Top Lists

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At the end of every year, you’ll find a smattering of “Top Ten” or “Best of . . .” lists. Do a quick web search and you’ll discover all kinds of countdowns for 2022.

Better yet, we’ve done some reading ourselves and provided a few hyperlinks, including Comic Book rankings by people at Polygon, Den of Geek, and Entertainment Weekly.

My favorite of 2022 was the new Batman/Superman: World’s Finest” series by Mark Waid, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillain. It’s a fresh take on the old-fashioned DC team-up title. The art is dynamic and colorful, with big action mixing up characters both well-known and unknown.

Comics aren’t just full of superheroes, of course, as you’ll notice many different kinds of tales in these “Best” Comic Books.

For more capes and cowls, you can also find “Top” lists ranking favorite superhero television series, such as one by the folks at IGN.

Again, my two-cents’ worth is that Ms. Marvel was the best choice in a very robust slate of superhero TV in 2022.

I’ve already talked about Ms. Marvel in a previous post. Simply put, it’s another fun teen title in the tone of Spider-Man.

Like Spidey, Ms. Marvel begins with our hero learning about their powers and living among family and friends. But “trial-and-error” adventures at the street level soon explode into a globe-hopping (and time-traveling) quest. Good stuff!

In addition to TV and Comics, there are even “Top” lists for Teachers!

Places like Education Week and Education Next highlight the most-read blog posts and articles in 2022. A lot of these deal with policy and trends in curriculum, as opposed to direct classroom practice. Still, it’s good to stay up to date with the latest. Keeping current is even more vital with RESEARCH in teaching and learning, as featured in Edutopia’s “10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2022.”

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from their Top Ten:

#1 THERE’S NO CONFLICT BETWEEN RELATIONSHIPS AND RIGOR

“The researchers found that the most effective teachers build their classrooms by getting to know their students, being approachable, and showing that they enjoy the work—and then deftly translate emotional capital into academic capital.”

#10. AN AUTHORITATIVE STUDY OF TWO HIGH-IMPACT LEARNING STRATEGIES

“In the review, researchers explain that students who prefer techniques like reading and rereading material in intense cram sessions are bound to fail. Instead, students should think of learning as a kind of ‘fitness routine’ during which they practice recalling the material from memory and space out their learning sessions over time.”

Similar to “Top” rankings for the previous year, you’ll also find “Most Anticipated” lists previewing upcoming movies, comic books, and more.

Just as teachers can gain insight from reviewing the “best” of the past, they can also find inspiration in previewing the future.

What are you anticipating most in the next year? (Maybe a new book?)

Better yet, how can you help your students look forward to the future?

Who’s Your Hugh?

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This fall, Marvel movie fans got a fun update on the film Deadpool 3, straight from Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds himself:

The BIG reveal comes at the END of this short announcement.

Not only is Deadpool joining to the “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Appearing with him is Wolverine, played by long-time Logan, Hugh Jackman (when he’s done brushing his teeth).

Fans were so excited by the news, the two actors quickly posted a second video (“Part Hugh”) to share more details (?). Mostly, they acknowledge potential snags due to prior storylines (spoiler alerts). And they stir up more speculation, obscured by the best ’80s pop song ever:

With Deadpool 3 not scheduled to arrive until September 2024, we all have plenty of time to predict how everything will work out. (My bet is any mix-ups get an easy pass thanks to the bloomingMultiverse.”)

Until then, TEACHERS should take a moment to consider the following question:

“Who is YOUR Hugh?”

We’ve talked before about sidekicks in schools, in particular, finding fellow teachers to mentor and lead. Who is your “Robin?”

Likewise, every teacher should also find a colleague that can mentor them. Such mentorships can function through structured programs or professional development. Or, they may occur in a more organic, or informal manner. Who is your “Batman?”

From World’s Finest #1 (2022). Check it out!

In addition to mentors and mentees, teachers can form powerful relationships with colleagues they regard as “equals.” These pairings don’t have to be the same rank or expertise, or have identical job descriptions. In fact, such partnerships are most beneficial when each party brings different strengths and personalities.

Sort of like Wolverine and Deadpool.

Over decades of comics (and lore), these two anti-heroes haven’t always gotten along. In fact, they try to kill each other quite often. You can read an interesting history of their “prickly relationship,” summarized by the folks at Den of Geek.

Teachers, do you have a “prickly relationship” with any of your colleagues? Don’t dismiss them due to a handful of disagreements. Instead, consider how you can work together–or at least work off of each other–to both become better.

Every teacher needs a Robin to mentor. And every teacher needs a Batman to mentor them.

We also need a Hugh to keep us sharp. Who’s yours?

Marvel at the Future . . . AND Past

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Apologies for using the “Marvelous” pun twice in a row, but in this case it’s doubly appropriate.

Not only are we talking about another Marvel superhero; we’re talking about the superhero, Ms. Marvel.

Yes, the Disney+ series has been out for a while, and we’re already in the middle of the new She-Hulk series. We’ll get to that one someday.

Still, we have our reasons for playing “catch-up.” (Busy with an EXCITING project. More on that . . . soon . . .) Plus, what better time to explore themes from the Ms. Marvel show than our current “back-to-school” season?

Specifically, let’s talk about the past, present, and future. All three are key elements in the show, especially in how they pertain to our teenage heroine and her friends.

The very first trailer for Ms. Marvel features a scene in which Kamala meets with her high school guidance counselor. Check out their conference in the first 45 seconds or so:

“Conference” is probably not the correct word. Kamala doesn’t listen to Mr. Wilson as much as she daydreams and can’t wait to escape.

Don’t blame Mr. Wilson. It’s his job to not only be the hip GC, but also help students plan for their future. He does the same with Kamala’s friend Bruno later in the series, sharing news of Bruno’s acceptance into Caltech.

In both cases, Kamala and Bruno are initially ambivalent about looking ahead to tomorrow. That’s because they each have a lot going on in the present – hobbies, jobs, social lives, superpowers, etc.

As teachers, we have to consider the current ups and downs of our students at all times. And we must help them connect their present choices and actions to future dreams, as well as the past.

In the book Teaching as Decision Making (Sparks-Langer et al., 2004), the authors share an analogy that teaching is like building bridges. We start with students on one end, and connect them to content comprehension on the other.

Courtesy of Sparks-Langer et al. (2004), who borrowed it from Starko et al. (2003). It’s a bridge!

It’s a lot more complicated, of course, involving unique characteristics and circumstances, personal beliefs and pedagogy, and relationships. I’d argue this last element – relationships – is the most important, since teaching and learning involves interpersonal connections, communication, and collaboration. These relationships play out among all sorts of individuals, not just those in the classroom.

One of the strongest parts of the Ms. Marvel Disney+ series is attention to Kamala’s family and cultural background. It’s something the show has in common with the original comic book, along with a memorable cast.

The Ms. Marvel television show even takes us on a literal trip across time and space to explore Kamala’s past. Viewers learn about real historical events, and the repercussions still felt today.

As an added bonus, the very end of the show teases a potential connection to even MORE superheroes, when Bruno drops the term “mutation” in explaining Kamala’s powers. Will we see more mutants in the future?

“X” marks the spot . . . sometime soon?

Whether it be a massive geopolitical movement or an individual personal change, everybody has previous experiences and perspectives that shape their lives.

Teachers can truly help students plan their future steps when we seek to understand their history. That’s how we build bridges that last.

Let’s start right now.

Further Reading and Resources:

Sparks-Langer, G.M., Starko, A.J., Pasch, M., Burke, W., Moody, C.D., & Gardner, T.G. (2004). Teaching as Decision Making: Successful Practices for the Secondary Teacher (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merril/Prentice Hall.

Starko, A.J., Sparks-Langer, G.M., Pasch, M., Frankes, L., Gardner, T.G., & Moody, C.D. (2003). Teaching as Decision Making: Successful Practices for the Elementary Teacher (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merril/Prentice Hall.

Wilson, G.W., Alphona, A., Wyatt, J., & Pichelli, S. (2014/2019). Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal. New York: Marvel Comics.

“What if . . . ?” and More Marvelous Questions

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The latest Disney+ Marvel series is new in a multitude (multiverse?) of ways.

First, What if . . . ? is noteworthy as the first animated show in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t count . . . not yet, at least.)

Second, What if . . . ? is significant since it explores all kinds of hypothetical storylines in the MCU. The series takes well-known characters and contexts of the films and follows different routes. (Remember when the first Avengers movie combining multiple film heroes was considered a risky idea? Look how far we have come!)

So far, we’ve seen different characters taking the mantle of significant heroes (Captain America, Star-Lord), as well as heroic characters doing unheroic things. In addition to the allure of endless possibilities, the What if . . . ? series is enjoyable because these alternative tales come in bite-sized episodes. Even so, some of these scenarios have potential for all kinds of fun adventures and far-reaching ramifications.

As a testimony to the power of “What if . . . ?” consider how there are 200+ issues of this comic series, begun nearly 50 years ago. As creators publish stories in “regular” comics continuity, other writers can explore branching paths and possibilities.

The question “What if . . . ?” can foster similar results in the classroom. Past blogs have written about the power of questioning, which you can check out HERE and HERE.

It’s important to remember not all questions are equal. Some are more effective in cultivating engaged and reflective students. Below is a list of potential questions teachers can ask to facilitate, encourage, and assess students’ learning.

  • “What if . . . ?”
  • “For what reasons . . . ?”
  • “What do you think could happen if . . . ?”
  • “How might that compare with . . . ?”
  • “Why might . . . ?”
  • “Where else could we . . . ?”

These are just some examples, and I’ve shared more in a recently published article available HERE. Note that NONE of these questions can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No” or similar dichotomous response.

In other words, students have to go further and THINK about the topic in a more robust manner. Moreover, there’s less chance they can “fake it” or just guess an answer. Often, such work promotes collaboration and communication.

Such open-ended questions may not catalyze a zany tale about alternative Avengers, but they can produce meaningful learning.

One caution is to beware of counter-productive conversation. When dealing with open-ended questions like “What if . . . ?” there is potential for students to go down pathways the teacher did not intend. While this may add to creativity and application, it could also veer into darker territories. Just consider some of sadder episodes of What if . . . ? we’ve already seen, in which [Spoiler Alert] a hero becomes the villain, or ultimately destroys their world.

Hopefully your classroom won’t pivot to such hopelessness. Still, be mindful of keeping students on-task and oriented toward learning goals. Even when using open-ended prompts, teachers can guide student thinking toward intended outcomes. Such parameters could be as simple as time limits or brainstorm boundaries. For example, a science teacher might pose a challenge that prompts investigation, but requires students to use only certain materials or technology. Sometimes this is called a “testable question” in science classrooms.

No matter the subject, teachers can be purposeful in using “What if . . . ?”-type questions to get the full effect. For inspiration, consider how masterminds behind the MCU have carefully scheduled and set up movies, television shows, specials, etc. Each production features minute details and allusions that result in monumental meaning in subsequent films. (For example, it’s no coincidence that What if . . . ? has come out between the Loki television series and the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home film.)

Teachers don’t have the multi-million dollar movie machine like the MCU, but they can still be intentional and inspirational by providing creative, challenging, and coordinated questions for their students.

Just imagine . . . What if . . . ?

Magic of Meta

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It’s been such a crazy year and a long time since our last post. As evidence, check out this more recent pic of the previous blog’s cute kitten:

Change is actually the topic for this blog. In particular, let’s look at the transformation of superheroes and teachers.

(Slight Spoilers Below!)

Televised Transformations

The new Disney+ show “WandaVision” has been a love letter to sitcom television through the ages. Although it started as a unique gimmick, the episodic show slowly revealed a larger narrative and connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Along the way, viewers got to enjoy a loving homage to past and present TV shows from “I Love Lucy,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Family Ties,” “Modern Family,” and more.

Interestingly, despite advances in technology and techniques, “WandaVision” as a show didn’t stray much from the standard sitcom formula. Even though styles changed over the decades, each 30-minute episode featured similar jokes, hijinks, character interactions, and more. (And if you’ve seen the show, you might notice parallels to the grieving process.)

True change finally occurs when a new element is introduced. Namely, magic.

Hints of the supernatural popped up throughout, but it wasn’t until “WandaVision” was halfway over when the series truly transformed.

Change in Schools

Teachers, think about the analogy to education. Schools and classrooms are notorious for slow transformation.

Take a look at the following slideshow of classroom photos and notice the similarities over the years.

One of these classroom images isn’t even a REAL school. It’s from the Star Wars show “The Mandalorian.” If that story takes place “in a galaxy far, far away,” it shows how widespread and ingrained our cultural view of schools reaches.

This is not to say that a certain formula is always bad. On the contrary, it often helps to follow a standard template and procedure. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That said, the best teachers (and schools) strive to always get better. That pursuit of improvement requires transformation, which might involve drastic changes from time to time.

The show “WandaVision” demonstrated that minor changes can occur over time, but true innovation requires something more, something magical.

So Meta

A lot of the fun from “WandaVision” has been its meta-commentary on television eras and cultural norms. This involves stepping back from the story and reflecting on the larger picture. The same happens to the characters in the show.

In order for education to improve, teachers and schools must take time to “step back” and reflect. Research on learning supports the powerful role of “metacognition,” or “thinking about thinking.” Educators are encouraged to use metacognition strategies to help students learn, and we should do the same for our own growth, learning, and change.

Metacognition may not be magical, but it can certainly lead to metamorphosis.

Panther Preview

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It’s almost here!

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Learn more at one of the following:

https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/the-ages-of-the-black-panther/

https://www.bookdepository.com/Ages-Black-Panther/9781476675220?utm_source=SV-Body&utm_medium=email-Service&utm_term=Book_image&utm_content=order-details&utm_campaign=Order-dispatch

 

More details to come about my chapter for teachers . . .

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Don’t Spoil. Tease.

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You’ve probably heard about a little film coming out this month:

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Don’t worry, NO SPOILERS here!

In fact, the Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo have earnestly requested that audiences and critics NOT reveal any details about the movie:

“Because so many of you have invested your time, your hearts, and your souls into these stories, we’re once again asking for your help. When you see Endgame in the coming weeks, please don’t spoil it for others, the same way you wouldn’t want it spoiled for you.”

I’m so wary of spoilers this time around, I refuse to read any preview articles, interviews, or speculation by fans. Likewise, whenever a trailer pops up online or on television, I quickly avert my eyes. I’m suspending my social media use later this week, too, since I don’t trust my friends or myself. No spoilers! 

I already know I want to see Avengers: Endgame. I don’t need any pre-release hoopla to motivate me.

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Read more about “Keeping Students Motivated.”

We’ve talked about how teachers should avoid spoilers in their classrooms. We must be careful to not sabotage, short-circuit, or short-change our students in the learning process. Authentic understanding arrives through wonder and discovery, making sense as one investigates concepts and applications.

Read more about spoiler alerts here, along with a nostalgic look at the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII – ThForce Awakens. (The rumors are already flying about the upcoming Episode IX, and I imagine things will soon hit hyperspace.)

 

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Capture my attention? Done.

 

That said, excited fan-geeks are NOT the same as your typical student. While teachers should still avoid spoilers, they may need to provide a little more motivation in their classrooms. And they also need to help along the way.

Another applicable entertainment analogy is the “TEASER.”

Merriam-Webster defines “teaser” as “an advertising or promotional device intended to arouse interest or curiosity especially in something to follow.”

Often, a teaser doesn’t directly name the product or event. Teachers can apply the same practice to engage students, but not spoil them with every detail or label.

Teasers can appear many months before the actual event, and here this analogy may not perfectly translate to the classroom.

Rather than waiting several days or weeks, a teacher probably needs the learning pay-off to occur much sooner. This “a-ha moment” could be in the same day, such as fulfilling an introductory question from bellwork. Or teachers could “tease” students with a prompt or “what if?” at the end of one day and return to this topic the next class.

 

Like spoilers, we’ve discussed teasers before on this blog. Take a look at some superhero examples and classroom applications here.

In the meantime, decide how spoiled you want to be before the next pop culture event. Maybe a new teaser has appeared and piqued your interest.

Either way, find ways to tease – not spoil – your students in the pursuit of learning!

 

Higher Faster Further

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Captain Marvel is the latest superhero box office smash, and it’s a must-see for fans of the 1990s and/or cats.

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I’m particularly fond of the movie’s motto: “Higher Further Faster,” which comes from a well-regarded comic book storyline by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez.

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The first thing that came to my mind was the single “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” mixed and remixed by French masters Daft Punk, which you can watch and listen to HERE(Readers prone to seizures – be wary.) 

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Added geek bonus: There’s an anime music video based on the entire Daft Punk album “Discovery.”

 

The other reason I like Captain Marvel’s catchphrase is its application to teachers. In fact, I have a couple of related slogans I like to use with educators:

The first line is wholly original:

The best teachers keep getting better.

The second one updates a well-worn teacher maxim about getting lesson ideas:

Beg, borrow, steal . . . and make it BETTER.*

*We could talk a lot more about “making it better,” but for now here are two articles with some ideas. (Even though both are science-focused, all teachers can apply some of these strategies to their respective subjects.) 

 

These two sayings deal with “lifelong learning.” We teachers must practice an attitude of ongoing learning and actions toward improvement, especially if we expect our students to do the same.

Here’s a neat blog article about lifelong learning, which also provides a nifty-keen visual aid.

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Although the above blog’s target audience is business owners and managers, teachers can still learn something for themselves and their students.

 

Speaking of students, a recent article at Education Week tells of a Des Moines high school’s professional development approach to include both teachers AND students.

You can read more at https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/03/13/these-students-are-doing-pd-with-their.html, and here is a noteworthy quote from the article:

Students may not use the technical language teachers employ when commenting on lesson plans, but “you’ll hear patterns of what’s considered best practices for engaging students.”

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Teachers, what are you doing to get better?

Maybe you don’t have a formal joint student-teacher professional development program. But hopefully you listen to your students and pay attention to their ideas, gaining insight into your own instruction.

There are plenty of other ways to get better – professional conferences, publications, workshops, graduate classes, and other traditional methods. Or seek out improvement through personal endeavors like a hobby, travel, and relationships with your family and friends.

The summer season is soon approaching, which is a terrific time to recharge and refresh. It’s also a time to review your performance and refocus efforts on getting better.

What workshop or class or trip will YOU take to improve over this summer?

I’m sure you’ll find time between superhero blockbusters to get better, higher, further, faster, stronger . . .

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Lessons from Stan Lee

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This post is different than most, pausing to honor the late, great, Stan “The Man” Lee.

I won’t even attempt to write a tribute to Stan Lee’s marvelous life and legacy, as several others have done a much better job.

For example, take a look Marvel’s website HERE, which includes this inspirational quote:

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Also, many celebrities have written kind comments about Stan’s impact on their personal and professional lives. You can read several of them at https://www.rte.ie/entertainment/2018/1112/1010478-stan-lee-tributes/.

Even Netflix is honoring Stan Lee by encouraging viewers to use his catchphrase “Excelsior!” when searching for a show. Try it and see what happens.

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My way of thanking Stan “The Man” Lee is to consider all the lessons teachers can learn from his example. How can we bring these same traits to our schools and classrooms?

Enthusiasm

When I think of Stan Lee, the first thing that comes to mind is not the heroes and villains he helped create. Instead, it’s his overwhelming enthusiasm. Just take a look at this cover to his comic book-style autobiography:

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Or this real comic book featuring a real photo of Stan Lee:

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Although many people learned about Stan Lee through his various movie cameos, he actually had plenty of exposure first through comic book stories. Here is a neat article summarizing Stan’s various cameos through years of comic books. You’ll note a recurring theme of self-deprecating humor, fun, and energy.

Here’s an early depiction of behind-the-scenes with Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko:

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Much later, Stan made an appearance to narrate an entire issue of Generation X:

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This stint prompted a company-wide event the next year, in which Stan appeared to introduce every Marvel comic book’s “flashback” story:

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Advocacy

Stan Lee was an advocate for superheroes and their fans. Like the comic book example with Steve Ditko above, Stan introduced comic book readers to the creators and the creative process.

This was long before blogs and social media. Instead, Stan provided monthly updates in the comic books – Stan’s Soapbox, Bullpen Bulletins, and more. Moreover, he made it fun to be a fan.

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Brandon Zachary from Comic Book Resources wrote an essay, “How Stan Lee Created Comic Book Celebrity and Modern Geek Chic,” explaining “He became every reader’s ‘Uncle Stan,’ a sarcastic but kind figurehead of comics. Stan Lee helped mold the modern idea of Geek Chic into what it is today, and turned Marvel Comics from an entertainment company into its very own culture.”

Stan advocated for more than just superheroes and comics. As a writer and editor, he shared stories dealing with issues like alcohol and drug abuse, racism, hate, and more. Here are five of his “Soapbox” writings addressing such issues, including the one below from 1968:

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One noteworthy issue of Amazing Spider-Man is #96 in May, 1971. This was the first comic book published by Marvel or DC to NOT have the seal of approval by the Comics Code Authority.  The “code” was used to ensure comic books were safe for young readers. But in Spider-Man #96, Stan Lee wanted to tackle the issue of drug abuse.

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Forgoing the CCA’s seal of approval, Stan wrote and published the story. Soon after, the CCA updated its guidelines to consider depictions of controversial subject matter in individual stories.

 

Collaboration

Stan Lee is famous for pioneering the “Marvel Method” of making comics. Before this, writers scripted comic book stories with detailed descriptions and dialogue. To save time, Stan reduced the direction in his scripts and allowed the artists to decide things like page layout, number of panels, perspectives, etc. This created more trust with the artist, to the point where both writer and artist were credited as “co-plotters” in many comic book issues.

You can read more about this collaborative approach here, and hear Stan Lee describe the process himself in the following video:

 

Although Stan Lee frequently receives credit as creator of multiple Marvel heroes, he himself acknowledges the powerful role of co-creators and artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Larry Lieber (Stan’s brother), and more.

Here is another example of Stan’s collaborative spirit, shared by recent Spider-Man writer Dan Slott:

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Stan’s spirit of collaboration (and marketability) is perhaps what led to the “shared” universe approach in Marvel Comics. Readers could relish guest appearances, cameos, and team-ups among various superheroes and villains. Such crossovers are much celebrated (and copied) in the series of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Ageless Wonder

This is one of my favorite panels from Stan Lee’s memoir:

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Stan Lee had worked in the comic book business for many years before he began his Marvelous run. This is a recent tweet from writer and reporter Brett White, reminding all of us it’s not too late to start something new:

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During my own lifetime, Stan Lee’s work was less in comic books and more in other media. He moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1981 to oversee television and film versions of Marvel characters.

Soon after came video games, including Spider-Man for Atari in 1983. How many 60-year-olds do you know would gleefully help like Stan in this Blip magazine feature?

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The first time I heard Stan Lee’s voice may have been in the PlayStation/N64 Spider-Man game, published in 2000. Even in his late 70s, Stan enthusiastically introduced “True Believers and Newcomers alike” into a “true superhero action thriller,” which you can enjoy here:

 

Stan Lee continued to try new things throughout his 80s and 90s. Some projects were more successful than others. Nevertheless, his work displays an energy envied by creators of all ages.

In 2001, Stan even wrote special “Just Imagine . . . ” comic book stories featuring characters from long-time rival DC Comics.

 

 

 

 

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More recently, Stan Lee worked on several global projects. His last superhero creation was based on Chinese pop star G.E.M. He also helped create multiple heroes for Japanese anime and manga (making a few personal appearances, of course).

 

 

 

 

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There will never be another Stan “The Man” Lee. But we can take inspiration from his enthusiasm, advocacy, collaboration, and lifelong learning. And we can remember Stan Lee’s example every time he pops up in a cameo.

 

‘Nuff said. Excelsior!