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!
In our first installment of this special Cup O’ Joe “Exit Interview,” Quesada opened up about his current role as Marvel CCO and how his job responsibilities will change now that the torch has been passed to Axel Alonso. This time out, Marvel’s CCO and CBR News take a look back at how he got here, exploring his career trajectory and goals from his days as a freelancer through his decade at the top of Marvel Editorial and the comics industry. What were Joe Quesada’s biggest moments? His lingering disappointments? Read on to find out!
Kiel Phegley: Joe, previously, you brought up some questions of legacy, and there are a lot of things people will talk about in regards to Marvel’s past decade in the weeks ahead. One thing that strikes me is that when you came in as Editor-in-Chief, there were a lot of elements to publishing that you were knocking down. There were going to be no more special variant covers, you introduced a total reinvention of the X-Men line even though it had been at the top of the industry and a lot of “smashing down the gate” kind of stuff. Over the years, we saw a lot of Marvel’s publishing change from that initial approach. What do you attribute that to? Did you change because you learned what worked for the market, or because you were able to move off of what you did in those opening years?
Joe Quesada: Well, the chief reason for that is that the industry, entertainment and people’s tastes and desires aren’t stagnant. The kind of entertainment that people want to consume, how they consume it and how you market to them changes like the weather. What works today may not work tomorrow. That’s the challenge of the job and it’s actually one of the most fun aspects of it. There was a plan that we employed in my first year and a new one our second year and so one, those plans changed as the climate in the industry changed. There are always gates to smash down, you just can’t keep smashing the same one over and over again. That’s the quickest way to find your readers getting bored.
The other reason for this is that sometimes you make mistakes, you push initiatives that don’t work out as well as you’d like, storylines don’t meet expectations, marketing doesn’t catch the publics interest — there’s a laundry list of things that go wrong year in, year out. But, missing the mark from time to time isn’t the problem. No one bats a thousand. The real problem would be not changing your plan and learning from your mistakes. I’ve never been shy about mistakes I’ve made; some may feel I’ve been overly candid about stuff, but that’s just the way that I feel that it should be here at Marvel. We let fans in on what’s going on, warts and all and it’s a tradition that started with Stan that I know we’ll continue.
Kiel Phegley: There are a lot of things that you can point to as big moments from your time in the E-i-C chair: the Ultimate Universe, Garth’s “Punisher” run, big, sprawling events like “Civil War” and “Siege” and on and on. Is there one thing that stands out where you can say, “I’m glad we gave this to the medium of comics”?
Joe Quesada: Wow, I don’t know if I can answer that! The only thing I know is our creators, my staff and I gave the medium of comics everything we had. We did our best to give the fans great work. Coming to terms with anything beyond that is really for other people to decide. However, on a much more basic level, I’m very proud of things like the Marvel Knights line, Max Comics and the Icon imprint as well as the overall quality of the books month in, month out. Over these last ten years, we brought in and recruited some of the finest talents on the planet, from Hollywood to the Indy ranks to authors like Stephen King. We created a Marvel Illustrated line that has given us books like “Oz” and a robust Marvel Adventures line as well, and now we’re developing additional genre books with the addition of the CrossGen universe.
It’s hard sometimes to actually remember all the stuff that has gone down over these ten years because there’s been so much of it. Even for me, and I lived it, I take so much of it for granted. I look at our world today where, in last year we broke in so many new writers, that’s just something that never use to happen at Marvel during my freelancing days. There use to be a time where writers who worked in Indy comics, if they had any desire to work at Marvel, used to feel like the doors were closed to them simply because of their “Indy” tag. A lot of good stuff has happened here and a lot has changed, and yes, admittedly, I take it for granted. I suspect that’s because I spend more time looking at what’s next than looking back. I’m not a reminiscing type — the past doesn’t get my blood going, the future does.
Kiel Phegley: On the flipside of that, are there any things that come to mind that didn’t work out as you’d hoped? Are there projects that never gelled or saw the light of day as you’d originally envisioned them?
Joe Quesada: Oh sure, there are always projects like that, though most are usually the occasional book here and there. Usually, when we do “projects,” a lot of thought goes into them, so they tend to do well. But, hey, remember U-Decide?
But here’s the thing about stuff like that, I’m glad that those kinds of projects and ideas happened and I would relive every single one of them. You could draw a direct line and connect every so-so project we did to the most hugely successful ones that came out of Marvel during my tenure. Everything that didn’t work, we learned from and led to many more things that did work.
Kiel Phegley: We talk a lot here with the fans and about the fans. Do you think now that you’ve stepped down as E-i-C, questions about “One More Day” will be off your shoulders?
Joe Quesada: Oh, I’m sure I’ll hear about it from time to time, and it’s no big deal. It comes with the territory. And look, what doesn’t get said is how often now I hear from fans that say that they love the new status quo for Spidey. Whether they like how the bandage was pulled or not, the outcome has worked for them. That was the ultimate goal and everything that has come down with OMD and OMIT is nothing I didn’t expect.
Kiel Phegley: The other big piece of your time as Editor-in-Chief, which I think you took a cue from Stan on, is the idea that the E-i-C is the public face of the company. You’re the person who, not only a lot of stuff gets lobbed at you, but you go to public events and conventions and speak for Marvel. Is that going to change at all, or is Axel the one we’re going to be seeing on “The Colbert Report” moving forward?
Joe Quesada: I’m still going to be out there doing a lot public speaking for Marvel. I don’t know how much a lot of that will change. That said, I know Axel will most likely be doing the bulk of the speaking for Publishing, as he should. But, how he handles that is really up to him. No one should expect Axel to do things the way that I did them. That wouldn’t be fair to him — in time, he’ll find his own voice and what’s comfortable for him.
Moving forward, I suspect that the bulk of the stuff I’ll be out there talking about is stuff dealing with the big picture at Marvel, but we’ll see what it morphs into over time. This is the great unknown for me as well, so we’ll see how it takes shape.
Kiel Phegley: One issue that’s cropped up around Marvel in recent years, as the Disney thing happened and as Marvel Studios ramped up its output, is the question of whether companies like Marvel, or DC in that they’re closer to Warners, are leaving comics behind. The question of is this something where the big wigs look at publishing comics and say, “It’s there, but the focus is really making movies.” In what ways have you and Axel discussed Marvel Publishing continuing to be its own thing? Is there any way it can be left behind as other segments of the company grow?
Joe Quesada: Let me make this as perfectly clear as I can: Publishing is the life’s blood of what we do. While other areas of Marvel may make more revenue, I can’t think of a division that is more important to us right now. That’s not to say that Publishing doesn’t make a tremendous amount of revenue, it’s just that when you compare it to a major motion picture, it tends to get over shadowed. But from a consistency basis, it’s incredibly important, and from a content point of view, it is the end all, be all of what Marvel is.
Within our corporate structure, I always define Publishing as the hub. It is the “Idea Factory.” All of the great stories and ideas for Marvel are created within the hub and then spoke out to the other divisions. The stories and characters you will see in Marvel’s animation, television and movies, while altered to fit the medium they’re being presented in, will have all started in one way or another inside the pages of a Marvel Comic. Publishing is where all the ideas are generated, it’s the source & inspiration for every other aspect of Marvel. Sure, we can take ideas that were generated in Iron Man comics over the years and distill them into an Iron Man movie and generate significantly more revenue than the comic could, but ultimately that movie wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the comic book.
Jonah Weiland: I recently asked Mark Waid this question as he was leaving the E-i-C spot at BOOM! Studios, even though he only had three years to your ten. [Quesada Laughs] But I asked him to give himself a grade as Editor-in-Chief, and I think he gave himself a “B” or a “B+.” That’s a hard question to answer because you have to step outside yourself and look at your work critically, but what kind of grade would you give yourself as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel?
Joe Quesada: I can’t do that. I just don’t know. Honestly, I couldn’t grade myself because it’s like asking me to grade my artwork. Quite frankly, once I finish a piece of art, I’m ready to start the next piece in the hopes of making it better than the previous.
Jonah Weiland: Well, you talk about always looking at your art with a super-critical eye. Were you the same way with your work as Editor-in-Chief?
Joe Quesada: Like I said, I just so rarely reminisce about stuff. I also have such a distaste for people in any medium whose time has passed that spend their days criticizing those who are in the same trenches they laid in. That whole, “It was better in my day” stuff is really icky to me.
So, while I’d love to give you a romantic answer about how I look back on my tenure, the truth of the matter is that to me, it feels like old news at this point. My whole attitude is simply, “Hey, that was fun! Go kick DC’s ass Axel! Okay, what’s next on my plate? Cool, stand back — I’m going to break these!”
Jonah Weiland: Speaking of necessary evils, as you look forward to having your days take on more of a creative capacity, have you ever thought about writing a book about your time in comics? You sort of already wrote one with Bill Jemas years ago.
Joe Quesada: Eeeeeyeah, but the truth of the matter is that Bill really wrote that. [Laughter] Bill came in one day and was like, “We’re writing a book!” and I was just like, “Ooookay?” I wouldn’t necessarily consider that my retrospective on that time period. I remember Bill asking me to write some stuff, which I did, most of which wasn’t used, and then he asked me to edit some of his stuff, most of which he didn’t use. [Laughter] Bill was on a mission! [Laughter] I look back on some of the stuff in that book and I usually wince as I read through it, but mostly I laugh out loud.
I’ve personally thought about writing something from time to time, but I really don’t know how interesting it would be. The truth of the matter is that the really interesting stories are the ones I can’t tell or I would never tell. While great stories, it’s the kind of stuff that’s not proper airing out. But I’ve often thought that my experiences would make for a fantastic sitcom. [Laughter] There are so many characters in this industry, and I don’t mean on the page. Some of the people who work in comics are bigger and more interesting than any super hero we’ve ever written.
I’ve also accumulated a lot of knowledge over my years here about a lot of different things, and one of the things I really enjoy is talking to up and coming talents. I love trying to motivate and guide talented people towards better and more logical business decisions and artistic choices, so who knows — maybe there’s a book in there for me someday. Regardless, the point is moot. Who has the time to write a book?
Kiel Phegley: To wrap by looking forward, now that the Publishing division is off of your shoulders, what are you most excited about accomplishing with Marvel in 2011?
Joe Quesada: There’s too much stuff to list, and so much of it is still in the developmental stages, so I wouldn’t be able to talk about it anyway. What I can say is that the things on my “To do” list extend way beyond 2011, just as they did on my list when it was only publishing. It’s an amazing new world here at Marvel, we have so many incredible doors that have opened up to us, but even I’m floored at how quickly and smoothly things are happening. Not a week goes by where I’m not floored by some new opportunity that has come our way. The toughest part for me is keeping it all bottled up inside.
But, the one thing I can talk about is what the future looks like for our creators. If you look down the line — and Dan Buckley’s been instrumental in this, as has been Alan Fine — you will see that more and more of our comic creators have been getting involved in the Marvel stuff outside of the comics world. And that’s as it should be. Back in the day, so many of us in the creative community would sit back and watch someone produce a TV show or a movie based on a comic book and see it flop miserably because those people didn’t understand what made those characters work. We’d sit there going, “Why didn’t they hire comic book people?” Well, that’s what Marvel is doing. Slowly but surly, you’ll be seeing names you recognize getting involved in other aspects of Marvel Entertainment. Just look at the “Ultimate Spider-Man” animated show we’re working on. The creative team consists of Brian Bendis, Paul Dini and Men of Action. We’ll be announcing some more stuff down the road, too, with more comic book folks. So stay tuned, it’s going to be fun.
It won’t be long before you’re not just reading about the Marvel Universe, you’re going to be living in it!