1948 • Poland
Producer, executive, toy designer
Avi Arad may have the coolest job in the world, considering that he gets to hang around with the likes of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. As chief creative officer (CCO) of Marvel Enterprises, Arad has a hand in all areas of the superhero business, from developing and marketing toys to publishing comic books. He is also president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Marvel Studios, which means that it is Arad's job to oversee the process that takes Marvel superheroes from the comic book page to the silver screen. Arad should be busy for a very long time, since Marvel has about 2,700 characters just waiting to burst onto the movie scene. Arad, as their biggest fan, is only too happy to provide some super-human assistance.
Comic book escape
Avi Arad was born in Poland, but soon after his birth his parents took their young son to live in Israel. The year was 1948, and many people living in Eastern Europe were looking for a way to make a better life after the devastation of World War II (1939–45). While growing up, Arad's passion was reading, and he described his favorite childhood pastime in a 2003 interview with Scott Bowles on the USA Today Web site. "We didn't have much back then," Arad explained. "Maybe I just wanted to escape that life into something more fantastic." As a result, Arad devoured comic books such as Superman and Spider-Man, which were translated into Hebrew.
In 1965, when he was seventeen years old, Arad joined the Israeli army, called the Israel Defense Forces. Israeli citizens are required to serve in their military, and most do it willingly because they feel they have an obligation to protect their country. In 1967 Arad was wounded and spent the next fifteen months recuperating in a hospital. After he left the army he immigrated to the United States, where he attended college at Hofstra University in New York. He paid for his education by teaching Hebrew and working as a truck driver.
"I believe that comic books are as valid a form of literature as any other."
After graduating from college, Arad began working in the toy business, a career that he would devote himself to for the rest of his life. He started out as a toy designer, creating products for almost every major toy company in the United States, including Hasbro, Mattell, and Tyco. Throughout his career it is estimated that he designed more than 150 toys and games. In the late 1980s he permanently joined forces with Toy Biz, which was owned by fellow Israeli immigrant Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter (1945–). At Toy Biz, Arad was responsible for developing such memorable toys as My Pretty Ballerina, Magic Bottle Baby, and Baby Wanna Talk. He also created a series of X-Men action figures that were gobbled up by kids of all ages, bringing in more than $30 million dollars for the company.
The story of Marvel
In 1993 Toy Biz struck an agreement with Marvel Entertainment to manufacture toys based on Marvel comic book characters. In exchange Marvel received a substantial piece of Toy Biz. From then on, the story of Avi Arad became linked with the story of Marvel. Marvel Comics was founded by publisher Martin Goodman (1908–1992). In 1939 Goodman began selling comic books for ten cents an issue. A comic book is a magazine that consists of a series of panels used to tell a story. Each panel contains a brightly colored picture, and often some text. Because comic books were inexpensive to produce and the action-packed stories were so popular, especially with young people, Goodman became the father of a very successful industry.
Throughout the years Marvel hit highs and lows, but it steadily built a fan base of comic book readers who were fiercely loyal to their favorite comic book characters. By the 1960s the company was selling fifty million comic books a year, and superheroes like the Incredible Hulk were everywhere, appearing not only in comic books but on T-shirts, lunch boxes, and Saturday morning cartoons. Over the years Marvel also changed hands a number of times. In 1988 the company was purchased by the Andrews Group, which changed its name to Marvel Entertainment and put finance guru Ronald Perelman (1943–) in charge.
Perelman had extensive business experience, but no experience in the comic book business. He expanded the company into other areas such as sports trading cards, and took out loans that the company was unable to repay. Arad and Perlmutter tried to advise Perelman that he was sitting on a gold mine, and that Marvel characters had the potential to be marketed in many ways. Perelman refused to listen, and by 1996 Marvel was filing for bankruptcy and heading for failure.
After a major court battle, Perelman lost control of the company. After all the dust settled, Toy Biz took over Marvel in 1998, and Arad and Perlmutter were in the driver's seat. They changed the company name to Marvel Enterprises and divided it into three divisions: toys, entertainment and licensing, and comic book publishing. Toy Biz designs, develops, markets, and distributes toys; Marvel Studios creates movies, video games, and television programs featuring Marvel characters; and the publishing division focuses on the core product that Marvel has always produced—comic books.
The History of Spidey
Spider-Man was the brainchild of legendary comic book writer Stan Lee (1922–), who joined Marvel Comics when he was only sixteen years old. Lee is often credited with revolutionizing the comic book industry. The character of Spider-Man first appeared in 1962 as part of the comic book series "Amazing Fantasy." He became so popular that the series was renamed Amazing Spider-Man. In 1977 Spider-Man began starring in his own comic strip, which eventually appeared in more than five hundred newspapers around the world. Lee wrote and edited the strip, which appeared seven days a week, while Fred Kids drew the panels. In the late 1980s, Lee's younger brother, Larry Lieber, became Spider-Man's artist.
The first Spider-Man animated television series was launched on ABC in 1967, and ran for two seasons. The first live-action program aired on CBS from 1977 to 1979. Since then Spidey has made regular appearances on the small screen. He returned in his own animated series in 1981 and was joined by several super pals, including the Incredible Hulk, in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, which aired on NBC from 1982 to 1985. In the 1990s and 2000s, Spider-Man starred in several successful series that were aired on major networks, including MTV.
With the release of the Spider-Man movie in 2002, a whole new generation of fans was introduced to the web-slinging hero. He also swings into action on countless video games, and there is even a Spider-Man ride on the Marvel Super Hero Island at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida.
Part of Spider-Man's popularity seems to be that Lee created a superhero who is also very human. Peter Parker was an ordinary student until he was bitten by a radioactive spider while attending a science demonstration. The bite gave him amazing powers, including super strength, a sixth "spider" sense that allowed him to detect danger, and the ability to stick to walls and ceilings. He was also able to spin and shoot webs, thanks to a webshooter of his own design. Parker has used his spider powers against such villains as Cyclone, Doc Ock, and the Kingpin.
Regardless of his amazing abilities, however, Parker is an average Joe. He is of average height at 5-foot 10 inches, average weight at 165 pounds, and has average hair color (brown). He also worries about everyday things like money, girlfriends, and dandruff. Basically, underneath the mask, Spider-Man is a hero that everyone can relate to. And he continues to be one of the most well-known and popular Marvel characters of all time.
Perlmutter, the more conservative half of the duo, became the numbers man who handled the business end of things. Arad became the creative force behind the company. And according to many, it is Arad who deserves the credit for Marvel's meteoric comeback. Since 1998 the company's stock has risen 136 percent and, as it did in its heyday, Marvel dominates the comic book industry. Why is Arad given all the credit? According to Dan Raviv, author of Comic Wars, "The key to Marvel's current success is that Avi Arad loves the Marvel heroes. He knows their stories backwards and forwards."
As the company's chief creative officer (CCO), Arad has maintained strict control over his band of Marvel characters, which means he dabbles in every part of the company. He is involved with Toy Biz products from design to manufacture to marketing; he is working with the publishing division to develop comic books that appeal to younger kids; and he has been instrumental in Marvel's licensing boom. Through licensing, other companies pay Marvel to use its characters in marketing their products. For example, Activision pays Marvel to use Spider-Man in such video games as Mysterio's Menace.
Arad's biggest success came about when he brought his superhero friends to life on television and in the movies. When he joined Marvel in the early 1990s, Arad encountered resistance when he decided to move the company into TV and film. At the time, the comic book market was sluggish and it seemed no one was interested in seeing Marvel characters on any size screen. Arad thought otherwise, and in 1992 he produced the X-Men animated series, which appeared on Fox Kids' Network. It was a daring move, since the X-Men had a strong fan following, but was not well known by the general public. Arad, however, believed the story had a special appeal for kids, since it focused on the exploits of a group of outsiders (known as mutants because of their special powers) who are shunned by society because they are different.
Arad proved that he had a special knack for knowing what kids like. The series became one of the highest rated television shows on the Fox Network, and Arad went on to produce other Marvel animated series, including Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and X-Men: Evolution.
Swings into movie theaters
In the late 1990s Arad faced a hard sell when he tried to break into the movie business. In the past, Marvel-based movies had been low-budget efforts that were considered to be big jokes. As a result, Hollywood studios were not open to spending millions of dollars on comic book movies that no one wanted to see. Once again Arad proved that he knew his audience. In 1998 he co-produced Blade, the story of an immortal warrior who battles an underworld of vampires bent on destroying the human race. Released by New Line Cinema, the movie earned three times more than it cost to make. Comic book fans praised Arad for remaining true to the Marvel character, and reviewers considered it to be a high-quality action film. As Arad told Filmforce, "After that, people were listening very carefully. Very carefully."
In 2000 Arad finally opened the Marvel movie floodgates when he co-produced X-Men for the big screen. The movie earned almost $300 million worldwide, and featured respected English actors Sir Ian McKellan (1939–) and Patrick Stewart (1940–), as well as American actress Halle Berry (c. 1968–). It also made a star out of a then-unknown Australian actor named Hugh Jackman (1968–), who played a character named Wolverine.
After that, it seemed Arad could do no wrong. In 2002 Spider-Man swung into movie theaters, breaking box office records along the way. It earned over $800 million worldwide and became one of the ten highest grossing films of all time. The success of the first movie spawned a sequel, Spider-Man 2, which was released in 2004. Both movies were co-produced with Sony Pictures, and both starred actor Tobey McGuire (1975–) as Peter Parker, alias Spider-Man.
For Arad, bringing the webbed hero to film was more than a business, it was a passion. That passion sparked the release of The Hulk and Daredevil in 2003. And in 2004, along came The Punisher, Spider-Man 2, Man-Thing, and Blade 3: Trinity. By mid-2004 there were many other movies already in the pipeline, including Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, and Elektra, which features the female ninja assassin introduced in Daredevil, played by TV actress Jennifer Garner (1972–).
A kid at heart
Some of the Marvel films did better than others. For example, The Hulk was not well received either by fans or critics. But Arad believes in every one, and he sees the potential in all of them. In addition, he makes believers out of others. Ang Lee (1954–), who directed The Hulk, told Bowles that before he looked at the script he knew very little about the green superhero. The director realized, however, that he had to do a good job because Arad "cares so much about his characters that it causes you to care just as much."
As president and CEO of Marvel Studios, Arad has become a powerful force in the Hollywood community, and because of his influence comic books have re-emerged as a respected form of entertainment. But he is not the typical business tycoon; he is a walking, talking ad for his company. Instead of humdrum suits and ties, Arad wears T-shirts emblazoned with Marvel characters and puts superhero pins on the lapels of his leather jacket. He is also known for sporting a Spider-Man ring on his pinky finger and traveling around on his Harley motorcycle.
It is obvious that Arad is a savvy businessman. The seven Marvel films that he has co-produced since 1998 have grossed more than $2 billion, and in 2003 Premier magazine listed him as number forty-four on its annual "Power 100 List." But in the end, Arad is successful because he loves what he does. He may be president of Marvel Studios, but as he told Bowles, while sitting in his office cluttered with action figures and cereal box toys, "I don't think of myself that way. I'm really just a kid inside."
For More Information
Amdur, Meredith. "Marvel Says Super-Size Me." Daily Variety (January 20, 2004): pp. 1–2.
Bowles, Scott. "Marvel's Chief: A Force Outside, A Kid Inside." USA Today (June 5, 2003). http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2003-06-05-marvel_x.htm (accessed on April 6, 2004).
"A Chat With Marvel's Hollywood Icon: Interview With Avi Arad." Filmforce: IGN.com (February 10, 2004). http://filmforce.ign.com/articles/491/491232p1.html (accessed on April 6, 2004).
Last, Jonathan V. "To 'Hellboy' and Back.' CBSNews.com (April 2, 2004). http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/02/opinion/main610078.shtml (accessed on April 6, 2004).
Marvel Enterprises. http://www.marvel.com (accessed on April 7, 2004).
Spider-Man 2: The Official Web site. http://spiderman.sonypictures.com (accessed on April 6, 2004).