Stan Lee's How to Draw Superheroes

 Posted: Sep 2021
 Staff: The Editor (E-Mail)


This is the third of the "Stan Lee's How To..." books published by Watson-Guptill Publications from 2010 to 2013. A fourth volume entitled "Stan Lee's Master Class" was posthumously added to the series in 2019.

They all share the same physical format, being square bound glossy soft-cover, 8.5" x 10.5" 224 glossy color pages. The first couple were also available in a now hard-to-find hardback edition. But it is the softback version which you will typically find available.

Story Details

Stan's name appears on the cover of this book. It is "Stan's" book about how to draw superheroes.

Now, you and I know that Stan Lee never truly drew a comic book superhero in his life. We also know that Stan Lee was 91 when this book was published, and hadn't written more than a dozen comic book stories since Gwen Stacy last drew breath back in 1973.

In fact, Stan probably hadn't even read more than a dozen comics since the seventies. Writing comics was a job to Stan, not really a passion. Sure, he enjoyed the spitting out of ideas, and he enjoyed coordinating the creators. But as soon as he got the chance to head west to Hollywood, he grabbed it with both hands, slapped "Emeritus" on his business card, and left writing far behind in the hands of Gerry Conway. Followed of course by a famous series of disposable Marvel Editors.

Even when he was "writing" comics, Stan famously invented the Marvel Method which let him direct multiple comic books with the minimum amount of actual writing work. He would sketch out the plot, then send the artist away to create the actual story breakdowns and draw the artwork. Then Stan would add the dialog to the finished product. Except when the artist did that as well.

I've lost track. What were we talking about?

Oh yeah, I remember. Stan didn't write this book of course, which is duly acknowledged in the details as soon as you open the cover. His name isn't even credited as a co-Writer.

General Comments

Now please can we talk about "How To" books for a moment.

Some things are easier to learn than others. Some things can be learned from a book. For example, if I were to read a "How to Solve a Rubik's Cube" and pay good attention, then I would almost certainly expect to acquire the ability to solve a Rubik's Cube at the end of that process.

Similarly perhaps "How to Bake a Chocolate Cake," or even "How to Dance the Macarena". These things can be learned from a book. From one book. Perhaps from a book in conjunction with a video of somebody actually dancing the Macarena.

But there are other skills which do not lend themselves so readily to acquisition from the perusing of a single book. For example, "How to write a sonnet in Persian," or "How to win the Lottery," or "How to sing the aria Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Hell's vengeance boils in my heart) from Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)."

I feel as if any book with a title of the form "How to Draw ..." belongs more in the latter category rather than the former. The ability of a single book to transform a non-Artist into an Artist is "limited" at best.

To its credit, this book pretty much acknowledges this reality – by not actually attempting to teach you how to draw. It cedes the battle right from the start, and instead generally hand-waves in that direction. Instead, each chapter defines a topic within the genre... for example "Heroines" or "Monsters" or "Robots, Androids & Cyborgs." Then it works through a process:

First it defines the scope and presents a background with historical examples, many of which stretch back to Ancient Greece (which of course gave us the word ἥρως (hḗrōs)) or from black and white cinema. Then it provides more modern examples from the superhero genre.

Having defined the topic, the book does then finally provides a few line sketches and some finished color drawings. But it's definitely an afterthought – an elegant superficial flourish.

The actual "drawing" process is elided. You are shown "Step 1", and "Step 137" with no intermediate instructions. Like a carpentry book showing picture of a tree, and a picture of an oiled and polished bedside cabinet, with instructions: "To build the finished piece, simply apply the necessary cutting, trimming, assembly, and finishing."

Overall Rating

This book is attractive and well-designed. But at the risk of repeating myself, let me state once more for the record:

  1. If you already know how to draw, then this book is completely pointless.
  2. If you don't already know how to draw, then this book is completely useless.

The target market is "People who think that they can become a comic book artist by reading a book, but in reality are happy just to look at the pictures and feel like they've made some progress even though they actually haven't."

Three Webs.

Note: If I were to write a book entitled "How To Review How To Books." then I would say – if you are not sure what to do, give a rating of three webs.

 Posted: Sep 2021
 Staff: The Editor (E-Mail)