Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Story of Marvel Comics

Stan Lee has, during my lifetime, always been THE figurehead of Marvel Comics. He was one of the few comic book personalities that was seen beyond the confines of a comics' credits page, so I tended to hear more about Stan than other comic creators. And my interest in Marvel Comics in general and the Fantastic Four in particular, I kept my eyes and ears open for how the comic (and the company) came to be.

What's been interesting has been that I've heard Stan Lee retell the origins of how he helped create the Fantastic Four scores of times. And over the past 20 years or so, I've heard the tale morph considerably. Originally -- well, the first time I heard it at any rate -- he would state that he had been getting tired of doing comics and wanted to go off to write the "great American novel" when his publisher asked him to create a new superhero group. He hemmed and hawed over the course of a week or so, not really excited about the prospect of returning to silly spandex-clad do-gooders, and his wife finally suggested that he write something that he wanted to write. If he did well, then he'd have somethng he could enjoy working on and if not, well, he was thinking about quitting anyway.

Over the years, the story got compressed quite a bit, and Joan (his wife) gave him her sage advice the very day that he had been assigned the new comic. And his possible resignation started getting earlier and earlier, and eventually he was going in to the office to quit when his boss threw the new book idea at him before he could get his "I quit" out.

I caught Stan on NPR this morning, and he had revised the origin yet again! Now, it seems, that he had already made the decision to quit when he was asked to come up with the new team, after deliberating on it for a year or so, and the FF was going to be his last hurrah in comics as a favor for his boss of the last 20 years.

I don't blame Stan, though. His memory isn't that good in the first place, and I'm sure it's absurdly boring telling the same story over and over and over again. I'm sure he's not deliberatly fabricating things, but more than likely he's just trying to make it an interesting story... as best as he can remember it.

So, today's helpful hint: if you're doing any research into Stan Lee and/or early Marvel Comics, go to sources as old as possible. I know for a fact that Stan's story has changed, Jack Kirby never had that great of a memory either, and Steve Ditko has gotten quieter and quieter over the years.