Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Heroes and Villains

Posted by on Sun, Nov 18, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Aside from snippets here and there in Comics Journal interviews, most of the writing about Marvel Comics that I've read has been officially endorsed by Marvel Comics. That's obviously not ideal; if Marvel Comics has one particular skill, it's self-promotion. For almost my entire life, I've been told stories about the Marvel Bullpen as one big happy family, where whimsy and camaraderie combine to breathe life into a fictional universe.

I'm surprised it's taken so long, but Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a welcome antidote to that lifetime of mythology-building. Through extensive interviews and research, Howe learns that Marvel Comics is pretty much like any other entertainment industry job: Packed with jaded office workers and freelancers who always feel ripped-off about something. Howe's Marvel is shockingly, almost frustratingly real. The younger freelancers chafe at the unfair working conditions, the older freelancers like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby just feel exploited. And at the center of it all is Stan Lee, who increasingly becomes a victim of his own enormous ego.

I realize that I'm making Marvel Comics sound like something sleazy, and it's not that. It's just that the warts have been hidden from us for so long that their revelation is automatically the most striking part of the story. There are real friendships behind Marvel Comics, and some real artistic achievements. Those are in here, too. But there's a sense of liberation in finally getting the full story about all the dysfunction that went into the comic books that wallpapered my childhood.


Comments (11) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Tacoma Traveler 1
I fell out of love with Marvel in the early 1990's. They began churning out "collector's editions" every month, with single issues having five or six different colored foil triple gatefold covers that ensured the price of the product would outpace its real value in terms of content (or lack thereof). Storylines became muddled, and they burned their best artists (like Todd MacFarlane) to the point that many jumped ship. The effect was an overpriced product that wasn't worth the money, including an homage to Stan Lee in every issue.

That's when I discovered independent comics and smaller comic book publishers (like Revolutionary Press, Aircel, Kitchen Sink and Dark Horse) that produced much more daring and bold comics of high quality. Spawn, Poison Elves, Slacker Comics, Flaming Carrot and Next Men were far more enjoyable than Spiderman or X-Men.

I don't read comics much anymore, and I try to avoid movie adaptations of comic books since they are mostly awful (after seeing the Daredevil movie, I didn't just want a refund, I wanted the hour and a half of my life I'd wasted viewing it back). I do observe that Marvel has leveraged its brand remarkably well, but like most companies who market their brand rather than their product, it has long been nothing more than a logo.
Posted by Tacoma Traveler on November 18, 2012 at 1:29 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 2
Weird how an industry that does nothing but crank out stories for kids where all problems are solved with violence, punctuated with the odd incongruous speech here and there declaring that violence is not the solution, could possibly sound sleazy. Perish the thought.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on November 18, 2012 at 4:29 PM · Report this
MrBaker 3
This, and other actual news, remind me of an old Lilly Tomlin joke about "work", that no matter where you work you get the same kinds of things, "do you think the people at the Twinkie factory walk around yelling Weeeeee!"

That was much funnier 25 years ago when she said it.
Posted by MrBaker on November 18, 2012 at 5:07 PM · Report this
sirkowski 4
@2 Won't someone please think of the children?
Posted by sirkowski on November 18, 2012 at 5:25 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 5

Won't someone stand up for making a quick buck selling cheap crap?
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on November 18, 2012 at 8:08 PM · Report this
If you think comics are cheap you haven't seen the prices these days.
Posted by mubhappy on November 19, 2012 at 12:49 AM · Report this
BostonFontSnob 7
When I was a kid my fervent dream was to be an illustrator for Marvel. After reading this book, I am now certain that it was for the best that it did not happen.
Posted by BostonFontSnob on November 19, 2012 at 6:42 AM · Report this
Bruce Garrett 8
You've seen "Comic Book Comics" by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey? Same guys that did Action Philosophers touched on some of that Marvel history too.
Posted by Bruce Garrett on November 19, 2012 at 9:36 AM · Report this
sirkowski 9
@5 You're the reactionary here, not me.
Posted by sirkowski on November 19, 2012 at 12:24 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 10

Eh, I'm pretty sure when I say calling a company sleazy is acceptable, and you use a copy-paste of some boilerplate Internet troll bullying to tell me that I'm outside the bounds of discourse, then you're the one being reactionary.

"Won't someone think of the children" is troll for "You can't say that on the Internet". Reactionary censorship.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on November 19, 2012 at 1:25 PM · Report this
sirkowski 11
Someone calling you on your bullshit must a troll, right.
Posted by sirkowski on November 19, 2012 at 2:57 PM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy