Joe Quesada took the spotlight on Friday for New York Comic Con’s “Creators Studio” panel, which celebrated and dug into the Marvel Chief Creative Officer’s long history in the comic book and TV industries, in a discussion led by Comic Book School’s Buddy Scalera.
Upon his introduction to the panel, Quesada joked with enthusiasm, “Let’s get naked.”
Scalera addressed the recent crash of Netflix caused by Luke Cage’s immense viewership upon its launch, to which Quesada said, “I can’t say that. There were some people talking and saying we crashed Netflix…that’s not what I’m saying, but that’s what I heard.”
Asked about his hectic schedule these days overseeing the transition of properties from publishing to multimedia, Quesada remarked, “I work early, and I start work early. [People say,] ‘What are you doing up at 2 and 3 in the morning?’ But time just flies when you’re doing it….I’ve only had six cups of espresso, it’s only half of my daily intake.”
Scalera brought the discussion to Quesada’s early days as co-founder of Event Comics alongside fellow industry veteran Jimmy Palmiotti, and later as editor of the Marvel Knights line. “Jimmy and I use to spend a lot of time at a local watering hole — people told me I should own that bar — not drinking, but working there,” Quesada reminisced. “We’d have lunch there because it was three blocks away from Marvel…we’d spend a lot of time there playing fantasy editor-in-chief…thinking about how they were doing things.”
“So we put our money where our mouth is and started a publisher…we learned how to ‘make a sausage,’ the physical making of comic books. From an artist’s point of view…you don’t realize all the pushing and pulling that editors do to get it right.”
Quesada continued, “We learned that we were really good at it too — just relationships with people…I think that comes from us being on the other side of the table — treating people as we wanted to be treated as creators. I think those lessons have helped us out tremendously — that’s why we’re still here.”
Scalera brought up how Quesada used to party frequently with fellow creators and other workers in the comics industry, which inevitably helped promote his company. “It meant everything,” Quesada said. “We had a meeting… [We were asked,] ‘How do you manage…how do you get so much press?’ And in the back of our minds we thought of those insane parties we’d throw…we threw parties that you could not throw today…”
“We usually surrounded it around someone’s birthday or a holiday…For Amanda Conner’s birthday we had a fire-breather come in,” he said, “There were nuttier things, but there are children in the audience so we can’t talk about it…Marvel had no budget so we’d throw the parties, out of our own pockets.
Turning the discussion to his tenure as editor-in-chief of Marvel, Quesada noted the scariest part about the economic climate at the time. “The comic book industry…every month sales were going lower and lower and lower, and I remember being at Marvel and some editor saying ‘I think we hit rock bottom.’…Sales were just dropping like a stone and retailers were dropping left and right,” Quesada said. “That was the all-encompassing fear. Where is the bottom? And once you hit the bottom you think about how you’re going to rebuild. And I think it started to stabilize sometime around Marvel Knights.”
“With respect to what excited me…we came in asking for four characters, and now we’re allowed to destroy the childhoods of everything!”
Asked about handling criticism from fans, Quesada said, “Even when people said, ‘Joe hates Spider-Man, Joe hates the X-Men,’ I do not. And I know that. I don’t take that seriously. On the Internet…fans treat our characters like three-dimensional walking beings, but they treat editors and everyone else like we’re two-dimensional…But that’s okay, because that means we’re making our characters real.”
Quesada continued on his thought, “It gets frustrating, but ultimately I knew that came with the job so I don’t take any of that personally. The thing that keeps me up at night is when I know a creator isn’t happy or a friend isn’t happy.”
Discussing what he’d like to work on as his next personal creator endeavor, Quesada teased, “I have a couple things that are one my wish list — one in particular, and I’m actually going to get to achieve it, but I can’t announce it — it’s been on my wish list for a really long time, even before I was at Marvel.”
Though he couldn’t name the first project, Quesada was a little more specific with the second in his pipeline, “I have a book that I’m writing and drawing…I’ve been working on this for 5-6 years…it’s not a superhero story, it is sequential, but it’s sort of more of a kids/fantasy tale. Sort of an all-ages thing…eventually I’ll finish it and get it out there. It’s pretty much all written, but I don’t draw until it’s all written.”
Asked about advice for aspiring creators, Quesada said, “You have to practice everyday. You have to be at the batting cage everyday. You have to hit ground balls everyday…I don’t care if you’re not inspired today, get behind the keyboard and write something. Especially on the days you’re not feeling it…to contrast that, you have to be forgiving of yourself. Some days you’re not going to be at your best…[but] you have to keep ploughing through….It’s the only way it’s going to happen — whether it’s indie, Marvel, DC, anywhere.”
Closing out the panel, Scalera asked Quesada where he sees himself in 10 years. The Marvel CCO concluded, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. All I know is that I want to continue telling stories in some way, shape and form…I’m thinking in 10 years I’ll be doing something — I’m not saying something not for Marvel — but something more personal…I’ve got so much on my plate that it’s so hard to think beyond.”
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