Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, December 4, 2021

A World Imagined

We step into stories for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes, we need answers.  Other times, we need to know we are not alone.  To see others like us experiencing similar situations, supplies us with strength. Often, stories allow us to leave our world.  We visit new and foreign people and places, real and imagined, past and present.

For others, writing stories the rest of us step into is their life's work.  With Great Power:  The Marvelous Stan Lee:  An Unauthorized Biography (Page Street Kids, October 19, 2021) written by Annie Hunter Eriksen with illustrations by Lee Gatlin gives readers a look at the man behind a universe first found in comics and later in film.  He wrote about heroes, but will be long remembered as a hero himself.

Stan Lee didn't have
hulking strength.
Or fantastic flexibility.
Or catlike reflexes.
His superpower was
creating heroes who did. 

As a child living in New York City, Stanley Lieber knew poverty.  His inside world was a tiny apartment shared with his parents and younger brother.  His realm beyond those walls was huge through stories.  At an early age, he knew he wanted to be a writer, but before his seventeenth birthday he was working to help support his family.

Stanley began as an errand boy for Timely Comics.  He did whatever needed doing.  One day, the firm was in dire straits.  They needed someone to write a filler piece.  Stanley Lieber became Stan Lee.  Stan Lee wrote as fast as he could, page after page.

When industry greats, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left the firm, Timely Comics needed an editor.  Stan Lee was still a teenager, but he filled the position.  For twenty years Stan Lee wrote as fast as he could, page after page.  He wanted more.  He wanted to create a new kind of hero.  His wife Joanie offered advice which changed everything.

Together Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave birth to the Fantastic Four!  These heroes were more well-rounded, like the rest of us, but with special gifts.  Next Stan partnered with Steve Diko to release Peter Parker and his wondrous web abilities into readers' minds.  

From then forward, Stan Lee took those tales from his youth, using them to fashion more fabulous characters whose stories people still love to step into each and every day.  As Stan Lee's universe of heroes expanded from the printed page to the silver screen, he realized he needed to do another kind of writing.  Each month "Stan's Soapbox" appeared in a Marvel comic.  Stan Lee believed everyone has a hero inside them.

Each time this book is read, the sentences and phrases penned by Annie Hunter Eriksen envelope you.  She selected particular facts in Stan Lee's life presenting them and him as much of a hero as those he brought to life through his writing.  Annie Hunter Eriksen's choice of words, her adjectives and verbs, often refer to actions and adventures like those experienced by Stan Lee's characters.  Woven into the narrative are speech balloons with dialogue supplying readers with authenticity.  Here is a passage.

. . .But for now, he would be Stanley Lieber:  Errand Boy!

CA-CLINK went the pens as Errand Boy    
filled them in the inkwells.

rang the pencil as Errand Boy
erased lines for the artists.

Errand Boy slung notes
on writers' desks.

Errand Boy rushed by to
deliver everyone lunch!

When readers look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, they see a familiar Stan Lee hard at work writing.  Through the window are images of marvelous characters he made for us.  Once the book is read, readers will understand the significance of the window.  It no longer looks at a brick wall, but it is filled with his heroes.  

To the left of the spine, on the back, is a white canvas with partial city buildings on the right and bottom.  A line of web stretches from the upper, right-hand corner.  Spider-Man is flying over the bottom building with Stan Lee clasped in his right arm as his left hand grips the webbing.  The opening words to the narrative are there along with three sound effects.

A dark yellow-orange provides the background for the opening and closing endpapers.  In black and in a variety of fonts are sound effect words.  They cover the entire area and are certain to elicit a smile from Marvel and comic fans.  Between the text on the title page a young Stanley Lieber is positioned near a desk as Errand Boy!

These illustrations rendered by Lee Gatlin in 

mixed media

are highly animated and look as though they are ready to pop off the pages.  In the earlier visuals there is a predominant use of sepia tones.  Once Stan Lee is writing about his heroes full time, more color appears in the images.  The sizes of the illustrations vary to enhance the pacing and heighten the pictorial translation of the information.

One of my many favorite pictures is a single page divided into three geometrically-shaped horizontal panels.  These three panels are the images for the above-noted text.  In the first, Stanley fills inkwells with one hand and erases errors on an illustration with the other hand.  In the second, with an overhead flip of his wrist a note flies to a writer's desk.  Eager hands grab for lunch bags as Stan zooms past desks in the third panel.  In each picture, Stanley's eyes are closed as he imagines himself as Errand Boy.  His face reflects confidence.

This book, With Great Power:  The Marvelous Stan Lee:  An Unauthorized Biography written by Annie Hunter Eriksen with illustrations by Lee Gatlin, will be read repeatedly by Marvel universe fans and shared widely.  For those readers not familiar with Stan Lee, this book offers them a look at how stories are transformative for all of us.  At the close of the book are sections titled No Small Parts, Friendly Neighborhood Bullpen and Stan Takes A Stand.  The first speaks about Stan Lee's cameo appearances in the comics and on film.  The second talks about his collaboration with other creators.  The final section addresses Stan Lee's connection to his fans.  There is also a bibliography.  I know you'll want a copy of this title in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Lee Gatlin and his other work, follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Annie Hunter Eriksen has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Lee Gatlin has accounts on Instagram and TwitterMaria Marshall interviews Annie Hunter Eriksen about this book and her work.  Lee Gatlin is highlighted at Kathy Temean's Writing and Illustrating here and here.

1 comment:

  1. Just ordered, thanks again to Margie’s deliciously described review. Ok, I was already a Stan Lee fan girl, but Margie’s words……they always end up costing me money WELL SPENT. Congratulations to all involved in making this magical book. Will review after reading, smelling, caressing, and reading again. Stay well all!