Marvel’s first panel at New York Comic Con 2018 was Making Comics the Marvel Way, featuring editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski, talent scout Rickey Purdin, writer Jason Aaron, pencillers Ed McGuinness and Humberto Ramos, inker Victor Olazaba, colorist Edgar Delgado and letterer Chris Eliopoulos. It was actually only the second such panel in the company’s history, the first taking place at San Diego Comic-Con International earlier this year. While billed mainly as information for aspiring comic book writers and artists, the information and anecdotes shared were interesting for any comic fan.
You got into comics — what’s next?
For anyone looking to make the leap from mere comic book fan to comic book creator, it can seem like a daunting task. There are many different components required to make the jump happen, but firstly, you have to get noticed. Jason Aaron noted that he was discovered through a Marvel talent contest — the first and last of its kind. “You can see why [they never did it again],” McGuinness joked. But even once you do get noticed by a major publisher and get brought on board, it’s still a long process to actually publish a completed comic book.
First, you have to pitch a story. When asked about that particular aspect of the process, Jason Aaron seemed less than enthused. “I’d rather write the thing than talk about the thing,” he joked.
— AiPT! Comics (@AiPTcomics) October 4, 2018
The signature Marvel style
The “Marvel Way” isn’t just a marketing slogan — it’s a different style of scripting a comic book, based on how Stan Lee used to do it in the publisher’s early days. Instead of scripting each line and background scene, as you might expect from a typical movie or television screenplay, the “Marvel Way” is a lot more shorthand than that. “It’s basically a couple paragraphs of what is supposed to happen, not a full ‘screenplay style’ script.” So, for instance, a first draft of a Marvel script may read something like “Spider-Man wakes up, he says hi to Aunt May, eats wheat cakes for breakfast, goes to work, gets yelled at…” and so on. From there, the artist is given more freedom over how to depict what was described.
Humberto Ramos, who spent the panel sketching a picture of Spider-Man which was projected onto the video screen, chimed in, explaining that he cares more about which characters are in the scene than anything else — and that includes backgrounds. “Most of the Marvel heroes live here in New York,” he said. “So it’s not just a background, it’s a character itself. It’s our vehicle to tell the story.”
As for how long that process takes for the artist, Ed McGuinness said the first question he asks is “how much time do I actually have?” He noted, however, that five to six weeks is an ideal amount of time, though oftentimes he’s required to do so in less time.
Of course, the artwork is not just done in one pass; there’s a lot of back and forth between members of the team. A screenshot was shown on the video screen of a piece of artwork overlaid with suggested changes and opinions. “We go through this about five to six times,” McGuinness said.
From there, we were taken through the process of lettering, which Chris Eliopoulis described as “the inking of the writer’s pencilling” — that is, it helps enhance the writing and call attention to the right parts of it. “A lot of it is just getting out of the way” of the art, he said, and trying to hide the artwork as little as possible. But there’s definitely an art to it — it’s important to lead the reader around the page, almost like you’re giving them a tour of the artwork. Too often amateur comics will have word balloons and narration boxes placed without too much thought put into what came before it, which can lead to a more difficult reading experience, or one that doesn’t help highlight the artwork.
One of the most important parts of the comic book, however, is obviously the cover. Its importance is two fold — it helps sell the book not only to potential readers coming into a comic book store or browsing on sites such as comiXology, but also to retailers through the Diamond catalog. So, it becomes the cover artists’ job to essentially sell the book with one image. As for what that image is, the editor and the writer often have to make a decision: they can either go for an “iconic cover,” which is a cool shot that is otherwise separate from the comic’s actual story, mainly to grab a reader’s eye. But Cebulski noted sometimes it’s a necessity to go this way because the artist doesn’t have access to a script yet.
The other option is a “storytelling cover,” which relates to the story being told in the comic and draws the potential reader into the story of the book. In a lot of ways, it serves as the first page of the story.
Making Comics the Marvel Way was chock full of interesting info, and not only just for potential writers and artists looking to break into the industry. Even if you aren’t looking to join the team, it was still fascinating to learn more about the craft of creating comic books and what kind of collaboration goes into creating the stories we all love.