Exhibit A: Why Stan was the Man

This seems fitting for my first posting with a focus on comics.  It’s such a treasure trove of material that I have five titles that this could have fallen under.

It’s hard to talk about comics without mentioning a few names and two of them are Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  We’ll talk more about the King of Comics later (there is a lot to talk about when it comes to Jack Kirby!) and for now demonstrate some of the genius of Stan.

Here we see a short two pages of notes that discusses a cover of an issue of Avengers Giant Size (which is much like an Annual).   Because the image may be a bit hard to read here’s a copy of that text:

From the Desk of … Stan Lee

(To) Len Wein:


There are 2 “dead spaces” on this cover.  In one of them, I added balloon “AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!”

In the other, I indicated a splash area for a blurb.  Try to write something to the effect of SPECIAL ACTION ISSUE!  COSTUMED SUPER-STARS IN PROFUSION, BATTLING TO THE DEATH!

Always look for, and try to recognize, the so-called “dead areas”.   By livening them up, either with additional artwork, or zippy copy, you can often add a helluva lot more excitement to a cover.  It’s one of the things that always gave and will give us an edge over the competition.

Discuss this with Marv and explain to all your assistant editors too.  It’s really a most important point.

(See additional attached note – Stan)

Another important point which goes for ALL covers, as well as this one—

Note Giant-man’s face, and Hawkeye’s, and Dr. Strange’s…. They don’t look EXCITED enough—or VIOLENT enuff, or SCARED enough, or ANGRY enuff, or whatever.

ALWAYS make sure the characters have some sort of extreme, exciting expression on covers—and of course, inside as well.  We can never convince reader story story is exciting if the characters themselves don’t look excited!

I’ve told this to all our staff a million times over the years, but it can’t be mentioned too often.  It’s VITALLY important.  Often a story that seems dull could seem twice as exciting with more excitement being registered by the characters.  Always look for, and try to remedy, such situations.


The first thing to note is that without specifically saying it, Stan has made a distinction between negative space and dead space.  His focus is fully on dead space here.  What is dead space?   Well, first and foremost Stan relates that it is something he has stated ‘millions of times’ and stresses as a “most important point.”  Dead spaces are those areas on the cover and on the inside pages of comic books that Stan directs Len to “Always look for”,  to “try to recognize”, and to “liven up” by adding artwork and text.  Stan suggests that by livening up these dead spaces in such a way they will add “a helluva lot more excitement” which was something that historically given them a competitive edge and would continue to do so if they continued to pay proper attention to it.

But Stan isn’t just filling space for the sake of filling space.  He’s enlivening those spaces where which were dead.

Moving on to his additional notes Stan then further directs Len to consider something of vital importance; that each character’s facial expressions must be drawn as an extreme and not just as a well drawn face.  He then even emphasizes how those faces should look; excited, violent, scared, angry… whatever!  Not a tame boring word in there but every one full of action; the very essence of the superhero.

These extreme emotions are caricatured by exaggerating the emotions projected from the characters.  But why should we target these extremes?  Stan answers that with expert insight by suggesting that readers cannot be convinced to be excited if the  characters are not excited themselves.  So obvious it shouldn’t have to be said right?  Sure, but if that is the case why did Stan need to say it and say it repeatedly?  Because there was no evidence of those emotions being expressed in the characters the artist (however talented) had drawn on the page.

He finishes his note with an admonishment:  “Always look for, and try to remedy, such situations.”

Images/Scans courtesy of:  http://themarvelageofcomics.tumblr.com

About Rodney

Cartoonist and Animator! I'd tell you more but then I'll have to debrief you.
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