Stan “The Man” Lee had a prominent role in influencing part of the popular culture.
Ten years ago (Dec 2008), the Hero Initiative (an organization devoted to helping comics creators in need) published the collected editorial run of “Stan Lee’s Soapbox,” the short column that appeared each month in every issue of Marvel comics from 1967-1980.
The book also featured (and I quote): “a bountiful bevy of celebs also write about their most memorable columns, including: Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, X-Men movie producer Tom DeSanto, and a vast variety of great names from the fields of comics, literature, and academia.”
I was one of the “academia” members who contributed an essay about a recollection related to one of Stan’s editorials. The title of my essay was “1969”:
I do not remember some events from 1969: the publication of the last edition of the Saturday Evening Post, for instance, or the Stonewall Riots, or the opening of the Beijing subway. But there are plenty of days I do remember: Nixon taking office; the My Lai massacre; the first flight of the Concorde; the lunar landing; the murder of Sharon Tate.
Also in 1969, on summery Saturdays in rural New Hampshire, 12-year-old boys rode Schwinn bicycles into town to catch 50-cent double features. Afterwards, with my dollar-a-week allowance, I would stop by the newsstand, two doors down from the theater, and kneel down in front of the wooden magazine display where I had been buying comics for 4 years. Fifty cents would buy 4 comics with a couple of pennies returned. Until thatday…
I remember that day: the worst day of 1969. The day when I bought 3 comics and went back to the dweeb behind the counter to tell him that he gave me the wrong change. Only he had not – comics were now 15 cents. I stared for minutes, looking and looking again, at the cover to Iron Man #16. I was sure it was some kind of mistake.
Today, we would have heard about this far in advance. In the information ago, our questions are answered before we even ask them. But in 1969, there were no spoilers. There was no direct communication between a mythical place called 655 Madison Avenue and a kid on a bike in New Hampshire, except for Stan’s Soapbox.
I remember reading (and re-reading) Stan’s explanation, as though written directly to me, about the price increase. And, perhaps for the first time, I thought about comics as something that actual people produced: “writers, artists, printers, etc.” People who needed to get paid for their work. I think that seemed an adult way to approach it; quite reasonable.
“But now, let’s look at the bright side,” Stan went on. “Today you can buy your majestic Marvel mags even faster … ‘cause you don’t have to fumble around with pennies!”
Adult life wears conflicting faces when it greets 12-year-old boys. Even without the word disingenuous in my vocabulary, this business about fumbling with pennies struck me as condescending. I recall that. In retrospect, though, maybe this was Stan’s biggest writing challenge, and the one that still faces comics today: audience.
In 1969, Stan was confronted with a new phenomenon: an audience that did not disappear at puberty. He had the kids, he had the tweens and teens, and he had a growing popularity on college and university campuses. Over the past 40 years, as prices have increased and comics have become more complex, the challenge remains: to recruit and speak to an audience of the youngest children while keeping the older crowd tuned in and not turned off.