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How to Work for Marvel Comics

By Terri Stone

Our world first heard of the Avengers superhero team more than 50 years ago, but Earth's Mightiest Heroes are stronger than ever, dominating movies, TV, and of course, the Marvel comic books where the team’s story was first told. Marvel recently joined forces with Adobe to create a new dream team: four talented students who illustrated a custom Avengers comic book that debuted at the June 2015 Comic-Con.

Marvel does not hand out opportunities like this lightly. As Jonathan Rheingold (vice president of custom solutions at Marvel) says, “Marvel’s characters are sacred.” But instead of being relegated to a minor role, the students had an extraordinary amount of artistic control. They also gained real-world work experience and a printed portfolio piece. That’s almost as good as an Infinity Stone.

The student artists signed the printed version of

The students signed the printed comic for fans at Comic-Con.

THE SELECTION PROCESS

Marvel editors Mark Basso and Mark Paniccia combed through the thousands of entries submitted via Behance profiles by students from scores of countries. “We knew which characters we were going to use in the comic,” says Basso, “so we kept each particular story in mind as we reviewed the art. Part of the editorial process for comics, for this one as well as any others, is finding the right artist for the right story.” 

Basso continues: “For example, Chad Lewis had some interesting pages that gave us a mythological vibe more than straight super hero action, and we thought that would resonate with Thor. Hayden Sherman did some very interesting things in his layouts and color work. Captain America being a bold character based on that red-white-blue costume, we thought Hayden might do something unique with that story. We ended up with four exceptional and diverse artists.” Alexandria Huntington illustrated Black Widow, and Emil Friis Ernst drew the Iron Man pages.

Alexandra Huntington created this Black Widow panel from the

WORKING WITH MARVEL

Each student was responsible for illustrating two pages, which became self-contained stories in the final comic. That’s unusual in the comics industry, where layouts and pencils, inks, and colors are usually handled by different people. “In this case,” Basso says, “each student did their pages from start to finish — layout to final color — which is a feat in and of itself.” 

Marvel writers Mark Waid, Louise Simonson, Karl Kesel, and Jeff Parker supplied the scripts. Armed with those scripts and reference material, the students sketched out their pages. Basso says that he and Paniccia reviewed the pages against the script, “giving notes to the artists to help them strengthen their pages. We made sure they were leading the reader through the page, highlighting the most important elements and giving the reader something exciting to look at.” 

Alexandra Huntington at work on her Black Widow art for the

Alexandria Huntington at work.

After the layouts were approved, the student artists moved onto detailed pencil and ink art, refining and drawing the fully detailed characters and objects on the page. “Again,” Basso says, “we worked with them through fine details, keeping a sharp eye on storytelling, the expressions of the characters, the choreography of the action — pushing the artists to do their best possible work and give these characters the right presence on the page.” 

After the line art was finished, it was time to color. Finally, a Marvel letterer translated the script to captions on the page. Throughout the process, the editors encouraged the artists to put “their own spin on the characters, while still remaining true to the Marvel characters we all know and love.”

Marvel and Adobe gave away ten thousand printed copies of the finished comic at the San Diego Comic-Con. If you weren’t fortunate enough to score one of the printed copies, you can download the digital version of “Avengers Origins Presented by Adobe #1.”

THE TOOLS

The Marvel team and the students communicated through e-mail and Creative Cloud filesharing. To create their illustrations, the students used both traditional drawing tools and mobile and desktop apps in the Creative Cloud, including Photoshop SketchColor, and Photoshop CC.

To explore this workflow yourself, follow along with the tutorial “From Sketch to Marvel Comic Book.” Who knows — maybe the next artist Marvel discovers on Behance will be you.

Chad Lewis at work on his Thor art for the

Chad Lewis at work.