Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stan Lee... Excelsior!

Standing behind Sergio Aragones and Stan Lee, ready to take their order.

On November 11, 2007 the Comic Art Professional Society honored Stan Lee at a banquet with 100 close friends and members of CAPS, and presented him with the prestigious Sergio Award for... well... for being Stan Lee. Actually, the award is in recognition of his tremendous contributions to the field of comic books for over 60 years. One of Stan's trademark exclamations is, "Excelsior!" When Stan says it, he means the second dictionary definition of the word: "Ever upward!" (the motto of New York State.) But the first dictionary definition is "Fine wood shavings, used for stuffing, packing, etc."

About a month before the banquet I was at a collector's show in Glendale, CA, and stumbled upon a huge seltzer bottle labeled EXCELSIOR, from the 1930s. I had to get it!

The night of the banquet, which was being video taped for a documentary on Stan, I approached him with a special presentation. On camera I asked him if he knew what excelsior was, and he did. "Fine wood shavings used for stuffing. packing, etc." I was impressed. "But I prefer the second definition of the word, which is 'Ever upward!'"

The first time I was impressed by Stan Lee was when I was doing The Evolution and History of Moosekind for Marvel's CRAZY magazine. It was 1974 and I was in New York for the big Comic Convention. I was visiting the Marvel offices and my editor, Marv Wolfman, introduced me to Stan and I liked The Man right away. We spent about 20 minutes in his office and I knew he had actually read the stuff I was doing for CRAZY because he talked about a lot of the silliest details of the feature. If you've ever met Stan Lee, you gotta admit, he's an easily likable guy. And 33 years later, he's living out in California and here we are having dinner together (with 100 other cartoonists, spouses and friends.)

So I whip out the mystery package, present him with the EXCELSIOR seltzer bottle and everybody gets a big laugh out of it. None more than Stan.


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