Marvel Comics held a press conference earlier today about the upcoming wedding between the Black Panther & Storm. “Black Panther” writer Reginald Hudline, “Storm” writer Eric Jerome Dickey, Editor Axel Alonso, Director of Sales David Gabriel and Director of Marketing John Dokes took part in the conference. We’ll have a full transcript of the call below along with artwork from “Black Panther” #14 and “Storm” #1.
Axel Alonso: Basically, we’re building towards an event in July that’s been decades in the making. The event has been alluded to in current issues of “Black Panther” where T’Challa has been urged by his mother that as King he needs to find his Queen. The event formally kicks off in February with “Storm” #1, which is the first of a six-issue limited series. It’s written by Eric Jerome Dickey, who’s a prominent New York Times best selling author and uniquely qualified, we think, to write this story because of the demographic he appeals to in particular, and David Yardin, who’s an emerging star artist.
“Storm” is a limited series starting in February and the event proper kicks off in “Bride of the Panther,” which is “Black Panther” #14 – 18, which ships March through July. In the pages of “Black Panter” — and Reggie will elaborate on this– Reggie and Scott Eaton will be telling the real-time story of T’Challa connecting with Storm, essentially fueling the gap in time between the two of them as he makes the decision of his life and urges her to make the decision of her life. What we’ll be doing in “Storm” is telling the flashback story of T’Challa and Storm as young teenagers in the African outback, falling in love. We’re digging into the meat of a story that was told decades ago in “Marvel Team-Up” #100 — I’m sure a lot of you remember this short story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. If you aren’t, I urge you to take a look at it. Chris and John did a short story that had a brief flashback sequence where we learned the Ororo and T’Challa’s paths had crossed, that the two of them had survived some calamity and then went on to some adventures. It was strongly hinted at that they had a romance. This is something Christopher Priest alluded to in his long run on “Black Panther.” So, we feel we’re building on something that’s been there – this gap between two people – that we’ve been aware of for some time.
David Gabriel: We are putting the Priest story and the “Marvel Team-Up” story in a Marvel Milestones edition for anyone who wants to get caught up on those back stories.
Alonso: This is something we’ve been talking about … we’ve been talking with any number of other creators who’ve written X-Men as well to explore the nooks and crannies of their relationship. We think that “Storm” is essential reading because it really tells you the story of how these two came together. How the African Prince on a walk-about and this young beggar with emerging mutant powers would meet, find that spark and survive an adventure at this very tender period in their lives. We think that between “Storm” and “Black Panther” you’ll understand why these two are meant to be and indeed why they’re fated to be together.
Gabriel: A lot of guys have asked me what kind of marketing support we’re putting behind this. Retailers will be receiving our world famous post cards probably within two weeks that promote both the “Storm” limited series and the “Black Panther” series. When you get that you’ll also notice that we’re doing an “Uncanny X-Men Annual” #1 that Chris Claremont is writing. This will be the first ever “Uncanny X-Men Annual.” It will be a tie-in as well to the Black Panther/Storm wedding and will focus on Storm preparing for the wedding and looking back on her past.
Alonso: Chris and Reggie are both coordinating on that as well.
John Dokes: In addition we’ll also have an article in the Houston Chronicle as well as interviews on the Steve Harvey Radio Show and interviews with Eric Jerome Dickey in most of the black periodicals in New York, LA and Chicago.
Alonso: And if we’re very lucky, maybe BET will have something to say about this. (laughs) [Editor’s Note: Reginald Hudlin is the President of Entertainment for television network BET]
Reginald Hudlin: We’ll offer it, but don’t want to come off as too much of a conflict of interest!
Dokes: Allright, without further ado, we’re going to have Reggie and Eric introduce themselves. Reggie, why don’t you go first.
Hudlin: It’s been a little over a year now, actually I guess almost two years since Axel and I first hooked up. I started to talk about my love for comics and my desire to do the “Black Panther” and this upcoming wedding literally is a dream come true. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. As the story arcs on the “Panther” have been building, the excitement from the fans has been growing and we’re going to do something that is literally historical. And certainly, in the context of the comic book, BET will be covering it.
Eric Jerome Dickey: With the “Storm” mini-series I wanted to make sure to acknowledge and keep within continuity what’s already been established by Claremont and Priest and give a stronger foundation to the relationship/romance between T’Challa and Ororo. And also, to give a bit more to her origin for the readers to get a better feel for who she is.
Dokes: Let’s open this up to questions.
For Mr. Hudlin, you’ve obviously come out of the film industry. Is this something that you’re viewing film-wise, do you see it as a possible project for down-the-line? Have you been given permission to think about that sort of thing down-the-line and do you write in arcs with that in mind?
Hudlin: Well, do I think about the “Black Panter” as a movie property? Absolutely. However, my involvement in it is as a comic book writer. One of the couple of reasons why I wanted to do this is because I wanted to write comics. I’ve always wanted to write comics and I just found out that I had to make movies and TV shows to get some serious consideration as a possible writer in the comic book medium. (laughs) So, I’m working in a medium I really love. If a movie never happens with “Black Panther,” then these books exist. That would be a shame if it never happened, it would be a tragedy, it would be a horrific error. (laughs)
How do you feel about it really? (laughs)
Hudlin: They’ve got the Wonder Twins in development! What’s going on? (laughs) In any case, these books exist. I’m writing books for the fan in me and it’s great when I get letters from fans all over the world who are excited about the same things I’m excited about.
Eric, you’re deeply entrenched in novels. What different muscles did you have to exercise to write “Storm” as opposed to your novels?
Dickey: It’s funny, I started out with comics. I wasn’t writing comics, but I’m a comic book baby from way back in the ’60s. And just like Reggie, when I got a phone call from Axel and Marvel asking if I want to do a comic, I’m like, “Uhhh, yeah!” (laughs) So, when we sat there and started talking about the characters, I knew about them already and it was just a matter of seeing where I could fit in and contribute to the Marvel Universe.
But does your approach differ with a text only novel versus a comic?
Dickey: It’s still visual. As a writer, when you sit down and you’re writing something, you’re still describing a scene you see. What Yardin gives back goes way beyond what I would imagine. It’s not just text only.
You guys are writing Storm and Black Panther getting married. That’s a biggie. How do you approach thinking about writing such an epochal story in the Marvel Universe?
Hudlin: Like Eric mentioned, it’s both building off what has been laid before us, especially by what Claremont and Priest did, and then again satisfying what I’ve always wanted to see– these two characters, both regal, powerful, their roots in Africa, but they’re international and interstellar travelers. So, they have a lot in common. You say, “OK, this really makes sense” and you feel they are a great match for each other. This is powerful and hot, but let’s make sure we ground it in reality. That’s what I love about Eric’s book. He takes the blue-print of the Chris Claremont story and really fleshes it out so that you just go, “Wow, this was the first great love of these two characters.” So, you really understand where they’re coming from.
Now, bouncing back to my book, it’s about what happened in between. They were a great love, but what tore them apart? They each now have their own personal histories. What is that irresistible pull that brings you back to that one, true love?
Dickey: I think he covered it all! (laughs) To piggy back on his thoughts, I really wanted to lay the foundation of why they love each other. What did they see in each other when they first met, that first adventure? It’s just one of those things where you want to write a story where at the end the reader goes, “Yeah, they’re supposed to be together.” And as Reggie said, we’re going back and filling in some blanks and hopefully it all pulls together.
Is this a story women will like?
Dickey: I think women will like it. Yeah, T’Challa is a prince, but the section I’m writing is when they’re teenagers and he is the son of the Black Panther, he’s not yet the Black Panther. I approach him as he’s this kid on a walkabout and he’s out trying to discover the world and see what it’s like. So, he meets Orroro who is orphaned, hardened and living life as a thief. So, in my section, they’re not in superhero mode yet. I have six-issues of no tights! (laughs)
My question is for both of you. Reggie, you’ve said in the past how important it is to market “Black Panther” to the black comics community. My question is, if it’s not too early, what do you have in mind for marketing the trade paperback to the black literary community since this is where Eric is coming from and this is where he draws most of his fan base.
Hudlin: Well, aren’t we talking to you right now?
Hudlin: There you go!
First, just having a novelist with the profile of an Eric Jerome Dickey writing this book brings a level of excitement to it. The two of us together, working on the bookends of this story, creates a level of awareness outside of the hard-core comic book buying audience that makes people ask, “What’s this thing that’s now on my radar that’s not normally on my radar?” This is hopefully one of a number of outreach efforts that Marvel will be doing. They’ve been very aggressive since I started doing “Black Panther” in terms of doing radio and print interviews, doing whatever we can to tell people that there’s a great book out there that people should check out.
In Los Angeles I did a book signing for the first issue of “Black Panther” and the line filled up every aisle of Golden Apple Comics, out the door to the far end of the block. I was scheduled to be there for two hours and I ended up there for four hours. There’s a huge audience out there very hungry for what we’re talking about, they just need to know that the book exists and where to buy it.
Is this something the marketing department will handle specifically, or is this something you’re going to be doing in concert with the marketing department.
Hudlin: No matter what project I do, whether it’s a film or television show, I always put my $.02 cents in. They’re professionals, they know what they’re doing, but if I have a suggestion or point of view, I like to share it because we’re all in this together.
Dokes: From a marketing standpoint we can say Reggie is not shy about sharing his ideas! (laughs)
Gabriel: We are planning at the Book Expo America this summer to promote both “Black Panther” and “Storm.” We’re already talking with Eric to bring him out to BEA and are planning on doing a signing out there with copies of the first issue of the comic. We have the post card coming and, as Reggie said, we are doing this conference call and this call will be podcast later on. So, we’re going to continue to push this as much as we can.
We’ve seen times before in wedding issues where you guys went outside the realm of comics to design the wedding attire. Are you doing anything like that for this?
Dokes: We actually have calls out to a couple of designers to see if they want to participate in that. It’s still a little bit early, but we’ll let you know as soon as we have feedback.
Question for Mr. Dickey. You’re novels tend to be kind of …
Heh, I was going to say hot! (laughs) With writing for “Storm,” especially at the age she’s at, was there anything you wanted to do that you couldn’t?
Dickey: No, it was an automatic adjustment. I know the audience I’m writing for. I’m not writing for book readers who want super erotic scenes.
That comes later. (laughs)
Dickey: (laughs) So, we were very tactful about it. I think it came out great. We got the point across without being in your face. They’re still teenagers. They’re still going through puberty. They’re going through the wonderful things we went through years ago.
Since both storylines will be filling in the past of these two characters, how much were these characters connected during say the “Uncanny” days. Are we going to see them sneaking away to see each other, confidants over the years, or do they come back together here in “Black Panther” for the first time in years?
Hudlin: Obviously I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but you know, they had issues. I think you could all understand having issues. (laughs)
Could you go into a bit more detail as to how you’re going to be reaching out to, not to put too fine of a point on it, audiences that traditionally aren’t known for buying comics– that is women and the African American audience. How are you going to get them into comic shops for the individual issues, or are you going to work on them when the trades come out?
Dokes: As far as the women go, I’m calling all my ex-girlfriends. (laughs)
I think the thing Reggie mentioned before, that he had a line out the door at the comics store in LA, one of the things that led to that line out the door was his appearance on several talk radio shows talking about the launch of the “Black Panther” and asking people to come out and support him at the comic store. That’s very key. Getting the word out on stations and television stations like BET (hint hint, Reggie) are key to getting the word out to the demographic we’re trying to reach and bringing them to the comics industry.
When we get the trade in, we’re going to focus on that narrow distribution area that focuses on Black stores and getting that trade outside the industry as well.
Alonso: If I could chime in, Reggie’s first hard cover for the “Black Panther” has quotes from Henry Lewis Gates Jr. and Ziggy Marley. I don’t think you’re going to find that diverse a set of endorsement quotes on a hard cover anywhere. To a certain degree, and I can only speak for myself, we rely on you guys the retailers to know how to position this and to help us help you sell these books as well. With the talent we’ve got involved in this event, we really think we can hit a critical mass.
Do you guys think there are any structural factors within the market place, in terms of distribution and just location of stores, that could have a dampening effect on sales within the African American community and if there’s anything we can do about it.
Dickey: I know on my end I’m not aware of that many shops inside of the African American community. For years, every Wednesday I’d have to leave the community to actually buy my comics. And even now when I go out to the Comic Shop Locator, they don’t pop up in my neighborhood. On this end, when I’m doing the novel thing, we tend to know where all the African American bookstores are. So, when we’re making our rounds we can promote the book at those stores. On the comics end, I’m not quite sure. I’m promoting on my Web site and sending notices out every month until it ends. As far as saying here’s a store to go to inside the African American community, I don’t have a list.
Gabriel: I think with something like this we really rely on the hard cover of “Storm” that will be coming out and that’s where we’ll be putting more of the effort into reaching that community. There are specific target bookstores through our distributors and Diamond that we can reach. With the hard cover and Eric’s name on there, that’s going to have a lot more impact in trying to get women into the comic shop. When we set-up a book like this, the point is to get the trade to hit those markets later on.
Hudlin: There’s actually a list that my fans put together on my Web site of black-owned comic book stores and I was happy to see it’s a good sized list. You’re right, it is one of the big challenges. That’s why we’re so grateful for the trade paperback and hard back formats– that we can give them to a wider array of retailer venues.
Reginald, how close have you worked with Axel to be to tell a good story, but also to keep Storm close to her X-Men continuity?
Hudlin: I’m a big X-Men reader, so it’s pretty easy because I’m a fan of the book. Whenever we’re writing down stuff that affects characters who are found in other books, there’s coordination between the editors and between the writers. One of us will rough out the idea of what we want, toss is past the next guy and make sure that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes. We all try to play fair because we’ll all need a favor tomorrow and no one wants to get in the way of a good story.
How hard is that? Keeping them together is one thing, but marrying them has got to be ten-times harder in keeping continuity going straight.
Hudlin: Because this is a concept that has support from the highest levels of Marvel, there haven’t been a lot of warning lights or breaks. It’s more like wow, this is very much in the Marvel tradition. Meaning that Marvel is not a place where things are static. Things change, characters evolve, big events happen and it’s not just some stunt, but something with real emotional resonance. That’s what’s great about this wedding– you have two beloved characters, each with a strong fan base, who are now coming together. When you look at them and their history you go, “What a great marriage. What a great spring board for future stories.” I’m not going to say anything, but as exciting as the wedding is, wait till you see what happens next! (laughs)
What, are we gonna get the honeymoon then?
Hudlin: (laughs) I can’t even tell you what’s going to happen!
Eric, what kind of research have you done to keep Storm’s continuity in shape, but also to keep her in a way where new readers can still understand here?
Dickey: In my little window, I have to be more concerned with keeping continuity with her origin, what happened in her past and with her parents and taking her towards her marriage.
Alonso: The events in “Storm” take place after the Orroro’s turn in Cairo. We were very careful to vet this through the X-Men office and make sure we were fitting the story into the right period of time.
Reggie, I know that Eric has been praised for “plugging into the female psyche.” I just wondered if you [Hudlin] have had to embrace your romantic as the wedding approaches.
Hudlin: Well, let’s see. I’ve got a wife, a 14 year old daughter and my Mom lives a few blocks away, so believe me, I’m very in touch with my sensitive side.
Reggie, I wish I could quit you. (laughs)
Are we going to get a “House Party 3” kind of bachelor party for the Black Panter?
Hudlin: (laughs) There will be a bachelor party, there’s no doubt. As you may know, I only did “House Part 1,” so I bear no responsibility for any of the sequels.
As far as the question goes, Priest has already touched on this a bit, how the Panther, because his statue is a title for the nation of Wakanda, it’s different than most heroes. He’s got direct roots into the spiritual and historical beliefs of the entire community. Bringing another person into that role obviously isn’t something that’s done with little fan fare. It’s pretty much like bringing a queen into the English monarchy. What kind of work have you done to research the implications for bringing Storm into that kind of environment?
Hudlin: I guess I made it all up isn’t a good answer. (laughs) That’s the fun thing about Wakanda. At the starting point there are all kinds of great books out there like “Flash of the Spirit” by Robert Thomspon to films to music, so I’ve grown up steeped in African culture, not just African American culture. That’s one of the fun things about writing “Black Panther” is that I get to draw on all those influences that I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by my entire life.
Would Storm have an outsiders appearance in that sort of culture? For the most part she’s lived outside that culture and with the X-Men.
Hudlin: There’s no question that when someone’s marrying your King, you’re going to definitely give them the hairy eye ball. (laughs) We’re going to be making the most of that circumstance.
Obviously this year there are some very big events coming from both sides of the aisle. If you had to boil it down and explain to someone in a store why they should invest their money into this big wedding, what would you say to them to get excited about it?
Hudlin: You may think you know what’s going to happen in this book, but I swear to God my goal is to make people go, “I can’t believe you did that!”
Alonso: Also, if you’re an X-Men fan, this is a big change for Storm. Eric’s story, for all intents and purposes, this is Ororo’s origin story. I don’t want to give away too much, but at the beginning of this story she’s a young girl who’s only beginning to come to terms with her power. Her ability to harness these powers is really going to be the key to whether or not she can survive. Ultimately, her ability to cooperate with this African prince, who’s very different from her and still compelling, is very important. All of this reflects back on the “Black Panther” title. T’Challa’s easiest thing is popping that question. It’s that journey to the altar that is going to be the thing that gets everybody’s hearts pounding and make everybody nervous. There will be obstacles.
At the risk of sounding crass, everybody’s aware of a little event we’re doing called “Civil War,” well there are a couple of major tie-in points that occur in this “Black Panther” arc. If you’re a completist, you need to know there’s an essential “Civil War” moment at the wedding. Let’s just imagine for a minute that you don’t care about Black Panther and never liked the X-Men, so why would you care about Storm? If you’re a “Civil War” reader, you’re going to want to get that wedding issue for what is a key moment in this story. This is a universal story. Yeah, it’s about two black super heroes and yeah, she’s the most recognizable black female superhero and he’s the longest running black male superhero, but they’re heroes and they’re very different. They have a past. They come together. They get married. That’s the easy part. We have a separate press conference coming for what happens after that because what we’re going to be doing with them at that stage is eye popping. It’s big news. We guarantee you it’s big news. It will more entrench them in the middle of the Marvel Universe proper.
So, yeah, there are a lot of reasons to buy into this besides whether or not you want to read a story involving these two particular characters.
Reggie, will you be bringing Wakanda to the fore once Black Panther and Storm tie the knot? Will the whole Wakandan mythology be more important than it has been the last several months?
Hudlin: Absolutely. What I’ve tried to do is make a list of the dozen stories I’d like to tell with the Black Panther. So, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between stories set in Wakanda and stories set in the United States and stories sets in other regions of Africa and other parts of the world, so you get a sense that Wakanda is an international player in every sense of the word. You’re going to see the entire Marvel Universe show up for this wedding. Think about all the Avengers, all the X-Men, every black super hero, I mean everybody and his mother is going to be at this wedding!
I don’t know if you guys remember the classic “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali” cover [with all those chatacters on the cover]. Poor Scott Eaton, his hands just going to fall off because we’re going to load this thing with everybody. (laughs)