Stan Lee method of creating comics based on trust

I have always been a Stan Lee fan – mainly for his creative accomplishments and innovation in the field of comic books. If you don’t already know, he is the creator of Marvel Comics.

During the early years he was confronted with the daunting task of creating a 32-page graphic novel on deadline. He figured out that the smartest thing he could do is trust his artists to help tell the stories. He would give them a basic idea of a plot and then allow them to draw how they imagined the story going. Lee would then write the copy after the drawings were done. Although the method may seem unorthodox, it did produce interesting story development. Stan relinquished control of his own ideas to others because he realized that the efficiency of the outcome and the talent of the artist would produce excellent work on deadline. This is a great example of maximizing your creative capabilities around a structured need.

Below is an excerpt from an interview Stan had with “Rascally” Roy Thomas, another creative genius, via telephone:

Stan: I did full scripts in the beginning, but then I found out how good he was just creating his own little sequence of pictures—and I did it in the beginning with Ditko, too—but when I found out how good they were, I realized that, “Gee, I don’t have to do it—I get a better story by just letting them run free.”

Interviewer: The amazing thing is, not only could you get Jack and Steve to do it, but that other artists who had always worked from scripts—Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and others—could also learn to do it and be quite successful with a little training from you.

Stan: I will admit that a lot of them were very nervous about it, and very unhappy about being asked to do it. But then they loved it after a while.

Interviewer: I think that John Buscema, too, thought it was a little strange at first, but got to really like it. Then, when someone would give him a full script, he didn’t like that.

Stan: Absolutely right. John Buscema is amazing. He was never thought of—it’s not the popular idea that he was the most creative guy, storywise. And yet, he was as creative as anybody else—probably as creative as Jack. Well, you worked with John.

Interviewer: Sure, quite a bit: Conan, Avengers.

Stan: He only needed a few words. He didn’t even want a big synopsis; he wanted the skimpiest outline, because he wanted to do it his way. And his way was always great!

Interviewer: I remember plotting the first story of this villain called the Man-Ape in The Avengers with him for five or ten minutes over the phone. I wanted to give him more, and he said, “Nah, that’s enough.” [laughs]

Stan: That’s exactly what he did with me. And I was never disappointed.

[Entire Interview]

A great example of creative teamwork and someone willing to give up creative control for the sake of producing the best product on a deadline.

Alex Raffi is a partner and the creative director for Imagine Marketing.
Contact Alex at araffi@imnv.com

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