Marvel Comics’ Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada spoke with CBR News from the floor of C2E2, discussing the inception of the Marvel Universe/Ultimate Universe crossover “Spider-Men,” his transition to CCO, his knowledge of all things happening in the Marvel U and his appearance in creative television spots on the Marvel Universe programming block on Disney XD.
Check out the video below as well as a complete transcript of the interview.
CBR TV: Joe, I’ve got to start this conversation with this quote that’s been going around. I thought this was all kinds of silly but literally people were emailing me saying, “Next time you talk to Quesada, you’ve got to ask him about how he said if they ever cross over the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe, Marvel will have run out of ideas.” What is your response when people were — I’m sure they were tweeting you about this and everything.
Joe Quesada: I said that in 2005, so it was seven years ago. You have to put it in context. And by the way, on Newsarama, we spoke about this about a month or two after that in 2005 where I talked about the idea that when I have certain statements and make certain ideas, am I not allowed to grow at my job? Am I not allowed to rethink certain positions? Let’s put this in context in 2005 when the Ultimate Universe was doing incredibly well, it was revolutionizing Marvel Comics and comics in general and one of the things that was happening in publishing that I was getting a lot — I would go to these creative summits and every once in a while a creator would say, “Let’s cross over the Ultimate Universe with the Marvel Universe,” and I’d go, “No. Stop. Are we out of ideas? Do we have to do this?” Because what was happening was there was no story behind it. They weren’t coming at it with “I’ve got this great story about how these two universes can unite.” That’s not what was happening. It was strictly a grotesque publicity-grabbing marketing event with no story involved. To me, if they’d come back with a great story, I might have thought about it, but the truth of the matter was as someone who is in charge of safeguarding the Marvel Universe, as someone who is in charge of making sure fans get the absolute best stories possible, that wasn’t the option in 2005.
Again, I’ve grown with my job and I’ve learned a lot of things with my job. Things that may have been relevant in 2005 aren’t necessarily relevant in 2006, 2007, 2008. That’s the simplest answer to this thing. It’s just that people like to read the Internet blurb and they like to throw that back at me. Look, one of the things that used to get thrown back at me all the time is, “Dead is dead. You said dead is dead.” No, that wasn’t the entire quote. Dead is dead in the Marvel Universe unless you have a good story. If you have a story about a character’s death that’s relevant and story-driven and means something to the universe, then let’s talk about it. Same thing with resurrection. I don’t want characters being resurrected willy-nilly unless there’s a great story. That’s how Colossus came back because Joss Whedon had an incredible resurrection story. Some people love to take that bullet quote and say, “Hey, look, this is what you said.” And by the way, I’m not an elected official. I’m not running for office so I am entitled to change my mind, I’m entitled to change my view on things. When it came to this particular story, this Spider-Man story we’re working with, somebody in the creative room had a really good idea for this crossover. I don’t know who that was, but they had a great idea.
When Miles Morales came in and you guys were also involved in making that character a living, breathing thing on the page and making him a big deal for Marvel fans, did the idea of “We’ve got this unique character, can we put him with Peter Parker” come to you right away or did it take a while before you thought, “No, maybe this is something we really need to think about doing.”
It took a while for the seed to germinate. What happened was we were in a creative meeting and we were wondering what to do for Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary. We started to work at Dan Slott’s publishing plan and we were like, “Wow. Dan’s got a lot of stuff here.” In order for us to insert something that would be a really — that would be worthy of Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary, we’d have to derail Dan and say, “Dan, can you start thinking about something else.” We didn’t want to do that and everybody in the room was sort of kibitzing about and I’m sitting there like the cat that ate the canary because it had hit me that with Miles in the universe and with Peter Parker, maybe this is the place where two characters from two different universes should meet, but I was hesitant to say it because I had been the one that had been pooh-poohing Ultimate/Regular Marvel Universe crossovers for years!
So I said, “Listen guys, I’m going to give everybody in the room exactly what they want. What about this?” and that’s when the room sort of lit up and we knew we had something that was worthy of the 50th anniversary. The next step though was of course pitching it to Brian Bendis. I called up Brian and I said, “Brian, what do you think?” He said, “Yes!” So that’s how it came to be.
So, what’s it like these days as you’re being CCO? I feel like for a while there it was a transition where you were still heavily involved in publishing in a lot of ways and Axel was coming in and getting his sea legs as Editor-in-Chief. Now, “AvX” has been Axel’s baby in a lot of ways. How much have you been coming in and working on those things, pitching story ideas, working on things like AvX — are there some ways in which you get to step back and be surprised by the books some?
A little bit. I always know what’s coming. Any of us who are working at Marvel are not going to be surprised. If we’re doing our jobs right, we shouldn’t be surprised by the big events. There are smaller things, like I’m not involved in the day-to-day monthly comics publishing anymore, so there will be little story things here or there, so I’ll say “Oh, that’s kind of cool” just because I wasn’t in that meeting when they were talking about it. But with the bigger stuff, the event stuff, the Marvel Universe global stuff that we have our thrice or four-times a year summits, I know all the stuff that’s going down, just like everybody here knows what’s happening with our movies and our television division and stuff like that.
I’ve got to say, Joe, I’m surprised we were able to get you on video here because now you are a star of basic cable and every Sunday morning, I can wake up and I can watch you draw characters on Disney XD. What has that been like? You’ve always been a big part of taking the message of Marvel out to Colbert Report and stuff like that. Is there something qualitatively different about the Marvel Universe block and taking part in that?
Listen, it’s been really just an amazing experience. I sit there Sunday morning, watch the Marvel block and go, “I can’t believe they’re willing to put my ugly mug on television.” I must be frightening kids across America.
It’s fantastic as an artist. I love any opportunity I can to entice kids to be creative and to draw. As a father, it’s what I’ve been — I try that with my daughter at all times just to allow her to be as creative as she can be. To me it’s kind of thrilling but it’s also a little horrifying when I see myself on television. I try not to look.
One of the shows I wanted to ask you about, we’ve talked so much about “Ultimate Spider-Man” recently, but “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” is back and one of the things that’s been really cool to see this year is that there are a lot more characters. The arc of that show has always been, “Let’s take the original Lee/Kirby Marvel Avengers comics and kind of modernize them. Now we’ve seen things like Ms. Marvel showing up, the Fantastic Four showing up — how has that process, you’ve been working with Chris Yost and the rest of those guys, been about what do we want to bring in from the Marvel Universe, how do we want to expand that?
Listen, the thing with Chris is that he’s such a historian of this stuff and he has such an affection for Marvel. He’s a Marvel guy through and through. The trick with Chris is saying, “Chris, let’s not bring everybody in!” There’s more stuff going — he just can’t wait to get to the next staple story, great characters, characters that you haven’t seen on screen before. The goal ultimately is to bring these classic stories to light, but also to distill them down so they’re not completely daunting to a new audience, to the kids in the audience as well.
The last thing I’ve got to ask you about is that you were at the world premiere for “The Avengers.” Everyone else is going to be waiting on pins and needles for the rest of the week until this comes out. What is your number one memory standing there? I watched some of the photos, you’ve got this giant cast and there’s glitter and all of this stuff falling from the sky. What is the one thing you’re going to remember from that event as a piece of Marvel history?
Wow. I think for me, it was meeting Sam Jackson. Sam Jackson and Jeremy Renner were the only two cast members of Marvel movies that I had yet to meet and I got to meet both of them. And no slight — I’m a huge Jeremy Renner fan, but Sam Jackson is Sam Jackson. I got to meet him and I said, “Mr. Jackson, how are you? I was partially responsible for drawing you into the Ultimates book. When Bryan Hitch was doing it, he said, ‘I want to make a Sam Jackson,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, go ahead! Sam Jackson as Nick Fury would be cool!'” and he said, “Well, thank you very much.” So, that was really thrilling. He’s just such an amazing actor. Even in person, he has that presence to him that it’s daunting, it’s scary in a good way.
Stay tuned for more CBR TV interviews from the floor of C2E2 2012!