As if co-creating Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four weren’t impressive enough, Stan Lee is coming out with an all-new series, and this time he’s making it with manga-ka Hiroyuki Takei. If you’ve ever read the manga “Shaman King” or seen the cartoon version on Saturday mornings, that’s Takei’s work, and he’s very famous in Japan, with increasing audiences in America. Together these comics masters have created the manga “Ultimo” at VIZ Media, which after initial serialization in Japan and a preview stint in the American magazine “Shonen Jump" is hitting bookstores and comic shops this week.
In the midst of his busy creative schedule, Lee took time to open up to CBR about his thoughts on the manga boom in America, the process it took to write a comic for a Japanese market with a creator who spoke only Japanese and how plotting for "Ultimo" proved different than his classic "Marvel Method" of comic scripting.
CBR News: Stan, you've got a long history creating heroes of all stripes from the well-established Marvel gang with feet of clay to your more current 21st Century output with POW! How is "Ultimo" different from your earlier heroes? Did working with a manga-ka like Hiroyuki change the core of the hero at all?
Stan Lee: "Ultimo" is different from anything I’ve ever done. I tried to incorporate the Japanese manga story-telling style as much as possible and, of course, no one knows that style better than my famous collaborator Hiroyuki.
Have you read much manga outside of Hiroyuki's work? What's your general take on the wideangle style that the artists achieve with such long-form stories?
I’ve read enough manga to have a general understanding of the form. I’m impressed with the so-called wide-angle form which lends itself perfectly to those long-form stories.
When VIZ Media first hooked you up with Hiroyuki, what was the process of creation like? Did he have an idea for the character he wanted to create, or did you pitch him on the core concept of what would become "Ultimo?"
I pitched the basic idea. Our plan was for me to come up with the basic concept, and then to let Hiroyuki run with it in the manga style.
Speaking of which, for fans who haven't heard about the ins and outs of the series, what is the core concept behind "Ultimo?" What makes the character become a hero, and what are the unique elements of his story that make this a true collaboration between the two of you?
The core concept is the never-ending battle between ultimate good and ultimate evil. “Ultimate”—hence the title “Ultimo.” The character doesn’t “become” a hero as much as the character is created to be a hero.
"Ultimo" was originally serialized in Japan before being translated back into English. What makes "Ultimo" work for both an American and Japanese audience?
I’d like to think the basic theme, a bigger than life battle between characters with incredible powers. Would work for both American and Japanese readers— and apparently it does.
What's your take on the "manga invasion" in the United States and elsewhere? Do you think the kids who are devouring manga volumes in the book stores here will continue to read comics of all kinds in the future? What is it about manga that's made it so popular with teens?
People are always looking for something new and different. I think manga is popular because, although it’s not new in Japan, it’s new in the U.S. and is certainly different from American comics. But besides being different, a new type of story-telling must also grab the reader, and manga certainly does that. I think manga will be popular with American readers for a long time to come.
Everyone knows of your classic "Marvel Method" for plotting for an artist and then scripting once the pages come in. Was working with Hiroyuki similar or different?
Working with Hiroyuki-san was different. At Marvel, I wrote all the dialogue. Working on "Ultimo," the dialogue is written by other writers who follow the original plot that I had laid down.
What would you like to accomplish with "Ultimo?" Do you see the series moving on to become an anime project like so many manga in Japan?
As with every project I work on, I hope it will be successful in all branches of the media. I hope it will one day be a series of cartoons, or perhaps a TV series or even a motion picture.
What was the most interesting aspect of working in manga for someone like you who's done so many American comics? What kinds of "behind-the-scenes" practices surprised you as you went along?
There were really no surprises. Hiroyuki and I are able to collaborate via video-conferencing, with interpreters. In the beginning, he actually came to Los Angeles to give us a chance to meet face to face and get to know each other. The video conferencing is a great way for people who are far apart to work.
Overall, how do you think manga and American comics compare to each other?
Manga and American comics are two different styles of story-telling, but I think they compliment each other perfectly.
"Ultimo" Vol. 1 is in stores this week from VIZ Media.