Much has been written about comics legend Stan Lee lately. Casual fans and hard-core comic aficionados have been debating which authors are ‘getting it right’. Was Stan a brilliant creator that fans of current cinema (and streaming platforms) recognize as the guy who started it all? Or was Stan a rotten, self-promoting glory-hound that elevated his own story to the detriment of his partner and co-workers?
After enjoying John Morrow’s Stuf Said, Danny Fingeroth’s A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee and Abraham Reisman’s True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee I think I have a pretty good understanding of it all. Maybe you do too.
Now that we’ve got that one solved, I must admit I didn’t know much about comics publisher Lev Gleason. In some ways – he may have seemed like a proto-Stan Lee. Gleason was, among other things, the publisher of Lev Gleason Publications, producing comics like Daredevil, Silver Streak, Boy Comics (this one starred Crimebuster and is one of my dad’s favorites) and the wildly successful Crime Does Not Pay.
And like Stan Lee, Lev Gleason made it clear was the big cheese behind these efforts. He even plastered his name (and the company name) on his comic covers.
I have learned that Lev Gleason’s personal story is a fascinating one. He was an entrepreneur and a crusader. He was flamboyant and generous. He learned how to pivot and how to do it quite often.
But unlike Stan, Lev’s extended family didn’t really celebrate or even understand his connection to comics. And that’s why it’s all the more incredible that Lev’s great nephew, Brett Dakin just wrote AMERICAN DAREDEVIL: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason.
Dakin, who isn’t really a comics fan, aggressively researched Gleason’s life. The pursuit of truth took him everywhere -from newspaper articles to old comics to FBI files!
I enjoyed Dakin’s book so much that I invited him to speak to one of my Ithaca College classes. As Gleason was both a tireless entrepreneur and a pillar of the Golden Age of comics, he fit right in to the topics I teach.
The students seemed to get a lot out of meeting him (via ZOOM) too.
But I don’t have to explain that you. Check out what some of my Ithaca College students had to say:
“Hearing about Brett Dakin’s experience of writing his book and learning more about his great-uncle was very interesting!” said Alexis Davis. “He is a prime example of how with dedication and passion, you can accomplish a lot even if it isn’t within a profession you are familiar with.”
“”Something that Brett said that stuck with me was ‘there is learning through doing and experiencing’ and I think that’s something so important to remember,” noted Jade Rynar.
“Learning more about Brett’s investigation into his great uncle’s life, through searching archival publications and reconnecting the pieces of his personal life, really made me realize the importance of historians in the documentation of our pop culture,” said Quinten Hernandez, who is in his senior year.
“Brett gave an inside look into the comic book world with an outside perspective”, wryly observed Tess Kneebone , who is also a senior.
This is great book for folks who love the Golden Age of Comics and for those who enjoy entrepreneur’s stories. And who knows ? Maybe American Daredevil- the Lev Gleason story will make it to Netflix one day- just like all those Marvel characters. Wouldn’t that be something?
2 thoughts on “With Further Ado #139: Uncle Lev Made Comics”
In one really backward sense, we have Lev to thank for the Comics Code — but it wasn’t his fault. The establishment comics publishers of the early 50s were scared of the comic book burnings, the Reader’s Digest articles, and the juvenile delinquency panic, and the last thing they wanted was for word to get out that Lev Gleason was a communist. Gleason was selling nasty crime comics like they were bottled water in the desert. Joe McCarthy was much scarier than Freddy Wertham. Bill Gaines was bringing down a lot of heat and he really didn’t do well in his testimony before Congress, but he was a Libertarian and not a commie. Besides, the establishment publishers still had a thing against his daddy. But the absolute last thing they wanted in those dark days of blacklisting and paranoia was a bunch of headlines that screamed “DOES YOUR CHILD READ COMMIE CRIME COMICS?” Later on, his ace talent Bob Wood (co-creator of Crime Does Not Pay) was convicted of and served time for manslaughter for killing a prostitute (Joe Simon wrote “Wood’s clothes were so bloodied, police borrowed a pair of pants from the hotel manager to take Wood in for questioning”) wouldn’t have helped in the long run, but that happened a year or two after the Code started and, therefore, CDNP ended.
As always, great insights, Mike! I think I should print this out and put it into my copy of the book!