Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Midtown Comics - Marvel: Meet the Publishers Part 1

April 14th, Wilderowens and I went to the Midtown Comics Downtown’s Marvel: Meet the Publishers event. The publishers of the evening were Editor in Chief Axel Alonso, Senior Vice President of Publishing & Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, Senior Vice President of Creative & Creator Development C.B. Cebulski, X-Men Senior Editor Nick Lowe, and Hulk Senior Editor Mark Paniccia. The event was hosted by moderator extraordinaire Thor Parker.

Patiently waiting for the panel to begin

For me, the evening began with a rush to get into Manhattan in time. A feeling of desperation started to sink in when Wilderowens sent me text messages saying she was waiting on line and to hurry, but alas, the subway would not cooperate. I got there about five minutes before they let everyone in. Wilderowens already had her nametag and was busy making friends on line, including Leonard, who was a most entertaining fellow. Luckily, I had made it in time, but the place was packed. 

The Marvel men took their seats, introductions were made, and Thor kicked things off by asking about Marvel’s current event, Fear Itself, and what goes into planning a big event like it.

Alonso started, saying it grew out of an idea Matt Fraction had a couple of retreats ago.  They took his idea and went into a room and “beat it up.” That is their traditional process, no matter how good the idea seems.

Brevoort added that “talking about things out loud” during the early workshopping of the story is how they come up with ideas they might not have previously considered, but once the framework of the story is shaped, it really comes down to the creators of the individual books that will be involved in it. He also spoke of how important communication is between the creators, so everyone knows what is happening to the characters and what the long term effects might be.

Cebulski said that Brevoort keeps a master “bible” of everything that is going in the story so other creators can get the “feel” of Fear Itself if they want to take part in it with a tie-in or mini-series.

Parker then asked if for events such as Fear Itself, if everything is scrutinized even more as opposed to a regular book, to which Brevoort replied, “It’s bigger so yes. I think it’s proportionate to its size. Something like a Fear Itself affects and impacts a lot of books and a lot of front characters, so there is more discussion about it. It is more important to our line than the average issue of, I don’t know, Daredevil. Not that Daredevil isn’t important, but Fear Itself is going to have an effect on a lot of things, so there are a lot of other voices that have to be heard from and it has to be scrutinized a little more thoroughly than an ordinary run of the mill comic.”

Lowe spoke of how there is coordination when character sharing, such as X-Men characters going over to the Avengers for a bit. He said Brevoort sends him outlines, and they’ll talk about what’s going on, but it’s not at the same level as with the events.

Alonso reiterated the importance of coordination by saying, “Imagine if you were not only coordinating the trajectory of The Shield but also The Wire, The Sopranos, and The Office, and you had to make sure all those worlds merge. That’s kind of what we have to do. We have to make sure if there’s an explosion over here that it’s felt over there.” To which Lowe jumped in with, “Omar –Dwight crossover.” Cebulski said he’d watch that.

Parker opened the floor up to audience questions.

The first question was how often do you plan retreats?

There are usually two big retreats with several smaller in-line retreats during the year. Brevoort said some of them might do as many as four or five a year while Alonso does all of them.

The next question was directed to Alonso, asking if as the new E-I-C, he felt a need to leave his mark and change the direction of the company and if there was a plan to do that?

Axel Alonso (middle), secretly plotting to take over the world.
First stop - Marvel
Brevoort quickly jumped in with, “From this point forward we will be known as Axel Comics.

Alonso then spoke of how he came to Marvel when Joe Quesada came to Marvel and because Joe came to Marvel. His main concerns right now are about “maintaining the stability” as well as having big ideas. “I’m not looking to change Marvel so much as, quite frankly, learn the job, find my feet, and learn over the next year, and then at that point, see what we can do creatively and what chances we can take.

How do you keep personal bias out of the editorial process?

Nick Paniccia, Senior Hulk Editor  
aka "The Baby Killer"
Paniccia responded, “That’s our job. We have to. We got to kill babies.”  Needless to say, laughter erupted and Lowe said, “That’s the quote to take away from this. Marvel kills babies.

Alonso added that it is important that the story not necessarily be one they gravitate to but one that has merit and Brevoort spoke about how he had to edit Venom, though the character and book wasn’t particularly interesting to him, but the process wasn’t about turning Venom into a book he would like but about turning out stories the Venom audience will like.

Cebulski went on to speak about how one of the good things about working at Marvel is “we have a great system of checks and balances.” They all run ideas by each other which help them overcome any biases they might have. Lowe said they wouldn’t be there if they couldn’t do it and Cebulski said he’s still trying to “get Nick to put Dani Moonstar into every X-book.”

The next question was about whether Disney’s presence felt since they bought the company?

Brevoort said, “No and to a certain degree, thankfully no.” He went on to speak about how difficult it is to put out a successful book and how at Marvel, every book has to carry its weight. They have an “absolute need” to make sure the books stay as “good and competitive and strong as [they] need to be.” Then he spoke of how he prefers living in a world where every month he “struggles to keep those goddamn X-Men books down.” Insert laughter here.

Tom Brevoort (left) looks so innocent,
but is really an evil mastermind.

Cebulski added that Disney has no creative or publishing input in what Marvel does, which was part of the deal. Disney has done great things with the marketing of Marvel products, but they stay out of the comics.

Alonso and Cebulski also spoke about the fan reactions to the merge and how Marvel fans were concerned the characters wouldn’t be able to cause the type of destruction and chaos they were used to and Disney fans made demands like “Spider-Man better not appear in the Disney parade “ and “keep the Hulk out of Kingdom Hearts.” So the concerns went both ways.

Then Alonso joked, “Show of hands for Deadpool versus Goofy?” (My hand was one of the first to go up.)

Why did you feel you had to kill off an iconic character like The Human Torch?

Brevoort fielded that one with, “I don’t think we felt we needed to kill off a character like The Human Torch. It’s wasn’t like it was Thursday and the turkey timer went off and it’s time to kill off a character.” It was more about how Jonathan Hickman had an enormous plan for the story and how Johnny’s death moved the story into a new direction. He also spoke of how the long term and short term effects of telling character death stories are extensively discussed.

Alonso then mentioned the death of Nightcrawler in the Second Coming storyline. It was very important for someone to die whose death would reverberate throughout the characters. Wolverine and Cyclops were singled out as examples. Lowe said when Nightcrawler was suggested the room went silent. They knew it was right for the story even though it made them sad. Then he said they knew it was right when they looked in the corner and “Jason Aaron shed a single tear” which prompted more laughs from the audience.

What is the possibility of another Marvel/DC Crossover?

The moral is "drunken story pitches
make you hilarious fodder for
CB Cebulski." (right)

Cebulski told a story of how a drunken fan told him he had spoken to several bigwigs at DC like Geoff Johns and John Rude and he was going to talk to Joe Quesada and they all greenlit the project. Then the fan proceeded to pitch him a Lobo/Deadpool crossover.

After the laughs died down, Brevoort spoke of how times were different than ten years ago. Big business plays a part and also, they don’t want to ruin the specialness of the crossovers by doing too many.

Alonso said, “Very unlikely, but never impossible.

Wilderowens asked about how they thought the Point One Initiative was going.

The sales have been great contrary to what some columnists have said. It was pointed out that the Point One books usually sold as well if not better than the regular book. Brevoort made a passionate plea for fans to believe him when he says he is the one with the correct numbers, not outside sources. The reason he knows what is correct is because he gets the money that goes with the numbers. Due to their success, more Point One books will be released.

Alonso spoke of how the books were creatively strong, and Paniccia spoke of how the books gave the writers great opportunities to reach out to new readers and “tickle” the ones they already have.

How excited are you for the new superhero movies coming out in the summer, has there been a demand in readership and how heavily are you going to promote the comic books to coincide with the movies?
Nick Lowe, Senior X-Men Editor
Great guy but still not entirely forgiven for helping kill Nightcrawler.

Lowe talked about how excited he was for the Thor and Captain America movies. He felt Thor had turned out better than he ever could have thought. Then it was pointed out that the X-Men editor completely skipped the X-Men movie coming out in June. While everyone was laughing, 
Lowe quickly added that the X-Men movie looks a lot better than he expected too.

Alonso said as fans they were really excited for the movies, but their jobs are not dependent on how well the movies do. More product will definitely be added for the old fans and new fans, and he mentioned how the movies helped elevate Iron Man from a B-ish character to an A-Lister.

Cebulski went on to say how great it was to watch the Marvel movies with the Marvel employees because they all “get” it and laugh and cheer at the right moments. Brevoort told a great story about watching Spider-Man 2 sitting behind John Romita Sr. and throughout the movie Romita Sr. kept saying, “I drew that and that.”

How do you decide what characters get used?

Alonso joked, “Disney” then explained how it begins with the writer. Brevoort elaborated by saying it’s about who the writer wants to tell stories about. “I think it will shock nobody in this room that Brian Bendis” Different writers like different characters. He noted that the big events like Fear Itself allows the less seen characters to be played with in new and interesting ways.

With that we conclude part 1 of this event. Come back tomorrow for part 2.

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Pictures used courtesy of Ron Gejon and Wilderowens