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FOG! Chats With ‘I Am Stan: A Graphic Biography of the Legendary Stan Lee,’ Author Tom Scioli

Eisner-nominated writer and artist Tom Scioli has made a name for himself in the comic industry for his creator owned projects such as American Barbarian, The Myth of 8-Opus, and Gødland (with writer Joe Casey).  Scioli has been involved with several retro reboots all with a strong Jack Kirby influence including Super Powers, Transformers vs G.I. Joe, Go-Bots, and Marvel’s Fantastic Four: Grand Design.  His 2020 book, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics, was the long-overdue biography of the legend who co-created Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men.

His latest book, I Am Stan: A Graphic Biography of the Legendary Stan Lee, tells the life story of the sometimes controversial co-creator of Marvel Comics.  Tom took some time to discuss the new book, Stan’s legacy, and his own upcoming projects.

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Forces of Geek: Your book, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics came out in 2020.  Was the plan always to follow it up with a biography on Stan Lee?

Tom Scioli: It wasn’t my plan, but working on the Jack Kirby book, there was, by necessity, a mini-Stan Lee book built into it. A lot of people asked if I was doing a Stan Lee book next, including the publisher. Now people are asking me if Ditko is next, so there are very obvious places to go, but it was about a year after the Jack Kirby book that I seriously started thinking about telling Stan’s story.

Looking at your previous work, you definitely have a strong Jack Kirby influence.  Was Stan an influence on your work?  How did approach Fantastic Four: Grand Design, based on Stan and Jack’s work?

Stan Lee’s worldview and his style of dialogue were for me the default setting for comics. You could lean into it, you could go against it, but it was always there, an invisible presence in the background, like it or not. I especially enjoy the patter, there are many laugh-out-loud lines in those 60s Marvel comics. The middle of the road moral stance is very comforting. A lot of that Stan Lee worldview worked its way into the larger popular culture even before the Marvel cinematic era

Working on Fantastic Four: Grand Design, I thought a lot about those Stan-isms. I played with the moral stance. I pushed the FF a little further into the anti-hero direction. I had a couple of moments where I quoted Stan Lee dialogue. I did my own attempts at doing new dialogue in the Stan Lee style. In a lot of cases I did the opposite of Stan dialogue, making it as terse, clear and to the point as possible. Stan loved to gild the lily and embellish with a lot of purple prose.

It was fun to work in that mode occasionally, but I mainly went for a voice that was almost the opposite of what Stan Lee did with the dialogue.

Over the years Stan cut deals to create properties for several different companies, with them ultimately not being produced or absolutely terrible.  Do you think that Stan’s desire for fame and adulation is what drove him?

I don’t agree that they were necessarily terrible. There was a lot of product in those later years of varying quality

I think that desire for approval was a big driving factor for Stan, in smaller personal interactions, and on the broader stage. He enjoyed having an audience and holding court.

Do you think Stan Lee is the co-creator of the Marvel Universe?  What do you think his legacy should be?

Definitely! There are three clear co-creators of the Marvel Formula/Marvel Universe. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. There are others who did their parts, too, depending on how broadly you define it. Carl Burgos, Bill Everett and Joe Simon also made very important early contributions.

Stan’s legacy is interesting. It’s still in flux. He definitely left his mark. His creative contribution was important. His editorial and curatorial skills were probably his strongest area. His showmanship, the “Stan Lee” spokesperson character was ahead of the curve and extremely effective in the long term.

Are you considering another comic biography?  What other projects do you have in the works?

I am considering it. I have a couple of possible subjects, not necessarily focusing on a single creator like I did in the first two books. As far as other projects, there’s Jack Kirby’s Starr Warriors: The Adventures of Adam Starr and the Solar Legion which should be coming out around the same time as I Am Stan.

What are you currently geeking out over?

I’m reading some of the old Doc Savage pulp novels. It’s really interesting seeing exactly how influential they were for everything from Batman to Superman to the Fantastic Four. One of them is called “The Fortress of Solitude.”

I’ve been watching a lot of silent movies, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd. I’ve been very curious about the origins of modern popular culture.

I Am Stan: A Graphic Biography of the Legendary Stan Lee, is available now
Jack Kirby’s Starr Warriors arrives in stores/digital on September 20th
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