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Legacy of comics giant Stan Lee heads to China

By ZHANG RUINAN in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-11-29 01:05

A collage of Stan Lee surrounded by Spider Man, the Hulk and other characters he created for Marvel, made by artists for Stan Lee Entertainment. Provided to China Daily

Commemorating the passing of Stan Lee — the creator of Spider Man, Iron Man, the Hulk and countless other superheroes — and to celebrate his legacy, Lee's hand-picked successor wants to export the Marvel method of conjuring up superheroes to China.

Shirrel Rhoades, the current president of Stan Lee Entertainment (SLE), the company Lee founded with his brand in 1998, recalled how he was chosen by Lee in 1996 while he was executive vice-president at Marvel.

"I had a wonderful opportunity — to be in charge of one of the world's largest comic book publishers that had over 5,000 characters, many of whom were created by Stan Lee," said Rhoades, "and to get to work side by side with Stan, and get to know him and get to learn from him the history and how he went about creating these characters and what his secrets were in doing it."

Rhoades said that what impressed him most was Lee's method of creating the stories.

"They call it the Marvel method, but I'm calling it the Stan Lee methodology, because it was Stan's way of creating and entertaining people with stories and characters," Rhoades said.

Lee would meet with one of his artists and give them an overall summary of what he wanted to happen in the story. The artist would then take the storyline and sketch it out however he or she wanted, as long as it followed Lee's overall plot.

The method is different from other comic book companies, which do the writing first and then have the artists draw out the panels based on what's written.

"Up to about 1961, superheroes were like Superman, they were flawless, they had no chink in their armor," Rhoades said. "Stan changed that by making superheroes have human qualities — he created very believable superheroes that people can readily identify with."

"For someone to reinvent the superhero comic book genre as he did, and make it dominant — it's quite a remarkable accomplishment. To my mind, he is perhaps one of the world's greatest storytellers," he added.

Rhoades thought the best way to celebrate Lee's legacy would be to create a whole new universe based on the characters that they had created after Marvel.

He chose the Chinese market because of Lee's huge influence and fan base there, as well as Lee's enthusiasm for creating Chinese superheroes.

Last month before he died, Lee introduced fans to a new superhero inspired by Chinese pop singer G.E.M. Called "Jewel", she is a world-touring pop star by day and a superhero in disguise by night.

SLE is now working with Shanghai-based Heyi Advisors on plans to establish a Chinese studio employing Stan Lee's methodology to create the next generation of global superhewroes in China.

"What we intend to do is bring some of the collaborative techniques and take the intellectual property that our company now controls — which includes Stan Lee's name and a number of IP characters that Lee created after he left Marvel — to China," Rhoades said.

The plan includes having a group of top artists and writers collaborate with Chinese counterparts to create and own Stan Lee-style characters with Chinese values and characteristics.

"Stan's greatest legacy is that he created a whole universe of characters that have entertained generations and will continue to entertain generations," Rhoades said.

SLE once filed bankruptcy protection in 2000, but ultimately dismissed from bankruptcy in November 2006. Rhoades became the president of the company which, along with original Stan Lee IP, was acquired by a Hong Kong group named Stan Lee Holdings Ltd. in 2017. It owns the assignment of Stan's brand and 3 original superhero franchises including 7th Portal the first global team of superheroes.

In 2001, Stan Lee co-founded another media production company POW! Entertainment. The company is the co-producer of The Annihilator and it revealed the Chinese superheroes Jewel in October this year during its first Stan Lee Comic Universe event in Shanghai. The company was acquired by Hong Kong-based Camsing International Holdings in 2017.

Contact the writer at ruinanzhang@chinadailyusa.com

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