American films

Meet the Chinese Stan Lee obsessive who is a superhero to Marvel collectors

  • Sichuan man quit his job in advertising to adapt model comic book figures, earning a living from his hobby
  • The Marvel Comics enthusiast even earned an endorsement from Stan Lee himself
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 2:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 11:26pm

Since his heart was captured by a small and delicately made Iron Man, Jason Wang Jin from southwest China has been in love with models of Hollywood superheroes.

Not content with simply owning hundreds of these collectibles, Wang has gone further by modifying them in an effort to make them look more like the versions in the films. This has earned him a reputation as “the closest man to Stan Lee in Chengdu”.

“I think I am more than modifying movie character models,” said the 35-year-old, whose passion for drawing and for comic book publishers DC and Marvel began in childhood. “I prefer to call what I’m doing a visual-art expression of dreams.”

Model collectors who bought these toys – usually made to 1:6 scale and sometimes costing more than 1,000 yuan (US$145) – would grow dissatisfied with their uniform style, and ask Wang to adapt them in line with their vision.

“Some collectors want to make their model look much older, some want to paint blood or injuries on the model’s body, some want weapons to look damaged like in the movies, and others dislike the cement-like hair and want it to look more realistic,” Wang said.

Marvel creator Stan Lee’s last superhero is based on Chinese pop star G.E.M.

As more model lovers from home and abroad asked him to alter their toys, Wang quit the advertising firm where he worked as an art supervisor until three years ago to dedicate himself to working on the models.

Inside his workshop, in downtown Chengdu in Sichuan province, are four big cabinets displaying his 200 movie collectibles, and a desk covered in sculptures, models, film props, paints and various tools. Near the desk is a full-sized fibreglass Iron Man sculpture, the figure Wang is the most fond of.

He charges clients thousands of yuan for modifying their models, determined by the difficulty of what they require. For example, adding real hair costs Wang’s customers at least 1,000 yuan, he said.

Many enthusiasts use their adapted models for photographs that they share online, some of them adding stage sets, movie props and even special effects.

“They can take a DIY approach and tell stories in their own way,” Wang said. “As far as I know, they treat it purely as a hobby and would not sell the photos.”

He said he had got to know many people – including from abroad – through a shared interest in the models.

“Since I am too busy to handle all the orders, one friend said he would wait until I am available to work on his model,” Wang said.

“He has now been waiting for two years and he is not in a rush. He said it’s not a bad thing to wait, because my technology is improving and I can do the work better than before.”

Wang said industry insiders estimated there were about 100,000 collectors in China. They were mainly over 30 years old and most had art-related vocations such as architecture, photography, advertising and film or television, he said, adding that their hobby could cost them dearly.

His business is driven by the popularity of Hollywood superhero films. When a new film is screened in China, demand for modifying models of the corresponding characters surges, Wang said.

The secret to success in this line of work was “using your brain as well as your hands”, he said. “So when I’m free, I just observe and think about the models.”

Wang has bought a number of books of film scenes and checks these along with screen grabs of the films when he is altering a model’s appearance or costume to meet a client’s request.

Stan Lee, co-creator of Marvel Comics superheroes and titan of pop culture, dead at 95

He once joined an online hairdressing chat group to learn about their skills, because he wanted to add hair to a model of Loki Laufeyson, a major character in Marvel cartoons.

With many models being a sixth of the size of a real person, human hair is too thick to use, with sheep’s wool being more suitable.

“The difficult part on Loki is the hair styling, like how to cut it and fix the hair shape,” he said. “I learned a lot in that chat group.”

Wang has not received any legal complaints from American film companies, which he suggested was because he did not produce his work on a mass scale.

One of the pieces he is proudest of is a portrait he drew of Lee. Attending an exhibition abroad, Wang met Lee, showed him the portrait and received his approval along with his autograph on the picture.

Last summer, Wang bought an Iron Man sculpture for 60,000 yuan to “represent a milestone in my career”.

Besides his beloved Iron Man, Wang retains a passion for superhero characters across the board. “Yes, they are popcorn films – but having watched them for so many years, these characters are like my old friends, except they are living in screens,” Wang said.

“I will get excited or be moved to tears by some actors’ lines, or the music or particular moments in the films.”

This, he said, was echoed among other fans. “When they watch or play with these models, their memories are revived or a resonance is sparked,” Wang said. “This is the meaning of collection.”