Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Stan Lee (Dredging Up The Past Part IV--or--The Quotable Ray Tomczak)

I realize that Stan Lee's birthday isn't until December 28, so you're probably asking yourself why I'm re-presenting this "classic" post from The Word From On High in the middle of October.  I hadn't planned on re-posting it at all, though now that I've reread it I can see that its actually one of the better pieces of writing from the old blog and on that basis alone deserves a second look, but the real reason I've dug it up is that I just discovered that this post is quoted in a book.
Yep, a real book. With words and sentences and a table of contents and an index--in which my name appears--and everything.
Cool, huh?
Earlier today, I was Googling myself, which, unfortunately, is nowhere near as dirty as it sounds, and buried near the bottom of the fourth page of results, I found a link to a Google Books preview of the the book A Complete History of American Comic Books written by Shirrel Rhoades and published in 2008 (and yet I'm just now finding out about it).   On page 86, in the chapter on the Silver Age, Rhoades closes a section on Stan Lee with: As blogger Ray  "!!" Tomczak puts it, "Stan Lee's real gift was for self-promotion and his greatest creation was Stan Lee himself.
While I am surprised, happy and proud to be quoted in such a context, I kind of wish it had been a more original thought.  As I acknowledge in the post, I'm certainly not the first to make this observation.  In fact that is pretty much the central premise of the book Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, as I note in the remainder of the quoted sentence.   I guess Rhoades just happened to like the way I phrased it. Who knows?  Maybe I should try to find his contact info and ask him.  
Yeah, I'll do that later.  For now, I re-present my December 28, 2006 posting "Happy Birthday, Stan Lee" 
As we near the end of 2006, I was thinking back on the more than three hundred posts I've uploaded since February 6, among them quite a few tributes to deceased celebrities, from Don Knotts to Jerry Ford, and I was thinking that I might like to write something nice about someone who's still breathing.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber, Stan Lee entered the comics industry in the early 1940's, working for cousin-in-law Martin Goodman's Timely Comics, which you might know better as Marvel. He stayed at Timely through thick and thin for two decades, until, as he tells it, he was fed up and ready to quit in order to pursue his dream of becoming a novelist. Thus, when tasked by Goodman to create a new super-hero team to compete with DC's Justice League, he, with encouragement from his wife, decided to create the kind of comic he'd always wanted to write. After all, he reasoned, he was going to quit anyway. The comic he wrote was Fantastic Four and from there, he, along with artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, went on to create what we now call the Marvel Universe.
At least, that's Stan's version. It has been quite rightly noted that, whatever his talents as a comics writer, Stan Lee's real gift was for self-promotion and his greatest creation was Stan Lee himself, and it has been shown by Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon in their book Stan Lee and The Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book that quite a few of the stories he tells of his early years are merely part of the myth that he has built up around himself.
That is part of the reason I so admire Stan. It is his gift for self promotion and hype and for creating, both on the comics page and in his own life, larger than life mythologies that makes him a quintessential expression of the American character and one of the most significant Pop Culture figures of the Twentieth Century.
Very much alive and kicking, Stan Lee today celebrates his 84th birthday.
This, by the way, is not the first time my bloggish blatherings have attracted the scrutiny of the literati.  Earlier in December of 2006, after reading  The Man Time Forgot, Isaiah Wilner's book on Time magazine co-founder Briton Hadden and Stealing Time, an account of the AOL/Time Warner merger, I noticed certain parallel between the story of Hadden and that of the man who started the company that would become AOL and I wrote a post about it on The Word From On High.   This piece somehow came to Wilner's attention and he linked to it on his blog. (I was going to link to Wilner's post, but apparently that post is no longer up.) I'm even prouder of this citation, since it  seems that I'd made an observation that hadn't occurred to the author previously.

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