Over the Veterans’ Day holiday weekend, I had the great pleasure to attend a memorable event in honor of comic-book legend Stan Lee. The occasion was the annual banquet of CAPS (the Comic Art Professional Society), an association of primarily Southern California cartoonists that meets monthly (I’m longtime a member). Lee was the guest of honor and that evening received the group’s annual achievement award, recently re-christened the Sergio, after one of CAPS co-founders, Sergio Aragones. (Sergio designed the award's statuette. As a surprise to him last year, CAPS renamed the annual award in his honor and simultaneously presented the award to him in recognition of his contributions as one of the group’s founding members and biggest boosters.)
CAPS’ annual banquet is one of the group’s annual highlights. Past honorees include Will Eisner (who, regrettably, was honored the year before I joined!), Jonathan Winters, Jack Davis, Ray Bradbury, Mell Lazarus, Bill Melendez, and many others.
Though always an elegant, semi-formal event, the banquet in recent years has become even more grand and successful, and this year was no different.
This was due in large part to the wonderful program put together by the organizers and CAPS board. CAPS has the good fortune to have Bill Morrison, art director of Bongo Comics, as the group's 2007-08 president. Bill has MC’d the Will Eisner Awards the past few years, so his skillful hosting skills added to the enjoyment of the evening. The full program, however, was MC’d by Mark Evanier, who also is a co-founder of CAPS—the group marks its 30th anniversary this year.
Other speakers included Scott Shaw!, who provided a Stan Lee-centric version of his famous Oddball Comics slide show, and Marv Wolfman, who provided some insight into how Stan operated as an editor and mentor, always putting the quality of Marvel’s comics above all else. Two professionally-quality video presentations were also presented, which featured photos and home movie footage from Stan’s youth and family. Also included in the presentations were clips from Stan’s appearances over the years on TV and film. These included clips from his more recent Marvel movie cameos (where he seemingly was repeatedly saving people), as well as a featured appearance on the “What’s My Line” television show. In addition to the many regular CAPS members who were in attendance like Stan Sakai and Gary Owens, other guests included many of Lee’s friends and families.
(A film crew doing a documentary on Lee was also present for the event.)
The speakers are all personal friends of Stan’s as well, so the evening included some good-natured ribbing as well.
The evening culminated, of course, with the presentation of the Sergio Award to Stan. Stan expressed heartfelt appreciation for the award, and made a special point of graciously acknowledging by name the outstanding cartoonists he had the fortune to collaborate with over the years, such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and Gene Colan. It was clear he wanted to make sure they received credit for contributing to the success of the comics he had worked on, and it was a touching moment.
Stan ended his remarks with a hearty “Excelsior!”
It was a fun, elegant evening full of warmth and a lot of good laughs (as well as terrific food!)
My First Brush with Stan the Man
By the way, back in 2003, I had the fortune to also attend a CAPS meeting back in 2003 where Stan was the featured guest speaker. Due to a last-minute screw-up, the group had to move the meeting to a restaurant across the street that kindly opened its doors for us at our request. When we re-located, I had sat down, felt a tap on my shoulder, and heard someone say, “Is this seat taken?” It turned out to be Lee! I said “Sure!”, which sure made it easy for me to ask him to autograph my copy of <strong>Drawing Comics the Marvel Way</strong>, which I had brought along for the occasion. When Lee stand up to speak, he told us he had not realized he would be speaking, but ended up regaling us with many wonderful stories. He’s a real showman, but sincerely warm and genuine as well.