IN Part 1 I mentioned two iconic figures whose creative genius spawned massive commercial empires. Having previously covered Walt Disney, I will now focus on the second cultural icon.
Stan Lee’s creative genius was the catalyst for an industry that, at the time, seemed to have the odds stacked against it — the comic-book industry. Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City. After he graduated from high school, at age 16, Lieber was hired by Timely Comics group as an editorial assistant, and was promoted to editor in 1942. Around that time he had begun writing comic-book scripts for Timely Comics as Stan Lee, a pseudonym that would later become his legal name. While the group was struggling financially in the 1940s and ’50s, Lee created several comic-book series, including The Witness, The Destroyer, Jack Frost, Whizzer, and Black Marvel. The group’s name was eventually changed to Atlas.
The year 1961 saw Lee creating The Fantastic Four, a comic-book story about four astronauts who gain superpowers after exposure to cosmic energy. The Fantastic Four series brought fame to him and Atlas — which was at that point known as Marvel, and propelled him to superstar status among American youth.
In 1962, Lee created Spider-Man, which in my opinion is the most valuable piece of intellectual property that he created. Spider-man was joined by a line-up of increasingly successful series that also included The Incredible Hulk. Lee started churning out one successful character after another and added another winner to the group when he created a comic book in 1963 which dealt with prejudice and inequality in the world, known as the The X-Men. I think what hit a nerve in that society was that The X-Men books dealt with the issue of racial inequality, which was a major issue the world over in the 1960s .
One signature feature of Lee’s comic-book heroes, typified by Spider-Man, is that these characters wonderfully fuse superhuman powers with human insecurities and emotions. Marvel continued to grow and prosper, and in 1972 Lee became publisher and editorial director of the group. Though in the 90s, Marvel underwent some financial challenges, it weathered the storms and was recently acquired by, interestingly enough, the Disney company. Disney gave the Marvel group an extra boost by creating Marvel Studios, which has to date made billions of US dollars from films such as Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Marvel is also in the process of expanding what is referred to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe from which they are positioned to rake in more billions. A number of sources place Stan Lee’s net worth at US$200 million. I would say that is quite impressive for someone who was discouraged from exploring a career as a cartoonist.
Both Walt Disney and Stan Lee at some point in their careers were told that it did not make any financial sense to pursue their dreams, but they both made it work in a big way. Note also that when they ventured into their respective fields it was at a point where it was a new frontier; no promises of outstanding profit margins, all the variables were not tried and tested. They had to take a risk with the hope that things would work out. They had to dare to dream and even dare to make that dream a reality.
The naysayers back then could never have imagined that technology would develop in such a manner that the characters developed by Disney and Lee would be able to come to life on the big screen the way they have. I personally believe that a lot of the innovators that came up with these existing technologies grew up being influenced in one way or another by the work of both these geniuses.
Island Art and Design
As for attempting to expand the role of the creative industries in Jamaica, I had this particular dream to take art out of the local galleries and share it with the wider public. I created a platform to accommodate this process called Island Art and Design. I decided to kick-start this project with an expo, staged it in a residential area, and invited the residents of the immediate community where the show was being staged, and neighbouring communities. The purpose was to get people asking questions about art and providing them with the opportunity to get accurate information about art. It was also geared at being a one-of-a-kind event, which would feature the works of a wide cross section of Jamaican artists and artisans. The event would also showcase furniture, graphic design, landscape design, industrial design, etc.
My little experiment worked out well. People attended the expo and interacted with the art and design made available to them. In my estimation, though, there is room for improvement, and I do intend to improve upon this venture. I dare to dream that I will create a catalyst that will spark a movement, and that movement will make its contribution to the emergence of creative industries that in turn will create jobs, which will in turn increase the earning potential of our country.
As Jamaicans, we tend to complain a lot about the lack of jobs in our country. I am not saying that there isn’t a place for complaining, but I strongly believe that, as you complain, you should be working towards formulating solutions. In my opinion, if you are not interested in finding solutions for the problems that exist around us, that makes you a part of the problem. I have resolved that I will do my utmost in getting our society to recognise the value of art and design. I have to transcend dreaming when it comes to this, I have to venture out into the world and establish a vision. I hope, dear reader, that you will be building a vision too.
Wazari Johnson is a ceramist, an entrepreneur, and a member of the Jamaica Design Association (JDA). Contact the JDA at email@example.com
Read published article HERE!