Welcome to another comics THORsday! We’re going to talk about the Marvel Method today. It is a model of comic production that some publishers use and that was introduced by Stan Lee in the 60s. As he was overworked, writing and editing almost everything at Marvel, he decided to take out some of his work and pass it onto others. So, he plotted a method by which he would give a plot summary to the artist to develop. And this was odd to say the least! Till Stan Lee came up with a solution for his overwork problem, most comic books were done in an assembly-machine like manner. So, imagine in a room a chain with the editor, the writer, the penciler, the letterer, the inker, the colorist and the cover artist. The writer would pass on a full script to the penciler to draw, and this meant that artists had not much freedom. However, Stan Lee’s method made it possible for artists to have a greater freedom in coming up with visual elements.
So, what Stan Lee did is giving to artists plot summaries about the stories, and not necessarily in written form! Stan Lee was so busy that he would also phone the artist and tell him about the story. So, the artist had freedom to come up with all the visual elements to adapt the story Stan had come up with. Then, the artist would send back the visual artwork to Stan, and then he would fill in the dialogue and captions matching what the artist had drawn. It turns out this was faster than the machine-like method that existed before. So, what happened?
That others copied the method. (Obviously, if something works faster and better, copy it!)
So, how does it look like?
- The editor and the writer discuss ideas in a meeting. The artist can also be present. Famous writers meet with themselves or with the artist. So, the editor is just present for new writers… Or maybe you need to be famous to get rid of the editor entirely.
- The writer comes up with a plot summary. This can be more or less detailed depending on the writer, or even on how cool are feeling about the artist. (You never know how friendly they are or if they’re into a Civil War like Captain America and Iron Man).
- The artist starts drawing the story into panels. And who does this? The penciller! Since the artist will be working with a plot summary, he needs to have also notions of storytelling to fill in the gaps that were left out in the summary. Freedom!
- Then the artist gives his job to the writer so he can write the dialog, narrations, captions, etc.
- Then they give it to the letterer to create the lettering and balloons, etc.
- Then comes inking.
- Then coloring. [Yup, thanks to the wonders of technology now people use the magic of Photoshop.]
- And then comes post-production. Here the art director takes a look and they touch things if necessary.
- After all the artistic process, the printing comes up!
- Then the distribution.
- And finally it arrives to retailers and other outlets.
So, how long do you think a comic takes from its conception to your hands? Say a number. Any number. Well, about half a year! That’s a long time!
Of course, this method is followed by sharks like Marvel. Cartoonists and other independent comic creators might fulfill some of the roles, or all the roles at the same time. So, if it takes half a year for Marvel to come up with a comic, imagine how hard it is for comic creators that are working alone!
So, next time you hold a comic between your hands, from Marvel or independent artists, think about all the hours, thought and work it needed to be done. You’re not only holding a story, but you are also holding hours of work and a wonderful piece of art.
Source: The Power of Comics, History, Form & Culture. By Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith [Get the latest edition. I have both by the way. A really good book to discover all about comics.]