Stan Lee is the creative force behind some of the world's greatest comic-book super-heroes. He created iconic characters such as Spiderman, the X-Men, Incredible Hulk and Captain America.
For 70 years, Lee has led fans into a world where heroes with super-human powers fight crime and evil.
As a teenager working at part-time jobs in New York City in 1939, Stan Lee never expected to become a legendary talent behind some of the world's most memorable super-heroes.
"I never looked that far ahead," says Lee. "In fact, I never thought I'd get into the comic book business. I applied for a job at a publishing company and I thought they published regular magazines, which they did also. But the one place they had an opening was in the comic book department, so that's where I went. I guess I've been there ever since, practically."
And what a tenure it was. Lee, whose given name is Stanley Lieber, was quickly promoted at Timely Comics, from office assistant to writer to editor. By the time the company became known as Marvel Comics, in the 1960s, he was art director and about to revolutionize comics.
Unlike the perfect, invincible comic book superheros of other companies, Lee made Marvel's new characters flawed, more human.
"And I tried to show that even though they had super power, everything wasn't perfect in their lives. They still had to worry about earning a living, about their relationship with other people, about their families and their health and so forth," Lee says. "And I tried to make them real people who happened to have super powers. And apparently that little shade of a difference was the main thing that made the characters as popular as they became."
The characters that Lee and the Marvel artists created are so popular, more than two billion comic books based on their adventures have been published, in 75 countries and 25 languages. For fans interested in creating their own characters, Lee has published a book called "How to Draw Comics," which covers all the elements of the comics art form, including tools - like computers - which were unimaginable in the industry's early days.
Looking back over his 70 years in comics, Lee sees other changes, too.
"When we did the comics years ago, we tried to make them so they were suitable for every age. They were sort of G-rated. We had a lot of action, but we didn't really have what we'd call violence," he says. "I tried to write them so they were intelligent enough for an older reader, but a young kid could also understand them and enjoy them. Today, sometimes they become a little more gritty, a little more dark than they had been."
While comic book artwork has become much more sophisticated, Lee - who is primarily a writer, not an artist - says that's not enough to hold an audience.
"Story is everything. You could have the greatest artwork in the world, but if the artwork is depicting a story that nobody's interested in, you've got nothing."
Hollywood comes calling
Interest in stories about Marvel's superheroes is growing, especially in Hollywood. Next year, Captain America and The Mighty Thor will bring their adventures to the big screen, following in the super-footsteps of The X-Men, Ironman, the Fantastic Four and, of course, Spiderman.
Lee, when pressed, picks Spiderman as his favorite superhero, because he's become the most popular?
"But I really love them all, I love Ironman, I love the X-Men. I could go down the list. It's like asking a parent who his favorite child is.
Lee is no longer surprised at the popularity of the characters he helped create. "Now I expect it. In fact, if people talk about some of the great characters in the world today and they don't mention Marvel's characters, I get very upset."
As chairman emeritus of Marvel Entertainment, the 88-year-old keeps a loving eye on his classic characters, even as he continues to create new heroes and comic universes. He supports the not-for-profit Stan Lee Foundation, which promotes literacy, writing and the arts. And next year, he'll reach an entertainment pinnacle of sorts -- his name will appear on one of those coveted brass and stone stars set into the sidewalk on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.