Dennis O’Neil and the Mighty Marvel Method!
Back in the leafy days of yore, when I was freelancing as a journalist, short story writer and… what am I forgetting here? Pornographer? Something like that, something skeevy and disreputable – oh, of course. Comic book writer! A long time ago. Something north of a half century ago, in fact.
Anyway, in the mid-sixties, in Marvel Comics’ midtown Manhattan offices, I never heard the word “pitch,” nor was I ever asked to execute one. I was sometimes asked for a document that looked like a pitch, smelled like a pitch, tasted like a pitch… (Okay, maybe not that last. I don’t know. I never tried tasting one. Is it too late?) What these were, these pitchy rectangles of paper, were what we called plots. We’d bat one of these plots out on a (probably manual) typewriter, give it to an editor who gave it to a pencil artist who rendered the events mentioned in the plot into visuals – a whole lot of pictures…
Still with me? Okay. Deep breath and –
The pictures were returned to the writer who added words to the images and sacrificed a virgin at midnight and by golly, sooner or later all that effort resulted in a comic book. Millie the Model greets her fans! Kid Colt faces low-down ornery varmints!
But before the effort described above, the writer often (usually?) met with the editor and told the story he planned to write. And that meeting was the pitch. Which is?
The story. Spoken or written. Long or short. Plain or fancy.
It works pretty much the same way when one is writing for television, with maybe a tiny bit more emphasis on speaking rather than writing the story, but not much, and probably not always. (And when the writer is done talking, he may still have to write?)
What I just described came to be called “the Marvel method.” It was favored by Marvel’s Stan Lee and his artistic collaborators (especially Jack Kirby) because Stan was one busy dude and working this way saved him a minute here, an hour there.
So that’s the Marvel method and it isn’t much used these days. Current editorial practice seems to favor submitting a written story outline which contains all the pertinent story points, including the ending. And this is the pitch, millennial style. I don’t know that there’s any industry-wide standard format for these written pitches. Maybe individual editors have preferences and so it’s best to have a brief conversation with editor or editor’s representative before sitting at the keyboard and, you know, unleashing your genius upon the world.
I got away from what I first learned, the Marvel method, early in the game, partly for storytelling reasons and partly because when I got a job I wanted to get the damn thing done and out of the house and start on the next one before the guys in the midtown offices realize what a shopworn hack they’re dealing with.
More on this topic next week unless I come up with a really nifty idea between now and then.