Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Stan

Stan Lee turns 89 today. While Stan is best known for the characters he created his biggest influence was on how the stories were told. Prior to the 1960s, comic books seldom had continuity and super heroes had interchangeable personalities. Stan, who always wanted to write the great American novel (under his birth name Stanley Martin Leiber) felt stuck as a comic book writer/editor. At his wife's suggestion he started writing comic books that he would like to read. This happened just as Stan was asked to create a new superhero team to compete with the Justice League. Stan and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four and Stan changed the name of the company from Timely to Marvel. It took around three years before things really coalesced but by the end of the decade Marvel was the dominant comic book company.

Stan had three other contributions. One was a different style of writing. Instead of having interchangeable artists drawing in the house style from a finished script, Stan started collaborating with the artist and the two of them would agree on the plot. The artist would draw it and Stan would add the dialog. That let the artist decide the pacing of the story and allowed him to add touches of his own. The original plot for Fantastic Four 48-50 did not include the Silver Surfer. Kirby thought that Galactus needed a herald and added him on his own.

Stan's next contribution was credits. Prior to Marvel, the creators of a comic book were seldom named. Stan changed this, putting a large credit box on the title page. This started out as just the writer and artist but was expanded to include the inker, letterer, and colorist. Many in the industry complained that Stan was stealing credit since his name was always on top, even if he was only the editor, but no other company at the time credited the creators.

Stan's final contribution was the letters page. This was multipurpose. It allowed Stan to hype future stories and other titles but it also acted as a primitive message board. There were long-running technical discussions about such things as how Iron Man's armor works and if Tony stark was a pig (someone who made money during war by manufacturing weapons). Many letter writers went on to get jobs in the industry. I think that the letters pages were a big contributor to the rise of comic fandom.

Stan made many other contributions but these revolutionized the industry and are often overlooked.

No comments: