You’ve had your coffee. You’ve had your delicious morning pastry, which you did not offer to share with me. That’s fine, that’s fine. I’ll still give you your fact and be happy with my Cheerios, I didn’t want that doughnut anyway.
Did you know that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee developed the plot script technique of comic making, called the Marvel Method while working on the Fantastic Four?
I found this on the Wikipedia article for the FF.
Lee said he created a synopsis for the first Fantastic Four story that he gave to penciller Jack Kirby, who then drew the entire story. Kirby turned in his penciled art pages to Lee, who added dialogue and captions. This approach to creating comics, which became known as the “Marvel Method”, worked so well for Lee and Kirby that they used it from then on; the Marvel Method became standard for the company within a year.:8
Since that doesn’t link anywhere, I went to the article on the Marvel Method. Here is what it had to say. According to Wikipedia, the Marvel Method is also refered to as a “plot script”.
In a plot script the artist works from a story synopsis from the writer, rather than a full script. The artist creates page-by-page plot details on his or her own, after which the work is returned to the writer for the insertion of dialogue. Due to its widespread use at Marvel Comics beginning in the 1960s, primarily under writer-editor Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, this approach became commonly known as the “Marvel method” or Marvel “House style”.
Comics historian Mark Evanier writes that this “new means of collaboration . . . was born of necessity—Stan was overburdened with work—and to make use of Jack’s great skill with storylines. . . . Sometimes Stan would type up a written plot outline for the artist. Sometimes, not.” As comic-book writer-editor Dennis O’Neil describes, the Marvel method “. . . requires the writer to begin by writing out a plot and add[ing] words when the penciled artwork is finished. . . .[I]n the mid-sixties, plots were seldom more than a typewritten page, and sometimes less,” while writers in later times “might produce as many as twenty-five pages of plot for a twenty-two page story, and even include in them snatches of dialog. So a Marvel Method plot can run from a couple of paragraphs to something much longer and more elaborate.”
The Marvel method was in place with at least one artist by early 1961, as Lee described in 2009 when speaking of his and Ditko’s “short, five-page filler strips ... placed in any of our comics that had a few extra pages to fill”, most prominently in Amazing Fantasy but even previously in Amazing Adventures and other “pre-superhero Marvel” science-fiction/fantasy anthology titles. “I’d dream up odd fantasy tales with an O. Henry type twist ending. All I had to do was give Steve a one-line description of the plot and he’d be off and running. He’d take those skeleton outlines I had given him and turn them into classic little works of art that ended up being far cooler than I had any right to expect.”
Advantages of the Marvel method over the full script method that have been cited by creators and industry professionals include (1) the artist is more visually-minded and thus often has a better notion of how a scene should play out, (2) it gives the artist more freedom, and (3) it lightens the burden on the writer. Cited disadvantages include (1) not all talented artists are talented writers, and some struggle over aspects such as plot ideas and pacing, (2) it takes advantage of artists, who are typically paid for art alone even though they are essentially working as co-writers, and (3) the artist’s development of a story may clash with the writer’s style.
This was different than the “Full Script” method that DC was using at the time.
In this style, writer breaks the story down in sequence, page-by-page and panel-by-panel, describing the action, characters, and sometimes backgrounds and “camera” points-of-view of each panel, as well as all captions and dialogue balloons. For decades, this was the preferred format for books published by DC Comics.
Peter David described his specific application of the full script method: “I break down each page on a panel by panel basis and label them as PANEL A, PANEL B, and so on. Then I describe what’s in each panel, and then do the dialogue, numbering the balloons. I designate the panels with letters and the word balloons with numbers so as to minimize confusion for the letterer.”
I won’t list every source listed since there are so many. I did find a few additonal non-wikipedia sources that go into further detail. Dial B For Blog, a resource i’ve used on other comic book FOTD, has a long history of the Marvel Method, including an excerpt from a mardch 1966 speech Stan Lee gave at Princeton University where he goes into detail on how Marvel comics were made.
STAN LEE: “We don’t work the same as other outfits. Normally, to answer your question, normally [unintelligible] newspapers. Well, the way we did it up ‘til five years ago, the writer writes a script just as a playwright writes a play, then the playwright gives it to a director, who gives it to the producer. And the director will be the equivalent of the artist.
But we don’t do it that way. We have what I think is a much better system — that we stumbled into because of necessity! I marvel that everybody doesn’t do this. I had been writing all the stories myself, and I just didn’t have time.
If I was writing a story for Jack Kirby, Don Heck might be sitting on his hands, waiting to do something. And we’re so — our schedule is so tight, we can’t afford to have Don be sitting around . And yet, I had to finish this story. So I said, ‘Look Don, I can’t give you a script, I’ve got another day’s writing to do, because Jack needs it. But the next story would be Iron Man goes here, he does that, he meets that guy. You go ahead and draw it, draw it any way you can, I’ll put the copy in later.’
Don went ahead and did it. And ah, his drawings were like a crossword puzzle, I didn’t know what was going on. But anyway, I put the copy in. And I found, as I was doing it, it made it much more enjoyable. Because I wasn’t looking at blank paper in a typewriter, but I was writing copy for people, for drawings that I was looking at, with expressions and actions. I felt carried away.
My wife said, ‘What are you talkin’ to yourself about? Writing out loud, singing out loud!’ So that’s the way we do it now. Now I give the artist a synopsis, and he draws the story himself. I have no idea what I’m going to get. Sometimes it comes out so far removed from what I’d expect.”
I also found a couple of interesting blog posts that more or less repeat what we already know but go into further detail on the Kirby/Lee debate as to who was more succesful for the success of Marvel. I’m not going to go into that here but if you’re interested then check out the blogs i’ve linked to.
Marvel has gone from being beaten out in sales by Scrooge McDuck comics to being one of the leaders in the industry and the Marvel Method was a reason for that, as well as the writing talents of Mr. Lee and the artistic skills of artists like Mr. Kirby and Mr. Ditko. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go buy tickets for another viewing of Ant-Man. I will see you all on the next Fact Of The Day.
Fact Of The Day is the daily column where RobGronkowski’sPartyBusDriver shares some random tidbit of science fiction, fantasy or horror knowledge. If there is a show or movie you would like to see done, leave a note in the comments below. You can see the full archive of past columns here.