Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon has the magical ability to make creators feel free to open up on a variety of topics, and Saturday’s “Pint O’ C.B.” Panel proved this rule. Moderated by Marvel Comics’ Senior Vice President of Creative & Creator Development C.B. Cebulski (of course), the crowd in attendance was treated to news about creators’ past and present experiences and Marvel’s upcoming projects.
Joining Cebulski on the dais were a handful of Marvel’s top writers, including Matt Fraction (“Defenders,” “Invincible Iron Man”), Dan Slott (“Amazing Spider-Man”), Rick Remender (“Uncanny X-Force,” “Secret Avengers”), and Ed Brubaker (“Captain America,” “Winter Soldier”). Following introductions, Cebulski immediately opened up the floor for fans to ask questions, and a line quickly queued up.
The first question came from a fan who missed reading “Agents of Atlas.” He said that he understood sales were low, but with the acclaim the series brought to Marvel, couldn’t they continue to publish it anyway?
Cebulski tackled the query by saying, “There are certain characters that everybody loves and everybody talks about — Iron Fist, Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, Cloak and Dagger — Agents of Atlas is like that too. They’re characters that everybody loves, but when the books come out, the sales never seem to support them.”
The V.P. explained that what is often done in these cases is to take these characters which audiences enjoy and use them in other places in the Marvel Universe.
“That was how they got me to do ‘Defenders,'” Fraction added. “They said, ‘It’s all the characters you like to pitch… that we won’t publish right now.'”
The next person up asked about writers’ “territories” in the Marvel U and the number of books put out every month. He said, “It seems that many of Marvel’s writers have ‘ownership’ of different corners of the Marvel Universe — Slott has Spider-Man, Brubaker has Captain America, Bendis has Avengers, etc. Does the ownership you have and the volume you create in all the books you put out allow you to tell bigger and better stories?”
Slott, who puts out “Amazing Spider-Man” three times a month, responded, “For me, doing that kind of volume on Spider-Man means if I’m ever screwing up, there’s always another story coming out next week. I like the rapid-fire feel of Spidey.”
Remender also said he likes the feeling of continuous movement — the fact that if you’re writing a three or four-issue arc and fans hate it, you can say, “Well, hey, it’s only four issues,” and then move on to the next thing.
Fraction contributed to the discussion by sharing his experience of his first comic book job. “I was literally paralyzed with the first gig I got. It was this very ridiculous, over-the-top thing about a gorilla who was a spy [called ‘Mantooth’]. And I was literally sitting there in my apartment shaking because it wasn’t ‘From Hell.’ I obsessively lived in the world of comics beyond a point where it was healthy. And I just sat there and thought, ‘You’re writing this thing about a monkey who cusses. This isn’t ‘From Hell;’ it’s not ‘Love and Rockets.’ What are you doing?’
“And I couldn’t write it… And then I thought about the movie ‘Ed Wood,’ and there’s this scene where he’s pitching his movie to a producer, and [Johnny] Depp (who plays Wood) is like, ‘I’m the director and producer of ‘Glen or Glenda.’ And the producer says, ‘That’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen.’ And he just goes, ‘Well I’ll do better next time. Anyway, my new picture is ‘Dr. Acula” or whatever…
“But that line, ‘I’ll just do better next time’ — that was the key — and once I had that in my head I was able to write my monkey comic.”
Slott chuckled and said he felt the flipside of this experience when he worked on “Mighty Avengers.” He said he would often get “jammed up” on a script, but Editor Tom Brevoort would tell him, “You always have next month.”
And then the same thing would happen the following month, and Brevoort would say it again. Then, when his editor said it a third time, Slott replied to him, “If I keep fucking up I won’t always have next month!”
Slott also told the audience one of the times he felt the most pressure was when he wrote “Amazing Spider-Man” #600. It was such a key issue, and the writer didn’t want to mess it up. Slott said he didn’t leave his apartment for weeks and grew a “unabomber beard.”
An audience member next asked about Marvel’s big upcoming event — “Avengers vs. X-Men.” He was curious if the old “X-Men vs. Avengers” series is going to be referenced in any way, even jokingly. The short answer from the panel is… it’s not. Fraction then said that he actually recalled reading the original series when it first came out, and mentioned how it didn’t “fulfill” him as a Marvel fan. He said, “It was not what I wanted it to be. There’s a part of me that — the entire time I’m doing ‘AvX’ — has been like ‘Do right by yourself as a nine year-old. Make this the book you [would] have wanted to see.’
“So you know what happens in this issue? The Avengers fight the X-Men.
“You know what happens in the next issue? The Avengers fight the X-Men.
“After that, guess what? The Avengers fight the X-Men!”
The audience roared with laughter and applause to Fraction’s enthusiastic display.
The next question was directed at two of the writers on the dais and concerned the appearance of Doctor Octopus in “Invincible Iron Man.” The fan was curious if or how Fraction and Slott collaborated on this. It turns out the answer is two-fold.
First, Fraction and Slott share an editor, Stephen Wacker. And, knowing events that were to come up with Doc Ock, Wacker asked Fraction if it was possible Ock and Tony Stark had ever met previously at a tech conference. And Fraction’s response to this suggestion? “Of course they fucking did.” He seemed surprised to have never considered it.
Secondly, at one of Marvel’s editorial retreats, Slott put out a request to his fellow writers. He had big plans for Doc Ock in his “Ends of the Earth” story and knew it would be helpful to have Ock appear in other books and “beat the crap out of other characters.” Other writers kindly obliged, and once Doc Ock looked awesome, then Slott said he was ready to tell his story.
At this point, Cebulski piped up to talk about the editorial retreats, which often come up when they explain their development process. He told fans if they were ever curious about what goes on at one of these events, MTV Geek! has been filming in their offices and attended an “Avengers vs. X-Men” retreat. They have been preparing a video series that Cebulski described as “a reality show about Marvel and the retreats and the making of ‘AvX.'”
He also said there is going to be an episode for every issue of “AvX” and that the first one is out now. Fraction also added that the filming crew has been to his home to film him working, and Brubaker said he is next on their list to visit.
Moving on to the next person in the question queue, a male fan asked about comics written by and for females. He was curious if Marvel is making more efforts in this regard.
The new Captain Marvel (formerly Ms. Marvel) was quickly brought up, which is written by and about a strong female, in Kelly Sue DeConnick and Carol Danvers, respectively.
Remender said, “I got rid of Psylocke’s thong!” This may have sounded like a joke at first, but he then pointed out that it’s one of the little things that can be done to help address the issue — that, and not having women fight battles in high heels.
Fraction said the important thing is to “just be aware.” He then added that his young daughter is a huge Wonder Woman fan and he was disappointed he couldn’t find more Wonder Woman products (in terms of toys and clothes) at the store. The writer said he feels there are a number of missed opportunities with the character.
He then brought up the power of “The Hunger Games,” its success at the box office, and pointed out it has a female lead “kicking ass.” However, Brubaker quickly relayed a story he had heard concerning the first time the book was pitched to a movie studio. Apparently, the studio wanted to know if they could change Katniss to a boy for the film.
Next, an audience member told Fraction they loved his “Defenders,” but had to wonder why the writer made Dr. Strange “such a strange, creepy guy.”
“He always has been,” answered Fraction. “Clea was his student. That’s canon. He’s spooky; he’s weird. You should feel uncomfortable around Dr. Strange. Morally, he’s a teacher who sleeps with his students. That’s who he is…
“Dr. Strange is like, ‘I’m going to make her wear a fishnet unitard around my house and hang out with my manservant,'” Fraction continued. “That, to me, is like a fundamental thing about his character — there’s a line he has chosen to cross.
“I have a whole thesis on Dr. Strange. When he comes up at retreats, I start to bang my head on the table and turn into Brad Pitt in ’12 Monkeys.'”
After the laughter from this died down, the next inquiry concerned Marvel’s big-screen business. A fan wanted to know if Marvel’s movies change the kinds of stories and comics their publishing arm chooses to develop and write.
As the writer of both Iron Man and Thor, Fraction quickly responded in the negative. He said, “Hey, it’s great Marvel made a $100 million commercial for my comic book.”
With the “Amazing Spider-Man” film coming out this summer, Slott said he hasn’t been changing things intentionally in his stories. However, Slott added that if he didn’t have the Lizard on the cover of a Spider-Man comic when the movie came out, it would be a missed opportunity to bring more readers in, which is one of his goals.
A couple dressed as the X-Men’s Colossus and Kitty approached the microphone next. Colossus spoke for the two in a thick (and fake) Russian accent. The man asked what is next for his character now that he has lost Kitty and has the Gem of Cyttorak.
Fraction responded by saying, “You are going to love ‘AvX’ #5.”
Then Brubaker felt the need to be playful and asked, “Hey Kitty, have you told Colossus about Iceman?”
She grinned and the two made way for the final question of the panel. A fan asked if the scribes on the dais might be writing other characters soon, or if they had the opportunity to write other characters, who would they choose?
Fraction immediately chimed in with, “Wonder Woman. There is a fan of mine I’m committed to.”
Cebulski, however, seems to have expected this question. He said that he realizes there are rumors floating around about writers moving onto different books; unfortunately — and not surprisingly — he couldn’t say anything either way at this time.
And with that elusive answer, the audience cheered loudly for Marvel’s finest and filed out of the convention hall to enjoy the con — and have their pictures taken with Kitty and Colossus.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more news out of Emerald City Comicon all weakend long.