Stan Lee knows that many people who toiled in the early days of comics didn't receive pensions or insurance. That's why Lee, who created Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, helps raise money for the Hero Initiative, which provides assistance to comic-book creators who are facing hard times.
"Almost every group, every union, has something for people who are having a hard time of it, but in comics there was nothing like that,” Lee said in an interview with The Oklahoman. "I felt this is really a good thing for people who have spent years doing comics. And for whatever reason, maybe the editors now feel their style is too old-fashioned, maybe they've been ill, or maybe they're too old ... but suddenly they're out in the cold and might need help. There should be an organization where we help our own,” Lee said. Stan's recent benefit discussion for the Hero Initiative, "Marvel: Then and Now,” held Dec. 2 at UCLA, will be released on DVD to raise money for the Hero Initiative. Fans can preorder the DVD at www.thenandnowdvd.org. Lee discussed Marvel Comics with current Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, in a discussion moderated by filmmaker Kevin Smith. "I think it was kind of informative, if anybody's interested in comics, because Joe Quesada had a lot of cogent things to say about the new wave of comics — how they're being done and why they're being done. Kevin Smith is always a delight to listen to. He always manages to say things that are totally unexpected, thoroughly ridiculous and entirely provocative.” Lee said the audience was treated to a freewheeling discussion about comics, past and present. "It's probably the most informal group of three people on a stage,” he said. "It was three people having a good time and kidding around. And I think anyone watching will also learn a lot in the middle of the kidding around.” Hero Initiative President Jim McLauchlin was inspired to found the organization by the Major League Baseball group, B.A.T. (Baseball Assistance Team), which aids old-time baseball players. McLauchlin said the situation was similar in comics. "A lot of the elder statesmen worked for a low rate of pay with no pensions, no benefits, no royalties, no anything like that,” he said. McLauchlin said many of the creators that Hero helps prefer to stay anonymous, but he talked about the case of William Messner-Loebs, who wrote "Flash” and "Wonder Woman.” He and his wife ran into medical and financial problems and lost their home. Thanks to the help of the Hero Initiative, Messner-Loebs now has a place to live and is working. McLauchlin said the Hero Initiative helps financially and also finds new networks for writers or artists still able to work. McLauchlin said fans can help by donating at www. heroinitiative.org, which also has more information about the organization. Lee started in comics in the 1940s and co-created the Marvel Comics superhero pantheon of the 1960s.
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Comic book creator Stan Lee, left, and filmmaker Kevin Smith discuss the comic book industry during a benefit in December. That discussion is available on DVD. PROVIDED