CUP O' JOE: Fraction On Thor, Free Comics & The OGN Debate

Welcome back for another installment of CUP O' JOE! Exclusively here at CBR, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada answers questions posed by you, the readers, in CBR's Marvel Universe forum as well as CBR staff. For a great heaping helping of the former, be sure to check out last Friday's CUP O' Q&A installment on the state of the X-Men, Spider-Man and some long-gestating projects. And as for the latter, read on!

Today's Q&A explores Joe's thoughts on some of the biggest breaking news to hit comics in the past week from how Marvel is preparing to capitalize on upcoming films like "Iron Man 2" and "Thor" in their comics arm, the different approached a company can take for Free Comic Book Day, why Matt Fraction was perfect for the "Thor" monthly comic and why exactly he finds original graphic novels to be counter-productive.

And be sure to browse around our CUP O' JOE mini-site for the latest installments of Joe's regular CUP O' Q&A interviews, a brand new poll that gives you a say in the future of Marvel, CUP O' DOODLE sketch features and more!

CUP O' JOE is Executive Produced by Jonah Weiland and Produced by Kiel Phegley.

Kiel Phegley: Joe, I'm not sure if you saw this little story that Mr. Brian Bendis did with MTV where he talked about the Marvel MMO video game not coming together, but he made some points I'd like to get your take on. Particularly, what do you think of his assertion that comics are still the place where "anything can get made," even when compared to how much you guys can do in other media like film?

Joe Quesada: It's one of the things I've always preached, particularly when we're talking to writers who might want to come over from film and TV - the fact that there is a certain purity of vision with comics. Very rarely if you write a screenplay does your exact screenplay, word for word, action for action, end up on the screen. Directors look at it. Producers look at it. Studios look at it. Actors look at it. Things get shifted around or altered or shortened to make it right for the screen. In comics, as a writer, the relationship is just between yourself and your artist and your editor for the most part. What you put down on paper is what you get in the actual book. You're able to dig into characters and storylines as deep as you want or as shallow as you want. You really control your own story's destiny. And I think that's one of the wonderful things about comic books.

And you know, that's something you see in our motion comics. You watch "Astonishing X-Men" or "Spider-Woman" online, and there's a feeling that you're getting a purity of vision. It's pure Brian Bendis and pure Joss Whedon. And with John Cassaday and Alex Maleev doing their thing, it's really the work of the creators, the motion artists and the editors as they collaborate and put these up on your screen.

With Marvel controlling so much of its own media production now, is there anything Marvel Universe related where it'd be hard to get things made the way you'd want on film or TV?

We certainly have more control over what it is we're doing, and the fact that those of us that are in the comic division get to consult on these movies helps them feel more like the Marvel comic product. But ultimately, they are different animals. You're spending thousands of dollars to put out a comic book, whereas you're spending millions of dollars to make a movie. A lot more hands are involved with respect to making a movie. Remember, you only have a certain number of minutes to tell your story, and it's not like if you put out a clunker you can make up for it with a better attempt the next month. A bad movie can kill a franchise, whereas one bad issue of a comic can be rectified within thirty days. But the beauty of the Marvel films now, is that guys who work in comics are involved. That's more than we could have said ten years ago about comic book movies that were getting made.

Matt Fraction is a perfect example. He got to sit down with Jon Favreau and Kevin Feige and discuss the new Iron Man movie. Being the current "Iron Man" writer, Matt could offer a unique perspective on the character. Bendis is involved in the Marvel Creative Committee, as am I. I'm sure, from time to time, we'll be bringing more creators in as projects call for them. More and more, the Marvel film world reaches out to the comics world, and now you're starting to see that other studios and comic companies are taking note and are looking to copy that formula in some way.

Speaking of Matt Fraction, he's going to have a lot going on in comics that will directly relate to the next two Marvel movies. For one, as with the first "Iron Man" movie, Marvel is putting out a lot of comics to capitalize on the character, from Fraction's "Invincible Iron Man..."

Eisner Award-winning "Invincible Iron Man," don't forget! [Laughs]

Of course! There's also a movie adaptation from Peter David & Sean Chen, and a kind of "classic" series by Fred Van Lente and Steve Kurth. How does Marvel juggle all this tie-in product?

It's something for our retailers to have in their stores at the time when people will have seen or are about to see the movie, will walk into their stores and want Iron Man product. They've got great Iron Man product to sell. That's been a philosophy we've been applying to our books since I've been here as Editor-in-Chief, and we've managed to work our comic book schedule and our release schedule on particular projects and design them around the movie releases in order to take advantage of all the hype and momentum offered by the films. People are more excited about Iron Man than ever, so we want to give them great product.

Do you feel you've gotten better over the years at this? I know a lot of people cited the fact that there were no X-Men comics that felt like they matched what people saw on the screen when that movie first came out. Is finding how to meet that expectation different for each movie, or is there a better overall system in place to deal with this challenge?

It's almost become a part of our way of thinking. With "X-Men," I remember when that had happened. It was right around the time I'd taken over as Editor-in-Chief. I remember there being a drought of accessible X-Men comics to go with the movie, so we rushed some things out the door, but it wasn't as much product as we would have liked, or the right kind. The boat was missed at that point. I remember [former publisher] Bill Jemas and I talking about it and saying, "We're never going to miss this boat again." [Since then,] we really geared our publishing efforts so that at the time of a movie project's release, we would have product that was appropriate for people who were discovering these characters for the first time.

But now, with the Marvel movies, it becomes a little bit easier because they're so ingrained and in tune with out universe. I guess it would be easy to say that the first X-Men movie distilled the group down to the five or six core characters and changed the look and feel of the comics. Still, we had to play catch-up in publishing, but nowadays we're very much in synch with the movies that we're producing ourselves. There's a wonderful synergistic approach to how the characters look and act and how the stories feel. The give-and-take is there, and that makes it easier to put out product for the movie where we're not chasing our tails. There's no finding out at the eleventh hour that suddenly Iron Man is in a purple armor in the movie and we're caught by surprise wondering how we're going to make this work within the comics.

Some other news that hit over the weekend is that - and I'm sure you'll see where I'm taking this - Marvel's Free Comic Book Day special will feature Iron Man and Thor, written by Fraction and drawn by John Romita, Jr., and then Fraction will become the regular writer of the "Thor" monthly. That's kind of a "two birds with one stone" situation.

It is called "greasin' the wheel," my friend. [Laughs]

Basically, what we're doing here is that Iron Man has got a tremendous amount of cachet now, and he's very quickly becoming a household name. People understand and know the character of Tony Stark and Iron Man, which was not the case a few years ago. Now the next character for us to build is Thor. I think in many ways, Thor is less recognizable to the mainstream at this point than Iron Man was before his first movie. So, we want to make people aware of Marvel's version of Thor, and we're using Iron Man as the carrot to leverage that. Here folks, have a free comic with Thor and Iron Man, and [we'll] introduce Thor via Iron Man's world. Oh yeah, and we're putting two of our very best creators on the book, just to spice it up for ya. The math is pretty simple for us. We know the characters are great. It's just a matter of getting eyeballs on them so that the rest of the world can come to realize what we in the comics industry already know.

Why, creatively, were Matt and John the two guys to do this? Matt's obviously made Tony his signature character at Marvel, but what kind of things do you hope to come from this collaboration?

You want to put marquee guys on these free comic books as much as you possibly can. Just because it's free doesn't mean it has to be mediocre. We want our best guys on it, with the best stories possible. Since it's free, it will be read by more people than any other book we do that year. It's a sampling issue, and that's a very, very important part of our business, and has been for a long time. Bill Jemas was really keyed in on to that early on, and there was no book that was sampled for free more than "Ultimate Spider-Man." We were putting it on the net for free, and eventually you could find it anywhere. That was Bill's philosophy: let them try it for free, and if we've made it great, people will come back to pay for more. We feel the same way with Free Comic Book Day.

The second element of the "Thor" news is the announcement that Fraction is taking over the character's monthly title. Everyone is waiting for "Siege" to be told before we know what the story will be for "Thor," but I want to ask, was it Matt's work on the "Iron Man"series before that movie came out that made him the right creator to handle "Thor" as his movie ramps up, or was it that Fraction's work on the "Thor" mini-series with Patrick Zircher seemed to synch up with where Marvel wants the character by movie time?

I'll be really honest with you., Matt has had a passion for Thor since he started here. He loves the character and just really gets wood for Thor. [Laughs] And when he heard that Thor was going to be available, he lobbied for the job. To be frank, we loved Matt's passion and knew he could do a good job, but he was a little bit underwater - he was doing a lot of books. And we were fearful that giving him another monthly was something where he could collapse under the weight of so much work so we were trying to, in the nicest of ways, discourage him from jumping in and adding another title to his schedule. But he wanted the thing so badly that I said, "Okay, write up some bullet points, pitch me your Thor. Let me know what you'd do with the character." He wrote up these beat sheets for many issues of "Thor," where he wanted to take the character, and I was blown away. Every one of these stories was epic and beyond anything I could imagine. He sold me and everyone here in editorial. Looking at the beat sheet he submitted, we could not not give him this book. He's going to bring the character to another level, which is perfect because of the impending movie. So, the bottom line is that we're going to have a rockin' Thor book and a very exhausted Matt Fraction to go along with it.

Changing topics slightly, but still sticking in the realm of Free Comic Book Day, DC has spent the week announcing new projects for 2010, and one of the big ones is that they'll be launching their new Superman event with a "War of the Supermen" #0 issue for free. That takes the FCBD idea and puts it to use, revving up both the existing market and new readers in a very specific way. What's your take on such an apples and oranges approach to the promotion from each company?

Everybody has a different philosophy on what they want to do, and if they feel this is what's important to their publishing program, then that's what they need to do. They introduce this new arc - that's cool. I'm sure some retailers may find it problematic, but it might sell some more books in the long run for them. In other words, you could look at it as an investment into selling future issues of the event. Our goals are a little different right now. Our goals involve characters we want to introduce to the mainstream, visibility and eyeballs, and that's why we're doing our book the way we are. I can't say one method is better than the other, as it's all a matter of what goal you're trying to achieve. And ultimately, in a lot of ways Matt Fraction writing Thor in "Iron Man" will introduce the fans to a taste of what he'll do on "Thor." In a roundabout way, we're doing something relatively similar, but our ultimate goal is in introducing Thor to the masses and [showing them] how friggin' cool he is.

The other thing that connected with some of our discussions from the past was the announcement that DC will be doing a line of "new continuity" superhero original graphic novels as a publishing program aimed at new readers called "Earth One." You've said before that you don't see the benefit to doing OGNs without serialization, but does a launch like this show that kind of program is more feasible these days?

People take the things I say and misread them and put words in my mouth. What I've said is that the graphic novel is not the best financial model with which to sell comic books. I don't know if they've announced page counts on these OGNs or not, but let's say for the sake of argument that the page counts is the equivalent of five comic books. If they were to take Geoff Johns' five issues of "Batman" and sell them monthly, they would probably end up making a lot more money than putting it out as a hardcover. Personally, we've never seen that model work for us financially. That's all I'm saying. I'm not saying people shouldn't do OGNs. I'm just saying for us, at Marvel, the math has never worked. If some people feel it works for them, then go with God.

Well, I think some of the folks who have commented on this feel like there's a creative cost paid that comes into play when you serialize a storyline, which you haven't commented on directly - that there's more a creator can do when not worrying about having to break off chapters right there at the 22-page mark. Have you ever felt that, even in the era of writing longer stories and stories for trade, that you can hit a wall and say, "I wish I had this many pages instead of this number of issues?"

That's the one weird thing. On so many occasions, we work here with writers who say, "You know what? I need some extra pages" or "I need an extra issue." And we do it. We're always in flux with some stuff, but it's just a matter of structure. If you're saying you don't want to see your stuff serialized, that's great. I'm just saying, I was asked a question about OGNs, and even from the financial standpoint of a commercial artist, if I'm looking for a way to maximize my time versus how much money I make versus how much exposure I get - an OGN doesn't make sense. Artistically, I may decide it's what I want to do in my heart of hearts. And that's okay. Go do an OGN. But if I'm looking at it from a pragmatic standpoint and from a career management standpoint - let's say it'll take me a year to do about six issues. I could do a year's worth of work and put it out as one graphic novel, and I'll be on the stands in perpetuity (if it's good) but promoted for really only one month. So my year's worth of work will give me one month of marketing around my name. And that'll boost my career for that month. The book will come out and sell to fewer people because I've had to put something like a $40 price point on it. I can't put it out as serialized issues because nobody's going to care at that point. Maybe after hardcover, I can put out a softcover for a little less money and make it affordable, but I'm still not capitalizing on it as I should. But to me that's working backwards from a career management standpoint. I could take that year of my life and be on the stands for six months, being marketed for six months. Then I put out my trade paperback and get marketed again. And then I can put out a deluxe hardcover to repurpose it again and so on and so forth. I think there's more bang for your buck if you go monthly at this point. And that's it. It doesn't mean people shouldn't do it. It just means that pragmatically, that's what makes more sense to me.

And let's not forget, what if the OGN isn't all that good? Now you've spent a year of your life for even less bang as your book will come and go and be lost amongst the plethora of mediocre-to-horrible OGNs that have faded into the ether. We always look at the best case scenario, the occasional OGN written by someone like Neil Gaiman that sold boatloads, but we seem to overlook how he is the exception and by far not the rule. If we could all sell books like Neil, the comics industry would be in a much different place.

Have some questions for Joe Quesada? Please visit the CUP O' Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Universe forum. It is from this dedicated thread that CBR's staff will pull questions for our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer session with Joe on Fridays, so get crackin!

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