stan lee and spiderman -- 9/28/18

Today's selection -- from Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel by Bob Batchelor. Stan Lee was the famed creator of a roster of comic book superheroes that were different from everything that had preceded them, especially his most popular character, Spiderman, an angst-filled teenager with everyday problems who became wildly popular from the moment he and his problems first hit the comic book pages. In 1961, just before this, Lee was on the verge of quitting the business. He was tired of creating perfect, one-dimensional superheroes:

"[Stan Lee was] suffering from bouts of frustration and despair. [He] could not stomach working in comics any longer. He warred with the idea of chucking a twenty-year career, regardless of bringing home the steady paycheck that [Timely Comics publisher Martin] Goodman's mediocrity dispensed.

"'We're writing nonsense ... writing trash,' he told his wife Joan. 'I want to quit,' he confided. 'After all these years, I'm not getting anywhere. It's a stupid busi­ness for a grownup to be in.'

"Lee had spent decades of his adult life putting out a variety of books that most adults scorned, from silly animal stories to war and romance tales. He had worked alongside Joe Simon and Jack Kirby on the early superhero titles, but they dropped in popularity. The constant flurry of work against tight deadlines and Goodman's follow-the-leader management philosophy became too much to handle. Lee prepped for the leap into something else -- anything else -- just not comic books.

"Glum and exhausted, Lee arrived at home in Long Island after a tiring day at the Madison Avenue office. Gripped by stress and more than a little anxiety, he con­templated alternative careers but wasn't sure which way to turn. What if he couldn't support his family? What would he do? He told Joan about Goodman's urgent direc­tive and asked her advice.

"'If you're going to quit anyway, why don't you do a book the way like you'd like to do it, and get it out of your system,' she said. 'Worst that will happen is that he'll fire you and you want to quit anyway.' Lee's life's work hung in the balance -- a career that had already spanned more than two decades. It had provided them with a nice home on Long Island, and money was never scarce, unlike his rough early years when his own father faced chronic unemployment.

Artwork for the cover of Fantastic Four vol. 4, #509 (Mar, 2004).

"Fear and desperation can be great motivators. Lee listened to his wife's thought­ful words. After all, Joanie was his best friend and closest confidante. On the verge of giving up and frustrated, he reached a breaking point. Maybe, just maybe, if he took a chance, the job would get better and he could break the spell of monotony. Lee realized that he had no choice.

"Although unsure about what the future held and concerned that leaving the job might spell financial doom, Joanie's support and approval gave Lee the boost of confidence that he needed. He would make a last-ditch effort, a final go at the ca­reer he had stumbled into as a young high school graduate just looking for a steady paycheck.

"Lee decided then and there to follow Goodman's advice -- to a point. He would create an original superhero team, one that he concocted, not based on Goodman's typical retread of whatever DC [home of Superman] or one of the other comic book companies put out. ... No, Lee thought, these heroes would be more based in reality. 'This was the chance to do all the things I would enjoy,' he said. 'To get characters who acted like real people, to try to be more imaginative, to make some stories have happy endings and some not, to continue the stories and set them in the real world.'

"Lee decided to risk it all -- consequences be damned. Whatever happened, he hoped that creating a comic that he would want to read would bring the joy back into his work life and appeal to fans. He started sketching out the new team right away. 'I forgot about the publisher. I was off and running: I was going to have fun,' Lee explained. 'It was very easy for me to control, since I was writing virtually all of them .... I could keep them in the style I wanted. I was creating my own universe.' "



Bob Batchelor


Stan Lee


Rowman & Littlefield


Copyright 2017 by Rowman & Littlefield


xi-xiv, 82, 85
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