Celebrating MarvelFest NYC 2009

The hours building up to the first ever MarvelFest NYC event were filled with torrential rain and cold weather. Fans anticipating the event on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook declared their nervousness for the possible climate problems associated with the huge outdoor event in Manhattan's Union Square. Whether or not Marvel called in a special favor with Storm might never truly be known, but the weather did clear up and MarvelFest roared on.

The festival included a variety of events, from a signing at nearby comic book shop, Forbidden Planet, with Dan Slott, Chris Claremont and Neal Adams; sketches for fans in the middle of Union Square; a well-attended costume contest that ended with Bucky/Captain America as the victor, though Spider-Sense Peter Parker and Pirate Deadpool gave him a run for his money; and, of course, the massive premiere of the "Astonishing X-Men" motion comic as projected on the three-story high Virgin Mega Store.

But it wasn't just Marvel fans that were out in full-force. In addition to a few attendees wearing rival gang colors - like one particularly vocal Batman doppelganger - various passersby took interest in the event, many of them curious as to why a legion of strangely dressed human beings were congregating in the middle of one of New York's busiest public spaces.

Such curiosity was the intended effect of MarvelFest NYC 2009, according to Marvel's Vice President of Business Development Mike Pasciullo. While the festival was designed primarily as a thank you to the company's dedicated fan base, it also served as an introduction of sorts to the off-the-street everymen and women with a fleeting interest in the superhero genre.

Pasciullo, a die-hard Philadelphia Phillies fan who made his allegiance known on multiple occasions, spoke with CBR News about the origins of MarvelFest, the possibilities of future events, the evolution of motion comic books and the overall future of Marvel as a popular culture fixture.

Mike, take us back to the origins behind MarvelFest NYC 2009. What kick-started the idea?

Basically, we celebrated the premiere of the "Astonishing X-Men" motion comic book coming out on iTunes, so we were looking to do something to signify how big of an event this was - and not just to our fan base, but to the mainstream public as well. It's a great way for them to digest the art form, as well as the fact that it's [created by] Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, so there's a lot of crossover there. We wanted to do something that was bigger than what we had traditionally done in the industry in the past, so we started looking around and wanting to do an outside event with the "Astonishing X-Men" comic. That's when we started talking about projecting it up on a building, and things started flowing from there. Once we had that as the foundation of the idea, we just had to figure out how to bust it up and make it a true Marvel festival - then we realized that we were three days away from Halloween, and we know that our fans love to dress up!

One thing that I don't think the mainstream understands is how fanatical and how great our fans are. This is an opportunity to show all of New York just how great our fans are, and give them an opportunity to celebrate themselves.

Was that a big reason behind bringing this event outdoors - so that you can literally drag people off the street and get them involved?

Absolutely. There's a lot of traffic here just walking by, and when you have a spectacle or a festival like this, you kind of get their attention. They probably haven't been to a comic book store or read a comic in years, so it's a great opportunity for us to get that walk-by traffic. It's basically us taking the message to the people, as opposed to trying to get the people to the message.

Aside from the motion comic debut, the costume contest and the signings, is there anything else that Marvel thought to include, but maybe couldn't pull together in time or didn't think would ultimately work for this type of event?

I'll tell you what - thank goodness it stopped raining. We were trying to figure out how to build a dome four hours ago! [Laughs] Honestly, there's not much. Once we got the sketch artists right here, we felt good about that. We're giving a great opportunity to the fans - and, once again, just regular people - to come up and get a sketch of Spider-Man, to meet the creators and things like that. We probably would've liked to have more creators attend the event, but between the weather and the Phillies about to win the World Series... [Laughs] It just didn't all come together. But we did have a great response from our creators who came out and donated their time to meet the fans and meet the general public. That was very good.

How does Marvel measure the success for an event like this? Is there a concrete number you'll be able to look at or is it going to be based more on the vibe you get from attendees?

I think it's a little of all of that. There's no direct return on the investment that we can measure it by, but you see the press that we got beforehand as well as the people here covering it. You look at the crowd that's out here and see all the people we're interacting with. Right now, I believe it's been a very successful, special event. Here are people coming out on October 28th, dressed in Marvel costumes, when it was raining just a few hours ago - it really shows dedication.

Assuming that this goes as well as you want it to go, do you imagine that MarvelFest could expand, whether that's in terms of length or replicating the event in another location?

It's something that, before the actual event today, we had put some preliminary thought into and said, "Let's see how the event goes." In experiencing it so far today, it's definitely, I think, something we're going to look to do and expand. Part of the reason we called this MarvelFest NYC is that we could take this to other cities - we could call it MarvelFest Chicago, MarvelFest Los Angeles, MarvelFest World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. [Laughs] That [label] gives us an opportunity.

Again, just looking at the success and knowing that it's late fall and this is going so well, it's probably something we'd like to do in the spring, summer and other locations as well as New York, and expand on it. Maybe make it longer; maybe look at doing it on a weekend and just blowing it out even bigger than what we've done so far.

These kinds of events aren't seen much outside of the convention circuit, but in a way, a longer MarvelFest could be its own Marvel Con, for lack of a better phrase.

Exactly, and now that we have our fingers in so many different things, between the animation, theatrical, digital and publishing, there's a lot of different ways that we can define this to create a true family experience, as well as a fan experience, that also reaches out to people who don't come into the comic book stores.

Let's talk about the main attraction tonight: the motion comics. What do you find so appealing about this new medium?

When I started reading comic books as a kid, I went to the local convenience store and picked up a couple of comic books, and then I picked up a few more, and eventually made my way into a comic book store. Unfortunately, with the way that newsstand distribution is these days, kids don't have that opportunity anymore. It's a whole different culture now, too. [People] are in front of their computers more, in front of their televisions and their handheld devices, so this is a great opportunity to get our characters in front of them, and our complex storytelling - just introducing them to it so they start getting familiar with it and liking it, then going to that next level of possibly going into a comic book store. If it's not going into a comic book store, then it's the movies and digital comics.

This is just a gateway to a lot of fans that we're not reaching right now. And it's very accessible - again, we're bringing the message to where they are, not asking them to come to where we are.

Looking specifically at the "Spider-Woman" and "Astonishing X-Men" motion comics, what makes these particular stories the right ones to kick off the medium for Marvel?

With "Spider-Woman," Brian [Bendis] has always been a pioneer of new technologies and formats for comic books, so it was a natural fit. He's been excited about motion comic books for years now, so when the opportunity presented itself, he wanted to be a part of that process, and we said "Absolutely." The artwork that Alex Maleev does also lends itself very well to that type of storytelling - the way he storyboards everything out - so that was also a natural fit. Also, "Spider-Woman" is tied into the "Secret Invasion" storyline, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make this very relevant as well.

When it comes to "Astonishing X-Men," first of all, it was a great series. It's also the type of series where you can hit the ground running. If you hadn't picked up an "X-Men" comic in your entire life, or you'd just watched the cartoon, it was a great entry point. Also, it's Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, and the artwork is spectacular. John designs his artwork in such a way that it's almost like you're watching a film while reading the book. On top of that, Joss has such a crossover appeal, and it really helps to get that kind of promotion against it, too.

When you look at creating an entirely original motion comic book like "Spider-Woman" and going back to convert "Astonishing X-Men" for the medium, does it seem like one method is harder than the other or do both processes present their challenges?

I've been fortunate - or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it - that I haven't been involved in the production of the motion comic books on the day-to-day level. I do know that both presented their own challenges, but the best thing about doing this is doing them both in different ways. There's a learning curve on both areas. What we've learned just from doing these comic books is invaluable, so when we go into the next phase of releases, it'll show just how much we learned and we'll be able to go from there.

Content-wise, what can we expect from future motion comics? Do you see Marvel creating more original content or mostly going back and mining something like "Civil War" for the medium?

I don't think they're mutually exclusive, obviously. I think we'll just look at how each comic does, what the reaction is, what we've learned from the process so far and then look at the opportunities. I think original content is a great way to do it, as well as going back. I mean, we have 70 years of amazing stories that we'd love to not just show our fans how it can appear in motion, but there's an opportunity to introduce these stories to people who aren't comic book fans.

What are some of the distribution methods Marvel is looking at for motion comics? Have you thought about DVD? Television? Maybe even movie theaters? There are also rumors going around about the Apple Tablet - are these all methods that Marvel is exploring?

We're looking at every opportunity right now. Obviously, we're starting with iTunes right now because it has such a great foundation, and so many fans already. As far as other venues and other levels, we're looking at it all right now and trying to figure out how it works. The way that technology is, it changes so quickly that you can't even be with the curve; you've got to be ahead of the curve. Right now, we're exploring all opportunities and seeing what works best.

How can retailers get involved on the motion comics side of things? Does this avenue by its nature kind of cut the retailers out of the deal?

I don't think so. We're always mindful of our retailers and we're trying to figure out ways to [get them involved]. One, I do think this draws people into stores, eventually - it acts as a gateway to them. But we're always mindful of the retailers. Right now, we're looking for ways to involve them in this as well, find ways that they can make money off of the medium and exploit it at the same time.

Looking at all of these things - motion comics, MarvelFest, the pending Disney deal and everything in between - what does the future look like for Marvel in your eyes?

For the last couple of years, just from the publishing standpoint, leading up to what's been going on with the movies in the last couple of years and seeing what's going on in animation with "Super Hero Squad," and of course we've got the motion comics now - there just seems to be so much going on. It feels great. Marvel has always been a big part of pop culture, but it really feels like it's exploding right now in so many different directions. The energy within the office is unbelievable. It's definitely a good time.

What about MarvelFest specifically - seeing this happen all around you, how do you feel about the way the night turned out?

About three hours ago when it was raining, I don't think there was anybody who wanted to talk to me at that point. [Laughs] But the sky is cleared and it's turned out to be a really nice night out. The attendance is great. I've seen some of the costumes and I've seen them at conventions - and I believe that they were coming to conventions because it's a place to do it - but to see them come out here is just amazing. I am ecstatic right now. The only drawback is that I'm probably going to miss the beginning of the World Series, but other than that, I am very happy at the moment! [Laughs]

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