass collectibles table. He was — as Princess Leia once said in a little series called Star Wars — my only hope. After (nicely) pressuring him for an interview with the legend, Drum said Lee's handlers would allow me to ask him one question.

Armed with my note pad, voice recorder and camera, I triumphantly returned to Lee's autograph table. After the last fan walked away with his stack of signed comic books, Max leaned in and said to Lee, "This beautiful woman wants to interview you." Although Lee did not know what Creative Loafing was, he gave a surprisingly thoughtful answer to my approved question: What makes the Heroes Convention and comic books so popular?

"I have a theory about it," he said. "Most people, when they were very young, liked to read fairy tales, tales of giants and dragons and monsters and witches. Well when you get a little bit older, you don't read fairy tales anymore. But I don't think you ever outgrow your love for that type of high-concept story. All of sudden, along comes superhero comic books. To me, they're really fairy tales for older people because you have the same kind of characters. You have characters who can do wonderful things that real people can't do."

This gospel astounded my friends who listened to me retell the story as if I had come down from Mount Sinai with the direct word of God. My heart was still pounding, filled with the joy of imagination that Lee, a true American legend, cultivates in his canon of comics.

"It's like you're reading fairy tales again," Lee told me, "but they are done, as I say, for older people, and that's why I think they're popular, and they'll always be popular as long as they're done well."\<ParaStyle:Body

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