Practitioners 50: Stan Lee (Part two)

In 2011 the first Kapow convention in London pulled together a line-up of incredibly popular and legendary writers and artists. Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, John Romita Jr, Lienil Yu, Dave Gibbons, Chris Hemsworth, the cast of Being Human, Merlin, Misfits, IGN stands, Marvel, DC, film previews and a Guinness World Record attempt. In 2012, arguably it’s main competitor has Stan Lee in his first visit to a British Comic Convention. People actually saw this as a coup.

Stan Lee, legend of legends appeared at the first Super Comiccon in February 2012 at the Excel Centre in London. The effect was enormous. In an industry trying to find it’s feet it had exactly the right effect. The event was an enormous success. The crowds were more mainstream than had previously been seen. You can claim a number of reasons for this but what it boiled down to was this – it was a chance to meet the man who changed the face of comics.

In the late 1950s Stan Lee was working for what was known as Atlas Comics. He was disgruntled, writing Romance, adventure, westerns, humour, medieval adventure, horror and suspense. By the end of the decade, Lee had become dissatisfied with his career and considered quitting the field.

A curious set of circumstances began to accumulate that was to fuel the creation of Marvel Comics. In DC, Editor Julius Schwartz had run into considerable success with the updated version of the Flash, reviving the superhero archetype, and later had the same success with the Justice League of America. In response to this, publisher Martin Goodman asked Lee to create a new superhero team. Lee’s dissatisfaction with the industry was now turned into an advantage. With his intention to leave comics and with nothing to lose, Lee’s wife urged him to experiment with stories he wanted to write. It was here that the crucible of the entire Marvel Universe was formed. Lee, who, having dutifly worked for comics since he was 19 was about to change every rule.

Lee acted on the advice, giving his characters a flawed humanity, a leap from the god-like archetypes that had been striding the pages of superhero comic books. Lee introduced complex, naturalistic characters who could have bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity; arguing amongst themselves, but crucially propelled downwards at terminal velocity back to the streets of the real, now forced to worry about bills, relationships, homework. The Superman had been knocked off his perch, dressed as Clark Kent forcibly and told to work his way back up to Superman. Champions were no longer heroes by right; Lee brought the demi-gods of Golden Age comic books back to their literary roots. They were now subject to heartache, anxiety and could even get physically ill. These aspirational figures had become accessible. No longer beyond the reach everyone on the streets, they are everyone on the street – struggling with the same impassable issues we all do.

The first was the Fantastic Four. Workaholic Reed Richards, brash and impetuous Johnny Storm, thuggish and crude Ben Grimm and the occasionally ferocious Sue Storm were hammered with cosmic rays and thrown back to Earth where they respectively gained the powers of elasticity, fire and flight, invulnerability, super strength and impervious rock skin and invisibility. The combination of super powers and real life drama is reflected now in the popularity of supernatural and superhero TV shows. It proved a flawless and undeniable combination; real life issues and concerns propelled into battles with monsters, investigation of interdimensional travel and space giants!! The most noteworthy character was Ben Grimm, named ‘The Thing’ thanks to his new found craggy demeanour. Reflected in his personality, his is in fact a science fiction story of a successful, confident figure being faced with dismemberment. Susan Storm’s feelings of abandonment by the man she loves and his lack of understanding as to why his work isn’t more important to her are universal ideas, locked in high literature and TV soaps. When the emotional story lines might dip in other genres now there were Mole Men to smack down, or intergalactic heralds declaring the arrival of a globe threatening natural disaster.

The Fantastic Four’s immediate popularity led Lee and Marvel’s assembled Marvel Illustrators, including Steve Ditko, Bill Everett and led by Jack Kirby to create a field of dreams that would outlast almost every other book on the market. With Kirby, primarily, heroes known throughout the world, representing ideals and concerns and fears recognisable to everyone began to appear out of the smoke of heady creation. Bruce Banner saved Rick Jones moments before a Gamma blast irradiated him and created the angry, defiant, thundering Hulk, genius inventor Tony Stark meets his greatest fears as he is forced to create a metal suit to save him from shrapnel wounds to create Iron Man, the mutant X-Men are assembled in a Westchester School of Higher Learning by Professor Xavier, Lawyer Matt Murdoch gains super senses as a result of losing his sight as a young boy, swearing to represent justice at both ends of the spectrum. Captain America returns from the icy seas of the North Atlantic, Namor is resurrected from war-time comic books, the Norse God Thor appears from the thunder and the Avengers are formed. Finally with Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange – an arrogant doctor who loses his hands and uncovers, in his desperation to regain them – the art of mysticism and finally, the figure that represents most clearly Stan Lee’s ideals.

Lee had been watching a fly crawling on the surface of a window and ‘marvelled’ at it’s ability to move as it did. Imagining a man capable of the same thing he decided that ‘Fly-man’ had little appeal however perhaps a ‘Spider-man’ would have a better time in the cavernous streets of Manhattan.

Stoic, brave and heroic, Peter Parker is the absolute embodiment of the Marvel ideal and it’s most successful character. Representative of every one in America, his struggles are real, his fears and worries palpable and his capacity to overcome them unlimited. Parker is the little guy, the sickly, victimised orphan boy mollycoddled by his Aunt, he is clever and brave but struggles to utilise either. With the bite of a radioactive spider, Peter Parker gains the proportional power of a Spider. Over the years Spider-man has fought every major villain in the Marvel Universe, wise-cracking all the way in a fit of denial as to the situation he is throwing himself into. Those idiosyncracies and habits are real. The overcompensation of Peter Parker to be Spider-man on the battlefield historically irritates more seasoned, honed fighters but that’s the point. He’s no professional. And Lee understood this and presented a boy trying desperately to keep up with the lot life had shown him, without realising, as so many of us do, how capable he always was. The perpetual underdog, Spider-man shines with a humanity that Lee gave him more than half a century before – and one that will never dim. Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada’s decision to scrub out Peter Parker’s life with Mary Jane, his wife, was one of genuine affection and a need to return to the vulnerability that Lee had imbued him with previously. While the character was growing, it was the innate lack of experience that Lee had given him that made Spider-man such a mainstay character and it’s testament to Lee’s decisions so long ago that Quesada felt the need to reset it.

The other defining characteristic introduced by Stan Lee was that of a shared universe. This connected all of the various characters together in a way that united the creators and readers in a way. A community could now be formed around that universe. Based in the real world, the cities were those that the readership woke up in every day. The Human Torch left a message for Spider-man across the sky over the real Manhattan. Gods walked amongst men in a way unseen. The Hulk smashed in real states, not the purpose built spires of an imaginary city such as Metropolis, Gotham or Coast City. It also reduced the level of destruction that took place in the confines of the books which bred greater creativity in developing the plots. It turned the real world, in particular New York into a sandbox world to be played with, both recognisable by real and fictitious characters. It raised the stakes as well as the events taking place had the potential to end everything we all knew. Galactus would devour our homes and towns. The nuclear threat created by Magneto would radiate part of our planet. These were gods given consequences.

While Superman’s Metropolis had been laid to waste by Doomsday and flood and rebuilt, Batman’s Gotham destroyed by plague and earthquake and Coast City decimated by star ship as a mere plot point someone else’s story in order to facilitate a plot that would bring back Superman in Stan Lee’s Marvel Universe a single school is destroyed in middle america in a dust up between super powered ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ and the effects are far more divisive and far reaching than the destruction of an entire state in DC. Stan Lee gave Marvel pathos, real life drama, boundaries and greater emotional punch. He gave us figures that could bring down buildings but crack under emotional pressure. He gave the super humans their humanity. It is something that cannot be undervalued.

Stan Lee’s Marvel revolution extended beyond the characters and storylines to the way in which comic books engaged the readership and built a sense of community between fans and creators. There has been some dispute as to the creative credit associated with his works – particularly in the case of projects with Kirby and Ditko, however Lee did more for creative credit than any other editor previously. Lee introduced the practice of including a credit panel on the splash page of each story, something now adopted into every book brought out in some manner, naming not just the writer and penciller but also the inker and letterer. This has fuelled fans of writers and artists as well as characters, titles and companies over the years and has really allowed articles such as The Practitioners to develop. Regular news about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which (like the letter columns that appeared in each title) was written in a friendly, chatty style. Lee had made the Marvel Universe friendly and easy to visit – his welcoming and inclusive style and his love of people clear in his approach to how he ran this company.

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 wrote endless promotional copy, often signing off with his trademark phrase “Excelsior!” (which is also the New York state motto). To maintain his taxing workload, yet still meet deadlines, he used a system that was used previously by various comic-book studios, but due to Lee’s success with it, became known as the “Marvel Method” or “Marvel style” of comic-book creation. Typically, Lee would brainstorm a story with the artist and then prepare a brief synopsis rather than a full script. Based on the synopsis, the artist would fill the allotted number of pages by determining and drawing the panel-to-panel storytelling. After the artist turned in penciled pages, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and then oversee the lettering and coloring. In effect, the artists were co-plotters, whose collaborative first drafts Lee built upon.

Because of this system, the exact division of creative credits on Lee’s comics has been disputed, especially in cases of comics drawn by Kirby and Ditko. Lee shares co-creator credit with Kirby and Ditko on, respectively, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man feature film series.

In 1971, Lee indirectly helped reform the Comics Code. The US Department of Health, Education and Welfare had asked Lee to write a comic-book story about the dangers of drugs and Lee conceived a three-issue subplot in The Amazing Spider-Man #96–98 (cover-dated May–July 1971), in which Peter Parker’s best friend becomes addicted to pills. The Comics Code Authority refused to grant its seal because the stories depicted drug use; the anti-drug context was considered irrelevant. The comics sold well and Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. The CCA subsequently loosened the Code to permit negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.

Lee also supported using comic books to provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, often dealing with racism and bigotry. “Stan’s Soapbox”, besides promoting an upcoming comic book project, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance, or prejudice. This has been seen throughout Marvel’s history as writers introduce plots they feel particularly strong about, Peter David’s continued inclusion of gay and lesbian agendas in his work from The Incredible Hulk and X-Factor has allowed a subject he feels strongly about be presented in an unusual but popular medium. That, in part, is thanks to Stan Lee’s years of effort and devotion to putting out positive messages of tolerance and civility.

But it is Stan Lee’s lasting legacy (one that he still fuels) that has elevated him above other writers, artists and creators. His relationship with his fans and his creations have made him synonomous with them. If you type in Stan Lee into any search engine, the majority of the images generated will be of the man himself; as famous as any one of his creations. That was what we saw at Super Comicon in London on February 25th and 26th in 2012. A man who allowed millions to dream of seeing a man fly through the sky on rocket jets – but more importantly – made it clear that they could just as easily be that man themselves.

Next: The Legacy of Stan Lee.

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Kapow Diary 2: What we didn’t see…

Inevitably as an exhibitioner, even one doing the wander around – you miss things inevitably and there was a hell of line up over the course of the weekend. The day was high end and everyone involved (from IGN, Millarworld, Clint and the Business Design Centre) – had pulled out all the stops. Behind us was Markosia, run by Harry Markos. Markosia is effectively the mainstay of the independent comic book scene. I’d been lucky enough to meet up with Harry once before. We didn’t realise he was behind us until half way through the first day. I arrived at the 2000AD stand too late for a portfolio review because I hadn’t had a chance to find out where it was. The way to define a convention is not just by what you see but what you miss. Turns out, after a little scraping away it becomes clear there were some genuine diamonds just out of sight (if heavily sign posted).

Of course, Mark Millar was present but was effectively operating on an entirely different level to the rest of the place. Like a machiavellian god with Postman Pat hair he was only spotted by us once throughout the entire event. News I had back however was that he was friendly, cordial and helpful about the place. Millar is on a pedestal in an industry populated by people who are often happier being ashamed of themselves and both myself and Dan, when presented with an opportunity to meet him – didn’t want to bother him – advice I could’ve given myself earlier in the day (more on that in another blog). It was inevitable that Millar was going to take some flak across the bows for having the gall to elevate comic books above the level it has been stuck at over the last ten years. Regardless of his intentions or reasons, Kapow was a massive success with things popping out of woodwork all over the joint if you were looking.

Jonathan Ross reportedly nailed a show over on one side of the room while Quitely and Leinil Yu quietly began the proceedings on the Guiness World Record attempt to involve the most people in a single comic book in one day on the opposite side, down by the IGN stand (something I managed to be involved in). The sheer scale of what was taking place was enormous. Chris Hemsworth was in the building at some point for the Thor launch and there was talk of a mystery movie – which clearly was so unimpressive that we still don’t know what it was. Highlighted as Movie X, myself and Dan distracted ourselves from the replaying Batman/ Green Lantern game promos playing repeatedly in front of us by taking guesses as to what it’d be about.

X-Men: First Class? Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Jonathan Ross’ wife) have close connections with Millar following Kick Ass last year. Thor? Chris Hemsworth in place you’d think they wouldn’t bother flying him over for that one if they could preview the film. Kick Ass 2 was suggested at one point though the liklihood that messrs Vaughn and Goldman knocked out a major sequel quietly with no PR or evidence of production seemed a little far fetched. Things turned again when it was revealed (by a bloke somewhere) that it was an 18 and involved a guy in cape. At that point we gave up. If anybody’d taken a look at the Kapowcomiccon site it clearly said there was preview footage of Hobo with a Gun. Starring Rutger Hauer as the aforementioned hobo it looks like a breakneck ‘Braindead’/ ‘Bad Taste’ mash up. Someone even lets ol’ Rutger do a little ‘burning off the orion belt’ ad libbing while staring at a baby. Nobody expected this? This looks like a great movie! Why don’t they just call it Rutger Hauer is a vengeful tramp! You wouldf have had to have chained me to something to stop me from kicking the doors down to see it!

But there was bigger news in that the Green Lantern movie looks like its back on track. 8 minutes were played of the film – in excess of the 4 available online and everyone was turned as a result. CG more intact, tone a little heavier and more intelligent and obscure images from the original trailer resolved in the new material. This is good news as we here at the Bunker had dismissed the Green Lantern movie as a disappointer of the masses based on the previous output but right now we’ve got the focus back on. I’ll admit Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re took me by surprise. The whole thing is

Also out there was Attack the Block’s writer and first time director Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe who was doing signings and photos at the IGN stand while I was drawing. The crowd was being ‘entertained’ by a guy who looked and sounded like he’d be happier at the X-Games than a comic convention and locked onto the idea that Spider-man 3 was shit to exactly one person’s noisy agreement. Meanwhile, pleasant man-child Joe Cornish (responsible for my favourite Radio 6 show by the way) was out of sight making geeks happy. Attack the Block is the story of hoodies battling Aliens in South London and was inspired by Joe getting mugged. The empathy of that man is astonishing. But it looks fukkin’ bo muvver! Bare Good! Check it out.

There were folks from Misfits (Iwan Rheon (Simon) and Lauren Socha (Kelly)), Merlin (Colin Morgan (Merlin)), Bradley James (Arthur), Angel Coulby (Gwen) and Katie McGrath (Morgana) as well as folks (Dakota Blue Richards (Franky), Sean Teale (Nick) and Jessica Sula (Grace)) from Skins, World Exclusive Pilot of Falling Skies and Toby Whithouse, the creator of Being Human. Games previews for Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Nintendo 3DS, Lego Star Wars 3, Operation: Flashpoint and Dirt 3 from Codemasters.

Present were Mark Gatiss, Lienil Yu, John Romita Jr, Bryan Hitch, Simon Bisley (which was so last minute I couldn’t find him) Olivier Coipel (apparently), Kevin O’Neill, Paul Cornell (sporting a comedy beard for charity much to his own embarrassment), Noel Clarke, Mick McMahon, Brett Ewins, Brian Bolland, David Lloyd, Andy Diggle, Liam Sharp, Sean Philips, Adi Granov, Chris Weston and Eric Stephenson. Not one of these people I saw.

The important thing is who I did….

Kapow! Moon Joins The Walking Dead, True Blood & Kick Ass at the UK’s Hottest New Con!

BTB is extremely proud to announce that we will be bringing Moon to Kapow! Comic Con this coming April. Dubbed “London’s answer to San Diego” Kapow! is gathering a simply staggering number of big names together from the world of comics, film and TV. Misfits, Being Human, Marvel, DC, they’re all going to be there in force and standing right front and center (if not by an act of booking then an act of gravity) will be BTB’s big Moony detective!

Kapow promises to be something special. Not only do they have the big names but they’re promising major announcements from top studios, a world premier of an as-yet-undisclosed comic movie and the first ever “Stan Lee Awards“. Better yet, all you pay for the day is the cost of entry. Once you’re in then all the panels, guests and other assorted high-jinx won’t cost you a silver dime.

We’ll be there with limited edition, individually numbered and signed copies of Moon #1. We’re also working on having a few copies of Fallen Heroes #1 for sale as well (but no guarantees on that as the demand for copies is currently far in excess of the number available). If you want a copy of FH then get to us early! There’s even been a rumour that Moon himself may make an appearance in the flesh/rock!

Tickets for the event can be bought from THE KAPOW! WEBSITE and we strongly suggest that you pre-book yours as they will almost certainly all be sold out by the time the event rolls around.

We have more live dates in the pipeline that we shall be announcing soon. Bur for now, enjoy the Kapow! trailer, buy a TICKET FOR THE BTB LAUNCH PARTY and beware of hands bearing coke refills!

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Kapow TV Guests Announced!

Heya chaps,

Apologies for the rather scrappy nature of this post up (I’m having to post it from my iPhone as my Internet shan’t be connected for a few days) but we wanted to get this news up as soon as it broke as we know a lot of you are thinking of buying Kapow tickets. Well the TV panels were announced today and if you’re a fan of True Blood or The Walking Dead then you’re about to be a very happy bunny/vampire. Home grown heroes such as Being Human, Skins, Merlin and Bunker favourite Misfits will also be there so there’s a little something for everyone.

Actual guests remain unconfirmed (watch this space) but from the US representatives for True Blood, Walking Dead and Dexter. This year the event can’t afford to fund attendees travel costs so that would lead us to believe that this will either be part of a publicity tour or be members of the cast or crew based in the UK. So Andrew Lincoln (Officer Rick Grimes from Walking Dead) is a greater possibility than the show’s writer Frank Darabont. We also know that Aidan Turner of BBC3’s cult supernatural comedy thriller Being Human is unlikely to be in attendance because he’s playing a Dwarf in the Hobbit.

Full details can be found here:

http://uk.tv.ign.com/articles/114/1149493p1.html

Mr Millar still has an announcement to make about the movie guests so keep your eyes on the Bunker for that update. We live in exciting TV times.

Now, where’s the publish button on this bloody phone?

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