What’s one of the great things about living in New York? Readily available hot dogs, right? For a comic fan though, if there’s one thing that makes the busy world of New York an exciting place to live, it’s that (well, until recent changes), the “Big Two” of Marvel and DC both call NYC their home. Okay, the hot dogs are pretty exciting for comic fans, too.
But with the center of mainstream comic universe in the center of one of the biggest cities in the world, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been more hometown give and take between fans and the comics brass, most of it being restricted to conventions, bulletin boards, and bricks thrown through windows. That all changed on April 14, when Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso, along with Editors Tom Brevoort, Nick Lowe, Mark Paniccia, and Talent Scout C.B. Cebulski came down to Midtown Comics to chat with fans in a relaxed, intimate town hall style atmosphere.
Midtown Comics Downtown – which is becoming a hub for these sorts of events – was filled to capacity with fans eager to talk one-on-one with the guys in charge of their favorite comics. Moderated by Midtown’s Thor Parker, and with a surprising lack of convention style ridiculousness, the Editors seemed open to actually getting into mistakes that had been made, as well as an inside look at the process, which kicked off talking about what goes into planning a big event:
“It takes a long time,” said Axel Alonso. “[Fear Itself] grew out of an idea Matt Fraction had a few retreats past. We thought there was a baby with the bathwater… At the epicenter of all of these events is Tom.”
Tom Brevoort continued, “The one thing that I would sort of add to that, we workshop it at the earliest stages, talking about it out loud you come up with things you wouldn’t come up with sitting a keyboard… But once you get down to the execution, its up to that writer. Genuinely, the people who do those events see them through from beginning to end.”
The Editor in charge (in this case, Brevoort) creates a master document that writers can take a look at to get a feel for the event, as well as well as a general thrust of the plot. This master document is available if, say, a writer wants to do an individual arc tying in, in their own title – that way, a writer won’t be flying blind.
It’s not quite as hands on with mere appearances, though. Nick Lowe, who edits the X-Men line, said, “In Avengers, there’s X-Men characters in the current arc. I get sent scripts and outlines, but it’s not the same magnifying glass as with big events.”
Alonso summed up saying, “With big events, it changes the status quo… Imagine you were strategizing the overall arc of The Wire, The Shield, and more, and making sure they all affect each other.” Basically, it takes a lot of coordination.
Next up, with Alonso still new to the job, a fan asked whether he felt he needed to make his mark on Marvel. Brevoort quipped, “At this point forward we will be known as Axel comics,” to laughter from the audience.
More seriously, Alonso clarified, “This is not like a Republican administration and a Democratic administration. I came to Marvel with Joe, and most of the time supported Joe’s decisions. I think the most important thing now is maintaining stability. The big thing for me was, I wanted to go into the next year with a big story we had all toed around. Editors have their own tastes and everything… Mine tend to overlap with Joe’s. I’m not looking to change Marvel. I’m looking to learn the job, find my feet, and then as long as the market upticks, start making some changes then.”
Moving forward, a fan then asked how an Editor balances what’s right for a comic, versus what’s right for them as an Editor. Mark Paniccia, Editor of the Hulk comics and Ultimate line, said, “That’s our jobs. We have to kill babies.”
Which led to Lowe joking, “That’s the quote: ‘We have to kill babies for our jobs.’”
“As an Editor, you have to not always make books you would buy, or your taste,” continued Alonso, “But things that have merit. You should imagine an audience for a book… It’s always better if you do like it, but it’s not necessary.”
Asked for a specific example, Brevoort offered, “Years ago, I ended up editing Venom, and I had no interest in editing Venom. He was a killer; there wasn’t a lot there. My job isn’t to like Venom. It’s to create a Venom book enough readers like so it sells copies. If you’re doing it right, you find that nugget that you like. Even if it’s the mechanical nature of the book… You find that thing that’s right for you.”
A fan then asked, as nicely as possible for a question that boiled down to,” did you stick your foot in your mouth?” about Marvel’s criticism of DC’s corporate structure, given Marvel is now owned by Disney… Specifically whether DC’s policy of relying on shelf life, versus month to month product was still the way to go.
“The answer to your question is no, and thankfully no,” said Brevoort. “I think we’re all more or less of a mind for this. Putting out a comic, a story that appeals to a tiny number of people but is not successful is a tremendous effort. You want your titles to be read by the largest amount of people possible. The seeming advantage that DC has is a disadvantage. There is not as much of a need to make sure things are not as competitive as they need to be. If you live in a world where there is no downside to failure, there is not as much as a need for success. I like it better where every month I live to keep those goddamn X-Men books down (laughs) and they struggle against me. Even though we’re a niche culture, we shouldn’t be doing thing that’s aimed at ‘you four guys.’”
They further elaborated that Marvel product is now in Disney parks and stores, but that still hasn’t affected the way the approach the books. And Cebulski told a story of being accosted by Disney fans, angry that Disney might stick Spider-Man into the Disneyland parades… So the pressure goes both ways.
As for the current rumors about a Marvel/DC crossover, it looks like it’s not in the cards… Or is it?
“It’s very unlikely because the two companies as they are now are not even the same companies they were ten years ago,” said Brevoort. “Why should we lend the prestige of our character Iron Man to that up and coming character Green Lantern? On the opposite end, why should [they] lend [their] movie character Green Lantern to that over-the-hill character Iron Man?”
Added Alonso, “It’s very unlikely, but not impossible.”
Other topics covered include the Point One Initiative, which apparently sold extremely well, and will be continuing; Marvel movies, and how they help sales of comics in the short term, but only in the long term if the quality of writing and art continue at a high level; and how seeing art is still the best part of all of their jobs.
On the topic of how to get female readers to read comics, Alonso quipped, “We print lots of hot guys on them.” He added that every office at Marvel has at least one female Editor, and the number of female creators has risen over the years.
On the other hand, Brevoort stated that he felt this kind of talk was deceptive, as not every female reader wants the same thing. “It’s just as diverse as the male audience, the African-American audience, the fill in the blank audience,” said Brevoort. “Getting the kind of material that might appeal to a wider demographic of female readers isn’t as important as getting it into places where that demographic can find it.”
“And remember,” said Paniccia, “Hulk doesn’t usually wear a shirt.”
And that was it! There was more talk about breaking in, favorite titles, but the biggest thing that stood out was how many X-Men questions there were. Everyone who wanted to ask a question got a chance – sometimes to ask two or three questions – so it’s not like the Avengers fans were sitting on their hands – but nearly half the questions asked were about the X-Men line. So credit to Lowe and company for clearly maintaining fan excitement and interest in the franchise.
On a whole, the audience seemed pleased and excited as they milled and chatted more with the Editors at the end of the talk. Hopefully this sort of give and take will happen more often… It seems far more worthwhile all around than the big show that always happens at a comic convention. And kudos to Midtown for setting it up.
Oh, one last question that was asked (and it was an X-Men question, natch): Is there an alternate universe where something good happens to the X-Men?
Brevoort joked that it was “The Dulloverse” where nothing interesting or worth writing about happens. Which was followed by Alonso saying, “It’s called The DC Universe. Come on! We’ve been good.”