Making it Up as We Go Along
2.28.2002 by , every Thursday.
All right, it’s early Thursday morning, and I’ve recovered enough to get off another column. Due to the awful effect that my friend Kim’s cats have had on my lungs, I was graced with the joy of spending Sunday in the hospital emergency room, hooked up to an O2 mask.
Well, now that I have all of your pity, let’s get on with the comics talk.
This time around, we’re gonna take a look at creators. The people who have designed and introduced our favourite heroes and villains, alter-egos and families of the most loved and hated characters in panelled literature. We’ll go back to the biggies from the 30’s and 40’s, all the way up to the new idea men of today.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, writer and artist. We’ve seen that kid from “You Can’t do That on Television” play artist Joe Shuster in those “Part of our Heritage” t.v. spots. I don’t know anything about the creative process they used, but you really can’t argue with the result. Superman. They created what everyone pictures when the term Super-hero is used. They created a fictional hero that has not only staying power, but also underpants on the outside.
Bob Kane wrote comics during a time when horror and detective stories ruled the sales, and through those themes, he created on of the most popular heroes of all time, the Batman. Just a normal guy who’s pushed himself to the pinnacle of human perfection in detection and athletic skill, the polar opposite to Superman, the icon of otherworldly power. Countless television shows, movies, video games, and of course black t-shirts with the bat-logo all have their marketing money founded in Bob Kane’s creepy detective seeking vengeance by way of law enforcement. (Also noting the underpants on the outside.)
Joe Simon moved around and created characters for a few companies. He created the Sandman and the newsboy legion for DC comics, The Fly for Archie comics, and the Fighting American for Prize publications. He virtually created the romance comics genre, and was one of the developers for Harvey comics’ characters Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich and Baby Huey. But his big name character was Captain America. Along with artist Jack Kirby, Simon made a war hero that survived the war with his shield and onto the Avengers in the sixties and post-September eleventh resurgence in popularity. You’ll also note that Captain America wears his shorts for the world to see.
Talking about Jack Kirby, some of the characters that Jack either created or co-created were Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Uncanny X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Boy Commandos, Challengers of the Unknown, The New Gods, Kamandi, Darkseid, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Captain Victory, The Silver Surfer, The Mighty Thor, amongst so many others. You can’t really talk about Jack “King” Kirby without bringing up “Smilin” Stan Lee. Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber) was the idea man for Kirby’s pencils, and together, created a new generation of heroes for Marvel comics. Lee, along with artist Steve Ditko, also created the Amazing Spider-man. Lee was so prolific and so god at creating characters during the sixties, he set the foundations for Marvel comics for years to come. Granted, some of them understood the concept of underwear underclothing, Thor and the FF still put them on the outside.
Len Wein and Herb Trimpe. Who? What’d they do? I’ve maybe seen some of those old guys, but what did these two do? Well, you asked. In the late seventies, Len Wein, then writer of the Incredible Hulk, was telling a colleague that he could write any accent into a character. Trying to catch him on this outrageous claim, he was dared to get the Canadian lingo down on paper. Not wanting to swallow his words, and along with his penciller Trimpe, they created the Wolverine for issue 181 of the Hulk, and thus unleashing the bezerker barrage on the world. The running gag should go here.
Taking the creations of Lee, Kirby and Wien, Chris Claremont recreated and revitalised the X-Men by introducing new characters like Nightcrawler, Colossus, Rachel Summers, Dazzler, Longshot, Storm, and Kitty Pryde into the mix. Along with villains like the Hellfire Club, Nimrod, the Dark Phoenix, The Goblin Queen, The Reavers, and the Acolytes, and cultures like the Morlocks of New York and the nation of Genosha, he flushed out the universe that these characters existed in into rich tapestries. Writing Marvels mutant titles Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, The New Mutants, and Excaliber, Claremont redefined subplots and continuity in comics, and gave us some cool characters along the way. And many pairs of underpants placed on the exterior of outfits too!
We went over Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird last time, so go take a look at the column archive for more on them.
Lastly, we’ll look at Todd McFarlane, who has created probably the most recognisable new character of the nineties, Spawn. When he started his own comic publishing company, Image Comics, with six other renegade creators leaving Marvel in 1992, he introduced Spawn, which, *ahem* spawned an HBO series, a cool toy line (released by McFarlane’s own Todd Toys, now McFarlane Toys), and a pretty awful movie starring Martin Sheen, John Leguizamo, and Michael Jai White. Spawn however, had no underpants, just a demonic jump suit. Humph!
So, how did these guys know what to go for in making a popular hero? I’ll let Stan “The Man” Lee tell you:
“There I was at my desk, a brand-new sheet of paper in my typewriter, ready to begin anew the agony of creation. What kind of hero was the comic book reading world waiting for? What could we come up with that would take fandom by storm? How about an Errol Flynn type? Or a Gary Cooper? But then that little voice kept whispering inside my head, 'Be innovative. Be original. They expect you to come up with something that's different.” - Stan Lee