Stan Lee died the other day.
He was one of the most creative americans that ever lived.
We all know that George Lucas is a very creative fellow, having created a few dozen major characters, like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and villains like Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett. Stan Lee created at least 5 to 10 times more characters than Lucas. I think he was the most imaginative writer since Jules Verne.
When i was young, we had a comic rack at the local drug store in town, and they cost 12 cents each. At the time we were reading them, in the early days of Marvel Comics, the print run of each issue was around 10,000 copies. So if you imagine the retailer got half, the total revenue to marvel per issue was about $600. They were printed on the cheapest newsprint paper, with just a few colors, and were banged out at an incredible pace. I had several first editions, and like every other mother, mine were thrown out when i went to college… they are so valuable now because so few people kept them away from their mothers! hah. Nobody took them seriously and it took a while for their science-fiction style to catch on.
These original Marvel comics are masterpieces of the genre. They can be purchased under the “marvel masterworks” series at Amazon in both hardcover and paperback. They make a wonderful gift for a young kid who doesn’t realize the source material behind the many successful films is so good. They were so far ahead of other comics of the time, it isn’t funny. Batman and Superman, the two big characters of the entrenched competitor DC comics were crude in comparison, with stupid villains who were typically bank robbers or thugs. Marvel comics on the other hand created a roster of villains really worth fighting, with names like Magneto who could control metal, Doctor Doom, who wanted to take over the planet, or Kang the Conqueror who comes from the future to take over the universe, or Galactus who would like to consume all the life force in our solar system for breakfast. Marvel heroes had personal problems; they didn’t have much money, or their girlfriends were mad at them, they might even regret their superpowers. From any dimension you look at, the output of Marvels’ first decade is fantastic stuff; it is like Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, a highly original body of work that will still be enjoyable for a long time to come, and imitated without attribution constantly.
The secret to Stan Lee’s incredible output - and it is amazing how much stuff he cranked out - was that he worked in an unprecedented way with the artists who helped invent the characters and drew the comics. He would write a very short summary of what happens in the 16 page story and then let the artists draw whatever they wanted, and then he would add the words in later. In this way the stories progressed nicely, and the artists loved the freedom, and they did wonderful work.
Lee did not profit much from his work at Marvel. He was outmaneuvered in the board room many times, and when Marvel was finally sold to disney for billions he got nothing. Frankly the comic book business is a pathetic business compared to movies, and the technology to do his films justice did not come into existence until recently. But he did pretty well overall, and was beloved by the many millions of people who have come to know his characters like Spider man, etc., mostly from movies.
His appearance in the films always makes me cry, because i loved his work so much. He was so clever and funny.
Every time the films have departed from the original material, it has been to the movie’s detriment. When Marvel films have failed, it was because they didn’t trust the super genius of the creators, and think people can’t handle it. One of marvel’s best comics was the Fantastic Four, yet they have bungled Dr. Doom and in the last film made him into a corporate weasel pursuing money instead of a megalomaniac who is so smart he thinks the world should grovel at his feet.
The best films Captain America (#1), Dr. Strange, and Ant Man. Those show the wild range of Stan Lee’s imagination, and how he would move between patriotic world war 2 era, to eastern mysticism, and then biotechnology.
With his passing, and with George Lucas’ retirement, one has to wonder, where is the next great set of characters and stories to come from? The answer is that Overwatch (a video game from Blizzard) is the crucible of animated/superhero characters for the youngest generation, and mark my words, Overwatch will be bigger than marvel, because it includes characters across the globe, and thus will be relatable to everyone.