His reign as Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief may be over as of this week, but Joe Quesada isn’t going anywhere.
The now solely Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment, Quesada doesn’t plan on backing away from the out loud boostering and bolstering about Marvel that he’s been doing for the past year -Â including CUP O JOE! Exclusively here at CBR, Quesada will continue to open up the minds of the Marvelous, revealing the ins and outs of everything from animation to film and beyond!
With the ascension of Axel Alonso to Editor-in-Chief, now is the perfect time to quiz Quesada on where he’s been and where he’s going (along with all of Marvel)! Below, the CCO takes an honest look at the moments and methods that made up his E-i-C reign, how the ten years he spent leading Marvel’s Editorial staff may be his greatest creative legacy, why Alonso was the man to take on his job in the wake of the Disney merger and what he’ll be doing in the future for Marvel animation, television and film.
Kiel Phegley: Joe, congratulations on what seems like a pretty seamless transition across the board for Marvel Editorial this week. We wanted to start by talking about that very fact. I can’t recall where this was, but I remember seeing you once say that you were very aware of the fact that the last person who left the Editor-in-Chief job on his own terms was Stan Lee. So you’ve entered into a pretty exclusive club with this news. How does that feel?
Joe Quesada: It’s actually a pretty cool feeling on so many levels, especially that I get to see my team be the ones handed the ball.
And yes, you’re right, back in 2000-2001, in several interviews I had said that for the most part the job of being Marvel’s EIC, with the exception of Stan, historically never ended well. Stan was the only EIC actually able to announce his successor and I said that I hoped that if I was around long enough to not get shown the door, that I would have the wherewithal to know when it was time to take a bow and hand the reins over to the next person. Looking back at those old interviews today, I can say I’ve been truly blessed and incredibly fortunate to have the position as long as I have and to be able to pass it on to the smartest and most talented people I know and make sure that the books and characters we all know and love will be in good hands for the future.
IKiel Phegley: So, is this something you anticipated even in the last few years, or has it caught you off guard?
Joe Quesada: No, this was absolutely the plan. Ever since I started getting more involved with Marvel Studios about two years back, reading the tea leaves, it became very evident to me that I was going to start to get spread thin between divisions. So going as far back as that, I was meeting with our Publisher, Dan Buckley, and we started to formulate a plan. I’ve always said that a job like Marvel’s EIC comes with an expiration date — no one should hold the seat and keep it and plan to retire at an old age holding on to it. I feel it’s important to know when it’s time to move aside and give someone else the wheel. This is especially true when, like me, you have so many incredible people working on staff. I love people getting promoted from within, and watching guys like Axel and Tom and Nick Lowe get well earned promotions makes me incredibly happy in a fatherly kind of way, though I would never, ever admit it to them. [Laughter]
Also, I’m a very big believer in hiring people that are much smarter than you are, as well as training and preparing your successor. I see a lot of people in the corporate world hold on to their jobs and titles and to me, people that do that usually have short lived lives in whatever role they covet. Quite frankly, I believe that it’s the fact that I was able to prepare my successors that opened the doors for me to move into other areas of the company. If you think about it, if I didn’t have incredibly brilliant people working beneath me, Marvel would have probably been, and rightfully so, very reticent to move me into other areas for fear of the publishing division faltering. So the truth of the matter is, the fact that I’m able to become Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer is completely due to the hard work Axel, Tom and the entire editorial group have done over the years. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you hate the job I do moving forward, just yell at Axel and the crew — it’s all their fault.
Sorry, I went off on a tangent there. So yeah, two years ago, we started to formulate a plan. Just by virtue of the work I was doing in other Marvel areas and all the traveling that came with it, subtly and slowly, I was going to pull away from publishing, allowing the group to take ownership of the division. The idea was that we were loosely planning on the beginning of 2010 to pull the trigger…
And then the Disney deal happened!
At this point, Dan had asked me if I could hold on for another year. His thinking was that whomever the new EIC was going to be, they were going to have their hands filled just getting their bearings and taking over the division. Trust me, I know how tough that first year can be. But if we pulled the trigger in 2010, the new EIC would not only have had to learn the ropes of the EIC gig, but they would be getting pulled left and right as company wide we all learned how to work with our new Disney family. It was a lot to ask of anyone and wouldn’t have given the new person in charge a solid base by which to get their arms around publishing. So, that’s what we did; I spent the bulk of 2010 juggling between being EIC, CCO and handling all the merger stuff, but my absence was pretty evident, though it worked in our favor as the team really started to take ownership of the books and division and relying more and more on Axel and Tom as leaders and creative heads and less on me.
And yes, I’m incredibly happy with how smooth this transition has been. If you were to come up to the offices today as opposed to a few weeks ago, you wouldn’t notice any discernible difference. Well with the exception of the infernal, loud, “mad with power” cackling that’s coming out of Axel’s office.
Kiel Phegley: One thing a lot of folks have talked about, aside from accolades for Axel on a well-deserved promotion, is the fact that, like you’ve said, over the last six or seven months, people have gotten used to Tom and Axel together as the heads of Editorial. With Axel as E-i-C and Tom promoted to SVP of Publishing, what exactly was the process for deciding who did what and why each job was right for each man?
Joe Quesada: Both bring unique attributes to the job and different perspectives. And while both have equal strengths in so many areas, they also have different strengths that make them a wonderful yin and yang to one and other. During my tenure, I used them both as the angel and devil on my shoulder. Whatever modicum of success that I’ve had here, or that Marvel Publishing has had over [the last] ten years, is equally due to the work of Axel and Tom as it is anyone else. They’ve worked their tails off and have been involved in every major decision we’ve made here over the last ten years.
Axel, over the next few months will have to stop directly hands-on editing books and start working more on the big story picture and landscape of the Marvel U. Tom will continue to hands-on edit and will basically be overseeing the more minutia detailed stuff in the Marvel U. At least, on paper that’s how it looks, but those two guys have been working together for a long time and I’m betting a year from now they will have come up with a system that will work efficiently for them and the entire department.
Kiel Phegley: How does Axel’s ascension change editorial roles internally? Are you expecting more promotions and shifts to happen as per Axel’s purview?
Joe Quesada: Yes, we’ve also promoted Nick Lowe to Senior Editor. I’m sure as the next year or two progress there will be more changes because as people shift up in roles within the company, this leaves the door open for others to move up as well, so it’s a great situation for those that want to grab the bull by the horns.
Kiel Phegley: What does this mean for you and Publishing? We know since taking on the CCO position, you’ve continued to appear at editorial summits. Is that something we can expect to continue?
Joe Quesada: Absolutely. I’ll still be at the creative summits as well as certain editorial meetings. I’ll be involved in aspects of publishing just as I’m involved in aspects of our other divisions, and also whenever Axel, Tom or anyone on staff needs me. This really won’t be much different than what’s been going on for the last year.
Kiel Phegley: When we first started hearing about all this, your role in animation was mentioned first, how you were reading more scripts and things like that. Now as CCO solely, do you have one specific set of ideas and concerns to play with day-to-day, or are you getting pulled all around?
Joe Quesada: Ha! It’s controlled mayhem, I’m all over the place. If you ask me what today looks like, I can tell you what’s in the queue, but I have no idea what tomorrow or the next day will bring. Literally, it’s whoever e-mails me first with something that needs to be read, looked at or advised on, that’s what gets worked on next. It’s a very unique schedule to live by, but because we have so many irons in the fire, that’s literally the only way I can do it at this point. When the day gets too hectic, then I have to prioritize and push things around to the next day. Here’s an example of a typical day or two. This morning, I had two outlines for “Ultimate Spider-Man” to read along with a full script as well as helping to write the press release for Axel’s promotion and an e-mail to my freelancers. Then I had meet with editorial to announce Axel as EIC to the team and make time for an interview with Marvel.com. And now I’m talking to you guys!When this is done, I jump on the train, go home, get behind the drawing table and work on a toy package illustration I’m doing for Hasbro. Tomorrow, as far as I know right at this moment, I have to get up, hit the drawing board, review an animatic, start planning my upcoming trip to LA and then see what pings first in my inbox.
Kiel Phegley: You mentioned LA, is there anything about your trip that the fans might be interested in that you can tease us with.
Joe Quesada: Hmmm, well, there’s a bunch of stuff, but with respect to what Marvel fans will care about, I’ll be going to a screening of the latest cut of “Thor,” we’ll be meeting and discussing “The Avengers” movie as well as looking at designs for set pieces and other cool assorted stuff. We will be discussing assorted other movie projects as well during my stay. I believe Marvel Animation is throwing a little soiree sometime in the middle of the week, and there will also be a Marvel Animation “Ultimate Spider-Man” writer’s room creative summit near the tail end of my stay.
Oh yeah, and we have some super secret meetings that I can’t even hint at that will be very unexpected but loved by Marvel fans, if the ideas find purchase.
Kiel Phegley: And I know this is probably the question I ask you every time we do one of these talks about your job, but, is there more drawing time coming up?
Joe Quesada: Oh, no. [Laughter] No more or less drawing time than I’ve had in the past, maybe less. Currently, the only time I find for drawing is usually at around 10 PM when my day to day work is done and the fam has gone to bed. Truth be told, I’m working harder now than I ever have, and I’m pretty tired! [Laughter] But so far it’s been a blast!
It’s fun for me also, because when I took over as Editor-in-Chief, it was a brave new world. We were rebuilding and reinventing the Publishing division from the ground up. We’d just gone through Chapter 11, and everyone was saying, “There’s no way comics are going to survive! The industry is dead!” to the point where it became a dare, a religious quest as much as a challenge. But we rebuilt it and the fans joined us. We made a go of it. And now, today, I’m sitting here looking at new challenges like, “Hey, Marvel Television! We’ve never had Television before!” So I’m rolling up my sleeves with Jeph Loeb (J-Loeb as I like to call him), Dan Buckley and Alan Fine and trying to build something cool and exciting. And, “Hey, we’ve got an animated division!” So we’re working and building that too. The goal is to build a structure across these different divisions that, if we do our jobs right, reflects the same kind of structure that we developed here in publishing, where creators have a big say in the stories that we do and collaboration, as well as content, is King!
Kiel Phegley: One last thing to hit on this front before we get into looking back at your time as Editor-in-Chief: we saw a lot of talk this year about DC and their potential move to Burbank as they became a closer part of Warner Bros. Could you foresee a time in the future where you and your family pull up stakes and move out West?
Joe Quesada: Oh, God no! [Laughs] Right now, I’m doing everything I can not to have to ever make that move. As exhausting as it is, I try to condense everything I have to do in my L.A. trips into as short a window possible. I take a lot of red eyes back and forth, and in some cases I’m in L.A. less than 24 hours if I can manage it. But I do what I’ve got to do. I’m an East Coast guy. I love being on the East Coast, it’s where the comics are, the source is here. This is where I want to be, so hopefully I can hold the line.
Jonah Weiland: Joe, I want to talk to you a bit about career trajectory. I met you when you were working on “The Ray” at DC. It was at a convention where you signed a couple of comics for me.
Joe Quesada: I remember you. You were a total dick to me, man. [Laughter]
Jonah Weiland: Most likely! But looking back from those days through to now, it feels like your career trajectory has been about doing hard work, proving yourself and then seeing opportunities come your way, as is the case with anyone who works that hard. But did you ever aspire to be Editor-in-Chief? And likewise, once you became E-i-C, did you aspire to be CCO? And finally, do you start thinking about career trajectory from this point forward?
Joe Quesada: You know, I didn’t aspire to be Editor-in-Chief or CCO, but I have always aspired to be successful through great work. I’ve always been a big believer in role modeling and asking questions. When I have the great opportunity to meet someone whose career I admire, whether it’s in a field I aspired to be in or not, I like to ask them questions about how they got to where they are, what’s the road they’ve taken, but more importantly, and this is significant, what were the mistakes they made. There’s an old adage, the most successful people you meet have most likely failed the most times. I’ve found this to be very true. You live long enough, you’ll make a ton of mistakes. If you’re driven and learn from them and don’t let them derail you, you’ll find your way towards whatever goal you set. But, another way to cut some of that short, is learn from others’ mistakes as well. So, when I was breaking in as an artist, I asked questions of any professional that had the time to sit and chat with me and I soaked it all in. The time I spent doing that was priceless for me and cut down my time breaking in and getting discovered by several years. Even today, Alan Fine, our EVP and CEO, is one of the most creative and smartest business men I know. He’s been a real mentor to me here at Marvel and I don’t get to thank him enough in public, so here it is. He’s also a Patriots fan and as a die-hard Jets fan, I have a real problem with that. Anyway, I’m constantly asking Alan questions about things in the business world, in the entertainment world, in the world of retail, etc., that are just new to me. It’s all a part of the process for me and something that I haven’t stopped doing just because I’ve reached a certain level in the industry.
So, with respect to thinking about my career trajectory moving forward, sure there are things I would like to accomplish someday, but all I’m thinking about today is the same thing I thought about when I got my first penciling gig to the moment I was announced as EIC, I love comics and I just want to do great work.
Jonah Weiland: So here you are. Through your work you’ve gotten to be CCO of Marvel, which is no small feat. But do you look five years down the line at things and think about, say, wanting to direct?
Joe Quesada: Wanting to direct has always been something I’ve wanted to do. It was a goal before I got into comics and it still remains. But then, also, there’s a part of me that’s learned that with hard work, patience and proper timing, things happen in unexpected ways. But it may not necessarily be the exact way in which you expected it. When I got into comics, it was because of “Dark Knight” and “Watchmen.” When I read those books, I realized, “This is what I want to do with my life. I want to be a comic book artist. I want to be a comic book writer. I want to be a storyteller.” And the goal I set for myself was not just to become a writer and an artist, but to someday write a book defining of the medium, like “Watchmen” or “Dark Knight.” But I wasn’t alone is this — so many of us breaking in around that time had goals like that, and the truth is that while some incredible comics have been produced over time, “Watchmen” and “Dark Knight” were the first of their kind, so no one has ever really been able to replicate exactly that medium and genre defining success. While I’ve worked on some pretty wonderful books with some amazing creators in my time, I never quite hit the mark of that original goal I set. But setting the bar high I think was beneficial.
But, now when I look back on my tenure as E-i-C, I think to myself, “You know what? Maybe that was my ‘Watchmen.'” We did some fun things in those ten years. We went from Chapter 11 to where we are now. It wasn’t necessarily because of me. It was because of the great team of people that work here, but I was part of that. I was part of one of those great American success stories where a group of people take a company that was on the verge of being dead and did some incredible things with it. I didn’t get my “Watchmen,” but I got ten really fantastic years running Marvel’s comic book universe. More importantly, it was ten years of great fun in which, along with all the Marvel fans out there, we broke the Internet into many pieces. Heck, as Marvel fans can attest, the Internet is our bitch!