Designed We Stand: How Basic Design Procedures Could Have Spared Marvel Embarrassment

Designed We Stand: How Basic Design Procedures Could Have Spared Marvel Embarrassment

We sometimes forget, in our passion projects and favourite serials, that comics are a business. An industry that exists to make money. And sometimes it appears that the people who forget that most are professionals working in comics. We've discussed bad or odd business before -- but this time, it isn’t about money. We need

We sometimes forget, in our passion projects and favourite serials, that comics are a business. An industry that exists to make money. And sometimes it appears that the people who forget that most are professionals working in comics. We’ve discussed bad or odd business before — but this time, it isn’t about money. We need to talk about professionalism.

Marvel released a new teaser image for “Divided We Stand”; an image created by Mike Deodato Jr. The image is of a large ensemble cast of supersuits.

One character stands out, though she’s crouched in the back. Poised to pull an arrow from her quiver beside Kamala Khan is Kate Bishop, aka Hawkeye. She’s posed like an Escher Girl, it’s bad, same old same old. And most would have left it at that. But someone noticed something additional that was a bit off about Kate…

Vylla's Tweet re: Kate Bishop's Design

Kate’s design in the image isn’t the official character design — it’s a fan design by artist Vylla. Subsequent tweeting between Vylla and Marvel artist Mike Deodato Jr. has revealed the error occurred when Deodato was researching for character costume references and Vylla’s design came up. He mistakenly believed it was the official design, and has apologised to Vylla (who we’ve interviewed about her outstanding design ability here).

Whether Marvel themselves will have anything to say about their artist using unlicensed designs (or if they’ll try to co-opt or buy it), we’ll have to see. To avoid further exacerbation, the original tweet (pictured above) has been removed. This is not a call to punish Deodato. This is a discussion of a problem seen in Marvel’s contracting of freelance artists. Recall the King of Spain, Magneto? Recall Greg Land’s porno oeuvre? If artists need references, and the company needs artists, references should be managed within the company.

Mike Deodato re: Vylla's design in teaser image

Because this brings one question immediately to mind: do Marvel not give their contracted artists official references? Do they not have a database of reference shots, costume and character details, colour palettes and notes, readily available for their employees to ensure that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet?

If Deodato’s account is prioritised, he was asked to create a piece of artwork without being given the instructions and requirements to do his job properly — he wasn’t equipped with the answers to basic questions, such as “What the hell everyone is meant to look like?” While this may not seem like such a big deal on the surface, because marvel.wikia is right there for the clicking, anyone working in any other design-based industry would scoff. Making sure you meet your client’s requirements is everything, and ensuring they give you everything you need to do that is paramount. Marvel is an experienced client. They should come pre-prepared to furnish a freelancer.

Imagine for a moment that you are a printing service. You are paid to design and produce flyers, brochures, business cards, and websites. A customer comes in and would like a flyer designed, please. You ask them for their logo. “Oh, just Google it.” I can tell you that a large amount of clients will try to get away with that — read ClientsFromHell sometime. Any designer who wants to preserve their own sanity will not let them (and in many cases, would be unable to do the work with a web-based image anyway. But I digress).

In design-centric industries, the client should 99% of the time give you the assets to work with when they clearly have them available. I would have anticipated a company like Marvel to have a digital reference book, an updated intranet for their artists to ensure they are all using the most recent material as their basis. But that may be naive of me. Maybe all Marvel artists do just… Google their contracted subjects, and trust in the almighty powers of the internet to guide them home. What confuses me in this respect is that the design chosen, which was mistaken as official, only appears once in the top image results. It doesn’t help the case that the image in question also has the link to Vylla’s Tumblr in the watermark — very obviously not an official image.

Kate Bishop Google Image Search Results

Vylla's watermark on her Kate Bishop design

I cannot attest to what anyone else would do, but if I were asked to do artwork for a client that had, oh say, a character database on their official website, I would look there first for their designs. I would then find my subject’s entry, and go to the suggested supplement material where a reference image may be (and in this case is) located. If I found a reference image there, or anywhere else, for that matter, I would then ask the client to confirm if the image design is up-to-date, to ensure that I was using the most recent, and official, design for that character. If they respond yes, great — I’d have it in writing by email and could continue my work in good conscience: I did due diligence with my fact-checking. If they said no, then they would need to guide me in the right direction to the correct design, as reaching that point shows that it is not an obvious thing to assume. If I used a design which they then later said was incorrect, I would have that original confirmation to fall back on, to ensure that I get paid for the work I was instructed to do. Of course, this is assuming that there was a liaison available at Marvel, managing this project.

We have an awkward situation here. A Marvel artist has accidentally put a fan design into the teaser for Marvel’s Next Big Thing. And it all could have been avoided, with some fairly basic business practices that almost all other companies employ. Marvel! Give your staff and contractors the resources they need to succeed, to give you what you actually want, and to just make sure everything is correct. Staff and contractors — make them approve and confirm everything. You have been hired to do a job, and you cannot do it unless they confirm exactly what they want. Make them say “Yes, that’s right.” Make them approve drafts, with written confirmation that they approve, so that if they come back later pissed that something is erroneous (like, say, one character’s entire design), you then have a leg to stand on.

Protect yourself. The business will protect itself.

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