Episode 99: Writers, Artists, and Stan Lee

The concept of an author is one that generally evokes the image of a person at his or her desk writing something that will eventually be further scrutinized by an editor before being sent off to print. The idea of authorship being ascribed to one person or group of people for a specific mode of narrative production became altered in the 20th century with the rise of graphic narratives as a common form of storytelling. Film and later television would blur the lines of authorship with multiple roles that shaped the narrative in specific manners, like the writers, directors, actors, editors, and other personnel, but most readers were unable to ascertain whose individual contributions led to the final product. Comics and other forms of print graphic narratives are far more specific as to who is charge of what part, with the primary roles of writer and artist receiving the most attention.

While both the writer and the artist are the main people responsible for creating a graphic narrative, authorship is primarily assigned to the former of the two. In a formal sense, this is known by the fact that the MLA citation format, among other systems, has the writer’s name be the first one to be presented. Perhaps this is due to the perception of the importance of written language when it comes to storytelling that the primacy of authorship is given to the writer. The artist is considered to be in charge of adding the visual elements to the story, usually at the behest of the writer, much like how others are tasked with turning the scenes from a screenplay into the visual elements of the play or film. Some of the most iconic authors in comics like Charles Shultz and Bill Waterson of Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes fame, respectively, did both jobs under the title of cartoonist but they were in charge of newspaper comic strips, which have relatively much less material than a standard 32 page comic book. The constant serialization of comic books regularly requires an artist and a writer, but they also might include inkers, colorists, and leterers (those in charge of making sure words are legible and fit well into their appropriate speech bubbles. While the end product is the culmination of the work of various people; ultimately, it is the responsibility of the writer to create and develop the story.

The dynamic and complex relationship between writers and artists can be found back as early as works of serial fiction in the Victorian era. Charles Dickens worked with various artists during his career as a writer so that each installment of his serialized novels would have a distinctive image through a wood cut or engraving. The separation of individual panels in contemporary graphic novels means that the artist needs to work side by side with the writer to make sure the stories visual elements work well with the print ones. The relationship between writer and artist would be further complicated through what later would be known as the “Stan Lee” method of writing. You see, DC Comics employed a more traditional method, with writers and artists working together one on one during the authorial process.  Marvel comics (DC’s main competitor tried to do something completely different during the 50s and 60s. During that time, Stan Lee was asked to write multiple scripts for different titles. He had several artists under him and was in charge of them. He would give each artist a different script so each one had clear guidelines as to what to draw, but were given relative freedoms as to how each scene would be portrayed. Stan Lee would then edit this almost finished comic, lacking only the dialogue boxes and its content. Later, Stan Lee would fill in the comic with the dialogue as he saw fit and then send it down the pipeline. This was Marvel’s business model for several years with Stan as the head and pretty much only writer under their employment. This practice, while now unseen, illustrates the authorial performance of maintaining proper communication with the artist in charge of making one’s narrative creation come to life, so to speak.

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