With the recent passing of comic book legend Stan Lee, the world mourns. Not just kids or teenagers, but adults of every age too – which really says a lot about their ever-increasing influence.
The fantasy world that can be found within the different pages really connects well to readers. Who has not imagined themselves as a superhero with the power of flight before? Or perhaps, the immense strength to lift a car?
Such is the riveting narrative that comic books can offer. Think of it as a break from the everyday world, but with the grounding of real-life issues. A dose of healthy escapism, so to speak.
Lee himself was quoted as saying in an interview in the past: “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers.”
“And then I began to realize. Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”
Lee rose through the ranks of a family-run business to become Marvel Comics’ primary creative leader for two decades. He is respected the world over for being a bold and daring visionary.
The man created superheroes the likes of Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Thor, Fantastic Four, Iceman and much more. All of which are now instantly recognizable characters.
“There will never be another Stan Lee. For decades he provided both young and old with adventure, escape, comfort, confidence, inspiration, strength, friendship and joy,” said Chris Evans, who played Captain America in the Marvel Comics films.
And the tributes poured in from everyone that has known the man. “Thank you for the incredible adventures your stories took all of us on,” added Chris Hemsworth, also known as Thor on the silver screen.
Hugh Jackman, the man who brought Wolverine to life, stated, “He's a creative genius. He thought outside the box. He created a whole universe that changed the lives of many people – mine included. ”
Krak! Pow! Wap!
Marvel Comics is not the only player in the industry though. Its rival, DC Comics is probably just as influential with its own line of recognisable heroes. Think of Superman, Flash, Batman or Wonder Woman.
But this just illustrates the point. Comic books on the whole are a force to be reckoned with. As it is, fans in the industry are willing to pay top money for collector’s edition and rare issues – in sums that no kid can ever afford.
For example, the comic book featuring the debut of Superman sold for a whopping US$2.16 mil in 2011. The first issue whereby Thor made an appearance changed hands in 2014 for US$275,000.
But it is not just the monetary value that matters. A 2011 Spider-Man edition telling the story of how a shape-changing villain tried to impersonate then US president Barack Obama sold more than half a million copies.
That is not counting the Hollywood franchise. Films based on comic books are now annual blockbusters, raking in top dollars around the world. Everyone wants to see their favourite superhero on screen.
What about the other genres? Manga has reached a fervoured cult status as well. Today, there is a staggeringly huge domestic industry for comic books in Japan, and increasingly so internationally.
Just pay a visit to the capital, Tokyo, and ride the commuter train. You will probably spot a few businessmen in their suits reading thick comic books while on their journey to and from work.
For sure, the range of manga is diverse. Current available content can include history, futuristic science fiction, teenage romance and profound themes about life. There is certainly no limit to it.
This then brings us back to the crux of the matter. Comic books have – and will be – a big part of today’s culture just because they tell stories that take you away to fantastic places and teach you valuable life lessons.
In the words of Lee himself: “If Shakespeare and Michelangelo were alive today, and if they decided to collaborate on a comic, Shakespeare would write the script and Michelangelo would draw it.
“How could anybody say that this wouldn’t be as worthwhile an art form as anything on earth?”
Yes. How, indeed.
COVER IMAGE: Zbysiu Rodak / Unsplash
Writer | PY Cheong
PY Cheong has plied the trade of words long enough to recognise the difference between writing and storytelling. Believes in always dressing up his prose. Living and breathing the work he does.