Thursday, November 10, 2011

RIP Les Daniels

When I was a little kid, my mom would drag me along with her when she went to the Newton Public Library. It was a big, beautiful building that was cool to get lost in, but she'd usually take awhile and I'd get bored. I figured out the computer system that looked up books as well as the map of the joint easy enough, so I'd always be trying to track down stuff that interested me to hold my attention. I'd spend my time leafing through books of Greek myths, art manuals, guides to movies and whatnot, but of course what I really wanted to find was comics.

I searched the magazine section and found nothing. I braved the children's room (hated that place) and came up empty. Finally, tucked away in the center of the big section of books devoted to painting and drawing, in the middle of a big black stack, I found a tiny row devoted to cartoons. Mostly that meant old stuff from the 40's, newspaper strips and a lot of European comics, but when I was lucky and it wasn't checked out, I'd grab the big, bright hardcover with Spider-Man scaling the wall towards you and find a quiet corner that my mom would eventually have to drag me away from.

The book was Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades, written by Les Daniels, who passed away earlier this week. Though I already had tremendous affection for super heroes and their adventures at this point, it was Daniels' writing that first opened the door for me on the realization that there was a place where the comics I read came from and minds behind crafting these stories. While I may have met Spider-Man and Batman through the comics my Dad brought me home from the grocery store, it was quite frankly Les Daniels who introduced me to the comics industry and made me decide it was a place maybe someday I'd like to work.

Five Fabulous Decades tells the story of Marvel, from the Golden Age of Atlas through the birth of the Marvel Universe right up to the then-burgeoning period of 90's excess; it's a tale I've read and heard many times since, but never exceeding the clarity and color Daniels brought to the table.

Daniels' bibliography hardly begins and ends with Five Fabulous Decades. In addition to his own fiction work, he was a legit and accomplished comics historian, from his breakthrough Comix: A History of the Comic Book in America in 1971 through chronicling nearly 70 years of DC in the late 90's and into the current century. I haven't read any of these works, but in remembering the significant contribution just one of his books made to my life, I'm now anxious to.

This is a paltry remembrance for a gentleman who contributed a great deal to the business I work in and fandom I'm a part of (as always, Tom Spurgeon did a better job), but it's my way of saying thank you for giving me a dream to follow, Mr. Daniels, may you rest in peace.

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