“More People Cared About Stan Lee’s Death Than Care About Bill Maher Alive”

On November 12th, 2018 the world lost a legend. At 95, Stan Lee passed away. While most of the world mourned and shared warm stories about Lee, one grinch did not. Five days after Lee’s passing, Bill Maher took to his blog to lambaste fans for mourning and showing what Stan Lee meant to them, on the basis, “I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.” Maher is a political commentator, known for his political talk show Real Time with Bill Maher and detest for President Donald Trump.

Bill Maher’s remarks are unwarranted and purely ignorant. Maher’s post creates an unsupported argument suggesting that adults no longer want to “do grown-up things like buy auto insurance,” and “pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature.” He is using comic-books as a scarecrow argument and taking advantage of Stan Lee’s passing to create controversial press to draw attention to himself.

Maher was born in 1956, two years after the creation of the Comics Code Authority, so it would make sense that his view of comics is skewed. In his post, Maher says, “the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.” The CCA regulated comics and essentially dumbed them down. “The code banned graphic depictions of violence and gore in crime and horror comics, as well as the sexual innuendo of what aficionados refer to as “good girl art”. If Maher was exposed to comics in his youth, it was campy and heavily regulated. In 1971, Stan Lee was the first to defy the CCA and published a story arc, without the CCA’s approval, about Spider-Man’s best friend, Harry Osborne, and his drug use.

Adults reading comics isn’t something that started about “twenty years ago” as Maher suggests. “In 1943, according to figures gathered by the Market Research Company of Ameria, around 35% of adults between the ages of 18 and 30 regularly read at least six comics books per month. The industry even had fans in the age group over 30, with some 15% reading comic books regularly and another 10% admitting to being occasional readers.” As comics grew over the ages, so did their readers. Maher’s comments have no substance.

Maher even contradicts himself when he is interviewed by Larry King. A few days after his blog post, Maher appeared on Larry Kind to clarify his statement. In his initial blog post, Maher says, “I have nothing against comic books – I read them now and then when I was a kid…” and while speaking with King says, “I am agnostic on Stan Lee. I don’t read comic books. I didn’t even read them when I was a child.” In his blog post and interview, Maher reinforces his ignorance towards comic-books and their culture. Maher’s comments are not directed at Stan Lee but he uses Lee’s death as a jump-off point to attack the industry Lee represents. Maher tells King, “What I was saying is, a culture that thinks that comic books and comic book movies are profound meditations on the human condition is a dumb fucking culture.” Again, Maher is completely ignorant of comics. He fails to understand or even attempt to understand the importance and impact of the stories being told.

Comics and the movies based off of them are mediums to deliver entertaining, compelling, and yes, intellectual stories. Sure, there are more simple comics like Duck Tales, Spongebob, and even Marvel and DC find themselves telling fun-based elementary tales, but comics represent a large ever-growing industry stretching over the span of a century. Within that time, there have been more than enough stories to justify comics being “profound meditation[s] on the human condition.” Comics are just like books, they have different genres, audiences, and messages, but are accompanied by sequential art.

Comics began as devices to make political statements as far back as 1896 in Germany’s Simplicissimus. Later in America, comics were used as propaganda to help forge a united home front. Captain America was fighting Nazis in March 1941, 8 months before America actually entered the war. The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda and World War II, analyzes the impact comics had on galvanizing Americans into World War II and the years that followed. During WWII, “comic books made up 80% of the reading material on U.S. Army posts” (Robinson, 2004, p.21). “A lot of GIs,” confirmed Ethan Roberts, “went to war with a comic book rolled up in their back oats pocket.”

Comics have continued to be inspirational. Many have used superheroes to heal from childhood abuse and work towards helping others. Jamie Walton, a survivor of sexual abuse, was influenced by Batman and created the Wayne Foundation, which is “committed to spreading awareness of Commercial Sex Exploitation of Children (CSEC) and Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking (DMST) occurring within the United States.” Likewise, Kenneth Rogers Jr. another survivor of child sexual abuse wrote, Heroes, Villains, and Healing. Rogers uses comics to help victims understand what happened to them and heal.

Many in the comic industry have spoken out against Bill Maher’s comments. Neil Gaiman who’s new book, Art Matters, discusses the importance of literature in all forms, including comic-books, tweeted this in response to Maher,

Bill Maher’s controversial blog-post and Larry King interview are baseless jabs at a beloved industry. Stan Lee will forever be a legend and his work speaks for itself. Nuff said!