Superheroes postsFriday November 21, 2008
On Meeting Stan Lee in 1975 — or — Another Practically Priceless Blog Entry in the Mighty Marvel Manner
A belated shout-out to Marvel Comics Everything Stan Lee who was awarded the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal at the White House a few days ago.
I met the man once, back in the mid-1970s, when he was promoting Sons of Origins of Marvel Comics, and my father, a journalist for the Minneapolis Tribune, interviewed him for what was then called the “Variety” section of the paper. The interview took place at a fancy restaurant in downtown Minneapolis and my brother and I were allowed to leave class early (I was 12) to attend the back-end of it.
I think I was disappointed when I first saw him. He wore dark glasses in a dark restaurant and he had a moustache and a loud and brash manner. He seemed like a villain on a cop show. Not sure what I thought he'd look like. Reed Richards? Peter Parker? Me?
But he turned out to be about the nicest famous person I've ever met. First, he let us sit in on the interview. Then when the interview was over, he didn’t turn off. I don’t know if he had an “off.” He invited my brother and I over and brought us out. He drew a cartoonish Captain America holding a banner up to his nose —like Kilroy — and on the banner he wrote: “To Chris and Erik. Excelsior! Stan & Cap.” Below it he added, in that great mix of irony and braggadaccio he had: “Another practically priceless Stan Lee original!” He signed our books. He gave us nicknames in the Mighty Marvel Manner. “To Charismatic Chris,” he wrote in Chris’ Sons of Origins of Marvel Comics. “To Erudite Erik” he wrote in my copy of The Origins of Marvel Comics. The first thing I did when I got home was look up “Erudite” in the dictionary.
I stopped collecting comics in the late '70s and I don't know what happened to my autographed Origins of Marvel Comics, but I still have the Cap drawing.
My father's article on Stan Lee, by the way, wound up on the back page of the “Variety” section, where they put the unimportant stuff. That's how comics were viewed back then. Now, though actual sales are way down, the presence of comic books is everywhere. As you know.
Who's your superhero?
Another 5Top piece on MSNBC — this one on the most inspired superhero casting. It was designed to coincide with the opening of IRON MAN because I was thinking of putting Robert Downey, Jr. on the list, but the studio didn't make the film available before the piece was due. The screening is tonight (and anyway I've got French), and the piece was due yesterday, and I didn't want to hold it up on the off-chance that I liked Downey and IRON MAN enough to include it.
No supervillains. That's a whole other category and would include Gene Hackman and Ian McKellan and Alfred Molina and probably, eventually, Heath Ledger. Off the top of my head.
Captain America and the short end of the stick
Yesterday the New York Times ran this piece on Joe Simon, who, with Jack Kirby, created Captain America in December 1940. Simon is now 94 and part of a panel at this weekend’s New York Comic Con that he calls “The old geezer table.”
It’s a newspaper piece, and thus skimps, but it brings up a key issue not only for comic creators but for artists in general: the inability to profit from your own hugely successful creation. Simon, who got squat for creating the good Captain, puts it this way: “People in comic books have a very sad history in dealing with their creative people.” Todd McFarlane, reinventor of Spider-Man in the 1990s, and creator of Spawn, says this: “I read the stories of Jack Kirby. I read the stories of all those guys in the ’40s, ’50s and even the ’60s. I kept coming across this repetitive story: the creative guy got the short end of the stick.”
The great cautionary tale, of course, belongs to Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the two Cleveland boys who jumpstarted an entire industry with Superman in 1938, and who, for their trouble, got $116 from Detective Comics (and, after decades of lawsuits, an annual stipend from Warner Bros.). Their story, along with many others, is told — extremely well, I should add — in Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones. Check it out.