Sometimes powerhouse creative ideas have the humblest beginnings. Spiderman, one of the world’s most iconic fictional characters, didn’t spring full blown from writer Stan Lee’s head; he crawled into Stan’s office on four legs.
After years of churning out popular comic book characters with his partner, the artist Jack Kirby, Stan was running out of gas, when inspiration hit. “I couldn’t think of any new super power,” Stan recalls. “Then I saw a fly crawling on a wall. And I said, ‘Boy, it would be great if I could get a superhero who could stick to walls like an insect.'”
Now that he had the germ of an idea, Stan needed a superhero-type moniker. Insect Man. Fly Man. Mosquito man. None of these names floated Stan’s boat. Then he thought of Spider-Man, which sounded “scary and dramatic.”
Once he had the name, Stan and his colleagues came up with Spidey’s back story. He was a “nerdy” teen from Queens whose encounter with a genetically altered spider gave him super powers.
Armed with a name, a story, and some visuals of Spider-Man’s costume, the creators approached their boss, who hated the whole concept. “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard,” Stan recalls his boss saying. Why? Because, as his boss was quick to point out: People hate spiders, teenagers aren’t heroes — they’re only sidekicks — and superheroes are, well, superheroes. They don’t have problems.
But Spidey’s creators didn’t fold their tent: instead, they went for broke. They stuck Spider-Man on the cover of a final issue of a series that was about to be cancelled — and it sold well on the newsstand. Fans wrote in and Marvel Comics’ newest heroes went on to get his own series. Part of his appeal is Peter Parker’s universal everyman status. He isn’t a lone wolf and he isn’t super strong. And yet, for 50 years, he’s been the publisher’s most popular character. Why? Because generations of teens understand his struggles: he’s short of cash, he has girl issues, he’s conflicted about his oddball power.
Since Spidey first appeared, he has netted close to $2.5 billion world wide. And it all started with one lonely little fly who flew into the Marvel Comics office and caught the eye of a savvy writer. Let’s take inspiration from this: Just a single moment of total awareness — and everything changes. Write on!