Born in 1922, this man changed the landscape of comic books as we know them. Many will and would credit Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko for the groundwork they lay. Yes, they do deserve any accolades they receive from any critic, writer or historian. There is however one thing they lacked that one individual knew how to utilize. He was well ahead of his time, his name is Stan Lee.
Stan Lee used his marketing skills to excel his brand and himself. The marketing and skill set to play ahead of the curve in no way dispels or discredits Kirby or Ditko. Those two were/are talents to never be matched. Have creators come along since their time to challenge the industry? Sure, but Kirby and Ditko were innovator’s, that’s the gigantic difference that separates them from the boys and even Stan Lee. But Stan Lee did create and co-create some of the most iconic characters in the history of pop culture. Let’s not get this twisted.
…who will take the mantle from Stan Lee?
Did Stan ever take full credit for creating the likes of many of the household named characters? Sure he did. When no one else was doing the marketing chores or promoting the Marvel Comics brand. Was this a ‘nice’ thing to do? Of course not, but if you are the face of a franchise, you’ll build the brand and then get to the credits later, which he did. Marketing, branding and money were more important at the moment than was the ‘people have hurt feelings’ department. Stan was marketing, no one else was stepping it up. Give Lee credit for a vision. This vision carried for many years with failed and semi-successful television shows. Any Marvel movie before the Marvel Studios first Iron Man could be called a complete and utter failure. Stan Lee’s Marvel merchandising (toys/cards) can be called mildly successful. Through some modest success and horrid failures, Stan Lee did deliver one thing…..a face to a brand. Every household knew who Spider-Man was, who the big green monster was, the guy with the hammer, the shield and the Chief of Marvel Comics….Mr. Stan Lee. Something was working!
…Nothing is stated as fact here. Just a writer, sharing his thoughts…
For the longest time, the comic book fan base has always had healthy nerd debates; who’s stronger Superman or Hulk? Spider-Man vs Batman? Red underwear or no? Marvel vs DC? But it’s been within the past few years a newer debate has taken front and center. That questions sounds something like this; who will take the mantle from Stan Lee? Who will be the face of the comic book industry when Stan Lee hangs them up? As much as fans may think this guy will never stop, he will eventually. Granted, he’s the sharpest 94 year old man you’ll ever meet, but he’ll call it a day sooner rather than later. Walking off into the sunset in California, giving everyone a wave while saying ‘nuff said!’. When that day arrives, who will be next up? If anyone.
While respecting opinions of others, some of the names being tossed around are a bit off. Let’s visit some of those names shall we? Then I’ll offer up my pick that shall carry the torch. Please remember though, this is a subjective/opinionative narrative. Nothing is stated as fact here. Just a writer, sharing his thoughts and hoping to create some banter below.
One name that hits out a lot is Robert Kirkman. We all love Robert. Such a kind, gentle, cool cat. A gentle ‘quiet’ approach is the vibe we get when anyone meets him or speaks with him. Although 100% nothing wrong with this, this wouldn’t work to sell the comic book industry. His credentials are an obviously successful zombie franchise and superhero comic (Invincible) that never got its full endorsement from the comic community. Yes, it was/is a fantastic book/story, but many fans are not on board and my 10 year old son doesn’t know who Invincible is. He’s heard of the Walking Dead though. Not taking anything away from the Invincible character, but he’s not a household name. The Skybound Publishing (Image Comics imprint) company is another accomplishment under Kirkman’s belt. Again, nothing but Walking Dead thrusting ahead here. He’s a brilliant writer, but one needs to change the game other than a successful zombie comic/television show. Maybe the Invincible movie will change things drastically for Kirkman’s status as the new torch holder, but for now, it’s a no for this writer/producer.
Jim Lee is another name constantly thrown out there. Jim is one of the most amazing artist of this generation. His X-Men, Batman and Superman runs are simply unmatched as far as visually and dynamics. He was one of the co-founders of Image Comics (a huge plus) and the founder of the Wildstorm imprint (not a huge plus).
While fans loved the visually stunning pencils of Lee’s in any of his Wildstorm Publishing books, the stories were extremely lacking. Jim Lee’s pencils are so visually on point that it takes him a bit longer to get a book out. Delays hurt the comic business. Delays are the Kryptonite of the industry. Lee’s had his share of many delays during his creative and publishing career. DC comics, not always on point with their decision making made Lee their Co-Publisher along with Dan Didio in 2010. While doing a great job in his new position, nothing industry altering has occurred during his tenure. This hurts the process as a possible front runner as the new face of the comic book industry. Jim Lee is a dynamic player, just not dynamic enough to carry the load of the entire industry.
Much like Jim Lee, Geoff Johns has followed a similar path minus the publishing company and the delays. So what is the similarity then? The uber talent level. As with Jim’s pencils, Johns is with his writing. This dude can flat out write a story. He brought Green Lantern and Flash to new heights. Old fans were stunned and new fans were born. Johns is responsible for the DC universe the way it’s shaped today. He’s responsible for the DC cinematic universe looking the way it does. Johns is the new Frank Miller. So is this the new torch carrier? Nope. Johns is a young pup with a great vision. A darker one. Nothing wrong with a vision like this, but it’s a bit waning after a while.
One of the biggest complaints regarding the Superman vs Batman movie was the non color visualization. Movie goers like some color with our heroes, it psychologically gives hope and happiness. Not saying Johns had total vision of the movie, but Zakk was going a lot based off of the Geoff Johns books he’s had his hands in. Geoff Johns can write a riveting story, one of the best in today’s era, but the constant darkness has to give way to light eventually. Hence one (of many) reasons why the DC cinematic universe is not up to par with the Marvel cinematic universe. That’s an entire other story for another time. DC comics made Geoff Johns the President and Chief Creative Officer in 2010. Once again, as with Jim Lee, we get comic book creator star power, but not a game changer. Making great stories does not equate to carrying the torch. We need a game changer here.
…My 10 year old boy knows who Spawn is…
Who can be the next? Who can run with the proverbial torch? Has success, seen failure, bounced back, had success within the merchandise market, was a main head of the third largest publishing company, created a household named brand character, still has that character in an on going comic, is as charismatic as they come and thinks business first and foremost.
Yes, this person exists and his name is Todd McFarlane. Hopefully I don’t have any fanboys reading this, they are probably writing to Congress right now. The credentials for McFarlane speak for themselves. Let’s hit some of those; his Spider-Man work has changed the entire complexity of the character for any artist after him. The webbing alone has changed forever. This is unprecedented. He gave Batman’s cape a life of its own. He went on to use that cape idea later on for his own character. One of the lead creators of Image Comics. His Spawn #1 comic was the biggest selling comic book of that era. Spawn is still a comic being published today. My 10 year old boy knows who Spawn is. Marketing done right there. Spawn had a successful HBO cartoon run and a semi-successful movie. He went on to create the most realistic figures (toys) on the market with a multi-million dollar company McFarlane Toys.
He continues to push the envelope today as crowds devour him whenever he appears at a comic convention or an event. His demand is unmatched in a way only one other comic industry star would know….Stan Lee.
Now I know many are saying, what about Todd’s shortcomings? Guess what, he’s failed too. Here’s a newsflash, he will again. Another newsflash, you will too. So will I. It’s the way it goes. It’s natural and this whole article is completely subjective. There is no wrong or right here. An opinion, don’t be a fanboy, be a part of the narrative with an opinion that will bring forward thinking. That said, not everyone ‘likes’ Todd or even Stan for that matter. It’s not a matter of who you like, put your fanboy feelings aside, think business, think comic industry. This isn’t about Neil Gaiman or Steve Ditko. This is about forward business thinking. Watch the youtube video of a recent McFarlane interview. The man is on point. Has a pulse. Completely gets how this all works.
This blogger thinks Todd McFarlane will be tapped next as the king to reign supreme. Whether he wants that burden or happily accepts the responsibility of it will be totally up to him. I for one thinks he’ll accept the role without the burden and become the new ambassador once Stan hangs em’ up.
Who do you think steps in? Do you think Todd McFarlane is next? If not, who?
Jay Katz, a comic book collector since 1983, is the owner/creator of InvestComics LLC since 2005. InvestComics LLC was originally a magazine before the website launched in 2005.
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