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The forge of creativity & business that was Marvel Comics was a synchronic chord sounded by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and all the authors and artists and inkers and colorists who worked there. It all started during the early 1960's when the Fantastic Four and Spider-man and the X-men (The Uncanny X-Men) were formed from the imagination of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
X-men was a box office smash last summer. I'm sure you also remember the highly successful Hulk TV show.
The earliest X-men consisted of Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey (who later became the extremely popular Phoenix), Professor X (Xavier), Cyclops (Scott Summers), the intelligent Beast (Hank McCoy), and Iceman (Bobbie). Mutants born with special "super-mutant" abilities.
Later came the New Mutants with younger characters possessing mutant powers that sometimes seemed to possess them (the only type of comic book story I don't like).
These characters from X-men including (Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm, Banshee, Kitty) evolved with the advent of the creativity of John Byrne (starting in issue #108 of X-men) and Chris Claremont (Giant Sized X-men #1 and Uncanny X-men #94 now valued at $500. up in "mint" condition. The most popular character was the main star in the X-men film--Wolverine. There is sure to be a sequel for this box office smash.
X-men Comics taught kids that prejudice is evil. People who live in fear and thus greed try to destroy that which they don't understand.
Interesting that both the most recent Star Wars film and X-men film took a hard look at politicians (Congress). If power corrupts absolutely is it possible our system is absolutely corrupt? The Senator in the X-men film learned his lesson a little late.
Spider-man--the new Marvel film in the works--is about a kid who with usual teenage angst (bullies beating him up, not getting any babes, acne and so forth is mild stuff compared to today's school experiences--such as not getting shot & killed while going to or attending school or being seduced by a deadly drug or infected by a killer disease) is merely bitten by a radioactive spider (radical stuff for the early 1960's).
This gives Peter Parker super powers--insect powers--if amplified a man could lift a truck and carry it 20 miles as ants do. (Don't get me started talking about Henry Pym the Antman who became Giant Man in the Marvel's Avengers ((Capt. America, Thor the Thunder God etc.))). Add to that Peter Parker was also a brilliant student who was able to invent a web shooter and other great inventions. And Spider-man was born as a bi-product of the bi-product known as radioactive material (which Science still doesn't know how to get rid of). (Try telling that to the Bush administration). Everything is energy! Remember Tesla coils.
But Marvel was not the only place parading superpowered characters.
D.C. Comics (Time Warner), too, utilized mythology and stories of Biblical proportions to entrain, energize and excite generations of teenagers, kids and adults from the 1940's to present.
Some characters such as Superman, Atom, Flash, Batman, Green Lantern, JLA and others & even D.C.'s version of Capt. Marvel may have been inspired by spiritual literature which told of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and even Biblical personages who could stand in fire etc.
Scripts & Wit
Super Heroes: originating through human imagination and from literature, mythology, religion.
Though probably comic creators just made up their wondrous stories.
Once when I interviewed Gerry Conway for the Comics Journal he admitted to me that he had researched some of the comics he wrote. Conway's friend partner Roy Thomas no doubt researched Conan and Thor and other material while writer & editor at Marvel. They worked together on the great animated Fire and Ice film. (Ralph Bakshi/Frank Frazetta).
And initially Thomas got the Conan property over to Marvel from Edgar Rice Burroughs in Tarzana, CA. (Tarzana--Tarzan...get it? Yep, it too is a comic.)
Older folk know and love the countless Films and TV shows and serials featuring these and other favorite colorful characters: Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Commander Cody (which may have inspired the Rocketeer comic and film).
COMIC BOOKS -- Born by the sheer exhurberance of the Universe itself through the vehicle of the Human Being!
The Comic Industry is a metaphor for life. A cosmic drama unfolding. But not to put old wine into new bottles: Many times in the past Marvel and D.C. have teamed to do specials that benefits the play of creativity. I first met Stan Lee while I was the manager of a Comic Book Store in Studio City, California in the 1970's.
Or, more accurately, I met him through his works at Marvel Comics -- his extraordinary scripts & wit in 1961.
Very clever interaction with the fans through clubs and letter columns in the good old days made one feel as though one was a part of something. With Merry Marvel "we belonged."
Stan Lee's stories contained real life character's, complete with dilemmas and the germ of great new ideas and principles for living a good life.
As when Spider-man didn't stop a Burglar -- the same Burglar who later killed his kind Uncle--Peter Parker (Spider-man) got the message -- serve mankind. With great power comes responsibility.
And responsibility is the ability to respond.
Exciting fictional stories full of adventure and excitement with morals. Illustrated profusely.
Marvel Super characters were at first looked on by society as bad guys. Even after saving human butt thousands of times.
J. Jonah Jameson (cheap Editor of the Daily Bugle newspaper) has hated Spider-man for over 30 years. Jameson actually tried to destroy Spider-man by becoming a super villain.
Daredevil (blind Attorney yet Batman-esque in abilities & physical strength and agility--but with heightened senses) the Man without fear was often branded a villain too at first.
As was the ever popular Incredible Hulk -- first immortalized as a comic book during the 1960's. Who ranged from dull and stupid to near genius depending on the decade in which this enduring character is read.
What we fear we often regard as evil.
Comics have tried to teach us that the means are as important as the ends they produce.
What we do along the way determines the end result we will get. Comics are published because a word sounds good to the publisher. But some of these new young independent publishers need to know more about the meaning within these words (and so do their customers). But more power to these enterprising youngsters.
What is Yoga, Meditation, Tai Chi, Mantra? What is Zen? (One young upstart publisher of "Zen -- intergalactic Ninja" had never heard of Alan Watts -- great promoter of Zen until I told him Alan Watts was a famous and popular theologian turned beatnik Philosopher & Author (one of many) responsible for introducing Eastern Religions to the spiritually starved West--often heard on KPFK radio. Alan Watts is possibly the foremost promoter of Zen. Watts' book " The Wisdom of Insecurity," mentions, of all things, Comic Books. What are Chakras? The Tao means what? When kids grow up and learn about Meditation will they be tainted by our stupidity and greed?
Buzz words usually lower consciousness and cause confusion. Of course when I use to publish stuff as a youngster I made up names that sounded good but had little or no meaning such as: Beyond Infinity, Eon the Magazine of Graphic Illusions. I know less now than I did then. What is craft, art, Love, Truth?
I held several autograph parties with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1970's and 1980's. I threw over 50 successful autograph parties with many wonderful comic book artists and writers. I'd host the event, provide refreshments, do all the advertising, graphic art, press releases, etc. It was an exhilarating experience. It was fun to interact with pros and fans. I gave away a lot of free promo stuff.
Ninth Nebula's first autograph party was held with Stan Lee, publisher of Marvel Comics. For ten years my shop endured in North Hollywood, CA next door to the world's oldest Science Fiction Club (a built in audience of friends and fans and computer fiends).
The Stan Lee event evoked long lines of Comic Book fans of all ages drooling for Stan's signature on the splash page of their old and new comics. Nowadays professionals sign comics on the cover of their title en mass which I don't approve of. (But who listens to me).
Comics forms are often abused by aspiring young publishers who use several unnecessary full page splashes when the effect could be achieved in a tiny panel -- waste of money, ink and paper if you ask me. Unlike the good old days when Steve Ditko gave us our money's worth in the form of about 6 panels per page -- he in his way was like a Zen Master -- the precision of his work rivaled the art of Chinese Calligraphy (see his unique style in old Atlas Comics from the 1950's). Some of the recent experimentation's by Frank Miller & other talents have all done exceptionally creative work too.
Stan Lee's arrival in a Limosine exemplified the style and pizzazz in which he lived his life. He was the spokesperson, promoter and Publisher of Marvel Comics at the time.
Stan has more energy than many men half his age. Did you catch the Hitchcock-like cameo in the awesome recent excellent X-men film where he was a Hot Dog vendor (on the beach).
Ninth Nebula was a context for many things but few know it was my 2nd book shop. My first store was opened in 1978 in the Santa Monica area and was called Beyond Illusion: New Age Book and Comic Shop. But comic books paid the rent even back then.
From 1985 through most of 1986 I threw over 19 successful mini Comic book Conventions (the San Fernando Valley Comic Book Convention). This show allowed me to open Ninth Nebula--the Complete Comic Book Store. Small in size, yet packed with all the best stuff.
Jack Kirby appeared at one of my autograph events too. Kirby was Lee's partner on all the important Marvel titles in the early 1960's when they were formed such as Fantastic Four, (Strange Tales) Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hulk, X-men, Daredevil, Avengers, Journey Into Mystery) Thor, (Tales to Astonish) Ant-Man, (Tales of Suspense) Iron-man, Capt. America, etc.
Around 1961 Amazing Fantasy #15 was issued which is the first appearance of Amazing Spider-man and if in perfect shape could fetch $20,000 or more. Check your price guides.
Comics were serious business until the Death of Superman (and then it exploded further) which created new problems and opportunities as the comic industry began new birth pangs in 1993.
I gave 100% service & attention to all my customers at all times. I had to become innovative since often the store became overflowing and I could not mention all the new titles. I'd push a button on my tape recorder when people said "what is new." Then the many fans and readers would get an audible list of every last detail of the new comics that had just come in. I was busy ringing sales with other customers so this made it possible for me to sell more comics. When shipments were bumped due to mail I'd say put my comics in some coffins -- I need 'em now (Capital City never did). When I lived on the premises I had a buzzer so I was the first 24 hour comic store that I know of.
As a kid I'm proud to have collected and owned several complete mint sets of every Marvel Comic Book (1961 to present).
In fact I feel the Lee, the Ditko and the Kirby are three awards the Comic Industry should create (I said this loudly prior to 1984). Though as often as I try to turn him into one of his characters (such as Doctor Strange the occult master of mystic arts) Stan remains a human being -- a man, down to Earth -- courageous and kind. But I'm sure it was Stan's business savvy that made and kept Marvel such a colossal success for many years.
Long may Vishnu (Hindu God of preservation) bless the best that the "Comics Industry" has brought forth in creative inspiration down through the decades.
With comics you get to read and enjoy them over and over again and someday they will be worth something. Sure the overproduced over hyped stuff may be valueless, but if you buy what you enjoy you can't lose.
Comics have proven themselves over the last 60 years as a legitimate American art form. Comic Book audiences are growing faster than in any other hobby form including electronic games & virtual reality. It isn't over yet. In fact, one could say we are at the beginning.
("He who knows, knows, they who say they know, don't." --Lao Tsu). Like Meditation, you won't know what it is unless you try it.
There are many Star Trek and Star Wars Comics from Marvel and D.C. that have been issued and I collected in the past all of which are very popular. These use to be issued by Gold Key in the 1960's. Shatner co-created TEK comics. Spielberg and Lucas were influenced by the Comic Book genre. Roger Corman is cashing in with his Cosmic Comics. Even Leonard Nimoy has a successful Comic out. Other comics sport logos from deceased Isaac Asimov & Gene Roddenberry.
In the 1960's, Underground Comix & Fanzines made the scene. One could say this was the beginning of the Independent line of comics. Vaughn Bode' (Cheech Wizard) kids have emulated this sadistic character through their Graphitti on the walls of washes in the past for years) Rick Griffin, George Metzger are but a few of dozens of innovative Philosopher/Artists whose work not only represents the 1960's but whose originality rivals the Will Eisner's (The Spirit), Harvey Kurtzman's (MAD ), Milton Canniff (Steve Canyon), AL Capp (Lil Abner) of their day. Though sex and drugs were the order of the day, during the 1960's, Underground's did not and do not represent mainstream comics--which are clean and not usually politically or spiritually sophisticated. Though political cartoonist Ron Cobb punched the unrightous right wing in their gut when necessary during the 1960's.
If you know where to look one can find incredible literary treasures in this unique American art form--The Comic Book, now worldwide in acceptance, popular in every country (indeed, as a teaching tool one could learn other languages).
Fanzines and Underground's contain some of the earliest and most bizarre art by today's seriously great Comic Creators.
A successful new film has been released a few years ago about the life of Robert Crumb creator of Fritz the Cat. Robert Crumb also created Zap and Mr. Natural (I've seen original Mr. Natural artwork prominently displayed framed on my best friend's Fathers' wall. (A Psychiatrist by profession in the early 1970's).
Gerber's four volume Photo Journal Guide To Comics is a masterpiece chronicling comics history with full color photos of the covers of old back issue comics from the 1940's--1970's loved by many generations of people who wished their mother hadn't thrown them away so they could retire in style today. I explain it is never too late to begin again as gems are published weekly and the selection is enormous.
Many Doctors, Lawyers, Film People, Teachers, Musicians, Computer Experts, Politicians, Artists & Authors people from all walks of life still all read comics & or collect them. I've sold comics to Clint Eastwood and his son. Robin Williams once roller skated into my first Comic Store in 1978 and bought Art Books & material related to the Comic Book genre. My friend reminds me that when I threw a mini comic con Leo DiCapprio worked for me briefly (I bought Underground comics from his Dad George).
Comics indeed, teach art and story writing skills by their very nature. And are used by storyboard artists in making films, doing animation and more.
At my suggestion Marvel and D.C. issued Hunger Awareness comics in the late 1970's with proceeds going to charity. Various talents offered their artistic skills as a donation. Marvel and D.C. have done other promotional activities for charities protecting wildlife, anti-drug campaigns etc.
Other social issues Marvel has utilized in their Comics: Scientist/Inventor Tony Stark wrestled with his own inner demons as an alcoholic with heart problems who is kept alive by his suit as Iron Man (see the new film coming up).
The blind Daredevil fought the (Kingpin) Mafia & Crime with his supersenses. Radioactivity and a spider created Spider-man.
A nuclear test created the Hulk.
As I read Dr. Strange (one witnesses a 30 year battle with Dr. Strange that sadly and finally ends as the villain Baron Mordo dies of Cancer--fully forgiven by Dr. Strange all the evil rendered unto him.
World War two vet Nick Fury (Secret Agent) dies just after his creator Jack Kirby passes away.
I discovered new worlds in micro dimensions and negative zones in the Fantastic Four (Human Torch lives) back in the early 1960's.
Marvel Lee/Kirby even created the Black Panther at the same time as Black Panther's were active in America--and this tie in with history and comics is not an unusual thing. This version of the Black Panther was a Chief from Africa with super powers of a sort.
In the 1980's Aids Awareness comics were issued (Ninja high School). And a major character also died from Aids in Marvel's (Canadian Mutants) Alpha Flight.
Some Comic Books teach Science or even other languages. Ms. Mystic by Neal Adams and Green Arrow by Mike Grell and Hawkmistress by yours truly (ask to see the script) often tackled environmental issues. Am I preaching to the converted.
Kids like to read & try their hand at creating comics. Classes (including Distance Learning internet classes on comics and other themes are available around the nation. In other words people can get credit and training without leaving their homes.
Comics are a safe addiction for the whole family.
Big Little Books (short thick early one page comics, every other page just text--hardbound, from the beginning of this century) are a form of early comic books.
Violence in any form is wrong (physical, emotional etc. or against Nature). Scape-goat-ism / facism of an economic, political, militaristic, religious, talk show, judicial, prison or from any source is wrong.
Other comics explored the murders of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Most comics are not humorous. And History can effortlessly be learned, through the enjoyment of comics.
Capt. America and the Human Torch fought Hitler & fascism in Captain America comics during the 1940's, for example.
Comics can be better than film or TV when done right. Though few have translated to the screen all that well so far except for X-men and a sleeper called Unbreakable (as of June/July 2001 it's extremely hot at the video stores). (A great film! But it seems the comic industry is attacking itself? with this sort of material.)
There are comic books as high in vibrational quality as classical music. E.C. comics Weird Fantasy, Incredible Science Fiction, Weird Science & Weird Science Fantasy & others from the 1950's (regarding art and story) & certain comics from Marvel & D.C. and other companies may sometimes be likened unto the much higher vibration of John Lennon or Vivaldi (quality wise). (See Dreyfus in Mr. Holland's Opus to understand what I am saying or even Finding Forester with Sean Connery). Because of the level of story and rendering of art back in the 1950's when issued. These were projects of love and survival.
The new way to sell comics is Ebay, Amazon.Com and Yahoo auctions. Among others. Ebay is the most successful so far.
Keeping track of your collection is a full time job. There is now inventory software for organizing Comic Collections.
I've enjoyed watching a few good "Electronic" or internet Comics at DC, stanlee.net and elsewhere. But animation is still better (as far as I am concerned). Beast Wars is a really well done 3-D cartoon originating from talents in Canada. Beast Wars is probably the best animation being produced these days.
Store owners didn't mind the plethora of first issues until around 1996 when new people took over at Marvel and elsewhere. Comics are a viable art form no one should take advantage of. But retailers and fans feel they have been used. And we resent it.
One funny footnote, Frederick Wertham, the much hated Psychiatrist blamed for the demise of E.C. Comics and other companies during the 1950's paranoid Senate subcommittee hearings where he testified against the "violence in Horror & Crime" Comics actually found something in Comics of value a little later in his life and began publishing Comic Book Fanzines. Yes Wertham got into Comics Fanzines and self publishing!: Wertham complemented Fanzines as a good that came out of Comics.
Fanzines are of many types from Science Fiction to Comic Book from art-zines to zines that specialize exclusively in one genre: Dr. Who, Star Trek, mainstream Science Fiction books etc. There are pro-zines (published by professionals in the comic industry) and zines that are "self published" by fans.
Censorship is wrong unless it is self imposed.
D.C.'s Elseworld's stories are extremely creative and good and take comics to the next level. Putting Superman or Batman in a unique setting in time and space isn't a new idea but the way DC executes these tales with details is usually innovative and exciting.
Where does one classify the classic Cerebus the Aardvark by Dave Sim, Reed Fleming Milkman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Hate Comics?
Classics Illustrated (classic literature illustrated) helped many people with time constraints pass a book report.
Black & white Warren Magazines (Vampirella, Creepy, Eerie) from the 1960's often contained some of the best art & story for any time. Some fans are reeling still from the talent of Richard Corben (Den, Nevermore), Mike Ploog (Frankenstein), Jim Starlin (Warlock, Dreadstar), P. Craig Russell (Night Music, Elric.) Great work hidden in Tower Comics (Wally Wood) and Charleton Comics (Ditko) too.
The unacknowledged older audience pray that Marvel and D.C. maintain as high a standard of quality as possible.
New talent should not copy from other people's work. Draw from life and photos. Regardless of what misinformation you may get.
Stan and Marvel literally saved the Comic Industry from extinction during the last 35 years I feel.
Eventually fans may focus on Silver Age and Golden Age comics from the 1940's--1960's. Or the E.C.'s from the 1950's as I did at age 15 after acquiring every Marvel and D.C. issued during the 1960's. But one really can't outgrow comics. Once it is in your blood it will always be in your blood. New or now-agers would say I'm "too attached" to my possessions (comics). Possibly so. But a really well written nicely illustrated comic is better than watching Disney's Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 in an Isolation float tank isn't it.
Remember when I said one felt part of something with Marvel in the early days -- "The Merry Marvel marching Society" etc. This is very true. People want to participate in an active way in their lives. This is one reason costuming is so successful at Comic and Science Fiction conventions. And one reason why Toys and Magic the Gathering and the internet comics, where you get to direct the outcome of the adventure, are so viable as hobbies. Because instead of watching TV one gets to enter in and play to be active and to participate.
Good art and stories are essential. Stan use to say "put it out there and see if someone salutes."
When we were kids, of course, comics cost just.10 cents to.12 cents each. The first.02 cent raise meant we had to cut back a certain number of comics. Today Action Comics #1 (where Superman first appeared in 1938) goes for $175,000 in near mint in auctions but was onJy $400.00 when I was a 15 years old kid.
I was selling Joe Kubert original Hawkman art to people on Military bases back then and then buying more comics with the profits. (See how Comics taught business, indirectly).
When comics were released I was the kid waiting to cut the plastic strip off the piles of new D.C. and Marvel comics before the manager got around to it back in 1961 at Thrifties so I could get the newest releases before anyone & pull out the most pristine "mint" issue each and every Tues. and Thurs. year after year.
Actually I was just trying to get the next issue to read and collect as soon as it was issued. Then in 1986 when I started Ninth Nebula I started air freighting the new comics to my shop and had 500 regular weekly customers. I also gave generous discounts.
We grew up, married, had kids, started our own comic stores.
More & more "readers and collectors" abhor this wanton greed and unfairness in the comic book marketplace to their pocketbooks and sense of right. They want quality not just quantity.
In a way this is where OLD Marvel really succeeded. Marvel taught its readers to think for themselves.
Most real long term retailers find nothing wrong with investors investing in Comics or Marvel Stock, and everyone made short term money with D.C.'s two first editions of the Death of Superman. Retailers made out quite well on Superman's Death--especially the Black Bagged version. As did Newsstands who bought them from retailers and resold them at higher amounts. Copies sell at around $25.00 now for the "black bagged edition." The day this issue was released copies sold from $5.00-- $50.00 each. Reports went as high as $250.00 for a single issue. But there are so many titles produced that since comics are not returnable to the distributor the amount of left over inventory with any "real store" will be immense and costly. Profits for shops are not as high as you may think.
Another super successful comic, Astro City by the author of Death of Superman and the Painted Marvel's, Kurt Busiek, was published by Image Comics. Demand rivals that of the D.C.'s acclaimed winner The Watchmen (a story of some out of shape Super Heroes who try to prevent New York and the world from getting blown up, written by English Author Alan Moore). My favorite comic lately is the Spectre which began in the 1940's. I also love various issues of Hellblazer and Swamp Thing. Tastes vary and so do types of comics. When one says Archie or Casper or Disney or Richie Rich that might be the only frame of reference a novice has about what is available. Great or unique art draws me into reading the comic. Quality matters.
At Ninth Nebula our customers were 30-50 years old and spent $30.00 or more each week all year long. They'd get 30 comics all totally different from all publishers. Most customers still focus on Marvel and D.C. but Independent publishers are here to stay.
Mad Magazine was originally a smaller size E.C. Comic. At issue #24 Mad became an entirely black and white magazine in a larger format. The ever popular talented humorous generous Sergio Aragones has been on TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes and other shows and is co-creator of Groo the Wanderer (with writer Mark Evanier) started with Mad many years ago. Their Groo the Wanderer at Marvel literally had me laughing hysterically on the floor after I fell off my chair.
If you are just exploring comics for the first time be sure to check out stores that carry old and new issues.
Direct Market is strange now because there is only one real main stream distributor of comics today. Diamond. If you want to start a shop don't order randomly--find out what your customers will buy. Use their order form. There are small publishers too from whom you might be able to order directly and internet subscription services.
Other material to check out when you get into Comics reading and collecting: Comics Values Monthly (think it still exists in some form), Wizard, The Comics Buyer's Guide and The Comics Journal (Published by Fantagraphics. Opinionated Gary Groth is the editor). And of course the price guide Overstreet. Which should be used as a guide but not as the bible. My famous saying remains: "Buy what you enjoy--if it goes up that is an added bonus."
This "industry" will endure for all those with faith who work hard and make wise choices in ordering: Marvels, D.C.'s and Independents.
New is no longer so sacred a word. But together we can make it so when it again deserves it. We are moving in the correct direction. Thanks Stan, you helped give the "Comic Book Generation" the ability to think, better than schools ever could. And the desire to keep on learning.
Remember we've moved from a you or me world to a you and me world. These aren't just words but lifestyles millions of people adhere to now. And we are not the "fringe."
I share this Truth as a service to the Comics Industry: "Wider is not better." (Except for the car & luxury industry). Give us quality and we will give you our money, time and attention.
There's a lot to understand about The Whole Marvelous Super Ultra Cosmic Magical Comic Book Universe. We were able to provide you with some of the facts above, but there is still plenty more to write about in subsequent articles.