The creator of Spider-Man and many Marvel characters reveals how his fertile imagination is triggered
He was talking to a BBC reporter recently [March 2016] about his creative processes. His story matches dozens I have come across from creative individuals. According to Lee, he was looking for a new character when noticed a fly on the wall, and started playing around with ideas about a super-hero that could fly. He didn’t mention the great Superman, but in some way that didn’t matter, because he started adding ideas that would build on his first thought.
My students will recognize the injunction to ‘Yes And’ as the way creative individuals keep building and improving on ideas. Also the way the injunction to speculate works: (‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if’)
Lee says he thought ‘how about [creating] a schoolboy schoolboy superhero’. Then he thought his character could have pads to climb up walls (more ‘yes anding’).
Then he played around with the name. ‘Fly man’ didn’t seem right, but the moment he switched to Spider-Man he knew he had the name.
He also wanted his boy hero to have the same sorts of problems any teenager would identify with. He took the idea to his agent with predictable results. A barrage of Yes buts:
‘That’s about the worse idea I ever heard’ his agent told him. ‘No one likes spiders. You can’t make a super hero out of a school kid. Especially one with problems’.
Lee was chastened by the criticism, but later took up a challenge to kill off a periodical which was performing badly. Just for fun, Lee ended an issue with a Proto Spider-Man cartoon. The image on the cover seemed to boost sales. The journal was rescued. Spider-Man was launched.
There was a further twist to the tale. The agent called Lee later , and said ‘You remember that great idea we had about the Spider-Man ….’
He wanted Lee to produce more of the same. Lee’s response to his agent was a classic:
‘You always have such good taste’ he said.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if
There is a lot to take from this story. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you discuss it …Yes and you could share the results of such an exercise with other LWD subscribers.
Image via Wikimedia (Creative commons) Stan_Lee_by_Gage_Skidmore_3