In the most recent Marvel solicitations a certain listing for a new book didn’t go unnoticed by fans:
Marvel: Fanboys & Badgirls – Bill & Joe’s Marvelous Adventure!
cover by joe quesada
THE SCOOP: This all-new hardcover artbook spotlights the greatest illustrations, examines the most controversial decisions, and reveals the behind-the-scenes scandals of comics’ greatest comeback!
THE STORY: Out of the ashes of bankruptcy, Marvel reimagined the Spider-Man and X-Men franchise, attracted some of the industry’s most talented — and unique — creators, and was the only major comics publisher to post growth in 2001. Presented here are the untold stories behind such moves as The House’s decision to drop the Comics Code, the creation of its adult imprint, the truth behind Spider-Girl, its hotly debated “no-reprint” policy and the decision to reveal Wolverine’s origin! Complimented by a spectacular assortment of sketches and iconic covers, Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada tell it like it is, like it was and like it will be! Plus, insights and observations from the creators that made the magic, like Jeph Loeb and Mark Millar!
THE FORMAT: This 144-page hardcover is printed on 7 1/4″ by 10 7/8″ glossy-stock paper.
Reaction was immediate on Internet message forums. Most were intrigued by the idea and looked forward to the behind-the-scenes look at Marvel operations. On the other hand a small, but very vocal group expressed great displeasure at the idea, calling it arrogant, obnoxious and self-serving. Whether you like the idea or not, it’s certain to pique your interest.
CBR News conducted a Real Audio interview with Marvel Comics Chief Operating Officer & President Bill Jemas and Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada Monday afternoon to talk specifically about the book, what you can expect from it and a look back at their first year together. Find out from the guys what were the high and low points of their time so far with the company, a look at their operating philosophies and what the future holds for Marvel including how they’ll be approaching the upcoming convention season and the expansion of the Marvel publishing line. Finally, hear Joe go after Bill Jemas for comments he made this weekend in Mike Sangiacomo’s “Journey into Comics” column. Plus much more.
For those of you unable to listen to the interview, a transcript is available below.
Jonah Weiland: The main reason why I’m talking with these two guys is something I saw, well everybody saw, in the most recent Marvel Comics Solicitations, which is a book called “Marvel Fanboys and Badgirls: Bill and Joe’s Marvelous Adventures.” It essentially will tell the story of Marvel’s re-emergence and rise to prominence in the comic’s field, fixing a lot of their problems and stuff like that. That’s what I’m here to talk with these guys about.
So, let’s start with the books specifics. Whose idea was it to do this book and at what point was it decided this story needed to be told. Either one of you can address that.
Joe Quesada: Well Jonah, first, let me preface this interview by saying that due to recent things on the Internet I’m not speaking to Bill today. We’re just not speaking.
JW: Ooookay …
JQ: We’re not speaking.
Bill Jemas: But luckily I’m able to rise above this and I will speak with Joe! (Laughs)
JW: I’m glad one of you is being a gentleman!
BJ: You know, it’s funny, as Joe and I went back to do this book, a lot of what we had to figure out was “Whose idea was that?” and then we get to have pissing matches over who’s idea it really was because …
JQ: ALL BILL’S! It’s just all Bill’s dammit!
BJ: (laughs) Most of what happens …
JQ: JUST GIVE BILL CREDIT FOR EVERYTHING!
BJ: Exactly, Joe. You get in these situations where you go from springboard to book and it’s a pretty fluid process along the way. Most of the ideas, ya know, we always joke about the origin of Wolverine, is that Paul Jenkins and I were in the basement of Joe’s house playing air guitar and I looked at Paul and said “Hey, let’s do the origin of Wolverine!” Paul says, “Great idea, mate.” (laughs) I explained that in the United States we tend to mate with women, not that there’s anything wrong with that. So we run up stairs to tell Joe and one of the things that happens along the way is Ralph Machio grabs us to say “Listen guys, at every brainstorming session for the past 30 years somebody says ‘Let’s do the origin of Wolverine.'” It’s not like it’s a new idea, but a lot of it goes to the process of coming up with a good book from a good springboard.
JW: What about this book specifically?
BJ: Joe, do you remember?
JQ: You talking to me?
JQ: Uhh, no I don’t.
BJ: You don’t?
JQ: But I’m sure it originated with you, Bill. It’s all about you Bill!
BJ: (laughs) Thanks, Joe.
JQ: Actually, I don’t remember. I think it was just one of those things where we were putting together a series of events just for our own sake of things that went down in the last year because we really thought that what we accomplished over the last year was going to take somewhere between three and five years to accomplish. Which may be longer than one of the two of us will be here. (laughs) I think somebody in the office called it “Bill and Joe’s Excellent Adventure” and I think it snowballed from there. We started the hard cover program at the same time…Ya know, actually, it originated as an art book.
BJ: That’s right, it originated as an art book.
JW: And it evolved from there, basically.
JQ: Yeah, we had all these beautiful pieces of art and we wanted to editorialize them a little bit and then we realized we could put them in a chronological, monthly to yearly kind of order. It was originally supposed to be an end of year kind of book, but because we started mid-way in the year we just figured well, let’s make it a year and a half or so.
JW: Let’s talk about the details of the book itself and I’ll let Joe answer this. Who’s writing the text of the book? Is it you and Bill? Is it done interview style? What’s the format?
JQ: It was done interview style and it’s being written by Jim McLaughlin, a pal of ours, who also freelance writes for Wizard. Jim sort of sat with us for about a day and a half and we just turned the tape recorder on. We also had some great help from Mike Doran and Matt Brady at Newsarama who dug up through the archives all the total nonsense we said over the course of the year. Some of it serious, some of it not. We had all of this paperwork in chronological order. Our editors put it together and we just sat there and went through the paperwork and as things sprung to mind we just sort of blurted it out and then eventually Jim put it down on paper.
JW: Okay, what’s the book going to physically look like? What kind of sketches and covers will be included? Will we see anything in the way original material inside of this book, aside from the interviews obviously?
JQ: Probably very little in the way of original artwork. Most of this stuff is just stuff you’ve seen during the course of the year either in promotions or stuff like that, but also blown up bigger because it’s in the oversized hardcover format, so some of the pieces will be bigger and grander. What you’re really going to get, aside from the art, and this is what we wanted to add to this book, is that there’s a lot of inside stories of stuff that we didn’t even talk about on the Internet. Stuff like there are certain secrets to like the “Spider-Girl” stunt and information about how “Heroes” was put together and stuff that we’re going to put in there in a potpourri section, memo’s that I’ve received from competitive companies and things that we just couldn’t believe how retarded and ridiculous they were. The kind of stuff that you’d really expect us to out on.
JW: What are your intentions with this book?
BJ: You know, almost every time somebody asks us what our intentions are, you know, what the strategy is, I give the same answer. Joe either nods his head in agreement or rolls his eyes, it always seems to be we either want to have fun or make money or both. And this is one where the company will make a reasonable amount of money. We’re expecting to sell a decent number of these books, and it has been fun to take a breath, especially because we got to do it with Jim McLaughlin (there are much worse ways to spend a day than hanging out with Jim) … to really sit down and go through how we really got the company turned, what things worked and what things didn’t work. In fact, as Joe and I looked at the manuscript there was a lot of sort of, “Geee, that was a good idea” then we sort of even had to pause and say, “Should we sort of have a little section of all the duds?” All of which I thought was a lot of fun. To go through the past year and a half and fight it out and talk about what was and wasn’t important. We’re a company that likes to make money on projects we do and this should be a financially decent project for us.
JW: How much of the book is spent talking about the competition and how they reacted to your moves or countered your changes?
JQ: With respect to countering our changes, very little!
JQ: With respect to dumb moves, a lot! (laughs)
BJ: I think there’s a whole sentence devoted to all the ways people have copied what we’ve done! (laughs)
Well, Jonah, the thing is they really haven’t. The height of the joke was with the “9 Cent” comic. We always told DC that if they ever came up with a good idea we’d copy it so fast that they’d think it was ours…I mean, I think the more that we move to initiatives that build Marvel’s business, the more a lot of our competitors have really decided to double down on business policies that will cause them to do nothing but contract. We still make fun of them as much as we can in the book, but there’s really not a lot of “Marvel does this, so let’s follow the leader.” In fact I think the industry trend has been let’s run away from the leader.
JW: Which company in specific gets the most ribbing by you guys in this book.
JQ: Oh God, that’s a tough one.
JW: I would imagine it’s a toss up between DC and CrossGen.
JQ: Cross who?
JQ: Probably AOL/Time Warner gets a decent licking every once in a while. But really that’s not the thrust of the book. Obviously that’s one of the reasons why fans will want to be reading this because they just want to see what sort-of rolls out of our mouths. Realistically speaking it’s really a fun look at the inside of what happens here at Marvel.
One of the things I remember fondly, there was this one horrifically bad, but really wonderful fumetti comic that Marvel created years ago where they had these fumetti scripts about guys on staff and people working here and I remember seeing that and remembering how much that made me feel like I was part of the club of Marvel. That’s kind of what we’re trying to provide, only on a much bigger scale (higher price point), something you can put on your shelf and say, “Boy, that was a fun year in comics.” The truth of the matter is we might do this again next year if we continue with the nonsense that we’ve been accustomed to doing.
JW: Online this was easily the most talked about book in the recent solicitations. It seemed everyone had an opinion. Most seemed genuinely intrigued while others called it, and these are quotes, “arrongant, obnoxious and self-serving.”
JQ: That sounds about right!
JW: Let’s address that latter group; what do you have to say to those guys?
JQ: You know, we’re kind of hoping that we’re creating a really great car wreck that you just have to come and see. Anybody who knows us personally knows that 90% of the stuff that’s out there is for fun, games, and just to create an obnoxious, arrogant personae that people just have to love to hate. There’s a lot of that in here. At the same time, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for the real Marvelites. Let’s face it, Marvel fans have been taking it on the chin for the last five or six or seven years from the opposing company’s fans. Well, here’s a good chance for Marvel fans to sort of give it back in spades.
JW: How much of this book is devoted to a discussion of the Internet?
JQ: Not that much. There’s probably bits and pieces devoted to Internet stunts, but I don’t think there’s that much.
BJ: There is a running theme, though. I would like to say that this has been a marvelous adventure for Marvel and the fans. I probably said this before, that when Joe and I took over I doubt that very many people in the industry or out ever believed that the comic business was going to come back. That we were waiting for the bones to fossilize. The turn around has been a blast. It’s been a blast because the core constituency, the real readers that were here five years ago, they really haven’t left, they’ve just been waiting for us to publish something worth reading. The blast has been to see the fans come back and to come back in droves. That’s been fun! We’ve done a lot of Internet stuff and stunts, but a lot of it has been getting that core Marvel lover something that they can love again.
JW: In your year and a half that you guys have been making all these changes, there have certainly been initiatives and changes you wanted to implement that you ultimately were not able to. Can either of you share any of those might-have-beens or are any of those included in the book?
BJ: Joe, did you have one that got away? I think we’ve been able to do just about everything.
JQ: There are some things that are taking longer, that obviously are adhering to our three-year plan. We are constantly struggling with developing material that is uber-kid-friendly. Even more than that, uber-retailer-kid-friendly, because most retailers will tell you that we need kids stuff, but when you put it out there for them to order they just don’t. That is one of the things that’s been dogging me for a while. We’re experimenting. There is stuff that is coming out, but again, people have probably grown spoiled to the fact that we do things so quickly, that if it takes longer than a year now, we’re on AOL time. Ya know, just be patient!
There’s so much stuff in this book and there’s so much that actually had to get edited out at some point that I’m not sure what the editors are leaving in and what they’re leaving out because we have to actually make room for the artwork now! There might have been some stuff there on Bill’s fumetti comic idea … was that in there Bill or no?
BJ: There was that fumetti comic and that didn’t work out.
I think Joe’s raising a good point, it wasn’t so much that there’s any grandmaster of all things Marvel that would come along and say no to a good idea. Where we haven’t been able to do something it’s because we’ve had projects that weren’t good enough to see the light of day. People were frustrated for a long time that Marvel’s adult imprint never got launched. Part of the reason the adult imprint never got launched is we had a handful of pitches and even some completed work that wasn’t really good enough for us to put the stamp on; the MAX stamp or the Marvel stamp, but as we’ve been out there and learning our craft in that area, we’ve been able to accelerate pretty fast.
JW: You mentioned a fumetti comic. So at one point there was a plan to do one starring Bill that got shelved at some point?
BJ: (laughs) I did not know about that!
JQ: Boy, that was news to me to. BUT IT DOESN’T SURPRISE ME!
JW: (laughs) I thought you had just mentioned …
JQ: Don’t give him any ideas …
BJ: Oh, the company had put together a fledgling, but well heeled New York modeling agency and a handful of photographers using real live models and actresses with a plot that we thought would work reasonably well, but the book didn’t look good enough so we killed it off.
JW: Let’s go through the high points and the low points in the last year for both of you. Let’s start with Bill first. What are some of the high points for you?
BJ: Let’s start with Joe first.
JW: Okay, Joe, go ahead.
JQ: My high point is built into the low point which all revolves around September 11th. Obviously I don’t think there’s anytime it’s been lower for anyone, not just in this industry, but any industry or life in general, more so than September 11th. I think there was the high point that occurred, and again it wasn’t just a Marvel effort, it was the whole “Heroes” non-denominational comic book effort of everybody coming together and doing this one particular project to raise a significant amount of money. That to me will probably be a high point in my career for as long as I’m alive. I can’t think of anything surpassing all those creators calling and wanting to be a part of this thing.
JW: Interesting. What about you Bill?
BJ: Yeah, I would agree with Joe that the publishing and community efforts to see the comic book industry come together as a whole to support and help the victims of 9/11 was something that I think we can all feel good about for a very long time.
From a comic book business point-of-view I really distinctly remember December two years ago when the industry and Marvel’s business had dropped every month consistently 5-7% for three to five years running and you saw this inexorable slide downward. I guess it was December 2000 that there were a whole bunch of new books. A new “Punisher,” “Ultimate X-Men,” and “Ultimate Spider-Man” … the lift by just a handful of projects that had been created under this new Marvel regime really started to have an impact. It was that light at the end of the tunnel. Books will sell. The industry doesn’t have to drop on a constant skid. That was a watershed that we just sort of walked in one month and said, “Gee, this month December 2000 was better than December 1999” and that had not happened for all those months running. We put together a string of six-months in a row where we had that happen. That was a good feeling.
JW: Bill, was Joe your first choice as EIC?
BJ: Yeah, he was the first choice and the best choice.
JW: What if he said no?
JQ: He’d be screwed!
BJ: WE would be screwed! That fast turn around that everybody thought would take 3-5 years to happen would have taken 3-5 years.
JW: Did you have anyone else in mind? Did you have a short list of people you were going to talk to?
BJ: Yes, but I’d rather not.
JW: Fair enough. Continuing with Bill, let’s talk about the “no-reprint” policy. Talk about how it’s affected the company. Did it work out the way you intended?
BJ: I’d love to tell you that Joe and I and company were smart enough to foresee all the positive benefits that happened to Marvel as a result of the no-reprint policy, but the fact is that a lot of it was a happy accident. We stopped reprinting because we were hemorrhaging money making copies that nobody wanted and going back to press on the occasional book and just turning a successful book into a financial disaster because we hit the press and made more books than people needed. Then there was some sense that adding a collectible element to the mix of reasons for people to come out to the comic book store and buy now, adding that word of mouth that twelve year olds have, “Hey, did you hear about ‘Ultimate Spider-Man #1?’ ‘Punisher #17’ is popular, let’s go to the comic book store and get it before it’s sold out.” We had some sense of all that stuff and we took a guess. What we didn’t know is that it would help the trade paperback business explode. That it would create product differentiations between that monthly periodical and the trade paperback. And then, absolutely no clue, that once we had the TPB distinguished from the monthly comic, that we could launch, what so far has been very successful, the hard cover business. So there have been a lot of good things that came from the no-reprint policy that were foreseen, but most of them have just been happy surprises.
JW: It seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, that the only negatives that came out of this no-reprint policy was the anger directed to you guys from quite a few retailers out there. And some of those still haven’t gotten over it.
BJ: When you say quite a few, what do you mean?
JW: Okay, a vocal minority on the Internet.
BJ: Joe you can stop me if I’m putting my foot in it.
BJ: Yeah, okay I didn’t think you would. There’s a lot of this in the book that hopefully you’ll read. There are two kinds of retailers out there. There are people who really love the idea of having lots and lots of new customers come to their store. Their happiest day is that some kids hear that Marvel has a new book called “The Ultimates” and I want to get in on the ground floor and start buying issue #1. There was a whole bunch of people that were thrilled with the press that “Origin” got and a whole bunch of people who saw that Wolverine movie and wanted to be like Hugh Jackman. Those people, and thank goodness most of our retailers, and certainly the people that account for most of our business, they loved the no-reprint policy.
Then there’s another kind of retailer and the industry needs them not quite as much, but almost as much as they need the first kind, the people who don’t like new customers coming into their stores. How many times on your site and in similar industry publications has somebody like Joe Quesada said “Guys, why don’t you sweep out your stores and clean your windows and take that poster down that’s been up for thirty years that’s moldy and put up a new one!” These guys know that their stores are dirty. They don’t want a clean store. They really like a little, close-knit, happy club. Those people have by in large been opposed to a lot of what Marvel’s done that brought new customers in. But they’re opposed because there are new customers coming in on some very serious level.
JW: 2001 saw a lot of squabbling between Marvel and DC, Marvel and Crossgen, Marvel and retailers. Looking back on that year do you think that any of this infighting was detrimental to your mission or the industry in general?
JQ: It got people talking and that was really the bottom line behind all of it. I would say about 80% of the time there was nothing worth arguing about, but sometimes we just argue!
I’m serious; you can’t buy press like that. You get people yelling at you, screaming about you, calling you all sorts of names, but at the end of the day they’re just talking about you and that’s really the ultimate goal. This is no joke; we found that the things that were met with the biggest or loudest negative reaction from fandom or the opposition were the initiatives that were likely the most successful for the year. It was always the case. So whenever we get mixed up in a brouhaha it’s usually for a very good reason. It’s not just for the sake of fighting. Who’s got the energy to do that? We get paid decent hourly wages to sort of do our jobs here. We’ve weighed out all the options when we get into these things.
JW: You mentioned hourly wage, how much are you making an hour?
JQ: Ahhhh, what’s minimum these days?
JW: This goes back to what Bill just said, but this is for Joe. In your ProCon 2001 speech you riled up a lot of folks, mostly retailers.
BJ: Actually 2 retailers, but that’s okay.
JW: Okay, you made comments that you felt those in industry forgot who they were and didn’t take pride in their passion. You used words like low self-esteem, detestable, pencil-neck geeks, and so on.
BJ: You said pencil-neck geeks?
JQ: Well, who knows?
JW: You said those things!
JQ: Did I? Okay, cool.
JW: If you could go back in time, would you have changed anything that you said or how you said it?
JQ: I might have made it a little harsher to be honest with you. I absolutely don’t take back a single word of that because as it turns out the people who got upset were the right people to get upset. I had a lot of people who, again, these were retailers that when I asked why don’t you post on the Internet, “Well, we don’t have time. We’re busy running our business; we don’t have time to post on the Internet. But we wanted to tell you it was a good speech.” I did get a lot of that. There are a lot of guys who probably should be running their businesses, but really weren’t because they were too busy posting about my speech on the Internet who got really upset about it. It doesn’t matter what I say, they were going to get upset about something anyway so I might as well have some sort of message behind it.
JW: The essence of the message was “Wear your profession and your fandom as a badge of honor and don’t be ashamed of it.” Do you think anything’s changed since then? Are we seeing professionals, retailers or fans taking a greater pride in their passion?
JQ: I think they do, as business gets better. The point of it was that you shouldn’t wait for your business to get better to take that sort of pride in it. Look, that speech didn’t come out of nowhere. It came out of all the crap that I’ve been reading from people on the Internet and off line, in trade magazines and things like that where it’s like “Enough of this negative talk! We’re just creating self-fulfilling prophecies.” It was one of those speeches where it was kill the messenger, but just get the message please.
JW: This one’s for Joe. Creative decisions in the early 90s, which in retrospect caused a lot of problems for the company, were all apparently made with an eye to what the market was looking for at the time. Now for the most part the creative changes that have been implemented recently that have led to this recovery, have also presumably been in response to perceived market desire. What’s changed? Why is what you’re doing now working versus what came in the 90s?
JQ: Ahhh, we’re smarter. I’m just joking about that of course. No, we’re not smarter, we’re just better looking!
JW: You’re joking about that too?
JQ: (laughs) That’s for sure! Who amongst us could not crack a mirror?
You need to be a little more specific.
JW: Okay, is the approach you’ve made in publishing these books and your decisions, is it substantively different from what came before or has luck been a major factor this time around?
JQ: Marvel’s always had an eye towards the commercial. It’s always been the thrust of the company. We’ve always been commercially successful. I think one of the places where we probably fell down with a lot of the initiatives that we had in the past is they might have been good ideas, like the whole “Clone Saga” might have been a good idea, it was just the execution probably left a little bit to be desired. It might have gone on for too long. It might have gotten a little bit too convoluted. We’re at a position now where we’re making decisions, but I think we’re being very, very careful because we’re trying to learn from the lessons from the past. Let’s face it, our predecessors didn’t have the history to base it on. They were just sort of flying by the seat of their pants. We fly by the seat of our pants as well, but at least we have some stuff to look back on and say, “Well, you know they made a mistake by doing it this particular way. Let’s rethink these things.” That’s where a guy like Bill comes in very, very handy because Bill does give us this real world perspective and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what the story is, whether it’s a stunt or whether it’s for real. The bottom line is that it has to be an incredible story. That’s really the barometer by which we judge everything no matter how classic or vapid.
BJ: Joe I’ll give it to you, and not to stroke you and the guys up in editorial too much because we’re not going to be able to fit you out of the building, but right now the company is focused on readers. It’s easy to say that in the early ’90s we gave the customers what they wanted and now you give the market what they want..Historically Stan Lee and the guys had always given readers what they wanted and there was a period of time when people sort of lost sight of the idea that comic books were actually to be read and not just collected. So, there was that period of time where we sort of knee-jerked and followed just sheer gross volume of sales. If anything I would say the company under Joe has gotten back to storytelling. Joe’s a very accomplished artist and a very accomplished art director, but what he’s brought to the company’s success has much more to do with storytelling than it has to do with artwork or with flash. In other words, Joe has absolutely revolutionized the way covers look and I as a marketing guy absolutely appreciate that. But Joe’s also put his foot down and told me 100 times “No foil on the covers!” That’s not about readership. It’s an interesting stunt, but the books are going to be readable or they’re not going to go out the door. That’s something I would say we lost track of. It wasn’t, for my money, the coming of speculators that ruined the business; it was the leaving of the emphasis on good quality writing that ruined the business.
JW: Let’s continue with you Bill. Let’s talk about the financial side of Marvel. The company’s past money woes have been well documented. What’s the situation now? Is the company in a healthier position than it was a year ago?
BJ: Well, Jonah, I really can’t or am not authorized to address any financial issues. I apologize for that. I can sort of emphasize for the listeners what’s already been published is that we have restructured our debt situation and I personally believe it’s much more favorable than it was this time a year ago. That sort of has us on a more stable and solid financial footing.
JW: This is for both of you. People talk a lot about the rebirth of comics in the last year. Some are calling it a Renaissance even. Sales are up. Diversity of product is greater than ever. How much credit do you think Marvel should be given, if any, for this positive change in the industry?
JQ: Wow. I don’t know. Bill?
BJ: Uhhhhhh … what we did was we were able to … I want to say that if you hear any false humility from me and Joe you’ll know it’s false, but this is true humility. I think what we’ve been able to do is provide a megaphone for some voices that needed to be heard. People like Greg Rucka, ya know if I name names I’m going to get in trouble, so, but people who really had something to say have been given an opportunity to say it and they’ve been matched up with artists who’ve been able to help them show it. So we can take credit for that, but on the creative side you have to give it to the creators. These guys have been absolutely spectacular. From my impression it was all pent up. That this was an industry full of rules and ruled by a lot of negativity and Joe and I have taken all the heat from every possible negative source and let people with something to say really go ahead and say it. So, we can take all the credit and none of the credit. One thing that they’ve lost from Joe as Editor-in-Chief is that he stopped making books directly. So, if anything, we’ve had very little to do with what actually gets on the pages from the creative teams.
JQ: Jonah, the only thing I can say about it really is, one of the reasons why I took this job to begin with, the fact that when I was working in the world of the independents I knew very well, I was never embarrassed to say it and back then I wasn’t necessarily a very big Marvel fan, that as Marvel goes so goes the comic industry. I think most people in this industry, even the people across town understand this, that there has to be a strong, commercially viable Marvel for there to be a strong, viable comic industry. Just as there needs to be a very strong and viable Superman and Batman book on the stands to keep our industry going. So when Bill offered me the job I realized that this was a real opportunity by which to make a difference and not just a difference for Spider-Man, because at the end of the day that’s easy to do. You just put good people on Spider-Man. Okay? Where it really makes a difference is in how books like “Kabuki” sell. How books like “Powers” sell. How books like “Queen & Country” sell. That’s where it’s really, really important because at the end of the day you have to serve the Icons. You have to serve Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, Batman, because those are the characters that drive people into the comic stores. Then when they’re in the comic stores they’re looking for other things while they’re there. You can’t live on Spider-Man alone.
That’s where I really hope and though that we might be able to make a difference for the industry as a whole. Yeah, I mean, it’s great for Marvel. Sure a healthy Marvel’s fantastic and it looks good on my resume and maybe my boss will give me a raise in another year, but, I’ve got a lot of friends who work out there who work both across town and at other smaller companies and are doing their own independent thing and I want to see them continuously working in comics 10, 20 years from now. I don’t know if this answers the question about credit, but I think it does answer a certain question about Marvel that if there’s a healthy Marvel, regardless of whether it’s me or Bill in charge, I think it’s going to lead to a creative year or a year of flourishes so to speak.
JW: There’s a trickle down effect.
JW: Let’s close this out with a look towards the future of the company. Let’s start with publishing. Will we see a greater expansion of the line in 2002 on into 2003?
JQ: You know, we’re being very conservative about how we expand. We don’t want to just put out a series of books just for market share. That’s not where Marvel’s thinking is right now. Marvel’s thinking basically is to put out books that either serve very prominent licenses that we might be working on or that creatively serve a particular purpose for us, whether it’s to reach a new demographic or just because we have a certain number of really incredibly talented creators who want to branch out into a different direction. It is slow, careful growth. I think you’ve seen that from the slow growth of Marvel Knights to even the incredibly slow growth of the Ultimate program. Which, again, flash back to Marvel six, seven years ago we would have whored that out to nobody’s business! You’d have “Ultimate 2099,” “Ultimate New Universe.” yYou know, it would be everywhere! That’s a testimonial to Bill’s patience with the business and the way he’s running it.
JW: What about the Internet. For example CrossGen is aggressively moving forward with their online comics initiative, the “Comics on the Web” thing. How will Marvel use the Net as a tool and do you guys have plans to?
BJ: I can say right now…Marvel dot comics is either the third or fourth largest readership in the country in terms of people actually going in and downloading and reading the comics. One of the few times we haven’t tooted our horn is on the dot comics, but at a million-four downloads a month, those are as good a numbers as anyone has on the Internet right now.
JW: Do you think that CrossGen’s approach is a good one? Do they have a good product or is there a better way to do this?
BJ: Jonah, this is not to knock the nice guys down in Florida, but we pay a lot less attention to them than you might think!
JW: Okay, fair enough. Let’s talk about conventions. How do you plan on attacking conventions in 2002 and in to 2003? Will Marvel change its way of doing business on the convention circuit at all? Will we see Marvel at more conventions?
JQ: You’re certainly going to see a difference in the way we do business. Are we at liberty to talk about that yet Bill?
BJ: Sure. Go ahead, Joe.
JQ: Basically what you’re going to find with Marvel is you’re going to find a difference in how we’re spending our convention budget. Our convention budgets really haven’t changed at all. Visually it may look a little different to the fan as they walk into the convention room because we’re not bringing the big booth with us this year. We’re setting up smaller locations and what we’re doing is we’re taking the bulk of our convention budget, which would normally be spent on major lighting systems and big ass graphics and things like that, and we’re going to focus more on pure signings and the rest of our funds are really going into freelancer relations. We’ve got a couple of things set-up, … Bill am I at liberty?
BJ: So you don’t have to struggle, what Joe’s saying is that what we’re going to do is bring a lot more freelancers to every single event and then send our editors out to places where they haven’t been before. So there will be a lot less splash, but a lot more substance, we think, in the way that we’re running our convention business.
JQ: With respect to the consumer that comes to the convention, visually it won’t be as impressive as some of the other booths that we’ve had in the past or some of the other company’s booths. It will mean exactly the same thing to them because they’ll still be getting the autographs that they need to get and meeting the creators and we’ll still be doing panels. The end product is that we hope to provide a better service for the fan and for the creator that hopefully adds up to a better product in the coming years.
JW: What about outside comics themselves, looking to outside media. Film, television, video games. How is Marvel approaching those markets for the next couple of years?
BJ: Jonah, do you mean comics based on films?
JW: No, films based on comics or licensing out your product. Is there a more aggressive nature now or a wait and see where it takes us?
BJ: Next year will be a very nice year. The two television shows are 99% certain to be back. “X-Men: Evolution” will be there on Kids WB and “Mutant X” will be in syndication. Next year there’s no reason to think that there won’t be a three movie year with “Daredevil” in January, “X-Men 2” in May and then “The Hulk” directed by Ang Lee and starring an Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Connely. That’ll be out in June. So in terms of real media power, even in the peak of comic book sales and licensing, we never had a media slate that was even remotely as good as what we’ll have in 2003.
JW: What about 2004? Is stuff already working itself into progress, or is it too early?
BJ: I wouldn’t say it’s too early to talk about, but you have to remember, Marvel doesn’t really control, we only influence media schedules. Everyone at Sony, Columbia, TriStar, Marvel feel that the “Spider-Man” sequel is a lock. That the MTv show, if it doesn’t make it out in December of 2003 will be out first thing in 2004. Comic books, as you’ve seen from the Batman and Superman runs, comics are wonderful in that they’re made for sequels. “Independence Day” was a really fun, great sci-fi movie that was closed ended. Nothing is ever going to be closed ended about Marvel properties or characters. So, we’re on our second “Blade,” our second “X-Men” movie, soon to start the second “Spider-Man” movie. We expect that once this machine gets running and given that there’s nobody named McAndrews or Forbes here to ruin it for us, this thing should just keep running for as far as the eye can see.
JW: I’m going to close this out by letting you guys go with any parting words.
JQ: Well, I’m fine. Bill?
BJ: I was hoping you’d carry it, Joe.
JQ: Nah, we always have so much to say …
BJ: Should we tell him about the feud?
JW: Tell me about the feud!
BJ: We’re having a feud now. Joe why don’t you close out; trash me on the feud. Go ahead.
JQ: When is this going to air Jonah?
JW: In about two hours.
JQ: Oh really?
BJ: C’mon Joe, do the feud!
JQ: Well in that case! (laughs)
BJ: (laughs) Can I hang up the phone, because I’m going get lambasted!
JQ: You have no idea how angry I am at Bill. You guys have no idea. We joke about it here, but it’s been pretty tense. It’s been very, very tense. I don’t know if you’ve read Bill’s latest diatribe with Mike Sangiacomo.
JW: I did.
JW: It was rude! We work our asses off here to improve freelancer relations and then there goes Bill trashing Peter David after I worked so hard. You know what, enough said on that. I wrote a little something for tomorrow that will hit the Internet. I think it’s time for Bill to put up, or shut up. Bottom line.
JW: You okay Bill?
BJ: I’m okay. But I’m putting up!
JQ: NO! No, you’re not!
BJ: Yeah I’m putting up and Joe’s gonna have to shut up!
JQ: You’re threatening to cancel Peter David’s book. That’s not putting up!
BJ: Jonah, Joe’s upset because I’m writing a book and Ralph Machio and I decided that Joe, as nice a guy as he is, his ability to evaluate a good book from a bad book is sorely lacking. So we’re not showing him the book. So he’s saying “Well, if I can’t see it, it must not be any good,” but we figured let’s just try to get a book out the door that doesn’t have his fingerprints all over it.
JQ: Right, I’ve had zero success here, absolutely zero success here! Thanks a lot! Thank you very much folks.
JW: I guess he is the President so he can do these things.
JQ: Oh, he can do whatever he wants!
JW: Doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it!
JQ: Yeah! (laughs)
BJ: Actually I have a complaint box near my door and Joe is allowed to file all of those complaints.
JW: (laughs) Guys, thanks for joining me today.