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‘I Am Stan: A Graphic Biography of the Legendary Stan Lee’ (review)

Written and Illustrated by Tom Scioli
Published by Ten Speed Graphic

 

Let me just say up front, I am a Stan fan.

Tom Scioli’s latest graphic biography, I Am Stan, is a puzzlement.  With whole pages where the sheer amount of words all but crowds out any illustrations, it isn’t really good comics. The narrative also jumps around quite a bit, expecting the reader to somehow know parts of the story that simply aren’t in evidence here.

In my case I actually did know a lot of those missing pieces so I was able to get more out of it than the average reader might.  Attempting to give a nuanced portrait of the beloved but divisive Stan Lee by using his own words as its text—with sources duly credited at the end of the book—Scioli doesn’t so much tell his subject’s life story as he does offer illustrated snapshots of different ages.

Rather than reading an actual biography, this comes across more like looking through someone’s annotated photo album.

It’s hard to even discuss Stan Lee these days with anyone outside of those who just know him from his MCU cameos (and they’re in here, too.).

Based on what we know, most of which is referenced in this book, clearly Stan Lee was in the industry all along pretty much for his own benefit…but then, isn’t everyone to a large extent?

More success, more acclaim, more promotions, more money, and, in theory, more happiness. And in the end, that’s exactly what Stan got, only to end up exploited for it, as often sadly happens.

While the continuity and flow of the narrative is occasionally jumpy, Scioli’s individual sections are often nicely paced and laid out, despite the generally excessive verbiage.

Martin Goodman, the original owner/publisher of the company that became Marvel Comics, is well-known to have achieved much of his success in the magazine field by bandwagon-jumping, and that is conveyed well here as from time to time he instructs Stan on what to copy next.

Heck, even Lee’s nickname—Stan the Man—was originally from St. Louis Cardinals baseball great Stan Musial.

So what we have here is a success story with a sad ending, based almost entirely on the admittedly faulty memories and occasional out and out falsehoods of its own subject.

By that score, one must say that I Am Stan is, at best, a flawed work. But it’s about a flawed man. The fact that it gives a fuller picture of someone I feel I’ve known all my life, and yet never really knew, gives Tom’s book extra points from me.

Overkill at times and underplayed at others, by using the visual format, Scioli has managed to humanize the icon that Stan Lee himself created in ways no other biography I’ve read has done, and for that, I’m grateful.

Booksteve recommends.

 

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