When Marvel’s Stan Lee Helped Instigate Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”

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The Art Spiegelman Maus Instigator

Among his numerous contributions to the comic book medium, Stan Lee played a part in the evolution of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Yes, that’s Stan the Spider-Man, Iron Man, and X-Men man. Okay, so many of his self-styled claims to fame are hyperbolic at best and only credible to his delusional True Believers. But in 1974 Stan provided national mainstream exposure to the original three-page “Maus,” Art’s short, self-contained strip – which had first appeared in the underground comic Funny Aminals two years earlier – served as the foundation for his groundbreaking, game-changing graphic novel from 1986. And while Denis Kitchen, Comix Book’s editor, deserves the lion’s share of credit for its reprinting, it was Stan the publisher – listed on the masthead as “instigator” – who first proposed the idea and who went forward to make it a reality.

Art Spiegelman Maus

issue #1 cover art: Peter Poplaski

Counterculture Cash-In

With 60-plus, black-and-white pages in oversize magazine format, Comix Book was Stan’s attempt to cash in on counterculture funnies. Lasting three issues under Stan, it mixed respected, well-established underground artists like Trina Robbins, Skip Williamson, Joel Beck, and Howard Cruse with famed establishment overgrounders such as Kelly Freas and Basil Wolverton. It also included a few editorials, profiles, and other text pieces.

And although Comix Book had its own imprint separate from the superhero-branded Marvel line, contributors were still required to ease up on the cussin’ and fornicatin’ which, let’s face it, had already worn itself out. Regardless, the quality of illustration was consistently high, particularly in comparison to the glut of actual comix-with-an-x that had hit an all-time low. Art Spiegelman’s “Ace Hole, Midget Detective,” from the premiere issue, is a masterful, funny, and fun deconstruction of comics, noir, and fine art. And it’s also important to note, if only briefly, that the Lee/Kitchen Comix Book inspired Art and Bill Griffith’s Arcade magazine – albeit in an oppositional, “We can produce a much, much better magazine than Comix Book” way – which led to Art and Françoise Mouly’s Raw magazine which serialized “Maus.”

Art Spiegelman Maus

issue #1 art: Art Spiegelman

Denis’s Kitchen Sink Press put out two more issues using backlogged material before calling it quits in 1976. In 2013 Dark Horse released a hardcover collection, Best of Comix Book: When Marvel Comics Went Underground. And in his introduction, Stan Lee calls Comix Book “Totally original and totally unique… one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done.” ’Nuff said.

issue #2 art: Joel Beck

issue #2 cover art: Skip Williamson

issue #1 art: Basil Wolverton

issue #5 art: Howard Cruse

issue #3 cover art: Denis Kitchen

issue #2 art: Leslie Cabarga

issue #1 art: Bill Sanders

issue #4 cover art: Leslie Cabarga

issue #2 art: Sharon Rudahl

issue #1 art: John Pound

issue #4 art: Steve Stiles

issue #4 art: Trina Robbins, Basil Wolverton, Tim Boxell, Sharon Rudahl

issue #5 art: Trina Robbins

issue #2 art: Howard Cruse

issue #4 art: Peter Loft (click to enlarge)

issue #2 art: Kelly Freas (click to enlarge)

issue #3 art: Bill Griffith

issue #2 art: Art Spiegelman

issue #1 art: Denis Kitchen


About Michael Dooley

Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.

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