10 Questions with James Morgante

1. Out of all the subjects available to study, what made you decide to research the connection between diet and spirituality?

Back in the mid-1970s when I was searching for alternatives in psychology, I discovered the holistic health movement and its paradigm of the interacting dimensions of body, mind, and spirit, along with Eastern traditions like macrobiotics and Buddhism that emphasize the consciousness effects of diet. I was intrigued by the relationship and wondered about an explanation. This led to a master’s thesis in a holistic psychology program entitled “Nutrition, Consciousness, Spiritual Teachings, and Scientific Models.” The results were mixed. Some scientific models can help to explain nutrition’s consciousness effects, but only to a degree. More importantly, it became clear that nutrition may affect the growth of consciousness, but it shouldn’t be overemphasized at the expense of other factors like behavior and attitudinal changes. It also became clear that both vegetal and meat diets had advantages and disadvantages. The Yogi Diet takes all of this up and works it out in more detail, while also adding a special focus on grains (one of the keys to a vegetarian diet) and their critique by the low-carbohydrate movement. Ultimately, the book affirms the religious and spiritual importance of diet and the relevance of vegetarianism, but cautions against extremes.

2. Even though your book, “The Yogi Diet”, says it’s about “Spirituality and the Question of Vegetarianism” you spend an ample amount of time discussing secular diets such as Atkins, Paleo, the evolution of America’s Food Pyramid, etc. How did those topics make their way into the book?

Spiritual traditions concern themselves with diet because diet affects health, and health in the holistic sense of body, mind, and spirit. Their special concern and expertise involve dietary effects on the spirit and spiritual development. But effects on the body and bodily health are also of concern, and here secular paradigms have much to say. If spiritual traditions, for example, recommend vegetarianism (as many do), because of the spiritual effect, the question remains as to whether a vegetarian diet is also healthy for the body. Conversely, if spiritual traditions denigrate meat and animal foods because of adverse spiritual effects, then we can expect to see such adverse effects reflected with the health of the body as well. In fact, the total record shows ambiguity on the part of religious and spiritual traditions on the question of vegetarianism because of advantages and disadvantages. Arguably, those same advantages and disadvantages, as well as the conditions determining them, are visible in the debates of secular paradigms focused on bodily health. In this sense, secular diets provide a check and a corroboration of spiritual views about vegetarianism. The goal of The Yogi Diet is to foster wisdom by synthesizing various points of view. In this process, secular views are also important.

3. You started your winding tale of spirituality and diet with Hinduism. Why start there?

The book begins (and ends) with the Bhagavad-Gita’s dietary teaching because it is archetypical in several respects. First, its concern is health, or the nourishing and strengthening effect on the “mental, vital, and physical forces.” Second, its perspective is holistic, comprising the totality of the human being per its conception (i.e., the mental, vital, and physical forces; Western traditions speak of body, mind, and spirit). Thirdly, its teaching is unspecific, not naming individual foods, but judging diets by the health effect (i.e., different diets may well be appropriate for different individuals if the effect is healthy). Yet another archetypal aspect is the relative modesty of the importance attached to diet (four verses within a spiritual teaching comprising 700 verses). Finally, the Bhagavad-Gita as a Hindu spiritual teaching cannot be separated from the Hindu religious teaching of The Laws of Manu (chapter 5), of which the Gita shows familiarity. The Laws of Manu include detailed instructions about allowable and prohibited foods (like the Mosaic dietary code) as well as the conditions which allow and prohibit the consumption of meat. The Laws allow meat, but they enjoin minimal consumption and even avoidance as much as possible as well. Thus, the teachings of the Gita and the Laws of Manu complement one another. The religious perspective of the Laws (religion understood as the rules and practices governing a tradition) allows meat while questioning overconsumption or unnecessary consumption. The spiritual perspective of the Bhagavad-Gita (spirituality understood as the extra step of deliberately pursuing the path of “the good, the true, and the beautiful”) outlines a dietary criterion — health — that requires discrimination. Both together make up the totality of the tradition’s view about vegetarianism, which in the case of Hinduism is appropriately ambiguous.

4. Were you surprised how many variables play into a person deciding what to eat?

Yes, I was and am surprised. When I first began to consider the topic of diet and spirituality, I thought that vegetarianism related to spirituality in a very simplistic way — eat vegetarian and become more spiritual. It turns out to be much more complicated than that, as evidenced by the ambiguity of religious and spiritual traditions about vegetarianism. We are all individuals, which means that we have individual capacities and needs, and the ambiguity about vegetarianism reflects this. I also think it’s fair to say that widespread interest in low-carbohydrate diets reflects to some extent an intuitive grasp of the need for animal food. As I indicate in The Yogi Diet’s introduction, I wanted to grapple with the low-carbohydrate movement and its critique of grains and the agricultural revolution, but expected the movement to reveal itself as regressive because of the conventional dietary wisdom that de-emphasized animal foods because of potential deleterious health effects. In contrast, I found that alleged adverse effects depended on variables such as the totality of the diet and even food quality. Mixing carbohydrates and fats can quickly lead to health problems, but low-carbohydrate diets themselves like the Atkins Diet can, in fact, improve health. And then there are other considerations — like the inability of some people to generate sufficient fat, thereby needing fat from animal foods; the beneficial stimulation that meat can provide from a spiritual perspective for living in the world; and the importance of spiritual practice to keep the effect of a vegetarian diet healthy. Thus, there are many variables to consider that invalidate simplistic associations like “eat vegetarian and become more spiritual.” Such a notion, in fact, can lead to trouble.

5. Do you personally feel people should make dietary decisions based on their religion?

I would say that the religious and spiritual perspective on diet is something important for everyone to consider, namely, that diet has effects beyond those on the body on the mind and spirit as well. Yet the perspective of one religious tradition alone may be insufficient. Jainism, for example, requires vegetarianism, yet the question remains as to whether vegetarianism can healthy for everyone. Moreover, Western Christianity has largely come to ignore the significance of biblical dietary restrictions like the blood prohibition (Genesis 9: 4 and Acts 15) for keeping the vegetarian undercurrent alive. A synthetic understanding of the totality of religious, spiritual, and even secular views is the key to developing sound judgment.

6. What dietary prohibition did you find the most surprising?

The Jainist prohibitions against fermented foods to avoid harming microorganisms and against root vegetables to avoid uprooting plants and thereby harming them. As for surprise about what is allowed, or what can make something allowed, there is the indication of Swami Prahhupada (an interpreter of the Bhagavad-Gita’s dietary teaching) that spoiled foods and those cooked more than three hours previously are untouchable unless blessed (prayer trumps everything)!

7. Let’s get to the question my drunken readers want asked, what about alcohol? Is it good or bad?

Appendix B goes into detail about alcohol. Briefly, religious and spiritual thinking about alcohol is as diverse as it is about vegetarianism. Nevertheless, many weighty considerations argue against its use, particularly for spiritual seekers. One important consideration indicates that alcohol usurps ego functions, which are important for spiritual development. In this sense, alcohol can be considered to have a counter-evolutionary effect.

8. Now that “The Yogi Diet” is out, what is your next project?

As I indicate on my Goodreads author profile, I think of the The Yogi Diet as the first of an interrelated trilogy. The second, Mother Cow, will take up cow worship in “third-world” Indian culture as a reflection of the importance of lacto-vegetarianism and contrast such a devotional attitude with the treatment of farm animals including cows in “first-world” U.S. culture where they are exempt from animal cruelty laws. The third will focus on the complementary nature of reincarnation and resurrection, two afterlife teachings associated with the cultivation of grain (chapter 6 in The Yogi Diet) that are keys to realizing the vegan-vegetarian religious ideal (chapter 8).

9. What did you eat today?

For breakfast, I had a fried egg and a bowl of steel-cut oats, soaked overnight and rinsed (very important for removing antinutrients), then cooked and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, some honey and coconut sugar, shredded coconut, raisins, banana, and yogurt. This is my typical breakfast, but the grain and toppings vary. For lunch, I had a salmon burger with sauce, sauerkraut, and lettuce on a piece of whole-grain bread, along with a few raw mini-carrots (the salmon burger is untypical; a veggie burger or a rice bowl with some dairy is more typical). For dinner, I had toast with butter, miso, and tahini, a salad, and some cooked vegetables. Occasionally I eat fish, and less frequently, chicken. I am sympathetic to the vegetarian cause, but not a strict vegetarian.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Which is more important — food variety or food quality?

I have to say food quality. What’s the point of a wide variety if it tastes bland or stale?

About James Morgante:
James Morgante, MDiv (religion), MA (psychology), has worked in ministry, social services and teaching, and has been studying the relationship between spirituality and nutrition for over 30 years.
Shortly after receiving his undergraduate psychology degree, he began a pursuit of alternatives in psychology that led him to the holistic health movement in the 1970s, and to an eventual ministry focus. From 2007-2015 he taught English in China, all while maintaining his studies in vegetarianism and spirituality.

He has always been keenly interested in the subject of vegetarianism and the spiritual life, wanting to learn why some religious teachings advocate vegetarianism (yet most don’t require it), why some have an ambivalent attitude, and why some pay no attention to the subject, or even reject it. The Yogi Diet is the culmination of his studies.

James speaks to church and hospital groups. He lives in Seattle, Wash.

You can learn more here.

Banned Books Week 2017

(text from the American Library Association website)

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

To continue to raise awareness about the harms of censorship and the freedom to read, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) publishes an annual list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books, using information from public challenges reported in the media, as well as censorship reports submitted to the office through its challenge reporting form.

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.

The books featured during Banned Books Week and National Library Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. But out of the hundreds of challenges ALA records every year, only about 10% of books are removed from the location where the challenge took place, thanks to local literary champions such as librarians, students, and patrons who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.

Out of 323 challenges reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2016 are:

This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
This young adult graphic novel, winner of both a Printz and a Caldecott Honor Award, was restricted, relocated, and banned because it includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.

Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Parents, librarians, and administrators banned this Stonewall Honor Award-winning graphic novel for young adults because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.

George written by Alex Gino
Despite winning a Stonewall Award and a Lambda Literary Award, administrators removed this children’s novel because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”

I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
This children’s picture book memoir was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.

Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan
Included on the National Book Award longlist and designated a Stonewall Honor Book, this young adult novel was challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content.

Looking for Alaska written by John Green
This 2006 Printz Award winner is a young adult novel that was challenged and restricted for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation.”

Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
Considered to be sexually explicit by library staff and administrators, this compilation of adult comic books by two prolific award-winning artists was banned and challenged.

Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk
This collection of adult short stories, which received positive reviews from Newsweek and the New York Times, was challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive.”

Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
This children’s book series was challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author.

Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell
One of seven New York Times Notable Children’s Books and a Printz Honor recipient, this young adult novel was challenged for offensive language.

Yes, books are still banned. Five of the 10 titles on the Top Ten list were removed from the location where the challenge took place. On average, OIF finds that 10% of challenges result in the removal of the book.

The First Amendment guarantees all of us the freedom to read. The Library Bill of Rights, a foundational document of the library profession, states libraries should challenge censorship and present all points of view, for the enlightenment of all people.

For the first time in Top Ten history, a book was challenged solely because of its author. Bill Cosby’s Little Bill series was challenged because of sexual allegations against the author.

Challenges continue to target LGBT material, and there is a rise in “sexually explicit” as a challenge category.

The Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles the Top Ten list by documenting public challenges (challenges that are reported in the media), as well as censorship reports submitted through the office’s reporting form, in our database.

Learn more about the American Library Association and Banned Books Week here.

Hollywood Obscura

There’s nothing not to love about “Hollywood Obscura” by Brian Clune. The subtitle says it all, “Death, Murder, and the Paranormal Aftermath,” and Clune does deliver. Familiar and more obscure Hollywood deaths abound, each of them worthy of a book all their own (and many of them do already have books all their own!). However Clune does a great job of summarizing each death’s backstory, popular theories, and media coverage. Classic names like Benjamin “Bugsy” Seigel and George Reeves share book space with Thelma Todd and the Los-Feliz Murder Mansion. There may not be a lot new to discover if you’re a fan of the genre, but for someone new to the Hollywood death scene, it’s a great introduction.

“Hollywood Obscura” may be of interest to those interested in the paranormal. Each story ends with the “Paranormal Association.” Just take note that these play out as folklore and rarely feature paranormal investigation. Think more along the line of “and some say his ghost still walks the halls to this very day.” Personally, I have no problem with paranormal legends and folklore, but since I know I have some readers who are heavy into the scientific side of exploring the paranormal, I thought I should mention it.

Loaded with tawdry Hollywood gossip, murder investigations, and hauntings, make “Hollywood Obscura” by Brian Clune a fun read.

Learn more about “Hollywood Obscura” here.

10 Questions with Warren Bobrow

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day! To celebrate we’ve got a special interview with author and “Cocktail Whisperer” Warren Bobrow all about rum!

1. How did you get involved with the world of cocktails and spirits?

Originally I trained to be a chef- This was back in the mid-1980’S- before recorded time really. I owned and founded a fresh pasta biz down In Charleston, SC- I lost it in Hurricane Hugo in 1989. I had bartended a few times while working as a cook- And it seemed like a good job for someone like myself who has the ‘Gift of Gab’… Fast forward past a 20-year career in banking- Back to my 50th birthday- when I went over to the Ryland Inn, located in NJ- and asked for a job as a bartender. Chris James, the Bar Manager told me he didn’t need a bartender, but he did need a bar back (not a glamorous job) and I was hired. But I had been writing about spirits, wine and food for a couple years- but I really had no idea just how hard it was! Physical Labor! Long Hours! Not Pretty! I held on for a year- and built my chops. How many cocktail writers do you know who worked as a bartender? Very few- and fewer still started at the bottom and worked their way up.

2. What is rum? How is it different from other spirits?

Rum is a fermented spirit not unlike whiskey or beer. the base ingredient, however is not grain. It is made from either sugar cane or molasses, or a combination of many sugar based ingredients- sometimes with the addition of caramel coloring and other synthetic ingredients. This is manipulated rum- unfortunately the backbone of the rum industry are industrially produced rums with profit as the motivating factor over quality. Raw rum or natural rum is much harder to find- and therefore these rums command higher prices.

Agricultural- or Agricole is made with freshly crushed or pressed sugar cane juice- is vastly different than industrially produced, molasses based rum.

3. Sometimes rum is spelled “rum” and other times “rhum”, is there a difference?

There is a massive difference. rhum- can be Agricole (Agricultural) or Industrial (Industrial). Agricole is made with freshly crushed sugar cane. The law (AOC, Appellation original Controlee) in the French islands reads that rhum agricole must be made with unfermented, freshly pressed cane juice. Industrial Rum on the other hand can be made pretty much any way possible, because it is treated as an industrial product. there isn’t a whole lot of oversight as to what is permissible in rum. With artificial coloring, added sugar and glycerin in the batch- there are very few correlations between Industrial and agricultural. Other than the base ingredient- which is, of course sugar cane! Small amounts of rum are also made from sorgum or sugar beets, but this stuff just sucks. I cannot stand the taste of this industrial spirit. Ick!

4. Do you know why we always associate rum with pirates?

Rum was an inexpensive product made with ingredients that just happened to grow incredibly well in poor soil and anemic water conditions that existed in the Caribbean Islands. Sugar cane propagates almost anywhere in both poor and rich soil. The juice is very easy to boil into a syrup that is treated to an industrial bread yeast- then, it is fermented and distilled in crudely built, copper pot stills. The result, a foul- ill-tempered spirit was just the liquid for an unwashed and stinking bunch of murderous thugs who would slaughter your crippled grandmother as easily as lighting a pipe filled with the local wacky weed. It wasn’t tobacco in their pipes you know! It was cannabis!

Wine spoiled quickly in the high heat and humidity of the Caribbean Islands, beer would sour in the high heat and whiskey wasn’t invented yet and vodka was not available in this part of the world. Gin was popular- but not as a commodity, it was a medicinal.

Sugar was a luxury item-coveted by the wealthy. Rum was easily made with the dregs left over from making sugar and is extremely durable stuff. In a barrel, it only gets better in the motion of the sea and the heat of the sun. Like the highly expensive, Madeira- (Truly enduring stuff that goes around the world on the deck of a ship to age), Rum is potent and healing and cheap!

To a pirate, it was an easy high and made weeks or months in the doldrums (the place without wind) easier to take. Being a pirate was not always attractive work. Rum made it a bit easier to chew off your foes ear or shoot all his horses before having one’s way with their women and then the children. Rum was liquid courage in the face of a wall of water in a storm, or against cannon fire at close range. Rum is refreshment after a voyage or as inner calm during a battle.

Against seasickness, rum works well as it settles the head and soothes the belly, for medicinal purposes only of course!

5. What’s your favorite way to drink rum?

Preferably in a clean glass, with a bit of coconut water ice (for anyone who has gotten stomach poisoning from bad ice) and a slice of caribbean lime plus a splash of cane sugar syrup. A Ti-Punch is what this wonderfully tasty drink is named.

6. If you were serving rum to a salty sailor, how would you serve it?

Being a salty sailor myself- I learned about rum from the stern of my Family’s Little Harbor Sailboat, so I prefer it two ways- One way it (the Ti-Punch) is made with a squeeze of lime, cane sugar syrup and rhum Agricole from Martinique. The other is a concoction named the Painkiller, liberally shaken until frosty with crushed coconut water ice, cream of coconut, fresh pineapple juice and plenty of bourbon barrel aged rum. (Naturally colored-no caramel added- maybe something from Long Pond or Monymusk- or one of the fine rums from Foursquare)

Quite refreshing after a tough sail with the sun and sweat burning your eyes and skin.

7. In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, what is your favorite pirate-y phrase?

Yar Pirates!

8. You’ve authored several books at this point, any chance of one coming out will be about rum?

That’s a very good question. I have not now pitched one to my publishers- but you never know.

9. What projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing for Forbes.com and other work for the American Distilling Institute, Barrell Bourbon, Total Food Service and DrinkUpNY, along with many publications on the cannabis side of this medicinal (Folk Healing) business.

10. Parting shot! Ask us at the Magical Buffet any one question.

Do you prefer heavy, sweet rums to naturally made, unsweetened rums crafted from a dunder- Read: Wild Yeast/Authentic…?

I prefer unsweetened rums, but I do enjoy the heavy, sweet ones too.

About Warren Bobrow:
Warren Bobrow, the Cocktail Whisperer, is the author of “Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today”, “Whiskey Cocktails: Rediscovered Classics and Contemporary Craft Drinks”, “Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails: Restorative Vintage Cocktails, Mocktails & Elixirs”, “Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks & Buzz-Worthy Libations”. His most recent book is named: “The Craft Cocktail Compendium, Contemporary Interpretations and inspired twists on time honored classics”.

Bobrow has written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, The American Distilling Institute, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and many other national and global periodicals.

He has written for SoFAB Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly. He has also contributed to the Sage Encyclopedia of Food Issues and the Oxford Encyclopedia edition: Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City. Warren recently traveled to Asheville, NC to participate in their Cocktail Week. Warren attends Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and was nominated for a Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award in 2013. Warren was in the Saveur Magazine “100” in 2010 and was a Ministry of Rum Judge in 2010. He most recently appeared in High Times Magazine and contributes to The Fresh Toast in Seattle.

Botanical Inspirations

Here in the northeast things are taking a definite fall-wards turn. However thanks to the “Botanical Inspirations” deck by Lynn Araujo I’ll be able to enjoy the delicate flowers of spring all year round.

First we have to talk about the fantastic artwork. The deck contains 44 cards featuring art by Pierre-Joseph Redoute. In Paris he did paintings of the flowers in the royal gardens. His etchings caught the eye of botanists who taught him more about plant anatomy. Redoute went on to do work for Marie Antoinette and Empress Josephine. That’s the guy whose illustrations make up this deck. Neat, right?

Deck creator Lynn Araujo dived deep into plant’s various roles as symbols throughout culture, leaning heavily on the “Secret Language of Flowers” from the Victorian Era that paired specific meanings to individual flowers. In fact, included with the deck is nice foldout sheet listing the “Secret Language of Flowers.”

Each card presents a flower with its common name, its Latin name, and a quote or key words to associate with the flower. To give you a complete experience I choose the share the Sacred Lotus card. You see “Sacred Lotus” with the alternative name “Nymphaea caerulea” directly underneath. Then there is the beautiful illustration with the word “Enlightenment” under it. It’s followed by the Thich Nhat Hanh quote, “No mud, no lotus.”

When you go to the book included with the deck, which is way more sturdy than your typical white print out style book that comes with many tarot decks, you’ll find more information about the Sacred Lotus and its “Inspirational Message”.

The lotus flower grows up out of the mud, yet each day as they unfurl and shed the droplets of water, the flower emerges perfectly pristine. For this reason, the lotus symbolizes purity and spiritual transformation. With its flower so distant from its roots below the water, the lotus also represents detachment, a necessary step for spiritual enlightenment. The golden center of the lotus is rarely shown in Zen artwork since it represents the elusive perfection of wisdom. The Egyptian sun god Ra is often depicted with a blue lotus. Because of this association with the sun, the lotus signifies rebirth.

Inspirational Message: Honor all the experiences that have brought you to this place on your path of spiritual growth but let go of the things that no longer serve you.

Araujo offers a few variations on how to use the cards in readings, but honestly, with decks like these I prefer to do a daily single card draw in the morning to offer insight into the day ahead.

“Botanical Inspirations” is a beautiful and fascinating deck that I would be hard pressed to find someone I wouldn’t recommend it to.

You can learn more about “Botanical Inspirations” here.

Spidey Saves the Day!

By Bob Batchelor

All lean muscles and tautness, a new superhero bursts from the page. Swinging right into the reader’s lap, the hero is masked, only alien-like curved eyes reveal human features, no mouth or nose is visible. His power is alarming: casually holding a ghoulish-looking criminal in one hand, while simultaneously swinging from a hair-thin cord high above the city streets. In the background, tiny figures stand on rooftops, looking on and pointing in what can only be considered outright astonishment.

The superhero is off-center, frozen in a moment, as if a panicked photographer snapped a series of frames. The image captures the speed, almost like flight, with the wind at his back. The hero’s deltoid ripples and leg muscles flex. Some mysterious webbing extends from his elbow to waist. Is this a man or creature from another world?

The answer is actually neither. Looking at the bright yellow dialogue boxes running down the left side of the page, the reader learns the shocking truth. This isn’t a grown man, older and hardened, like Batman or Superman, one an existential nightmare and the other a do-gooder alien. No, this hero is just a self-professed “timid teenager” named Peter Parker. The world, he exclaims, mocks the teen under the mask, but will “marvel” at his newfound “awesome might.”

It is August 1962. Spider-Man is born.

Spider-Man’s debut in a dying comic book called Amazing Fantasy happened because Stan Lee took a calculated risk. He trusted his instincts. Rolling the dice on a new character meant potentially wasting precious hours writing, penciling, and inking a title that might not sell. The business side of the industry constantly clashed with the creative, forcing fast scripting and artwork to go hand-in-hand.

In more than two decades toiling as a writer and editor, Lee watched genres spring to life, and then almost as quickly, readers would turn to something else. War stories gave way to romance titles, which might then ride a wave until monster comics became popular. In an era when a small group of publishers controlled the industry, they kept close watch over each other’s products in hopes of mimicking sales of hot titles or genres.

Lee calls Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman, “One of the great imitators of all time.” Goodman dictated what Lee wrote after ferreting out tips and leads from golf matches and long lunches with other publishers. If he heard that westerns were selling for a competitor, Goodman would visit Lee, bellowing, “Stan, come up with some Westerns.” This versatility had been Lee’s strength, swiftly writing and plotting many different titles. He often used gimmicks and wordplay, like recycling the gunslinger Rawhide Kid in 1960 and making him into an outlaw or using alliteration, as in Millie the Model.

A conservative executive, Goodman rarely wanted change, which irked Lee. The writer bristled at his boss’s belittling beliefs, explaining, “He felt comics were really only read by very, very young children or stupid adults,” which meant “he didn’t want me to use words of more than two syllables if I could help it…Don’t play up characterization, don’t have too much dialogue, just have a lot of action.” Given the precarious state of publishing companies, which frequently went belly-up, and his long history with Goodman, Lee admits, “It was a job; I had to do what he told me.”

Despite being distant relatives and longtime coworkers, the publisher and editor maintained a cool relationship. From Lee’s perspective, “Martin was good at what he did and made a lot of money, but he wasn’t ambitious. He wanted things to stay the way they were.”

Riding the wave of critical success and extraordinary sales of The Fantastic Four, Goodman gave Lee a simple directive: “Come up with some other superheroes.” The Fantastic Four, however, subtly shifted the relationship. Lee wielded greater authority. He used some of the profit to pay writers and editors more money, which then offloaded some of the pressure.

Launching Spider-Man, however, Lee did more than divert the energy of his staff. He actually defied Goodman.

For months, Lee grappled with the idea of a new superhero with realistic challenges that someone with superpowers would face living in the modern world. The new character would be “a teenager, with all the problems, hang-ups, and angst of any teenager.” Lee came up with the colorful “Spider-Man” name and envisioned a “hard-luck kid” both blessed and cursed by acquiring superhuman strength and the ability to cling to walls, just like a real-life spider.

Lee recalls pitching Goodman, embellishing the story of Spider-Man’s origin by claiming that he got the idea “watching a fly on the wall while I had been typing.” He laid the character out in full: teen, orphan, angst, poor, intelligent, and other traits. Lee thought Spider-Man was a no-brainer, but to his surprise, Goodman hated it and forbade him from offering it as a standalone book.

The publisher had three complaints: “people hate spiders, so you can’t call a hero ‘Spider-Man’”; no teenager could be a hero “but only be a sidekick”; and a hero had to be heroic, not a pimply, unpopular kid. Irritated, Goodman asked Lee, “Didn’t [he] realize that people hate spiders?” Given the litany of criticisms, Lee recalled, “Martin just wouldn’t let me do the book.”

Realizing that he could not completely circumvent his boss, Lee made the executive decision to put Spider-Man on the cover of a series that had previously bombed, called Amazing Fantasy. Readers didn’t like AF, which featured thriller/fantasy stories by Lee and surreal art by Steve Ditko, Marvel’s go-to artist for styling the macabre, surreal, or Dali-esque. It seemed as if there were already two strikes against the teen wonder.

Despite these odds and his boss’s directive, Lee says that he couldn’t let the nerdy superhero go: “I couldn’t get Spider-Man out of my mind.” He worked up a Spider-Man plot and handed it over to Marvel’s top artist, Jack Kirby. Lee figured that no one would care (or maybe even notice) a new character in the last issue of a series that would soon be discontinued.

With Spider-Man, however, Kirby missed the mark. His early sketches turned the teen bookworm into a mini-Superman with all-American good looks, like a budding astronaut or football star. Lee put Ditko on the title. His style was more suited for drawing an offbeat hero.

Ditko nailed Spider-Man, but not the cover art, forcing Lee to commission Kirby for the task, with Ditko inking. Lee could not have been happier with Ditko. He explained: “Steve did a totally brilliant job of bringing my new little arachnid hero to life.” They finished the two-part story and ran it as the lead in AS #15. Revealing both the busy, all-hands state of the company and their low expectations, Lee recalled, “Then, we more or less forgot about him.” As happy as Lee and Ditko were with the collaboration and outcome, there is no way they could have imagined that they were about to spin the comic book world onto a different axis.

The fateful day sales figures finally arrived. Goodman stormed into Lee’s office, as always awash in art boards, drawings, mockups, yellow legal pads, and memos littering the desk.

Goodman beamed, “Stan, remember that Spider-Man idea of yours that I liked so much? Why don’t we turn it into a series?”

If that wasn’t enough to knock Lee off-kilter, then came the real kicker: Spider-Man was not just a hit, the issue was in fact the fastest-selling comic book of the year, and maybe that decade. Lee recalls that AF skyrocketed to number one.

The new character would be the keystone of Marvel’s superhero-based lineup. More importantly, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man transformed Marvel from a company run by imitating trends into a hot commodity. In March 1963, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 burst onto newsstands.

Fans could not get enough of the teen hero, so Lee and Marvel pushed the limits. Spider-Man appeared in Strange Tales Annual #2 (September 1963), a 72-page crossover between him and the Human Torch. And in Tales to Astonish, which had moved from odd, macabre stories to superheroes, Spidey guest-starred in #57 (July 1964), which focused on Giant-Man and Wasp. When The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 appeared in 1964, with Lee dubbing himself and Ditko “the most talked about team in comics today,” it featured appearances by every Marvel hero, including Thor, Dr. Strange, Captain America, and the X-Men.

Spider-Man now stood at the center of a comic book empire. Stan Lee could not have written a better outcome, even if given the chance.

All this from a risky run in a dying comic book!

About Bob Batchelor:Batchelor, who teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is the author of more than 25 books, including “Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel” (Rowman & Littlefield, September 2017, adult trade, retail $22.95). Amazon: http://amzn.to/2q4lNYe

A lifelong comic book fan and noted media resource, he has been an editorial consultant for numerous outlets and been quoted in or on BBC Radio World Service, Today.com, Columbus Dispatch, msnbc.com, The Miami Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Dallas Morning News, Taiwan News, Associated Press, The Guardian, and The Washington Post.

Batchelor is the author of “Mad Men: A Cultural History”, “John Updike: A Critical Biography”, and “Gatsby: The Cultural History of the Great American Novel”, among others. He is a noted popular culture commentator and editor.