Jager and Mr. Stinkhead traveled to Philadelphia this year for the second annual Wizard World East. The highlight of the weekend was chatting with former artist and current Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics, Joe Quesda. We talk with him about changing the face of Marvel, and the industry in general.
MillionairePlayboy.com: Since you've become EIC of Marvel Comics, a lot of big things have happened. Of what accomplishment are you proudest?
Joe: Right After Sept. 11th, [producing the Heroes book], I can't imagine being prouder of anything I'll ever do from this point on... hopefully we'll never see that again. That's the one thing that will always stick out.
MoviePoopShoot: On that note, in general with comics, movies and television, after Sept. 11th, TV shows, and movies were digitally removing the twin towers, comics took a much more realistic and mature approach to it, do you think that's something that's going to help out the industry? How do you feel in general about how comics address real world issues?
Joe: I don't want to comment on how other people address the issues because its personal for everybody and some people have bigger concerns than the concerns we have at Marvel. The feeling at Marvel, as with creating the Heroes book, I pulled for editorial need, and I wanted to give everybody my views on the situation, [and take a vote editorially], to make sure that we were all comfortable with it. It was very frustrating, every morning, [to deal with] this tragedy in similar but different ways. And my basic feeling on it was that Marvel doesn't have Metropolis, we don't have Gotham City. We use the real world as a backdrop. And that's really what kind of makes our books interesting, that Spider-Man swings by the Empire State Building. You have the Empire State Building, and Spider-Man has it [in his world]. We've always commented on current events, even past events, we've had characters go to the Vietnam war, through World War II, through the problems in the sixties. Pop culture affects all of our books. I felt that not only was it necessary for us to tackle to these issues, and to have our characters front and center on these issues but it would be callous of us not to. If all of sudden we were to decide "we're not going to handle or touch this" I thought we were sending the wrong message completely. We've dealt with subject matter like alcoholism, drug addiction, we were front and center when the country was facing it. I spoke to the editorial group and we unanimously voted on exactly how we were going to handle it. We're not necessarily going to go out of our way, to just go gung-ho and show the Twin towers and 9/11. We're going to discuss it and come up with the right way to approach it.
MillionairePlayboy.com:What is your mission statement for Marvel? Do you have a certain tier you hold every book to?
Joe: We just try to improve every book across the board. And the thing is that it's quite a system, what happens is that the minute we're done improving a book the best that we can, then we go back and try to do it better, it's a never-ending cycle. It's something that I credit my boss Bill Kevitch for. He did not let up on us, ever. Once the books get great, he comes back and he says this sucks. now do it better. That's really the mission statement, there is a lot of things that need to be done in the comics industry for us to go forward, we've made some very, very big steps in the last few years, to go forward and to expose our product to the world at large. But ultimately it's the product, and having a good attractive and hopefully decent price point. We have to take care of our business first, which is to put out bigger and better books. While we're doing that, we'll market that product, work on our distribution system, there's a lot of things that can be fixed, but if we fix them all, and the product stinks, we've pretty much pissed their money away.
MPb: Do you really read every comic Marvel prints? What's at the top of your pile?
Joe: Pretty much yes. Whatever's done that day. It's like picking your favorite children. I can tell you which stuff is not my favorite. It's never about the character or who the writer is or who the artist is. Generally I'm not a big advocate of comics that take a walk through the past. Let's resolve this plot point we never resolved with Writer X, we have fewer and fewer of those, but there are still a lot of companies that run comics like that. Part of our moving forward as an industry is, we have a beautiful past; we'll be respectful to it, we'll tip our hat to it, but we gotta stop looking backwards and start moving forwards. Because a lot of looking backwards has gotten us in trouble. Not with just the storytelling, it's literally when Bill Jema and I took over at Marvel, the comics industry was exactly the same as it was forty years ago. Production values hadn't changed that much. The guys who were working for independent labels had higher production values, they were doing stuff on computers and disks, Marvel Mags, we didn't know what to do with that. We're still using hand writers, boards, and a lot of that wasn't because there was an urge to save their jobs, a lot of skills were becoming extinct, a lot of jobs were becoming extinct, and people's jobs were getting preserved by the world of comic books. People were still hand lettering when computer lettering was a lot easier. So a lot of it was job preservation and a lot of it was This is the way comics are done. This is the way Stan and Jack did it. What happens is you start burning your business. If you could travel back in time to Stan and Jack's offices and tell them that you're from the year 2003, and that the way you're producing comics is the way it'll be in forty years' time, they'd probably laugh and say Get the hell out of my office. Stan is one of the most progressive guys I know. It's that kind of world we live in.
MPb: What title is impressing you the most recently?
Joe:I'm editing Supreme Powers, I just love working with Joe, because it's a joy to spitball with him. I don't think he really exists, I think he's like an artificial intelligence, because he just communicates so well. We have this huge spitball session, and eventually when we review it, it's not that I necessarily prefer that book to the Ultimates, but I'm really looking forward to when it hits the stands. And also we're putting out a director's cut, of the ones we managed to save. I wish I could say they were humorous, but they're really more insightful because we're just going back and forth, a creative exchange. I think it'll be a lot of fun.
MPb: How does it feel to have a job where every decision made is picked apart on the internet? How much attention do you give it?
Joe: It's a pleasure. Because it means people are paying attention. You know, the guys at Wizard were really hesitant to show me something yesterday. They said We were really upset by this, we hope you don't get upset by this, I said What is it? They showed me the center entertainment section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, there's a cartoonist there who did a three page spread on a guy going to a comic convention, and I was one of the caricatures, and as fat as I am, they drew me ten times fatter. What are you sorry about? I've just been satired by a major newspaper. I'm incredibly flattered! I don't care how they portray me, at the end of the day, because it means I've affected the industry in some way, shape, or form. The fact that people are talking about me means I'm doing my job. When I first took this job, one of the first things I said from Day One was that the silence of the industry is killing us. The only noise we're hearing is How long before they're extinct? It's no longer there. A lot of the doom and gloom website guys were talking about how terrible an issue is, have gone away. People got tired of hearing it, because we're putting out a more proactive message. Sure we're wrapping it up in some trash talk, but that's the idea. We have a very easy formula at Marvel when we put out news on the internet, I go to a lot of the news sites, and click on them. If you see an article, with ten posts, it's not going to do well. If you see an article with five or six windows worth of posts, you can be much more sure you've got a commercial success, or that at least you're going in the right direction. When there's something that is going to rock the comic fan's world, they're going to be up in arms about it, because change is scary, for anyone, you know what I mean? Ultimately, they're going to embrace it, kicking and screaming, and it's a battle. If we don't change, we're gonna die.
MPb: How has the recent commercial popularity of trade paperbacks affected the way you look at publishing single issues? Meaning do you plan for a future TPB while the story arc is being developed?
Joe:Remember when we were talking about comics doing business the same way they were forty years ago? Here we are three years ago, starting with this thing, we're looking at our books, and we realized there's a whole business of TPB's out there, so we looked at our past materials, and thought, Let's put some of these out as TPB's. And we can't. Because none of the stories ever end. And the reason they never end is that we're following a philosophy established by Stan Lee forty years ago, which was perfect for its time. The main place to sell comics was on the news stand. A news stand business means that you have to grab them by the first page, and keep them by the last page, so that they come back the next month. So what that did was make comics have continuous stories. Resolution of cliffhanger, cliffhanger. Resolution of cliffhanger, cliffhanger. And story arcs were finding resolution, but they weren't in the proper places. So, here we are, forty years later, doing the exact same thing. Our business is more with direct sales these days, in comic shops. So we have to change the way we tell stories. We have to create a story, and that's what we're doing with story arcs. With TPB's, you can't have someone pick up the TPB and read on the last page that there's another cliffhanger. It's not a satisfactory read. We have to make sure they're a compelling read.
MPb: The Epic imprint has really made some fans foam at the mouth. How many submissions would you say you've received? How do you feel about that much responsibility in the hands of inexperienced talent? Is it possible that creators may constantly be late, or the product may not turn out as good as the submission? What have you done to head this off?
Joe: Epic is one of the most interesting things we're trying to do at Marvel. It is an open call, for anyone who feels they have a good story to tell and has the skill to tell it. The one and only place that I envy DC is that they don't really have to look at the bottom line. They're supported by a major conglomerate, and they are allowed to from time to time, be an R&D facility, basically create some stuff and let's see what we can do with it. We don't have that luxury at Marvel. We live in a world where if a books sales drop beneath 20,000, Sorry guys, we gotta cancel it. We can't afford to lose money on a book. Epic allows us the ability; if a writer and artist want to do a book at a certain budget, we can support it much longer if it drops below 20,000, to experiment a bit more. It allows us to print a great story, and not worry about all that, because it might not. It gives us a lot of flexibility. A lot of people love Chris Capris' Black Panther. People ask us if Capris wanted to do it for the Epic line, would we do it? Absolutely. The question is, can Capris afford to do it. I can't speak for him. If the creative team is willing to work for that amount of money, we'll be happy to publish it. It's just a story. Epic isn't an adult imprint, we'll produce adult material, we'll produce Spider-Man material. It just has to be a good story. If you've read the Epic manifesto, if you're going to tell a Spider-Man story, you have to tell something different about the world of Spider-Man.
MPb: When you and publisher Bill Jema came into your seats, you vowed to trim down the huge and confusing number of X titles. But three years later we have around 17 mutant related titles, counting minis and solo series. What are you doing to keep from heading down the same rocky road as before keeping from having overkill on the market?
Joe: We have to cut down on the X-Titles because they're all doing the same thing. The big problem when we took over; we have X-MenM, which told the story of six or seven merry mutants, and this leader prototype named Charles Xavier, the father figure who kept the group together. At the same time we have X-Factor, which told the story of six or seven merry mutants, dressed in black leather. Then we had Generation X, the story of five or six or seven merry mutants, only they were a little bit younger, and they had Emma Frost as their father figure, their Professor X prototype. It's the exact same f-ing story, only stretched across three different titles. That gouged us in a lot of respects, because we're only selling the same thing over and over again, which shows an incredible lack in imagination. At the same time, we have books like Cable, the time-traveling mutant. And X-Man, which is Nathan Summers, the time-traveling mutant. And I forget the title of the other one, which was a time-traveling mutant. Three books that told the story of time-traveling mutants. Obviously, there's a market for time-traveling mutant stories, so let's take these books and smash them together, and now we have the book Exiles, one time-traveling mutant book, and it's done very well for us, and the fans of that genre love that book. The rest of X-Men titles, we're trying to tell a different story with every X-Men book. That's the way we're shooting for. Then you have Uncanny X-men, where the mission statement is there's a big market for ‘X-Men Soap opera'. Who's screwing with who, who's dating who, who's lusting for who, and that's what Chuck is gonna tell. Then we have Ultimate X-Men, which is more of an introductory-level book, but a widescreen action kind of story. We're trying to put each of these books in a particular category so that they're speaking to the same audience, but telling different kinds of story.
MPb: In your eyes do the sales charts accurately tell what the best comic being published is?
Joe: Not all the time. We've experienced a year of over 200% of growth of the TPB market, we cannot keep it in stock. Every once in a while you'll run into a book that died on the direct market because it just wasn't designed for it, and it explodes in the book store market. Like the Marvel Mangaverse, when it went TPB, it sold out and we couldn't believe it. You never know. We're learning every day at Marvel. When Bill and I first started, we had a lot of catching up to do. DC and Dark Horse had sort of paved the way for the TPB market. Now we're one of the leading TPB producers. While we used a roadmap laid out by other people, now there is no road map. I think other people are following us, which is a flattering thing.
MPb: Millionaire or Playboy?
Joe: I'll pick Millionaire.
Check out the rest of our Wizard World East coverage here.
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