In less than one month, cosmetic tycoon Ronald Perelman, chairman of New York-based Revlon Inc., will take command of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and Captain America. With his acquisition of Marvel Comics for $82.5 million in November, Perelman got about 50 monthly comic books - with a combined circulation of more than 7 million - plus the licensing rights to Marvel's famous comic book heroes.
It'll be business as usual for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Brenda Starr and Betty Boop, says the current publisher."The trick is to make the books colorful and understandable for young readers without losing the older readers," said Los Angeles-based Stanley Lee, publisher and former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.
"Comics are fantasy fiction," said Frederic Greenberg, promotional director of Great Eastern Conventions in Ringoes, N.J. "We're able to act out our fantasies through those characters and through those stories. It's really no different in the movies.
"The most popular characters are not short and fat. Everyone wants to see stories about successful, good-looking, intelligent characters."
Until the early 1960s, when Lee first came up with the idea of changing the nature of the comic-book superhero, characters had been superhuman and faultless.
"Lee introduced human error, fallibility and frailty into the characters," Greenberg said. "Comic-book characters began to have the same problems that regular human beings had. That changed the whole direction of comics."
Iron Man, for example, developed an ongoing struggle with alcoholism. Speedy had a heroin addicton. And Spider-Man always had his own set of problems: Strapped financially, he worried about his sickly spinster aunt (yes, a-u-n-t), as well as his mercurial relationship with this girlfriend.
In the past two decades, when Lee changed the editorial and artistic direction of Marvel Comics, the age of the comic book reader increased. Consequently, comic book publishers such as Marvel and DC Comics geared their product for a more mature audience.
"We upgraded everything. We upgraded to college-age vocabulary, concentrated on realistic dialogue and added subplots," Lee said.
The idea of the comic book originated in America in 1933, when Max Gaines first reprinted Sunday newspaper comic strips and bound the clips in a book called "Funnies on Parade." That same year, two Cleveland teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Jerome Shuster, published an amateur science-fiction magazine detailing the exploits of a character named Superman.
Five years later, the publication of Superman I by Action Comics popularized the idea of a "superman" hero.
"Superman popularized the idea of the comic book superhero," Greenberg said. "From then to now, that idea has kept comic books as a thriving, popular medium."
Comic books were also used for propaganda as morale builders during World War II in the fight against both the Germans and the Japanese. With Superman a landmark character, Batman and Captain America were drafted into the war effort by the U.S. government. Lee, with artist Jack Kirby, co-created Captain America.
There was tremendous growth in the comics market through the 1950s. Thirty years ago, comic books sold for 5 to 10 cents. In the early 1960s, the price went up to 12 cents, to 15 cents and then, to 25 cents.
Over the years, the dialogue and artwork have been improved.
"Today, the artists try a little harder," Lee said. "In the past, only kids would buy and throw away comics. But now it's become more of a social and artistic phenomenon. Now people collect and buy comics because of a certain artist just as people go to the movies to see the work of a certain director or actor."
And the same holds true for comic.