Kids Stuff > Literature
At one point of time in the early 1960's, comic book artist legend John Romita had desperately decided to quit comics for work in advertising, which appeared to be a more stable day-to-day job to support his family and pay off his mortgage. This is when Stan Lee convinced him to stay with the industry and got him onboard to the recently resurgent Marvel publishing house. In a conversation over lunch, he asked him the rhetorical question: "Why do you want to be a small fish in a big pond, when you could be a big fish in a small pond?" And so all of us have to determine our appropriate career environment, our shoe size that fits us best on our march through a successful professional and private life.
Modern Myths. As people in the modern world feel increasingly frustrated in an environment they cannot control, the side of one's personality that likes the fantasy gets ready to accept the co-existing of super-powered beings, providing stability and safety to our world. Being part of modern mythology since the 1930's, they appeal to the unlimited fantasy of the child in you, searching for the hero.
Hang Loose. The 1960's provided powerful stories of adventure heroes with a weak spot. Be it a physical handicap such as a lame leg, a weak heart or the lack of eyesight, their struggle with alcohol addiction and their social status of an outsider or simply being broke all of the time, those problems made them likeable and gave them a human side to identify with. Stan "the Man" Lee would head up the bullpen staff thinking up the most unusual origins of the most unusual costumed adventurers, which helped in further spreading the American pop culture across the globe. As front man of the new movement he would start signing everything with "Excelsior", an Old English word meaning "Upward and Onward to Greater Glory!" Sometime later he would reveal in his autobiography of same title: "I enjoyed coming up with expressions like 'Hang Loose,' 'Face Front,' and 'Nuff Said.' Especially 'Nuff Said' was a particular favorite of mine. It seemed so applicable in so many cases." But "enough" of that...
Powerful Poses. Stanley Lieber's counterparts were those drawing his plot ideas, great visual storytellers, who on the other hand fought some battles in order to become recognized as co-creators. Jack "King" Kirby drew the most powerful poses, awesome muscular and created the Marvel style. Born Jacob Kurtzberg, he was the son of an immigrant from Austria. With creations from World War II super-soldier Captain America to likeable monsters like the incredible Hulk, not only was he shaping the superhero genre but also became one of the most influential artists in comic book history. "Strange" Steve Ditko, Pennsylvanian with Austrian descent, on the other hand was responsible for lean figures and conflicted anti-heroes in obscure tales with an unexpected twist in the tradition of "The Twilight Zone". Ditko will be forever remembered for creating Spider-Man, which he step-by-step had taken over completely with Lee just filling in the dialogue into the Ditko plotted and drawn adventures.
A Hero's Belief. Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe in that prince coming to the rescue? Or that spell of a beauty just waiting to seduce you? Or meeting your hero, stepping down to earth just to scare all your problems away with his super-powers? Wake up and get moving, take things into your own hands, for those dreams may not come true! You may believe in many things, but did you ever ask yourself what those heroes believe in themselves? Religious belief is a very personal topic, and in order to achieve general acceptance and success it often gets into the background of stories about those heroes you are supposed to admire and look up to. But if you carefully observe, you may just be able to discover the one or other glimpse of also that most private side of your favorite super-soldier!
Supey's Diaspora. Apart from the usual suspicion about the presence of hidden messages in trivial literature, meant to subconsciously influence the next generation, and regardless of all possible global conspiracy theories, it seems reasonable to debate the potential influence of the cultural background of writers and artists on their creations. Some say that in 1938 Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland with family roots in Lithuania (Siegel) respectively the Netherlands and Ukraine (Shuster), had dreamed up Superman as a mythical hero, a savior and protector of his people from the forces of evil, living in Diaspora far away from his destroyed homeland, with the planet Krypton as a possible allusion to Jerusalem. Even the origin story of the abandoned baby put in a rocket to escape a dying planet loosely parallels Moses in a basket floating on the River Nile to save his life.
Everything is Possible. The underlying motto must have meant so much more to two Jewish boys in Cleveland, Ohio: No matter who you are, whatever you are, even if you are coming from another culture, from another planet, you can become Superman! While others need a costume to become a superhero, with Superman it is the other way round. Clark Kent is the disguise he uses to blend in with us, weak, unsure of himself and cowardish, as he sees us. As we learn in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)": "Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race." In 1941, the year in which the US would enter World War II, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America, dressed right in the American flag like a young Uncle Sam. The utmost patriotic fighter against all enemies in form of German war criminals and Communist spies was a punch right into the Fuehrer's face, as depicted on the cover of the very first issue of the book.
Fantastic Monster. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, New York City born and raised descendants of Jewish immigrants from Romania (Lieber) and Austria (Kurtzberg), revived the genre in 1961 with the Fantastic Four. A monster comic book in its roots, they lived family values by combining their newly found powers for a greater good. "Rise of the Silver Surfer" was their tale of a drifter between two worlds, some 30 years later the plot of the Fanta-Four's second blockbuster movie. A face with a scream concluded the Surfer's own mini series, in German first published in a mag called Marvel Comic Stars. Rumor has it that Kirby always thought of the Thing as a sort of alter-ego (coming true in a What If story), hot-tempered, cigar-smoking and of Jewish faith, as revealed later.
Pouring Rain. Daredevil represents another exception, as he is not only described as a blind man overcoming his physical disability, but - thanks to Frank Miller's influence on the book - also clearly characterized as Catholic, with all his self-doubt, a dark feeling of guilt, while suffering under the burden of his life. His story is one of severe blows of fate and personal tragedies, as in the saying: "When it rains, it pours." He even went to confession to find relief from the demons that were haunting him. In fact, in German his name was for a long time translated into "Der Daemon - The Demon" to give his chest emblem "DD" a meaning. His dark counterpart at DC, the Batman, is one of the few to have actually held the Holy Grail in his hands, as the graphic novel "The Chalice" places him in the long line of Grail keepers and spiritual descendants of the Crusaders invading the Holy Land. The story seems to support the general assumption that after the crosses of his parents' headstones he is a lapsed Catholic or disaffected Episcopalian, the American province of the Anglican Church, while it fails to ultimately clarify the question. However it is suggested that as a result of bi-denominational upbringing he is religiously not as observant as others, while - depending on the writer - his characterization sometimes even suggests agnosticism.
Exemplary Do-Gooder. Most of the other fellow-heroes, especially the most popular Superman and Spider-Man, are suspected to be White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, making it easy for the main-stream American to relate to. Their strong sense of "great responsibility" that comes along with great power is exemplary for the average do-gooder, as they dedicate their extraordinary abilities to fight for "truth, justice and the American way." An indication is found in Superman's 1996 Wedding Album, describing his Christian church wedding in the Metropolis Chapel of United Faiths. Spider-Man got married in 1987 at New York City's City Hall with a judge presiding over the legal wedding ceremony, while in 1974 his Aunt May's almost-wedding to Doc Ock featured a Protestant clergyman, as by the style of his collar. Quite some time earlier, in 1965 the first big superhero wedding among Reed Richards and Sue Storm from the Fantastic Four was celebrated with lots of hero-colleagues in the attending crowd, while their creators Lee and Kirby were being turned away for not having invitations.
So much for those ol' Books!
Here is more on Heroes.
Ditko controlled the Spider-Man book up to the point that Lee couldn't reveal the name of next issue's character any more. German translation goofed up by making "Nuff said (Enough said)" into "Das sagte Nuff - That said Nuff."
Producer versus Looter. At one point Stan couldn't even reveal the name of the following issue's character any more, which would be ultimately known as the Looter, in German translation "Knacker - cracker" (Williams) or "Pluenderer - raider" (Condor), and later renamed into Meteor Man. The name of the piratical, non-producing Looter, a burglar who is after the achievements of others, is straight from the songbook of Objectivism, an ideology of rational self-interest with growing influence on Ditko and his work. Even the conflict between Spider-Man and newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson fits the pattern of a misunderstood individualist with a strict moral code against a narrow-minded social and political establishment. Ultimately, Ditko's ability to capture despair in a person's physical expression remains unparalleled.
Beyond normal Limits. As such, "Jazzy" John Romita completed the inner circle of visionaries by introducing a touch of romance and (Italian-American-) beauty to the design. Taking over Spider-Man after Ditko's leave, Romita brought the book to new heights to even bypass the Fantastic Four as the House of Idea's bestselling title. These tales withstood the test of time and formed the basis of a number of movies in the new millennium, most of them with the obligatory Stan Lee cameo appearance. Responsible art director for years, John Romita would explain Marvel's house style as following: "There were a couple of guys who got a lot of flak from Stan because there wasn't enough excitement in their work. When their characters were shouting, their mouths were only half-open. With Kirby, when somebody shouted, his jaw got disconnected; you could see his tongue and tonsils, and all the teeth..." Revealing that he'd believe in drawing attractive, glamorous people, Romita would admit that his art at times appeared too stylish, lacking a little bit of grit, doing distinctive stuff like a broken nose or a crack in the sidewalk. "Stan didn't tell us to draw like Kirby. All he asked of us was to approach a story with the same reckless abandon and wild parameters. In other words, don't be limited by normal limits. Think big, think oversized, think overact!" What a good idea - not just for drawing but for life in general!