Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marvel The Untold Story

I've been gradually working my way through Sean Howe's "Marvel Comics, The Untold Story", a very readable but ultimately somewhat sad historical take on "The House Of Ideas."  Like a lot of kids of my generation, I grew up reading Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and came to regard the creators of my favorite books almost as pals.  "Stan's Soapbox" had us all imagining that the Marvel bullpen was filled with a feisty bunch of cut-ups with nicknames like "Jolly" and "Rascally" trying to produce the best darn comics they could.  Of course, I was 10 at the time.  With age comes a bit of unfortunate wisdom, and in truth the folks at Marvel were indeed wildly talented, but also had mortgages, bad marriages, problems with alcohol, shitty bosses and all the other plagues of adult life.   Because Marvel was always a business first... a very cool business at times, but still a business. 

And that's the sad part.  Because a lot of creators invested a lot of themselves to make Marvel's characters as cool and interesting and iconic as they are.  And when business conditions changed, or editorial positions shifted, or the business went through a down turn, or some outsider bought the company and started making demands, some of those creators had their hearts broken when it became clear they were ultimately expendable.  It's one of the odder conundrums of writing comics (or movies or TV) -- to do a good job, you have to invest emotionally in the project.  But if you invest too deeply and something goes wrong -- i.e., you're off the project -- it can be crushing.  Learning to deal with that rejection is one of the many skill sets required to make a living without going insane in these crazy rackets.

I never did much work at Marvel -- basically one book (Stalkers) for the Epic line way back when.  But over the years I met several of the players mentioned here, and had several fun meetings with Stan the Man Lee himself regarding various projects. Maybe this history concentrates more on the troubles than the good times, but the ten year old still in me wants to hold on to my earlier, fun view of Marvel.  So I think I'll put this book down for now.


Blogger John Goins said...

I guess the Marvel Bullpen is like The Beatles in A Hard Day's Night. Fake, but lovable. And I have no problem with either of them.

8:03 PM  

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