What I thought of The Amazing Spider-Man #200

Anniversary or ‘event issues’ are ten-a-penny nowadays. Blink and you’ll miss a dozen of the bastards. Back in 1980 they were actually a big thing, and the 200th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was a big deal even if it had (and with all due respect) less than a stellar creative team of Marv Wolfman writing and Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney on artistic chores.

We start with some good old fashioned Spidey angst as he’s lost his powers after a battle with Mysterio. Aunt May is facing death and the burglar that started all this way back in Amazing Fantasy #15 is back for his own revenge.

This is a pretty formulaic anniversary issue for Spidey as in addition to the angst, there’s a recap of his origin, and a reminder of how it all started which leads to Spidey/Peter Parker getting angry as he finds his purpose again.

Only problem is he’s powerless.

Of course Spidey doesn’t die, otherwise one of Marvel’s prize assets would be gone. We do however get a scene that shows Peter Parker has learned from his mistake that led to his Uncle Ben being murdered.

After a fight with Uncle Ben’s killer Peter is captured, tied up and we get some medium level threat.

After much fannying about, a powerless Spidey confronts the burglar and loses.

Eventually we get to the big climax where it’s revealed Aunt May isn’t dead, Spidey has his powers back and we get a climatic, not to mention cathartic, fight.

Which leads to Spidey telling us he’s learned a what is now, familiar lesson.

This was the Marvel of editor Jim Shooter so it’s basic stuff, even for what it is it’s actually well done. Wolfman turns in a decent script that looks back and sets up Spider-Man for the rest of the 80’s while Pollard’s pencils are good though they suffer from Mooney’s drab, bland inks. This though may well not be an especially memorable anniversary issue but as a good solid bit of Marvel superheroics it’s readable stuff, and most of all accessible. Anyone could have picked this up and got the story just by reading this issue without having read 17 years worth of comics as is the case so often today.

Stan Lee at 91

It was Stan Lee’s 91st birthday the other day.

Stan-Lee

I grew up reading Marvel Comics that Lee wrote, or more than likely, provided the dialogue for. His Shakespearean gibberish was something I loved, and still do because it was fun nonsense. It does read badly if you’re older than 14, but Lee changed comics, though I do like Alan Moore’s description of Lee changing comics from a one-dimensional medium to two-dimensional. I also tend to agree with Moore’s comments about who actually created what for Marvel in the early and mid-1960’s.

There’s an incredibly easy way to work out if Lee was the creative mastermind behind Marvel Comics in the 1960’s. Read his work before and after this time. Take The Fantastic Four after Jack Kirby left as an example.

Go on, have a read, I’ll wait here. It’s pretty poor isn’t it? Of course Lee seems to realise this so people like Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman get more to do because they’re at least more capable of doing the heavy creative lifting that Lee’s shown he can’t do when he’s not got a Kirby knocking out characters like the Silver Surfer, or Steve Ditko with Doctor Strange and Spider Man.

Lee creatively is nothing after Kirby leaves Marvel, and eventually goes off to do other things. All this is outlined in Sean Howe’s excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story which can’t be recommended too highly.

The fact is that from very early on Lee was claiming himself to be the creative soul of Marvel, even though he was still gushing praise on people like Ditko and Kirby as this old bit of archive shows.

I’ve met Lee three times. Once was as a kid when he was in Glasgow doing a promotion for Dez Skinn’s Hulk Comic for Marvel UK. The second was at a UKCAC in 1991 or so where I had a reasonable chat with him when I was still somewhat in awe of him, so I got him to sign a few old Marvel Comics I’d picked up which sadly I no longer have for a variety of reasons. This was also the UKCAC where I saw a piece of Kirby art with dialogue everywhere. It wasn’t this piece, but it gives you an idea of what Kirby did at Marvel.

This was a bit of an awakening for me as like Alan Moore in the video above, I’d believed the Marvel Bullpen stories of Jolly Jack happily writing Lee’s scripts, and that his leaving Marvel for DC was down to a personal  dispute between him and Lee who he parodied as Funky Flashman in his DC work.It took me a bit longer to realise that this series of panels was Kirby attacking Lee and Roy Thomas.

I don’t want to make this all about Kirby or Ditko but they were done wrong by him, by Marvel, and now by Disney. However Lee refuses to give full credit where credit is due.

The last time I met Lee was in the late 90’s again at a convention, this time at the NEC in Birmingham. This was a nice brief chat while having a cup of tea and I mentioned that I met him during the promotion he did for Hulk Comic some 20 years earlier to which he smile, shook my hand and joked that he didn’t feel a day older. I walked away thinking he was the Best Guy in the World before sitting back down behind our tables and remembering about how Kirby was shafted.

This is the thing. Lee’s an amazing salesperson. In fact ever since I’ve been making my primary living through sales over the last decade or so I’ve unashamedly nicked some of Lee’s tricks and made them my own. Cheers Stan!

So I do wish Lee well for making it to 91. It’s a remarkable age to be still doing even half of what Lee does every year, but then again it helps if you’re incredibly wealthy thanks to Marvel and Disney making sure you remain wealthy. Kirby, Ditko and the other artists who supported Lee’s rise throughout the 1960’s were, on the whole, far from wealthy. They deserved their share of the glory and the money. Steve Ditko should be a millionaire and not someone scraping a living well into his 80’s,

Lee should be remembered as the man who sold Marvel. He’s the man who made people like Kirby famous because he was, and is a great salesperson. Without Lee Marvel may well have got nowhere as he was the face of the company, but his great failing is not to share the glory. Had Stan Lee fought to ensure his fellow creators the rights they morally deserve, history will look better upon him. He didn’t so his legacy will forever be tainted because of it.

I despair of those fans, mainly under 30, who unashamedly stick up for Lee because he’s the face they see in the Marvel films, and hey! He created Spider Man!! That overrules any facts or anything!!

Happy birthday Stan, Thanks for the fun when I was a kid. Thanks for those kind words on those occasions when I met you. Please now, before it’s too late, give credit where credit is due so those people and their families can get what they deserve.

The Eisnercon-Glasgow’s First Comic Convention

eisnerconI mentioned in an early blog post about the Eisnercon, and went into detail about GLASCAC but haven’t said anything about the first real comic convention Glasgow held in 1986. This isn’t to say Glasgow didn’t have large comic related events, it did, but they were either the large Marts that the comic shop, AKA organised, or the signing sessions held at AKA featuring a lot of the rising British talent of the time but there wasn’t the big convention of the type we’d be familiar with today.

By the mid-80’s Glasgow was well established for holding regular SF conventions with Albacon being the regular one held over a weekend during Glasgow’s Fair Fortnight, which grew out of the original Faircon which is (and will be) a blog in itself. Anyhow the idea from John McShane, Pete Root and the others at AKA was to organise a large 3-day convention along the same lines as what was being done with SF conventions and to have a full programme of events, dealers room, film room (ended up being a video room but more on this later) and of course, a bar which would never, ever close unless it ran out of beer.

The convention was to be in the Central Hotel in Glasgow mainly because this is where the SF conventions had made a home so the management and staff were used to working with such events and that it was a cheapish, good central location. It also helped reduce the risks as although comic conventions were fairly common and frequent south of the border they also fell quickly by the wayside in a lot of cases, so a good location was paramount as was a good guest list which could be counted on with AKA’s connections but the convention needed an American guest for credibility and it got Will Eisner.

I’m going to have to make a confession here that I vaguely knew Eisner because of The Spirit, and his influence upon Frank Miller’s work but I really didn’t know much else even though I was by now firmly embedded in AKA and John McShane and several other customers adored his work. I was moving away from being a superhero reader only thanks to titles like Love & Rockets but it was still early days however this convention would change a lot of my reading habits forever.

John had managed to get Eisner as the main guest along with Marv Wolfman who was still riding high from Crisis on Infinite Earths, while we had Bryan Talbot as the main British guest along with a couple of dozen others including Alan Davis, Alan Moore, and Alan Grant. This was a huge deal getting someone of Eisner’s stature and the British guest list would still pack out halls today so anticupation was huge.

One day sitting around AKA various jobs were being bandied around so people could do them and I fancied my hand at doing the film room, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford getting a projectors, films and paying for them, so we downscaled to a video room. One of AKA’s customers was a chap by the name of Hugh Campbell who used to do a nice wee fanzine called Fusion. Yes, this is a Grant Morrison cover of Kid Marvelman…

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It also used to be printed and assembled in the back shop of AKA and I did one issue, #5 I think, but it was a splendid fanzine which Hugh did a great job with. Hugh also had an amazing collection of VHS videos, including some pre Video Nasty versions of films which instantly appealed to the gorehound that I was back in those days, but the idea was to get a programme to appeal to everyone & to run it really late, or indeed all night, which meant people could kip in the room overnight.  The Central were amazingly accommodating and to this day I’m amazed at the stuff they let pass during the conventions they had there.

We publicised the convention in the shop, not to mention the other shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus in the comic press and anywhere we could. Expectations were high and we’d tried to make it as affordable as possible, but advanced numbers weren’t what everyone hoped but there was still the will with everyone involved with AKA to make it work, plus we didn’t know what would happen on the weekend itself.

By the time the weekend came I’d got around 40-50 films from Hugh and built up a programme which I thought would go down well with things like the Superman films, Blade Runner, and  of course, a few Video Nasties. I’d also got myself a few minions to help and to allow me to dive out to the bar.

If all this sounds fun can I point out that organising convention can be fun but it’s also extraordinary hard work, not to mention that if something fucks up (as it did) then you’re held responsible and people will delight in telling you that but thankfully the convention came and went along it’s way quite smoothly considering that we were all utterly and totally blagging it as running a 3-day con with all it entails is an entirely different beast to running a mart.

As for Will Eisner he was a complete gentleman who had time for everyone including the tosser who thought he could tell him about perspective! How can some spotty faced wee wanker tell the man who drew this about perspective?!

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Moving on…

The video room was going well with the odd technical problem being dealt with as and when but I’d worked out that if I put really long films on in the evening then it’d give me time to grab some food, or a drink or get my head down for an hour or so. There was also an incident with a young girl who became upset by a scene near the start of the film The Howling which features an extreme scene of rape which takes place on a TV screen in the background of one scene. I hadn’t thought of that incident for years til being reminded of it.

The main programme consisted of talks & a lot of Eisner doing classes in drawing which were amazing to watch as the man was a genius. I don’t really remember much else of the programme as I was busy/sleeping/drunk but what I saw was fun, but the dealers room seemed awfully thin of customers. In fact the honest truth was the entire weekend was thin on the ground when it came to attendees with a rough estimate of 300 or so people there over the 3-day event.

It didn’t make it’s money back. It may have been an artistic success but AKA couldn’t afford to bankroll another one so we fell back on signing sessions and the bigger marts and there wouldn’t be a big convention in Glasgow again til 1990.

Looking back at it I suppose you could say it was ahead of it’s time and you’d be right. Had it been held in 1988 then things would have been very different but it was influential in helping some Glasgow based creators get some connections, plus Eisner’s classes clearly influenced some people to take up drawing but it’s sadly fell down the back of the sofa of history and been forgotten about. I’d like to get more stories from it as it’s an important bit of British comics history that needs to be fleshed out, so if anyone reading this wants to add anything then feel free to contact me as I consider this very much a work in progress…