When we think about pop culture matters, and we seem to do this nonstop, how often do we bring together Marvel Comics superstar Stan Lee and infamous killer Jack Ruby? No, this is not a trick question. Having given careful study to the last two books by Danny Fingeroth, one on Stan Lee and the most recent on Jack Ruby, I make my own connections. Read my review of the Ruby book here. As is my want, I do my best to dig deep and I believe we ended up with a lively and informative interview. My many thanks to Danny Fingeroth for being so gracious and willing to go with the flow. For those who are perhaps new or unfamiliar with comics, Danny Fingeroth is known for his work as an executive editor and writer at Marvel Comics (Spider-Man, Avengers, Dazzler). He is also known for being a cultural historian. His books include Superman on the Couch, Stan Lee: A Marvelous Life, and his latest title, Jack Ruby: The Many Faces of Oswald’s Assassin, published by Chicago Review Press.
Stan Lee. Jack Ruby. Of course, there’s no direct connection and yet the two share this: both men were Jewish; both men were raised in troubled households. both men were Americans and patriotic in their own way; both men created larger-than-life personas; and both men grabbed the world’s attention. Each had their own set of strengths and weaknesses. One succumbed to his failings. And the other blossomed from his talents and skills. There is no intersection where the two had anything to do with each other beyond sharing the same colossal stage of notoriety. Both became pop culture icons: one could bring a smile to your face while the other was a grotesque figure that managed to both repel and intrigue.
Panel from Darkhawk, Marvel Comics, (1991-1995).
I posed some questions to Danny Fingeroth specifically on the Jack Ruby pop culture phenomena as well as the fact that here he was with a book on Ruby and a book on Lee. I invited him to connect any dots. And, as the saying goes, we were off to the races. The conversation inevitably focused in on Stan Lee, as well as it should. My goal was to find a middle ground, a way to balance both Lee and Ruby, which Fingeroth, an excellent raconteur as well as an excellent listener, tuned into right away. We cover a lot here and our conversation demonstrates we could have gone on talking. Maybe we’ll just need to revisit topics and bring in new ones for next time. For now, I even managed to include some discussion on Fingeroth’s writing run on Darkhawk, a fan favorite from the ’90s (relaunched in 2021).
Jack Kirby illustrates Jack Ruby! From the pages of Esquire, May 1967.
I will leave you here with one of the most fascinating collisions of pop culture energy that I have come across. This is from the May 1967 issue of Esquire magazine. Jack Ruby had passed away earlier that year and so the gloves were off and the time was right to examine, through the surreal lens of comics, some of Ruby’s activities shortly after the Kennedy assassination based upon the Warren Commission Report. The kicker here is that this comic was illustrated by none other than the King of Comics himself, Jack Kirby! As Stan Lee would say, “Enough said!”
I certainly hope you enjoy the video podcast, just one click below. These things don’t make themselves. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes hard work, a true labor of love. As always, your loyal viewership, LIKES and occasional COMMENTS are very welcome and appreciated. That said, I find all the material here quite compelling to say the least. As Fingeroth himself is ready to point out, the magnitude of these subjects, namely Stan Lee and the Marvel Universe and the tangled web of conspiracy theories behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy add up to stimulus overload! We take these colossal subjects one step at a time in order to make some sense out of them. And that is why, dear friends, books like the ones by Danny Fingeroth are essential reading. For me, as a storyteller and a journalist, this interview was quite a treat.
Lastly, I asked Danny if there was anything else he’d like to add for now. And he asked if I’d share with you JewCE, the Jewish Comics Experience, in New York City, November 11th and 12th, 2023. It is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get one more comic-con fix before the end of the year. You can see an impressive lineup of talent, including none other than comics legends Frank Miller, Trina Robbins, and Jules Feiffer, just to name a few.
I’m eager to get a better grounding on Mexican comics. That said, I’m always up for a bit of a detour. That led me to some Mexican Spider-Man. Now, this one particular issue has grabbed a lot of attention in the last few years. Welcome to El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128. Of course, the image is quite striking and has all it takes to stir up comics fans: Gwen and Peter getting married! Here are pages from inside the issue. But there’s more than meets the eye. . . .
Page 1 from El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128
Page 21 from El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128
As any comics fan knows, beware of teasers. Once you read the comic, it’s clear that a wedding is not exactly the main theme here. Not at all. Spoiler alert: truth is, this is only a dream sequence cooked up by the Green Goblin, the little trickster! For more details, I must direct you to the comics sleuthing by Marvel Comics editor Tom Brevoort. If you want a more detailed account, then go see Tom.
Jose Luis Duran
Back in the early ’70s, Marvel Comics decided to kill off Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. It sent shockwaves throughout the comics community. One Mexican comics publisher chose to do something about it. By what authority La Prensa was acting on is a mystery. Initially, La Prensa began with a licensing deal with Marvel Comics, which allowed for some additional stories from local Mexican talent. That arrangement took on a life of its own. So, the deed was done: 44 issues of an alternate Spider-Man reality, one with a very much alive Gwen Stacy! Hey, Gwen was just too popular in Mexico and Latin America for her to actually die! Marvel was unleashing the darker Bronze Age but La Prensa would hold it off, at least for a while. All 44 issues of these Mexican Spidey adventures were drawn by Jose Luis Duran.
What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico.
I have to hand it to La Prensa for going off in their own direction. They had an agreement with Marvel and they got pretty creative with it, maybe too creative, given how totally out of canon it was. Marvel officially kills off a beloved main character and La Prensa chose to simply do what they thought best. Perhaps what saved them was that they used relatively good judgement. It was tasteful storytelling and in keeping with readership demands. And Marvel didn’t seem to care. Anyway, only a few years later, La Prensa would go out of business. Now, we’re left with some somewhat strange Spider-Man stories.
El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #154
El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #163
So, now this very special run is a hot ticket with lots of speculation about what it’s worth these days, especially the issue with Peter and Gwen at the altar. According to comics collectors in the know: the low range: $2k; the mid-range: $6k; the high range: $25k. This gets my spidey-sense tingling all over!
Marriage of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy in an original story published in Mexico
Issues in this series divert from the U.S. storyline with Gwen Stacy surviving the events from The Amazing Spider-Man #121
There exists a German reprint that sells for significantly less
Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of The King of Comics. by Tom Scioli. Ten Speed Press, 2020. 202pp, $28.99.
A book that is doing very well these days and just got back on my radar is an in depth look at the life and times of Jack Kirby, the creator or co-creator of such icons as Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and Black Panther. Now, all sorts of things pop in and out on my radar but this one compels me to share. Tom Scioli feels like a doppelganger at the moment: we are both auteur cartoonists determined to get to the bottom of the story. Scioli hitched his wagon to one star and I did to another. In Scioli’s case, it is Jack Kirby. In my case, I have a book that I’m shopping around with George Clayton Johnson as your guide to a wider world. In Scioli’s case, Jack Kirby is the focus and, from there, we see a wider world too. Also, I must stress that Scioli is a one-person operation, a true auteur. That’s the same way that I roll. It’s not easy but it is most rewarding and, in fact, provides the reader with the ultimate comics artistic expression coming from one creator.
Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics
Recently, I’ve been taking a very close look at Jack Kirby and how he figures in the study of comics as a true art form. We are very enlightened about comics, as a general audience, but the dust perhaps has yet to settle on all these questions of what constitutes art. For the record, I will state again that there is no question that comics is as legitimate an art form as any other. Comics is a big deal and will only continue to grow in estimation and appreciation. As for Mr. Kirby, well, of course, he was an artist of the first rank in many ways and he dazzled all of us with what he was able to accomplish. What is so fascinating about Tom Scioli’s book is that here you have a true comics artist providing his own careful and idiosyncratic look at another comics artist. This is an outstanding example of an extended study of comics created in the comics medium. We have precious little of these sort of works, comics about comics. In fact, we have far more comics about painters, novelists, and various other historical figures. Ah, but that will change. We still have plenty of time, right? No rush. We can relax and appreciate Tom Scioli’s very home-grown approach, which all adds up to visual storytelling at a deep and intimate level. Scioli has a very offbeat style as unique to him as his own handwriting or his casual chatting. So, in a sense, Scioli has pared it all down to just a regular guy holding court and riffing on one of his favorite subjects. Yes, that’s perhaps the best way to look at this book. Maybe it’s not an official biography or the last word on Jack Kirby but it is definitely an unusual and personal take on him.
Take any figure, well-known or not, and there’s a very high probability of creating a compelling story in the right hands. That is precisely what is happening here. Tom Scioli has the passionate interest in his subject and that energy propels the reader. It’s not like anyone, outside of friends and family, knew anything about the actual life lived by Jack Kirby. And some things will always be left to speculation. Here is where the power and magic of comics comes into play. The comics creator is compelled to make you, the reader, care and so the process begins from the very first page, the very first panel. On page one, we see a family history unfold back in the old country of Galicia. Kirby’s parents meet in New York City at an Austrian social and, by the next page, little Jack Kirby is born, August 28, 1917. It is a life of limited resources on the Lower East Side but it is a life full of love. By the very next page, little Jack awaits the birth of his baby brother while poring over the pages of Krazy Kat comics! And, by page four, it is clear that the only color in little Jack’s life comes from the Sunday funnies. Jack is set for a life of adversity with comics already proving to be a gateway to something more.
Yes, Jack Kirby worked alongside Bob Kane for a time.
Fast forward and, indeed, a life emerges filled with challenge and adventure. And, of course, it is Jack’s particular life story that will bring the reader up close to how things worked at Marvel Comics, specifically the working process known as “The Marvel Method,” with the legendary big-name editor, Stan Lee–and all the complications and frustrations that wrought. But before any of that happens, a lot of rain must fall, a lot of struggle and uncertainly coupled with steadfast determination. Before Jack Kirby became part of the Marvel bullpen, he had to pay his dues in a far more modest role as part of Will Eisner and Jerry Iger’s comic strip staff. This is a staff that included, among others, the now much despised Bob Kane, infamous for stealing credit for Batman from co-creator Bob Finger! Just one of the gems of info to be found here. As the saying goes, a creative person needs to be their one biggest fan. That is what Jack Kirby was for himself, his biggest fan. It was that level-headed persistence that would get him to the promised land of the Fourth World and a legion of his own fans.
One of the great things about a book like this is how it ends up becoming a treasure trove of information. It just happens naturally as all the dots are connected. This is what resonates the most with readers, especially those invested in art process and pop culture. Even a casual reader will get caught up in the events and get hooked into learning more about the lad who literally picked up a copy of Wonder Stories just before it was swept into a gutter and saw his fate within the pages of the first pulp magazine he’d ever read. As I’m in a position to articulate these matters regarding comics, pop culture and art, I’m thrilled to do so here and on any panel at any comics convention. This very unique look at Jack Kirby is very exciting stuff. No doubt, when you find one book like this, well, it leaves you wanting more. That is what leads me to know that my book will find a home. I’m so happy to see that Tom’s book found a fine home and has been welcomed by scores of readers!
Stan Lee (1922-2018). News today that comics legend Stan Lee has passed away. There will only ever be one Stan Lee in the comics industry. You will hear that today and in the days and years to come. As a kid in the ’70s, I have fond memories of the iconic figure of Stan Lee. He was the guy leading the Marvel Comics Bullpen. He was the guy who was always yelling out, “Excelsior!” He was part salesman and part creative genius. This, in no way, takes away from the collaborative work he did with such greats as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. At the end of the day, Stan Lee was Stan Lee, a force of nature and an integral part of Marvel Comics and comics in general. May he rest in peace.
Kerry O’Quinn and Friends. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
Kerry O’Quinn is the co-creator and publisher of STARLOG, FANGORIA, CINEMAGIC, FUTURE LIFE, COMICS SCENE and more than a dozen other monthly newsstand magazines. Mr. O’Quinn is featured in an upcoming documentary on fandom, FROM THE BRIDGE, written and directed by Spencer F. Lee and hosted by George Takei. It was my pleasure to get a chance to interview Kerry. Here is someone who tapped into the world of fandom as if he were born to do so. O’Quinn and his partner Norman Jacobs got their start by creating and publishing a soap opera magazine in 1972. By 1976, they were ready to pursue publications aligned with their passions for genre cinema, television, and related pop culture.
Kerry O’Quinn, co-creator and publisher of STARLOG and FANGORIA
Starlog and Fangoria are the flagship publications from that golden era. Starlog was launched in 1976. Fangoria was launched in 1979 and continues in its great tradition of covering the horror scene. These are the prime publications, along with Cinemagic, that would go on to influence thousands of creative people including many of the most celebrated talents working today like J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. Before the internet, you got your in depth information on the entertainment industry from magazines. One cannot stress enough how significant Starlog and Fangoria were in their heyday.
Fangoria, Issue One, August 1979
Kerry O’Quinn would go on to celebrate the worlds of science fiction, horror, comic books, and fandom in various ways. Some of the most notable are his conventions that paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of Star Wars, the 20th anniversary of Star Trek, and the 20th anniversary of Starlog. It was during the 10th anniversary celebration of Star Wars that Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas would share a stage for the first and only time together. How was such a marvelous feat accomplished? Well, Kerry O’Quinn was friends with both of these legends. It was Kerry O’Quinn who landed an exclusive in depth interview with George Lucas that was so comprehensive that it spanned three issues of Starlog.
Gene Roddenberry meets George Lucas, 1987, the 10th anniversary of Star Wars
Over the years, Kerry O’Quinn has proven himself to be a man of many talents consistently exploring and creating new work. He has become an accomplished screenwriter with a number of projects including “Dragworms,” his unique take on zombies which is actually more character-driven than just blood and guts. What strikes me about Kerry O’Quinn is his energy and determination to pursue his dreams. I can relate to him on many levels. We’re both from Texas. We both love New York. We both juggle a number of passions: writing, drawing, acting, filmmaking. I think some people are just wired to need to do many things and will find ways to realize each goal over the course of a lifetime. That’s what is special about Kerry O’Quinn. That said, he’d be the first to say it is well within reach for everyone to follow their dreams. For more details on his remarkable life and his observations, check out his website here.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Kerry, I want to chat with you about fandom, and the upcoming documentary that you are featured in, “From the Bridge,” and cover as much as we can about your remarkable career. I want to begin by giving a shout out to your friend, Kurt Edward Larson. He conducted such a beautiful and heartfelt interview with you.
KERRY O’QUINN: Kurt and I have known each other for a long time and have a lot of fun things in common. Kurt is such a Star Wars fan–and, when he got married several years ago, I wondered about what to get him–a toaster? a blender? No, what he would want was a day at Skywalker Ranch. I arranged that. He and his wife had lunch there and got a tour of the ranch. So, he was in heaven!
I was talking to a buddy of mine about doing this interview and we got to speculating over the long lines for Star Wars on the very first day of release. We were just kids when it came out. I started to think about how Jaws had attracted long lines too a couple of years prior. From your special vantage point, Starlog was already on the scene having come out in 1976, would you share with us your take on the explosion of excitement over Star Wars in 1977?
It was phenomenal timing. My partner, Norm Jacobs, and I had launched Starlog magazine in 1976, the Bicentennial year. At that time, there was no science fiction that was alive and happening. It was all stuff from the past that was being consumed. You know, stuff from the 1950s, the movies made by George Pal. Those movies were popular with nerds like me. But they weren’t going to win any Academy Awards or get any mainstream cheers of any kind. It was considered trash, like daytime soap operas. Horror movies, stuff like that, was not taken seriously.
Starlog, Issue Seven, August 1977
When we started the magazine, there wasn’t anything like it like there is today. And we had great difficulty starting the magazine for that reason. But, lo and behold, the very next year Star Wars came out. All of a sudden, it made the cover of Time magazine, with exactly the same X-wing cover that we had for Starlog. So, suddenly science fiction was at least getting noticed by a mainstream audience all over the world. It has gone on to become an important part of the culture in the same way that Star Trek has. And in the same way that horror and superheroes have. It’s very trendy today to be a nerd. It wasn’t 40 years ago.
I remember when I first met George Lucas. He was telling me about having lunch one day at Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Boulevard. And it was right across the street from Mann’s Chinese Theatre. He said that he looked across and he saw lines of people. He asked what was going on. And a friend told him that it was his movie that was playing. It didn’t occur to George that huge lines were gathering along the sidewalk for his movie. He was delightfully surprised by the enormous fan reaction to his movie as all the rest of us were.
It was when Star Wars lit up the sky like it did that Starlog went from a quarterly to a monthly magazine. Indeed, we were already there. Starlog was the voice of science fiction. And George launched the science fiction that is very much alive and booming today.
That scene with the long lines, that’s in your interview with George Lucas.
For our Star Wars fifth anniversary issue, I had called to arrange an interview with George Lucas. He had turned down all the big magazines. I was told that he wasn’t doing any interviews but I begged and pleaded. George agreed. I flew out from New York to visit him. This was before he had build Skywalker Ranch. I did an lengthy interview with him in which he told me all kinds of wonderful tales. We were very comfortable talking with each other. We had many of the same values and things that excited us. We talked about everything from space to technology to classic cars. We talked for hours at that first interview. In fact, it turned out to be too much for one issue so I turned into three consecutive parts spanning three issues of Starlog. I believe it is the longest interview anyone has ever done with George Lucas.
Starlog, Issue One, August 1976
Share with us your insights on how Star Trek became a phenomena, after having struggled in the ratings when it was originally broadcast.
It did indeed struggle. In fact, after the first two years, NBC had cancelled the series. And an amazing lady by the name of Bjo Trimble and her husband, John, did something that, at the time, was phenomenal. This was back in the mid-’60s. They organized a letter writing campaign to NBC by fans that generated more than a million letters. A TV network had never received that kind of reaction to the cancellation of a show–and they were stunned by it. Don’t forget that this is before the internet. Fans contacted each other back then with mimeographed newsletters mailed to each other. And then, ten years after the first broadcast of Star Trek, there was Starlog maganzine and fans could communicate with each other through our letters forum–as well as at conventions.
Bjo had gotten a television network to renew a cancelled series. That had never happened before. What Bjo did was allow for a third season of Star Trek. However, NBC scheduled it on Friday nights, which is a dead zone for shows. So, NBC cancelled it for the second time. Everybody seemed to think science fiction was dead. But it was very much alive within this hidden fan culture. And the documentary that my friend, Spencer, is putting together covers how this fan base has grown in the last 40 years. It went from this invisible, almost ashamed, audience to what it has become today when you have 150,000 people show up at Comic-Con in San Diego each year in July. And the biggest movies today are superhero, science fiction, and horror, everything that our magazines were all about.
Star Trek is right at the root of that response, at the heart of it. Gene Roddenberry created a concept of the future that was positive and inspiring: rationality, science, and the better values of human nature would prevail. Star Trek not only inspired the original audience that tuned in for its three-year run. In syndication, Star Trek reached around the world with its universal concept that the human race can be better. Gene deserves everybody’s praise as Star Trek is one of the most inspiring things to be created in any genre. Sometimes science fiction warns us of things that we need to be careful about. And sometimes science fiction shows us that things are within our control, we can make it better, and gives us hope for the future.
I’m thinking of how Star Trek was ahead of its time and so it made sense that it would struggle in the ratings. The same is true for The Twilight Zone. Both of these shows have a lot in common. The primary thing is that they both have subtext. There was social commentary in the guise of fantasy and science fiction, very much ahead of its time–now, we take that for granted, don’t we?
We do but we still need it since we don’t have a lot of it. Even with the science fiction that we have today, with all the dazzling special effects that we didn’t have back in the ’60s. Visually, science fiction today is dazzling, uncontrollable, and amazing. Back then, the effects were kind of clunky, rubber monsters and the like, but nobody cared because–and this is certainly true about The Twilight Zone–the story talked about the issues, important values, and principles.
Science fiction does not show us the day-to-day reality but something that may exist in the future, something that could and that ought to exist. That is the noblest undertaking of art and science fiction is the best at doing that. Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry are hugely important and we featured them in the early issues of Starlog. At that time, there wasn’t any science fiction, like we know today, so for the first few years most of the content in Starlog was looking at things from the past in terms of movies and television.
Cinemagic, Issue 20, June 1983
You were commenting on the past but then, at some point, you were not only commenting but you were part of the industry. There’s the whole how-to aspect from Cinemagic. There was quite the evolution as you became part of the scene.
Exactly. When we began Starlog, we included everything even those things that were very loosely considered science fiction. And that included horror, and articles on special effects, and Hollywood technology workshops, all the way to NASA and the space program. As we evolved, we discovered that we had many different audiences reading our magazine. Some of these people wanted to be filmmakers. They wanted to make these movies that they loved. Therefore, we branched off and created the magazine, Cinemagic which taught young filmmakers the techniques of production and special effects. We had a short film contest each year. We gave out prizes and trophies at a big theater in New York with celebrities to present awards. Some of these award winners are working in Hollywood today.
A lot of folks, like J.J. Abrams and Robert Rodriguez were inspired by Cinemagic. Steven Spielberg, at one time, said that Cinemagic was his favorite magazine, the only magazine promoting the future of the film industry to young people who were unsure if they could recreate the amazing things that they adored on the screen.
Director/Writer Wes Craven, from “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986)
I was curious about the overlap between Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. There does not seem to have been a rivalry between you and Forry Ackerman. Famous Monsters began in 1958. Fangoria began in 1979. You have Forrest J Ackerman, the founder and editor of Famous Monsters, in your film, “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors,” which I must say is an outstanding documentary on fandom in its own right.
What can you tell us about Forrest J Ackerman? What did you learn from him?
He was obviously the precursor to all of our magazines. He did something very daring in his day: to do a magazine about monsters! What kind of freaks are interested in something like that? Well, it turned out that there was quite a few. Again, these people were all in the closet, so to speak. They bought the magazine but they didn’t have any social status whatsoever. They were outcasts. They were unusual. That was me. That was a lot of people. Our magazine brought people out of the closet. I met Forry many years ago, at a convention, and immediately we had a lot in common. We became friends and we remained friends, it makes me sad to talk about it…I was with him just a few days before he died. He was still in good spirits and still telling me jokes.
From “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986) segment with Forrest J Ackerman
Forry was such an important person in my world and he became a very dear friend. I actually went over to his old home out here in L.A. years ago, which was called the Ackermansion. And it was a museum of props and artwork and all kinds of things that he collected from these strange movies that no one gave enough credit to but that he knew that it was an important part of the culture that should be saved and preserved. And there still is no permanent museum for that sort of thing. And I’m hoping that, in the near future, there will finally be a museum that recognizes and preserves science fiction, horror, superheroes, fantasy, all of the films that are now way out of the closet–and a part of mainstream culture, not just in the U.S. but world-wide.
Kerry, there are so many things we can talk about. Ayn Rand. Cannabis. More about Star Wars. There’s your book on how to chase stars, chase your dreams.
Yes, “Reach For The Stars.” It’s a book that has a lot of practical advice on how to make your distant dreams come true.
I also have to touch on your project with HBO which may still find its way back to them. It’s a Twilight Zone type of show called, “Future Tales.” Boy, that would be some show!
I agree, it would be. And it’s still a good idea. I haven’t been able to sell it to the Syfy channel even though that ought to be just the sort of show they would be interested in. I enlisted 45 of the world’s greatest science fiction writers (including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison), we signed agreements, that they would create a story or that we could use an existing story as the basis for one of our episodes. It was an anthology series all about the world of tomorrow. When HBO had me develop it, we were calling it “Future Tales.” Now, I’m calling it, “Exploring Tomorrow.”
I love that.
Me too. Who isn’t interested in tomorrow?
Exactly! You know, Kerry, I’m over the moon. We share so many connections. I’m a cartoonist.
Yes, and I love New York.
And I can see your early interest in cartooning probably having to do with being able to control the whole production and allowing your vision to run free.
That also carried over into animation. In New York, years ago, I was so impressed with Disney and his multiplane animation that created three-dimensional pictures. I got a bunch of plumbing pipes and I built my own multiplane animation stand in my apartment in New York. At the time, my dream was to create a little film that was so damn good that I’d send it out to Disney and he’d have me come out to work for him. That was my dream: to work for Walt Disney! Now, it never did happen and I clearly changed my mind since then but I did produce a few short films on that animation stand. I still love animation, and illustration–that was my original career. I’ve done so many things since then that I have a resume that looks like I’m schizophrenic.
Well, I wish you and Spencer the very best with “From the Bridge.” I’m excited about it and I’m sure it will find a wide audience.
It’s going to be very popular with the fan community–because it’s all about them. And the power that they have grown to hold in the last few decades.
I interviewed George Clayton Johnson a number of times–a science fiction writer and big supporter of fans–and he always brought up people power. In the end, it is the fans who matter the most.
Absolutely. I’m going to do a panel at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo (newly renamed Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con) here in L.A. next month with Bjo and John Trimble and my friend, Tom DeSanto, who produced X-Men and Transformers, and we’re going to talk about fandom. That’s what it’s all about.
Well, very beautiful. Thank you so much, Kerry.
You’re very welcome, Henry. I always enjoy talking about what I enjoy most of all.
Here is the podcast interview to listen to. Just click below and enjoy:
Check in with Kerry O’Quinn at his website here. If you are in Los Angeles on October 28-30, come see Kerry and enjoy some pop culture fun at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con. You can find details on that right here.
“When you strip everything away, what you’re looking at is a stranger in a strange land who doesn’t want to be isolated from the world,” says comic book writer Mark Waid, in summing up what a superhero is all about in a remarkable PBS series, “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle.” Viewers will be able to watch all three episodes in one feature length presentation tonight, 8pm/7pm Central. Go to PBS for more details here. And, don’t forget, there are super treats after the show: you can purchase the DVD or Blu-ray, with plenty of bonus features, and you can purchase a gorgeous hardcover book companion with a treasure trove of additional material (review here).
Superhero comics are always up for a good fight, especially when it comes to survival of the fittest. As this comprehensive documentary makes clear, it didn’t take long before such early creations as Superman and Batman gained popularity. Once on top, it’s hard to see yourself anywhere else. And so the race was on to stay on top. However, comics aren’t a simple product that you can easily manipulate for maximum profit, or else that wasn’t exactly the plan. For example, when Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, a couple of lonely and poverty-stricken teenagers in Cleveland, created Superman in 1934, they weren’t thinking about demographics. No, they were thinking about heroics in the very best sense of the word. It is that kind of spirit that has made its way through this rather complex world of superhero comics. Yes, it is a business but it is also married to art. Sometimes it’s a happy marriage and sometimes not so much.
The thrust of this documentary, its inevitable center of gravity, spins around this odd mixture of commerce and creativity. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just sell funny books at a handsome profit and keep everyone happy? A win-win, right? But there are no clear-cut win-wins in life. As we progress from the early golden age, we get a greater sense of the challenges that lay ahead for superhero comics. In this documentary, the timeline is split into three: “Truth, Justice, and the American Way (1938-1958),” “Great Power, Great Responsibility (1959-1977),” and “A Hero Can Be Anyone (1978-Present).” This is tidy way of making sense of the evolution of the industry for general audiences. It loosely follows the comic book eras that collectors and fans acknowledge, based on the dominant artists, writers, and trends of the times: Golden (1938-1950), Silver (1956-1970), Bronze (1970-1985), and Modern (1986-Present). Given all the potential detours, this documentary sets a clear path. It tends to be upbeat but it is also honest. Creators are key to getting a product out to market but creators aren’t always appreciated or compensated accordingly.
“Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” by Jim Steranko, Marvel Comics, 1968
A very good example of a creator forced to fight for his rights is Jim Steranko. There are plenty of others like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. For the purposes of this documentary, Steranko has been enlisted to represent the A-Team. Steranko proves an eloquent soul with killer chops as an artist and visionary. At just the time when the Pop Art movement was recontextualizing superhero comics, Steranko was using those very same artistic techniques to create groundbreaking comics that undoubtedly rose to the level of art. Without a stitch of dialogue, or captions, he created panel after panel of comics narrative. However, when it came time for payment, Marvel Comics wanted to hold back payment related to writing for any pages without actual text. Steranko had to resort to a macho man confrontation. Marvel Comics chose to pay in full. Ah, the giddy ’60s, a time when you could still threaten to use your fists to settle a dispute and get what you rightly deserved.
“Green Lantern/Green Arrow,” by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, DC Comics, 1971
While all of us that follow comics are more than a little familiar with how superhero comics have shifted to a more mature audience, despite its apparent roots as entertainment for kids, what this documentary helps put into perspective are the factors that led to that shift. To the credit of Marvel Comics and DC Comics, commerce and creativity can and do meet in interesting ways. One shining example is at a point in the culture when drug use had reached alarming levels. Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, at DC Comics, were keen to do a story that spoke to the dangers of drug use. But, at the time, the Comics Authority, a holdover from another era that still policed comics, did not allow any mention of drugs. Stan Lee, at Marvel Comics, also wanted to tackle the topic–and he did in a landmark Spider-Man story. It was a game changer and bust the doors open wide. No more Comics Authority. A new relevance for comics. In time, this new freedom would lead to further experimentation, and bring forth another player into the business, Image Comics.
It is to the credit of filmmaker Michael Kantor for tuning in as well as he did to his subject. You can think of this documentary as on par with a Ken Burns documentary. In other words, it’s a stellar job that digs deep and rewards the viewer with greater insight. Be sure to tune in tonight, same Bat time, same Bat channel, on your local PBS station. Go to PBS for more details here.
Here is an unusual essay that argues that the screenplay for David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” was lifted from classic “Amazing Spider-Man” comics. Republished with permission, this essay originally appeared in The Comics Decoder by poet/cultural subversive R. W. Watkins:
Webs in Lynch’s Closet?
Similarities Between Blue Velvet and Early Spider-Man
by R.W. Watkins
Like the classic Stan Lee-era Amazing Spider-Man comics (1963-c.1972), the films and television series of David Lynch depend on a precise combination of suspense, melodrama and jet-black humour amidst a cast of extreme and offbeat characters. This is certainly more true of Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir masterpiece Blue Velvet than any of his other celluloid creations for the big and small screens. In fact, one can make a reasonably sound argument that Blue Velvet not only resembles early Amazing Spider-Man in its tone and aberrant dynamics, but indeed also owes a great deal to the actual early plots and characters of the classic comic magazine.
Anyone looking for an easy way to hook into comics can look no further than the legendary, Stan Lee. He’s a super easy gateway and, for those who look deeper, this will quickly lead to Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and so forth. Having been interviewed countless times, Stan Lee concluded that he can reverse the roles and be the host himself. Within the YouTube premium channel, “Stan Lee’s World of Heroes,” you will find “Cocktails with Stan.” This is something to see, believe me.
Stan Lee may appear all cute and cuddly, the super easy gateway to comics, but he’s still the same hard-edged guy from his heydey at Marvel. Felicia Day perhaps regrets how she stumbled into a description of her new hobby, ice sculptures. She sort of lazily described to Stan that it’s all done with a chainsaw. “A seesaw? Felicia, please enunciate!” “Chainsaw!” “Oh, chainsaw! But, how the devil would you get the finer details?” Then Felicia admitted that she also uses a chisel! “Oh, a chisel! Well, then it’s not all done with just a chainsaw as you would have had us believe,” lectures Professor Lee, to the surprise and utter dismay of his pupil. The above photo don’t lie, folks. Marvel over all the funky body language. Or view the interesting exchange for yourself here.
Next on the hot seat, the lovely Cara Santa Maria, host of science-centric “Talk Nerdy To Me,” who manages to hold her own with her signature sexy laugh used as a shield as masterfully as Captain America. This time, Stan goes in for the kill but it is a short-lived victory. Cara begins to describe her life’s journey. After getting a Masters degree in Neurobiology, she intended to pursue a PhD in New York but, as she puts it, she fell in love with a boy across the country. “You said that you were in New York but you fell in love with somone across the country. Did you see a picture of him?” No, Cara corrects herself, she met her beau in California. “Then that’s what you should have said. I have to teach you how to tell a story,” nags Stan. No sooner have they gotten through that bit than it comes out that the boy in Cara’s story is Bill Maher. Stan is insistent that Cara reveal details about her and Bill. Cara insists that the details he wants aren’t so private. As it turns out, by the time of this interview, Cara and Bill had broken up well over a year before. You can judge for yourself here.
Just as things are drifting off course, in jumps Jenna Busch, the co-host, or sidekick, to “Cocktails with Stan.” Jenna is a good egg. She has written tons of stuff about pop culture for a myriad of sites. However, she needs to remember that she’s no longer just a super blogger and she does not have the George Burns protective cover that Stan enjoys and seems to approve of anything he says. Jenna’s attempt to save the moment was to ask Cara a science question: “Why do men have nipples?” Not exactly a challenging question or even that interesting. Jenna could have provided an even better save for her boss by having prepped him beforehand about Cara and Bill Maher.
“Cocktails with Stan” is not going to be winning any Peabody awards or even give “Kathie Lee & Hoda” a run of their money. For now, it’s amusing and, what the hell, it’s Stan Lee, for God’s sake, and he’s 90-years-old. The good thing about this show is that everyone seems to want to have a cocktail with Stan. Everyone on the show ultimately comes out a winner. And you can end up learning about some very cool people, like Cara Santa Maria, who is doing a great service by energizing young, and not-so-young, people about science on “Talk Nerdy To Me.”
It’s hard not to like Stan Lee. At 90, he’s an inspiring figure of energy. But, folks, you ought to know, if you don’t already, there’s Stan Lee but there’s also Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. For anyone versed in comics, they have some idea of how this story goes. Stan Lee collaborated on creating Marvel Comics characters and stories. But, at the end of the day, the payday, it was Stan who got sole credit for writing. Even when you have clear-cut examples of a 50/50 collaboration, Stan Lee got all the credit as writer and creator. Enter Arlen Schumer, who would like to share with you the true history of how things went down. You can read Michael Dooley’s piece on Schumer here. And you’ll want to read carefully and not miss out on these examples of Schumer’s lecture from Comic-Con. Click to expand! Yes, you can easily read them:
In an illustrated lecture, “The Auteur Theory of Comics,” presented at this year’s Comic-Con, Schumer explains the Marvel Method which, as a working method was cool and revolutionary: The artist lays down the art first and then the writer goes back and adds the words! Great. But not so great when it comes to crediting the artist. Schumer expands his argument in favor of Ditko and Kirby by explaining the auteur theory which holds that the artist was in charge of far more than mere illustration of the writer’s words. It’s more like the artist is in charge of all the details in a movie which overlaps into actual storytelling. There are numerous examples, to be sure, where the roles of writer and artist are more fixed but, in the case of Stan Lee working with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Schumer maintains it’s more like the early years of collaboration between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. There’s a wonderful recap of this lecture at the Jack Kirby Museum site.
So, that is not to put a damper of Stan Lee. Just a look at what history has to show us. You can take it any way you like. You can also enjoy more of Arlen Schumer’s explorations into pop culture at his site.