Stan Lee’s How to Draw Superheroes

Following Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics and Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics comes the more specialized Stan Lee’s How to Draw Superheroes.

I suspect, as in the previous volumes, Stan didn’t really write this. A small line on the indicia page credits Danny Fingeroth, Keith Dallas, and Robert Sodaro. It’s packaged by Dynamite Entertainment, which explains the use of their covers. The book might more properly have been called “How to Create Superheroes”, since there’s more of that than art instruction, starting with a chapter on “The History and Origins of Superheroes” that I suspect will bore the younger reader just looking for help drawing a muscle-bound avenger.

There are more pictures of pinups and other publication covers (including a plug for Stan’s previous How to Draw book) than there are tools to actually show how to draw heroic figures. Basic art tools, like a head-height chart, are stamp-sized, with the suggestion to enlarge them. One image references an art breakdown that isn’t included. Some of the information is so general as to be pointless, as in the discussion of powers that ends up saying well, heroes may have them, or they may not.

Early on, there’s a weird acknowledgement that “many of the world’s myths and heroic tales are from the male point of view. In order for [Joseph Campbell] to find female heroes and a different perspective, … he had to turn to fairy tales, which are often told to children by women. But the great heroic tales, however, were told by men and often focused on male heroes.” That’s it, no opinion or context given as followup. The whole thing feels like a shrug, a way to say “we’re mostly going to talk about men, but it’s not our fault”, at the same time there’s a whole page on “The Hero in Media” featuring Rocky Balboa and John McClane.

There’s a weird work-around going on in the section on superhero archetypes, where “Stan” says that there are two, Superman and Batman, just because they were first. But to avoid using DC’s names, through the rest of the book, they’re called S-type (trusty, helpful, inspiring “boy scout”) and B-type (scary, non-super-powered, intimidating). Nowhere does he say which category Spider-Man falls into, probably because he doesn’t, demonstrating the breakdown of the simplistic system.

The “Heroines” chapter begins “Strong female characters were a big part of the success of Marvel Comics stories back in the early years, and today, it’s no different. Making sure that your superheroine is more than just a pretty face is going to be the secret to your own comic book success.” Nice thought, but the following, patronizing lip service about how much she can do while emphasizing how it’s necessary to make her pretty (“keeping her clearly feminine and attractive”) shows us how far we haven’t come. Oh, and she’s always “slightly shorter than [her] male counterparts.” While the text notes the idea of two types of female heroes (based on Wonder Woman and Elektra), one bulkier, one more “slim and lithe”, you can’t tell the difference in the visuals.

Additional chapters cover “Sidekicks and Teen Heroes”, “Villains” (based on Lex Luthor and the Joker — there’s a surprising amount of DC content in this book), “Brutes and Vixens”, “Supporting Characters” (all male except for the love interest), “Monsters”, “Robots, Androids, and Cyborgs”, “Animals, Creatures, and Pets”, “Vehicles”, “The Superhero Hideout”, and “The Superhero Team”. As you can gather from that listing, this should have been described as a superhero concept design book, since there is no reference that I saw to anything approach sequential art, just individual images.

This book also demonstrates how easy it is to say “now practice drawing lots of expressions” without giving many samples or space to do so. This book will be useless without the reader’s willingness to put it aside frequently and do a lot of work on their own, effort that’s just glossed over briefly in the text. Like a glossy celebrity cookbook, this volume seems to be intended to be dreamt over more than worked with. I bet it’s given as a gift a lot, and that few readers ever actually make a comic or a superhero. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


2 Responses to “Stan Lee’s How to Draw Superheroes”

  1. Peter Krause Says:

    Better to invest in “How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way”, which had John Buscema sharing the credits with Stan Lee.

  2. Richard J. Marcej Says:

    Since I haven’t seen this book, only going on by what you describe, this sounds like the type of book that’s marketed to a well meaning grand parent or aunt who will see it in the store and think ” I’ve heard of Stan Lee and little so-and-so really likes superheroes, so I’ll buy this for him/her.”

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