Stan Lee shares his secrets to success

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I’m currently reading Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics The Untold Story.

It’s still early in the book: we’re only in the 60s, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man had just been introduced. Artists like Jack Kirby are scrappy in the ways they make a buck. There have been a few ups and downs, hirings and firings according to the vagaries of the publishing industry and a fickle reading audience, the economy and a government witch hunt — but it’s still the heady days of comics when you consider what’s around the corner.

Howe hasn’t tackled anything terribly controversial so far.  Stan “The Man” Lee is depicted very much as the guy always looking for an opportunity or an angle, but also the one who makes sure everything gets done. He knows how to craft a story — whether the narrative featuring monsters or spandex between the covers or concocting the Marvel Bullpen. He’s a creative and marketing genius in the making.

Fast forward to today. We’re a few days away from Fan Expo Canada in Toronto where the comic industry pioneer is a featured guest after some 70s years in business.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail‘s Courtney Shea, Lee shares four secrets to his success in the entertainment industry.

(The lovely illustration at the top of today’s article is by Camilla d’Errico)

The job you’re meant for may not be the one you apply for

A lot of my early career came down to luck. I applied to a magazine company to work as a writer – I didn’t even know they made comics. I started off as an office boy, getting lunch for the two guys that I worked for – I’d bring them up a sandwich, I’d erase pages. After a while, they let me try writing copy and it turned out I was kind of good at it. That was a different time, though. There weren’t really any great writers in the business. Almost anybody who could put a few words together could write a comic strip. It got harder and harder over the years, but lucky for me, I was already there.

 

Don’t listen to the poo-poo-ers

It has been really rewarding to see the reputation of comics change over the years. When I was starting out, most parents didn’t even want their kids to read comics. They were really considered junk. Today, some of the finest screenwriters in the world are working on comic book stories. I don’t want to sound like a name-dropper, but I was once talking to Steven Spielberg and he said to me, “You know Stan, you and I do pretty much the same thing except my pictures move.”

 

The corner office isn’t for everyone

When they made me the president of Marvel [in 1972], I was suddenly involved in the business end – all sorts of financial decisions – and I realized pretty quickly that it really wasn’t my thing, and I wasn’t any good at it. I was asked to provide a five-year plan for where the company was heading. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m going to have for dinner tonight! I decided to step down. It was a lesson in knowing your strengths.

 

The secret to loving your boss

It’s easy for me to decide which projects I’m going to get involved in because I come up with almost all of the projects I work on, and since I’m my own biggest fan I like almost everything I do! I have always valued freedom in my career and I’ve been lucky to have quite a lot of it, though I guess you could say that the drawback is that if something goes wrong, there’s no one to blame but me.

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Whatever happened to Nate Simpson’s Nonplayer?

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Digging through the long boxes a few weeks ago, I came across Nonplayer #1 and wondered what was happening with the second issue, why the delay?

The short answer: life happened. Like all too many personal projects, Nonplayer took a back seat to creator Nate Simpson’s work and family life. But apparently issue #2 is nearly complete.

For those unfamiliar, here is a brief description of the book:

The future kind of sucks, and that goes double for Dana Stevens – she’s stuck in a dead-end tamale delivery job, and she’s way too old to be living with her mom. But in the online fantasy world of Jarvath, she’s an elite warrior. When she slays the wife of celebrity game character King Heremoth, her fame seems all but guaranteed – that is, until the game spins totally out of control.

nonplayer_issue_1_page_6_by_natesonofsimp-d3bchjdNate Simpson is the creator and writer/artist. He works in the gaming industry.

The first issue, released in April 2011, earned tons of acclaim. Simpson even won the Russ Manning “Promising Newcomer” Award at the Eisner Awards in 2011. High praise for someone who has only put out one issue of a comic. You can buy a digital version of it here to read what people were talking about.

So what happened in the last two-plus years to delay issue #2?

To be fair, Simpson was forthright from the beginning, this series (intended as a six-part mini) was going to roll out slowly. But between then and now, two things happened as Nate writes on his website:

  • In 2012, he took on a full-time job with a casual gaming company
  • And perhaps more important, in May of this year, he and his partner/wife celebrated the birth of their son

As a result, Nate has stumbled upon one of the harsh realities of new parenthood the rest of us have also learned:

The last several months have been a blur of diaper changes and burping accidents — it’s weird how early parenthood compresses the flow of time.

Indeed.

Anyone who is a parent knows having a baby is like taking on a second full-time job especially in the beginning. But it gets better eventually. Comic Book Junkie progresses in fits and starts due to competing priorities in my work and family life. But I find oases of time to punch out a few articles. I can’t imaging what it must be like tackling a big project like a full-length comic.

On the plus side, Nate is nearing completion of the next issue.

I am making steady progress and nearing a big milestone, and I hope that things will accelerate a bit after I cross that threshold. I have showed the unfinished book to a few people now, and the reaction seems pretty positive.

But here is a real reality check he’s struggling with:

As far as what happens after #2 comes out — to be honest, I have no idea. It is not easy to find time to work on the book. When I think that I’ve got five more issues to go, and I multiply that number by the number of years I’ve spent on the current issue, it’s hard not to despair. Faced with this yawning abyss, all I can do is focus on getting this issue done in the hopes that its arrival may trigger some miraculous reordering of my work situation.

I wouldn’t blame Nate if he were to shelve the project for a few years until he can reclaim some free time to focus on the comic, especially if he and his partner are thinking of having a second baby.

But let’s hope he can find time to squeeze out at least another issue or two. I am eager to see where this is going.

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CBC talks to Canadian cartoonists, part 2: Peggy Burns, Kate Beaton and Nina Bunjevac

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(“Famous Alexanders” by Kate Beaton)

Here’s is the second collection of highlights from interviews with Canadian cartoonists under the CBC’s Canada Writers banner:

Canada Writes is talking to some of Canada’s best known cartoonists and graphic novelists on the different techniques, challenges, and advantages of working with both text and drawings.

Peggy Burn, Associate Publisher at Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly, reflects on 13 years in the industry. Here, she offers a peek into the selection process.

What characteristics make a manuscript jump out of the slush pile?

We never, ever read scripts. We like to read fully formed comics. We mostly prefer to see mini-comics or pamphlets to truly read the cartoonist’s storytelling abilities. For us the art and the words are one, and reading a script gives us no idea if we will like a comic. Most of the submissions that come to the office aren’t in tune with our mission, it is more like the artist got out name off a website of comic publishers. We have published submissions, though, notably from Keith Jones of Toronto and Brecht Evens of Belgium. And reactions to their submissions were immediate. We received the package, opened it, were completely floored by their ability and immediately made plans to publish them. Otherwise, we rely on shows like TCAF in Toronto, Expozine in Montreal and SPX in Bethesda MD to look for new artists with new minicomics.  (Minicomics are self-published comics, similar to zines.)
D+Q publish out some really fine material, including Seth‘s Palookaville series and Kate Beaton‘s award-winning Hark! A Vagrant.  The rest of the interview with Burns is interesting, you should give it a read.

Speaking of Kate Beaton, here she offers a few words about making comics. The widespread attention to her work beyond comic circles has a lot to do with her subject matter: putting a humorous spin on historical and literary figures. But I have one good friend who considers Beaton’s cartoons to be chauvinistic, and I think she’s partly right.

Here Beaton describes her creative process:

My process, when I do the historical comics, is a lot of research. Read about a subject until you know it inside and out as best you can, then write the jokes about it. It’s like getting so close to your best friend that you feel like you can rib them about something, and really nail it, but not in a mean way. I think it’s easy to be crass and make a mean joke, and I’m guilty of that too sometimes, but I would rather be clever and make an insightful joke, if I can. I doodle as I research and use those drawings to inform the final drawings for the comics, but on the whole, my process for drawing the comics themselves is pretty loose and simple.

Check out the rest of the interview for her artists influences and advice for aspiring comic creators.

Finally, we have Nina Bunjevac, the 2013  winner of the Doug Wright Spotlight Award (aka ‘The Nipper’) for her graphic novel Heartless. She, like Beaton, also plays in satire and says cartooning offers an advantage:

What are some of the advantages of working with text and drawings vs. just text? What do you think that this genre can do that text-only genres can’t?
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There are certainly many advantages to working with text and drawings, especially in satire. I enjoy using the first-person soapy narrative, juxtaposed with the grim and ironic imagery to create the sense of naiveté or wishful thinking. In other words, my drawings do illustrate the narrative but not the sentiment or the yearning of the narrator. My characters are often ignorant of the true nature of their circumstance—this knowledge is reserved for the reader alone, who gets to experience the story through both the images and the narrative.This way the reader becomes an integral part of the story, a true witness, and their absence makes the story incomplete.

In the rest of the interview, she offers an impressive list of artistic influences.
BONUS LINK: I also just stumbled upon this CBC radio documentary about D+Q by David Gutnick.

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True North believers, it’s Captain Canuck!

Captain Canuck is back! Here’s the first episode.

Read our Q&A with the Creative Director, Dean Henry.

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The Finish Line: Jerry Prosser on the ‘revolutionary concept’ of creator-owned comics

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Here’s one from the long box.

darkhorseccomics_7_coverThe following editorial first appeared more than 20 years ago — in the pages Dark Horse books dated February 1993, which would have appeared on comic shop shelves around December 1992. So Prosser’s words are closing out a year and looking ahead to the new one. In this particular instance,  I plucked this from Dark Horse Comics issue #7, the licensed character counterpoint to Dark Horse Presents, a showcase for original creator-owned and DH-owned characters and material, which was clocking in at 71 issues by this time. This issue of DH Comics happened to feature stories of three big movie franchises – Star Wars (“Tales of the Jedi”), RoboCop and Predator. Jerry Prosser was one of the editors who worked on this title when this editorial appeared.

I’ve always subscribed to the old aphorism that it’s better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. But, sometimes certain circumstances arise that prevent me from abiding by my conservative predilections. That’s what you get for working in an office. Compromise, compromise, compromise. In this instance, it was being asked to write a Finish Line about creators and creative control. So … wait for it … I’m going to have to open my mouth …

Long before the publication of Aliens, Predators, RoboCop, Indiana Jones, or any of the other licensed books that are identified with Dark Horse, Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley founded a company committed to the rights of comics creators to own and control their own work and be paid a fair amount for it. In effect, a partnership. This was, to a large extent, a reaction to the corporate-owned nature of the business at that time. Creators often found it difficult to place a new idea with the corporate giants and, if they were lucky enough to get a contract, these creators often were forced to relinquish copyright and ancillary rights. Ouch.

I believe that the concept of creator-ownership and publisher/creator partnership is revolutionary. It’s also incredibly infectious. Once one person gets it, it grows and develops until it’s passed to another. Some exposed by the “virus” show almost no signs of infection (maybe they have antibodies) and others become rabid dogs, compelled to bite at any passersby (until they’re taken behind the barn and shot, anyway). This “new” concept of creator control (really the old Underground Comics raison d’être cleaned up for a new generation) ran like a virus (or a “meme,” if anyone is familiar with the work of Richard Dawkins in The Unselfish Gene) through the comics world. Some, I’m sure, would liken this process to a plague; others to a revolution.

darkhorse_concrete_coverFrom this situation, Dark Horse and a number of other “independent” publishers arose to infect the whole of the comics marketplace with the revolutionary/infectious concept of creator-ownership. This was a glorious and heady time like any “new wave” or “independent” movement of experimentation and freedom of expression. But, like most “independent” movements, creator ownership shifted back toward the commercial mainstream (as would be expected). But, little did anyone know that this new concept of creator-ownership would, in effect, infect the whole body politic of the comics world. This change in the structure of the marketplace has not been without symptoms (as is the case in all viral infections) but the after-effects have been remarkable, e.g. Image Comics. (Anyone out there familiar with the work of Thomas Kuhn ought to recognize this “paradigm shift,” in which the old way of doing and thinking about things is “overthrown” in a revolutionary way.)

Through this process, Dark Horse has found itself poised on the fence between the old paradigm (our licensed and company-owned properties) and the new one of creator-owned books. It is this balance, I believe, that positions Dark Horse as one of the most dynamic publishers in the business. It is also this balance that gives Dark Horse its distinctive “personality” and reputation. And, it is from this position that Dark Horse will be branching out into very exciting territory during 1993. We will continue to produce licensed and company-owned material, but we will also publish new work in partnership with some of the most talented creators in the industry.

We also want to take this dangerous new concept of creator-ownershhip into other markets. We’ll see what happens. It may mean that the dominant  way of doing thins in another market is infected by this “virus.” If so, the control that comics creators enjoy in this marketplace will expand to other creators in other markets. What will this mean for these other markets? The same thing it does to the comics market. I’ll leave with another aphorism (because I can never think of anything new), this one by Nietzsche: “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

I’m out of space and time. I’ll close my mouth now.

- Jerry Prosser

Now that was refreshing. Prosser: the comics intellectual rebel arguing a paradigm shift is bearing down on traditional publishers.

Fast forward to 2013.

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Image Comics is still going strong — arguably stronger in terms of the diversity the publisher offers and as a home for emerging and independent talent.

The same holds true for Dark Horse. The company is thriving in part due to the quality licensed properties they publish and their collectibles business. And they continually impress with the lineup of top notch creator-owned books they support, such as  MIND MGMT and The Massive to name a few. And Prosser’s statement that DH has always had a distinctive personality is more true today than ever.

If he were writing this today, I wonder what Prosser might add considering the arrival of Kickstarter to fundraise your comic launch and Etsy and other online shopping sites to sell and distribute your work?

Exciting times.

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