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Why Marvel 616 documentary on Disney Plus is angering some comics fans

Is Marvel writer Dan Slott hard at work or hardly workin'?

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read

Marvel author Dan Slott hard at work, probably.

Disney Plus

A new Disney Plus documentary showing how Marvel comics are made has comics fans divided. Marvel 616, streaming now, looks behind the scenes of various facets of the Marvel universe, from weird Japanese Spider-Man remakes to toys and cosplay communities. But it's the apparently lackadaisical approach of writer Dan Slott that's left some fans unimpressed.

Episode 7, entitled The Marvel Method, follows the creation of a new comic from writer to printer. Most of the focus is on writer Slott as he struggles to come up with a plot for the first issue of  Iron Man 2020 while deadlines get tighter and tighter. 

The jocular Slott's slow working pace makes life harder for everyone around him, including editor Shannon Ballesteros, artist Pete Woods, writer Christos Gage, who has to write the comic's dialogue because Slott can't, and unfortunate letterer Joe Caramagna, who has to race to finish the comic just hours before it goes to the printers. 

Some creators and fans have questioned whether Marvel should be making light of what seems like, on the face of it, a pretty unprofessional working style.

The episode title comes from the so-called Marvel Method pioneered by Stan Lee in the 1960s. Back then, Lee was in charge of writing pretty much all of the company's comics. So he often gave artists a rough outline and let them use their imagination to fill the pages and panels with action. Dialogue was added in afterwards according to what the artists drew.

Today, Slott follows this same technique despite the fact the industry has typically moved to an alternative "full script" method. Writers nowadays are more likely to give the artist a more detailed description of what they want in each panel, and they also write the accompanying dialogue. The Marvel Method is seen by some professionals as an exploitative practice, while Slott's process places apparently unreasonable demands on the creators who come after him.

The episode has also struck a nerve because the comic industry, like the film business and many other industries in the #MeToo era, has undergone a drastic reckoning in the past couple of years with workplace behavior ranging from unprofessional to abusive. Comic companies, like many other huge businesses, have been accused of ignoring and even enabling toxic behavior from men including former Dark Horse editor Brandon Wright and former DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza

Marvel has seen its own controversies: when C.B. Cebulski was promoted to editor-in-chief of Marvel comics in 2017, it emerged that Cebulski had previously adopted a Japanese pseudonym to write for the company -- somewhat insulting considering the comic industry's poor record on hiring actual people from diverse backgrounds. Episode 2 of Marvel 616 focuses on women creators, episode 3 follows a pair of Spanish artists and episode 5 showcases a diverse range of cosplayers, but it's notable that episode 7's glimpse into the Marvel offices features a veritable parade of balding, bearded white men. 

While it's touched a nerve, the episode is clearly meant to be played for laughs. It's a modern version of the comedy skits featured in Marvel comics in the good old days, in which Stan Lee and other creators portrayed exaggerated versions of themselves as characters goofing around in the bullpen. We even see some of those comics in the episode, along with fun vintage photos of past Marvel offices. 

Slott hasn't responded to a request for comment, but has addressed the controversy on social media. The episode gets ahead of the reaction with a brief discussion of social media's impact on creators, and Slott has always been a larger-than-life figure on Twitter.

Other comic creators and fans have rallied in Slott's defense.

Woods, Gage and Caramagna emphasize the documentary's lighthearted and abbreviated portrayal of how a comic is made, as well as hailing the level of collaboration the Marvel Method shares between writer and artist.

Marvel 616 is a great watch. Each episode delves into a different corner of the Marvel universe in a fun and illuminating way. And episode 7, whatever you think about Slott or what constitutes professionalism in a creative workplace, gives a concise overview of the stages in comic production. It's a great primer for younger viewers who want to know more about comics or even dream about making comics themselves.

And let's face it, it's also an accurate introduction to the world of work. Sorry kids, there's always going to be some dude making your life harder.

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