punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Tales of Mild Interest: How I got to Shake Hands with the Real Stan Lee

As some of you know, I work among the highest management in an anime convention as a co-chair, which is kind of like claiming your were president of the college chess club on your resume; it may impress some hard core nerds but most people don't care and may actually be annoyed if you bring it up too much. But for the small core of you who knows who Stan Lee is...

OK, for those who don't, Stan Lee American comic book writer, editor, actor, producer, publisher, television personality, and the former president and chairman of Marvel Comics. He is credited with being one of the major creators of superhero characters you have heard of if you have been watching movies for the past 10 years: The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, The Hulk, and many others. In the comic book world, he is the closest to a deity as it gets. He's also a really nice guy, very funny, and like the wacky grandpa who can get away with calling people a dork in public. Stan Lee is a "Big Deal."

I don't read comics. This is not a statement of pride, it's kind of a confession of sorts among my friends, as I am a bit of an outsider due to this. I did read a few comics as a kid, but I read mostly graphic novels of famous literary classics like Robinson Crusoe, Call of the Wild, The Time Machine, and the Washington Star. I didn't like comics (with the exception of Mad and Cracked magazines) because the cost-to-entertainment ratio was rather low. Comics were about 95 cents as a kid, and I could read them in 20 minutes. A paperback book was $3.95, and that was several hour's worth of entertainment. I didn't get an allowance, so the rare money I did get I would spend wisely. With books, most of my reading collection was stored in a place called "The Public Library," which cost nothing. They didn't have many comics, except the oddball comic collection or graphic novel. So while nerd friends of mine poured over the latest Spiderman, marveling at his ability to sell them Hostess products, I was reading Tolkien. That does not mean I wasn't AWARE of the comics. If I had unlimited funds for comics as my friends did, I am sure a great portion of my life would be arguing DC versus Marvel Universe. Of which I only discovered the difference less than a decade ago.

I first became aware of Stan Lee when he showed up in "Mall Rats," a film directed by Kevin Smith. Over the next few years, Stan would show up randomly in the nerd universe, and I found I rather liked him due to his personality, self-deprecating humor, and cries of EXCELSIOR! for no apparent reason. So when my anime convention agreed we should try our a comic book convention to promote our event, I was delighted to find out Stan Lee would be there. Maybe I'd get to see him! I joked I'd stalk him.

I was really there on business, and had no real objective or serious plans to meet Stan Lee. It just seemed like something funny to say, like "I am gonna marry that Hooters waitress," or "FOX News journalist." In fact, I had plan to meet some famous people who are even more obscure except in their narrow universe. Like Stan Sakai (which I jokingly referred to as "the other Stan" all con), creator of the Usagi Yojimbo manga. Mr. Sakai is a guest at my convention, and I wanted to make sure he knew I was one of the co-chairs. He's an awesome guy, too, and if you ever get an opportunity to spend time with him, you should do so. I was also supposed to seek out vendors and industry guests for Katsucon 18 and 19. And, on a personal quest, "Josh," the famous Baltimore "ICE COLD WATARRR..." guy. In my clueless wanderings between these, I met other people whom I would later look up and realize I had met and talked to other famous people, like Ron Wilson and Chrissie Zullo. No wonder they looked at me funny when I asked what they did.

Stan Lee was heavily guarded. When the con announced he was the guest of honor, they sold VIP passes for up to $220 a pop. What would your VIP Pass get you? Half an hour early to get into the con, get in line early to meet Stan Lee, one signed object, and one photo op with him. To prevent people from mobbing him, they kept him sealed away in a pipe and drape section like he was the bearded lady at a freak show. And the line to see him wrapped around the Baltimore Convention Center. I heard from a few vendors that Stan was not looking well; he was old, frail, and had trouble keeping up with his security team.

Back up a bit. Baltimore Comic-Con, while popular, is not affiliated with the famous New York or San Diego Comic-Con. It is, in fact, run by a Baltimore comic book store, and the entire 10,000 attendee convention is probably managed by about 40 staff in safety orange tee-shirts. As a comparison, Katsucon is only 8000 people and has about 500 staff. Stan's security wore black polo shirts, which was an unfortunate choice given how well they blended in with the crowd. Perhaps they thought it was camouflage, but what it did was make people ignore their requests to move out of the way. Like anime cons, people go to comic cons to show off or see people show off their costumes. This causes clogging in the hallways, but at this con, there wasn't much BUT the dealer's room. Otakon is in the convention center, but they make their merchants lanes very wide; like 5 meters or so, where as this con did maybe 3 meters, or 2 in smaller lanes. This caused a lot of clogging. And then when you add people stopping to take pictures... this created monstrous traffic jams. I am sure this violates a lot of fire codes, but... somehow they pass.

So I was at a T-intersection near the back of the Artist's Alley where Stan Lee's Freak Show Booth of Fame was stationed like a black pylon of some alien oracle. There were people already lined up, and as I came to the intersection, a teenager who had no business being in a skin-tight latex body suit without violating some Maryland decency law was posing as cat girl much to everyone's delight. A huge bubble of lonely men with digital cameras were feeding the girl's young ego asking her to pose in ways I would rather not think about. As I tried to get around this shield wall of perversion, I nearly ran into one of Stan's security guards shouting over the balding heads and flashbulbs "Please MOVE! Need to get by here!"

He was ignored much like the head of security aboard the Fhloston Paradise Luxury Cruise Starliner in "Fifth Element."

I wanted to be part of the solution rather than the problem, so I went behind him and was suddenly face to face with the man himself.

Stan was, like most celebrities I have met, much smaller in person. Someone had said he was looking frail, trying to keep up with his security retinue who were often going faster than Stan's 88 year-old legs could keep pace. All I know was he was more hunched than I expected. But there he was, real with skin and everything. No TV screen separating us.

I have told people I had a "Kevin Mitnick" moment, but since almost nobody seemed to know who that is (and you SHOULD especially if you work for SECURITY... look it up), so I will tell you all you need to know is Kevin was famous for getting into secure places using "social engineering." I was wearing my red "Katsucon Con-Chair Ninja Team" polo and a dealer's badge which, due to poor planning on the convention's part, was 99% identical to the Guest Badges. My reflexes as a con chair and dealing with multiple artists and vendors that day took over before I had a chance to think about what I was going to do.

Stan and I locked eyes, and I reached out my hand and we met halfway. As I shook it, I said in my most hospitable and official customer service voice, "Hey Stan, you having a good time? You bein' treated you alright by these guys?" Stan shook my hand back a little hesitantly, trying to scan my badge before he smiled, cleared his throat, and said, "Yes. Yes, everything's great." My voice had the formal confident presence of a convention official making sure everything was going smoothly. "Great," I said, as if I was checking an item off some mental list, "keep it up, and let us know if we can make this more pleasant." He nodded, and I moved past him with the smooth grace I didn't know I had. I am sure he forgot the moment as instantly as one of the dozens of faceless employees he's met in the last week of his work.

Nobody noticed. No fans even seemed to know he was there, and alarmingly, none of his security detail did either. Everyone was all transfixed by Miss Teenage Cat Girl who I am sure was working the subtlety of her apple-shaped booty in a moment fame she probably doesn't get in her high school art class. Either than or get past this strange knot in the traffic flow.

And it was over. The whole moment was probably less than 7 seconds of squeeze by, look, shake hands, talk, and move past. I was past the bubble and on my way, a little stunned what had just happened like a delay switch. Once I was in a place my phone got reception, I tweeted:

Even though I was half kidding, my reward today on top of everything else was meeting Stan Lee. And oh, they need better security here... :D

In hindsight, I should have shouted, "EXCELSIOR!"

For a while, I realized for the first time what people met when they say they will never wash the hand that touched a celebrity again. But then I thought, "Eugh! God knows what that man has touched today," and it was washed the very next time I got to the bathroom.
Tags: anime, comics, con, convention, fandom, stan lee
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