Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stan Lee Speaks!

In my opinion, there are FIVE TRUE GENIUSES in the realm of comic books.

I will not attempt to rank them, but in alphabetical order they are: Carl Barks, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and
Julius Schwartz.

Each has created or otherwise perfected one or more key elements of the comic book reading experience, as we know it… and each has been honored for their invaluable contributions to varying degrees. This list, of course, is debatable, and each will have their own candidates – but, to me, these are “The Ones”!

At this point in time, Stan Lee is the only one still with us, and we should continue to honor him as the national treasure he is… such as his cameo as a bus driver in the TV series HEROES, which has similarly honored TV Sci-Fi legends George Takei and Nichelle Nichols.

At TIAH Blog, we’ll salute Smilin’ Stan with an unusual quoted piece from the “Stan’s Soapbox” column that appeared in HOWARD THE DUCK # 29 (…and, presumably other January, 1979 cover dated Marvel Comics). Here’s Stan the Man on one of his favorite topics: Marvel, vs. its competition (…a topic he probably invented to stir up publicity)!

“How do you explain the fact that Mighty Marvel is so much better than its ‘Distinguished Competition’ [ Read DC Comics ]?

“First of all, while I appreciate the implication inherent in the question, I must – in all fairness – reject it. We do our stories in a certain style, and they do theirs in their own way. To call one style ‘
better’ or ‘worse’ is just a matter of opinion.

“Our competitors, and that includes Archie Comics, Harvey Comics, and Gold Key, as well as DC, all have tremendously talented and capable artists and writers producing their books.

“In fact, many people working for other comic book companies used to work for us at one time or other, and may do so again. A great many of them are long-time personal friends of ours. Some have learned their trade in the Marvel Bullpen, and some have helped to teach us ours.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is, sure we want Marvel to be your favorite comic books, and sure we’ll knock ourselves out to produce the best stories and artwork in the field. But we don’t wanna succeed at anyone else’s expense.

“We don’t want you to feel you have to knock the other guy in order to be loyal to us. The better our competition is, the more it’ll keep us on our toes – and the more you’ll profit by it.”

Stan, are you SURE you’ve never run for public office? You’d do so well!

Everyone, certainly me, loves Stan Lee… but there are a number of interesting things to consider in his address to assembled comicdom.

The “friendly competition” Stan fomented back in the day was kinda cute and fun. But, as we moved into the ‘90s, as perpetrated by such abrasive personalities as Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada, it became very ugly. Thankfully, Jemas is long gone form the scene, and “Joey Q.” has grown up a bit… because, honestly, no one cares (…or SHOULD CARE) about this stuff anymore. Comics are comics… good or bad.

The difference in style that Stan speaks of was far more pronounced in the thick of the Silver Age than it was at the time of this message. Indeed, since the dawn of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams at DC, the two house styles have moved ever closer – and, by the ‘80s with THE NEW TEEN TITANS by Marvel Alumni Marv Wolfman and George Perez any beyond, became almost undistinguishable. All the more so, as creators shunted back and forth between the two publishers, as they do to this day.

But, to me, the most striking thing is saved for last!

In addition to classic rival DC Comics, Stan includes Archie, Harvey, and Gold Key among his competitors!

I love the admission from someone as high-up as Stan Lee, that there were (…and, in some cases, STILL ARE) good comics beyond the “Big Two”!

Funny, Stan fails to mention Charlton Comics (then very much a going concern) among the group. There are probably many reasons for that, and those reasons could easily fill another Blog post – but it’s worth noting!

Also interesting that, as this was printed in January, 1979 cover dated comics, both Gold Key and Harvey would soon disappear from the scene. In little more than a year, Gold Key would vanish, and some time after that so would the original incarnation of Harvey.

Gold Key would continue (after a fashion) as Whitman until 1984, and Harvey would putter along under various different leaderships until the mid-nineties.

But the real wake-up, perspective wise, is that, at the time of Stan’s words, there were ONLY SIX COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS actively making a go of it!

This was a time when all comic books were at a low point, and could have died out completely if not for the shot-in-the-arm of the coming Direct Market. But, still… I doubt anyone who entered the hobby during or after the mid 1980s could conceive of such a situation.

Lots of interesting thoughts flow from what was once a just publicity puff-piece from the great Stan Lee!

But, Stan always was one to get us thinking…


Chris Barat said...


What strikes me is that, at the time of this comment, neither Gold Key nor Harvey (especially the latter) was a particular "competitor" of Marvel's. GK had the "adventure" books, of course, but they weren't nearly as direct a "competitor" as DC. Mighty generous of Stan to acknowledge the existence of other important genres of comics. Would that the industry as a whole had as much respect for the entire gamut of genres today.


Joe Torcivia said...

Chris, you wrote:

“Mighty generous of Stan to acknowledge the existence of other important genres of comics. Would that the industry as a whole had as much respect for the entire gamut of genres today.”

That’s exactly my point in singling out Stan’s words here!

And, as we’ve all seen for years, Stan’s successors have rarely lived up to his perspective and his wisdom!


Anonymous said...

It's possible that Stan simply forgot to include Charlton Comics in the list. They published some super hero comics in the mid-1960's, of which Ditko's Blue Beetle was the most obviously similar to Marvel's style. But, by 1979, they were down to about half a dozen titles, mainly war and romance comics, and most of those were probably reprints. So they were no longer as direct a competitor as DC or even Gold Key.

Anonymous said...

The difference in house styles was more obvious in the 1960's. My impression is that Marvel was consciously aiming at a slightly older audience at that time. Judging by my classmates and neighbors, I would say a typical DC fan at the time (including me) was 8-11 years old and a typical Marvel fan was about 12-15. After 1970 or so, DC adopted a style so similar to Marvel's that the only real differences in the characters were the names and costumes. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Joe Torcivia said...

I tend to agree with you, Anon. Though, a Julius Schwartz comic – even in the ‘60s – strove to run closer to Marvel’s Silver Age sensibilities, than DC’s average.

Small wonder it would be Schwartz, who would take DC “the rest of the way”, with O’Neil, Adams, and other talents.