Stan is still the man

Stan is still the man

To be honest, I expected Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters & Marvels to be Kevin Smith in some huge auditorium (at a con) shouting questions and jokes to Stan and maybe a bit of insight. Not to mention I assumed it was going to be clips of conversations from when Stan appeared in Mallrats years ago. Imagine my surprise when the documentary opens at Hi De Ho Comics in California, from an interview conducted on February 22, 2002. Imagine my pleasure that rather than being a static one-camera affair, multiple angles and supporting photos are used.

And you have to give Stan credit, as ever the marketing genius, copies of FF1 and other Marvel items connected to Stan through the years sit on display for sale right next to Stan. All the Marvel greats are there, plus JUST IMAGINE Stan Lee’s JLA. I kid you not, even in a documentary covering the history of his career, Stan’s getting a plug in for the new stuff.

That’s the Stan I love in a nutshell. (As a side note, they discuss in the documentary how DC’s JUST IMAGINE project came into being.)

I’ve got to warn you, those looking for a PBS level documentary or something along the lines of A&E’s biography, look elsewhere as Stan consistently refers to the Marvel publisher Martin Goodman as Martin, and neither Kevin or Stan clarify this element. Only veteran fans would get what Stan means when he says Martin. That being said, longtime comic fans are in for a treat, as long as they’re not looking for historical documentation (but they’ll definitely get impassioned solid storytelling)

I nearly busted a gut when Stan described the premiere of Spider-Man, the comic. Describing how the first appearance came about, Stan said: “We published it, we put it on the cover of the last issue of Amazing Whatever We Called It” To which Kevin interjected “Amazing Fantasy” Now understand, I’m not mocking Stan, he’s learned and done more in his lifetime than I ever hope to accomplish. It’s just in this continuity and fact crazed world that populates Internet comic book fans, it’s refreshing to see one of the creators of Spider-Man not being able to remember the name of the comic he started in. Oh and I forgot the other kicker, back in those days it was months before they were able to see the sales figures and realize they had a hit with Spider-Man. Stan had forgotten about the book, when Goodman showed him the figures and months later they decided to start a regular series. Of course, for several reasons, this could never happen in the current market, given the veracity of bottom-line monitors following the financial troubles of Marvel in the late 1990s.

The documentary has several bits that may have been said before, but that I never heard and that really struck a nerve with me, including when Stan said:

“I never wrote for kids, I wrote for myself.”

“I wish I hadn’t told Gerry Conway Yes [it was OK to kill Gwen Stacy].”

Sharing his belief that Jack Kirby would have been a great moviemaker.

The interesting and insightful moments like these go on forever in this DVD. Sure, Stan is saying a lot of things he’s said before and that’s been written and debated in numerous article, but there’s just something special to seeing Stan reminisce in person. Even as an elderly man, he has the enthusiasm of a teen, recounting a record the bullpen cut where Jack and others sing the anthem to the Mighty Marvel Marching Society. Stan explains how fans just loved getting to hear the voices behind their comics with a record like that, causing Kevin to point out that the record was almost a precursor to the director’s commentary on a DVD. And he’s right. That’s also the appeal of this DVD, the getting to hear first hand, Stan’s love of comics, right down to why he wanted to personalize the letters column (changing letters that said “Dear Editor” to “Dear Stan”).

I only have small problems with the documentary. The first one, I understand why they did it. Non-comic fans interested in the documentary want to hear about Stan’s role in creating Spider-Man, which is the lead documentary part. The secondary feature (“Here Comes the Heroes”) goes back in time, recounting Stan’s career. So the order for me was a bit out of whack, but understandable for marketing purposes. Also, while there is a DVD extra that explains why they didn’t go the route of VH1’s BEHIND THE MUSIC or A&E’s biography, as they wanted to hear Stan tell the story of his life and his role in making Marvel such a success, I would still have loved to see interviews with folks like Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. Then again, I’m not so sure Ditko would have participated.

These are small complaints, as overall the DVD is a blast. And really, for a 95 minute DVD (not including the extras), $16.95 is quite a bargain, in my opinion. The extras include Stan’ home videos showing film with his wife, Joan and their daughter. Even though silent, you can still see Stan’s enthusiasm for his family is believe it or not, more kinetic than his thrill for comics. The man loves life and I know I’m fawning here, but it’s his love of comics that really laid the foundation for comics that I love today.

Other DVD extras include “God Woke,” a poem he wrote in the early 1970s (on the occasion of a night where Stan and Marvel was celebrated at Carnegie Hall); an interview with Stan Lee’s wife, Joan. And in keeping with Stan’s note at the end of the documentary thanking all the creators who worked with him to make Marvel a success, the DVD includes a link to ACTOR (http://www.actorcomicfund.org/index.html), the non-profit organization dedicated to helping comic book industry veterans. Clearly, Stan acknowledges that he would not have been as successful a writer without the artists who so effectively conveyed his ideas, and I think the inclusion of ACTOR is another effort (by both Kevin Smith and Stan, I assume) to show he has not forgotten that he did not make Marvel so successful alone.

The VHS edition (which I did not see, but I’m sure has the same quality—minus obviously the DVD extras) is an even better bargain of $13.50. Either the DVD or VHS can be ordered at http://store.yahoo.com/creativelightvideo/

‘Nuff Said in Trouble

Watching the DVD, I was struck at how great it is to hear about comics from the creators themselves, which in turn shifted my thoughts toward Ken Gale’s WBAI-FM radio show devoted to the world of comics, ‘Nuff Said. Unfortunately I’ve never lived in New York, and logistics have always prevented me from listening to ‘Nuff Said, which has been on WBAI for the past nine years. Well, changes in the radio’s schedule have resulted in the end (for the time being) of ‘Nuff Said.

You can find out more details of what happened from Ken himself at http://www.comicbookradioshow.com/ While I’ve never listened to Ken’s show before, I’ve always been impressed at the quality and variety of guests he’s garnered over the years, as he kept CBEM readers up to date with weekly e-mails of upcoming shows. In addition, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Ken personally at last year’s and this year’s Atlanta Comicon, as recounted here and here respectively. To see for yourself the variety of guests on Ken’s show, check out Comic Book Radio Show and be amazed.

Commenting on the last show, Ken wrote:

“When I heard ‘Nuff Said! had been canceled after almost nine years, I had a strong reaction, of course (anger mixed with depression). I wasn’t getting paid to do the show (very few people at WBAI are). Only a passion for the medium and art form of comics could motivate me to continue to spend the time and money necessary to do a good show…

As the days passed, I was told reasons why I was canceled, such as being “narrow focused” despite dealing with nearly every political, social and cultural issue there is. My first feeling was that such a reason was “insult to injury.” Didn’t he listen to the show before he made his decision to cancel it? Was he one of those people prejudiced against comic books? I didn’t know him well enough to know whether that was true, but I couldn’t help but think it. I quickly rattled off some of the topics we covered in the course of interviewing comics creators: racism, sexism, censorship, independent thought vs. corporate control, quite a few environmental issues, war and peace issues, gay rights, literacy, dozens of cultural and historical topics.

Since then, I’ve naturally thought of more topics we’ve covered, such as nationalism, religion, terrorism, education, freedom of speech, relationships, love, sex, language, foreign relations, copyright and trademark law, the internet, all types of music from opera to jazz to folk to r&b to punk, mass media, corporate responsibility, workers’ rights, creators’ rights, diversity and, of course, techniques in art and writing. My telling him this has not been enough to bring the show back. But since WBAI-FM is a listener-supported station, your phone calls, e-mails and letters have more impact than I do.

After doing the last show, I thought a lot of past shows that I’m proud of. Discussing the difference between spirituality and religion with Stan Lee, discussing the definition of super-hero comics with Harlan Ellison, linking Jamal Igle to a teacher who wanted him to talk to her class, listening to an anti-Viet Nam War comics writer and a WW 2 Veteran discuss writing war comics, various guests who said my interview was the best one they ever had, exposing a few myths about the industry that fandom has believed in all these years…. There are a lot of shows I’m proud of, but my thoughts kept straying to the callers. Those who called on air and those who called off air. I don’t know most of their names. Many of them turned me on to excellent comics that I might not have learned about without them…

The decision to cancel ‘Nuff Said! or put it on hiatus belongs to the Program Director, Bernard White. He does indeed listen to reasonable input from listeners. E-mail him at burnardwhite@aol.com (not a typo) and/or call his voicemail at (212) 209-2834 and/or write to him at WBAI-FM, 120 Wall St., 10th flr, New York, NY 10005. I’d appreciate a cc at nuffsaid@escape.com just to look over your shoulder.”

Ken’s a great comics journalist that many new folks like myself could stand to learn a great deal from. I’m sure many of my readers are like myself and have never had the opportunity to listen to ‘Nuff Said for various reasons (namely we all don’t live in New York). And that’s where an idea of mine comes to mind. I’ve not run this by Ken, and no parties involved may be interested in exploring the option, due to legal or financial hurdles that may have to be addressed. But what if WBAI and/or Ken could make a best of CD of the interviews that were done over the nine years? Looking over the guest list, I see at least 10 interviews I’d love to have in my CD library. Given how many fans out already buy great magazines like THE COMICS JOURNAL and the many periodicals of TwoMorrows Publishing, I think there would be a market for The Best of ‘Nuff Said. If it sold well, rather than having to do a fund drive for that portion of programming, ‘Nuff Said could literally pay for its own slot.

It’s just a thought, and it’s a thought I’m going to pass on to Mr. White. He may reject outright or he may consider it. I won’t know until I try.

If you’ve ever listened to ‘Nuff Said, or otherwise want to show support for a great show (or have a suggestion to Mr. White as to how or why ‘Nuff Said should be brought back), please consider contacting him, be it via e-mail, a phone call or mailing him a letter. Good journalism and discourse of comics is hard to come by, everyone must admit. So if we can help keep the show around, I think we’d be doing a good thing.

I already miss Ken’s weekly letters to CBEM, and hope they resume (along with the show) in the very near term.