How Marvel Comics Changed Design

May 3, 2016


If you’re familiar with Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, or Wolverine, you’re familiar with Marvel Comics. Comics as a whole have a few design elements that are characteristic between them, such as splitting the story and action into panels, using balloons and thought bubbles for dialogue, color blocking, and dramatic color schemes. Regardless of any personal feelings on Marvel versus DC versus other comic book franchise empires, it is clear that Marvel’s innovation from the 1960’s onward has created a standard of excellence in comic book design that has been replicated over and over.

  • Challenging the traditional format: Books, for example, usually read left to right, and designs tend to follow some kind of format. The uneven, unusual, and off-center lines of the comic book grid cause the reader to look at the story in a different way.
  • Normalizing different element placements: Each frame in a comic book is meant to tell some sort of story that can work on its own. But if each of these looked the same, the story as a whole would be incredibly boring. Marvel has paved the way for UX/UI design and how a message can be conveyed on a page.
  • Storytelling and artwork are combined: Nothing marries visual design with a full narrative better than comic books. Design is more than just pretty art and is meant to tell a story.
  • Stay true to the work instead of simply following trends: If Marvel had completely changed their designs, characters, and style based on what was trendy at the time, there wouldn’t be a distinct comic book style associated with their brand.
  • Design can speak louder than words: Look at a comic book character like the Hulk. His massive size and green coloring tells you two very important things: one, he’s strong and has no problem showing it, and two, something outside of the ordinary has been an influence on him.
  • Consistency is key: No matter how old your characters are or how the times around them may have changed, there are still some important threads that should remain the same. For example, a character like Thor is a god and can fight for some time in the future.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but innovation matters: Prior to Stan Lee’s development of many of the iconic characters, Marvel did a lot of copying from DC Comics and westerns. It wasn’t until they began creating something new that they began to excel in the comic book world.

Comic books are aimed at telling a story for the reader, in a more engaging and complex manner than simply looking at an image may be, but this can be argued for other mediums. What has made Marvel such a successful franchise is due to their distinct ability to define comic book design and stay true to these elements in the field. While many comic book designers have mimicked the success of Marvel comics, their truly unique style made them the standard for comic books today.