In the ’70s and ’80s, there was often talk and rumors that “Maybe they’ll make a movie of this someday.” But in your book, you see how people behind the scenes were constantly trying to find ways to monetize these characters, whether in film, crappy cartoons, television series, etc. It seems, then, that for people at Marvel, especially Stan Lee at times, it wasn’t about comic books as an art form, but about the characters, and making those characters last. Did people at the top care about the art form?
Well, I think that Stan Lee was someone who believed in the form of comic books, but I think that he was also someone who, many years ago, came to the conclusion that comic books were not a healthy industry, and that his best shot and the best shot for the company was to move into another industry. I don’t think it was quite the same as, you know, when a corporation says, “We want to turn this into a transmedia property.” I think for Stan Lee, it was more like, “The comic book industry is in trouble, what are we going to do with these characters?” Now, everyone in the industry seems to be very happy to move into other media and I think that that’s great, I think people should make money from their creations and I think, you know, better a Hawkeye movie than another Battleship movie. But the thing that I guess sort of bothers me is that nobody is saying, “There’s a lot about the art form of comics that the movies will never be able to touch.” It seems to me that people have just decided that movies are the next step up for comic books, that that is what comic books should aspire to. And I feel like, for example, that Gene Colan’s Iron Man is going to give you something that no movie could ever give you!
It’s almost like the ’80s noir-ifying of comics was people saying “Look, these comics you love could be movies if we ditched these ’60s archetypes.” It seems like it was all about getting people used to the idea of seeing live action humans dressed in costumes without it being lame, and I guess that’s what happened by the late ’80s.
Yeah, but I think even beyond that, it’s more about — like if you’re going to Thanksgiving dinner, you could well be talking to your mom’s sister or whatever, and she could be like, “Oh, I saw the Iron Man movie, and now I understand what you were into all that time.” There’s a tendency for the public at large to ascribe all the value of what comic books are to the actual characters, and I think people involved in the comic industry are doing nothing to change that perception. It would be really tremendous if comic books were marketed a little bit more as, “Here’s an expression of something by this guy and this guy.” But they’re not going to give too much credit to the creators, for business reasons. For the Walt Disney Company, it’s fine — they probably couldn’t give a shit that people only think of comic books as the sum value of these characters.