What It’s Really Like to Visit Marvel Comics

By Phill Powell

Marvel Comics is a publishing super-colossus. To its legions of fans, Marvel’s New York headquarters is an almost mythical place, a Wonka-esque wonderland where super-heroic tales are spun and fleshed out with mind-blowing graphic design.

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Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., checks in at Marvel HQ in NYC. (Photo: Marvel Studios. All rights reserved.)

While Marvel doesn’t offer official tours of its creative offices, we have been lucky to catch fleeting glimpses of the sleek offices (which are located on W. 50th Street in Manhattan), thanks to 2015 publicity photos featuring Avengers cast members visiting Marvel’s New York digs.

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Marvel’s current headquarters are in the Sports Illustrated building. Marvel has occupied eight different Manhattan buildings during its 77-year run, including one stint within the Empire State Building. (Photo: Marvel Studios. All rights reserved.)

Getting a tour behind the scenes at Marvel can be as tough as getting inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory! Lucky individuals who’ve gone “behind the curtain” usually have a personal connection to someone who works for the company.

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Chris Evans (aka Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Incredible Hulk) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) pose at Marvel HQ, fronting cool Hulk artwork! (Photo: Marvel Studios. All rights reserved.)

Avengers cast members like Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner were at Marvel HQ to promote 2015’s Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

MY VISIT TO MARVEL

Marvel’s current offices are incredible showplaces, and seem much more contemporary and cool than those I remember.

Back when I made my 1977 pilgrimage to Marvel HQ, the company was in different offices back on Madison Avenue, home to the advertising industry (and the famous street that inspired Mad Men).

My parents had brought me to New York so I could try to meet Marvel publisher and writer Stan Lee, my boyhood hero.

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Stan the Man goes one-on-one with his most famous creation, around 1972. (Photo: Raeanne Rubenstein)

I expected the Marvel building to be a little more like the Baxter Building that housed the Fantastic Four. Instead, it was pretty average – just another huge skyscraper on a street full of skyscrapers. But we checked the business directory and sure enough, this was the place.

We exited off the elevator and found a set of two big wooden doors. The gold plate on the door had been engraved to simply read “MARVEL COMICS.” But there was no superhero art on display.

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

I cautiously approached the receptionist on duty.

“Uh…excuse me? Can we see Stan Lee, please?”

The receptionist barely looked up at us.

“Stan isn’t here right now. He’s at lunch,” she said very flatly, as if she said it a hundred times a day.

“Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

I retreated, feeling disappointed. I was about to wander back into the elevator and start the long, dejected trip downward, when my Dad suddenly pulled me over toward where he was standing, directly behind a huge indoor plant.

“Hey, sport,” he whispered. “Got an idea.”

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Stan Lee is the only comic book publisher to have inspired his own action figure. I had to meet him…

DAD SAVES THE DAY!

My Dad pointed to his watch. “It’s almost 3:30. I’ll bet he’s going to be coming back from lunch soon. Let’s just wait over here for a second and see what happens.”

We tried to remain as still as possible behind the plant, since we were still basically just loitering in Marvel’s lobby.

We hadn’t waited more than a minute or so when the elevator doors and a tall gent stepped out. He was taller than I anticipated but one look at his mustached face and I knew it was Stan the Man himself.

Catching him before he walked into Marvel’s offices, we quickly flagged him down. We told him who were and Dad offered up that we came to New York so I could make a pilgrimage to Marvel. Lee muttered something positive like, “Hey, that’s great!” but I could sense he was in a hurry.

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Trophy Number One: No “excelsior!” or “Stan the Man,” but who cares? It’s Stan Lee’s autograph!

I asked him if I could have his autograph and he nodded. He took my sheet of stationary from the Hotel Taft and my Dad’s black felt-tip Flair pen and signed “Stan Lee” in a signature similar to the one printed in “Stan’s Soapbox” in about a zillion Marvel comic books each month. I then got a quick handshake before Stan disappeared behind Marvel’s doors.

FANTASTIC, SUPER, INCREDIBLE DAY!

We had met Stan Lee and walked away with a lasting trophy. But I didn’t get to visit Marvel’s legendary bullpen. I hadn’t even had time to ask Stan if we could go inside. Things hadn’t gone quite like I’d figured, but I wasn’t complaining any when we hit the street again.

It was a great day in Manhattan – and I didn’t even tell you about meeting Pop art giant Andy Warhol! But hey, that’s a story for another day…