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The Auteur Theory of Comics

A column article by: Arlen Schumer

Editor's Note: Arlen Schumer's Auteur Theory of Comics has attracted a lot of attention since Arlen first made it available. We here at Comics Bulletin are delighted to have Arlen share his theory with Comics Bulletin. Over the next few weeke we'll be sharing some of the feedback that Arlen has received for his article. We'll be really excited if you join in the conversation with Arlen and us.

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The Auteur Theory

The Auteur Theory

The Auteur Theory

The Auteur Theory

The Auteur Theory

The Auteur Theory

The Auteur Theory

The Auteur Theory

The Auteur Theory

The recent court loss for the Jack Kirby estate in its battle with Disney, Marvel’s corporate owner, over copyright/ownership of the Marvel characters, revealed Stan Lee’s testimony as being the usual lynchpin in deciding the case in his, and Marvel’s, favor, that testimony essentially promulgating the same misconception that he, not Kirby, was the true author of the Marvel Universe by dint of his salaried role as editor and writer, and Kirby’s professional status as a work-for-hire employee. This misconception ignores the actual role Kirby played in the actual creation of those seminal comic books, as the auteur—author in French—of their stories. “Auteur” in the way Franco-cinemaphiles in the 1950s—first Francois Truffaut in the journal Cahiers du Cinema, and then American counterparts like The Village Voice’s film critic Andrew Harris—postulated their Auteur Theory of Film, that a film’s director, and not the screenwriter, as was previously thought, was a film’s true author.
 
So too can the Auteur Theory of Film be accurately applied to the “Marvel Method” of comic book authorship, innovated by Lee, who gave his artists (originally and primarily Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) anything from a typed synopsis of a story to a verbal springboard of an idea—the equivalent of the screenplay in film—and the artists drew out/plotted/staged/paced the story visually to fill the page count given, using two-dimensional versions of the same tools and devices a movie director uses to craft a film: casting, editing, lighting, sound, choreography—after which Lee would add the dialogue and captions to the artists’ work.
 

Editor's note:  Want to read the whole essay? You can, over on comicbookinterviews.com.  But really you know you want to read this whole essay in its beautiful original form, in your own two hands and on paper. Arlen's working with Rand Hoppe, director of the Jack Kirby online museum to raise money for the Museum (to eventually open up a real pop-up museum on the lower east side where he was raised) by selling limited edition, signed copies of his 16-page verbal/visual essay as an 8.5"x11" beautifully-printed piece that was sold exclusively at the San Diego Comicon--now a true "Collector's Item Classic"! To order, go to: http://kirbymuseum.org/2012SanDiego

Here's a link to a complete video of Arlen's presentation and panel at the SDCC on 7/13/12, in which you can see him "project" the essay sequentially as he reads the essay aloud.: 

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