“The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” are both doing heroic business at the box office this summer, but when Comic-Con International begins this week, Stan Lee won’t be there to just to bask in the fanboy glow of his Marvel Comics legacy. He’ll be there to promote his latest venture, the new YouTube channel Stan Lee’s World of Heroes.
“I’m happy as hell that Marvel’s doing so well, but I don’t spend that much time thinking about it,” Lee said during an interview at his office at POW! Entertainment. “The fun of what we do is that we’re always moving ahead.”
Lee’s innate salesmanship and relentless sense of wonder overpower any nostalgia, which is why his name is on a steady stream of projects every fiscal quarter. One of the latest is a new batch of heroic adventures on the World of Heroes, which had a soft launch last month. The channel is a collaboration between Lee’s POW! Entertainment and Vuguru, the digital studio created by former Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Michael D. Eisner.
The 89-year-old Lee, who is front and center in his new online endeavor, will appear on a panel on Thursday to formally announce the new channel’s lineup, which includes a mix of reality and scripted programming focused around the world of superheroes and geek culture.
Among the shows are “Adrianne Curry’s Super Fans,” a look at the lives of hard-core fans hosted by reality star (and noted geek) Adrianne Curry; “Head Cases,” a scripted comedy series set in a bar frequented by superheroes and villains; “Stan Lee’s Academy of Heroes,” a reality series taking real people and giving them the training they need to become heroes, an animated show about superhero foul-ups called “Bad Days” and “Geek DIY,” a crafting show hosted by Bonnie Burton (author of “The Star Wars Craft Book”), who shows you how to make anything from a steampunk ray gun to your own robot costume.
But one of the most distinctive aspects of the lineup are the trio of shows Lee himself is most directly involved in, “Stan Lee’s Super.Model” about a trio of superpowered models, “Stan’s Rants,” a video version of Lee’s old Stan’s Soapbox column and “Cocktails With Stan,” which refashions the comic book icon as a kind of Regis Philbin alongside co-host Jenna Busch as they chat up other geek world icons such as “Castle” star Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day.
“I’m a little bit of a ham and I do enjoy being on camera,” Lee explained. “Plus, I get a free drink… I feel like a reincarnated Johnny Carson.”
The channel is the outgrowth of a joint venture formed earlier between POW! and Vuguru. Lee wanted to pursue digital storytelling and came to Vuguru, seeking a producing partner. When YouTube announced last year that it would provide $100 million to launch professionally created channels on the site, POW! and Vuguru pitched the idea for a channel devoted to heroes, villains and fans of the comic book genre.
Vuguru’s president and chief executive, Larry Tanz, said the raging popularity of this year’s sold-out Comic-Con fan convention underscores the broad appeal of this type of storytelling.
“It’s gone really mainstream,” Tanz said. “The channel, with Stan’s imprimatur, is going to be content that’s interesting to that audience.”
This isn’t Lee’s first foray into the digital realm. In 1998 he experimented with several Flash animated superhero series under the banner of Stan Lee Media, but the company ran into trouble, filed for bankruptcy and descended into a series of lawsuits by the end of 2000. In 2009, Lee’s POW! Entertainment teamed with Disney to release the 10-part digital motion comic series “Time Jumper” through iTunes.
The YouTube channel is just part of Lee’s current digital efforts, which also include his own website and more digital comics, including “Stan Lee’s The Mighty 7,” published by Archie Comics. He’s also a playable (and web-slinging) character in the new “Amazing Spider-Man” video game.
Indeed, Lee has long cultivated a special ability to connect with fans and understand what they’re thinking.
“I’ve been in this business so long dealing with fans that I can really, after launching anything, I can tell within a couple of days of receiving the fan mail and fan emails whether or not we’re on the right track,” Lee said.
Lee’s partner, POW! CEO and President Gil Champion, says they don’t expect all of the series they roll out at launch to continue indefinitely. And they’ll be looking closely at the YouTube rankings of the over 100 channels of original programming YouTube began launching last year as a kind of Nielsen to determine which shows stay and which ones go.
“It’s really a chance to try out shows in this new medium,” Champion said. “It’s no different than starting a cable channel on traditional television, but it’s reaching viewers who’d prefer to watch on a tablet instead of a traditional television.”
— Patrick Kevin Day
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