27 November 2013

Corporate Cultures and the Marvel Method

This episode of Decompressed, a podcast by British comics scripter and journalist Kieron Gillen, is one of the most interesting discussions of comics scripting that I’ve ever heard.

Gillon tries to focus his podcast on the mechanics of creating comics, not just enthusiastic appreciation. The nominal subject of this discussion is the contrast between Marvel’s three-stage plot–art–dialogue method of creating comics and the full-script (or plot–dialogue–art) method that DC and most of the industry use.

Gillen shares lots of examples from the participants, including script pages and finished line art, on his blog. (At left is a first-stage “Marvel Method” script with short action descriptions and the artist’s thumbnail sketches but no finished dialogue.) The practical insights from fellow writers Mark Waid and Matt Fraction and special guest artist Jamie McKelvie are useful but not particularly surprising.

I was more struck by the participants’ observations about how the cultures of the “Big Two” American comics publishers have been shaped by those different approaches. Fraction notes that Marvel still pays a writer separately for the plot and the dialogue even if he (since it’s usually a “he”) delivers them at the same time. Waid points out that DC, at least as of the 1980s when he was an editor there, paid twice as much for a story’s dialogue as for its plot—which naturally motivated writers to provide full scripts.

The comics creators in the conversation—three of them writers—also make interesting observations about what happened when artists Dick Giordano and Joe Quesada came to be in charge of DC and Marvel, respectively. Suddenly the artists were getting more compensation.

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