Tag Archives: Reading

Stan Lee: The Once and Future Pop Culture King

Stan Lee has died at the age of 95. Tributes, remembrances, and obituaries have come from the New York Times, the Hollywood Reporter, NPR (and a longer piece here), Variety, a nice one from Marvel, and even one from The Onion.

Like countless others, my connection to “The Man” now best known for cameos in the films of a billions-dollar film franchise came early on. He represented my “ur-fandom.” Before Star Trek or Doctor Who, there was Stan Lee.

Me and Stan Lee, 2011

I am given to understand I am but one of many billions who met Stan. It was still wonderful to do so.

Even though films dominated my childhood, trips to the movies were not as frequent as trips to the library. And more often than not I would go straight to a well-remembered section of the Cherrydale branch library and check out Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, and, the perennial favorite: Bring on the Bad Guys.

Within those tomes were just not the stories of heroes and villains, but insight into Stan Lee’s origins as well. In his writing, he created the accessible yet aspirational persona of “Stan Lee” as surely as he conjured any of a seemingly infinite number of characters that appeared in Marvel Comics. “Stan Lee” was the indefatigable image of a creator and a writer: someone who used all the history and mythology and tales they’d grown up with and channeled them into his own stories. What kid couldn’t help but love that?

This persona became bigger for me and a whole Saturday morning cartoon generation with his narration of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. And “Stan’s Soapbox” in comics. And all the other small ways we fans were able to piece together information back when Chrome was a 50s car characteristic and before Netscape navigated a single web page. Okay, I’ve lost the younger folk.

Long story short: the character of Stan Lee was like a slightly dignified, but just goofy enough cousin of Uncle Grandpa. His passion was pure, his heart was consistently in the right place, and his enthusiasm was infectious. One of his superpowers was validation: you were right to be a fan, you were right to enjoy these stories, and for scores and scores of us, you were right to be an aspiring creator. That’s a hero to look up to. All the entertaining alliteration helps too.

Of course, the human Stan Lee had more nuance and shades of grey. As much as I and the all the remembrances of the past day cast the Stanley Lieber himself as a hero, that’s not ’nuff said. This long-form exploration of Stan Lee’s legacy from early 2016 by Abraham Riesman in Vulture nails some of the complexity behind Lee’s legacy. I promised myself when I read it, I’d include it in the remembrance I knew I’d one day write. It’s important to know that the creator of so many iconic heroes had flaws of his own. So do we all. In a sense, that’s the Marvel way, isn’t it?

Stan Lee was and is a legendary creator, but he didn’t create alone. As Mark Evanier points out, “Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw” does not mean that Clayton Kershaw is the only Los Angeles Dodger. But you can still have Kershaw’s poster, if you follow the example. And Stan Lee, in so many ways, is an extraordinary example to follow. May his memory be a blessing.

The Many Years Needed for Overnight Success

Two of the podcasts I regularly listen to, Scriptnotes and Maltin on Movies, both note how a given actor or other creative artist regularly takes 10-20 years to become an “overnight success.” They note this, in part, because the whole idea of the precocious talent, the creative who does genius work just out of the womb, seems so engrained in our culture, you kind want to stop and say, “Wait? Is that really normal?”

Nope. And Malcolm Gladwell has an article, that while from 2008, seems just as relevant today about “late bloomers.”

For all of you looking to do new and exciting things when you’re not a Spring chicken (Jabberwocky Audio Theater, anyone?), it’s welcome to meditate on.

Self-Publishing in Five Steps

It’s been a little while since a “Motivation Monday” post, so let’s just dive right in with UK author Mark Dawson’s piece on how to approach self-publishing, amply referencing his own experience from traditional publishing to now.

It’s recent (from August of this year) and I appreciate how it’s not paint-by-numbers. The five steps aren’t particularly easy, in part because none of them can ever be fully completed (perhaps “five processes” might more sense to some). I especially like that the last part is to “never stop learning”– which for a writer who enjoys research should, on one level be fun (though your mileage may vary with such paint-drying excitement like editing DKIM values to help your mailing list).

In any case, I found it to be a good reminder of what I’m doing and what I’ve yet to do in the creative entrepreneur realm… and perhaps you’ll find it useful too.

Rogue Planet in Our Solar System!

Not to be confused with Rogue Tyger, this is a rogue planet which is a real astronomical object, not just a dramatic sci-fi name.

Recently, I learned that not only that our own solar system has a rogue planet, but it’s named “The Goblin.”

I’m not sure who approved this, but I’m both amused and disturbed. I mean, you thought landing on Europa was bad, what about The Goblin?

The Pumpkin Spice Must Flow

Unlike Starbucks, I’ve held off until this, the first official day of Fall, but now that’s it’s here:

Resistance is futile. Search your taste buds, you know it to be true!

But why is that anyway? And why do people hate it so much? Rebecca Jennings is glad you asked.

Pushing Your Buttons… or Just Taking Them Away

Okay, so I implied on Wednesday that I try and help people work smarter, not harder… because working on projects that go nowhere doesn’t help anyone.

So imagine my umbrage when I read an article by Jacopo Prisco about all the “placebo buttons” that are out there designed to give people the illusion of control. Do you people not know conspiracy theorists will run with this?!?

Do you want the Hulk? Because that's how you get the Hulk.

Of course, I have to wonder which is worse: being given buttons that don’t work and not told they don’t work OR having buttons that do work taken away.

Enter Apple, the company that’s never bashful about being forward thinking beyond a customer’s furthest vision. Apparently, they’re not so keen on the home button on their iPhones and, as of this post, may have ditched it. (Look, I write my posts in advance, all right?)

I’m not sure what’s worse, but I’m definitely keeping out of the way of the Hulk when he gets the news.

We Declare That George III is Worse Than Independence Day: Resurgence

In these here United States, it’s Independence Day! Because October 19th is a ways off and it’s not as socially acceptable to shoot off fireworks then.

So before you go re-watch President Whitmore give the aliens what for, why not enjoy this staging by the National Archives?

Muppet Monday

I’m currently reading Brian Jay Jones’ biography of Jim Henson, so it I came across this video about current Sesame Street muppeteers at just the right time. Enjoy!

Jobs Expanding to fit the Pointlessness

If you’ve wondered what the point of some jobs are — and if, in fact, there seem to be more jobs out there trying to “maximize innovative enterprise solutions” or just “realize value,” you’re not alone.

What’s worse is realizing you might be in one of those positions and then pondering what you can possibly do within the confines of that meaninglessness. (Though I suppose some people long for that.)

Why, you could put things on top of other things!

Over at the Washington Post, Jena McGregor talks with anthropologist David Graeber about his work exploring the societal and economic consequences of pointless jobs.

Besides the “Brazilian” fascination with the topic, I’ve been doing project and program management for about 20 years — a prime suspect for pointless work. As I explain to people from time to time, the level of meaning and satisfaction from my jobs varies greatly on the work culture and management where I work.

The contract where I updated a spreadsheet three times a day and had meetings about it was neither fulfilling nor, I would argue, very useful to anyone. It’s not like anyone got insight from the minutely updated spreadsheet or any bonuses from attending meetings. My management was unconvinced and, frankly, rather hostile to any process improvements.

Contrast that with a job where the manager said the first day, “No process is sacred, including our own.” And true to form, we updated one central business process no less than three times in three years — all to get people more engaged and meetings more consequential. I’ve also been in positions to happily eliminate thousands of hours’ worth of meetings from peoples schedules every year and set up intranet sites that (gasp) answer people’s questions without them ever needing to contact me about some previously inscrutable topic.

Reducing net headaches for hundreds of people — including those you’ll never meet — is immensely satisfying. But as Sam Lowry would attest, the bureaucracy resists simplification or clarity. So channel your inner Tuttle and watch out for Jack Lint.

Ranked Choice Voted First

My local primaries were not particularly interesting, but I found Maine’s primary elections very interesting to watch because they were using ranked-choice voting.

What is ranked-choice voting, you ask? Why not explain it with dinosaurs?

Or, you could look at this longer piece by CGP Grey:

I like this because it also explains how ranked choice voting (here called “alternative vote/instant runoff voting”) is not the end-all, be-all panacea, yet has advantages over “first past the post” elections.

And if you’re wondering why we’d want to move away from “first past the post” voting (i.e., what happens with most elections you’re used to), here’s another piece by CGP Grey:

Many a politician is not overfond of ranked choice voting because “voting for the lesser of two evils” is a pretty good strategy with just about every constituency outside of Cthulhu fans. Indeed, Maine’s legislature really did not like the idea of ranked choice voting and worked to have it removed, but those pesky voters has other ideas.

Here’s hoping the idea spreads, especially for local and primary elections that can benefit from more voter engagement.