Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stan the Man?

With several artist co-creators, (most notably Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko), Stan Lee co-created Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and many other iconic superheroes, introducing complex, naturalistic characterizations within a thoroughly shared universe into comic books. He led the expansion of Marvel Comics from a small publishing house into a large multimedia corporation.
In response to DC Comics successful updating of their portfolio of original characters which had begun in the 1950’s, publisher Martin Goodman tasked Lee with creating a new superhero team to compete with DC’s Justice League of America. Lee's wife urged him to experiment with stories that he preferred, since he was considering on changing careers, leaving comics behind and at this point he really had nothing to lose. Jack Kirby also suggested creating flawed heroes, ones whose superpowers would not enable them to escape from personal problems such as relationships and money. Lee acted on their advice, giving his new superheroes a flawed humanity; at the time a huge change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written for pre-teen readers. These heroes had bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity, greed, etc. They bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, and were even sometimes physically ill. Before this “revolution”, most superheroes were idealistically perfect people with no serious, lasting problems: Superman was so powerful that nobody could harm him, and Batman was a billionaire in his secret identity.
The group that Lee and Kirby created became the first family of Marvel Comics - The Fantastic Four. Its instant popularity led Lee and the newly christened Marvel to produce a cavalcade of new titles. With Kirby, Lee also created the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Mighty Thor and the original X-Men; with Bill Everett, Daredevil; and with Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange and Marvel's most successful character, Spider-Man. Following up on DC's earlier reinvention of the superhero, Marvel’s pioneering new methods of comics storytelling and characterization, attracted a vast new readership by addressing more serious themes, and in the process keeping and retaining their growing audience. Among this new generation of readers were fans who wanted to write or draw comics themselves, within the new style that Marvel had pioneered, and to push the creative envelope even further.
Of course, Lee's Marvel revolution extended well beyond the characters themselves, by engaging the readership and building a sense of community between fans and creators. Lee introduced the practice of adding a credit panel on the splash page of each story, naming not just the writer and penciller - but also the inker, letterer and colorist. News about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which was written in a friendly, chatty style. Throughout the 1960s, Lee scripted, art-directed, and edited most of Marvel's series; moderated the letters pages; wrote a monthly column called "Stan's Soapbox"; and produced endless promotional copy, often signing off with his trademark phrase, "Excelsior!" To handle such a massive workload and still meet deadlines, Lee used a system that was used previously by various comic-book studios, but which became known as the "Marvel Method" or "Marvel style" of comic-book creation. Lee would brainstorm a story with the assigned artist and then prepare a brief synopsis instead of a full script. Based on the synopsis, the designated artist would draw the allotted number of pages, determining the panel-to-panel storytelling on their own. After the penciled pages were turned in, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and subsequently oversee the lettering and coloring. In effect, the artists became co-plotters, whose collaborations Lee built upon. In recent years however, and largely due to this system, the actual division of creative credits on his comics has been disputed, especially those drawn by either Kirby or Ditko. Although Lee has always praised the artists, some historians argue that their contribution was far greater than how they were credited. The dispute with Ditko over Spider-Man has often been acrimonious, although Ditko and Lee are both formally credited as co-creators in the credits of the three Spider-Man films.
Regardless of any criticism .Stan Lee's superheroes captured the imagination of teens and young adults who were part of the post World War II baby boom. Sales soared and Lee realized that he could have a meaningful and successful career in the medium after all. He even indirectly reformed the old Comics Code. In 1971, the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked Lee to write a story about the dangers of drug use and Lee wrote a story in which Spider-Man's best friend becomes addicted to pills. The three-part story was slated to be published in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, but the Comics Code Authority rejected it because of its depiction of drug use; the CCA deemed the story context irrelevant. With his publisher's approval, Lee issued the comics without the CCA seal. When the comics sold well, Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. This caused the CCA to loosen the Code to allow negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.
Lee used comic books to provide social commentary about the real world issues like racism and bigotry. "Stan's Soapbox," besides promoting upcoming comic book projects, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance or prejudice. Stan Lee took pride in using sophisticated vocabulary for stories' dialogue to encourage young readers to learn new words. In later years, following Marvel’s ascension to the number one comic book publisher, Lee became the beloved figurehead and public face for Marvel Comics.

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