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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, January 13, 2011


This is a short post I wrote in response to some praise of Stan Lee's writing.


Stan's writing may suffer from any number of flaws, but generally he knew how to evoke strong melodramatic emotions-- worrying about a job, about a girl, etc. Then he could toss off a quip that would reassure the reader and make it seem like the characters could get through anything.

One of my opponents insisted that it was stupid to talk about Lee's dialogue being more "realistic" than solo-Kirby's. It's true that neither Lee nor Kirby sounds like the way people actually speak. But Lee's dialogue sounds like a potpourri of many different idioms derived from film and prose, and so it convinces us, because we've all heard movie-words that are like the words Reed Richards says.

Solo-Kirby's dialogue strains for this quality, but never gets it. You can tell that Kirby wants his characters to speak in different idioms but too often it all comes down to a sort of "Shakespeare by way of Brooklyn." That's one reason I've always found it hard to believe that Kirby wrote his Golden Age works; because their idiom just seems like competent pulp-style writing, with none of the loopiness apparent in solo-Kirby work.


João Seixas said...

Hi, Gene,

I could never really understand the need some people have to value reality above all things.

The realistic dialogue is a huge misconception. Tarantino's dialogues are one of the distinctive characteristics of his work, but they ate not realistic in any sense.

So much so that I had a friend who talked with a certain Tarantino grandeur (long before RESERVOIR DOGS) and everybody who met him said he was a "poseur" and wouldn't take him seriously.

So, realistic dialogue is largely overrated.


João Seixas

Gene Phillips said...

Hi Joao,

"Realism" definitely doesn't count for me "above all things." But it does have a certain contingent value. Though Stan Lee's dialogue like Tarantino's wasn't (and wasn't intended to be) realistic, it had to come across with just enough touches to seem realistic in the given situations.

Given my admiration for Jack Kirby, I find it interesting that his solo-billed works give us a look at his creative processes that we wouldn't have had otherwise. But in a *practical* sense, his lack (or loss) of wordsmithing skills may have cost him a few readers back in the day.