It may not be apparent at first, but I know there is a strong connection between the fact that so many Americans are driving Japanese cars (and using Japanese electronics of course) and so many Japanese people reading Manga (the Japanese word for comic book) and so few Americans reading comic books anymore. It is my opinion that comic books play a very strong role in the development of imagination because they literally transport one into a completely different reality, into a world which sometimes looks like our world but where anything is possible. And I truly believe that it is the imaginations cultivated by comic books that yield forward thinking, future-minded individuals which produce innovations such as better cars and electronics which push mankind forward. If Americans are driving Japanese cars it is because they are currently emerged in a culture which calls comic book fans nerds and losers, tells the artist he will starve and struggle and calls crazy anyone that does not tow the line.
What about Japan? Well, it is said that over 40% of all printed material in Japan is manga. When you ride the train in Japan you see people of all ages, business professionals as well as young people, reading manga. They show up every week excited for the new manga releases and their entire manga industry far out produces the United States and every other country. It is the number comic book consuming country on planet Earth. Manga artists and writers also significantly out produce their American counter-parts, creating a culture where artists are highly respected and admired. And while American comic book reading continues to slip, Japanese manga sales continue to climb, especially in America and Europe.
To give more understanding of the current American comic book scene, let's examine the title "Batman" by DC Comics, long used as the bar in which to judge all title sales because it is one of the most steady sellers. Well, a typical issue of Batman, released once a month, will usually sell 50,000 to maybe 80,000 copies in the United States. Not the sales figure you were expecting right? In a country of 311 million people you would think the number would be higher. If only 1% of all Americans read comic books that would be 3.1 million people showing up to their local comic book shops each week, but sadly the actual number of comic book readers is tiny. And this from a country that invented the comic book and super heroes. This is from the country that created "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight" and a slew of Hollywood blockbusters based on comic books.
I'm an American. I drive a Honda. I read comic books but I also read manga. I want to be where imagination is and follow those that nurture and encourage it. We let the automobile slip away from us and the comic book too, but it doesn't mean we couldn't reverse the trend and reclaim our top spot. As I write this Elon Musk at Tesla Motors out in California is building one the greatest electric cars on Earth and great American comic book writers and artists are creating the stories that will be the next big Hollywood blockbuster. Rethink what is happening in our world and figure out how you can play a part in creating a more ideal one: filled with better technologies and better art. Let's make a world where our imaginations are let loose to create so maybe one day there will be less need of doctors and lawyers and more need of artists and writers. After all, nothing heals or helps more than art does.
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If you've watched TV, looked at city buses or had a Dr. Pepper recently, you may have noticed what hopes to be one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, The Avengers. Not only is this a super hero movie but it features one of the earliest super hero teams and promises to deliver yet another hit for Marvel Studios. With all of the hype and promotion I couldn't help but think how close the entire thing came to almost not happening. It was a very real scenario at one point in time that there might not be an Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk and most of what is now known as the Marvel Universe.
The story goes like this: a young Stan Lee, was tired of his job publishing comics that followed the latest craze, whether it was detective or western or war story, and wanted to go off and be a "serious" writer. He had given it a lot of thought and made up his mind that the next day he was going to quit his job publishing un-original comic books to go do something better. You could hardly blame the guy, he wanted to be a real artist, not a hack pretending to be one, following the latest fad in story genre. So he walked into work the next day ready to quit but there was something he was not anticipating: his boss' news of a super hero team book called "The Justice League." He had played golf with the executive over at DC Comics and learned the super hero team book was selling really well, so of course, like he always did, he told Stan Lee he wanted a super hero book. His boss' enthusiasm for the idea was too high and he decided not to tell him he was leaving until later. He went home and told his wife about his conversation at work and how he didn't want to do it anymore. His wife gave him some good advice. She said, "why don't you write the book the way you would want to do it, not the way you think they want you to and if they hate it then you'll get fired and you didn't want to work there anyway, but if they like it and it sells then you've achieved writing something you want to write." Stan Lee took her advice and wrote a story of a super hero team unlike any other: "The Fantastic Four."
The phenomenal success of "The Fantastic Four" gave Stan Lee the green light to create a whole new universe of characters that were unlike superheroes of the past. His heroes had problems and weren't always perfect. They were relatable and people connected in droves. He went on to create another superhero team "The Avengers," as well as Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer, The X-Men and his most famous creation: Spider-Man. Regardless of his other successes, Stan Lee faced opposition when he pitched the idea of Spider-Man. His boss just couldn't see how a pimple faced, weakling of a teenager would be a believable super hero and told Stan Lee to toss it. Luckily, he didn't toss away the idea and instead slipped the story into the last issue of a series that was about to end. He figured it wouldn't hurt the series any and at least he'd get his story out there. When the numbers finally came back months later for Amazing Fantasy #15, the first appearance of Spider-Man, it was one of the biggest selling single issues of the decade.
It goes to show that you must always create from a joy of creating, not from the financial need to or to produce something you think will fit into what everyone else is doing. Being original and making something that was not there before is the real reason why we create at all or we might as well just go enjoy the art we tried to copy. Stan Lee had the good sense to listen to his wife and do what he wanted to do and damn the consequences. I think it's a good example to follow when it comes to tackling your work. Always create and do what you want to because in the end you only have yourself to please. I'm glad I knew his story and excited I get to see the characters that almost never were, come alive on a movie screen. Artists Run This Planet!
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.