Stan’s Soapbox: The Collection
Over 14 Years and Over 46,000 Words of the Wit and Wisdom of Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee
Brian Cunningham, Managing Editor and Copy Chief
Doug: This week we continue our off-and-on series of book reviews spotlighting various comics’ histories/artist profiles. Stan’s Soapbox: The Collection is just that – a chronological reprinting of Stan’s columns that ran on the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins pages from 1967-1980. The book is published by the HERO Initiative, which is a charitable organization benefitting aging comics creators who have fallen on hard times. Stan Lee has long been known to have a heart for those who went before him, and even those who were his contemporaries. It’s no surprise, then, that he loaned his name as well as a small slice of his work to this project.
Doug: As we’ve done in the past with our looks at the Marvel Chronicle and John Buscema: A Life in Sketches, we’ll give you the lowdown – good and bad – on the book. I say that with somewhat of a bad feeling; after all, the book is for charity – and a great cause at that in honor of so many men and women who’ve given comics lovers so much joy through the years.
Doug: Stan’s Soapbox is a fun trip down memory lane. For those of us who grew up in the late 1960’s or 1970’s, this book really takes the reader back to those times. On the back cover, Stan is referred to as “the P.T. Barnum of comics”, and that characterization certainly shines through over the time covered between these pages. Huckster, spin doctor, even philosopher – all sides of Stan are on display in his columns. And that’s the brightest part of the book – we see Stan as the world’s biggest Marvel booster. He connected with Marvel’s fans by writing to them – the reader felt as if Stan was speaking directly to them. I wanted to be a part of what Stan was telling me – I wanted to know the creators of whom he wrote, to own the books Stan was plugging, and to consider the social commentary of which Stan sometimes soliloquized. Stan Lee was the difference between Marvel Comics and DC Comics in the time period covered herein – where DC seemed sterile and afraid to take risks, Marvel continued to redefine the industry with its forays into different genres, formats, and media. And Stan was always at the front, letting us in on the scoop ahead of everyone else. Or so we thought…
Doug: And herein lays the main problem with the book – its organization by cover date.
Sharon: Yes, as I’ve noted offline, the issue of the cover dates bothers a stickler like me. Simply put, the dates ascribed to the Soapboxes aren’t entirely accurate. Some background: in the mid-1960s, Marvel comics that were on sale at the same time were either cover-dated 2 months ahead of the actual release month (Avengers, X-Men, Daredevil, FF, Thor, Sgt. Fury) or 3 months ahead (Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, Strange Tales). This tiered approach means that’s what’s labeled in the book as the July 1967 Soapbox would have appeared in the July 1967 Avengers, but not in the July 1967 Fantastic Four; instead, the book's "July 1967" Soapbox would have appeared in the August 1967 issue of FF. This may be confusing to the diehard fan that may want to check out the Soapboxes in the original issues of FF, Spidey, etc. To be fair, the provider of the Soapboxes (Charlie Novinskie) does state he'd scanned the Soapboxes from his very own Avengers collection (with some Spideys thrown in). Also, some Soapboxes are missing, such as the one that would have appeared in the June 1968 Avengers-X-Men-etc./July 1968 FF/Spidey and so on. I guess Charlie didn’t have a copy of Avengers #53 in his collection!
Doug: A word about the format of the book: Stan’s Soapbox is a very colorful, eye-grabbing book. Until about 2/3 of the way through. I wonder – did the budget start to run low? Because the first part of the book is filled with lots of color, period art, and even the actual yellow-boxed columns reprinted alongside the newly typeset material. The latter pages, while giving us the material promised, just become bland – it’s as if the extra effort to make it a homerun just stopped. Troubling…
Doug: A comment on the Soapboxes themselves: Stan often pitched upcoming products, some of which never materialized. A nice touch would have been to have some historical information, to see what happened to those ideas that never saw the light of day. In addition, I felt like additional commentary as far as market reports, etc. would have benefitted some of Stan’s points – the reader is often left just scratching the head. So instead of just reprints of Stan’s columns, we could have been given an in-depth look at one corner of Marvel Bronze Age marketing.
Doug: So what’s the conclusion? Should you buy this book? Let me say that I am not sorry that I own this.
Sharon: Neither am I. Despite the layout and the date issue I mentioned, and the fact that many of the photos and graphics are available elsewhere, this is still a worthwhile book for any Marvelite. And I’ve never seen the great photo of Lee and Kirby on page 19—I got a real kick out of seeing that!
Doug: As was stated at the top, it is for a charitable cause, and is a small way for me to say “thanks” to those who’ve given me so much four-color fun over the course of my 35+ years of reading comic books. It is handy as a source to read the columns, even though I have some of the Marvel DVD-ROMs and own a complete collection of all of the Bullpen Bulletins therein. We have also recommended on the right sidebar of the blog the Bullpen Bulletins webpage, located at http://www.costa.lunarpages.com/bp/bullpen.html. If you are close to a computer and want more of the total feel for Stan’s promotion then that is a wonderful resource to consult. But if you are strictly looking for some illumination of Stan’s thought processes, maybe that new nugget about Marvel history in the 1960’s-70’s, then you are going to be disappointed.