Modern comic book history, in 3 minutes

As a person who mostly skipped any engagement with comic books in the 80s and 90s (my sons got into them a bit during that period), this short video seems to perfectly encapsulate my experience with them. Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane are shown creating a new superhero character while Stan Lee kibitzes. The amazing thing is how Lee zeroes in on the deficiencies of their creation — all flash and glitz, no story and no character — and closes with words of prophecy.

“The kids like it!”


  1. cartomancer says

    To be fair, I’m not sure the vast majority of comic book creations before the 80s and 90s were any better. Watching that, it looked to me rather like two flavours of Christian nutcase having a conflict over whose version of their stories was best.

    To lay my cultural biases on the table, I was born in the mid 80s and grew up into the 90s. But I wasn’t hugely into comics, and certainly not into the superhero ones that are the mainstay of the US comics industry. To me Stan Lee’s ideas about how someone should look are also shallow and dictated by peculiar and pointless conventions. Why should a character have a secret identity? That seems camp and silly to me, the sort of ossified and pointless genre convention we could well do without. Why should they be out “saving the world”? Surely there are other things one could tell stories about? And what’s wrong with grim and moody and exaggerately over-embellished? Sure, it gets samey if overdone, but it was new and reactionary in the 80s and 90s, in response to the campy, minimalist designs of the 60s and 70s. Almost all of them are just the same lycra bodysuit in a different colour, with a different symbol on the chest, and maybe one other distinguishing feature if you’re lucky. I also note that he comments on the tendency for drawing women in various states of undress but doesn’t address the unrealistic male body image that both his and the 90s artists’ work assumes is the norm for protagonists.

    I would like to think that the name “overkill” is at least a little bit satirical though.

    Rob Liefield most definitely can’t do hands and feet though. That bit’s true.

  2. scarter00 says

    I really enjoy how Stan shows that Liefeld and McFarlane have no idea how to create a compelling character.

    Stan takes a lot of heat for being a salesman, but he was every bit as much Marvel as Jack or Steve. Lee was involve in every title, so he needed his artists to be his co-writers. There’s a claim that Lee never gave sufficient credit to the artists, but that really isn’t true. It certainly wasn’t the industry standard, and Marvel wasn’t any different in that respect. DC mostly didn’t even credit its creators; often the writers are only identifiable by their paystubs, and the artists (Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky) only by their personal styles. Marvel was the first company to credit writer, artist, colorist, and letterer.

    Whenever Stan described the “Marvel Method”, he was giving explicit credit to Jack or Steve or Larry or John Romita; either Stan or one of the artists would come up with a story, the artist would flesh it out, and Stan would come in and punch up the dialogue and narration. And Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko needed Stan. Whenever Jack was allowed to work completely alone, he came up with something like the Fourth World – a lot of flash and bombast, but very little humanity. Whenever Steve worked alone, he came up with the Question or Mr. A – the same character again and again. Jack Kirby said that if Ditko had been allowed to take his own direction on Spider-Man, he’d have ruined the character.

    By the way, Spider-Man wasn’t Lee and Ditko’s creation; it was Kirby and Joe Simon’s creation. Stan and Steve adapted Spider-Man and changed Peter’s backstory. Kirby even drew the first attempts at the character, but Lee didn’t like the way it looked and pulled in Ditko instead.

  3. raven says

    Strangely enough, I just got into comic books a few years ago.
    In my 60’s.

    I did them a bit in my childhood in the 1950’s and then moved on.
    My local library has a huge collection of graphic novels.
    One day, I pulled one out and leafed through it.
    The art work and style were good and caught my eye.
    They had me.

    Partial to DC comics for some reason.
    The Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Batgirl, Batwoman, the Flash, are the best.

  4. Numenaster says

    Ah, Rob Liefeld. Infamous for not understanding how anything works about anatomy. You’d think that would be a drawback for an artist, but, well, the kids love the gadgets. Says Rob Liefeld. From watching the video you can tell pretty easily Rob Liefeld loves the gadgets (and the wires that you’d trip over running, and the superfluous shading lines). The only mystery is why Rob Liefeld got any repeat jobs.

    In conclusion,

  5. Matt Cramp says

    I don’t know if the 90s counts as modern any more – comic books definitely don’t look like Rob Leifeld any more, and character design has gotten a lot more varied and interesting.

  6. paulburnett says

    I remember Todd McFarlane’s Spiderman had tiny pointed feet and tiny ankles.