The marvel of comic book sto­ry­telling

The Casket - - Local - JOHN DEMONT jde­[email protected]

In mem­ory of the late Stan Lee — whom the New York Times eu­ol­o­gized the other day as the em­bod­i­ment of Marvel Comics, “if not comic books in general” — I headed on a mis­sion Tues­day to Strange Ad­ven­tures Comix & Cu­riosi­ties down on Halifax’s Prince Street.

In­side, the store seemed cosily fa­mil­iar and com­pletely alien.

In shape and feel, the comics on the shelves re­sem­bled the mini-lit­er­ary works that I flipped through long ago on a rack at Fader’s Drug Store in cen­tral Halifax.

Many were the same ti­tles that I would walk over to the cash reg­is­ter. There, if mem­ory serves me right, I would pay a dime, then sprint out the door and the few blocks home with my trea­sure.

Some half-a-cen­tury later I dis­cov­ered that the Amaz­ing Spi­der-man costs $10 an is­sue, which I sup­pose is about right.

Peter Parker, the very model of up­ward mo­bil­ity, is a Tony Stark-like in­dus­tri­al­ist nowa­days. J. Jonah Jame­son, still with the Hitler mus­tache, has gone into pol­i­tics. Spi­der-man sports a cooler uni­form. His love in­ter­est Mary Jane Wat­son now seems to work as a Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret model.

The mood seems dark, the story, nat­u­rally, in­com­pre­hen­si­ble for some­one try­ing to catch up five decades later.

Jed Mackay says there was a time when I may have found old Spidey even harder go­ing.

“There used to be a view — in a general sense — that comics were go­ing too far in the dark­ness and com­plex­ity,” he told me Tues­day. “Now the feel­ing is more that there needs to be some­thing for ev­ery­one.”

Wednes­day, you should know, is a big day for Mackay, who teaches at Halifax’s Mar­itime Mus­lim Academy, and who has been writ­ing comics like X-men for Marvel since 2010.

The ini­tial dou­ble-sized episode of his Daugh­ters of the Dragon se­ries — fea­tur­ing a pair of kick-ass fe­male crime fight­ers who have also ap­peared in Marvel’s Luke Cage, Iron Fist and De­fend­ers se­ries’ — comes out dig­i­tally first.

Later this win­ter, af­ter the next two episodes ap­pear, it will be pub­lished on shiny pa­per where guys like me can read it.

The comics are about old things, Mackay tells me: the na­ture of long-term friend­ship, the end­less cy­cle of re­venge, stuff like that.

The time­less themes don’t sur­prise me one bit.

Though just 34, Mackay is an old soul, hav­ing grown up in Stanley Bridge, P.E.I., read­ing a comic book col­lec­tion amassed by his dad dur­ing the 1960s and ‘70s, pre­cisely when I could be found on my liv­ing room floor pour­ing over Dare­devil: The Man With­out Fear, The Avengers, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Com­man­dos and Spi­der-man.

When I was done with those comics, some­times I would trade them for oth­ers, some­times I would put them un­der the bed in boxes just like Mackay’s dad did.

I know ex­actly what the younger man means when he talks about how comic books ful­fil the pri­mal urge that hu­mans have to tell sto­ries. How they’re ac­ces­si­ble for just about any kid who picks them up.

And how comics are a com­bi­na­tion of art and writ­ing that al­lows each comic to tell sto­ries in a way that res­onates more deeply than ei­ther medium pos­si­bly could on their own.

Peo­ple find what they want and need in comics.

Mike Creagen, the Halifax pho­tog­ra­pher, for ex­am­ple, opened his first one when he was just a kid in Toronto, and, for a time, wanted to move to New York to be­come a comic book artist.

At 63 he’s still buy­ing them, but only for the art in­side when sup­plied by ma­gi­cians with a pen and pen­cil like Jim Ster­anko — whose most fa­mous work, Wikipedia tells me, was Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D — and Alex Toth, whom peo­ple my age may know as the car­toon­ist be­hind Space Ghost.

“I hardly even read them any­more,” says Cre­gan, whose prized pos­ses­sions in­clude a

Sil­ver Surfer #2 and an early X-men, both au­to­graphed by

Stan Lee, who made it a point to per­form a cameo ap­pear­ance early in one of the end­less Marvel film adap­ta­tions.

Mackay has al­ways found some­thing that res­onated deeply in the sto­ries.

Su­per­hero comics, and Marvel comics in par­tic­u­lar, he says, “pose an al­most pri­mor­dial frame­work”: there are he­roes, peo­ple who are larger than life, and they go on ad­ven­tures that are sim­i­larly larger than life.

“There’s a lot to work within that frame­work,” he says, “but it’s a way to tell sto­ries and ask ques­tions in a way that’s ex­cit­ing, in­ter­est­ing and at its best iconic.”

He went on to say that a per­son got a sense of those clas­si­cal themes and ideas at Marvel dur­ing the Stan Lee years, from the big bom­bas­tic ti­tles that drifted into the Shake­spearean: Lo, There Shall be an End­ing (Fan­tas­tic Four #43) and If This Be My Des­tiny (The Amaz­ing Spi­der-man #31-33).

I agree with ev­ery sin­gle word Mackay says.

Right now on Net­flix I’m watch­ing one of those bleakly beau­ti­ful British crime se­ries, Shet­land.

The pro­tag­o­nist is a lone wolf try­ing to bring or­der to a place where deadly things hap­pen.

Ar­che­typal guys like him go right back to Homer.

But I first learned to rec­og­nize his type — as I first learned about the adult themes of be­trayal and for­ti­tude and grace un­der pres­sure, also found in the show — ly­ing on my par­ents’ car­pet, pour­ing over pages filled with the dreams of child­hood.


Jed Mackay has been writ­ing comics for Marvel since 2010.

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