For years, “Archie Meets the Punisher” was the standard-bearer of unlikely crossovers involving Marvel characters. Of course, that was before Marvel Customs Solutions paired Iron Man with M&Ms, and Captain America with a 150-year-old skin care manufacturer.
Comic book industry veteran Bill Rosemann leads this unique division within the comic book publisher, and late last year announced that his work in the department led to a promotion and new title — Creative Director — alongside his duties editing series such as Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker‘s upcoming “Avengers Undercover.”
What exactly does a “Creative Director” do at a company like Marvel? CBR News spoke with Rosemann to find out.
CBR News: Bill, the title of “creative director” can vary in meaning depending on the company and industry. What does “creative director” entail at Marvel?
Bill Rosemann: This new title reflects my expanding role in Marvel Custom Solutions, which itself is growing at an exciting rate as our movie partners and new clients seek our help interacting with the global audience that loves all things Marvel. From comics (print and digital) and exclusive posters to apps and new character generation, Marvel Custom Solutions is your one-stop in-house creative agency, and as Creative Director, I conceptualize and oversee the generation of all of our projects. That involves brainstorming, writing, editing, cultivating talent and collaborating with clients to translate our expertise and passion into authentic Marvel content featuring the world’s coolest characters by the industry’s greatest creators.
Does your new job mean you’re no longer directly editing books? I know you were editing, at least, the upcoming “Avengers Undercover.”
While much of my time and energy is focused on our Custom creations, I’m happy to say I’m still editing titles including “Avengers Undercover” (which is a continuation of my run on “Avengers: The Initiative,” “Avengers Academy” and “Avengers Arena”) and “Marvel Knights: Hulk,” our Cinematic tie-ins, and certain licensed titles such as “Dexter,” “George Romero’s Empire of the Dead” and “Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird.” It’s a unique position that allows me to have one foot in editorial and the other in the advertising/marketing world of Custom. Also, not only does it grant me access to Marvel’s best talent and publishing resources for my Custom projects, but it allows me to bring in new voices and strategies to my monthly titles. Each side feeds the other and provides opportunities to apply new ideas to every creative mission.
What do you see as some of the biggest recent successes of Marvel Custom Solutions? Obviously, there have been a lot of unique efforts over the past year — my girlfriend’s dad got a kick out of the Captain America/Kiehl’s comic.
Ha! Glad to hear he enjoyed that. The way we were able to combine these two All-American legends surprised many readers — and the media! That program generated a wave of industry articles examining how we answered the question “What do Kiehl’s and Marvel have in common?” Part of the fun of creating Custom stories is figuring out how to authentically weave a client’s message with our characters to produce a “real” Marvel comic. Five fun projects that hit that sweet spot are:
“Avengers for AAFES” [Army and Air Force Exchange Service] (by William Harms, Tom Grummett, Shawn Martinbrough, Michael Avon Oeming, Tom Raney, Adi Granov and Walt Simonson): Now on our 17th issue, this is the series of all-new stories that are distributed for free to any member of the military (who are our real heroes) via the chain of Exchange stores in military bases around the world. And with each issue getting a one million print run, it’s our #1 read comic each year!
“Iron Man for M&Ms” (by David Liss, Tom Grummett and John Tyler Christopher): You know those M&Ms commercials where everyone is trying to eat the wise-cracking chocolates? We created a comic book version featuring the M&Ms crashing one of Tony Stark’s parties — that was then crashed by M.O.D.O.K.! A big evil head — big talking (and armored) candies — comedy gold, people!
“Iron Man for Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics” (by Bryan J.L. Glass, Kevin Sharpe and Adi Granov): This program, featuring comics, a video trailer and a pog (that’s right, we brought back pogs) spun the spotlight on the often unheralded laboratory pros whose efforts help people get well in hospitals across the world. It also won Siemens the coveted Diagnostic Marketing Association’s 2012 Marketer of the Year Award!Â Bonus!
“SpyGal for Benefit Cosmetics” (by James Asmus and Phil Noto): We worked with the brilliant ladies of Benefit to build SpyGal’s entire world — and learned that she can help you minimize your pores, make the world safe for powerful women, and nab a date with Nick Fury all in one day!
“Captain America for Kiehl’s Since 1851” (by William Harms, Ty Templeton, Angel Unzueta and Admira Wijaya): This program not only included a story set at the Kiehl’s New York City flagship store, but also saw Kiehl’s insert over 300,000 copies of the comic in subscription copies of The Wall Street Journal and invite myself and Captain America to help ring the bell to start trading at the New York Stock Exchange!
While observers can often see what clients get out of working with Marvel Custom Solutions, how valuable do you see the department in furthering Marvel’s brand? Again to use the Kiehl’s example, that likely got a comic book in the hands of a lot of people who wouldn’t normally pick one up.
We’re on the front lines of introducing Marvel to the world, which is an amazing opportunity and responsibility. Our potential audience may have never read a comic book before, or may know Marvel through our TV shows and films, so our number one goal — in addition to delivering all the action, drama, and humor that Marvel is known for — is to make every comic as accessible and fun to read as possible. In addition to helping our clients reach and engage a new audience, we also hope to make those readers want more Marvel comics. They may get a free Custom comic through a mass market store or via a download, but hopefully these new readers seek out their local comic shop or download the Marvel app and continue discovering the entire Marvel Universe.
How big is the Customs Solutions department within Marvel?
Despite our large output, our department is pretty small, which allows us to be incredibly nimble and hands-on. First we have our leader Bob Sabouni, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Marketing Partnerships, who years ago had the vision to create Marvel Custom Solutions and recently merged it with our Advertising and Promotions department to offer our clients and partners an unequaled array of creative options. Jon Rheingold, VP of Custom Solutions and Ad Sales, conceives the overall programs which leverage our library of characters into compelling campaigns. Mitch Dane, Director of Custom Publishing, works with clients to establish their goals, and then finds the right format and distribution methods to reach them. Stephen Sajdak, Assistant Manager of Print Production, oversees the production of whatever we create, helping us stay on budget and on schedule. Last but certainly not least is my right-hand man Mark Basso, who is our double threat as Project Manager and Assistant Editor, who works with clients to set the logistics of each project, then stays in constant contact with creators to keep the projects aimed like a laser at our finish line. Six people, endless possibilities!
You’ve worked in a variety of comic book positions from editing to marketing to writing — now as you’re taking on another challenge, what have you enjoyed about taking on multiple different positions and fields in the industry?
One of the coolest aspects of our industry is that you never stop learning and you never know what it’s going to lead to next. As Marvel’s characters continue to flow from comics to movies to animation to gaming to licensed products, we’re truly one of the “lifestyle brands” you hear marketers crowing about, which allows anyone working here opportunities to learn and grow as a creative professional. I may have been an English major who dreamed of writing and editing, but I’ve been more than happy to discover that I have a passion for additional fields like marketing, design, project management and public speaking.
The bottom line is, I’m a lifelong comics fan that loves meeting and helping create other lifelong fans. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do that for 20 years now, and being named Creative Director presents new opportunities to hopefully do that for many more years to come.