The Knights of the Round Table had King Arthur to lead them; the Marvel Knights have editor Stuart Moore. Last fall, after nearly a decade at DC Comics and its "mature readers" line, Vertigo, Moore hooked up with cross-town rival Marvel, recruited by new editor in chief (and former MK boss) Joe Quesada. After spending a few months getting his feet wet and learning how do to things the Marvel Knights way, Moore is excited about what the future holds for the line. Some big projects are on the horizon, including new books starring Ghost Rider, the Punisher and Elektra. And who knows - maybe Moore can even get "Daredevil" back on a monthly schedule!
RUSSELL LISSAU: Why did you start working in comics?
STUART MOORE: I spent seven years at (mainstream publisher) St. Martin's Press, where I edited a variety of books: science fiction; mysteries; pop culture; humor. In 1990, DC placed an ad in Publishers Weekly looking for an editor from outside the field. I've always read comics and followed the field, and I'd edited some collections of strips and comics-related books. It was a good match. When I got to DC, (editor) Karen Berger handed me "Swamp Thing," which she felt needed a new perspective after the Alan Moore run and the Rick Veitch resignation. "Hellblazer" followed pretty quickly. But I think the first thing I really set up a new team on was "Doctor Fate," which I have fond memories of, but which never sold terribly well.
RL: Did you ever think you'd be running your own imprint at Marvel one day?
SM: If you'd told me six months ago I'd be working at Marvel, I'd have laughed you off the Internet. I've never felt in synch with the company's goals. But it's all changed. (Marvel president) Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada are sharp, sharp guys. They don't want to lose the company's strengths, which are huge, but they want the books to be better written and more accessible, and to try other genres.
RL: How long did you work at DC, and in what capacity?
SM: I came on in 1990 as an editor. At that time the mandates of the various editorial groups were kind of fuzzy; we were all doing superheroes, but some of us were doing more of other things, too. Around 1992 or 1993, when we started Vertigo, the lines became clearer. That was good and bad; everyone's job was clearer, and there were fewer continuity problems, but it sort of locked you in a little too. At the time, Vertigo was so exciting that it didn't matter. A few years later, I started the Helix imprint. I knew (DC publisher) Paul Levitz had wanted a science fiction imprint, and it's a particular interest of mine. The market wasn't too friendly, and in retrospect there are a lot of things I'd do differently about the launch, in particular - we wound up with more of the deeper, heady projects right up front, while the adventure-oriented ones took longer to produce, so the imprint looked too much like Vertigo at the beginning. But we got some good stuff out of it, including Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's "Transmetropolitan," which moved over to Vertigo and at this point is probably one of that imprint's longest-running titles. I edited some more Vertigo work after Helix ended, a lot of it "Books of Magic"-related. I was pretty proud of "The Trenchcoat Brigade."
RL: What did you like about working at Vertigo? What made it different from the rest of the DCU for you, and from the rest of comicdom?
SM: Vertigo is very much its own shop - kind of the way Marvel Knights is, though more integrated within DC's business practices. It's always been a great batch of people; I can't think of anyone there whom I've ever disliked. And at the beginning especially, we really did have a sense of pushing the medium. I don't like to make too many grand claims here; there's lots of incredible stuff that houses like Fantagraphics publish that Vertigo couldn't. But the emphasis on having writers experiment, on starting with the mainstream comics form and pulling it out in all different directions, was very exciting. We also had a nice freedom to build writers and artists slowly. You probably wouldn't have had "Preacher" if Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon hadn't done "Hellblazer" for so long.
RL: Why did you leave Vertigo?
SM: I left in July 1999. At the time I was involved in a startup of a comics/multimedia/Hollywood company that ultimately didn't all come together. But I was also finding myself more and more at odds with my superiors' goals for the Vertigo imprint. I've always promised myself I'll never stay in a job, getting bitter and sinking down further into my chair, just for a paycheck; I left St. Martin's at the top of my game, because the DC thing was so fascinating. At DC, it was more of a sense that nine years was enough. And it was unquestionably the right thing to do.
RL: How were your approached for the Marvel Knights job?
SM: I was immediately intrigued when I heard the news about Joe Quesada getting the (editor in chief) job. I left him a phone message - just "Good luck, and if you ever want to talk…" - but I knew he was up to his elbows. Everyone assumed Axel Alonso was going over to the Knights position, but they really wanted him smack in the middle of Marvel. Richard Starkings, the hidden master of the comics industry, recommended me strongly to Joe; I think Joe then called several writers and artists who must have said nice things about me. It all happened very fast.
RL: Why was going to Marvel Knights right for you?
SM: I did have a little trepidation about jumping back into the comics industry, which, in all honesty, can be a bit wearing after a while. But it's been great. The enthusiasm at Marvel is huge, and Joe and Bill really understand what the company's done wrong in the past. And the Knights position is set up so I can still do other things, like my freelance writing. Knights is not set up quite like any other editorial office; (fellow Knights editor) Nanci Dakesian and her assistant, Kelly Lamy, do a lot of what might traditionally be considered the follow-up part of an editor's job. We've all had to pitch in here and there since Nanci had her baby recently. But that's worked out wonderfully.
RL: What did Marvel Knights do well before you got there, and what are you trying to continue from the previous regime? Conversely, what did it do wrong, and what will you try to improve?
SM: The Knights formula is fairly simple: Pay top creators well and treat them straight - leaving them alone for the most part. The second part of that is crucial; when the imprint started, it had a great advantage over both Marvel and DC in just cutting through bureaucracy. Both Joe Quesada and his former partner, Jimmy Palmiotti, are primarily artists, and the artistic quality of the imprint has always been high. The writing's also been great, but unpolished in spots; that's a strength of mine, so I'm working on that. I also want to plan a little further ahead to avoid some of the scheduling problems the imprint has had; we've now got a longer commitment from Marvel, so that will help. Looking at it another way, Knights has always done what DC started to do in the late '80s and then, rather deliberately, backed away from: publish more sophisticated, edgier versions of Marvel characters. Fans love that, and with Joe in charge of all Marvel, I have a bit more freedom to play with all the Marvel characters than he had when Knights started.
RL: Who are your favorite current Marvel Knights creators?
SM: I don't like to pick favorites, but it's very nice to be working with Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon again. Though they really don't need me - they know exactly what they're doing.
RL: Who do you want to bring to MK who's not aboard yet?
SM: I prefer not to be specific, but in general, if someone's got a distinctive voice in the field, I'd love to do something with them. We have a lot of freedom to do one-shots, short miniseries, etc. There's usually a way to fit someone in. Guys like Joe Linsner and David Mack have done beautiful work with Knights without giving up their own, original books.
RL: Has it been hard following Joe Quesada as MK boss, especially since his wife is working alongside you?
SM: It's been remarkably easy. Joe and Nanci are absolutely terrific to work with; they trust me, and we all respect each other. Sometimes I'll defer to Joe on something and Nanci will decide to go argue the point with him, on the imprint's behalf! But beyond that, Joe's primary concerns are the characters, which he's the real guardian of now, and the art, which is his area of expertise. I'm still working with a lot of creative teams that he put together for the line, but I can't argue with that - they're great creative teams.
RL: An important question: What's up with "Daredevil?" If this is the line's flagship title, how can it be so late? What are you going to do to get DD back on a monthly schedule?
SM: I'll answer these together. I realize the "Daredevil" situation has been frustrating; I can finally announce that we're back on track. Issue #14 was finished - very well - by Dave Ross, who also finished penciling #15. Issues #16-19 are the Brian Bendis/David Mack storyline; the first two parts of that are finished, and I think David's just about wrapping up #18. After that, a very exciting new creative team comes on board. So while it's dangerous to promise these things, I'm quite confident we'll have twelve issues of "Daredevil" out in 2001. Beginning in January, there should be one issue per month. I'm not going to guarantee it with my life, but I don't see any reason why it won't happen.
RL: When I last spoke with Joe, he said there might be a Kevin Smith-written "Daredevil" hardcover. What's new there?
SM: That's a speculative project at this point. Both Kevin and Joe want to do it, but they're both insanely busy. Obviously I'll be happy to stick my nose in and "ooh" and "ah" over the pages whenever it comes about.
RL: Last question: What haven't we covered that you'd like to let readers know?
SM: There's a lot of understandable suspicion about Marvel based on its history over the past 10 years or so, and I know a lot of people wonder why editors like Axel Alonso and me would jump on board a company like that. All I can say is that so far it's an incredibly gratifying experience. We're doing exciting things, we're doing them fast, and it's just so nice to be working at a place where your bosses' first instinct is to trust you. The proof, of course, will be the books, and by spring you'll really see the results we've all been working toward.