Book Review: I Am Stan - A Graphic Biography of The Legendary Stan Lee


"I Am Stan" A Graphic Biography of The Legendary Stan Lee

Written, Drawn, Colored, and Lettered by Tom Scioli
Published by Ten Speed Graphic
(an imprint of Ten Speed Press)
Distributed by Penguin Random House

ISBN: 9781984862020

Review by Steve J. Ray

Let me start this review by saying that I’m a comics fan, and have been for over 45 years. This means that I know who Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are, I know how Will Eisner changed the game, and will forever sing the praises of Bill Finger. Thinking about things, though, however legendary the aforementioned talents are to me, to most people around the world their names may not mean anything… but there is one name, one man, one comics icon who’s recognized by millions, and his name is Stan Lee.

I Am Stan is his story.

In the words of the author, this book is:

"Not approved by Stan Lee, his estate, his family, Marvel Comics, or any other person/corporate entity depicted within its pages”

Believe it or not, this is a huge plus. What we find in this volume are anecdotes, documented interviews, and quotes from the man himself, as well as from those who knew him and worked with him. Not all of them are flattering.

After the harrowing, surreal, and creepy intro pages, which clearly show Stan near the end of his life, the reader is drawn into a story that’s almost as dramatic and full of drama, larger-than-life characters, good guys, and some genuinely bad, bad people, as the comics that Stan Lee helped create.

Tom Scioli wrote, drew, colored, and lettered this book and, on the whole, did a damn fine job. The way his research has been translated to the page, documenting Stanley Lieber’s life, from childhood to his final days, is masterfully done. Scioli is clearly a hugely talented storyteller who knows the subject matter very well indeed. Read this book and I’m sure you’ll agree, although the fact that he’s an Eisner-nominated creative talent says it all.

The way the book’s laid out, starting at the end, moving to the pivotal moment where, at least physically, Stan became the man that most fans around the world will recognize, to a beautifully well-crafted Warhol-esque page showing a young, balding Stanley Lieber slowly morphing into the Legendary, mustached Stan Lee, all while telling the same story, is the work of a master storyteller. This is made doubly powerful by the fact that this is a book that’s about another master storyteller, arguably one of the finest there ever was.

This biography isn’t a fanboy, rose-tinted piece of hero worship, though. I Am Stan shows readers the real, flawed, human being behind the myth. There are places in this book where I actually didn’t like Stan very much, but I still finished the book as a fan, knowing what Stan achieved in his career and knowing how powerful his legacy still is, and will remain. The worlds he imagined, the characters he created or co-created, are some of the finest in all of fiction. Hell, they’ll outlive us all.

Tom Scioli isn’t afraid of lifting the curtain and revealing the cracked paint and broken floorboards, yet he balances the line between casting an impenetrable dark shadow over the man, while not giving him angel’s wings either, beautifully. Stan Lee did some pretty questionable things in his career but there are other players in this story who were far, far worse, and indirectly every bit as responsible for some of his poorer decisions’ outcomes, or even more so.

What we see is a man’s life, and no man is perfect.

Yes, this is a comic, but it’s not a graphic novel, it’s a graphic biography. While it cannot be seen as being 100% accurate it feels true, and that’s its greatest success. As a comic and a Stan Lee fan, I’ve heard a great deal of the tales re-told in these pages many times before, but reading them in comic book form, the medium that Stan loved and championed through thick and thin, good times and bad, makes them all the more powerful.

Scioli’s art really helps. The visuals in this book go from cartoon to caricature, and also from real to surreal, brilliantly. When he draws real people, Stan himself, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Todd McFarlane, and others, I see them and recognize them. When he redraws classic comics’ panels and pages they look and feel like the originals, while simultaneously being 100% Tom Scioli.

However, the book isn’t perfect…

In places, I think that Scioli’s lettering works against the writing and the art. Of course, this is just my opinion, and the fact that this brilliant book is all the work of one man means that this is exactly the book he wanted to make. However, visually the letters and captions are far too large, and the fact that they frequently cover up the art, sometimes over the protagonists’ faces, really didn’t work for me.

I’ve said it before, I love comics and am one of the few reviewers and critics who acknowledges and talks about the work of the letterers. One of the hardest jobs that these fine, underrated, undervalued, and often ignored talents do is to place the writers’ words on a page that helps the flow of the story, without obliterating the art. Yes, this is Scioli’s work and his artistic choice but had any other letter done what he does in this book I would’ve knocked points off my final score.

That’s truly the only gripe I have.

Conclusion

I Am Stan is a great biography. In fact, it’s one of the best I’ve read. This isn’t just because of my love for comics or my pre-existing knowledge of the man whose story it tells, but because it’s a well-crafted piece of art, in and of itself. This was a fascinating and enlightening read because Tom Scioli is an incredible talent who has succeeded in telling Stan Lee's story, warts and all, in a delicate and hugely entertaining way. I recommend it very highly indeed.

I love the work of Denny O'Neil, Gerry Conway, Norm Breyfogle, and Mike Parobeck, although, however legendary the aforementioned talents are to me, to most people around the world their names may not mean anything… but there is one name, one man, one comics icon who’s recognized by millions, and his name is Stan Lee.

I Am Stan is his story.

I Am Stan will be available from all good book and comic shops from September 12th, but can be pre-ordered right now.

Images and Review Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House

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