R.I.P. Stan Lee

Stan Lee

28.12.1922 – 12.11.2018

This week we lost another hero, the one and only Stan Lee.  Writer, editor and publisher at Marvel comics – not to mention creative genius behind some of the 20th century’s most memorable characters.

I use the words “hero” and “creative genius” in relation to Stan for completely legitimate reasons.  The work of this man was ground breaking and had a massive impact on culture; he was also a genuinely decent human being.

Together with a creative team including legends such as Kirby, Ditko, Romita and Buscema, Lee was responsible for creating some of the most imaginative and ground breaking characters in comics.  Fantastic Four.  The Incredible Hulk.  The Amazing Spider-Man.  The Uncanny X-Men.  Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers and on and on.

Marvel characters may have been heroes, but they were not perfect.  For the first time, comics characters had real world problems.  They wrestled with the same everyday issues that their readers faced.  These superheroes leapt from the page with a load of personal baggage – and this new approach was revolutionary.  And very successful.

My favourite example is Spider-Man.  Spidey was a cool wise cracking hero, but Peter Parker was a nerdy kid; an outcast.  The guys didn’t want to hang around with him and the girls didn’t want to be with him.  As time went on, he struggled balancing classwork, relationships, a part time job and superhero-ing.  At any point in Spidey’s adventures, any or all of those issues could tumble out of control.

You can read numerable tributes to Stan Lee online, by all manner of people from all walks of life.  One positive from his passing is seeing how universally admired he was.

Reflecting on my own experience, I can remember seeing the Spiderman cartoon and the Hulk TV show as a tiny kid in the seventies.  By the age of seven, I’d graduated to my first Marvel comic (I vividly remember buying it and still have it to this day).  I was hooked.  I devoured comic books; all I wanted to be as a kid was a comic book artist.  To this day I attribute any grasp of the English language that I possess to these publications.  Including English exam results.

Stan Lee’s creations fired my imagination and inspired my creative aspirations, and those of millions all over the world.  They still do to this day, both in comic book form and the hugely successful movies.

This Marvel Universe – Stan’s Marvel Universe – was one where the outsider was welcome.  Bigotry and intolerance were not his way, nor that of his creations.  In making the underdog the centre of the story, Lee emancipated millions of us.

I’m proud to proclaim Stan Lee not only an innovator, but a true legend and one of the greatest creative individuals of the 20th century.

Excelsior!

In Memoriam – Carrie Fisher

carrie-f

Carrie Fisher

21.10.1956 – 27.12.2016

It is with great sadness that I write this blog post, regarding the passing of Carrie Fisher.  Carrie was a great actress, writer and producer and had an immense impact on my life.

Carrie Fisher was from Hollywood royalty, and had a very successful and creative career both in front and behind the camera.  Without neglecting her many achievements, there was one role that outshone all the others.

Of course, Carrie Fisher was particularly famous for playing Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movies.  Anyone who knows me will know that I have been obsessed with Star Wars since I was five years old, so to lose someone who has been part of my life for so long has been heartbreaking.

The importance of the Leia character cannot be overstated.  The Princess was no stereotypical damsel in distress – rather she was fiesty, confident and in control.  She held a position of authority as a leader in the Rebel Alliance and was at the forefront of all the decision making and events.  She was tough and skilled (ever see her miss with a blaster?) – but also showed compassion and humour.

All of those qualities were massively important and showed me – and other boys of my generation and since – that women could be strong, dynamic and powerful leaders.  Leia was a role model for a generation, not just male or female.

Princess Leia was adored by women the world over and rightly so – she showed the girls that she could be just as brave and heroic as the guys.  She was intelligent and committed and she stood up for what she believed in.

This character was embodied perfectly by Carrie Fisher.  Carrie knew she was part of a big boys club and had fun with it.  In doing do, she created a figure in popular culture who will be admired and respected for generations to come.  Carrie was not without her demons – she would fight them constantly through out her life – but this tenacity was embodied in her portrayal of the Princess at the centre of the galaxy, fighting for a better life.

It’s very disheartening to note that I began my writing in 2016 with two memorial pieces for personal heroes who passed away.  It looks like my last blog of the year will be about another.

So let’s remember what Carrie Fisher – and Princess Leia – represented to so many.  Courage, faith in your beliefs, and the desire to make things better.  Those are qualities that we will all do well to take with us into the future.

R.I.P. Lemmy

Lemmy

Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister

24.12.1945 – 28.12.2015

A huge part of growing up is buying your first Motorhead album.  For me it was the compilation album “No Remorse”, which I wanted because it had “Ace of Spades” and “Killed By Death” on it.  With that purchase, I took a step into a bigger world.  Motorhead were a gang, not just a band – and with buying that record I was subscribing to a whole new way of life.

The first time I encountered the rabid monster that was Motorhead was when they performed the legendary “Ace of Spades” on the Young Ones episode “Bambi”.  Lemmy was there front and centre, a living icon in mirror shades, mutton chop whiskers, and thunderous bass guitar; bellowing into a mic that was stretched to the ceiling.

Motorhead’s music was a raucous, fast burst of adrenaline and I played that album every Monday morning before school.  It was the best way to get into the zone and face the start of the week.  Total take no prisoners, take on the world music.  Of course, real life wasn’t so harsh, but Motorhead made you feel like you could do anything.

Lemmy himself was always the uncompromising rock’n’roll figurehead.  His gruff demeanour and his reputation for fast living only cemented his status.  And Motorhead were always cool.  When I developed a taste for punk rock, Motorhead were still cool.  Lemmy and Motorhead straddled the otherwise impossible crevasse between punk and metal.  He had roots going back to early rock’n’roll and the classics of the 60’s with the Beatles and Hendrix.  Lemmy was part of rock’s DNA.

Over the years I collected their albums, bought the t-shirt and Lemmy’s autobiography, and saw them live.  I even met the guy once.  One day I’ll write up the story of that night, which I was always going to call “The Greatest Night Out of My Life”.  Suffice to say that I met Lemmy in a strip club in Liverpool after a Motorhead gig, totally by chance.  I hung out with him all night.  He was extremely gracious and funny.  He was tolerant of drunk fans because he knew how much the music meant to us.

As much a gentleman as a warrior, the world has lost a real original with the passing of Lemmy Kilmister.  He was a pioneer, an innovator.  We knew he’d go one day, but it’s still unbelievable.  I’ll miss Motorhead.  Raise a glass to the great man and yell:

“You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools, but that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t wanna live forever!”

In Memoriam – Sir Christopher Lee

Lee

Sir Christopher Lee

27.05.1922 – 07.06.2015

I was genuinely saddened to hear that Sir Christopher Lee had passed away.  Over the years Lee had become one of my favourite actors.  Perhaps my absolute favourite.  I certainly own more DVDs of his work than any other star.

My first encounter with Lee’s films would have been the brilliant, still unsurpassed The Three Musketeers (1973).  Or perhaps his turn as one of the best Bond villains ever – in one the best Bond films – Scaramanga, in The Man with the Golden Gun.

It wasn’t until my teens that I was able to catch up with his work for Hammer (and Amicus), when ITV started showing old horror films way past the witching hour with the advent of all night television.  I stayed up late, or recorded them all on the VCR to ensure I saw them all.  Those classic British horror movies captivated me – and still do. Whether playing Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, The Mummy – Lee was central to their success.

Monsters had always fascinated me.  I remember drawing them from an early age, though I wasn’t old enough to watch the films.  My early horror experiences came from Marvel comics, and a few movies such as King Kong and Boggy Creek.  Oh, yes – and the series of Fu Manchu movies shown on BBC2; again starring Christopher Lee.

The link to Hammer came from Star Wars.  I loved the cantina scene – still do – with its bizarre creatures; after all, I loved monsters.  Later, a connection from Star Wars would lead me to Hammer – I discovered that Peter Cushing wasn’t just Grand Moff Tarkin.  It was inevitable that I would explore the Gothic creations of the great British horror studio.  So I was understandably thrilled to find out that Christopher Lee would become part of the Star Wars family, as Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones.

Lee had something of a resurgence from the late 1990s.  He started to work with Tim Burton and seemed like he’d found a new home.  Sleepy Hollow (1999) was Burton’s love letter to the old Hammer movies, and Lee would return again and again to participate in the Director’s dark tales.

The fact that Christopher Lee found a new audience over the last decade and a half – with the Lord of the Rings films, even a return to Hammer with The Resident (2011) – is wonderful.  And gratifying for those, like me, who’ve admired his work for a long time.

Let’s not forget the many other talents Lee displayed.  How about releasing Heavy Metal albums in his nineties?  Check them out – they’re great.  And his wartime exploits (Google it) are worthy of a film in their own right.  A life time of incredible achievement.

I had hoped, as people often do, to one day meet my hero in person.  Unrealistic, I know – but Christopher Lee was always the top of my list for the old “three people you would invite to dinner” game.  I would have loved to tell him how big a fan I am of the films he’s helped create.  Alas, that will never happen now.  It’s sad that tiny bit of a dream will never come true.

Thank you Sir Christopher Lee.  Your constant creative progression is an inspiration.  The impact you have had on our imagination – both dreams and nightmares – is your greatest gift.