Interview: Marvel Editor Ellie Pyle Brings The Thunderbolts Out of the Vault

When Marvel Comics moved offices recently, they probably didn’t expect to find nearly finished comics from decades ago at the bottom of a drawer. Though luckily for us, they did – and the second “From the Vault” comic was published this past week, a lost Thunderbolts issue from writer Fabian Nicieza. Not only that, but the project was the first full Editorial assignment for new(ish) Assistant Editor Ellie Pyle.

To find out more about how an issue falls through the cracks, and then back out of the cracks, we chatted with Pyle about what went into bringing this issue back to life – and what other comics may be coming back from the dead.

MTV Geek: So Ellie, for those who don’t know you, what do you do at Marvel?

Ellie Pyle: I am the lucky Assistant Editor who gets to assist Stephen Wacker on things like Amazing Spider-Man and the upcoming Daredevil relaunch.

Geek: And now we’re all caught up! Let’s talk about Thunderbolts: From The Marvel Vault… You guys have a vault? Is it like the one from Die Hard?

EP: Yes, it’s exactly like that, except the final lock is on a backup generator.

Geek: Oooo, good call. Hans Gruber would never break into the Marvel Vault. As for this Thunderbolts issue, how did you come aboard the project?

EP: Tom Brevoort was the original editor on Thunderbolts, and this issue at the time it was commissioned.  When he decided to publish it as part of the Marvel Vault project, he passed it along to Tom Brennan who got Vero Gandini started on the colors and commissioned the beautiful cover from Lee Weeks.  Stephen Wacker decided that Tom Brennan needed one less thing to worry about and that I probably couldn’t screw this up too badly at the lettering stage, so it was passed along to me.

Geek: What was it like getting to work on this as your first “full Editor” project?

EP: I’m actually really glad that my first project as Editor was such an unusual one.   It gave me a chance to learn things I wouldn’t necessarily have encountered on a regular monthly book.  For one thing, I’ve been so steeped in the Spidey corner of the Marvel Universe that I didn’t really know much about the Thunderbolts, much less what their status quo was like 10 years ago.  We always try as editors to imagine that every comic is someone’s first and see the places in which they might need information we take for granted.  In this case, I was able to read the comic the first time through with completely fresh eyes and then go back and do my research. The biggest challenge was trying to put this issue into context 10 years removed from the status quo for which it was written.

Part of the fun was contacting Fabian Nicieza, who wrote this issue, to write an intro piece for the recap page.  I realized after the fact that he also wrote the first comic I ever bought (X-Men #24) so that was very cool.

Geek: When you guys say something “sits in a drawer for 10 years,” does it literally sit in a drawer? How does that happen?

EP: Well… yes.  It does, though everything was also probably on a hard drive.  This issue was originally commissioned as an inventory piece, which means that Fabian Nicieza, who was writing Thunderbolts at the time, wrote the script to have on file for a time when he needed a break from the monthly schedule.  Inventory scripts are also a great way to keep artists working between scheduled projects.  So this was written and drawn back around the spring of 2001 but it was never scheduled for publication or developed past the line art stage because there was never a break in the schedule when they needed it.

Geek: Why publish the book now?

EP: When Marvel moved offices, we opened a bunch of drawers and found all of these great stories in various stages of completion that hadn’t been published for one reason or another, and thought they were worth sharing.  In most cases, the From the Marvel Vault issues have something unique going for them, whether it’s never before seen work from a creator who has since passed away, or in the case of this Thunderbolts issue, a story about a character who is now dead.

Geek: I probably should have gotten to this first, but for those who haven’t picked it up yet, what’s the gist of the issue?

EP: This story takes place sometime after the events of Thunderbolts 50 and focuses on Nomad coming to terms with the time he spent as Scourge and trying to answer the ever present Thunderbolts question:  “Is it possible for hardened criminals to find redemption or will they always return to their lives outside the law?”

Geek: Okay, so when you came on board, what state was the issue in? What had been done to it to update it, and what was left to do?

EP: I came on board at the very end of the coloring stage and just in time to get it lettered.  Updating wasn’t so much the goal as trying to polish it up and place it into context.  We ended up with two text pages, an intro piece by Fabian Nicieza, and a letters page because Stephen Wacker thought it would be good practice for me to learn how to write one. Of course we didn’t have letters, so we put out a call on Twitter and then included quotes about the history of the series from Mark Bagley and Kurt Busiek, the original Thunderbolts creative team, just for fun.

Geek: When you get a project like this, is the instinct to let it be an artifact, in a sense, or are you free about making tweaks and changes, since it really hasn’t been seen before?

EP: The goal is to have it be an artifact, and reflect the original artistic team’s intentions, but in the best possible way.  We’re not trying to pretend that this comic wasn’t written in or around 2001 but we still want it to be the most polished possible artifact from 2001 that we can make it.

Geek: Right, like Bandits, the 2001 action comedy starring Bruce Willis. Anyway, you said there were some art corrections that need to be done… Ten years later, how do approach that without making, say, some panels stand out from others? Or was it not that complicated?

EP: It was less complicated than it could have been, because fortunately the one panel that needed to be replaced entirely was a flashback, so we opted to just paste in the original art from the comic that was being flashed back to and our colorist, Vero Gandini, did a great job of giving it all a unified look.

Geek: There’s another “Vault” project scheduled for June… How many issues do you guys have stuck away? And is this reclamation project, so to speak, something we can look forward to in a more ongoing manner?

EP: We have about half a dozen issues or so planned.  It’s all a matter of how many good issues in progress fell out of drawers when the desk got moved, so I wouldn’t count on it becoming a regular thing.  Though if our offices move again in another 10 or 20 years, who knows what we might find.

Geek: Any sneaks as to other comics we might see at some point? Secret Wars IV sitting on the bottom of a pile somewhere, maybe? Perhaps an adaptation of the hit Bruce Willis comedy, Death Becomes Her?

EP: Human Torch and Hulk: From the Marvel Vault will be released in June.  Not only will that bring Jonny Storm back into reader’s lives for a moment, it was drawn by legendary artist Steve Ditko. Also, Thunderbolts fans might be interested to know that in July, there will be an issue of Defenders: From the Marvel Vault by the original Thunderbolts creative team: Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley.

Geek: Neat! Okay, anything else you want to plug while I have you?

EP: The road to Spider-Island begins April 27 with Infested, a series of two page back-up stories by Dan Slott and a variety of artists, starting in Amazing Spider-Man 659.  Also on April 27, you can pick up a copy of Ruse 2 by Mark Waid and Mirco Pierfederici (Ruse 1 is on sale now).  It’s a fantastic detective romp through Victorian England and one of my very favorite things we’re working on at the moment!

Thunderbolts: From The Marvel Vault is on stands now!

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