Stan Lee Obituary: The Marvel Method of Collaboration
Stan Lee, executive vice president and publisher of Marvel Comics & co-creator of Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Avengers, Fantastic Four, died today at the age of 95.
Besides the mark that Lee left on the so-called modern pop culture and the world of superhero comic books and entertainment, Lee is also a fantastic example of collaborative work. Lee co-created most of his work with other artists and brought about a unique management style that included teams working together on the same project. He called it the “Marvel Method”.
Lee joined Magazine Management in 1939. The firm was later sold to Perfect Film & Chemical, which after changes, mergers, and acquisitions became the 21st-century corporation Marvel Entertainment Group. In mid-1961, following rivals’ successful revival of superheroes a few years earlier, the company assigned Stan Lee the task to follow the trend again. The pressure to deliver several titles in a month became a challenge and Lee came up with a streamlined creative production process: the Marvel Method.
The Marvel Method breaks the traditional approach of comic writing, where the scriptwriter creates the whole plot and dialogues for each scene, and then the artist draws it consequently; Instead, Lee would give an outline of the story and then the artist would draw each scene visualising that plot himself. He would tell the artists, “go ahead and draw it any way you want, it does not matter; I will put in the words later and tie it all together.” Once the artist completed the pages, then Lee would add the dialogues, the sound effects and captions. “It worked out beautifully because my script did not handicap the artist and he could tell the story any way he wanted, and once the pages would come back, it was so easy for me to add the dialogue and make it exactly fit the expression of the picture.”
This method was not only more efficient regarding utilisation of time and resources but also increased innovation in the creative process, because there was more than one mind working on the story.
As we remember Lee for his great creations, here is our reflection on what we can learn from the Marvel Method:
Hire diverse & passionate talent. The Marvel Method required Lee to choose team members who complimented his skills so they could add to each other’s work. Hiring for diverse skillsets is critical to add more efficiency in teams. Additionally, hire “owners” not “employees”; Lee’s method will only work when people in your team see themselves as owners of the outcome. Experience may not matter; such team members understand the big picture and work towards giving their best and to fill the gaps on their own. That is the difference between the attitude “doing as you are told” and “doing what’s needed for the outcome”.
As a leader, be a team player. Lee sees himself as one more person in the team. If you hire the best talent, then you need to position them as partners in the journey of creation and not subordinates. Lee shared that, “I loved working that way. If the illustration was beautiful, then I will put very little or no dialogue, because wanted the illustration to show.” Marvel method allowed for the best work from each team player to add into each other.
Let go, and see what happens. Innovation is the need of the hour in business today, that means leaders need to tap into the untapped potential of their team. Creating guidelines and direction for the team to align is critical, that is the vision and values of the business or even the project, but after that Lee showed how to promote responsibility and accountability of every single person in the team rather than a culture of dependency and micromanagement.
Management is about achieving together as one team and not an individual’s journey. Lee received credit for his brilliant storytelling and ability to engage with millions of readers, but he always attributed his success to his team of artists and the unique process of collaboration he created.
Image source: Bleedingcool