how to write marvel-style
Spider-Man writer Dan Slott’s top tips for writing Marvel-style action
Dan Slott’s top tips for writing the Marvel way
Pioneered by Stan Lee during the ’60s, the Marvel Method has been criticised for leaving all the work up to the artist. But as Dan Slott tells Stephen Jewell, it can also lead to greater creativity
He was one of a quartet of writers charged with reinventing Peter Parker in 2008’s controversial “Brand New Day” storyline, but Dan Slott has flown solo on the wallcrawler’s bi-weekly adventures since Amazing Spider-Man #648.
Slott made his comic book debut with a back-up in July 1991’s New Warriors Annual #1, before cutting his teeth on numerous animation-based younger reader titles including Ren & Stimpy for Marvel. After a move to DC, penning 2003 miniseries Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, he returned to Marvel, scripting series such as She-Hulk and Mighty Avengers.
Slott’s controversial Superior SpiderMan run, saw a mind-swapped Doctor Octopus taking on the web-spinner’s mantle but he recently resurrected Peter Parker in the pages of the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man.
Work out what scripting style suits you
“I work in this kind of nebulous way, which is not really Marvel style but we call it that. I pretty much write what I want in every panel of every page with an indication of the dialogue and then I wait to see what gifts the artists give me when they draw these beautiful pages. And once I’ve seen the art, I might go, ‘Okay, I’ll add this line of dialogue here,’ ‘I’ll put in this sound effect there,’ 01 or ‘We’ll put in some narrative captions.’”
Full Script vs the Marvel Method
“It’s called the Marvel Method because it’s the way Stan Lee did everything. But I tend to go for a little bit more detail. At one point a few years ago, Marvel was thinking of going Marvel style again as there was a couple of magic weeks where Joe Quesada was thinking, ‘We should do this – we should go back to that.’ I remember Ed Brubaker asking if he could see one of my plots, as I was supposedly the only guy working Marvel style at that point. He looked at my plot and basically said, ‘You’re too lazy to put in the script’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty much it.’”
Include dialogue from the start only when necess ary
“I only include dialogue in the first draft if there’s a very specific exchange that I want in there, although I try not to do that too often. One exception that I can think of is from back when I was doing Mighty Avengers: there’s a scene where Hank Pym and Reed Richards are going back and forth over different view screens, trying to get one-up on each other 02 . I wrote it out very specifically with all of the dialogue in place because I wanted this exact scene to happen in the end. There’s a device that they’re fighting over that Hank helped Goliath build. Reed is in possession of it but he doesn’t want to give it back to Hank because he thinks Hank is rather loopy. They’re arguing over the merits of who should have it and at one point Hank goes, ‘I should have it because it’s based on Pym Particles so I’m the most logical person to have this device.’ But then Reed goes, ‘Yes, but we all know that I know more about Pym Particles than you do.’ Everybody in the room is doing spit-takes and the last line is Hank going, ‘Reed, it’s on, bitch!’ That was all written out in full, but normally I wouldn’t do that.”
Your artist will leave you gems of inspiration
“Sometimes you get these little gifts that you didn’t realise were there until you see the art. I had a bit in “New Ways To Die” (in Amazing Spider-Man #568-573) where Harry Osborn is confronted by his father in Norman’s office. He spins around as he’s in the chair and he’s back in the Goblin suit but with the mask off. When John Romita Jr drew the scene, he had him drinking coffee and when I saw this mug, I thought, ‘It has to say “World’s Greatest Dad”.’ 03 That was just a gift as you don’t see these things coming but how could you not have it say ‘World’s Greatest Dad’?”
Leave plenty of space for
the action to unfold
“I’m terrible for not leaving the artist enough space for the action. But it also depends on who the artist is. I have given Giuseppe Camuncoli pages with barely any space and he’s made them feel bigger 04 . Conversely, I remember giving one artist a doublepage spread and they did a really tight close-up. I was like, ‘I give you a double-page spread with this big action scene and you give me a close-up?!’ The worst thing that any artist can do to me is show me that they can draw a crowd scene because then I’ll ask for it all the time, which is a terrible thing for a writer to do. It’s just mean! You’re trapping your artist to a table for days. You should never do that!”
Make sure that there is a reason for everything
“Especially when you’re doing an action sequence! The most important thing for an action sequence is that it can’t just be there for the sake of the action. There has to be some kind of heart behind it. You have to know what all the characters in the action sequence want and the action should reflect that. It might be that they want to do this very specific thing and so much is on the line if they don’t get it done. Also why do they need to do it? If the characters are not emotionally invested in why you’re having the action scene, then there’s no reason to do it. It can’t just be something blowing up for the sake of blowing something up. It has to blow up and mean something to the characters. Otherwise it won’t mean anything to the readers.”
Keep your artist’s individual strengths in mind
“It depends on what kind of stuff they like to draw but also what kind of stuff the story needs. There’s also the reality that when you get to work on a book like Amazing Spider-Man, you know that everybody working on the book is a pro and that they can do whatever you need them to do. Otherwise they wouldn’t be on Amazing Spider-Man. And that’s a gift, to be able to work with artists as talented as Humberto Ramos 05 , Ryan Stegman and Giuseppe Camuncoli. So you really try to tailor what you’re doing to them but at the end of the day, you know that they can deliver whatever you need and they will do it in their own style. There’s something about that, which is just awesome.”
Team books vs solo titles
“I’ve written a couple of team books like Great Lakes Avengers 06 and Mighty Avengers 07 but I don’t think I’ve cracked it yet and I’ve been in the industry for about 24 years. I think I work better with the solo characters. I usually find it easier to keep your focus on this guy and what he wants, and to make it about his personal struggle.
“When I was working on team books, you’ll see that there were times like when, ‘Hey, Mighty Avengers doesn’t read like Mighty Avengers. It reads like Hank Pym and his Amazing Friends.’ You could see that I had clearly picked my favourites. ‘Here’s Hank and here’s Jocasta. Let’s see what they’re going to do.’”
Even after two decades in the comics industry, you still find yourself learning new things
“I hope so! The scary thing about going solo on Amazing Spider-Man is that it’s a book unlike any other. We’re doing it twice a month and that’s gruelling in that you have to feed multiple artists at the same time. So everything you’re writing is out of sequence, as you’ll be writing chapter one of this story and chapter two of that story at the same time. You have to figure out how all the puzzle pieces are going to link up. There are times where as you write something organically, things change in the story but they can’t change too much because the train tracks have to meet up. That’s the challenge of Spider-Man.”
Learn to juggle your subplots
“There are times when I’m writing an issue of Spider-Man and let’s say there’s a Carlie Cooper subplot 08 . At the end of the day, you’re not reading the book for that Carlie Cooper subplot; you’re reading it for Spider-Man. There are moments when I’m like, ‘I have to cut two pages so I’m cutting the Carlie Cooper sub-plot’ and then I’m like ‘Oh damn, I already gave one of the artists another script and it picks up from where this subplot should end, so I’ll have to find a way to squeeze it in!’ That would change if I were writing a monthly book, where I wouldn’t have that problem.”
Adversity can lead to creativity
“Sometimes it’s like it’s the problems that help you build stories that are better and stronger because they force you to think your way through it. It’s like when you watch the movie Jaws, it wouldn’t be as good a movie as it is if the shark worked properly and Steven Spielberg hadn’t had to keep coming up with new ways of showing you the shark without showing you the shark because it kept breaking down. You remember how silly the shark looked when it jumped up on deck and was eating Quinn? It would have looked even sillier if you saw the shark throughout the whole movie. Having the shark be like the camera, having it be in the shadows most of the time made Jaws the scariest movie of all time.”
Em brace your limitations
“You look at Star Wars and in all the original movies, where George Lucas had budgets to worry about and people from above saying ‘No’ about things – they’re stronger stories. Unlike when he had all the money in the world and could do whatever he wanted with computers and didn’t really have anyone telling him no. Sometimes you need limitations; you need people to go, ‘You can’t do this, you must do that.’
“It’s like when I first started doing She-Hulk 09 , one of her catch-phrases became ‘Oh my gosh,’ and that was because we had to change it the first time she said, ‘Oh my god’ because whatever the rating was, they didn’t want the word ‘god’ in a She-Hulk book that week. So we had to come up with something else and then I just kind of owned it and made it her thing. So she said it throughout the whole run and I was like ‘Wow!’
“A weird thing that was in my Peter Parker Spider-Man is that I had him say ‘Son of a bitch’ at one point when he was upset about something, but we couldn’t do that. When it came down to fix it, he just did that thing you do when you stub your toe when there are children present. You change it so that you go ‘Son of a… biscuit!’ We’ve had him say ‘son of a biscuit’ multiple times. I’m sure that whoever the next writer is, they will drop that or not even notice it but somehow that kind of sums up my era of Spider-Man now.”
02 Right: The return of the Lizard in a story by Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli called “No Turning Back” in Amazing Spider-Man #688.
Below: Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s
Superior Spider-Man #29.
Above: Slott has written the most solo issues of She-Hulk – 33.