Walt Disney vs. Stan Lee
I read this article from Big Issue the other day featuring Mark Millar, the creator of Kick-Ass. It was about comparing Walt Disney and Stan Lee. It compared the differences each pioneer made to their respected franchises. In fact, they were more than pioneers. They were (and Stan Lee still is as of the posting date of this post) each an avant-garde to the worlds of animation, publishing, and more. I didn’t really agree with what the article said at all, but it got me thinking about the idea of Walt vs. Stan.
Who’s had (and still has) the bigger impact on society and why? Positively and negatively? Disney (the man) passed away in 1966 but the effects of his empire are still seen and felt pretty much every day of our lives and we will likely continue to be witness to them for the rest of time. Often times without realizing it. Do you watch ESPN or ABC? They’re owned by Disney. LucasFilms (the production company that brought you everything “Star Wars”), yep, you guessed it. Now property of the Walt Disney Corporation.
Now here’s where things get confusing. Disney, as of 2009, also has part ownership in Marvel Comics (Stan Lee’s creations.) But this isn’t a business post or an exposé on irony. This is just to give you a basic understanding of just how much The Walt Disney Corporation has a Micky Mouse vice grip on. Mind you, everything I mentioned is just the tip of the iceberg and they’re each multi-billion dollar corporations on their own.
But back to the men themselves and the impact they have made.
Pretty much everyone on the planet knows the names Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. There’s no denying that. Most of those even know other characters like Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, and Donald Duck. It is also likely true that fewer people know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, Reed Richards is Mr. Fantastic, Bruce Banner is The Incredible Hulk. My point though, is that we have more in common with Stan Lee’s characters than Walt Disney’s way beyond the fact that they are mostly human. (Or at least they all definitely started that way.) Stan Lee’s characters and stories addressed real-world issues; often times as they were going on in society.
Consider the “X-Men.” First released in 1963, it is absolutely a representation of a fight for equality. Professor Charles Xavier represents Martin Luther King Jr. While Magneto was a representation of Malcolm X. Both were (and still are) figureheads for the mutants’ fight for equality and coexistence with the humans. Professor X believes that equality can be achieved peacefully, whereas Magneto believes equality can only be achieved through force. You can read one of many compelling articles on the subject matter here.
Peter Parker was your typical dorky teenager. He struggles with some social settings, has a crush on the most popular girl in school. He lives in a non-traditional home setting and his uncle is tragically killed in a random act of violence. Sadly, how familiar does this kind of set-up sound?
I can go on and on…
My point is that I am a grown man who still loves cartoons and comic books. But even after all these years, there’s an even deeper connection. A relevant one seeing these things for the first time through adult eyes. I can’t help but marvel (pun intended) at the relevance and grandeur these characters and situations have in our real-world existence.
So if you’re young or young at heart and your parents or friends tell you that reading comic books is a waste of time, introduce them to Stan Lee and his work. They won’t see it coming.
That being said, I wholeheartedly believe that Stan Lee is and will continue to be a more important figurehead in our everyday life and that his characters have more personal relevance than that of the mastery of Walt Disney’s characters and imagination ever will.