In the comic book industry, there's a lot of talk about the "mainstream" - being part of it, appealing to it, and find the place of comic books in the life of the typical mainstream person. Sometimes these involve crossovers with other companies and sometimes it's simply the involvement of a well known popular author, such as the recent turn to comics by scribes such as Brad Meltzer and, next year, Stephen King. But now Marvel Comics is taking the idea of a promotional crossover in a different direction, teaming up with the classic daytime soap opera "Guiding Light" to expose a new audience to the world of Marvel Comics' superheroes. This isn't the first time that "Guiding Light" and Marvel have teamed up - the recent wedding of Black Panther & Storm featured a wedding dress designed by Shawn Dudley, the costume designer for "Guiding Light." This new crossover is an 8-page backup written by Jim McCann (Marvel Comics' Assistant Manager Of Sales Communication), with art by Udon and will appear in a number of Marvel Comics books (with the flip books featuring a nifty "Guiding Light" poster). Those books are:
"Civil War: Choosing Sides"
"Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane" #11
"Marvel Select Flip Magazine" #18
"Marvel Tales Flip Magazine" #17
"Marvel Adventures Spider-Man" #21
"Spider-Man And Power Pack" #1
"Marvel Adventures Flip Magazine" #18
"Marvel Heroes Flip Magazine" #18
"Amazing Spider-Girl" #2
"Franklin Richards: Happy Franksgiving!"
"Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four 18"
"Ultimate Marvel Flip Magazine" #19
"Ultimate Tales Flip Magazine" #19
With the origin of this super-powered character set to appear on the November 1st episode of CBS' "Guiding Light," McCann spoke to CBR News about this seemingly unconventional crossover. "In my story, we assume that Springfield [the town in which 'Guiding Light' takes place] actually exists in the Marvel U- it is not part of a TV show," McCann told CBR News. "Back in Springfield, the character's powers have flared up again, causing S.H.I.E.L.D. to send in the Avengers to investigate - it's not every day someone in the Midwest gets powers [laughs]! Unfortunately, they don't come alone as some of Marvel's most ruthless villains descend upon the town as well for a battle royale! We hope that the wide variety of books featuring the 8-page backup will offer soap fans a chance to also sample a comic they or a loved one (child, spouse, etc) will like as well.
"I tried to use highly recognizable characters from Marvel to help soap fans coming to this cold not feel too lost. I also tried to write a classic 'Marvel' story, with many of the hallmarks our fans have come to expect. I hope fans of both genres enjoy it, but most importantly, I hope the 'Guiding Light' fans see something they like in our genre. I think (Head Writer) David Kreizman and (Exec Producer) Ellen Wheeler have put together a great episode in their 11/1 show that our fans will really enjoy watching. I mean, hell, it's even named 'She's a Marvel!'"
Marvel Comics fans will no doubt be thrilled to see the New Avengers as the stars of the story, though this is all pre-"Civil War," so Captain America and Iron Man won't be beating the snot out of each other quite yet, and there's also a new incarnation of the Sinister Six rearing its head. "I think the 'Guiding Light' fans will be happy to know that one of their most popular super-couples, Gus & Harley, feature prominently in the story, as well as Buzz, Olivia, Coop, Mallet, and Alan Spaulding," revealed McCann. "In addition, it is revealed that one of our characters and one of theirs actually have a history, a prior relationship that does not make things go smoothly once everyone converges in Springfield!"
Fans can also expect some sharp renderings of their favorite Avengers, with Udon artist Alex Chung penciling the back-up tale. "I saw his stuff in a custom comic he did and thought his storytelling was clean & classic and perfect for a potential first-time comic reader," said McCann. "He blew me away! His renderings of the Guiding Light characters are great, without being distracting, and he really got the emotion out of these characters onto the page that the viewers are used to seeing on their televisions each day!"
Within the halls of Marvel Comics, McCann's perfectly suited to handle this collaboration. Previously, McCann worked on one of the most popular soap opera of all times - "One Life To Live," home of critically lauded actress Erika Slezak, and former home of current Superman actor Brandon Routh. "I started the ABC Daytime Writer Development Program in 2001 after a chance meeting with one of the actors on 'One Life to Live,'" said McCann. "Word got back to ABC that I had won awards in college for plays I had written & they wanted to see what I could do. I took three days off of work and wrapped up a spec screenplay I had wanted to finish and sent it off. They liked what they saw and admitted me into the program. I spent a number of months watching the shows and reading scripts and breakdowns, really studying how the genre worked. I was able to ask executives, writers, and editors any questions I had about why certain decisions were made, what the restrictions were for Daytime, the amount of information available to me was wonderful. Then they had me write sample scripts for each of the different shows to see which one I clicked best with and whose tone I best matched. A scriptwriter for Daytime really has to hone their ear since they are responsible for writing the dialogue and really infusing these characters with a sense of history and making sure they sound consistent. A scriptwriter writes an entire day's script, regardless of story, so they have to pay attention to every character and every plot. The scriptwriter is responsible for at least one script per week, which averages 80+ pages! It was an excellent lesson in deadlines and dialogue.
"When I actually got the chance to write a script to air, it was for 'One Life To Live,' which has been a longtime favorite of mine. The episode I wrote was very memorable for me (hopefully for some fans, too) since it was the episode where Cristian Vega proposed to Natalie Buchanan. It was also the episode that introduced the legend of the Badrah Diamond. While many fans groan at the mention of that storyline, I loved writing the scene that explained the Diamond's history. The note in the breakdown simply said that the mystic woman tells Dorian the strange and deadly history of the Badrah and its curse. That's all. I was given free rein to create this elaborate back-story that set up the rest of the storyline."
That experience in both the worlds of soaps and comics have helped McCann to not only understand a wide variety of fans and their needs, but also to see how similar both mediums are when it comes to scripting. "It's funny because once people take a look at the two mediums, they will see we are not that different," he explained. "Beyond the usual hallmarks (evil twins, back from the dead, etc) take a quick look at this description and tell me what you think I am talking about:
"What other medium are you faced with telling a story using characters with 60 years of history and continuity, trying to keep the essence of these established stories while moving characters forward, putting them into extreme circumstances, and delivering these stories on a consistent basis to a rabid, but declined from years past, fan-base?
"Both! Soaps and comics are two of the greatest forms of serialized story-telling today. And both are faced with the same problems. Both have to produce their product year-round - each soap has to put out 5 hours of original programming a week - that is 260 hours a year! Marvel currently puts out 70+ titles a month, over 50 of which are monthly on-goings. Both have faced negative stereotypes in the mainstream. Both have launched incredibly successful careers for those who started in these industries and both have highly visible and respected writers and professionals as fans who are starting to come out and show their support of the medium.
"Both have to serve two masters as well. They both have to serve the existing fan-base while trying to attract new fans to grow their respective markets. It's a fine line that both walk when coming up with stories to tell."
While McCann's argument is difficult to refute, that logical train of thought didn't deter some fans from quite loudly snickering at, if not outright mocking, the announcement of this soap opera crossover. "Snickers? You're being kind! But it was rather expected," admitted McCann. "What I didn't expect was the number of comic fans with out-dated and incorrect views of the average soap viewer. Much like comic fans are misrepresented by the slob who lives in his mom's basement, long gone are the days of the house frau with curlers in her hair, ironing while she watches her soaps. That's completely wrong. Gone are the days of a stay-at-home parent in most of the country. The majority of soap watchers are out-of-home watchers, meaning students in a dorm, professionals at work on their lunch hour, etc. Neilsen just announced recently that they will be adding dorms to their research, a step that will surely show a reversal in the declining ratings for soaps. Also, since the proliferation of VCRs and DVRs, more working adults record their soaps and watch them at night and on the weekends. The average viewer has a disposable income and is hungry for ancillary products, something that soap fans don't have much of. Recent soap storylines have featured tie-in novels that have reached as high as #6 in the New York Times bestseller list! So, reaching out to a fan-base that wants more product makes sense."
Okay, so we've got the answer as to the benefit of working with soaps, but the selection of "Guiding Light" surprised some soap fans who would have assumed that a more popular soap would have been chosen. Though one can't doubt the importance of "Guiding Light" in the world of television, CBS' other soaps, such as "The Young & The Restless" and "As The World Turns," are two of the most popular soaps, with "Y&R" as the most popular soap opera in the world! "Why 'Guiding Light?' Simply put, they said yes. A lot," explained McCann. "Procter & Gamble Productions has been letting 'Guiding Light' really think outside the box to attract new viewers, including webisodes, blogs, and these special 'Inside The Light' episodes like the one on 11/1 that follow a single character or storyline, are a departure from the usual structure of a, b, and c storylines told in 6 acts."
Building on McCann's earlier comments, there may be similarities between the fans of soap operas and comic books, but that doesn't mean that this back-up tale was a piece of cake to write. McCann explained that appealing to such a diverse audiences involved a lot of research, as well as finding that delicate balance between Marvel and Guiding Light characters. "I watched weeks' worth of episodes and read months' worth of transcripts to make sure I got the 'Guiding Light' characters down. As a life-long Marvel fan, getting to write 'Thwip' and 'Snikt' and blowing up a Quinjet was all incredibly awesome, but I felt I really needed to be true to the 'Guiding Light ' fans and make them especially welcomed. I didn't want to make fun of their characters, but I didn't want to necessarily prop them up to a ridiculous level that would insult our fans. To use a wrestling term, I didn't want either sets of characters to have to job for the other. They are both strong, developed characters & I wanted each set to stand on their own strengths."
As McCann has said in the past, this New Avengers story isn't meant to win over the comic book fans - after all, they're the ones who've been loyally supporting Marvel Comics over the years. The objective is to appeal to the millions that watch soap operas and perhaps would find comic books to be to their liking, which McCann considers quite reasonable to expect. "You know, there are many comics that would appeal to the mainstream," he said. "From Marvel alone, I think there are a number of books with soap opera elements such as 'Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane,' 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' even 'Runaways.' And looking at Marvel comics historically, Spider-Man & X-Men have been very soap operatic. The Death of Gwen Stacy and the Dark Phoenix Saga both have a number of soap elements. Look at the success of the Marvel film franchises and you'll see the mainstream already likes comics!
"By doing this crossover, I think it gives soap fans recognition for their passion by another medium entirely, and they will hopefully see that comics & soaps are not so different. After all, Spider-Man and Reva have both had clones! It also shows that Procter & Gamble Productions really believes in their product and are genuinely interested in expanding their market."
Besides the abundance of clones and fairly open ended definition of "death," both soaps and comic books have been struggling to attract the audiences of the past. Sure, "X-Men" #1 sold over 8 million copies, and "General Hospital's" wedding of Luke & Laura broke records left & right, but neither storytelling medium has soared to such heights in recent years. McCann explained, "The thought of 'Guiding Light' - daytime's longest running show and the longest running drama in television history - going off the air? That's a horrid thought! It would be the end of an era that should not end. Daytime was always the forum where important social issues were explored and examined first on television. Controversial topics like racism, abortion, AIDS, and violence on college campuses have all been tackled by daytime first, before prime time ever thought of dealing with them. Daytime, at its best, is truly groundbreaking television. The power of daytime is evident still today; when shows like 'As the World Turns' and 'Guiding Light' have done stories on breast cancer & suicide prevention, hotlines have noticed a marked increase in calls placed by people seeking more information on these subjects. For our culture to lose something that has transitioned from radio to television and grown with the country over the better part of the past century - that would be a true tragedy."
With his job as Marvel's marketing guru taking up a lot of his time, McCann isn't about to start writing a bevy of Marvel projects, but you can expect to see more work from him in the near future. "I do have some things in mind, and just had a meeting today about a very interesting event next summer that looks like I may just be a part of in a writing capacity," teased McCann. "Joe [Quesada, EIC] and Dan [Buckley, President] and the rest of Marvel have been incredibly generous in letting me stretch my writing muscles and help my dreams of being a comic writer come true!"
As for his dream projects, McCann smiled and replied, "Anything with the Marvel slug on the front cover!"