Friday, June 24, 2005

Marvel vs DC

DC invented the costumed superhero (Superman) and the costumed crimefighter (Batman). There were challenges during the Golden Age but they all died off in the 1950s. The only superheroes who have an unbroken run going from the 1940s to the present are Superman and Batman (Wonder Woman made it into the 1980s before being cancelled and resurrected).

In 1961, Timely, a small comic book company, changed its name to Marvel and put out a superhero comic - the Fantastic Four. By the end of the decade they were the dominant force in comics. By the end of the 1980s, DC had reworked all of their characters to be more like Marvel.

How did this happen? What did Marvel do right?

I'm going to give full credit to Stan Lee. A lot of others will disagree. Various artists have complained for years that Lee did nothing but self-promotion, taking credit for the work of talented artists, especially Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

After they made their mark at Marvel, both Kirby and Ditko moved to DC. Their work, while good, lacked a certain spark. Both men were great storytellers but had problems with dialog. There were other less-tangible issues. Kirby lost focus and Ditko never created any villains worth mentioning.

Over at Marvel, Stan farmed some books out to his brother, Larry Lieber. Larry was competent but uninspired. Even working with the same characters and artists, he was unable to write stories that matched Stan's.

Finally, every book that Stan touched had a certain spark. It didn't matter who drew it or which character was featured.

Given all that, I think that Stan deserves all the credit he got for creating Marvel Comics.

But what did he do?

This is going to take a lot of posts. For now I'm just going to look at how the books were created.

The first thing Stan did was invent "Marvel-style" writing. In the old days, the writer would write a complete script. It specified how many panels a page would have, what happened in each panel, and what the characters were saying. The artist's job was to illustrate this story.

As Marvel grew, Stan decided to share some of the workload and, at the same time, tap the artist's talent. He would start with a plot. This might come from a story conference or he might simply write it down and send it out. From there, the artist would decide he pacing and draw the story. It then went back to Lee to add dialog. Sometimes the artist did the plot and Stan did nothing but the dialog.

Remember, everyone else was still handing the artists story sheets complete with dialog. This is why Stan got the reputation for putting his name on other people's work. Besides, prior to Stan, no one cared about the names on the book. Stan created the industry superstar by slapping credits on each comic (and handing out clever nicknames so that people would read them.)

Sometimes what Stan got back wasn't what he expected. He and Jack Kirby decided to create someone really powerful for Fantastic Four #50 and came up with galactus. Kirby decided that such a powerful character needed a herald and threw in the Silver Surfer on his own.

As new artists entered the field, they expected to work Marvel-style and that has become the industry standard.

But all of that was behind the scenes. What the kids cared about was what was on the page. This was heroes fighting villains and that's what my next post will be about.

1 comment:

Marvel Comics Super Heroes said...

Hello The Truth According to Mark, I came across your site while doing a search on Marvel superheroes. Even though you don't have exactly what I'm looking for, your site did provide for quite an interesting read. Thanks!