Neilalien : A Doctor Strange Fansite : A Comic Book Weblog  

April 02021

Collecting links re: the new negative Stan Lee biography True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman

The Stan Lee Story That Tore Apart Marvel Comics
[Slate book excerpt about that infamous 01966 Nat Freedland New York Herald Tribune piece]

How 'True Believer' Untangles Stan Lee's Complicated Legacy [Hollywood Reporter interview with Riesman]

The One Detail From The New Stan Lee Biography That Confirms Lee's Visionary Genius [cons: a credit hog with a string of flops; pros: selling Marvel comics, managerial/editorial acuity, the interconnected universe, snappy comic-book dialogue and rhythmic narration, trying to get Marvel into Hollywood before its time]

Roy Thomas, Former Marvel Editor, Pushes Back On New Stan Lee Biography [Kirby claims and misrememberings get a pass while Lee's are given devious motives; Marvel's writer rates lagged DC so the artist rates could be better; etc.]

Riesman himself doesn't seem to understand the full variety of ways that the 'Marvel Method' worked. It was begun primarily to benefit the artists- so that, at a time when Stan was virtually the company's sole writer, they wouldn't have to sit on their hands earning no money until he had time to bang out a full script for them. It turned out to have other, unintended consequences, like increasing the action quota and visual appeal of the stories. Then the scripter would swoop in and tie things together with whatever words were needed to augment the pictures and add flavor to the sequence...
But, no matter how well the Random House publicity machine manages to hype this book, as long as it stands as currently published, with Stan all but written off as an inveterate liar whose most important creation was his public persona (when it was actually the concept and direction of the Marvel Universe, an idea that was anathema to Jack Kirby, as per in-book quotes), it will remain undeserving of the high praise heaped upon it by people who, for the most part, don't really know what the hell they're talking about.

Review And Fact Checking: Abraham Riesman: "True Believer, The Rise And Fall Of Stan Lee" [Barry's Pearls of Comic Book Wisdom] ["There are a dozen books that see Stan Lee as a God, this one treats him as the devil. I was hoping for a book that saw him as human... It never shows Stan's point of view."; it reads like a biography of Hank Aaron's 1,300 strikeouts by someone who's never seen a baseball game]

More past Barry Pearl re: Stan Lee:
The Marvel Method: Why And How? Reactions From The People Who Used it
Stan Lee, The Innovative Writer of His Time. And Ours.

Perhaps Stan's weakest attribute was coming up with a plot and developing it every single work day for ten years. He did rely on his artists in that regard. And as an editor he succeeded very well and got the best out of the creative people he worked with. They often developed the plot, he advanced the story in the dialogue. At DC, Julius Schwartz and Carmine Infantino told me that the artists often came up with the plots. Schwartz said he go to lunch and spend the entire afternoon with an artist think up a plot they would give to the writer. Also, at DC there were often no credits.

Update: Stan Lee In A Post-Fact World [Marvel In The Silver Age from 02018]

Derf Twitter thread: Stan Lee's real legacy wasn't enough for him

Tom Brevoort Twitter thread: biography makes Lee look the most selfish, craven, or malicious

Comic Book Yeti review: with interesting what works/what doesn't [what doesn't: "Rather than 'split the baby,' [Riesman] decides to give full custody to Kirby... he ends up contending that Lee likely had almost nothing to do with key books such as early Fantastic Four and Spider-Man comics... [suggesting Lee lied about everything] undermined many of Riesman's arguments]

Kim O'Connor on Twitter: 'So Stan Lee wasn't perfect- shrug?' isn't enough of a cultural reassessment of Lee because the Marvel Method was so exploitive to the artists

Riesman has seemed content to build his brand with such questionables as pestering Steve Ditko, musing the superhero genre prepares children for fascism, and whatever gatekeeping asshattery this was. Skip the new book and read the author's previous article writing about Lee, which will save your time and money, and which provides a good indication of what a Riesman biography of Stan Lee was going to look like.

[Kirby] said Lee was little more than a copy boy, filling in dialogue bubbles after Kirby had done the lion's share of the conceptual and writing work for any given issue.

From the book: Wally Wood to an interviewer:

I enjoyed working with Stan on Daredevil but for one thing. I had to make up the whole story. He was being paid for writing, and I was being paid for drawing, but he didnt have any ideas. I'd go in for a plotting session, and we'd just stare at each other until I came up with a storyline. I felt like I was writing the book but not being paid for writing.

Mark Evanier gets the final word; hoping to see his review of this book:

But my conclusion is that the comics we know to be created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, not necessarily as 50-50 efforts and certainly not with Jack supplying only the visuals. I think Jack did a lot more than Stan - at least on the pages - and until fairly recently, got a lot less credit; likewise, Stan and Steve Ditko, Stan and Don Heck, Stan and Bill Everett, etc. The disparity in financial reward was even greater.
But that doesn't mean Stan did nothing or did nothing well. I have witnessed way too many Stan/Jack debates in my life and I think all are dead wrong if they lead to the conclusion that either contributed zero.

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The accurate biography of any successful person will dutifully report many failings and failures, the playoff chokes, the lost elections, the box-office bombs, overreaching for new heights, pathetic attempts to recapture past ones. Don't meet your heroes: they are imperfect and often immoral people with messy human lives, and there's plenty of Cheerios to piss in iconoclastically. We don't defend evil leaders because the comics and trains ran on time. Much of what we call greatness and wealth has been utterly dependent on cheap exploited labor.

It's no different with Stan Lee. We don't need worshipful Lee biographies nor Tribune puff pieces. Any accurate biography of Lee will legitimately report on his apparent insecurity-thirst for credit and credibility, and the uncool places it took him with the artists. Lee was a company man with a definition of "create" and a dynamic shorthand to interviewers (who were either uninterested in comics or looking to get a job from Lee) that was self-aggrandizing, sold comics, and protected Marvel against copyright litigation. Someone who is nice to you but mean to the waiter- or nice to your childhood but playing a role in ripping off the artist's ideas/writing/plotting- is not a nice person. We're all on Ditko/Kirby's side- Neilalien's Editorial Policy still stands. The Marvel Method was as innovative a way of getting lots of comics out the door as it was an innovative new method of exploitation. Lee will forever get the same asterisks and "problematic" labels as everyone else in our postmodern-internet messenger-is-message world that hasn't yet yielded better semantic mirrors to our shades of grey.

But the pendulum has swung far against Lee and it's hip to tear him down now. You saw it in the articles that came out when he died, and this biography has spawned a new wave of "it turns out Lee contributed very little at all" articles. The Comics Journal in 01995 has gone mainstream (this bio delights columnists there). Arguments like "Imperfect human", "Lee's salesmanship ensured there were artist jobs at all- even if they had poor pay, credit, and royalites, for disposable entertainment", "The artists loved working this way and understood it was work-for-hire (when there were no other jobs)", "Big movie paydays were not in anyone's imagination", etc., were never satisfying, and certainly not now. There's no sweeter clickbait than "the man co-behind those Marvel characters' interesting flaws was flawed himself" and kicking Beloved Low-Brow Pop-Culture Grandpa when he's down and cancelling him when he's dead. It's a sign of the comic-book field's eternal immaturity that the debate-meme-choices are this extreme binary of essentially either Lee hagiographies doing 100% as claimed, or simplistic 50%-50%, or Lee was a craven parasite who did 0%, loathed superheroes and his fate being intertwined with them, neglected his family, didn't rush to enlist for WWII fast enough, karmically died like a chump surrounded by fellow hucksters, etc.

While we vilify Lee's glory-hogging and the Marvel Method and the work-for-hire system- still ongoing, by the way- we can at the same time push back against one specific overreaction that Lee added nothing creatively to the artist-submitted page. Taking credit for absolutely everything and doing absolutely nothing are two different animals- and it's not all-or-nothing. We know how the sausage got made, and that 'Page 1, Panel 1' scripts aren't going to exist. We want an analysis of the Lee/Ditko/Kirby alchemy and friction and bottled-lightning. We want the source and percentages of who did what for every early Marvel comic book like the Lennon/McCartney percentages for every Beatles song (a process also full of disputes and different rememberings- it's amazing what pride and wallets can do to one's memory). That may not be possible. This is not a call for middle-road, mealy-mouthed, he-said/he-said, excuse-making.

Comics are words and pictures. Ditko/Kirby never reached without Lee the heights they did with Lee- nor Lee without them- and in this reader's opinion, the dialogue of their comics without Lee was terrible, and their comics lacked charm and warmth. The words are apparently Lee's- Ditko and Kirby don't seem corny enough in interviews to have written the purple prose of Marvel comics. You can get handed some of the greatest comic book ideas and artwork of all time at the perfect time- handed? our historians nobly teach us that Marvel basically stole them- but there's still another creator step that can't be brushed away. If you received a Kirby panel with a sidenote that said, "Thor says no door can resist hammer"- maybe that's Kirby doing 92% of the work and your actual speech balloon contents are the last 8%- then what would you write? You can still screw it up. An argument that Lee only did 8% is no triumph for Lee. If Kirby's work ends at "Thor says no door can resist hammer"- granted that's really far into the creation process- farther than Lee/Marvel ever acknowledged- and surely in Kirby's mind if he did that far then he did everything- but then the finished product is not Kirby 100%, and Lee is more than a copy boy. Everything still suggests it doesn't become the charming, funny, bombastically-titled, personality-filled, relatable, interconnected, reader-inclusive, good-selling Marvel Universe without Lee.

[26 April 02021]

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Penguin Random House Will Distribute Marvel Comics To Comics Stores

In a move that will likely transform the distribution of comics periodicals in North America, Penguin Random House Publisher Services has reached an agreement with Marvel to distribute its periodical comics and graphic novels to the comics shop market, also known as the direct market... PRHPS officially begins its distribution to direct market retailers for Marvel titles on October 1. The move marks a major change in the U.S. comics distribution market, which Diamond Comic Distributors has long dominated... PRHPS will offer Marvel comics to direct market retailers on nonreturnable wholesale terms... Marvel's new agreement with PRHPS follows the unexpected departure of DC from Diamond in 2020.

Marvel Signs Exclusive Multi-Year Distribution Deal With Penguin Random House As Direct Market Continues To Transform

Marvel Distribution Deal Part Of Long-Term Strategy For PRHPS

PRHPS believes it can help comic stores be more successful by adapting its learnings from the independent bookstore channel, which until Covid was thriving in the midst of competition from Amazon, mass merchants, and specialty retail chains, and which has proven surprisingly resilient even in the face of pandemic closures. In general terms, the learnings from the indie bookstore channel include the lesson that distributor investments in information technology, logistics, sales and service, and trade credit produce healthier retailers and more business.

Key Read: What's Behind Marvel's Move To PRH?

Marvel Comics Shifts To New Distributor In Industry-Rattling Move
["I can say purely as a private individual that Diamond has, for a long time, been unwilling or unable to modernize and support and grow the biz as needed for a healthy direct channel. And may not even be solvent. It would be imprudent for any publisher to not have a distribution contingency plan."]

Diamond Comic Distributors Loses Second Major Client In A Year

[1 April 02021]

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