Marvel Comics kicked in their contribution to Emerald City Comic Con Saturday morning in Seattle with “Pint O’ C.B.” – the edition of the publisher’s open Q&A headlined by Marvel’s Talent Scout C.B. Cebulski. Cebulski was joined on stage by “Fantastic Four” writer Matt Fraction, “Daredevil” scribe Mark Waid, “Thunderbolts” writer Daniel Way, “Fearless Defender’s” Cullen Bunn, “Deadpool” team of Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, “Uncanny X-Force” writer Sam Humphries and Editors Jeanine Schaefer and Sana Amanat.
The panel started on a philosophical note with a fan asking about how the writers viewed the nature of heroism in their series. Way said one of the biggest concerns for “Thunderbolts” was writing a group of characters who knew they were doing the right thing but couldn’t always tell themselves that they were doing something heroic. Humphries framed things in terms of his “Ultimates” storyline where Captain America was forced to become president of the U.S. “Cap is not a politician. He’s a soldier. Politics is the last thing he has an interest in,” the writer said. “To me, it was a heroic move because he didn’t ask for this role, but somebody needed to step in, and so he did it.”
Waid said that as a writing challenge, the trick was to “Put your characters in interesting situations…where there doesn’t seem to be a clear victory either way, and watch what they do in those moments,”
Fraction and Bunn agreed that the scale was a bit of a sliding one depending on the character, series and circumstances. “I try to do right by the character rather than my definition of what heroics would be,” said Bunn.
Another fan took the mic to express a year’s worth of frustration he’s held in about the fact that Marvel’s been too hard on Peter Parker of late, particularly in a moment in “AvX.” The panel had fun with their response -Â and the fan had a good sense of humor about it – as, for example, Fraction would ask, “So basically what you want is a Spider-Man comic where nothing ever happens?”
On a more serious note, a woman asked about Marvel’s efforts to involve minorities more in the Marvel Universe as readers. “I try to work with my writers to create content that I would respond to. [Comics for people ]who are not in comics…or someone who’s on the fringes of comics but is not quite sure about them,” Amanat said. She used the example of Marvel’s new “Captain Marvel” series being a book that may have tweaked longtime fans of the Ms. Marvel iteration of the character. But the redesign of the heroine came about because Editor Steve Wacker’s goal in working on the book with Kelly Sue DeConnick was to make a comic that he could give to his daughter to read.
“It’s really hard. For years, the perceived wisdom was ‘Girls and kids don’t like comics.’ Then one day you walk into the manga aisle of Barnes & Noble, and there they are,” Fraction said, noting that for years the direct market was built to cater to white males, but that there’s been an evolution in the DM and with digital over the last few years that has helped open the possibilities up for as many people as possible to read comics they identify with.
Waid said digital was presenting a great market solution to the problem of scarcity for comics in many areas of the country. Meanwhile, Cebulski noted that when Marvel looks at their growing digital sales, “The interesting thing we’re finding is that the digital sales are driving trade sales, and that makes retailers happy.”
“We’re about to see a big change in this regard, and it’s going to happen whether the big companies participate or not,” Humphries said, noting that if a publisher isn’t making a product that won’t skeeve minority and non-tradtional readers out, they won’t survive in the future.
A question of continuity came up and how the Marvel staff worked to keep the stories of different series straight in a way that fit. “I know it sounds crazy and this isn’t the most exciting answer, but there are a lot of spreadsheets,” Schaefer said to laughter. Way said the real issue is not where the characters always are in terms of some timeline of events, but what matters is that the characters feel like the same people in every story they appear in across the line. “Consistency is more important than continuity,” agreed Fraction. “Continuity is the devil. It makes for bad stories…It becomes punishing and alienating to new readers.”
On current stories, a reader asked Way about the shift in “Thunderbolts” to make all the team fit the same color scheme. The writer explained that it seemed very natural as most of the characters had some red element to their costume already, and the ones who didn’t had good reasons for getting on board. “It was one of those conversations where Venom is a military man. He wants to be a G.I. in uniform,” he said, also joking, “Reading the book, I get the color proofs and go ‘Wow…this is a really red book.'”
A fan asked to hear about what was coming in in “Hawkeye.” “In issue #9, you get to see what happened in issue #8 from the women’s perspective,” said Fraction, adding that #10 introduces a villain out to kill Clint Barton while #11 is a mystery issue staring Pizza Dog. Soon, Fraction will do an issue about sign language when Hawkeye’s hearing is damaged again.
Humphries wrapped the panel by saying that the version of Cap in “Ultimates” had softened a bit from when Mark Millar introduced the character, but it wasn’t to make the hero more tenable to being President. Rather, the writer described it as a natural change in the character’s demeanor as he’s been established in the present for a while. “He’s not the reactionary he was the second he stopped being a popsicle.”
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