How 'Black Panther' leapt from page to screen

Marvel's top concept artist Ryan Meinerding explains how the creators of the hit film drew on different eras of the comic for inspiration.

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4 min read

" Black Panther " is the latest blockbuster movie to bring a character from the pages of a Marvel comic to the big screen, and it's winning praise for its instantly iconic visuals.

We sat down with Ryan Meinerding, Marvel Studios' head of visual development, to find out how the filmmakers took the characters from page to screen in such unforgettable fashion.

"We come to it with a love of the characters and a love of the comics ," he explains, "trying to hit the notes that the director and the producers are looking for." 

In this case, co-writer and director Ryan Coogler had a number of ideas about how he wanted the film to look, guiding Meinerding and his team in creating concept images of the main characters before passing the preferred designs onto the costume department to make them real.

Black Panther made his big screen debut in 2016's "Captain America: Civil War" before storming the box office with this year's smash hit solo outing. Devoted fans will see a subtle difference in the character's design between the two films, which are inspired by two different eras of the comic character's history.

Meinerding names as his "two touchstones" the artists whose work on the "Black Panther" comic provided the greatest inspiration: Jack Kirby, who  co-created the character with Stan Lee in 1966, and Brian Stelfreeze, who in 2016 began work on a critically acclaimed run for the comic written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

"The 'Civil War' design was really trying to lean into the Jack Kirby comic look," Meinerding says. Black Panther's all-black outfit was a little bulkier in "Civil War," while for the new solo outing, Coogler wanted a more streamlined design. 


Artist Adi Granov's final hero shot of Black Panther.


Artist Adi Granov -- perhaps best known in the comics world for his work on "Iron Man" comics and films -- designed the new, sleeker suit, while Josh Nizzi designed the outfit worn by bad guy Killmonger.

In the story, the new suits use nanotechnology to flow seamlessly over the wearer's body, so they don't have layers or seams. Coogler's concept was to depict the suit as a "unified singular skin that almost felt like a second skin for T'Challa," Meinerding says.

"What Ryan really brought to it was the idea of upping the technology of the suit so it was a higher-tech suit than we really have seen on screen in the MCU so far," he adds. 


An example of Ryan Meinerding's promo art showing Black Panther, Killmonger and the Dora Milaje in action.

Ryan Meinerding / Marvel

This is where Stelfreeze's version of the character comes in. "In the Brian Stelfreeze design of the face, there's this interesting mix of a panther and a man's face," Meinerding says. "Depending on how the light catches it, it can either look more like a panther or it could look more like a man."

Coogler also wanted the mask's ears swept back so it felt more aggressive, like a growling panther. And he wanted to reveal T'Challa's face for some scenes to show Chadwick Boseman's performance, so the mask was integrated into the suit's nanotechnology rather than existing as a separate helmet.

Black Panther himself is just one of the eye-catching aspects of the film. He's surrounded by visually striking characters in his beautiful homeland of Wakanda. 

Wakanda's heady mix of advanced technological know-how and traditional culture makes "Black Panther" a great example of Afrofuturism, a genre and movement that draws on elements of African culture as well as sci-fi and fantasy.

The film is bursting with vibrant examples of these combinations, such as the high-tech lab decorated with colorful murals, skyscrapers with thatched roofs or the throne room layered with ochre earth connecting the Wakandan ruler with his country's soil.

"There's a lot of really amazing visuals from African cultures that haven't been explored too much in film specifically," says Meinerding. "I think using that palette to just tap into was really amazing." 

Meinerding is full of praise for the film's costume designer Ruth E Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler who conjured the varied visual styles of the nation of Wakanda. 

"Ruth was able to create an entire culture out of thin air really," Meinerding marvels. "That's probably one of my favorite parts of this ... seeing Hannah working with Ryan to come up with this look book of different African-inspired references and seeing that playing out in the production design and the sets ... Wakanda feels so real and feels very multifaceted and interesting, maybe more than any culture within MCU."

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