Thursday afternoon Marvel Comics held a press conference call attended by Marvel Editor In Chief Joe Quesada, Assistant Editor John Barber, Marketing Director John Dokes and a host of Marvel staffers, plus the star of the hour Damon Lindelof, co-creator and Executive Producer of the hit TV series “Lost” and writer of the upcoming “Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk.”
The press conference started slowly as we waited for Lindelof to join the call, so Joe Quesada and crew opened the call up to question until his arrival. Quesada was asked about the numerous super star writers coming in to work at Marvel and how much background information these writers already had, or did Marvel have to spend a lot of time bringing these writers up to speed. “I would say that every single one of these new writers that’s come to Marvel are already Marvel readers,” Quesada said. “I would say about 90% of them are current Marvel readers who go into the comic shop and are aware of everything that’s going on in the books. Damon is chief amongst them. The other 10% that haven’t read the current stuff are familiar with stuff from the last 10 years or so, so bringing them up to speed is relatively easy. But they already come with the predisposition to love comics and have a certain understanding of the medium and format of writing them.”
Assistant Editor John Barber added, “I’ve worked closely with Damon on this stuff and he’s incredible. He literally has read every Ultimate book as they came out. He might have missed a couple of team-up issues, but so did we. (laughs) He’s an amazing comics fan. He actually sent in part of the script for ‘Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk’ #1 the day after he won his Emmy. That’s a real fan!”
“It’s just an Emmy,” joked Quesada. “It’s not like it’s writing a comic! It’s not a Wizard award!”
A question was asked about marketing support for the Ultimate brand and what kind of push would be done outside of house ads and the Web site. Dokes pointed out that Marvel will be running ads in Comic Shop News and Wizard Magazine and will be making up posters for retailers. He also noted the post cards that have been sent to retailers focusing on the “Ultimate Vision” story line and other titles that are coming out. “We’re putting a lot behind it and we’ll continue to put a lot behind it throughout 2006 and beyond,” said Dokes.
Following up on the question, Marvel was asked would attention be paid to pitching the Ultimate books towards those who aren’t active readers of comics. Marvel said that they will be doing an oversized trade featuring a couple of volumes of the “Ultimate X-Men” trades with a lower entry price for readers. The book will include a new cover by “Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk” artist Leinil Francis Yu. Marvel also noted that we’ll be seeing more Ultimate stories in the Flip Magazines distributed at 7-11s and comic shops around the country.
“I think having Damon Lindelof from the top TV show in the nation right now writing a key Ultimate book is going to go a long way to bringing in new readers,” Marketing Director John Dokes added. “There will also be articles in the TV Guide that comes out in the third week of December talking about not only ‘Lost,’ but also Damon writing ‘Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk.'”
Quesada added, “Also, over Christmas I will be performing a stunt at Rockefeller Center where I plan to parachute… no, actually, I can’t. (laughs)”
When asked why Lindelof ended up on “Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk” as opposed to any other Ultimate or Marvel title, Quesada explained, “It came out of a simple conversation with Damon. Once I heard he was interested in writing for us– which blew me away to begin with– we arranged to have a phone call and we started talking about Marvel and how he was fanboying out on everything. Then we got to talking about the Ultimate Universe and what a big fan of it he is. Somehow or other we got into the conversation of possibly doing an Ultimate book and I just sort of spit out, ‘What about this?’ I don’t know why I said it because we really didn’t have plans for it at any particular time. I know that Mark Millar had just finished the trial of Bruce Banner and all those things. There had been talk about where Hulk would show up next. Then, about 15 minutes later we had a bit of a concept. And Damon liked it being his first project because it’s a no-holds barred project. There’s no attachment with respect to continuity as these characters are meeting for the first time. And he was sort of getting off on the idea of what that would be like. You’ll be seeing things in this book that you never thought you’d see in an Ultimate book. What the Hulk initially does to Wolverine is rather painful. Let’s leave it at that.”
There are plans to collect “Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk” in the usual three to four month turn around time once the series has completed. It was noted that there might well be a premier hard cover of “Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk” when the time comes.
At this point Damon Lindelof joined the conference and questions started pouring in for him.
Damon Lindelof: I think that the Wolverine that the Hulk met in “Incredible Hulk” #181 was such a different character than what he has evolved into, let alone what he has evolved into in the Ultimate Universe, which is an entirely different story as it is. My plan is instead of making it a Wendigo based slug fest that it was in #181, obviously this is a six-issue series, so in the spirit of the Ultimate Universe that’s been set-up by Millar and Bendis it’ll be a much more character based approach in terms of who these guys are and why they’re fighting and what the aftermath of the fight is. And ultimately, the big challenge in a comic book like this is we’re not going to kill Hulk or Wolverine, so who wins and how it resolves itself and how that will satisfy is obviously a big goal of it. Also, Wolverine was introduced in #181 in a much shorter story arc, so I’ve got a little bit more time and energy to invest in it in terms of resolving those issues.
Does the Hulk eat anybody?
DL: You don’t see him eat anybody, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done it!
Obviously there’s a Hollywood trend with so many television and film writers coming to comics. How wide-spread is the comic book fever?
DL: I think what’s sort of interesting about it is that there are about four or five comic book stores in and around Los Angeles that are sort of the cool spots to hang out at. The big secret about most of us is that we all grew up on comic books and read them every week, still. It’s almost like we’re buying pornography as we sneak away from our wives on Wednesday evenings and sort of nod at each other in our hats and sunglasses as we congregate in the aisles there. The reality is we’ve grown akin to that sort of storytelling since we were kids and we still practice that. So, it’s an opportunity to involve ourselves in that playground. In Hollywood we get micro-managed by networks and studios, so we have the opportunity to have real creative freedom and to write stories that aren’t constrained by budgets, which is very liberating for us. So, once the opportunity presented itself, it really was a dream come true and I think a lot of my colleagues feel the same way. I think you’ll probably see a lot more crosspollination between Hollywood writers and the comic book industry. The story telling is so exciting and writers go where the story telling boundaries can be pushed.
Do you have any plans beyond “Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk” with Marvel?
DL: In this case the idea was actually Joe’s in terms of I didn’t go to them and say I want to do this. I put out feelers that I would love to write a comic book. If he had come to me and said we’re going to do Super Skrull, I would have jumped on board that.
JQ: You would? (laughs)
DL: The real sort of fundamental idea of me writing the comic book breaks down into a time issue. “Lost” is an incredibly time consuming endeavor. It’s an 80 hour a week job that consumes my Saturdays and my Sundays. I would work full time writing comic books if that opportunity was afforded to me. Our collaboration up until now has been amazing, so I would love to do more projects with these guys, but it’s just a matter of carving out the time so I can be respective of their process in terms of actually getting the book out. I’m hoping beyond this we continue to work together, but as to specific ideas that I have, I’m still working hard on getting the Wolverine/Hulk thing right.
JQ: You also know that this is where the money is, baby.
DL: Of course! We’re all in it for the money and, of course, the girls! (laughs)
Speaking of meeting deadlines, where are you at in “Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk?”
DL: All I can say is I’m doing my best and these guys have been incredibly cooperative in working with me. The first issue is done and I’ve seen Leinil’s artwork and it’s nothing short of fantastic. I’m about half-way through with the second issue and I obviously have the entire series plotted out, but it is not written. It comes as no surprise to me at all that comic book writing is a lot harder than I thought it might be. It’s very time consuming in terms of finding the time to do it and do it right because we all want to produce a very high quality book here. I believe that we’ve now created a deadline schedule that I can manage.
Again, “Lost” has a way of throwing curve balls my way and there are always fires to put out. When I put aside time to work on the book, sometimes that time gets supplanted by my day job and these guys have been very understanding about that. John will e-mail me back remarking how he’s getting pages back from me at 5:00 in the morning and thanks me for doing my best. I don’t want to write anything that’s not of a high quality because they’ve set the bar hire over there with this line.
Is this series in continuity? What kind of lasting ramifications will this series has?
DL: Yes, it’s within Ultimate continuity and you’d have to ask these guys specifically for the timing on where this falls. I don’t want to give away anything that Mark is doing in his book, but this story starts roughly six-to-eight months after Banner’s “execution” on the decommissioned aircraft carrier, at least in issue #1. In issue #2 we go back to that moment and track Banner across the globe to where he ends up so that he and Wolverine are in the same place and ready to start fighting by the end of the second issue. We jump forward and back in time in the same fun way that Bendis and Mark do. By the end of this story, where it ends up, it will function within Ultimate continuity, but I do not know where we’ll be in those other books, specifically “The Ultimates.” I don’t want to give away what Mark or Jeph Loeb’s plans for Banner, if any, are.
You talked a little bit about how the creative process is different for comics in how you’re not constrained by budget. Have you thought of any ways of taking television writing styles and adapting those to comics?
DL: Yeah, in a lot of ways they’re similar mediums, but the way they’re most strikingly different is, and I think it’s probably a common trap that a TV writer would fall into as they segue into comic book writing, is you will over write. A two-page scene of two characters talking to each other on a TV show will play out over two minutes, but in comic books that’s like nine pages at 14 panels a page or something like that. That would just dizzy your brain. So, I’ve actually found myself writing a lot more visually in comic books.
The other thing is in TV you do have to direct on the page, writing wise, because the directors are visitors. In the case of “Lost,” they fly down to Hawaii, they’re there for two weeks, they shoot the episode and may not be as familiar with the show as the actors, the crew or especially the writers are. So, you have to be fairly specific as to how something should look or even, in many cases, what the camera is doing. That’s proven to be a very useful skill in terms of designing the panel, being very specific to what we’re seeing and how it plays out. Fortunately, the TV experience is useful in terms of doing that. But it’s a lot more fun in comics writing because, again, what can be in that panel can be anything under the sun. There are no limitations. You can blow stuff up and have dynamic action sequences that would take days and days to shoot in TV. So, I find I try to edit myself in my comic book writing, thinking “We can’t afford this,” but then I remember we don’t have to shoot it. That’s very liberating.
You mentioned how the “Lost” crew were all big comic fans, so I’m guessing they all want to know what your plans are for “Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk.” Have you passed around your script to the “Lost” writing staff and if you have, have they given you any notes back?
I’ve really kind of kept it to myself. One of the writers, Javier Grillo-Marxuach (whose a huge comic book fan boy and has his own creator owned title now), when I started getting some preliminary artwork on the book I would share it with him because I was so excited and he was sort of loosing his brain over that! Very recently, actually, with Jeph Loeb joining the staff of “Lost” for the back-half of Season 2, we’ve been having conversations amongst ourselves in terms of what I’m thinking and planning story wise and vice versa, so it’s nice to have somebody in the family to bounce ideas off of. I tend to be very secretive about works in progress and don’t want it to be out there until it’s done because I’m convinced it sucks and I don’t want anybody to know my secret before it’s too late to change it!
Six issues. Big Ultimate Universe book. Are we going to see any guest stars?
DL: There definitely will be guest stars and what’s sort of fun about the Ultimate Universe is the opportunity to have a world to play in that is not as dense in terms of guest stars as the regular Marvel Universe. I can say safely by the time you read the first book you’ll get a fair idea of who the most prominent guest star will be and he’ll be introduced into the Ultimate Universe through this series, but I’m not going to tell you who that is. It’ll be fairly obvious by mid-way through the first book. Then, there are a couple of characters I’ve always loved who will float in and out of the series, but I won’t be introducing them, they’re already in play. A couple of fun mutants will be appearing in the third or fourth issues, making brief cameos. But all in service of Wolverine vs. Hulk. I don’t want to convolute the story with billions of guest stars, especially when our two stars are so dynamic and people are handing over their money to see them go at it and we want to deliver that first and foremost.
DL: That’s not currently in the plans, but you never know when a polar bear might roll in. At the very least there might be a wendigo sighting!
Talk about working with Leinil a bit. What’s that been like? Do you guys discuss the series much?
DL: I’m sort of constantly in awe of Leinil’s talent and his instinct and speed. I think his brain works visually outside the normal bandwidth of anything that I’m really seeing in comics right now. Unfortunately, if there was anything I could say critical of him is that his art so very often upstages the writing in the books I’ve seen him do! (laughs) So, I have a hard challenge ahead of me in terms of writing a story that’s worthy of the imagery he’s coming up with. As we move into issues #2 and #3, where the real action kicks in, I’m hard pressed to think of any artist working within the industry right now who’s as exciting and ambitious and can draw in such a kinetic way these action sequences. At the end of the day, that’s what people want to see in a book that’s called “Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk.”
As to our interactions, I’ve never spoken with him on the phone. We exchange e-mails all the time and he’s actually a pretty good writer in his own right. I think he’s a fun guy and he’s so enthusiastic about the project in general. Whenever I’m feeling down or psyching myself into getting some pages done, I sort of bounce off him and he’s proven to be an inspiration that way as well.
Was the decision to go bi-monthly a safeguard with respect to your TV schedule?
DL: Yeah. Again, that I think is these guys being really understanding of the scenario I find myself in. My other masters, ABC & Disney, are very cool in terms of allowing me to do this comic book, but that was with the understanding that it wouldn’t get in the way of “Lost.” The real thinking comes down to we don’t want to sacrifice quality for time. That’s probably the real reason why we feel more comfortable with the bi-monthly schedule.
You don’t want your editor to have to crack the whip on you.
DL: Right, well, maybe a little bit! Some good old fashioned whip cracking isn’t the worst thing. As long as it’s not in the face! (laughs)
Some have complained that with some of these series there’s not enough meat in the beginning of these extended story lines. What kind of thoughts do you have on that in terms of this series? Will it be a slow build?
DL: It’s all about the story being told. The challenge in “Lost” has always been that they’re on an Island, the Island is mysterious and at what rate do you reveal the Island’s mysteries? I think the engine of a story like “Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk” is a much different one. Hopefully people who are buying the book just want to see these two characters interact with each other and what happens when they do. On that end, I believe the book is going to deliver on that. I think if you take ambitious projects like “Identity Crisis” at DC or “House of M” at Marvel, those are based fundamentally on mysteries. “Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk” isn’t based around any sort of central mystery, so therefore it’s more about the moves, machinations and character interactions between these two guys and I think six issues is exactly the right amount of time before it could go stale.
In terms of pay off’s, how hard is in writing comics compared to television?
DL: I think both are really tough. The thing about TV is that sometimes we have cliffhangers and sometimes we don’t. If you give the audience a cliffhanger every week, that becomes the expectation and it gives you no opportunity to wrap up mini-arcs. In a scenario like this, almost every issue is treated like an episode of television in that it has to have a cliffhanger, but I look at it more as the space between each issue of this series is like a commercial break. So, I want there to be a very dynamic ending to each issue so that you don’t change the channel, as it were. If you are having to wait four or five weeks for the next issue to come out, you want to make sure it’s exciting and compelling in terms of what’s going to happen next. To give the audience intrigue in terms of what’s happening next doesn’t necessarily have to based on a mystery as much as here is a compelling moment and we’re wondering how it will resolve itself. I’ve found that challenging in writing the comic because I don’t really have that experience. I’m sort of playing in a new medium. But hopefully, as I’ve concepted out the series, every issue ends with sort of a dramatic and intriguing moment. I would challenge anyone whoever buys issue one not to follow the series all the way through to its completion.