Steve Ditko

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.

Random Observations of Amazing Fantasy #15 – The Origin of Spider-Man

Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (click to read issue at Marvel.com)

I closely re-read Amazing Fantasy #15 recently, as reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. This is the very first appearance of the amazing Spider-Man, as he appeared in the final issue of a weird little anthology previously titled Amazing Adult Fantasy.

Cover dated August 1962, the issue was plotted by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, scripted by Stan Lee, illustrated by Steve Ditko, probably colored by Stan Goldberg, and lettered by Art Simek. The cover was illustrated by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and colored by Stan Goldberg. In this reprint edition, art and color reconstruction was done by Michael Kelleher and Kellustration.

A lot has been written about this issue but I’d like to just post some of the random thoughts that popped into my head as I was reading this. A lot of it silly and trivial but not all of it and I don’t see many people specifically pointing this stuff out too often. If you’ve got a copy of the issue, follow along at home. It’s a fun issue and a great origin story told in a compact 11 pages. They really don’t make ’em like this anymore. You can buy the Marvel Masterworks reprint on Amazon or read the issue online at Marvel.com.

Random Observations:

Cover:

  • How did I ever not notice those big thick white motion lines on the cover?
  • I always thought it was funny that one of the cover blurbs was announcing a special message from the editor. As though this is an exciting sales pitch to people browsing the comic book section of the newsstands. Never mind the stories, this comic has a letter!

Part 1:

  • Page 1: Spider Man, Spider-Man, Spiderman – which is it?! (YES, IT MATTERS!!!) It would actually take a couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man before they settled on the middle one.
  • Page 2: “Wheatcakes”? That sounds kinda gross. Or maybe just really bland.
  • Page 3: Scientists are just as obnoxious as the high school cool kids crowd, it turns out.
  • Page 3: The radioactive spider-bite caused Peter’s fingertips to turn yellow for a while?
  • Page 3: His tingling spider-sense does not go off here or in this issue at all.
  • Page 4-5: Crusher Hogan enjoys his work. That is the happiest wrestler I’ve ever seen.
  • Page 5: What is Peter using for his first mask? Fishnets maybe?
  • Page 5-6: Nameless TV producer has an awesome hat.
  • Page 6: Did they really have majors in high school in the early ’60s?
  • Page 6: I’m going to pretend that a prototype for his web fluid was being made in the earlier scene of Peter with a teacher in the school science lab. Because him just whipping it up on his own in an afternoon is too much for me. (And yet I’m totally fine accepting that a spider bite causes someone to stick to walls. I’m not saying these observations make any sense.)
  • Page 6: Maybe Peter also minored in home ec so he could make his costume.

Part 2:

  • Page 7: Quiet on the set, Mr. Camera Man! Geez. And get back behind the camera.
  • Page 7: I’m not real clear what Spider-Man’s stunt is here. Webbing a candle that’s sitting on a pendulum?
  • Page 7: Now the TV producer from the previous scene is yelling cut as though he’s the director?! I assume this isn’t the set of The Ed Sullivan Show, as mentioned on the previous page, because this production is a mess. Is there even an actual director on set?
  • Page 8: Yes that’s right. A high-speed express elevator for a TV studio in the 1960s. Totally standard.
  • Page 8: After being rejected by the kids at high school and his scientist “friends,” Peter declares his sole loyalty to his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, the only people he feels has ever cared about him. “I’ll see to it that they’re always happy, but the rest of the world can go hang for all I care!” This after they give him a new microscope he’s wanted, so maybe a tad materialistic of him but they are very loving elsewhere. He’ll soon discover that this kind of petty isolationism comes with a price.
  • Page 8-9: I wonder if the police officer in the TV studio is related to the police officer outside his house days later. Brother maybe?
  • Page 9: Speaking of that cop, nice tact there. “Bad news, son – your uncle has been shot – murdered!” And then proceeds to tell Peter precisely where to go to exact revenge from the burglar. So fired. (No actually, it looks like he whisks himself off to the warehouse for the story’s climax, where he is revealed to be the captain and commanding officer on the scene. Or the brothers are triplets.)
  • This is really an overall note for the whole issue, but Steve Ditko draws the most awesome and unique faces. Every character, no matter how minor, has their own personality. Even the older police officer and security guard, while similar looking, have different eye brows and profiles.
  • Page 10: Spider-Man’s first night time web-slinging! Whee!
  • Page 11: In times of great stress, Peter Parker’s pupils become so pronounced, they can be seen through his mask. Like the glowing fingers, another side effect of the irradiated spider bite that faded away. Naturally.
  • Page 11: Captain Fired is about to order his men to rush the warehouse, where the burglar would have surely gone down in a blaze of glory, taking as many police officers as he could shoot with him. Interesting that Spider-Man probably saved the lives of several police officers, but with the emotional state he’s in he’s probably never realized that.
  • Page 11: “… with great power there must also come — great responsibility!” This phrase eventually becomes the guiding principle of Peter’s life. It’s later credited to Uncle Ben, but he never actually says it in this story. It’s also worth noting the dash, and the “must also”, both usually left out when quoted today.

Announcement from the Editor:

  • Page 12: The story has always been that Spider-Man appeared in this issue because they knew it was the final issue of Amazing Fantasy, so there wasn’t much risk to try out a new character. But this editorial letter to the readers makes it clear that when this issue went to press, they thought there would be more issues of the series. The new editorial policy, which includes a change of format and a slight title change from Amazing Adult Fantasy, is laid out. And “Spiderman” will appear every month. Stan Lee has told the story that he tells in his introduction to Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 tons of times. He’s also admitted to having a terrible memory and re-telling stories that sound good but may not even be true. Turns out this is one of them.
  • Page 12: It’s also neat that they would have a scorecard of which stories in each issue of Amazing (Adult) Fantasy were most liked. (The comic was an anthology, so multiple stories appeared in each issue.) It’s amazing that they had 300 votes for the favorite story from the previous issue. 300+ fans were involved enough to mail letters and this was a comic on the verge of cancellation. It’s not specified, but the stories are from Amazing Adult Fantasy #12 due to the lag time from mailing and printing.
  • Page 12: If you want to read the scorecard winner, the 3-page story “Something Fantastic” from Amazing Adult Fantasy #12 was included in the 2005 collection Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko. [Amazon link]

Have any observations, random or otherwise? Questions about the issue? Post them below!

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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Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko Omnibuseses on the way

Once again trolling Amazon, I’ve discovered a pair of listings for heavy duty hardcover omnibus collections of work from two seminal comic book artists and creators, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Most of the material hasn’t been available since it was originally published 30-50 years ago, but next Summer we’ll have it again.

Between the two of them, Kirby and Ditko co-created (in some cases, it’s been argued they solely created) and established the core Marvel Comics universe with Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain America, Dr. Strange, the Silver Surfer, the original X-Men, and many, many more.

Wait, keep your seat. This isn’t that stuff.

You see, both Kirby and Ditko worked at one time or another for Marvel’s primary competitor, DC Comics, on lesser known comics. This is that stuff.

But despite being lesser known, it’s still worth some excitement. So maybe just attentively lean forward in your seat.

You see, before Jack Kirby returned to Marvel Comics to help create the Fantastic Four, he created what many believe to be the proto-Fantastic Four, a quartet of adventuring explorers called the Challengers of the Unknown. He also worked on a Green Arrow strip, which appears to make up the bulk of The Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 1, according to the current product description:

In 1957, following the dissolution of his partnership with Joe Simon, Jack Kirby returned to DC Comics. Among his new assignments was the Green Arrow feature that ran simultaneously in ADVENTURE COMICS and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, pitting the Emerald Archer and his sidekick, Speedy, against a plethora of foes.

For Steve Ditko, he left Marvel Comics in the late 1960s after an insurmountable run on The Amazing Spider-Man and trippy Dr. Strange stories, and headed to rival publisher DC Comics where he created characters like the Creeper and the duo Hawk & Dove. The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1 listing is scant on details but judging from the cover image above, the book looks to consist of his 8-issue series Shade, the Changing Man from 1977. The character and concepts were significantly revamped for an acclaimed series of the same name by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo in 1990, as part of the newly created Vertigo imprint, along side Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Grant Morrison’s Animal Man.

Now you may be wondering to yourself, “What in the world is an omnibus?” And it’s an excellent question. In this instance, it’s not a type of vehicle for transporting a large number of people. Apparently it’s also a publishing term for an anthology or collection of multiple works. The comics world picked it up a few years ago. I think maybe Marvel was the first to use it for an ultra-huge hardcover collection of work that’s usually on the pricy side. It’s like a normal graphic novel on steroids. Now you know!

Your Brad Link of the Day – Iron Man movie had no script

This is amazing. One of the best modern superhero movies had no script, according to actor Jeff Bridges in this interview at InContention.com.

The 2008 hit Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Bridges apparently relied on the actors and director Jon Favreau improvising scenes out based on a plot outline.

“They had no script, man,” Bridges exclaims. “They had an outline. We would show up for big scenes every day and we wouldn’t know what we were going to say. We would have to go into our trailer and work on this scene and call up writers on the phone, ‘You got any ideas?’ Meanwhile the crew is tapping their foot on the stage waiting for us to come on.”

“You’ve got the suits from Marvel in the trailer with us saying, ‘No, you wouldn’t say that,’” Bridges remembers. “You would think with a $200 million movie you’d have the shit together, but it was just the opposite. And the reason for that is because they get ahead of themselves. They have a release date before the script, ‘Oh, we’ll have the script before that time,’ and they don’t have their shit together.

“Jon dealt with it so well,” Bridges continues. “It freaked me out. I was very anxious. I like to be prepared. I like to know my lines, man, that’s my school. Very prepared. That was very irritating, and then I just made this adjustment. It happens in movies a lot where something’s rubbing against your fur and it’s not feeling right, but it’s just the way it is. You can spend a lot of energy bitching about that or you can figure out how you’re going to do it, how you’re going to play this hand you’ve been dealt. What you can control is how you perceive things and your thinking about it. So I said, ‘Oh, what we’re doing here, we’re making a $200 million student film. We’re all just fuckin’ around! We’re playin’. Oh, great!’ That took all the pressure off. ‘Oh, just jam, man, just play.’ And it turned out great!”

Bridges says those “suits” keep telling him, “It’s just a comic book. Maybe we’ll bring you back.”

He also talked about it on his own site in his Making Iron Man photography book, which includes some great images of one of the “script sessions”.

As I said, we were lucky to have Jon as our director. His skill as a writer/improvisor was welcomed, indeed. While the story of Iron Man was pretty much in place, the actual scenes often had to be written on the day we shot them. Once the panic subsided, it was kind of fun, really – sort of like making a multi-million dollar student film. After all was said and done, I think we came up with some good stuff.

Yay! Improv saves the day! (Sorry for the not-so-stealthy plug.)

Now Hollywood, that doesn’t mean fire all of your screenwriters. This worked because fantastic actors and improvisers were able to pull it off by collaborating with a uniquely talented director who also had a knack for improvising. So, cool trick, but use with discretion.

What’s interesting is that this method of movie-making is eerily similar to the mythic “Marvel Method” of making comics in the 1960s. Marvel Comics’ primary writer and editor then was Stan Lee, who became so overwhelmed writing nearly every book put out by the publisher that he started to similarly jam with his better artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. According to legend (some of it still hotly debated today), Stan and the artist would talk out a story idea for an issue over the phone or in person. Stan would then write up a 1 to 2-page plot outline, which would be fleshed out and expanded into a full 23-page (sometimes more) comic book. Stan would then go back and fill in dialogue and narration captions. Eventually Stan got so overworked, and the process became so reliable, that Stan let his best artists turn in full issues of their own stories with plot cues written in to help Stan script. While this resulted in the wildly successful heyday of the Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man comic books of the ’60s, this process led to a lot of intense debate and resentment over who should be credited (and receive royalties) for what.

Now looking back to today, IMDb lists Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway as the screenwriters for Iron Man. Did they just write the outline? I’d be curious to hear their version of this story.

(via io9)

Your Brad Link of the Day is provided to me by my friend Brad Beacom via Google’s Gmail chat. It may or may not actually occur on a daily basis. You may or may not have already seen it. (But in those instances, some classics are worth revisiting.) You may or may not find some enjoyment in it. Essentially, I take no responsibility for anything.