Spidey's debut appearance - Amazing Fantasy 15
For as long, and possibly even longer, than I've had an almost genetic devotion to music, a second secret passion has quietly but constantly simmered alongside. Comics. Superheroes, secret identities, bizarre accidents and incidents leading to superpowers - crimebusters
in capes and cowls - tights and fights
as they call them in the trade.
I could make excuses, justifications or perhaps mention heavy-hitting comic fans like Elvis, Sid Vicious, Marco Pirroni
, Samuel L. Jackson, David Bowie, Marc Bolan
and Andy Partridge. But, I've been a total devotee for to long to have any embarrassment about being a life long fanorak
of the genre.
And as with every area of entertainment, there's always a genius or two amongst the usual runners and riders. I don't use the 'G' word lightly, but in the world of Comicana
there is one name that towers mightily, monumentally and marvellously over the entire Universe - Stan 'The Man' Lee
If you're unfamiliar with his name - you won't be with his creations. Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, The Hulk, The X-Men, Iron Man to roll call a handful of Stan's heaviest hitting heroes. Or possibly his expressions, now absorbed and embedded in mainstream phrasery
: Nuff said, natch, true believers, spider-sense.
Forget the Hollywood by-numbers blockbusters or generic formula films. Stan's original sixties and seventies storylines were unlike any fantasy tales of the time- certainly comic writing, which until Marveldom, would retread and peddle variations on vanilla plots and thin interchangeable identities.
Stan Lee, and the Marvel artists Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Romita created a rolling repertory of anti-heroes - ordinary people with extraordinary (and often unwanted) superpowers. A galaxy of tragic, tortured souls, hulking ungainly lumps or geeky teens cast as cente stage superheroes, not sidekicks. And referencing college life, popular culture (James Bond, The Beatles, Woody Allen) the counter culture, drink or drug addiction. Occasionally even breaking the fourth wall of comics with self referencing in-jokes or lines like 'that's enough soap opera for now
', or a wrap up a dynamic, climatic city-scape ending with the intro... ' and because the artist loves drawing crowd scenes
Unlike the first generation of superheroes, Marvel's heavy hitting, high-flyers and their off duty identities were grounded with hang-ups and personal problems: alcoholism, teen angst and self-doubts or disabilities (blindness, heart conditions) - all of which made for stronger stories, dialogue and personal inter-play. Their public and private lives were be peppered with life-changing tragedies, heart-breaking ironies or cold, cruel misunderstandings and woven into multi-layered, cross-title story lines of explosive action tempered with high drama and every day problems. All framed against an authentic New York cityscape - not some generic fantasy town - but a real grit, grime and crime city where heroes would be booed, jeered or cheered in sparky local dialect by native New Yorkers. Often, wrongly accused of crime-making or rejected, shunned and viewed with a wily eye as creepy freaky mutants.
However, one of the richest ironies is Stan Lee's own story. For decades Stan has been the public face of Marvel Comics, building a gallery of genre-breaking titles and record-setting sales. Producing a portfolio of icons, ideas and inventions generating millions of dollars through comics sales, film adaptations and multiple merchandising formats. Ultimately reaching a peak with Disney's multi-billion buy out of Marvel last year.
But away from the spotlight and back in the Marvel Bullpen, Stan wrote, scripted and art directed across multiple titles and plotlines - re-inventing comicana codes and conventions and pushing Marvel into new editorial territory. Yet as a freelance writer, paid per page - he had no ownership or financial rights to any of his comic creations or characters and it's only relatively recently that Stan has finally received some reflective remuneration
Stan Lee will be 88 this year. Marvel comics celebrated 70 years in business last year. If you've never read anything by either I would recommend hopping on at any of these starting points pilgrims.
The Essential Silver Surfer - Not strictly a graph' nov' - but all eighteen editions of ol' Chrome Dome's first flights, collected in one volume - it is classic tragi-comic Marvel with a mixture of Shakespearen, Biblical and New York-speak scripting.
Marvels - not Stan Lee, but Kurt Busiek puts the Marvel timeline and Universe in context and order with jaw-dropping artwork from Alex Ross