It’s Friday, so it must be time to end your week with a little T&T!
Wait! Isn’t that supposed to be T&A?
Well this week, CBR News is back again to present an open and honest Q&A with Marvel Comics Vice President Executive Editors Tom Brevoort solo as his partner in crime Axel Alonso is in Sunny San Diego missing out on our regular MARVEL T&A. An outspoken voice in the comic industry, Brevoort had plenty to share in his first solo outing bringing an extra-long installment to the fore.
And remember: each Friday in addition to our regular Cup O’ Joe installments, CBR will present a new interview with the T&A duo covering everything Marvel Comics. In the meantime, Brevoort below tackles everything from how he and his staff prep books during CCI and all year long, speaks to the idea of experimenting with formats to save titles like “Agents of Atlas,” speaks to why Bucky won’t loose Cap’s shield any time soon and much, much more!
Kiel Phegley: Well, Tom. It’s the week of San Diego, and Axel is heading out while you stay in NYC. Is that a pleasant relief for you, or do you miss out on the show when you don’t come to it?
Tom Brevoort: Well, I actually haven’t been to a San Diego Comic-Con in maybe six years now. Before that, I went pretty consistently -Â I think I only missed one or maybe two years in the 15 before that -Â but it’s just been the way it’s worked out. Axel tends to schedule his X-Men writers’ retreats around San Diego because so many of his writers live on the West Coast, and it’s just easier to do it there all in one lump. Consequently, that’s meant that somebody has to be here to mind the store, and that tends to be me. It’s perfectly fine. I like San Diego. I like the town. I like the convention, even though it’s been years since I’ve seen it. When I was last there the stadium hadn’t even been constructed yet. But I’m perfectly fine with staying behind and keeping the machinery running here at Marvel. Axel and Joe and C.B. and all the guys going out there are perfectly capable of dealing with any business or PR or talent dinners or what have you. If I was there, I don’t think I’d be adding any additional value to either the people at the convention (who’d be more interested in seeing “Twilight” panels anyway) or to our operations out there.
I’m assuming it’s not a complete ghost town at Marvel this week, but there have to be noticeable gaps in the offices. Are there shenanigans going on against those at the con?
[Laughs] I run a tight ship! Nobody would dare to shenan around here even slightly…although it’s only Tuesday so most people haven’t actually left. It’s not quite a ghost town. We’re sending a few people out -Â obviously Joe and Axel being the big two along with a number of others -Â but it’s not like the halls are empty. What’s more telling is that because there are so many creators involved with San Diego, the number of e-mails and phone calls tends to go down. So it’s actually a very productive week because we’re not having to deal with the problem or crisis of the moment and we can actually focus a bit better on the mountain of stuff that’s already on the desk, whether that’s scripts to be read, planning that needs to be done, anything like that. On any given week we’ve got a bucket full of problems, and we’re trying to work our way down to the bottom of it while all along people are throwing new problems on top. For the most part, the number of problems tends to go down during San Diego because so many people are involved and their attentions are elsewhere. They can’t even stop and think about giving us problems. So it’s actually a reasonably productive time here.
This is something I hear often from editorial when calling you guys up for various things that I don’t think the readers know as much about, but each week Marvel deals with a pretty hard close on Friday to get the books out the door and to the printer. Is there ever a time where that pressure gets relieved, or is it pretty much that you expect to work late every Friday all year long?
The fact of the matter is that we publish monthly and we publish weekly. We release a number of titles every week, and we release each title for the most part once a month. That’s an inexorable clock that we’re all constantly running up against. That said, within that timespan not all weeks are created equal for each office. This week in fact is a good example, because this week I personally have only one title going to press personally. In my entire group, I think we have something like seven. Last week, I had five titles going to press. That’s just due to the vagaries of where particular titles happen to be shipping on our overall schedule. The same is true with each editorial office in each area. Axel may have a few more titles himself on a given week or less. Different editors within the various groups -Â Ralph Macchio, Steve Wacker, Bill Rosemann, whoever -Â may have more or may have less. There’s an ebb and flow to it. It’s not a constantly crushing thing each week. That being said, when you have even one title being waylaid and you’re stretching to get it out and performing all kinds of acrobatics – particularly on a week when people are occupied -Â that can sometimes be even more challenging than having five books if those five books are all running like clockwork. But really, every week, in order to hit our dates, everything has to be out the door by Friday. Friday is the limit. And sometimes we stretch that into the wee hours.
We hear retailers talk about how they hope for balanced weeks where rather than getting five Avengers titles right at the beginning of the month, those connected comics are spread out a bit more. Do you have a pace car title or two that always seem to fall into place? Like, say, “Uncanny X-Men” will always ship on the third Wednesday of the month so you can set the rest of the schedule around it?
We are absolutely aware of the problems, difficulties and drawbacks of shipping multiple titles in a particular family -Â whether that family is X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man or whatever – in the same week. That’s fairly self-evident. One of the differences between the way we do things now and the way we did things years ago -Â and this has to do as much with changes in the way our artists schedule their work in terms of what they put down on the page in a particular issue…but the time was that we ran everything on a 30-day schedule. That is to say, if “X-Men” shipped in the third week of the month, it shipped in that third week every single month. Over the course of the last ten years, working with our scheduling guys and trying to find more intelligent ways of doing this in terms of getting the best content -Â the best stories, the best art -Â that we can, we’ve switched our model, because we now live in a world where, by and large, the great majority of our artists take six or seven weeks to do a book. Six or seven weeks does not equal a monthly schedule.
To some degree, we game the system, and use it to our advantage and the product’s advantage. That is to say, at the beginning of an arc or the beginning of a cycle of stories whether its a limited series or early in an ongoing arc, we tend to schedule those releases if at all possible in the first weeks of the month. Then progressively as we get further into the arc, we tend to solicit them a week back here or there as a matter of buying ourselves and our creative team a little more time to get things out. So you’ll actually have a four issue arc that runs in four months, but the first issue ships in the first week of the month and the fourth ships in the fourth week of the month. So you’ve actually bought yourself four weeks on that schedule. And those four weeks are critical to making those books look and read as good they can. This is probably what causes a lot of confusion certainly among the fans and to a lesser extent the retailers who can see this effect if they sit down and look over their catalogues and sell sheets from the last couple of years. It’s not as predictable or clockwork as it once was.
And inevitably, things go awry. We foul up, and we need to move a book from one week to the next. The pattern people tend to notice is, “Why are all these books shipping in the last week of the month?” and the answer is “The last week of the month is the last week of the month.” We run our fiscal cycles on a monthly schedule as well as on a quarterly schedule and a yearly schedule, so all the books that are supposed to ship in February have to go out by the end of February. So that last week of the month, much like Friday, is the last point beyond which you can’t compromise anymore. If you’re in the second week of the month, you always have the option -Â though it’s not our favorite option – of pushing to the next week. This is why quite often you’ll see repeated releases in a given week. It’s something we grapple with all the time and that we have some systems in place to try and prevent it, but eventually there are always unfortunately situations where suddenly there are three Avengers books in a given week.
This week, you took to your Formspring account and answered a question about whether or not Marvel could try to keep lower-selling titles going by making a split book like classic Marvel series “Tales To Astonish.” [LINK: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2010/07/should-marvel-bring-back-the-split-book/ ] And as it just so happens, CBR Staff Writer Dave Richards e-mailed me asking whether you’d ever thought to take a book like “Agents of Atlas” onto what I like to call “The Hellboy Model” of doing one focused mini series a year rather than an ongoing series. What do you think of the idea of exploring new formats? Is it just a matter where Marvel’s default is taking an idea that does well enough as a mini and moving it right into its own ongoing?
When it comes to the Hellboy format, over the years we’ve experimented with approaches like that on a couple of different titles. In some ways, you could argue that “Atlas” ended up being exactly that. We did the original miniseries that Leonard Kirk drew that was six issues, and then after that we did the ongoing that lasted 12 issues. After that we ended up doing a pair of “Atlas Vs.” series – “Atlas Vs. X-Men” and “Atlas Vs. Avengers” -Â and then we came back for this “Atlas” run which ended up being a short run. None of this was as planned as what you’re talking about with “Hellboy,” of course. When it comes to this approach, there’s just a sense that there’s a point of diminishing returns. I’m not sure how much of that is in our own heads or my own head or really evidenced in the marketplace. The real truism is that if we’ve got something we can sell, retailers would like to have it as often as they can to make their cash registers ring, and we’d like to have it as often as we can to make our accounts receivable department very happy. In cases like this where there are properties that we like or which have really dedicated audiences but we haven’t been able to strike enough sparks or garner enough attention on them to keep them going, we evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.
As I mentioned in that Formspring answer, I’ve been thinking a lot over the past two or three months about the notion of trying a split-book along the lines of that classic model of “Tales To Astonish” or “Tales of Suspense.” And really, the thing that’s been holding me up on it -Â beyond the fact that it’s not the only thing I think about; I think about it when I have two seconds to spare -Â is finding the best two features to launch the thing. The first book of this type that goes out is going to set the tone and the tenor. If I send one out and it sinks like a stone, we’re going to have a much harder time trying it a second time -Â whereas if we try one that’s even mildly successful, the option of doing a second one with some other properties is much greater. But selecting exactly which two things will go together and make for a nice package and compliment each other in some way…say “Atlas” was one of them, you’d have to find a second feature where the people buying “Tales To Astonish” for “Atlas” don’t feel like they’re getting stuck with whatever the other is.
The difference between today and the time when those original split books were being published in the ’60s is literally everything. [Laughter] In terms of how comics are sold, back in the day it was an entirely returnable business. You’d send your comic out into the distribution channel to however many newsstands it would get to based on your print run, people would buy it seeing it on the racks -Â not necessarily knowing about it or what was in it ahead of time -Â and any copies that weren’t sold would be sent back. It would take you nine months to know if what you were doing was an enormous success or an enormous failure. In the current direct sales market, we solicit our books three months ahead of time, retailers place orders based on what they believe they can sell, and we establish a print run based on what they tell us. It’s a completely non-returnable marketplace. There’s a lot less waste because in the old days you were probably printing three copies of “Tales To Astonish” to sell just one, and the other two were getting pulped after you’d shipped copies all over the world. The downside of the modern system is that if retailers don’t have confidence in something, they’re not going to order it heavily, and its demise almost becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy. That’s not to put the burden on them. They have to order what they believe they can actually move and what people in their stores seem to be interested in and what they can depend on. We need them to thrive and keep their lights on just as much as we do ourselves.
But it’s a completely different distribution animal, and it’s the reason I think books like “Marvel Team-Up” and “Marvel Two-In-One” that were enormously popular in their day in the ’70s and ’80s have not really been viable today. In the ’70s and ’80s, you would put the issue out, and if you had an exciting guest star that month, people would buy it. “The Thing meets Son of Satan? Wow! I never thought I’d see that!” Today, it’s three months ahead of time and retailers go, “How did this perform last month? What information do they give me about it in Previews? And how much capital do I have free to order this?” It’s been quantified in such a way that it’s much more difficult to get sell-in and sell-through on that type of a series. I think the same may hold true for a split book. There’s not the confidence and the momentum…how can I tell how many of these I can sell in a month? If I’m a shop owner and I guess wrong, then I’ve got product just clogging up the shelf space. And yes, I’ve been scratching around the edges of trying to figure out how to do it. And no, I haven’t quite figured out the answer to the point where I could take a pitch to Joe and Dan and go, “I think we should do this! It’ll be ‘Tales To Astonish’ and it’ll be half Atlas and half Runaways, and that’ll work because of this.” If we’re going to go out there with a product of this type, I want to make sure we have as much confidence as possible so I can translate that confidence to retailers and to their readers who’ll want to pick it up.
Well, if that’s product where you’ve got to figure out how best to sell it, one area that seems like a no brainer of late is getting more comics out there that tie into the movies Marvel is making. We just saw a wave of “Thor” product announced last month, and in the ramp up to Comic-Con, we’ve already seen a bunch of new “Captain America” series on tap. As you’re thinking about tie-in stuff, what are the specific areas you want to hit or niches you want to fill?
I think more than anything, I want every book of this type that we do -Â let’s take Captain America as an example -Â to have some reason for existing beyond just being “It’s another Cap book.” It reflects some element of the film, or reflects some particular niche, whether that is “Do we have a Cap book that’s appropriate for younger readers, that’s more colorful or aimed at their level?” or “Are there aspects or elements of the film I can translate into comic book terms like we did with Whiplash in the ‘Iron Man/Whiplash’ miniseries last year?” In that case, the Whiplash in the comic had been dead for two years or so and really didn’t bare any resemblance to the Whiplash in “Iron Man 2” so we had the chance to build a new Whiplash that’s not the same as the movie version but is similar enough that somebody who would encounter that story after seeing the movie or while building up to the movie would go, “I recognize that! Let’s see what this is.” You don’t just want to pound out a lot of product with the character that’s all the same, though I want to cover every possible demographic with an appropriate product or story.
Going into 2011, Thor and Cap are going to have potentially the biggest audiences that they’ve ever experienced. The way we approach this is a little more controlled than a shotgun blast, but it’s a wide scattering of different stories and different products aimed at different niches that tries to cover all bases going into this period of heightened awareness. Outside of that, it’s really just, “How much is too much?” and “Am I missing anything? -Â Oh my God, I forgot to do a Red Skull book, and he’s enormous in the publicity for the film!” Or whatever the case may be. Are there stories to tell that dovetail nicely with the film and where it goes or how it treats the character, even if the story’s set in the traditional Marvel Universe? And sometimes there are stories to tell in the Marvel U that I can use the heat around the film to get a little boost on and get more interest behind simply because of the timing. And of course, the most basic thing is making sure the core CAPTAIN AMERICA title has a nice entry point story when the film comes out. Come the July issue of “CAP” I want to make sure there’s a story there that people can jump in with–not absolutely clean, but as clean an entry point as you can tell with a character that’s been around for 70 years.
And no matter how many books I put out of anything, it pales in comparison to the enormous tsunami of Deadpool detritus that Axel insists on upon unleashing on the world week in and week out. He’s there to make me look good! [Laughter]
Those Cap thoughts lead me well into my final question before fan stuff, which is the idea that since the Cap movie will be introducing the world at large to the story of Steve Rogers, how long can we expect Bucky to stay in the Cap costume? It doesn’t seem that there’s been any pressure on Ed Brubaker to make that shift back from either Marvel editorial or the studio so far, but people are wondering when that might finally give out.
First off what I would say is as long as the stories are good, it doesn’t matter who Cap is. Ed’s written a very successful Steve Rogers as Cap, and Ed’s written a very successful Bucky as Cap. That said, people seem to be very comfortable, both the movie folks and all of our top brass, with the idea of Bucky remaining as Cap for as long as it makes sense within our publishing line. And certainly we’ve had some decent success – even though only one issue has come out so far -Â with the “Steve Rogers: Super Soldier” book. People seem to like seeing Steve still going out and doing exciting espionage and super hero missions there and in “Secret Avengers” but in a different role. There’s a new element and new friction to be had from that character. It’s a lot more interesting to people.
And quite honestly, that’s came as a total shock to us. Because when we killed Steve and made Bucky Cap, we thought for sure it was going to be a short-terms situation. But somehow the combination of those events and that character in that persona really clicked with people. Readers seem to like Bucky as Cap. We’ll be at a convention, and it’ll come up at some panel where we’ll ask the audience who wants Steve back as Cap and who wants Bucky to remain as Cap, and it’s almost always split absolutely 50/50. And it’s not even a hard and fast split as people look inside themselves. If Bucky stays as Cap, yeah there are people who want Steve to come back, but those stories that Ed and Jackson Guice are telling with Bucky remain good, exciting, thrilling Cap stories…that’s really the bottom line. The same remains true for people who are loving Bucky as Cap and then Steve comes back, if those stories are good and the character is just as interesting…that’s the thing that counts. But we’re under no pressure whatsoever to get Bucky out of that uniform in order to let Steve put it back on for the film. Far from it.
Which isn’t to say that we won’t do that if we feel it’s what’s right for the story, especially because we’re all very contrary and like to do the opposite of what’s expected of us. But everybody here has been positively surprised and pleased at the reception of James Barnes as Captain America. It would have been the easiest thing in the world -Â and certainly what we planned on two years ago while talking about “Siege” -Â to have Steve back as Cap out of “Reborn,” but it just wasn’t how things played out. Ultimately, I think it’s a much more interesting Marvel Universe as a consequence, with the notion that regardless of where things go, nothing ever quite goes back to the same solid, staid familiar situation entirely. Something interesting is always happening. There’s something in a slightly different place or displaced, which creates avenues for all kinds of new and different stories. That’s what I’m looking for all over the place going forward. It’s not the same Marvel Universe now that it was at any point in the past ten years. Some element has changed, and I think people have become much more comfortable with that both in publishing and across all our different divisions. They’ve seen the benefit of that and the payoff of that. And it’s not like going into Cap movie season I can’t produce a bunch of other projects set at some point in the past that feature Steve as Cap. That covers that base and tickles that itch for anybody coming out of the film and wanting more Steve-as-Cap adventures. It’s a slightly different methodology than we’ve employed in the past, but it reflects the idea that what we’ve been doing seems to be working and allows us to continue to do it. So we’ll follow our own course on this.
All right! Let’s get into our regular reader questions, starting with DonLui, who asked a question that falls in line with our earlier talk, saying, “Is there any chance you can tell me how long the creating process of a book takes. Usually how long does a penciler take to pencil an entire book, inker to ink and colorist to color? I always wondered how the scheduling is planned out to fit the deadline….especially the bi-monthly books.”
Well, DonLui, it all depends on the particular penciler involved. These days, our fastest pencilers tend to be able to draw a book in about 4 weeks, with typically 5-7 weeks being the norm. Slower pencilers can take between 8-11 weeks or more on a single issue -Â which is why it’s sometimes necessary to go to a bimonthly schedule on certain projects. As you can easily work out, most of our books come out monthly, which means that there’s a new issue every 4-5 weeks. This is why we’ve so often got multiple artists working on a given series, to ensure that the title can be on the stands every month. Inkers and colorists work along the same timeframe, completing pages in tandem behind the progress of the penciler. And inevitably, when there’s a scheduling jam-up, or a penciler took longer than was anticipated, it’s the inkers and colorists who have to make up the slack, either by completing their portion of the job in jig time, or in having to give up a portion of it to other inkers and colorists who are brought in to ensure that the story gets completed by press time. None of this is absolutely ideal, but it is a reflection of the amount of work that’s necessary to continue to bring our readers the very highest caliber of finished product that we can.
Silvermoth chimed in asking, “I really loved the ‘Women of Marvel’ one shots this year. Is there a chance we’ll be seeing more of them, perhaps in their own series? ‘Sif’ in particular was really cool.
I certainly think you’ll be seeing more of Sif, especially as things gear up for the Thor movie next year, Silvermoth-though not necessarily in her own series. Our Women of Marvel promotion will run through the end of 2010 with a number of additional one=shots and ancillary projects planned, and then we’ll likely switch over to some other new initiative when we get to 2011. Glad you’ve been enjoying them.
Also, Axel Alonso hates all women. Just thought I’d put that out there.
Afan going by the name Tracks asked, “Any concrete plans with what to do with Blade or any other MI:13 members who have been floating around for a while now, maybe a new team?”
Blade will be playing a significant role in the “Curse of the Mutants” storyline running in “X-Men” right this moment-and will be headlining his own one-shot as part of the event. He also shows up in the “Spitfire” one-shot that’s in stores in a week or so, along with the rest of the MI:13 cast. Beyond that, though, we don’t have any immediate concrete plans for Pete Wisdom and his crew.
You know, with the addition of Namor and Deadpool and now Blade into the mix, pretty soon we’re going to be able to field an X-Men team that doesn’t have a single mutant on it…
For more on Marvel women, motteditor asked, “Julia Carpenter obviously just underwent a major status quo change, with new powers (though I’m hoping not a new personality; she’s never been all cryptic before). Are we going to see more of her? I’m curious to see how Rachel reacts. She’s obviously in a far different situation in her life than Madame Web was, being younger and far more capable of being an active hero.
She’s a character who’s got a lot of fans from her days in Avengers West (she was the Spider-Woman many of us grew up with, after all, during Jessica Drew’s two decades in limbo) and I hope she’s not shuffled off to a random ASM appearance every year or two, since she’s never been a part of that family of books before (she’s appeared more with the X-Men via Freedom Force and the Avengers than she has with Spidey, I believe).
I put this question to “Amazing Spider-Man” editor and frequent T & A question-asker Stephen Wacker, who oversaw Julia’s transformation in the recent “Grim Hunt” storyline, and he replied:
“No immediate plans, but now that she’s on the scene as the new Madame Web, I’d imagine you’d see her about as often as you saw the original…if not a little more.”
And for me at least, it makes the most sense to align her with the Spidey titles, in that she’s got an obvious connection with those characters and is more likely to get play there than in “Avengers” or “X-Men,” where she hasn’t really been a fixture for close to twenty years at this point. (Though maybe Axel would want her for that new Namor-Blade-Deadpool X-Team. She’d qualify…)
stingerman queries, “Hey Tom and Axel, How about setting us straight on whats going on with Marvel Cosmic. We’ve been told its on “hiatus” – whatever that means. We’ve heard “rumors” that Jeph Leob is taking over Cosmic. Tom, you have even answered questions via Formspring that you are taking Marvel Cosmic in a different direction.
I think fans of Marvel Cosmic, since Andy Schmidt brought it back with Annihilation, deserve an answer and shouldn’t be left hanging. Also a little more PR for the Cosmic Stuff couldn’t hurt (yeah yeah we know giving Deadpool and Wolverine the press makes more money…meh). Take a look at DC, GL is their top book. Why doesn’t Marvel connect their cosmic stuff with earth?
I could probably go on and on. I think you get it.
Thanks! Hit-Monkey rocks btw!”
I feel your pain, Stingerman, but we’re not quite at the point yet where we’re ready to talk about what comes next. And at any rate, we’d rather that people were focused on “Thanos Imperative” while that’s going on-looks like issue #2 is going to be a sell-out like the first issue and the “Ignition” Special, which is wonderful news. But to placate you a little bit, there should be some information coming out of the San Diego Comic Convention this weekend that ought to be of interest to you.
Speaking to your larger point, I think one of the reasons that we don’t do more to connect our Cosmic storylines to Earth is that it’s often difficult to make those kinds of storylines relevant to a wider mainstream audience without losing the appeal that they hold for the dedicated Cosmic fans. We love the fans of our Cosmic titles, don’t get us wrong-but once you’re operating on such a scale and at such a remove from the day-to-day concerns of humanity, it becomes difficult to find those touch-points of relevance that really distinguish a Marvel story from what everybody else does. It’s not impossible, of course. “Secret Invasion” was, in its own way, a Cosmic story. But bringing those two spheres together requires us to adjust our focus on the storylines -Â inevitably shaving away some of the very elements and approaches that make the Cosmic stories so appealing to the audience that loves them best. It’s also not something that’s special if you do it time after time after time, so it’s not something we want to do routinely.
There’s also a basic fallacy in thinking that the secret to success is simply to throw a lot of PR at something. I agree that more PR for any project is a good thing-there’s no such thing as getting too much press. But all PR can do is make people aware of a series, and perhaps intrigue them enough to check it out. It cannot make them like it. So it’s only the solution if the product you’re selling has that kind of wide-ranging appeal to it. And space-faring titles have always occupied a more rarified air in terms of readership. There are guys who can’t get enough of them, but just as many guys who are bored to tears by them. So when we do choose to go wide with a message about Cosmic, we’ll want to make sure that it’s with a storyline or a situation that stands the greatest possible chance of connecting with the largest number of readers.
As for Jeph, what I can tell you is that he’s just taken over as the head of our new Television division -Â for more news on that front, stay tuned and don’t touch that dial
And to close out continuing from last week, what are the books you think deserve a bit of extra love from readers who may not have picked them up yet?
Well, since Axel’s not here this week, I’ll cut him a break and call out one of his titles. Zeb Wells and Leonard Kirk just kicked off their next big story arc in “New Mutants” #15 with “Fall Of The New Mutants.” The full 411 should be included here somewhere for all those who haven’t been paying attention. I suspect that “New Mutants” is an easy title for X-fans to overlook -Â it doesn’t even have an X in the title -Â but what Zeb and company have been doing in this series should delight mutant fans both old and new.
Have some questions for Marvel T&A? Please visit the CUP O’ Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Universe forum. It’s now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel staff that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!