Monday, February 11, 2013

AN ANCESTOR TO THE "MARVEL METHOD"

I didn't get much satisfaction out of my recent reading of THE BLACK TULIP, one of the last novels of adventure-writer Alexandre Dumas, as the book was bereft of the adventurous qualities one expects from the author.  However, my reading did lead me to this interesting statement on Dumas' practice of authorship, put forth by one David Coward in his introduction to TULIP:

"[Dumas] left much of the historical spadework to his collaborators.  Under his direction they furnished substantial plot outlines which it was his practice to rewrite completely, adding the 'Dumas touch' with which he stamped his personal, unique mark on the published product.  It is in this sense that he claimed, rightly, to have been the author of all the books he signed."


Coward does add that at times Dumas let manuscripts pass without revision to every section, which means that not everything in every Dumas book did receive the "Dumas touch."  Nevertheless, Coward adds that no one ever succeeded in proving any charge of plagiarism against the author, though some of his collaborators made the attempt.

I shouldn't need to dwell much on the immediate likeness between this scenario and the one that describes the "Marvel Method" supposedly originated by Stan Lee in the early 1960s.  The main difference is that in recent years Stan Lee took the position that he was the primary creator of all his collaborative works because he was the editor who had authority over his collaborators, and that he had ordered the creation of every single character copyrighted by Marvel Comics.

Many fans resent Lee for having made this assertion, particularly when some artists have testified that Lee's input on a given character could be little more than a name or a sentence. In this TWOMORROWS interview John Romita Sr. describes the paucity of his input at times:


The only thing he used to do from 1966-72 was come in and leave a note on my drawing table saying "Next month, the Rhino." That's all; he wouldn't tell me anything; how to handle it. Then he would say "The Kingpin." I would then take it upon myself to put some kind of distinctive look to the guy.
 
And yet, in the same interview, Romita also seems to subscribe to the same  principle of a "Stan Lee touch" that Coward attributes to Alexandre Dumas.

Well, we joked about it. I would kid him about it. Originally nobody thought about plotting credits, except Ditko. Ditko got plotting credits, then Jack Kirby got plotting credits immediately. I got no credits at all during the first run; I got them in retrospect. Later on, he would tell people we co-plotted. I never was offended by it, and I always assumed it was his right, because it was thought these characters really came from him. Even the ones Jack Kirby created with him, I felt were full of the Stan Lee stamp.
 
Of couse, Lee wasn't literally imitating the pattern of Dumas. If anything he may have been patterning his writer-editor duties after the more prominant comic-strip artists of the time.  There had certainly been earlier comic-book editors who imposed a "stamp" of some sort on their lines, but comic strip artists like Al Capp and Chester Gould are better known for subsuming the contributions of unbilled assistants like Frank Frazetta or Russell Stamm (respectively) under their own respective creative umbrellas. In essence, this is also what Stan Lee did when he collaborated with Marvel stalwarts like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby-- though no one will ever know how much which collaborator created, and how much Lee contributed in terms of rewriting others' concepts.


2 comments:

Al said...

A nice, concise, examination of what it was that Stan Lee was doing, Gene. Of course, I wouldn't have been so kind, but then again I'm not as reasonable as you are. Enjoyed your comments, however, they made the right points just by raising the question.

Gene Phillips said...

Thanks, Al. I appreciate your input. I think it's interesting that even in Dumas' time, there were people working behind the scenes of a charismatic figure who felt their contributions weren't sufficiently appreciated.