Marvel in 2012
Three top Marvel creatives talk exclusively to CLiNT Magazine
In the latest issue of CLiNT Magazine, we interview three of Marvel's top creatives - Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada, and Executive Editor/Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort. Over twelve pages, we find out about Avengers vs. X-Men, their plans for the Marvel Universe and the Marvel media slate. Check out some soundbites from the probing interview in this article extract...
Chief Creative Officer
Recently, you've only stepped in as a sequential artist on what some would say were 'tricky' stories, in terms of reader reaction – you took on the two controversial Amazing Spider-Man storylines, One More Day and One Moment In Time. You've said in interviews that if anyone had to take the hit, you were the EiC and you might as well take it. Would you step in for a difficult storyline again?
I never say never. But the one thing I had to be very cognisant about when I was EiC was, being in my position, it's very easy to sit there and cherry-pick projects. Like, "Civil War? I want to draw that!" But then you put yourself in a position where other creators now look at you and say, "That sucks, he took a gig away from someone else who wanted it."
My standard policy with my editors was always, "If you want me to do this cover, explain to me why I'm the best person to draw it." If it's an alternate cover, that's a different thing, because whoever's drawing the interiors is going to do it anyway and they just want some extra ones, that's fine. But if it's a cover where my art is going to supersede the person who's drawing the interiors of the book, or someone who I feel is going to be better, I'm going to put up a fight and say, "Well, you may want to get this guy."
It's been that same way with certain projects that I've spearheaded, where I thought, this may be a poisoned chalice for someone's career, but I felt like I could take the hit. I also believed in the project. It's worked out pretty well, so I can't complain.
But it's a tricky position as a staffer at Marvel to take on projects like that. If something comes down the road where Axel or Tom says, "We would really love for you to draw this." First of all I don't know if I'd have the time to do sequentials at this point. But they would have to prove to me that various other people were not the right artists for the project.
Do you ever wish that studios were less protective of their licences? I'm thinking of, say, Sony allowing a Spider-Man cameo in Avengers. You've got both movies hitting in the summer, the possibilities for cross-promotion are huge...
Frankly, it's a question for someone well above my pay-grade. As a fan? I'd freak out! It would be the coolest thing ever. But there are reasons for all these things. Even when we do our Marvel movies, we're very careful about, who can make a cameo here, and who can't? Are we spoiling too much? As for Sony, they're relaunching Spider-Man again. I can understand why they'd want to let it find its feet. It's a brand new feel and it looks fantastic – I can't wait to see it.
Do you think there'll ever be a time when you could say, "Look, this is our huge summer event, these are the creators, we do one every year, it's always your best seller, it's going to be incredible – and that's the last we're saying until #1 comes out"?
For me that's the goal. It's a goal and it's a reachable goal, and I'll leave it at that. When I first came to Marvel, that was the strategy. I came the same week as Joe, and our strategy was 'Writer + Artist + Character + High Concept is the Marketing Hook'. We would get out there with a strong image, a few strong lines, and that was that. Of course, it was a different time again, and at that time we were very much looking to woo back lapsed readers, and save a company that was vulnerable. A lot has changed since then. A few years later, DC put together a publishing plan that emphasised continuity, history and connectivity, and once they had gone that route, a lot changed. You're telling good stories, but you're competing for the converted. Once you go down that route, it's hard to come back out.
A lot of your job is taking blue sky thoughts and translating them into reality, so what's the one blue-sky change you'd like to see made to the business of comics, one that would make it better, stronger or more attractive to readers?
Since you've phrased it as a blue-sky thing, I'd love to live in a world where our readers think first and foremost about living in the moment of the reading experience. Whether it's Kick-Ass or Avengers or Scalped or The Walking Dead – a world where people approach comics the way they approach the experience of watching a movie. I sincerely believe in continuity, and respect the notion of a shared universe, but we need to keep this medium alive for our children.
To invoke One More Day, a very controversial story about Spider-Man, that was initiated by Joe and fully supported by me as Spider-Man editor... Any number of people came out against that story, didn't like what it represented, didn't like what it did. Recently, at a convention, someone yelled out that he hated that story. I asked if he was enjoying reading Brand New Day, and he said he loved it – and I said, "Mission accomplished." There are times in a publisher's life when you have to make a tactical decision to keep your characters fresh and alive for future generations, so that they're not encased in cobwebs or smelling like an old bookstore. Blue sky, I'd like to live in a world where we're really focusing on story and outreach, one in which saying that we want a new audience is not read as pure subtext, as "We don't care about the old reader".
I did an interview recently on CBR, and I mentioned a conversation I had with an editor – I'm not going to mention at which company – but we talked about the reading experience. Faced with reading an excellent story about the Incredible Hulk that isn't deeply entrenched in continuity and that won't affect the future, or reading a mediocre Hulk story that you know is going to have ramifications – which would he choose? He said that he would always choose the latter. He would rather pick up the mediocre thing because it would be part of his library for the future. Now, I don't get that [laughs]. If you told me, "Dude, you're going to go into this movie theater, and you can either see the first chapter of the most eye-popping, shocking, world-changing space odyssey epic of all time, or you can go in and see an okay, not-too-great, it-won't-knock-your-socks-off chapter of Star Wars, what do you want to see?" For me, there's no question. I want my mind blown.
Stan Lee was thinking like that. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and those guys were creating this stuff, they weren't thinking about decades down the road, they were thinking about the now. Tell the story, move forward, have great fun. It's no shock to me that some of our boldest, craziest manoeuvres went down well with Stan. Rawhide Kid, Stan loved it. Black Captain America: Stan loved it. If it's good enough for Stan, you'd hope it would be good enough for the fans, you know? [Laughs] So in a roundabout way, that's what I'd hope.
I'm very excited about digital. I'm very excited about how this new canvas will change the way that we tell our stories, and change the way that people read and purchase our stories. I'm excited to be the Editor-in-Chief at this time, however stressful it can be. If I can just hold onto my job through then [laughs]...
Executive Editor/SVP Of Publishing
Let's bring Avengers Vs. X-Men to the forefront. The X-Men were the kings of team comics for much of the '80s and '90s, but for the last ten years, the Avengers have been wearing – or at least sharing – that crown. Is this a franchise war?
It is, but it's a franchise war that Marvel wins either way! [Laughs] It's hugely appealing on two levels. Firstly, with the Avengers film about to open – the worldwide awareness of the Avengers is going to be extraordinary. The Avengers is going to be everywhere. Nobody is going to be able to turn around but for knowing who the Avengers are. And the X-Men, having had four, five or six movies, depending on how you choose to count them...
...have already got that kind of awareness. So Avengers Vs. X-Men is an idea that, even to the most remote potential reader...
They have some inkling of what it involves.
Yeah. They can immediately key into it on a level that most of the big stories just can't hope to match. It's the most simple comic book idea there is, really. It's, "Who's stronger, the Hulk or the Thing?", but on this larger scale.
Secondly, as we've tried to do in the past with other events, there's a little bit more metaphoric content within it; there are conflicts in which one side is not painted as the villains over the other. There's a philosophic difference between what the Avengers want and what the X-Men want, and they're both trying to do the right thing, as they see it.
It's simultaneously among the most absolutely, no-question commercial ideas we could possibly put out, because every fan has had those arguments. Forget about when you're young, go online right now. The 'Who Would Beat Who?' of it all is just so woven into the dialogue of superhero comics. But the issues in the larger backdrop of this story matter a great deal; to both of these franchises and both of these families, and they go back to House of M and before. It feels like the culmination of at least one act of this macro super-story that we've built for fifty years. It gains a great deal of gravitas and it works on a number of levels. That's part of what makes it so appealing.
When an event calls back so strongly to, say, the Scarlet Witch's actions during House of M, or the hero versus hero subtext of Civil War, how do you confront similar themes without retreading them?
It's the same thing that you deal with on an individual title or character basis, but writ large. On some level, every Spider-Man story – every Spider-Man story – is about "With great power, there must come great responsibility." But the ways in which you can dramatise that are infinite. You try not to just press the same button again and again.
The subtextual content is written a little more broadly on something like Civil War or Secret Invasion, because we're trying to play it in a mainstream message way, to a mass audience that may not be as familiar with the intricacies of what we do on a month-by-month basis.
We typically try, on almost every Marvel story that we do, for these stories to be about something, beyond just guys punching one another. Or, not to do, "There was an old comic book story we read twenty-five years ago, remember how cool it was? Here it is again." The engine that makes the Marvel characters work is more about the individuals inside the costumes than the costumes and the powers themselves. The costumes and the powers allow us to dramatise the conflicts in a colourful and exciting way, but really, the things that people respond to the most are the internal character conflicts. It really is just finding those entry points, finding the points of conflict or those wrinkles on these long-established characters that seem new and fresh and relevant. We take cues from the world around us as well, so that we can be relevant to the audience today. It's not just a nostalgia piece or something talking a completely different language to the zeitgeist. To boil it down to a basic answer, we just work at it! [Laughs] We get the best, most creative people we can, who'll have new and different ideas, and just throw it all into a big stew and just beat at it until stuff bubbles to the top that everybody likes, and that's the stuff we move forward with.
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Category: Features | Posted on: 15 February 2012