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Larry King Live Weekend

Stan Lee Takes Superheroes Online; Is the United States Criminal Justice System Broken?

Aired July 8, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, is the United States criminal system broken? We'll hear the from the authors of "Actual Innocence": Barry Scheck, he founded and directs the project, "The Innocence Project," along with fellow civil rights attorneys Peter Neufeld, and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Jim Dwyer. And then the creative force behind some of the world's best known superheroes, Stan "the man" Lee joins us in Los Angeles.

They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

Later, Stan Lee.

We begin with Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Tim Dwyer. They're all with us in New York. They're the co-authors of "Actual Innocence." It's the book telling the story of the convictions of 10 innocent men and the effort to secure their releases.

Barry, why do we need three people to write this book?

BARRY SCHECK, CO-AUTHOR, "ACTUAL INNOCENCE": Well, this -- Jim helped over the years, writing articles about innocent people wrongly convicted. And as Peter and I went through over the last decade really, using DNA to get all these innocent people out of jail -- and we're up to 73 now in North America, Larry, we realized that we were really participating in something unprecedented in the history of the criminal justice system. All these people, suddenly we could go back and find out why they got convicted. So our book is really not about DNA; it's about all the causes of wrongful conviction -- mistaken eyewitness identification, false confessions, jailhouse informants, bad lawyers, prosecutors and police officers that cross the line. And we propose solutions that will solve these problems to a great degree, minimize the risk of wrongful convictions and also help capture guilty people.

So it's a book that, you know, George Will, conservatives all across the country are responding to very well.

KING: So, Peter, are we saying that you can believe in capital punishment and appreciate the value of this book?

PETER NEUFELD, CO-AUTHOR, "ACTUAL INNOCENCE": Oh, absolutely, Larry. What we're saying is that whereas before the debate on capital punishment involved moral questions, or political questions or religious questions, that's not the point anymore. The point now is, is it right to execute innocent people? And frankly, we think that the playing field has changed dramatically, and now conservatives, and liberals, Republicans and Democrats can all agree that it's wrong to do that. This book certainly shows that the potential is there to execute to innocent people. There are certainly innocent people on death row. There are certainly innocent people languishing in prison, and we've got to do something about it.

KING: Jim Dwyer, did it start with the concept of DNA and then spread out as we discovered from DNA innocent people, there are other innocent people?

JIM DWYER, CO-AUTHOR, "ACTUAL INNOCENCE:" It started with heroes, Larry. It started with heroic people like Tony Schneider and Calvin Johnson, Kirk Bloodsworth and Kevin Green, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson, all people who went to prison for crimes they didn't commit, and stood up and would not sit down until they got out, and their dramatic stories were what gripped us and moved us really to this book.

You know, the DNA and those elements are very vital to their freedom, but really, it's the story of how they got convicted, how good, well-meaning people made mistakes and put the wrong guys in prison.

KING: So, Barry, can we say there are no villains in this book, just people who misguided, went the wrong way? In other words, basically, why should an innocent person go jail?

SCHECK: An innocent person shouldn't go jail, but we see that it happens all the time, and there's things we can do to fix it. You know, the cases of mistaken witness eyewitness identification, you know, those are victims of crimes who are entitled to empathy and respect, who are making mistakes, although there are a lot of procedures that are very, very suggestive that lead them in that direction.

But there are plenty of villains. I mean, Larry, we have a chapter in this book about a grave digger in West Virginia, named Glendale Woodall, who was convicted of two rapes. A guys comes into court, he says, these hairs match, the blood typing matches, DNA proves him innocent, but after the DNA proves him innocent, it's discovered that this fellow Fred Zane has been testifying falsely for 10 years in the state of West Virginia about different results, and they open up -- the supreme court there finds that he testified falsely in 133 cases, and by that time, he's already in San Antonio, Texas, testifying falsely in other cases.

I mean, it's -- chapter after chapter, it's mindblowing.

KING: Peter Neufeld, does that mean the governor of Illinois, who testified the other day, is absolutely correct, and that we had should basically suspend all capital punishment until we resolve a lot of this? NEUFELD: Larry, I was with the governor. We were both testifying at the same timer before the House of Representatives. He's truly a courageous man. He's a Republican. He's a person who's in favor of capital punishment. But he was confronted with the reality that whereas 12 people were executed since they brought back the death penalty in Illinois, 13 people were found to be completely innocent and walked off of death row. He didn't like that batting average, and he said, we have to put a stop to it. And we have to do more than that; we have to create a commission to investigate what went wrong in the criminal justice system. And what the governor said is, until I know that I can be sure that I'm only going to be executing guilty people, not another person will be executed in Illinois.

It's extraordinary that Governor Bush said, in reaction to what Governor Ryan did so courageously, that this is simply an Illinois problem. Well, it's our position, Larry, that this is an Illinois solution.

KING: Jim, I understand in some of the cases, we had confessions. How do you explain a confession by an innocent person?

DWYER: Very interesting, Larry, why people will talk themselves into prison, or perhaps be believed to have talked themselves into prison by detectives or others who might have been questioning them.

I think part of the reason is that you get, after 24 hours in interrogation, which some of these people were, they become so punch drunk with fatigue, they just want the experience to stop, and they'll say or do anything to put an end so they can finally get some sleep or get some relief from the pressure they're under, that's one thing. You also have, frankly, some weak-minded people.

We believe in the next few weeks you will see an amazing case emerge in Virginia, and we're going to include this in the next edition of our book. We keep running out of printings. But the next edition is going to carry the story of Earl Washington, who we think is going to walk out of prison in Virginia. This man was sent to death row. He confessed to six crimes. They found that -- five crimes, excuse me. They found that he could not possible have done four of them because he wasn't available for them, and the fifth one, it's started to look like he didn't do that one either. He's a man of limited intelligence, he's got a very subnormal IQ, and they wanted to hang the crime on someone.

KING: We'll be right back with Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, Jim Dwyer, co-authors of "Actual Innocence."

Don't go away.


KING: Barry Scheck, should we say that any case that involves DNA and testing can be accomplished, we should stop everything until we do it? SCHECK: That's exactly the -- what the Innocence Protection Act is all about. Peter, who co-founded the Innocence Project, and I -- with me, we testified in front of the Senate, and in front of the House in support of this bill that has bipartisan support. Senator Leahy from Vermont and Gordon Smith, a Republican of Oregon. In the House, it's Delahunt of Massachusetts, a Democrat, and LaHood, a Republican Illinois, and the bill is very simple. It says if a DNA test could prove that you're either innocent or wrongly sentenced, then you should have an opportunity to get it.

KING: Who can be against that?

SCHECK: It's amazing, Larry, there are statutes of limitations in 36 statements of six months or less, there are procedural bars everywhere we turn, we are constantly in court litigating for the right to do it, but it looks now that we're turning the corner. Ninety-two percent of the American people are for this, so I think the people and Congress are beginning to realize we need this legislation.

KING: Peter, would we agree that there's no act the state could commit of a worse nature than to take the life of someone innocent after crime?

NEUFELD: Well, obviously...

KING: I can't think of anything worse a state could do.

NEUFELD: Well, you know, I can't either, frankly, and I can't imagine taking -- first of all, you know, taking the life of someone is a very serious matter, as we all know, but when we have the wherewithal now finally to look at some of these cases with scientific evidence or social scientific evidence, and determine before we believe somebody was guilty, now we know they're innocent and not avail ourselves of those sciences is shocking. It's immoral, it's unethical, it's offensive, and it should be offensive to every Democrat and Republican living in this country.

KING: Now we taped this program, Jim, so don't know the outcome of one matter in Texas, but what problems do we have in a general nature with eyewitness testimony? why shouldn't that be fairly conclusive? I was there, I saw it, He did it.

DWYER: That's right. You know, there's a tremendously courageous woman, Jennifer Thompson, who lives in North Carolina, who recently told her story in the pages of "The New York Times," she also told it in our book, of how she became so convinced that a certain man had attacked her, named Ronald Cotton. She identified him in court. Even when they brought the real criminal in front of her, she could not believe that it was not Ronald Cotton. Finally, they did the DNA, and she recognized that indeed it was not Cotton, it was the other individual.

KING: Eleven years later?

DWYER: Eleven 11 years later. A very courageous woman, though. She said the things the mind does -- and that's what this is about, is how we come to believe things that are truth and how we absorb them and integrate them into our memories, that's really amazing journey that DNA allows us to go on. We can see how we are misled and brought down the wrong roads. And Jennifer is one of the people in our book tells that story very vividly.

KING: So, Barry, the police, the prosecutors, should salute DNA. It should make their job easier.

SCHECK: Right. And what's great about DNA is it gives us an opportunity to study the system. Take the problem of eyewitness identification. We have solutions in the book which are mainstream solutions supported by many in law enforcement and a lot of social scientists on how to do the photo arrays and lineups differently, in a way that will not reduce the number of correct identifications, but it will greatly minimize the number of wrong identifications. And think about it, what excuse is there for not doing it that way? Because every time an innocent person is put in jail or even a suspect in a case, the guilty person is out there committing more crimes.

KING: How do you do the lineup differently? What would you do for example?

SCHECK: Well, what's really interesting is that something called a sequential presentation. When you put five pictures in a row or five people standing there, what you're implicitly doing is saying to the person, who most resembles the individual that committed the crime. Instead, what you ought to do is individually show the photos or individually show the people, and literally say, hey, look at these people, if you see the person, fine, we'll stop, if not, we'll keep on going, and if you don't see the person in the photos or the individuals we're showing you, the investigation will continue, and it should be done I by a detective who's not associated with the case.

KING: Peter Neufeld, what about incompetence? We hear stories of defense attorneys falling asleep, prosecutors having evidence they don't give to the defense? Lot of that?

NEUFELD: Well, of the 67 cases in the United States right now where people were exonerated through DNA evidence, in a third of those cases, we found that the lawyers were incompetent in the representation of their clients. Yet in every single case where there was a conviction and the conviction was challenged on appeal, on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, in every case but one, Larry, the appellate court said, no problem, the conviction stands up under scrutiny, the lawyer conducted himself admirably, yet we know that they did a lousy job, because these were innocent people.

In the study done by "The Chicago Tribune" on the cases in Texas, we find that more than a third of the lawyers in those death penalty cases were either disbarred, suspended or sanctioned for misconduct. The same is true in Illinois. The same seems to be true around the country. People have to realize that the most important thing in getting a fair trial and being able to put on a valid defense is having a competent attorney, and unfortunately, most of the public officials in this country have give that short shrift. KING: We'll be right back with more of Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Jim Dwyer, the co-authors of "Actual Innocence," and then the number one name in American comic books, Stan Lee will join us.

We'll be right back.


KING: Jim Dwyer, based on Illinois and other recent examples, is the curve changing? Do you see that we're going to see less and less people capitally punishment until there's no doubt about it?

DWYER: I think that's part of it, and I also think people shouldn't be punished, whether capitally or just with prison terms if they are innocent. And I think one of the writers who saw this book recently described as it as kind of like the silent spring of the criminal justice system. Rachel Carson wrote that book 40 years ago, and people were just beginning to become aware of all the dangers of the environment. And you now what? It had a big difference. Over time, our air has gotten cleaner, our waters are purer, and we think the criminal justice system can become more reliable and fair.

KING: Do we now also, Barry, rethink the whole concept of the death penalty, based on the fact that a mistake, there's no way you can redress the grievance?

SCHECK: I think that's right. People don't want anyone innocent executed, that's clear. But you know, it's an interesting shift in the debate. You know, everybody used to think that the death penalty was an issue of, do you think it's morally appropriate or not? That's really not the issue. It's been four years now since the American Bar Association came out calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. People forget that. That's not a bunch of left-wingers or knee-jerk liberals. We're talking about prosecutors, judges, the mainstream lawyer organization. Now the American Medical Association have said, look, the lawyers are no god damn good on death row in these capital cases, innocent people are getting convicted and put on death row in scary numbers. For every seven people executed, there's one innocent person taken off death row. Those numbers are intolerable. And Illinois is not worse than Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, California, any of these other states.

KING: Peter, how about those who say, we haven't had a case of anyone capitally punished, later proven innocent? Is that true?

NEUFELD: Well, you know, we haven't had a chance to look at the evidence. We've made attempts in several cases to look at the biological evidence of people who have been executed, Larry, but every time we've tried to do it, we've been thwarted by the governor, and by the courts and by the prosecutors. Obviously, we need to have access to the evidence.

You know, if people could be dropping dead all over the place, but unless you do an autopsy and you look at the person's brain, you'll never know that they had a tumor. It's the same thing here. Obviously, we can't prove that they've executed innocent people unless they give us access to the evidence.

But we do know given the alarming rate of people who have been innocent who've walked off death row, 87 to date, eight on DNA testing alone, we have every reason to believe that they've already executed innocent people, and we're confident that once we have access to the biological evidence in those cases, we will prove it to the satisfaction of everybody in this country.

KING: Jim Dwyer, back to incompetent lawyers. If these were doctors, there would be a massive complaint on part of people all over the countries. Doctors, let's say, operating on people who didn't need to be operating on, people who were dying on operating tables who didn't need the surgery. It would be crazed, right?

DWYER: That's right. And, in fact, if any other government program were administered as badly as the criminal justice system has proven to be, there would be the total outrage. It would never allow this in Headstart or anything, really. But you know what, Larry, a lawyer can get in trouble for mishandling a real estate transaction and can actually, in some cases, they've gone to prison for taking bribers and so forth, but a lawyer who sleeps through a capital punishment case, who doesn't vigorously defend his client, sends innocent people to death row as a result, there's no sanction for him or her. It's a travesty.

KING: Barry, I asked Jim, I'll ask you -- are you optimistic about change?

SCHECK: Yes. And one of the great proposals, Larry, that people are taking up now is this notion of an innocence commission. We've gotten all these people out of jail with proof that no one disputes, and now it's a time to take a look at cases where there's been a wrongful conviction, and say, why did it happen? When, you know, an airplane falls from the sky, we bring in the National Transportation Safety Board, and find out what went wrong? Is there anyone to blame? If not, what can we do, most importantly, to fix it? We don't do that in the criminal justice system. When all these people walk out of jail, there's not an opinion written, not a syllable as to why. We have to investigate it. Ryan's done it in Illinois. Pataki just introduced legislation to do it here in New York. I think it's going to spread across the country.

KING: And maybe no more important book has been written in a long while. Thank you all gentlemen. Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, Barry Dwyer, all joining us from New York, co-authors of "Actual Innocence," in many printings, and there's going to be updated versions as well. The problem continues.

When we come back, Stan Lee and the amazing world of our childhood, the comic book, right after this.


KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE the most famous name in American comic book history, the writer Stan Lee, the co-founder, and chairman and chief creative officer of Stan Lee Media, chairman emeritus of Marvel Media, member of the editorial board of Marvel Comics, consultant to DC comics. He has a remarkable deal with them, and it's a great pleasure to welcome you.

Why do you wear those glasses? All the time you wear them. You wear them to sleep.

STAN LEE, CO-FOUNDER, STAN LEE MEDIA: You know, the funny thing is I started wearing these years ago. I don't even remember why, and when people do caricatures of me, there's always the glasses, and it's become like a little trademark.

KING: But don't you see the world through dark eyes?

LEE: No, it's great. I don't see any of the imperfections. Everything is muted and gentle. It's lovely wearing these tinted glasses.

KING: Let's trace the career of Stan Lee. Of all of us as kids read them. What made you make a career of comics?

LEE: Greed. They were paying for it. No actually, when I started, I applied for a job in this publishing company. I didn't know they published comics. I thought it was a real publishing company. When I saw they wanted me to work in the comic book department, I figured, hey, why not? I'll get some appearance for a while, and then I'll get into the real world, and I'm still waiting to get out into the real world.

KING: Did you hit it off right away?

LEE: Yes, yes.

KING: What did you like about, zap, boom, bank I'll get you, you dirty curd!

LEE: Man, you're bring it all back to me. That sounded good.

I love working with these talented artists. I always wanted to be an artist when I was a kid. I used to draw, and suddenly I saw people who could draw a thousand times better than I ever could, and I was giving them the stories. They were drawing them, and it was a collaboration that was so exciting. To discuss a story, and a few days later see it all drawn on boards, then a month later see it in a book, and to know that kids are reading these and enjoying them.

KING: Were good comics then well drawn?

LEE: Comics were always well drawn for the time. For example, the early "Superman" didn't look anything like today, but in those days, the artwork was good for what it was. It had a lot of freedom, you know what I mean? And it was just the way they thought of it and they put it down. They were fun to read. As the months and years went by, the artwork has gotten much more sophisticated now.

KING: Now, why did we like it so much? Why as kids -- I mean, we had movies. We didn't have television, but comics are as popular as ever, right? There are comic book store. Why do we like reading it?

LEE: Think of it, why do you like movies? Because you're seeing pictures and they're moving. Comics don't move, but you have a story and you're looking at the pictures at the same time. They're easy to read. They're quick to read. You can fold the thing up, put it in your pocket. You can share it with a friend. You can carry it with you. can save them, and collect them and read them all. It's just a nice form of entertainment for kids, and today even older people enjoy them.

KING: Now, your career with Marvel Comics, you and Marvel are associated that you think of Lee, you think have Marvel. Is that who you started with?

LEE: Well, it wasn't called Marvel at the time. But I think when I started, it was called "Timely Comics." They changed the name a lot over the years, but it's always been the same company.

KING: Is that due to Captain Marvel?

LEE: No, actually I changed the name to Marvel after we started with The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, Spider-Man. I saw we were on to something, and at that time we were called "Atlas Comics," and I decided let's change the name and get something representative of the company. The first book they had ever published when I started to work there was called "Marvel Mystery Comics." So out of sentiment, I said let's call the company Marvel Comics. I wasn't thinking of Captain Marvel at all.

KING: You're most famous person -- we'll deal with what you're doing now in cyberspace and the like -- is Plasticman, right?

LEE: No, no, Spider-Man.

KING: Spiderman. Did you have Plastic Man, too?

LEE: No, that was DC.

KING: You're now with DC, too. You're controlling the world.

LEE: No, I'm not. They had asked me just for fun if I would do a series for DC, take their more popular characters, and do them as if I had created them, what would they be like? Well, nobody could say no to an offer like that. It sounds like such fun. So I'm now going to do Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest as though they didn't exist and I just thought them up, how would I do them? I have no idea how I'm going to do them, but I'll figure something out.

KING: And I know you're coming big to the Internet and all over the world, Stan Lee in cyberspace. We'll talk about that. We'll talk about Spider-Man on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, right after this.


KING: The one thing great about this business, I love interviewing children. Stan Lee is one of them. He's with us. He never grew up.

Spider-Man: How did it come about?

LEE: Well, I had already done the Fantastic Four and the Hulk, and we were on a roll and we decided, let's get another hero. And I thought to myself, OK.

But the thing with the superhero that you have to get is a unique superpower. Well we already had somebody who was the strongest guy in the world, somebody who could fly, and so forth. I was what else is left?

Then it -- I've told this story so often, it might even be true. I can't remember -- but I was saying, I saw a fly crawling on the wall. And I said, wow, suppose a person had the power to stick to a wall like an insect. So I was off and running. And I thought, what will I call him? I tried Mosquito-Man, that didn't have any glamour, Insect-Man, that was even worse. I went down the line...

KING: Rodent face?

LEE: ... and I got to Spider-Man. It sounded mysterious and dramatic, and, lo, a legend was born.

KING: Was it a hit right away?

LEE: Yes. I'll tell you something funny about that, nobody wanted me to do it. My publisher, when I suggested the idea, he said, that's the worst thing I ever heard of.

KING: Why?

LEE: People hate spiders. You can't call a hero Spider-Man. When I said I wanted him to be a teenager, that's when he started. He said to me, you don't understand, Stan. A teenager can only be a sidekick. He can't be the hero. Then...

KING: Robin.

LEE: Right -- then, when I said I wanted him to have a lot of personal problems and nothing ever goes right for him, he said, Stan, don't you know what a hero is? So he wouldn't let me do it. I had to wait until later. We had a book we were going to drop, and when you do the last issue of a book, nobody cares...

KING: You call them books, right?

LEE: Well I call them -- comic books, yes. Nobody cares what you put into it. So I featured Spider-Man on the cover, and I forgot about it. Well a month later, the sales figures came in. It had been our biggest seller. So my publisher came to me and said, Stan, do you remember that character that we both liked so much, Spider-Man? Why don't you do a series? So that's how it happened.

KING: Who came up with the way he looks?

LEE: Oh, Steve Ditko (ph). Steve designed the character...

KING: The colors?

LEE: Everything, everything about the costume. And he also gave it such personality, the way -- you know, it's an interesting story. Jack Kirby, who was probably the greatest comic book artist around, and I worked with him. We collaborated on so many strips, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men. And I wanted Jack originally to do the Spider-Man, but I didn't want Spider-Man to look heroic. I wanted him to be just a typical, nebishy (ph) kind of guy. And I mentioned that to Jack. But Jack was so used to drawing Captain America and characters like that, when he gave me the first couple of pages, I said, no, you've got him looking too heroic. So I gave the script to Steve. It didn't matter to Jack. Nobody knew it would be a big strip, and Jack was busy doing all the other books.

Steve was just perfect for it. He got that feeling of an average guy who turned into a hero and still had problems.

KING: Do artists make a lot of money?

LEE: Now they do, I think.

KING: Yes?

LEE: Yes.

KING: Did you ever want to do a comic strip for a newspaper?

LEE: All the time. I finally got the chance. I wanted to do Spider-Man. In fact, the syndicates asked me to do Spider-Man, but I couldn't figure out how to do it, because it's so different. In a paper, you've only got three panels a day.

KING: Four sometimes.

LEE: Well, it used to be four. Now there's so little space...

KING: Now three.

LEE: ... it's either two or three panels a day for an action strip. How do you get a fight scene in three panels and continue it the next -- you know, you punch a guy in one panel, and the next day in the first panel he falls down. How do you keep up the suspense?

So it took until I could figure out a way to do it years later. In 1977, we started Spider-Man for King Features, and I'm happy to say he's still going.

KING: Are 95 percent of the readers of comic books of the action variety male?

LEE: Yes, they are.

KING: Boys.

LEE: They are. I don't know the exact proportion, but most...

KING: What comics do girls buy? Girls must have bought Wonder Woman?

LEE: There was a time when romance comics were very big...

KING: I remember that.

LEE: Yes, and the girls were buying them. And in those days, they worked in trends. One year it was the romance trend, then it would be Westerns or horror books. And we lost the girls. They have not ever really come back in force. Sure, they read. Some of them read Wonder Woman and some others, and we're desperately trying to capture the girls, but the superhero -- it's the same thing. How many girls would rather see Arnold Schwarzenegger films than a romance film, you know?

KING: Yes. What constitutes -- before we move to cyberspace and all you're doing now, Web sites, Webicides...

LEE: Webisodes.

KING: Webisodes, the Accuser, the Drifter -- what constitutes a hero?

LEE: I guess a guy who just does good things and is willing to take chances to help other people.

KING: He's pure good, right? He only wants to help.

LEE: But not a hundred percent good, because then he's an unrealistic hero.

KING: Batman was dark, right?

LEE: No, he didn't start out dark. He became dark after a while. A fellow named Frank Miller did a series called "Batman: The Dark Knight," and that gave him a whole new mystique, and they've been using it ever since.

But basically to me, a hero has to be somebody who will sacrifice -- or will take great chances to help others, but still have human traits, still not be perfect. When they become perfect, they become dull.

KING: Mighty Mouse was a hero. You're bringing him back.

LEE: We're trying to, yes.

KING: We'll be back and talk about Stan Lee in cyberspace next.

Don't go away.


KING: Now let me give you some facts. Stan Lee is now focusing on cyberspace with Stan Lee Media, an Internet company publicly traded, his first new superheroes and villains in 25 years. Downloadable Webisodes of the Seventh Portal, the Accuser, the Drifter, animated trading cards, games, rants from Stan Lee's evil clone, a merchandise mart. He's made more money with this company than anything in your life, right?

LEE: I guess so.

KING: And now we have the long-standing interest in the Internet blossoming. What are you doing on the Internet with characters?

LEE: Well, what we're trying to do is essentially what was done with Marvel. We're trying to make our Web site the most popular, the most entertaining one in all of cyberspace.

KING: So how do we -- I hit you by hitting what?


KING: OK, and what do I get? Episodes?

LEE: You get our home page, which will allow you to get Webisodes of superhero strips such as the Seventh Portal, the Accuser. the Drifter. And we've got about 20 others that are in the works now.

You also have our club called Scuzzle, and if you're -- obviously, that stands for -- well, I forgot what that stands for, but it's people who are agents of Scuzzle, search cyberspace for any menaces that might be lurking out there.

KING: To report.

LEE: And it isn't easy to become an agent of Scuzzle.

KING: How many hits you get a day?

LEE: Oh, we get a few thousand. I haven't been counting them, but they're growing every day. And the beautiful thing about it is it's not only superheroes, but we have games and puzzles and features and a lot of humor. We have a chance where you can draw your own strip. We have a Web site that you can get your own site by coming to. It's everything that you could ever want if you're a fan of fun, humor, adventure, superheroes and so forth.

KING: What are you doing around -- you're doing -- you're going to Asia and stuff, right? What are you doing with this? Is this worldwide?

LEE: It is. In fact, our launch, when we launched the Web site, we launched in Japan and South America and India and so forth. The beautiful think about the Web, and about our Web site especially, is it's global and it's immediate. The minute we broadcast something, it's seen all over the world, and we get our responses from all over the world instantaneously.

I've never had anything as exciting as this, and the amazing thing is the fans. We hear from Spain, from Brazil, from Japan. People say, we've been reading your books for years, and now we love what you're doing on the Web.

KING: What age? Who's your audience?

LEE: It's incredible, from young kids to people 50 and 60, people who say, my children love what you're doing, and they've got me watching now. It's -- you know what happened? I've been doing this since the 1940s. Well people who've read the books then still remember them apparently and have stayed with them. And now they have their own kids, some have their grandkids.

The only thing that bothers me, sometimes I'll meet somebody with a gray beard who looks 200 years old. And he'll say, I've been reading your stuff since I was a kid. I want to kick him right in the head.

KING: The comic book itself has been affected by cyberspace? Are there less sales if I can go home and punch it up?

LEE: I don't think so.

KING: No? So we still want to buy it?

LEE: You know what it's like? It's like when television came along and said, nobody will read books. It didn't affect the book business.

KING: How about keeping -- you're obviously -- how old are you, Stan?

LEE: Seventy-seven, but I'm an early model.

KING: You're very lively. How do you keep -- you created Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil...

LEE: My favorite.

KING: ... Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange.

LEE: I'd rather say co-created, because I always worked with an artist.

KING: Artist.

LEE: Yes.

KING: Where do you keep coming up with the creative -- how do you explain this?

LEE: I find it very easy. I mean, it's just what I do. If I couldn't do it, I wouldn't be in the business, you know? I don't even think about it. I mean, that is -- coming up with these things and writing them is the easiest thing I do.

KING: Really?

LEE: The toughest thing is finding the right artist. I might add, at our Web site now, I never thought I could duplicate the staff of artists we used to have at Marvel. We have artists now at our Web site out in Los Angeles who are the -- they're as good. They're the greatest young artists and writers. I am so lucky. They're coming out of the woodwork. They all want to work for us.

KING: What -- the people who are talented with a pen, the people in class who could draw, what kind of person wants to draw Dr. Strange?

LEE: The kind of person who enjoys that sort of story, who has an imaginative mind...

KING: Childlike.

LEE: I don't know that it's childlike any more than H.G. Wells or Mark Twain -- I mean, it's just you like things that are interesting, that are exciting, that perhaps are bigger than life, that are imaginative. And I wouldn't say childish. I'd say it's a keen, probing, what if-type of mind, where you say, what if such a thing existed? What would it be like? What would the world be like, you know?

KING: We'll ask Stan Lee about his favorite strip and about writing a strip. What kind of -- are you writing down when you write a strip? This is LARRY KING LIVE with Stan Lee, the most amazing name in comics. Now Stan Lee -- what is it on the Web site?


KING: -- why not Only you are different.

LEE: Because I...

KING: Everybody in the world is, you're dot...

LEE: Do you know why?

KING: Why?

LEE: We found out somebody has that name, somebody with a jewelry company somewhere, and we haven't been able to get it yet.

KING: Oh, I'm a little disappointed because the people are nervous.

We'll be right back. Don't go away.


LEE: Forget get that beta testing. You and your friends will soon face real villains -- Krog, Ripsaw, Slime, Vendetta, Vultura, Bear Hug.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Wow, how did you make it do that?

LEE: The fate of the world is in your hands. Play it now.


KING: By the way, people like Stephen Spielberg have publicly acknowledged a debt to Stan Lee, our guest, for helping create their young minds as they grew. How do you prevent writing down?

LEE: You just don't do it. People have said to me all my life -- or all my writing life, who do you write for? And I've said, I don't have an audience in mind. I write for myself. I write stories that I think I would like to read. I try to write them clearly enough that a youngster could understand and appreciate it.

KING: Now you can't write -- it has to fit into panels, right?

LEE: Well, in a comic strip, yes. Right now, I'm doing the animation on the Web. But for comic strips, you have to write dialogue that will fit into the panels.

KING: On the Web, they're speaking, so they can speak long.

LEE: But it's the same problem. On the Web, because of the fact that bandwidths are not as big as they should be on your computer, the dialogue has to be very short.

KING: Really?

LEE: And originally, I wanted our Webisodes to be a half hour in length. Right now, they're only about four minutes in length, because again, it takes too long to download. So as the, technically, as the computers get better and better somehow, or the bandwidths get easier to accommodate, we'll be able to make them longer. But we have the same brevity problem now.

KING: Most 77-year-olds are turned off by a computer.

LEE: Oh, I love it.

KING: You are like a child like with this?

LEE: Well, when the computers first came out, I was still doing comics. And the idea of using a computer to do your writing, where you could correct something with a stroke and you didn't have to past things down and retype things, so I fell in love with it then.

Then when the Internet came along, to be able to contact people around the world and use e-mail, I mean, it's fascinating. It -- the Internet is going to be -- and this is nothing profound for me. Everybody must know it -- the most powerful medium of communication and entertainment that the world has ever known. And what we did with Marvel Comics years ago, that's what I want to do with right now. I want to make that the greatest entertaining site that you can find. KING: And do you have people all over the world handling you and dealing with you? Do you have to draw different types of characters for Hong Kong than you do for Bulgaria?

LEE: No, but what we did, we have the first global team of superheroes. Our strip, the Seventh Portal, which is now being worked on for a motion picture, I might add, but the Seventh Portal features a hero from India, from Japan, from Brazil, from Germany, from America and one country I'm not thinking of at the moment. So it's the first global team of superheroes. And then, when they don't work as a team, each one will have an adventure in his or her own land, and those will be separate stories, and they'll be geared for that particular audience.

KING: One of the films everybody's looking forward to this summer is "X-Men." Is that in this venue? A comic book on the screen?

LEE: "X-Men" is, I hope, going to be great. It's the first Marvel character that's going to be a big-budget movie. I might add that I have a walk-on role in there.

KING: You're in "X-Men."

LEE: Yes, and I'm hoping that if the academy has a nomination for the best walk-on, I hope that I'll qualify.

KING: Is Spider-man coming to the big screen?

LEE: Yes, next year.

KING: Big-screen movie.

LEE: It's in the works now for 2001. And I might add that most of our other characters, the Hulk is in the works at Universal...

KING: Yes, that's right. I heard.

LEE: ... Daredevil, all of them. There's going to be a sequel to "Blade." It's hard to keep up with them all.

KING: Are these for young kids? Is that what they're aiming at?

LEE: I'm hoping they're for the whole family.

KING: Therefore, they can't be -- you're not -- you can't get into sex in these things. Can you, or can you?

LEE: I -- well, again, I don't know. That's really up to the movie studio. I hope they're not going to...

KING: You don't in comic books ever.

LEE: Pardon me?

KING: You don't in comic books or on your Web site. LEE: We try not to, yes.

KING: Because there's -- do you ever believe the concept that you contribute to violence?

LEE: No. I must say in all honesty, I love action and so do our readers. We love action stories. I think there is such a difference between action and violence. I don't like stories that deal with torture. I don't like stories with children or women being mistreated in any way. But you like a story of a good guy fighting a bad guy. I mean, we grew up on that. Kids would play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. It's a natural thing.

KING: Superheroes rarely kill people, though, right?.

LEE: They shouldn't.

KING: They shouldn't.

LEE: They shouldn't kill an innocent person.

KING: No, ever kill an innocent person.

LEE: Not in my story they won't.

KING: Do you have a favorite...

LEE: A favorite superhero?

LEE: ... that you didn't do?

LEE: Oh, no, I -- well, Tarzan, maybe, James Bond.

KING: Now you're updating Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, right? For DC?

LEE: No, not updating them, I'm just doing them in a different way -- one story of each. It's not going to be a steady thing. I'm not doing a series. My heart still belongs to Marvel. It was just an offer I couldn't resist.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with the brilliant, energetic, ever-young Stan Lee right after this.


KING: With Stan Lee.

Comic books are down in sales, though, right?

LEE: Yes.

KING: By about 40 percent, I think, in the last decade.

LEE: I don't know the percentage. But, you know, one of the reasons, I think, isn't a lack of interest. There are less places to buy comics. There are less comic book stores. And where years ago you could buy a comic book in any corner store that sold magazines and candy...

KING: Oh, I'd run down and wait for the new issue. I Knew when they came out.

LEE: Yes, that's right -- no subscriptions.

LEE: Yes, but those places don't exist anymore. And that's the big problem, not that kids don't want them. But where do you get them?

KING: Can you predict where the Internet is going with this? What's it going to be like in 10 years?

LEE: Oh, man, the Internet is going to be everything. I think there will be one screen, whether it's a computer screen or a television screen or a little hand-held thing, but it's going to have your television programs, your Internet Webisodes and show, it's going to have your telephone. It will all be one thing, and it, I believe, will all come under the heading of the Internet. And we're going to be linked with everything all over the world.

We're on the verge of the most exciting era in communications that you can imagine.

KING: Do you feel sorry that you're 77?

LEE: Sometimes, because I'd love to have another hundred years instead of perhaps the other 25 or 30 that I do have.

KING: Because you want to see.

LEE: I'd love to see it, absolutely.

KING: You want to be a part of all this and see what's happening with it.

LEE: But, you know, I have a feeling we'd feel this way if it was a hundred years from now or 200 years from now. Life is so exciting, and every day there's something new and thrilling coming along. And it seems to be happening faster and faster as science gets more and more advanced.

KING: Did you ever have a character you expected would do socco and bombed?

LEE: No, I just had one character -- only one character in my life bombed. I wanted to get a villain -- Jack and I, Jack Kirby and I, were looking for a villain. We had a fast deadline. I couldn't think -- all I could think of was the name: Diablo. I thought that sounded like a great villain.

Jack said, great. The minute I said the name he had drawn somebody who looked great, evil. But I didn't know what to do with him. We didn't know who he was, what he -- all we had was a name. Somehow we got a story out of it. I don't remember the story. I hated the story. I never used Diablo again, and that was the only time I really did something that was not what I thought was good.

KING: A good comic book story has conflict, hero-villain, saving someone usually?

LEE: You know what it -- a good comic book story has what any good adventure story has, except it's illustrated. That's all. But it has to have all the elements, good characterization, believable dialog and exciting situations that make you want to go to the next page.

KING: Believable dialogue? Zap, bam, whap?

LEE: Now those are sounds effects, you silly person. That's not the dialogue. The dialogue...

KING: I've come to save you.

LEE: It has to be like you and me talking -- well, it can't be that brilliant, but it has to be something like that.

KING: Do you like -- the artist draws the circle. What's that called?

LEE: The balloon?

KING: The balloon.

LEE: You mean the dialogue balloon?

KING: No, the -- is that what it's called? The thing that things are written in, right?

LEE: It's called the dialogue balloon, yes. It's the dialogue balloon, as different from the caption, which is usually a rectangle.

KING: On the bottom?

LEE: Or the top, as the case may be.

KING: Do you read the comic pages?

LEE: You mean in the newspapers?

KING: Yes.

LEE: Oh, yes. I can't begin my day without reading "The L.A. Times" comic page, because I live in L.A. If I lived in another city...

KING: But you are a comic book reader?

LEE: Yes. I love them.

KING: Did you have the same appreciation for Peanuts? LEE: Oh, yes, Peanuts was wonderful. I mean, I knew Charles Schulz. In fact, I have the only oil painting that he ever did in the world. It was auctioned years ago for the benefit of the USO. Joan Crawford was the auctioneer, and they had Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates and Peanuts, all the top cartoonists...

KING: As oil paintings?

LEE: ... did these "pop art" paintings, they were called. And I bid for Charlie Schulz' Peanuts, and I got it. And I wouldn't part with that. It's about this big, and it shows Snoopy on top of the doghouse lying there, and Charlie Brown standing next to him with a little bowl of food. And the doghouse slats are actual wood that Charles, Sparky, painted -- pasted right on the canvas.

KING: People in the cartoon business are all a little wacko, right? I mean, to be honest, the writers and...

LEE: I think we're the sanest of all. I think it's your average person. We are trying to bring sanity to the rest of the world, and it's a tough battle. It really is.

KING: In other words, you are for order out of chaos.

LEE: I think we're for more chaos, but orderly chaos.

KING: How important is the color?

LEE: Oh, very important, sure. The more color you can get and the brighter color you can get, the more exciting it looks and the more pleasing it is to the eye.

Actually, what we're for -- what we're for at, we want to be a little cinder in the eye of the establishment. I just thought of that. I think it's great. I've got to remember that.

KING: We'll put that somewhere. You're a devil.

LEE: I loved being here.

KING: Stan Lee at The future is here and we have seen it, or, as Puck used to say, we have seen the enemy and it is us.

We thank you very much for joining us. We thank our guests earlier, as well. Have a great rest of the weekend.

For Stan Lee and the whole crew here in Los Angeles, good night.



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