In July of last year, the best experience of my photographic career collided with the best experience of my geeky, nerdy, sci-fi lovin’-life: I met the legend that is Stan 'The Man' Lee!
I was the photographer for an article on Stan Lee’s final European convention appearance which is featured in the latest edition of TwoMorrows’ COMIC BOOK CREATOR magazine.
Due to an exclusivity agreement, I couldn't show any of my photographs until the magazine had been published. Now that it has, I can finally share with you the images and background to that memorable day. Trust me, it has been killing me to stay silent and not show anyone! For those of you who still have no idea who Stan is see here. Up to speed? Yeah? Okay, let’s continue. Here's how it all started...
Last spring I bought a ticket for the London Film and Comic Convention, to be held at Earls Court 2 during the summer. I also posted on the con’s unofficial Facebook page that I would be going and asked any cosplayers going to contact me if they wanted a commission done of them in their outfits.
A couple of days later I received a PM via Facebook from a man by the name of Robert Menzies. He had written a few articles for a TwoMorrows publication called BACK ISSUE and had hatched a plan to document Stan Lee’s final European convention appearance for publication. This wasn’t as straight-forward as it might appear and when he spoke to me he was still trying to nail down a deal. Nevertheless, he asked if I’d be willing to act as official photographer.
Needless to say, I thought it was a joke and was ready to laugh it off.
But then, what if this was real? Should I message him back? So I played it cool and googled the person contacting me. I found this article about him and realised he was telling the truth.
Okay, then – this is real!
After a month of back and forth conversations, a few setbacks and proposal tweaking, Robert finally managed – at the last minute! – to get the green light for an article which would allow us to have unrestricted access to Stan at the con for the whole day! We’d be the only people recording this historic day!
My whoop of joy could be heard in Australia when I found out. Maybe even on Tattoine.
The night before I must have checked my equipment over a dozen times to make sure everything was ready and packed. I also kept checking my March 1982 Avengers comic that I was hoping Stan would sign.
I hardly slept a wink before I was on the road. I was travelling with some friends, so it was hard for me to keep quiet on the trip up, as I kept joking about how I was going to spend the day with my buddy Stan.
Deep down, I still thought this was a dream or some cruel joke, thinking I would never hear the end of it from my friends if this was the case.
Thankfully, it was very, very real.
After pulling into the car park, my mobile rang: it was Robert telling me where to meet him so I could collect my photographer’s press pass. That in itself put me on a high – then it got even more exciting!!
At the autograph area there were signs and staff telling everyone that no photographs were to be taken in the autograph area. None. Any sign of a camera would be enough to have you escorted out.
This is when my smile turned to a huge grin: I would be the only person photographing this signing session! No one else. This was an exclusive gig!!
The heat inside the packed signing area was stifling and must have been almost unbearable for some of the cosplayers. The staff – volunteers all – were amazing and handed out bottles of water to grateful fans.
It was a long and anxious wait for Stan to arrive. He was so exhausted from the Friday and Saturday of the Con that he overslept and his team made the decision to leave him.
Remember, he was an incredible 91 years old at the time. As much as the geek world see him as a god, he is still human. The Man but still a man!
When he arrived, to a rapturous cheer, he was in good spirits, refreshed and enthusiastically jumped straight into signing for the fans.
Stan signed an enormous array of items, from helmets (as seen above) to comicbooks, prints, props like Thor hammers and Captain America shields, models, pop vinyl figures, posters, musical instruments and even one fella's arm! All the while sporting an enormous grin.
While I was buzzing around Stan taking the photographs, Robert was conducting brief interviews, asking fans what meeting Stan had meant to them and getting people’s personal stories. We worked well as a team: I would point out fans I thought Robert should speak to and he’d nod in the direction of someone he wanted photographed.
After the autograph session, Stan had a short break and then went straight into the first photo shoot session of the day. I also took photos of that, but I'm not including them here as I don’t want to be told off by Showmasters.
After a long couple of hours, Stan had another all-too-brief break before launching into an on-stage interview.
For about an hour, Stan recounted stories of his past with Marvel as well as sharing personal anecdotes and generally having everyone eating out of the palm of his hand.
From the photographs you can clearly see how much fun he was having and he spent much of his time between anecdotes laughing.
Again after a short break, and still riding the high of the panel, Stan returned to the photo area where again I had exclusive permission to photograph him.
Hundreds of people came and went. Each had their own tale to tell. Some were quite touching. One that sticks in my memory was a gentleman dressed as Wolverine from the X-Men films.
He had serious mobility problems and needed crutches to walk. After having his photo taken with Stan, he said to Robert that Logan was an inspiration to him as Logan could heal himself and he could not, but that when he was in the costume, his ailments were forgotten. It was a moving testament to the power of the imagination and the value of escapism in a world that is not always fair or kind.
The incredible day is not one I will ever forget. And, thanks to my photographs and Robert’s words, is one that others will be able to share in, too.
We finished the long day with a photo of us with both with Stan Lee and his events co-ordinator Max which was the icing on the cake.
(above shot taken by official Showmasters photographer)
There are a few little extra bits from the day that I have left out as you can read it in the article in the COMIC BOOK CREATOR magazine.
If you were there on the Sunday and saw us, maybe you can find your photo here (with options to purchase prints and digital images). images in the gallery are of the signing area and talk only.
Written by myself, edited by Robert Menzies.