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Marvel: 4 years of Joe


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Looking at Four Years With Joe Quesada 

by Matt Brady


It’s been four years and two months since Joe Quesada moved into the Editor in Chief’s chair at Marvel Comics. As has become a Newsarama tradition, we sat down with Quesada to look back at the years he’s seen, look ahead at the years to come, and hit him with the major hot-button topics of the day.


So – with no further ado…


Newsarama: So – four years. Can you say at this point that you’ve touched on everything that you wanted to when you took the job? That is, do you look at Marvel and still see large chunks that need attention, or have  things been reduced to a more routine, albeit constant, maintenance?


Joe Quesada: There's always stuff that needs attention, I always equate publishing to a living Sisyphus stone.  Long after all of us are gone, there'll be another crew pushing that monthly stone up the hill only to watch it roll back down.


The honest truth is that I feel that comics have achieved a level of quality and greatness that we have never achieved before and I'm proud to be a small part of this time.  I'm not just referring to Marvel, across the board, publishers are beginning to put their best foots forward and that's great for everyone, especially retailers and more importantly our readers.  But even with all of that, I always look at our entire line and wonder how things can be made better, how we can keep the excitement level up.  It's my job; it's what I get paid for and what's expected of me.  I've often said, the day that I feel that I have nothing left to say or nothing left to contribute, that will be the last day you hear from me.


NRAMA: Did you think you’d be around this long? Not to be morbid, but you came in during some turbulent times, when nothing was very long-term…


JQ: I take nothing for granted, not just at Marvel but in life.  The world is a fragile place and what's here today can be gone tomorrow.  I know it sounds cliché, but it's also very true.  That's why I worship my family and kiss and hug them every morning with great zest as I'm leaving for work because you just don't know what's around the corner.  Four years as EiC, did I anticipate it, I don't know, I never looked that far out, heck, I'm just surprised I've lived this long.


NRAMA: Let’s talk about the Publisher/Presidents you’ve worked under. How would you characterize Marvel with Dan now in charge? It seems that there’s been a push to make Marvel more “classic” in its  approach – costumes are back for the X-Men, many of the teams...well, the FF are  in their iconic lineup. Has this been in response to any particular mandate, a reflection of what the market wants, or…what?


JQ: Well, the classic back to costumes was something that I actually began discussing with Bill J over a year and a half ago, Dan of course agreed with the ideas behind it as did everyone within the company. Bill’s time was very different.  When we started our behinds were on fire, the industry was in very bad shape and things seemed more desperate, they were desperate.  The mood with Dan is a much lighter one, Dan brings more of a community feel with him.  As a group we go out more, hang more as a team and Dan is right there with us, it really is a magical time right now in editorial.  Our last few creative retreats and meetings have been just incredible and positive.  We just got back from LA where we had our Spider-Man story retreat and we came back with two years worth of great stuff.  Dan's involvement at Marvel has led to my most enjoyable and creative period with the company.


NRAMA: During Bill Jemas’ tenure, Marvel saw things like Cage, Slap Leather, Banner, The Truth, X-Statix, and a handful of other, rather…mature, more experimental works than traditional Marvel fare. Will there be a return to these styles of projects, or were they something that worked in their time, and now the market wants something different?


JQ: I've had this discussion with someone recently; I feel we're still doing the same amount of experimental stuff that was going on during the early first couple of years.  The difference is that moving forward, those things seem less and less radical and more like the normal noises.  Brian Bendis had someone send him a list of the books that Marvel was soliciting for publication in September of 1998.  That's the month that Marvel Knights launched.  Looking at that list and then comparing it to what we're doing today puts it all in perspective as to how much change and movement has occurred here at the big M and how much continues to grow.


Today we have Marvel Knights, The Ultimate U, MAX, a little imprint called Icon, Marvel Age, a host of creators who would never have come near Marvel, a huge trade paperback business and an upcoming revamp of the classic Marvel U with New Avengers and many other titles.  In 2005 we have plans for perhaps a few other universe or concepts of that kind.  So, the way I see it, it's just a matter of perspective and gaining some distance from it all.


NRAMA: Looking at some of the other differences, Dan's obviously not out there every week talking  trash about Marvel's competition, or making otherwise passionate, but inciting remarks as was Bill Jemas’ forte. Has Marvel, as a company moved away from that public image of being somewhat “in your face?”


JQ: What you're referring to is really more of a difference in personal styles.  Dan doesn't want to be out there in the public eye, he kind of leaves that to me.  On the flip side, if you meet Dan at a convention or Marvel function, he's much more prone to hang with you until the wee hours than Bill.  Bill J's a wimp always leaving early to be with his kids, Dan on the other hand will close the place down with ya.


NRAMA: What is Dan’s input or influence in the editorial process?


JQ: Dan does the day to day soup to nuts making sure the numbers all add up, that's not to say he's not in the trenches with us coming up with ideas, heck sometimes he even has a good one.  I kid of course, Dan has some great ideas but his strength is really one that goes by unnoticed in many ways.  It's one thing to have an idea, creative, marketing, whatever it may be, and it’s another thing to be able to facilitate it in a smart way.  Dan makes sure that when an idea comes through the pike, we're able to make it happen for the creative as smooth as possible.  Like I said earlier, Dan is a team builder a community guy. 


I guess the best way I can describe it is imagine Marvel as a locomotive, Dan goes out ahead of the train and inspects the tracks.  He puts together disconnected track, levels bumps along the trail, and clears bad weather.  Then we roll the train into your town and get all the credit for a great ride!


NRAMA: Hitting the controversies all at once, obviously, one of the larger brouhahas you’ve seen  recently was Brian Bendis’ WizardWorld panel regarding a possible  Batman/Daredevil crossover. Looking back at it now, could that have been handled better than it was?


JQ: I wasn't at the panel nor was it a Marvel panel; you'd have to ask Brian that.  Brian was trying to get something to happen that would have been great for the comic's industry, but I wasn't a part of it except for the fact that my name came up.


NRAMA: Well, that said, you’ve never made any secret about the  rivalry/animosity between Marvel and DC. At this point, in your view, is there anything that can be done to fix things, and possibly allow for crossovers to occur again?


JQ: I've always said that the rivalry is a good thing and it needed to be kick started, I think that point has been proven in spades.  Who’s the winner of the rivalry, Marvel or DC?  Nope, retailers and fans and the comic industry as a whole!  That's what I've been looking and asking for since I took over, I mean look at the monthly offerings from within the Previews catalog, when has it ever been this good!?  The next step now is for the mid-tier publishers to start upping their game.  I hear the buzz, it's starting to happen!  I'm looking forward to Marc Silvestri's new book, I'm looking forward to Aspen's new releases, it's just all starting to bubble to the surface and it's getting more and more exciting by the second.  As far as fixing things, there's not much to fix on my end because on my end there isn't anything broken.  If the folks at DC want to propose a crossover, we're more than happy to listen and talk about it and decide whether to do it solely on the merits of the project and how it benefits both parties and more importantly, the industry.


NRAMA: Moving to the books themselves and the editorial overview - at this year’s cons, you mentioned that now the respective “universes” are functioning, Marvel will be experimenting more, or dipping its foot in, more than it has been, the “shared universe” concept again. Is that still in the works? 


JQ: Oh yeah, in a very big way.  2005 will almost certainly bring that on, it will be almost impossible not to do it with so many things happening in the Avengers and so many major icons involved either directly or indirectly with the Avenger's part of the world. 


What's most fun about this is that our Marvel creative community is so into this as well, it must be in the air…  There are strings of e-mail I wish I could show you in which our creators are spitballing about events involving the Marvel U and trying to keep things cohesive. What's also wonderful about that is that within that you get even more collaboration and even more ideas.  JMS gets briefed on a big event happening in one of our books and spins a plate or two that develops more ideas and then I hear from Joss and he has his take on it and we add more fuel to the fire and before you know... it's great to be a Marvel fan!


NRAMA: Okay – well, talking about the respective lines that have seen major changes or storylines lately, you’ve had major events in the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Avengers recently – a resurrection, a revelation, and a massacre. Going with the X-Men first and Colossus…”dead is dead?” Wasn't  Colossus your original example four years back as a character who was going to  stay dead, because it made sense, story-wise?


JQ: Absolutely, I believe the term was "significant death."  I also said that in order to bring a character like that back, who has suffered a significant death, the writer has to come up with the best resurrection story ever.  What, do you think Joss is the first person to pitch me the return of Colossus?  Come on now, let's be real.  However, he pitched me a resurrection story that I couldn't say no to and that's the point of "dead is dead." 


First and foremost, it makes our creators think before they just off a character and secondly it makes them think even harder if they want to bring them back.  Who benefits from that? The reader does because they get better stories because of it.  Also, because of the "dead is dead" policy, things like Colossus' return, if done correctly, are incredible surprises, something that is completely missing in the world of comics.


NRAMA: Fair enough. Moving to Spider-Man’s current storyline in Amazing – Gwen and  Norman? What was your initial response when JMS pitched that idea? 


JQ: Well, you'd have to start a bit before the idea.  One day Joe and I were discussing Spidey's future and what approach to take.  Should we plan a big event in 2004, what kind of event would it be?  I mentioned to Joe that from what I could see having now been in comics almost 14 years, memorable Spider-Man events are constructed differently than X-Men events.  To me, the best X-Men events are very much event driven for lack of a better word, big blockbuster movie type stuff.  The best Spider-Man events have been more soap opera driven, "soap opera" in a very traditional Stan Lee sort of way.  Stan was and to this day is a very big advocate of keeping things stirred up so I asked Joe to think along those lines.  As we spoke about this I could see Joe's evil genius going to work which is pretty impressive since we were discussing it over e-mail.  It was only a short time later that I had an e-mail from Joe laying out the seeds of this idea he had that at it's core was a Stan Lee-esque soap opera like no other.  I was blown away.


Internally I mention the concept to our editorial staff, there was two basic reactions.  One was people blown away; the other was shock and awe.  The shock and awe was the same exact thing that I saw when we first mentioned Origin nearly four years ago, “You can't do that!"  I knew right at that moment that we had a hit on our hands.  What's funny is that I've seen that look within the office at least three other times when discussing our plans for 2005 and 2006, man it's going to be a great couple of years for all our True Believers!


“Sins Past” has more than delivered everything that it promised and thanks to Joe's genius, it's laying the seeds for some incredible Spider-Man stories yet to come. 


NRAMA: Brian Bendis has mentioned time and again that you allowed him to reveal Matt Murdock’s identity in Daredevil as long as he stayed  around to complete the story, and not just leave it out there, hanging. Were there any similar conditions with Joe? I mean…when you initially heard this, there had to have been a voice in your head that said, “people are going to go  nutso…”


JQ: Yup, and when I hear that voice I listen very closely.  Let me try to explain that if I can.  Look, we get loads of ideas from time to time that of course would sell books in record numbers but cause radical change or perhaps even damage to the canon.  When those ideas come through the door, if they sound even remotely doable well of course we look into them.  Obviously there will be those within my staff that might object to the idea, that's when I start to ask them why.  I keep on asking why until I either get a good reason why we should avoid the idea or until they we all realize that the only reason we don't do the idea is because of what I call false comic book dogma.  We shouldn't do it because I always heard we weren't supposed to do it.  Well, that's not a good enough reason.


It was exactly like that with Wolverine and Origin.  We kept asking why and even I found myself falling into the trap.  Well, because the fans like the mystery, because if you tell the origin you'll destroy the character, what makes Wolvie cool is that you don't know his origin.  The truth of the matter was that there was absolutely no factual basis that proved that Wolvie was only popular because people didn't know his origin; it was just something that I had heard from an editor once who had heard from an editor before him.  Heck, for all we know the fans were growing angry by all the false origin stories we had fed them or because they'd been teased to death with it.  What we did know was that the best way to destroy Wolverine was to tell a terrible Origin story.  So, Origin was green lit and as you can see Wolverine disappeared of the face of the Marvel U.  By the way, there are more times than not that I ask why and get the right reasons not to do certain stories.


NRAMA: The Avengers, both  Disassembled and New. What, in your view, wasn’t working with the team as it was that it needed such a radical revamp? 


JQ: It was just feeling stale to me. The Avengers, even through roster changes, have remained virtually unchanged since their inception in 1963.  To some extent we were constructing Avengers stories in almost the exact same fashion as Roy Thomas was so many years ago.  Of course there is nothing wrong with Roy Thomas' Avengers, they were brilliant in their time, but that was a long time ago and the comic industry is not the same place it was back then, yet Avengers was just kind of standing still the way I saw it.  In many ways I think the Ultimates open all our eyes to that.


NRAMA: With all of these stories – are you pleased with both the execution and the response – not just the sales, that is?


JQ: Yes, I've been ecstatic with the stories and response.  We've touched a nerve and it seems that people are buzzing at comic shops.  They love it, they hate it, they don't know what to think or expect but they're reading it!


NRAMA: At the same time though, there are fans out there that are literally angry at the changes – those who feel betrayed by the return of a dead character, likewise by the revelations about Gwen; and angered by the death of their favorite characters. From your chair, how do you deal with that? Is it a good thing to treat characters in a manner that some readers will see as “disrespectful?”


JQ: These are characters in a fictional world, they have been created by us flesh and blood folk to serve as tools in helping us convey stories that entertain, anger, sadden, enlighten, etc, etc.  It's my job as Marvel EiC to keep Marvel fans on the edge of their seats, to make sure they don't know what to expect next, to make sure that the Marvel U is and exciting and unpredictable world and to do it with the best creators in the world.  It's not my job to keep the status quo; someone else can have that job!  Fans will always complain, it is part of being a fanatic, but as I've often said before, think of all the great moments in comics, think of all the watershed moments, what do they all have in common?  A radical change to the status quo.


NRAMA: But what  are the boundaries? Does someone up there have the first Spider-Clone issue on the wall with the words "Never Again!" on it? Who's watching to make sure a  strong, compelling storyline doesn't turn into an event with all the good and  bad that may bring?


JQ: Well, it starts with me and Buckley and our editorial crew.  There have been some great events in comics and there have been some clunkers.  The goal is to learn from the mistakes and avoid those trappings that made those events weak or damaging in the long run.  I mean let’s take the Spider-Clone saga for a second.  We could argue all day whether it was a good or bad idea, but I believe that ultimately what went wrong with it was that it just kept going and going, it never seemed to end and it became confusing and then an industry joke.  So, there are lessons to be learned from that.  That said, I bet if we actually did a mega giant Essentials of the Cone Saga it would sell like hot cakes.  Believe it or not, I get a lot of request for it.


Look, at the end of the day, there is really never any certainty to how these events will pan out.  The best you can do is give it your best and try to do something fun that you feel the readers will dig.


NRAMA: By that token, how do you balance the roles of your creators and editors? Obviously, part of their job is to be the caretakers of the characters and worlds, but they still need to tell good, compelling stories. What are the limits you put on them? Are there say, an “iconic” class of elements that don’t get touched, while the rest can be played with? 


JQ: Of course, that's why you ask why.  Here's a very simplistic and obvious example.  Let’s say we had the idea to bring back Uncle Ben, well we would of course have people in the office losing their minds, even at the very notion.  Then you ask why not, and you get a litany of reasons, chief amongst them that you intrinsically change Spider-Man at his core.  The killing of Uncle Ben is so entrenched in what makes Peter, Peter and what makes him Spider-Man that to bring Ben back would hurt the character.


Now, that of course is an obvious example, but perhaps it illustrates a bit of what I'm talking about.


That said, our creators are also very aware of the iconoclastic status of many of our characters and they of course know what is taboo for the most part.  So when something like this comes up, it usually makes for some great inter office conversation.


NRAMA: So, killing Aunt May (for real) would be off limits, given both her importance to the mythos and her continued presence in the films…but after that?  Obviously, Gwen’s history was something that could be used as an element?


JQ: Yes.  Changing some of the Gwen backstory does little to affect the Peter/Spider-Man world outside of watching Peter grow as a character and the cast grow as people.  It changes our way of thinking about Gwen, but she's been deader longer than many of our readers have been alive.  Also, I think that when the story is finally told it makes her that more human to us and especially to Peter.  I don't think he'll love her any less in the end if anything, this just brings her closer.  In many ways, the goal behind our comics is for us to convey many heroic or valuable lessons, they are modern day morality plays to some extent.  Peter forgives and understands what happened with Gwen, yet some readers can’t seem to get past it, I find that interesting but hopefully some people find it enlightening.  I can’t tell you how many women I talk to that find it completely engaging and telling.


NRAMA: Is there anything  that’s too far out or off limits, even if it comes coupled with a good story? 


JQ: Of course.  As I said with the Uncle Ben example, there are things you can't touch because they change the character at his or her core, everything else is fair game.  But also it depends on the character.  There are so many characters that no one really cares about until something happens to change them or to defame them, in those cases I say, go for broke.  I think DC is experiencing a bit of this with Identity Crisis.  Suddenly, Sue Dibny is a much beloved character.  Who the heck ever cared about Sue Dibny in that kind of way before the Doctor Light incident?  It's very similar to Rawhide Kid - make a change and suddenly he was beloved.


By the way, let me take the opportunity to congratulate the folks at DC, Identity Crisis is a great book, one of my favorite reads of the year.


NRAMA: Speaking of the Spider-Man and Avengers changes - I'm sure you've received or seen some of the comments from fans whose complaints run along the lines of "I was a Marvel reader for 30 years, but this is just too much - I'm gone." How do you respond to that kind of criticism/extreme reaction to the story?


JQ: The only way I can respond is to say sorry it's not your cup of tea.  Entertainment like all art is subjective, no story is for everyone.  I see people drop a lot of books very quietly, no letters, no fanfare, they just leave because the books suck.  I saw this happen during the late nineties and it almost shut our business down.  If someone is writing in passionately, I take that very seriously, but at the same time I've made the decision that this particular story is best for the book and the company.  There might be casualties, but we may get back some lapse readers, we may, god forbid, get some new ones!  It is however symptomatic that when change occurs you get those types of comments and e-mails all the while as sales increase. 


Look, when I took over Marvel I got e-mails from fans saying they would never read Marvel again because of changes we were making.  Well, someone is reading these Marvel books because our sales have sure gone through the roof over the past four years.  I hope I don't sound like I'm denigrating those fans that write in and say that something might not be there cup of tea, I respect their opinions in a very big way.  Comics are very much a democracy, people vote with their dollars, if sales go down, we hear that loud and clear, if sales go up, we hear that as well.  My goal as EiC isn't to alienate a reader, but I do understand that within the bigger picture of trying to get more, lapse and yes, new readers, we may lose a current one.  Of course the goal is to try to keep everyone if that's ever possible.


NRAMA: A lot of this probably goes to a larger storytelling question. What's key in telling a good story with 30+ year old characters  who are, in large part, still being read by many of the same readers who've  seen the characters in similar situations for years? Are there original stories left to be told with superheroes?


JQ: Of course there are, we see them every month.  Look, count how many comics we do by 12 months a year, then add in every other publishers unit number and as an industry I think we do an incredible job of coming up with original content.  Heck, Hollywood only wishes it had the kind of creative average comics have while we wish we had their revenue.  I can't watch five movies without thinking that I've already seen four of them before. 


So, when you consider the amount of content that we need to create on just a monthly basis will there sometimes be a recurring theme from time to time, or a title that's been used once before or a character learns something that isn't wholly new to him or her, yeah, it's going to happen, it's just the law of averages.  But, that's not what we should be focusing on; we should focus on the fact that the quality of comics across the board is better than it’s ever been.  If and when the mainstream public becomes open to new concepts, then watch out, the sky’s the limit.


NRAMA: Speaking of the reactions, from your chair, how have the responses your seen/read been to the Avengers and Spider-Man stories? 50/50? Is that, as a creator/editor after, a polarized/split audience?


JQ: That's a fun question, because if you just go be e-mail one would believe it's 99% against and never reading the books ever again.  But that is human nature.  First let me clear one thing up, it's not like I've received hundreds of e-mails about what's going on, but the few I've received are usually very concerned.  But then I look at what's really happening at the retail level and then I get on the phone with retailers and all they can tell me is "keep it coming!"  I mean let’s be realistic, Matt, how much of this interview have we already spent talking about this?  That alone tells me that these two events have been the hottest to come around in quite a while.


NRAMA: Fair enough, and a good time to change topics then. Moving to other titles than the biggies... In your opinion, why does Marvel have trouble with the staying power of “non-family” titles, or titles that don’t star A-listers? Even critical  acclaim or media attention can’t seem to help titles like She-Hulk, Amazing  Fantasy, or District X (to name books that you’ve mentioned previously as ones that fans are missing out on) out of the  doldrums, sales-wise…


JQ: I wish I could explain that.  By the way, let's also preface this by saying; we're not the only ones with this problem.  Everyone has it, we just have to pull the plug once the book no longer makes money, others have the ability to let their books fall into the red and continue publishing.  I wish we could work that way, but we just can't.  I think the problem in many ways is that fans are hesitant to experiment on new product especially when everyone has a limited budget, but to be honest, I really don't know.  There are so many reasons that could go into fan's decisions that you're guess could be as good as mine.


NRAMA: How concerned are you about this trend? After all, the logical extension of this course of business is that with failure after failure, publishers are soon going to be only publishing the iconic characters, only the "name" heroes. Looking at the Top 10 seems to bear this out, as there are usually only three or four character families in there...


JQ: Well, I've been concerned about it since I've been in comics because it's not a new trend at all.  Seems that the only real time new ideas could support themselves was during the speculator glut, heck everything was selling back then.  I remember books like Thor Corps would routinely open at 500 to 300 thousand and books selling fewer than 100,000 were being considered for cancellation.  Once that bubble burst, it became harder and harder to launch new books that didn't have a pedigree and especially new ideas made of whole cloth. 


I firmly believe that as the business continues its sturdy, steady growth, we'll all be able to break in new ideas that have a better chance of survival.  To be honest, we've launch several new projects that have done better in today's climate than we were expecting and that's a great sign.


NRAMA: Hand in hand with this, Marvel seems to have a few  superstar writers who could seemingly write their shopping list (Bendis: Sugar,  sugar, and sugar; Ellis: puppies), get it illustrated, and see it top 100K.  We've seen Young Guns ’04 for artists, but what steps are you taking to develop writers into new stars, talents that can help push a book towards or higher than 100,000 copies?


JQ: Well, you'll have to wait and see. You know me, I have no problems discussing the business of comics as openly and honestly as I can, but when it comes to big marketing initiatives, I don't like to tip my hand.  Let's just say that you'll either be the first or second to know.  The short simple answer is that we have something in the works, wait and see.


NRAMA: Since by now, I’m sure several readers will already be frothing over something you’ve said, it seems as good a time as any to bring this up. From my vantage point (as chief of Newsarama), and I know this is something that bugs you as well as you’ve mentioned it previously, Marvel can do no right. The joke goes along the lines of Marvel could run a press release announcing they you've cured cancer, and still, people would  bitch, because you didn't do it earlier, you didn't cure Alzheimer's, etc, etc.  Why is Marvel the company comic fans love to hate?


JQ: I honestly wish I had the answer.  Bill J use to say that we could announce free milk and cookies with every Marvel comic and someone would complain that we were trying to kill them because they were lactose intolerant.  It is however a fascinating exercise to watch.  Even as I say this I can hear the Newsarama regulars spinning my words out of control.  It's the fun thing to do I guess, it certainly is funny to watch.  It's like when I watch online fans go after creators who have somehow done wrong by their favorite character.  They come to the defense of their beloved two dimensional, fictitious characters as though they were real people, with feelings and family, yet treat the people who create, write and draw these characters as though they were fictitious and two dimensional without any regard for their feelings and family. 


I also feel that part of it is just the inherent cruelty that comes with human nature.  They would never say this to us personally because that would involve confrontation and having to deal with the problem in a head on fashion and for the people who do this sort of stuff; the strength comes in the anonymity.  But hey, that's cool, they help spread the gospel the way I see it.


NRAMA: Well, since you mentioned him, do you think any of that is a legacy from Bill J's time? He played a pretty smash-mouth game when it came to PR, which caused some fans to answer back in kind. That momentum is hard to change...


JQ: Nah, that's a legacy that has been in place since Marvel has dominated as the number one company.  It use to be what the comic shop coffee clutches always talked about and now it's just in a larger electronic town hall style format called the net.  I remembering speaking with Chris Claremont about story lines like the Dark Phoenix Saga and how incredibly radical it was at its time.  He and Marvel received so much hate mail at the time from fans saying that Marvel shouldn't be doing this story line - sound familiar? - and we just got to thinking about how it wouldn't have been any different if the net existed back then only that all those people could have saved themselves postage stamps.  Marvel is and will always be a lighting rod for the fans.  The day that stops we might as well close up shop.


NRAMA:  Let’s keep pressing the hot buttons while we’re here. Pricing: I know it's a problem that doesn't just affect Marvel, but recently, we’ve seen more and more books reach for and crest the $3.00 mark. I don't want to get into the relative cost of the line as a whole, just the single issue matter - do you, personally, as EIC think that Marvel's line is too expensive?  Just right? What?


JQ: I'm not really the one to talk to about pricing since that is something that isn't in my ballpark here.  But that said, I think the whole dang world is just too expensive.  Come into our neighborhood here at Marvel, I defy you to find a place where you can have lunch for under $15 that doesn't have a golden arch.


NRAMA: True, but back to comics, $3.00 used to be one of the predicted cutoff points for returns - that is, above $3.00, you start shedding readers and buyers by the boatload. Is there more pressure on you to meet expectations for entertainment value in comparison to like-priced entertainment? After all, six $3 books equal a new DVD on release day and a candy bar.


JQ: I guess you can say that there is an internal pressure that I put upon myself, but that would be there even if the books were a buck.  My job is to try to make sure that the fans are getting their money's worth in our books, that's why I'm so thrilled to the reaction to several of our big story lines this year.  But also, speaking towards that pressure, I guess nowhere can you see a greater manifestation of that that in Daredevil: Father.  That book has an expensive price tag and it's because of that that I've made each issue considerably longer than the standard 22 pager.  I just want to try to give the fans their money's worth.


NRAMA: Can monthly comics survive $3.25 an issue? $4.00?


JQ: I think the direct market could survive it but I don't think that we would be able to gain many new readers with that as a regular price point across the board.  That's why things like our digest are so important. Speaking of which, we haven't even talked bout how Marvel is the only publisher really creating a significant amount of material to reach the kid's market right now and in a significant way.  I'm very surprised that this hasn't been more openly discussed across the boards or within the net news community.  I mean we could talk Avengers and Spidey all day, but Marvel Age is really the most important news of the year.  It's more important than the Ultimate Universe, Avengers Disassembled, Identity Crisis and Spider-Man Sins Past put together!


[editor’s note, a feature on the current state and future of Marvel’s Marvel Age line, and an interview with David Gabriel, who oversees the line is coming within a week]


NRAMA: Let’s hit it since you mentioned it – where is DD: Father? Do you feel that perhaps you've undermined your ability to enforce schedules on your creators when you aren't able to keep one yourself?  Or, do you use Father as an example for other creators - "don't do what I did..."?


JQ: Ha, to be honest with you, Father has become a great source of ribbing from our creators towards me.  They love to use it to bust my chops, but ultimately they all realize that I do have a day job that eats up at least 10 to 12 hours of my day and that alone makes for a big difference.  If I was home doing nothing but drawing I could certainly see it becoming a huge issue.  That said, I still want to apologize to the fans and retailers who have been patiently waiting for the next issue and have been so supported of my work.  I promise; the story will not disappoint.


NRAMA:  With the lateness on Father, would it be a safe assumption that you're not going to be drawing any more full-issue miniseries until after your days as EiC?


JQ: Nope, not true, I'm just going to be scheduling things differently now that I have a better grasp of it all.  When I was working on Daredevil back in the Marvel Knights days, I was cranking on those books, there were late books, but they weren't because of the drawing end. The only time I had actually stalled on the drawing of DD was right in the middle of the Echo story, right on the exact date that I became EiC and then Dave Ross had to finish the series.  So, as I was working on Father I had what seemed like some time on my schedule to do it, issue #1 came pretty quickly and I think everyone in the office was pretty surprised at how quickly it was finished.  Then by issue #2 things started to catch up with me and now here we are.  But to be clear, there are Father issues in the can; Dan is waiting on me to finish even more of it before shipping any more issues.


NRAMA: As with any business, there's always a measure of being a good corporate citizen in regards to the larger market. Does it concern you when people comment that Marvel is flooding the market or that Marvel's policies (i.e., from your side of the fence, doing what's best for Marvel) are hurting smaller publishers?


JQ: See, this goes right back to the point you brought up earlier about Marvel not being able to catch a break.  Our nearest competition routinely put out between 20 to 30 more titles into the market a month than we did.  That was a third more books than Marvel was producing and that was when the market was really struggling.  Now, we see that things are a bit healthier and we increase our title count and people are complaining that we have too many titles.  I just can't even think of a witty response to that.


NRAMA: Well, another case then - variants. You've said many times, and left the market with the impression than the variants coming out of Marvel are the result of a battle you lost. With the larger negative reaction to the original Ultimates v2 #1 variant edition, may we be seeing a change in how Marvel approaches variant and incentive covers?


JQ: The change to the Ultimates variant came from several very well written and more importantly reasoned letters from retail partners.  They had a point and we reconvened and rethought our strategy and changed it, I think that says a lot about Marvel and how we do things.  Retail partners had a problem with it and answered all the "why" questions with some very good reasoning and we had the ability to change it – sold - onto the next thing.


NRAMA: But looking at the larger picture - while variants are in the best interests of the publishers, you've got retailers, readers, and smaller publishers saying that they're harming the industry from a variety of angles. It seems that, it would be best for the larger industry of both Marvel and DC dropped the idea of variant and incentive covers.


JQ: Amen to that brother.


NRAMA: What are the chances of us seeing something like that?


JQ: We'll have to wait and see, we didn't open this Pandora's Box, but hopefully we can close it.


NRAMA: So are you cutting back?


JQ: We've only done a few yet it if you went by the online complaints you'd think we were doing them all the time.  Let see this year to date if you count the alternate for the back to press on Secret War we've published six alternates across four titles, I believe?  That’s not a whopping number, if you ask me.


NRAMA: Let's talk some future. December sees two Ultimate debuts. Since its start, you - and Bill, said that the Ultimate universe would be something that was kept  small. Is the current plan of four core (counting Ultimates) and miniseries going to be the way the line will go for the foreseeable future?


JQ: It depends on two major things: the availability of a creative team and what's happening with Marvel properties across the mainstream.  We created Ultimate Fantastic Four because we knew the movie was imminent.  As we look at the horizon, I believe you'll possibly see another ongoing somewhere down the road but always with an eye on keeping the line tight, cohesive and small.


NRAMA: Given the success - and sales - the Ultimate line has seen, is there added pressure in creating new concepts and/or stories for the line?


JQ: Nope, the pressure is to resist the temptation to expand it.  Look if this had been the Marvel of 1996 we'd be looking at Ultimate Night-Thrasher right now and then we'd all be looking surprised when the imprint became meaningless and then canceled.


NRAMA: Previously, the Ultimate line was pretty much in the hands of Brian and Mark.  What has bringing Warren on done to that? How much is he now acting as de facto architect on the overall scheme of things?


JQ: You're also forgetting Bryan K. Vaughan and Mike Carey now as well.  These are writers that have demonstrated a take that they have for the characters that is consistent with the Ultimate world. 


To some extent, much of Warren's ground breaking work on other titles open the door for the possibility of an Ultimate line even existing so he was just a perfect and logical choice to take over much of the universe.  That said, you'll be hearing of a few new additions and Mark and Brian will be returning to do more work in the world that they were so instrumental in creating.


NRAMA: This applies mostly to the Ultimates line, but was important recently in Captain America as well - how closely should comics map to the real world? Should characters be involved in political storylines, for example? Should "our" conflicts and social problems be theirs as well?


JQ: I've often said that the real world is the canvas on which Marvel stories are painted.  It is next to impossible and quite frankly irresponsible for us not to have the real world affect our characters.  If Spider-Man is going to swing by the Twin Towers then how can he not acknowledge their falling?  If Captain America finds his origin in WW II and the 1940s, then how can he ignore what's happening in the world today?  It has always been a hallmark of Marvel Comics, that our books, our characters, our stories reflect the world that we live in.


NRAMA: Over with the X-Men - Joss' run will be closing soon, will Astonishing continue? 


JQ: Well, first let’s talk about Joss and John.  What those guys are creating in Astonishing is just out of this world, I hate to label it but heck that never stopped me before.  I've discussed this with several people as well and we all agree, when I open up and read an issue of Astonishing I feel like I'm reading the X-Men's Watchmen. Think about it, the story is just that damn good, but then again, I also know where it's going.


NRAMA: I agree – it’s a great story, but will Astonishing continue after Joss as an ongoing title?


JQ: I have no idea, it's too soon to have that conversation.


NRAMA: Speaking of the X-Men/Hollywood tie, is Bryan Singer still scheduled to come to the X-Men franchise, either Ultimate or Marvel U version?


JQ: As for Bryan Singer, we’re well under way with that and that will be a 12-issue story arc in Ultimate X-Men. We couldn't be happier with what Bryan is doing.  I don't want to give much of it away but it truly is some mind numbing stuff that will affect the cast of the book in a very huge way.  It also has the blockbuster feel of his movies.


NRAMA: Looking at the X-franchise, it seems to have become the home for the superstars - you moved from Grant to Joss to...? Do you feel that you could be moving to a  place of one-upping yourself to the nth degree, to a point where if you don't  have a Morrison or a Whdeon type "name" on an X-Men book, sales will  suffer?


JQ: Well, we just signed God to write the arc after Joss.


NRAMA: Teasers? Professor X versus the real Lucifer to the death?


JQ: Well, this summer we brought you Jesus vs. Spider-Man, and based on the box office, it looks like Jesus won.


NRAMA: Seriously though, it seems that there's a pressure on a flagship X-title to just keeping going up and up with a creator. Does celebrity play a role in filling the chair after Joss?


JQ: No, another good story will.


NRAMA: Fair enough. Moving on, and wrapping things up with a few quickies, then…have there been any moves in regards to expanding the Icon line? JMS said that Dream Police is headed to Marvel - is that where it's headed?


JQ: Yes, more news on that in 2005.


NRAMA: There've been what appear to be miscommunications or accidentally released information regarding Miracleman/Marvelman. Is there anything that can be revealed on that front?


JQ: No comment


NRAMA: From what you've planned/seen so far, in 2005, what franchise do you think will surprise people the most? What storyline? What character? What creator?


JQ: ARRRGH! I can't tell you just yet.  We're about two weeks, maybe sooner, from breaking some news but let’s just say it involves a Hollywood director, and a single character book launching out of Marvel Knights with a #1 in February.  This particular book will be affecting the Marvel U in huge ways.  It may not seem like it at first but trust me, it will big and a lot of fun!


NRAMA: Let’s end things up with a philosophical one. In your view, what are Marvel’s strengths, as a comic book publisher? Not the best-selling or beating the competition stories, but as a publisher, what does Marvel do better than anyone else?


JQ: We have several strengths that make us special that others are keep trying to emulate.  We're very quick to implement decisions once they are made, there's very little red tape and we just move.  This allows us to react quicker and better to the ever changing needs of the entertainment world.  We have the most creative shop in the world, not to toot my own horn, but we have a creator as EiC so there is an exchange of creative ideas that occurs here on a daily basis that I've never seen before at any company.  I've actually been on retailer calls where they're asking for help from us with respect to prioritizing product because we have so many hot products coming out at one time.  I guess that's a good problem to have and one that will be tough to resolve since I don't think we can just turn the faucet off.  Literally my day is spent on the phone and e-mailing our writers and artist discussing concepts, storylines and marketing stunts.  Of course it's one thing to have those ideas, but then we can facilitate them quickly as I mentioned above. 


We're at the forefront of introducing and breaking in new talent thanks to the great strides and efforts we've made with respect to looking at submissions very seriously. We also offer more creative freedom and flexibility within the world of work for hire than any one has ever offered before.  Sure, does editorial sometimes have ideas of it's own?  Of course, that's our job as well, but we're also the most adept at getting out of our creator's way.  This has only become even more prevalent since Dan Buckley arrived.  Dan and I see very much eye to eye on 98% of the issues effecting Marvel, chief amongst those is our creators and their value to us as a company. 


And finally, we have the best dang core of editors and young editors I've had the pleasure of ever working with.  People see the hiring of a great Editor like Axel Alonso as just a way at making our books stronger, what they don't see is that it's also the opening salvo introducing the new breed of editor that would be walking through our doors.  Guys like Axel, Ralph Macchio, Tom Brevoort and Mike Marts have all been instrumental as Senior Editors in training a crew of juniors who will be taking Marvel into the future and that's more important in the long run than anything I've managed to accomplish in these four years.


Oh, and to that point, let me give you and the great fans of Newsarama a little scoop.  I'm proud to announce the hiring of a new Senior Editor to the Marvel troops.  Mark Panniccia of Tokyopop fame will be joining us and taking a very prominent role within our editorial offices very shortly.


NRAMA: Oh – one last one…have you got a Christmas song coming up this year?


JQ: I'm working on one as we speak.  The problem as always is making the time to record it.  Last years was learned by my band, rehearsed and recorded in one eve.  I don't want to have to go through that again if I can help it.


NRAMA: Joe, thanks for your time, as always, any closing words?


JQ:  I just want to thank all the Marvel fans for their love and support and for making 2004 even better than 2003, it really makes getting up in the morning to come to work a joy.  Thanks so much for embracing us and all our great creators and just wait until you see what we have planned in 2005!


Be good to each other!

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