It’s hard not to like Stan Lee. At 90, he’s an inspiring figure of energy. But, folks, you ought to know, if you don’t already, there’s Stan Lee but there’s also Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. For anyone versed in comics, they have some idea of how this story goes. Stan Lee collaborated on creating Marvel Comics characters and stories. But, at the end of the day, the payday, it was Stan who got sole credit for writing. Even when you have clear-cut examples of a 50/50 collaboration, Stan Lee got all the credit as writer and creator. Enter Arlen Schumer, who would like to share with you the true history of how things went down. You can read Michael Dooley’s piece on Schumer here. And you’ll want to read carefully and not miss out on these examples of Schumer’s lecture from Comic-Con. Click to expand! Yes, you can easily read them:
In an illustrated lecture, “The Auteur Theory of Comics,” presented at this year’s Comic-Con, Schumer explains the Marvel Method which, as a working method was cool and revolutionary: The artist lays down the art first and then the writer goes back and adds the words! Great. But not so great when it comes to crediting the artist. Schumer expands his argument in favor of Ditko and Kirby by explaining the auteur theory which holds that the artist was in charge of far more than mere illustration of the writer’s words. It’s more like the artist is in charge of all the details in a movie which overlaps into actual storytelling. There are numerous examples, to be sure, where the roles of writer and artist are more fixed but, in the case of Stan Lee working with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Schumer maintains it’s more like the early years of collaboration between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. There’s a wonderful recap of this lecture at the Jack Kirby Museum site.
So, that is not to put a damper of Stan Lee. Just a look at what history has to show us. You can take it any way you like. You can also enjoy more of Arlen Schumer’s explorations into pop culture at his site.
2 responses to “STAN LEE, THE MARVEL METHOD, AND THE AUTEUR THEORY OF COMICS”
Hilarious. If “the only thing that makes comics worth reading is the art”, try making it through a comic written and drawn by Neal Adams some time. I’ve read great comics with pedantic (and even lousy) art. And some beautiful artwork is surrounded by the crappiest of stories. I’ll take the good story over the pretty art every time.
I also like the oversimplification of the Marvel Method. “The artist lays down the art first and then the writer goes back and adds the words!” I’m sure it did work like that sometimes. But I’m also sure just as often (and definitely when new characters were being created) it was either “writer discusses his plot with artist” or “writer and artist discuss plot” before the artist starts to draw.
I firmly reject the notion that the artist is automatically the auteur, in the same way I reject it about film directors. Just as in the early days of film it was the *producer* who was the actual primary force behind a film (and is still often the case today), there is no reason to assume the artist is the main creator in comics.
Bottom line: it was Lee who made Marvel what it was, not Ditko and Kirby. They were the ones who made it work the way Lee wanted. But it starts with Lee.
I really appreciate your comments! And you’re always welcome to comment here. Yeah, I agree with where you’re coming from. It’s definitely a subject worthy of further discussion, and further research. I think I’ve read enough to appreciate there’s more to this than one side or another. It always comes back to a good story, told in words and pictures. The script is part of the process. And I don’t think it is helpful to elevate or dismiss anyone’s input. Anyway, I do appreciate what you’re saying and I welcome you back for future comments.
Happy Holidays and take care,