DENNIS O’NEIL: On Writing Comics
I don’t remember a lot about the first time I ever did a cable TV show. It must have been in the 1980s because I know I was working for Marvel, and it was probably on one of those public access channels which still exist but never seem to have anything on them. The evening’s host might have been Carl Gafford. I do recall, to a certainty, that my co-guest was Jo Duffy and we were debating a topic with, surely, international if not cosmic consequence. To wit: which is the better technique for producing comic book scripts, the so-called Marvel method or the full-script method.
Why the networks, or at least the New York Times, did not report this momentous colloquy I know not. Just another example of the ineptitude of American journalism, I suppose.
Jo had the Marvel side of the dialogue and I championed the full-script side. I have no idea what either of us said or did, but it’s now years later and we’re both still alive, so it couldn’t have been too bloody.
Which brings us, via a prolix pre-digression, to this week’s topic. I put it to you, my friend: which is better, Marvel style or full script?
But before you answer, let’s be sure we’re all talking about the same things and that’ll require some definitions. Here we go.
The full script method: The writer discusses the story idea with the editor – or not, as the editor wishes. Then the writer writes a script, which includes dialogue, captions, and what I call shot descriptions – indications to the artist of what visuals the writer feels should accompany his golden prose.
The Marvel method: It begins, as does the full script method, with a conference with the editor, if the editor is the conferring kind. Then the writer does a plot – not a script – which is given to the pencil artist, who renders it into a visual narrative. These pictures are sent to the writer, who at this point does his dialogue and captions.
Both methods require the editor, or an editorial minion, to check for both verbal and visual accuracy and – perish forbid! – ask for any necessary changes. The editor, or minion, has other chores, but they don’t concern us here and now.
Before we reach conclusions, if any, a few observations: There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
With the full script method, the writer has control of the pacing, which he may or may not be good at, but let’s suppose he is. He can be certain that the story contains all necessary plot elements, including dull stuff that the artist might not feel like spending much time on. Next, the writer might be able to improve on the idea he presented to the editor because he’s had the leisure to mull it. And finally (and this is a touchy one): he can just do his job and get on with his life, without having his ability to get work done depend on another person or persons doing their tasks. And…oh my heavens. We’re out of space already. I guess we’ll just have to continue this next week.
RECOMMENDED READING: The Original Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes – Volume One: Batman, by Michael Fleisher
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.