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Spider-Man Creator Plans New Superheroes - 2004-07-15

The film "Spider-Man 2" promises to be one of this year's biggest movies. Cartoonist Stan Lee created Spider-Man, the X-Men, and other superheroes who have moved from comic books to the Hollywood big screen. He spoke with VOA's Mike O'Sullivan about the appeal of those characters and about new ones he's planning.

Stan Lee made his mark at Marvel Comics, where he thought up superheroes to compete with Superman and Batman at rival DC Comics. He saw those characters as one dimensional.

"In other words, they had virtually no private lives, virtually no personal problems,? he said. ?They would just be walking down the street, see a bank being robbed, put on their costume and say, oh, I'd better catch that guy before he escapes. And then you had the action. And I figured, well, why not do heroes where we learn who they are, what they are? What about their personal lives? How do they make a living? How do they deal with women? What about their families? Where do they live? You know Spider-Man was the first hero who ever lived in Forest Hills."

Like Spider-Man, all of Mr. Lee's characters live in neighborhoods of New York City, like Forest Hills, because the cartoonist knows the city and can make the settings realistic.

Still associated with New York-based Marvel, Mr. Lee has launched a West Coast company called POW! Entertainment, with offices in Beverly Hills, California.

"And 'POW' stands for purveyors of wonder. It's a new company. See, I have a funny situation. I'm still the chairman emeritus of Marvel, but that's more or less an honorary title. And I have a great contract that allows me still to do anything else I want. So I'm sort of tired of living on the past glory of Spider-Man and the X-Men and the Hulk and Daredevil and all the others that I created," Mr. Lee said.

Now, he's creating new characters for movies and television.

"I'm working on superheroes. Actually what I'm doing, you might call it custom-tailoring characters,? he said. ?There are certain movie actors, stars that I'm working with, and I'm creating characters just for them. I can't mention who they are yet because, as you know, when these things come about, the studio likes to make the big announcement themselves. But I can say I'm working with three really big-name stars now on brand-new franchises, and it's very exciting."

The cartoonist will talk about one project, however. It will feature a friend of his, Hugh Hefner, who created the Playboy publishing empire. Called "Hef's Super Bunnies," the cartoon series for television will show the famous hedonist and his many female helpers.

"It's a very funny show. It tells the real secret of Hugh Hefner, that he's not really interested in wine, women and song,? Mr. Lee said. ?That's a front. He's one of America's greatest secret agents. I can't tell you any more than that - they'd have to kill me. But anyway, I've never had more fun with cartoons, with superhero things, with DVDs, and you'll be hearing about them as time goes by."

Like his superheroes, Stan Lee is a survivor. His last business venture, Stan Lee Media, collapsed three years ago, and Mr. Lee's former partner, a promoter named Peter Paul, has been charged by federal authorities with stock manipulation.

But Mr. Lee is upbeat about POW! Entertainment. The characters he has created are known around the world, and have even appeared, he notes, in China's People's Daily. At age 81, the cartoonist has all the energy of a 20-year old. And he's enjoying his transition from comic book artist to Hollywood mogul.

"The difference is, at Marvel over those years, I worked with the best artists you could ever find anywhere. Now that I'm not really doing comic books, I'm lucky enough to be working with the best screenwriters and the best directors and the best producers. So I've always been incredibly lucky in that I've worked with good people, people who are fun to work with, who are stimulating to work with, and who make me look good," Mr. Lee said.

Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man and other super-heroes, says the new characters he is developing will appear in what is called an integrated franchise, fighting bad guys simultaneously in movies and television, DVDs and video games, and even comic books.