“You’ve Become Part of a Bigger Universe” : authorship, Stan Lee, and the rise of superhero cinema




Hamsher, Andrew Donaldson

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In 1961 Marvel Comics’ editor/writer Stan Lee, artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and a group of other creative collaborators introduced a new, realistic approach to superhero comics. In the years that followed, Marvel’s creative team began to develop a heavily-serialized, continuity-reliant form of storytelling this dissertation terms “comic book poetics.” During the same period, Lee redefined the industrial process whereby comics were created and began to aggressively credit Marvel’s creative staff and assert his own authorial presence. After decades of cross-media efforts on the part of Lee and other Marvel executives, Marvel Studios has become one of the dominant forces in 21st century Hollywood, playing a key role in the larger wave of superhero cinema which has made comic book poetics one of the primary narrative techniques in American pop culture. Marvel Studios has also become a driving force in the reshaping of film authorship, as traditional sources of authorship are destabilized and a more explicitly industrialized creative system has emerged, one that bears striking similarities to that found in the comic industry. This study seeks to understand Marvel’s rise to prominence within the culture industries and its effect on pop culture authorship. It explores the history of Marvel’s cross-media efforts since 1961, investigating how they were affected by changes within the comic, film, and television industries and by larger cultural events such as the rise of Pop Art and the Women’s Movement. It also explores evolving ideas of authorship within the comic industry and their interaction with conceptions of authorship prevalent in other culture industries. This study conducts these explorations by focusing on the figure of Stan Lee, who was at the center of Marvel’s cross-media efforts for several decades and embodied the conflicting ideals of Romantic and collaborative authorship that defined the comic industry.


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