Fans marvel at comic book icon Stan Lee

Published: Jun. 21, 2015 at 12:18 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2015 at 12:18 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (David Perlmutt/The Charlotte Observer) - Eight-year-old Isaiah McFarland arrived at Saturday's Heroes Convention in Charlotte dressed up not as Spider-Man, or Iron Man or even the Incredible Hulk.

Instead, he came as the figure he considers an even bigger hero – 92-year-old Stan Lee, the co-creator of those comic book icons and others.

Like Lee, Isaiah wore a mustache, colored his hair gray and covered his eyes in aviator sunglasses.

And Saturday, he and his father Rick McFarland stood in easily the longest line in the 200,000-square-foot room at the Charlotte Convention Center for two hours and paid $100 to get Lee to autograph a sketch the Winston-Salem third grader had drawn of Iron Man.

"It feels amazing to shake Stan The Man's hand," said Isaiah, who's idolized Lee since he was, well ... even younger and began watching cartoons and Marvel movies. "I told Stan that I'm one of his most enthusiastic fans and 'I came as you.' He told me the same thing he told the fake Stan Lee at the 2011 ComicCon: 'You look more like me than I do.'"

Isaiah meets Stan LeeEight-year-old Isaiah McFarland got to meet his hero, Marvel Comics legend, Stan Lee at the Heroes Convention in the Charlotte Convention Center. Video by John D. Simmons

For a solid five hours, Lee signed autographs and had his photo taken with fans – for a fee, of course.

He is the master of the "toon-iverse," getting into the comic book industry when he was 17 and co-creating many of its most memorable characters in comic books, on TV and in the movies.

He was a comic book writer, editor, publisher, movie producer and ultimately president and chairman of Marvel Comics, leading the company from a small division of a publishing house to a multimedia corporation.

Most in the convention hall were just thrilled to see him and to pay $100 for his graceful signature. For $500, 30 fans attended a meet-and-greet with Lee on Friday night.

It was Lee's third appearance at the Charlotte HeroesCon, said founder Shelton Drum, who opened the Heroes Aren't Hard to Find comic book store on Seventh Street in 1980. Two years later, he hosted his first HeroesCon in the ballroom of a Holiday Inn, connecting about 400 comic book fans with the comics industry and dealers.

The 33rd annual HeroesCon, which ends Sunday, is expected to draw more than 35,000 people from across the country and overseas, many dressed in an array of costumes like Captain America, Batman, Catwoman, Thor, Obi Wan Kenobi and lots of Spider-Mans young and old.

The convention drew dozens of illustrators such as Jason Aaron, Matthew Clark and Stephanie Gladden. But it was Lee, who's made cameo appearances in the Marvel movies, who was the real headliner on Saturday.

"He's Stan Lee, the man. Enough said," said Jay Tilley of Kernersville, explaining why he stood in line for two hours and plunked down $100 for Lee to sign his Avengers No. 6 comic book, published in 1964. "I'm almost 40 and I've been a Stan Lee fan and a comic book fan for 29 years.

"This is something I'll pass to my 8-year-old twin boys, who are big comic book fans, and it's something I hope they pass down to their kids. They know Stan."

Twenty-year-old Shannon Keeney of Charlotte brought her tiny Stan Lee vinyl "Pop Funko" figure and got Lee to sign its head.

He chucked as he did, saying it felt weird to be signing his own head. Keeney swooned – forgetting Lee was 72 years older.

"I grew up watching all the different superhero TV shows and movies, and I've always loved Stan," she said. "Whenever he's in one of the Marvel movies and makes his little appearance, I'd slap my parents and scream: 'Look, there's Stan!' and they'd just roll their eyes.

"I've been wanting to meet him since I was little."

So had Josh Barrington, who driven from Atlanta with his mother Sandra Burnham to pay $500 for five autographs.

One was on Barrington's $320 plastic figure of the Incredible Hulk, one on a boxed Stan Lee figure he was taking back to a comic book store near his house. And three were on comic books, gifts next Christmas for friends.

"That's history, man, sitting right there," Barrington said, pointing to Lee.

Mark Smolinski of Savannah, Ga., came dressed as the Winter Soldier in the Captain America movies, and asked Lee to sign his round $500 Captain America shield.

In 1941, Lee reshaped the shield from a more typical shield to round, so it could be thrown and come back to Captain America, said Drum, the convention's founder.

Lee took Smolinski's shield, signed it and handing it back, said: "Well, it looks like I've just ruined another Captain America shield."