Interview: Joe Quesada On The Redesigned Universe of Marvel NOW!

So far, there's been scant info about Marvel's new Marvel NOW! initiative, and only a single piece of art, by company CCO Joe Quesada. And while fans have been poring the piece for clues about what's coming up for the Marvel Universe post Avengers vs. X-Men, we snagged some time to sit down with the busy creator (and businessman) to talk about what goes into redesigning a Universe, what title he'd draw if he could, and overall, how Marvel NOW! fits into the big picture for Marvel Entertainment:

MTV Geek: First thing I was curious about, when you’re creating a piece of art like this that’s supposed to encapsulate a seismic shift in an entire superhero universe... How do you even start approaching something like that?

Joe Quesada: [Laughs] All I was really trying to do was create a compelling piece of art, something that would catch the reader’s eye... That was really the assignment. What encapsulates the Marvel NOW! of it all is that so many of the heroes have some subtle, and some radical changes to the way they look. The guys who designed the characters did the work, and really my job was to organize it into a piece that hopefully would grab the viewer’s attention.

Geek: How many of these characters were your design, versus the team?

JQ: None of them were my design! They came from the artists that were working on those projects... When we were talking about redesigning characters, I had made some suggestions to editorial, and we were talking in the general - in particular about Iron Man and the change of color scheme for him... Little alterations to characters here and there. But ultimately those notes were filtered back to the creators who were working on those books, and they used what they wanted, and didn’t use what they didn’t want.

Once the artists on the books - or the guys who were working on the characters - finished their designs, I got them and then applied them to the piece.

Geek: Change is so much a part of superhero comics it’s almost silly to ask this, but having drawn these characters for so long, what designs were you tripped up by, or alternately, pleasantly surprised by?

JQ: You always get tripped up when you’re dealing with designs from other artists... I know that when I design particular characters, they’re characters that I’m able to envision in 3-D space. I think it’s the same thing for other artists, they have their own particular styles they work in, and those may not necessarily work with the way I draw... So I have to wrestle with some of the designs. The trick is to adapt it to your style and not get so far away from what the original artist wanted that it doesn’t look like their original design.

In other cases, some of the designs were coming in fast and furious, and some of them were a little bit on the loose side, so I had to interpret what was there, what the artist was looking for... And hopefully I got it right!

Geek: I realize you’re probably too busy a guy at this point to tackle an ongoing, but looking across the new designs, is there anyone you desperately want to tackle in a monthly?

JQ: I want draw anything that has Rocket Raccoon in it! You give me Rocket Raccoon, I’m a happy man. I love that damn raccoon, I love the Guardians, so that’s the one I’m jealous over.

Geek: Let’s move on to big picture... How does Marvel NOW! fit into the overall strategy for the Marvel brand?

JQ: It’s a brand new start, we’re on to new storylines for our characters, new status quos and a new Marvel Universe landscape. It’s also not just a story driven initiative, there are a lot of things going on in Marvel the Publishing business aside from just stories. There are a lot of initiatives with the AR activations, Infinite Comics, with the way that we’re redesigning our covers... There are a lot of changes coming as Marvel starts to look at the future of what publishing is going to be. What will that look like? What will our fans want? How will they want their comics delivered, what’s that reading experience going to be like? What kind of bonus material will they be expecting, or surprised by?

We want to get ahead of the curve on all that stuff, and Marvel NOW! is a catch-all for all that. Publishing is going through a metamorphosis just as our characters are.

Geek: From your perspective, how important is consistency across the line? Looking at the promo art, you have a Captain America who looks a lot like movie Cap, while Hulk doesn’t necessarily have armor anywhere else. So how much does that play into the decision making process?

JQ: That seems to be more creator specific... We didn’t sit in the room and say, “Hey we want Captain America to look more like the movie,” but that inevitably happens when a major movie is released, especially if it’s a huge hit. Take the Matrix for example, that movie changed costume design not only in cinema, but in the comics world as well. If there’s a better way to redesign a wheel, comic artists are absolutely looking at it and will be inspired by it, just like the movies look at what we do in comics and get inspired by us. In the case of the Captain America design, it’s something the creators really felt would be really important to their story, and add to the flavor of their story. I really see it as no more than that, at the end of the day... on the flip side, if you look at the Iron Man design, it doesn’t really reflect the movie at all.

There is no absolute. We’re not looking at The Avengers, and saying, all the Avengers characters have to look like they do in the movie.

Geek: How about from a consumer perspective? Is there any concern that you would want someone to walk into a store and be able to immediately identify the Hulk, for example, in comics, TV, and movies, as well as other products - or is it possible they’re smarter than that, and can pick up on simpler visual cues?

JQ: I think the consumer is a little bit smarter than that. There is a consistency that we always strive for with our characters, from the costume to the person that’s inside it. Even though Hulk has a redesign, even though Iron Man has a redesign... they still look like Iron Man and Hulk. Where you run into trouble is when you do a redesign that doesn’t look anything at all like the character; when you go so far off to the left or the right that it’s unrecognizable as the hero that people want to read about. But even then, there are no absolutes, there are no hard and fast rules.

Geek: Let’s talk a little bit about how Marvel NOW! fits into ReEvolution... What are we looking at going forward, and where does NOW! fit into the overall plan?

JQ: We’re looking at the way we do everything, and the comics are a part of that. The way we’re going to redesign our covers are a very big part of that. We took a long hard look at our covers, and the design template that we’ve used as an industry since the dawn of the first comic on a newsstand where covers had to have their logos on the upper third of the cover, and the imagery from the bottom two thirds down... We’ve been living in a world for several decades now where retailers don’t stack their comics like newsstands and the newsstand is virtually extinct, and today, in so many cases readers are ordering from a catalogue or they look at the books online deciding which ones they want to pick or advance order from their favorite comic shop. Where the logo sits is no longer important, overall design is now the key. What works best for selling your comic. As an artist that’s incredibly liberating, it’s also a daunting design challenge, but a fun one.

So, what our new philosophy moving forward will be is that what’s really important about a cover is less about where the logo is placed, and more about grabbing the reader’s attention, and drawing them to find our titles. So we’re looking at covers differently, we’re looking at the way we present our content differently, nothing is sacred as we’re going to review the way we do everything with an eye towards the future... There are a lot of different changes coming, simply put, it’s time for Marvel NOW!