In case you missed it, my colleague Jonathan V. Last reviewed Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics history in the Wall Street Journal. Who knew Stan Lee (actually Stanley Lieber) was a playboy? Or that he was so ruthless when it came to the business? Needless to say, Marvel was, in its heyday, unconventional.
Over the next 10 years, Mr. Lee and Marvel created a rich tapestry of characters—Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men. It was an incredibly fertile period, marked by a very peculiar creative process. Mr. Lee ran the Marvel office. He had underneath him a small group of gifted artists, such as [Jack] Kirby and Steve Ditko. Mr. Lee came up with broad-brush plots for each issue and handed them off to these artists, who drew the books completely on their own, taking Lee’s vague plot idea and turning it into scenes, settings, supporting characters and action. Then, once the pages were sent back to Mr. Lee, he improvised dialogue to go along with the images.
This peculiar means of collaboration became known as the Marvel Method. No one before—or since—has made comics that way. And no other period in comic-book history has been so spectacularly fruitful. Nearly all the company’s major characters—Daredevil, Thor, Magneto, Doctor Octopus, Professor X, Doctor Doom, the Silver Surfer—emerged from this creative cauldron. Readers, and then the wider culture, quickly embraced them.
Marvel then went into a tailspin before the film industry turned it around—the most recent Amazing Spider-Man earned a worldwide gross of more than $752 million while The Avengers‘ global take stands at more than $1.5 billion. Marvel Comics was sold to Disney for $4 billion in 2009.