how to write marvel-style

Spi­der-Man writer Dan Slott’s top tips for writ­ing Marvel-style ac­tion

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

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.”

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02 Right: The re­turn of the Lizard in a story by Slott and Giuseppe Ca­muncoli called “No Turn­ing Back” in Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man #688.

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Be­low: Dan Slott and Giuseppe Ca­muncoli’s

Su­pe­rior Spi­der-Man #29.

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Above: Slott has writ­ten the most solo is­sues of She-Hulk – 33.

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