Fantastic Four

Stan Lee: Real vs. Fake

After the last two days, I think we need something to lighten things up before we head off to the Thanksgiving weekend.

If someone thinks about comic books long enough to consider that people actually make them, that person is probably aware of Stan Lee. The head editor and face of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Stan “The Man” Lee helped plot and script nearly the entirety of Marvel’s then growing line of groundbreaking superhero comic books. He also either helped write or oversaw the western, romance, suspense, humor, war and other comics back when Marvel wasn’t primarily limited to one genre. He was also an innovator in fan interaction for the comics world of the time, taking on a carnival barker persona that remains to this day. While he hasn’t been involved in Marvel’s day-to-day operations for a long time, he’s still thought of as the guy who created the Marvel Universe, even if that title almost completely ignores the contributions of the brilliant artists working at Marvel at the time (most significantly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). Despite the controversies and legal issues of who really created Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and all the others, and to what extent, Stan Lee remains a beloved public figure of Marvel and a legendary force of goodwill and visibility for comics in general.

These days, he remains as active as ever with his POW! Entertainment, where he’s provided concepts for a mini-line of superhero comics published by BOOM! Studios, superhero characters for the NHL, manga, and countless other projects, along with a first look deal with Disney and other production partnerships. (But not Stripperella. Nobody had anything to do with Stripperella.) And on the side, he makes cameos in Marvel Studios’ films:

To expand his Twitter and Facebook presence, Stan Lee is getting ready to launch TheRealStanLee.com, which is going to be a community-focused site. Here’s the promotional video that was released yesterday:

And thus we get to the real point of me posting all of this. Included in the above video is a clip of Stan Lee meeting The Fake Stan Lee. Played by cartoonist/improviser Kevin McShane, the Fake Stan Lee hits the right balance of playful tribute and pointed satire. For a few years now, McShane has been posting funny videos of himself as Stan Lee attending comic book conventions and interacting with attendants unabashedly being Stan Lee. And if you don’t know what that means, you got a glimpse at the above video. Now check out the below two videos. The first includes the two Stans meeting at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.

And they had another showdown in last year’s Comic-Con:

For more Fake Stan Lee videos, check out his YouTube channel.

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Happy Labor Day

Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four meet their son Franklin for the first time, Fantastic Four Annual #6, 1968 (art by Jack Kirby, words by Stan Lee)

(Click the image for an awesome theory at Major Spoilers that I’ve also had about Franklin Richards for years. But be warned: it’s definitely not for the casual comics reader.)

My List of the 10 Favorite / Best / Most Significant Comics Works

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (the arrival of non-fiction graphic novels)

Yesterday morning, the Hooded Utilitarian posted my list along with 21 others who contributed to a giant survey of comic book creators, retailers, publishers, educators, commentators (like me) and other industry folk from all over the world to determine the 10 Best Comics. In total, 211 people responded.

I sent my list on June 15, in response to the question, “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” I started my email response to the Hooded Utilitarian with the following: “I want you to know, this is IMPOSSIBLE.”

And it is. But despite that…

My list:

Start clicking and see if something interests you.

There are plenty of comics that are just as good as the above that deserve to be listed, and even some that are better. But I had a few guidelines to help focus my list down to a manageable size.

First, I had to have actually read the material. Of the above, only Peanuts has material that I have never read. But I’ve read enough of it that what I haven’t read would have to be an absolute bomb for it to tarnish the goodwill. That means there was some material that I am fully expecting to love and that I love for its mere existence and concept that I had to leave out. I really wanted to include Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know on my list. It sits by my desk in my to-read pile from last year‘s Comic-Con.

Second, I leaned much heavier on the “most significant” portion of the question. As some have pointed out, the question asked by The Hooded Utilitarian is really three different questions which could result in three very different lists. Because what interests me is comics’ efforts to find new audiences, I interpreted “most significant” as the comics that have been most successful in winning over new readers. That was probably my biggest barometer. Each of the above have helped establish a genre or publishing strategy or level of skill that has expanded what comics can be and are today. In retrospect, I might’ve leaned a little too heavy on modern material but I think some of the most innovative and inclusive material is being made now (if you know where to find it).

OK, so let’s hear it. What did I miss?

(More random thoughts after the jump.)

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The Ten Best Comics

Pogo by Walt Kelly

#8: Pogo by Walt Kelly

Over 200 international comic book creators, retailers, journalists, educators, and pundits (including me!) submitted their lists answering the question “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” back in May, and now the results are getting posted at The Hooded Utilitarian.

So far, the classics Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay, Locas stories by Jaime Hernandez, Pogo by Walt Kelly, MAD by Harvey Kurtzman and company, and Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby take up spots six through ten respectively. Four and five went up this morning and the top three spots will go up tomorrow and Friday.

Then starting on Monday, they’ll start to post the top 115, as well as each contributor’s list. Once mine goes up, I’ll link to it here as well as expand on why I chose what I chose.

So far none of my choices have made the Top 10, but that doesn’t completely surprise me. The why behind my choices probably didn’t match with the majority of the other participants. But I can’t argue with what’s up there. Each entry so far is legendary for a reason. The Little Nemo write-up by Shaenon K. Garrity in particular really resonated with me, effectively capturing why Winsor McCay and his comic strip are so special.

Only occasionally has a publication or institution attempted to define a canon for sequential art (comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, manga, web comics, etc.). Literature, film and other art forms have often selected what is generally considered by most critics and fans as the height of quality and/or influence, whether it be the American Film Institute or the Great Books of the Western World.

Here are some previous entries into establishing a comic book canon:

Part of the fun of these kinds of lists is to make shopping lists and, probably more, to debate. So I’ll be taking a look at this list and how it compares with the others, looking at what I think was missed, what they got right, and the growing consensus of these lists.

Interview: Stan Goldberg

Archie Marries... (click to buy from publisher Abrams ComicArts)

Speaking with comics artist Stan Goldberg was an honor, and I’m very grateful for his generosity with his time. I definitely did not expect this to go 45 minutes but he had a lot to share, and it’s worth it to hear him talk about all of this. His love for his work comes across quickly. He really loves what he does. It’s clear that this is a man still enjoying and exploring his craft and the process of storytelling despite already being a master at it.

I was also struck with how unfortunate it is for someone who has lived and breathed the Archie characters for the last 40 years, who has been the artist on their most commercially successful and buzz worthy books (for good reason), now finds himself with some uncertainty. Fortunately he’s still immensely talented. His abilities not only haven’t diminished, but may be stronger than ever. And he remained classy throughout, with not a bad word to say about his former employers. Already plans are in the works for the next phase of his career, and that to me is exciting. With over 60 years in the biz, he still has a lot of creativity to give.

Here’s the audio of our interview:

MP3 Download

Here’s a breakdown of what he talked about:

  • His 40-year career with Archie Comics, characters he clearly loves and respects, and his recent departure from the company.
  • Creating the color designs for Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four (the Thing is colored like “a wrinkled orange”), the Hulk (his pants were meant to be magenta, not purple), and the rest of the Marvel Comics universe, including the villains like Dr. Doom.
  • Being asked by Marvel to draw the Fantastic Four 50 years after coloring the first issue in 1961.
  • His work being reprinted in prestige hard cover books: Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg [Amazon link] and Archie Marries… [Amazon link]
  • Being mentored by Stan Lee the art director in the ’50s
  • Using the Marvel Method for Millie the Model
  • Creating Kathy the Teenage Tornado (reprint this, Marvel!)
  • On the comics industry during the Senate hearings of the 1950s and the industry’s response: “It almost destroyed the whole industry.” He says the Comics Code Authority, the industry’s content watchdog, went overboard: “They made some corrections, but I guess they had to show what they were then getting paid for.” Marvel even lost their distributor for a time, which resulted in Stan having to go freelance.
  • His work on Millie the Model influencing women in fashion design and magazines like Cosmopolitan, McCall’s and others.
  • Collaborating with Michael Uslan on last year’s “Archie Marries…” story starting in Archie #600, which sold 50% better than Marvel & DC comic books at the time. His pure penciled artwork for the covers of those six issues was reprinted in IDW’s recent Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg
  • The story of the surprise debut of Archie Meets Punisher and the plans for a sequel that never came to be.
  • And perhaps most exciting of all… teasing a future project he’s creating with a writer.

Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg (click to buy from publisher IDW)

(Also a cameo by my cat Cleo climbing up the back of my chair if you listen carefully. I should also apologize for the volume disparity between his voice and mine. Fortunately once we get started, it’s mostly him. Ah the joys of technology. I’ll try to work that out for the next interview.)

FF #1 variant cover by Goldberg (50th Anniversary of Fantastic Four #1, Marvel Comics)

Learn to read comics with fan-made Power Records videos

As I’ve mentioned in the past, not everyone takes to the language of sequential art instantly. Some need to ease into it. One possible solution probably isn’t really a solution at all, but it makes for a unique way to read some early comic books.

In the 1970s, Power Records released a series of vinyl 45’s of a fully produced performance of comic book stories, complete with voice actors, sound effects and music. A couple of years ago, a crafty YouTube user, noielmucus, put these recordings to an edited presentation of each issue included with each record so that the dialogue and captions being spoken appear on screen. A great way for kids to read along. The pacing is kind of slow for today’s audiences and some voices are just plain weird (like the weird sped up effect on Mr. Fantastic’s voice when he uses his powers) but others are actually quite good. It definitely makes for a fun curiosity.

The Marvel Comics records gave a performance of three classic issues, so it’s a unique way to experience these stories of the origin of the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, and one of the earliest adventures of Spider-Man. But the DC Comics ones appear to be original stories made just for these records (although I can’t identify the creators). They feature Superman against the inter-dimensional imp Mxyptlk, the Joker making his own utility belt to fight Batman and Robin, and more complete silliness.

Apparently this collection of 10 are just the tip of the iceberg. Over 90 LP records and 45-rpm singles were created. A modern version of these for young readers might be worth looking into by some enterprising company. (If you need any voice-actors, let me know.)

Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (1963) parts 1-5

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