Marvel Comics Press Conference 6/6/03, 'Trouble' preview

Marvel Comics held another one of their regular press conferences Friday to discuss everything Marvel, with a focus on 'Trouble,' the upcoming Epic title by Mark Millar and Terry Dodson. The conference was attended by Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas, Axel Alonso and Mark Millar as well as Marketing Communications Manager Michael Doran. The press was told ahead of time the focus of this conference would be on 'Trouble,' plus a variety of other announcements from the publisher.

Marvel provided the comics press with a six-page preview of "Trouble," included below. Click the images to enlarge.

Bill Jemas started things off by detailing of "Trouble," by Mark Millar and Terry Dodson, a title that tells the story of the conception of Peter Parker, plus announced one-time changes to Marvel's overprint policies with regards to "Trouble."

"This story is called 'Trouble,'" Jemas began in the press conference. "The lead characters are May and Mary, two teenage girls, and Ben and Richard, two teenage boys. Everybody who saw the movie knows the names Uncle Ben and Aunt Mary. Most comic readers know that Richard and Mary are the names of Peter Parker's parents. So this sounds like it's going to turn out to be the origin of Peter Parker. And Marvel's taking the book very seriously. We have an all-star creative team, Mark Millar, Terry Dodson and Axel Alonso is here as well who's obviously a key member of the creative teams of some of the best books we do. We're also making this the number one book from our imprint Epic Comics, which as some of you know, is very close to our plans for the future of Marvel.

"In the beginning, over a year ago, this project was called 'Parents,' because at its inception this was intended to be the story of Peter Parker's conception. But then we get to the middle of the story, where the creative team gets to work, and the story takes on a life of its own. The focus goes to the four teenagers that are living the life of four teenagers. Now the story resolves around two young heroes named May and Mary who make enormous sacrifices in order to do what they feel is the right thing to do. And we shifted the name of the book from 'Parents' to 'Trouble' to sort of reflect that.

"This is a very good book. I think it's going to turn out to be a great series overall and it stands on its own, not withstanding Spider-Man. Which still leaves the question, 'Is this the origin of Spider-Man?' I'll give you an honest answer because right now we don't know. I don't think that the answer to that question ought to be up to Joe or Mark or Terry or Axel or Me."

At this point Mark Millar joined the conference and was recognized. Bill continued.

"We think the final answer ought to come from the comics community based on the acceptance of the story. That's not to say that we don't want this to be the origin of Spider-Man. Speaking for Marvel's editorial group and the creative team, we hope the happy ending to this story is that there will be millions of teenagers all over the world who read this book. We hope it does some good for them in a situation like the kids in this book face. That they'll have some sense how older, more experienced people deal with situations like this as they express them in the story that they're telling. We hope that this brings our wonderful graphic story telling artwork to new readers who otherwise wouldn't read a Spider-Man book. And we hope that the Marvel Community will back us on this and with us every step of the way. That's why we're leaving this pretty much open-ended. I hope that Marvel readers will be proud to call 'Trouble' the origin of Spider-Man.

"So, that's where we are with this right now. There've been a lot of half-rumors and some misreported stories if this is really Peter Parker, Ben, Aunt May, etc. ... that's not confirmed right now because frankly we don't know if that is what it should be.

"Before I finish let me take a quick trip out to the present," Jemas continued. "This policy of not deciding before we publish the book what the book is going to be with respect to continuity leaves some enormous problems for our business partners. If you're a retailer, you can't really order 'Trouble' like it's the origin of Wolverine because we're not stamping it as the official origin of Spider-Man, which means that a retailer can get stuck with returnable inventory. But, if 'Trouble' does hit like 'Ultimate Spider-Man' #1, and people order it in the low numbers that they ordered 'USM' #1, then retailers are not going to have enough books on their shelves to keep customers satisfied. What we're going to do is change our overprint policy for this book.

"We met with a bunch of retailers at the Marvel Suite during the Philadelphia convention and we discussed this problem and the issues created by the no overprint/no reprint policy in general. The plan for 'Trouble' #1 seems fair in that we will print the first edition to order. We're also going to go ahead and alternative cover version of the book. If 'Trouble' doesn't sell through no one will ever see that. If it does sell through, we will ship it right away so that people can fill their shelves. We won't do that until we feel comfortable that 'Trouble' #1 is selling through."

Later in the call it was revealed that Frank Cho, the creator of "Liberty Meadows," would provide the alternate cover. Mike Doran said this second edition would likely be called "Trouble #1: The Second Chances Edition." Jemas also noted later that an exception of this nature to their no over-print policy could take place again in the future, only based on the success or failure of this experiment and if they felt it is warranted. Jemas also added that fans will not see Marvel go "alternate cover happy." The reason why the books will not be sold concurrently is Marvel does not want fans to feel like they must purchase both covers of the book the first time out. Jemas reiterated the hope that these additional books will be made available for those who missed their chance to purchase the book the first time around.

"I understand that the perception of Marvel in the comics community is that we do a lot of major look marketing," continued Jemas. "I couldn't tell you with a straight face that that's completely false. We have fun, we make money, and the major look marketing is a big part of that. I don't want to see that change, but for the purpose of this I do want to make one point clear. Major look to me, at least, is major reads. We're really not here for the financial gain. The people who work at Marvel, at least at this point in time, could go other places and make more money. We're here because we really do think that this is a valuable genre. We think that graphic storytelling is very unique thing to offer to the world and that's important to us. We are putting our hearts and souls behind 'Trouble' because we believe in the creators of this book and what they have to say to the next generation of kids. So, yes, this is a little bit of 'make you look.' People will always say why can't this just be two kids with nothing to do with Spider-Man? The chances of this book getting read by millions of people increase a thousand-fold if this book has a relation to Peter Parker."

At this point Mark Millar began taking questions from the assembled comics press.

Mark feels that with "Trouble" they are doing something new and unique, which is hard to categorize, having it appeal to everyone, instead of just super-hero or romance fans.

"Within comics themselves, within the established market of 330,000 readers, whatever exists out there, there may not be a gigantic market for something exclusively romantic," commented Millar. "But, if you can combine it with other successful elements and can do something that appeals to a wide, mainstream audience, then that's what excited me about the possibilities here. For people who like Spider-Man, they get something out of it. This is the first comic I've ever written that my wife read from page 1 to page 22, understood it and quite enjoyed it."

Mark was asked if he researched the current state of romance books before beginning on this project. Included in this discussion was reaction to the cover to 'Trouble' #1, which was a "live cover" depicting two teenage girls in bathing suits, which some fans claimed was pornographic.

"I actually did have a good look at this market and when I first saw the covers [to 'Trouble'] I wasn't sure what to make of them until I walked into a book store and actually saw that's what these covers look like [on teen novels today]. It was interesting to see the comic book reaction...It's not pornography. It's exactly what twelve-year-old girls read and it's what their eyes fixate on when they walk into a bookshop. What excited me was that this book could be stacked next to those things, but also stacked along side 'Origin,' 'Kingdom Come' and 'Marvels.' Even those books, as good as they are, not everyone is interested in them or can pick them up. So this is quite a unique thing and a catalyst between the two genre's."

The original pitch came from Bill and Joe, approaching Mark when he was in New York last December and asking if he would be interested in developing this. The trio sat in a bar and the development of this project was very organic. As time went on Axel Alonso was brought into the project. Mark said generally when someone approaches him with an idea he has a tough time wrapping his head, but with "Trouble" he find the idea was so compelling it was something he had to do, and found it a great challenge to work on.

When asked if he was confident that fans would take this as the origin of Peter Parker, Mark replied simply, "I just hope they take it as a good comic! The same as 'The Ultimates' when people said it was a terrible name, you're ruining these characters, etc. ... we just said take it for what it is and luckily, by computer error or whatever, it's ended up as a huge selling book. We hope the same thing going to happen with this, too, that people will just enjoy it and that this is the origin for Spider-Man."

According to Millar, "Trouble" is being placed as an Epic book because it doesn't feel like a Marvel super-hero book so it doesn't really fit in the Marvel Universe. As a result, he felt that Epic was the perfect place to have this book since Epic is an experimental line and the story in "Trouble" is experimental.

Mark was asked how he felt about nine year olds reading a comic with such mature story threads such as teen pregnancy, Millar didn't feel it would be inappropriate or over the heads of younger readers and revealed that he, too, was not a planned pregnancy of his own parents.

"I remember one of my earliest comics were the Stan Lee drug issues of 'Spider-Man.' At the time I remember saying to my Dad, 'Why are Harry Osborne's eyes funny.' He had to explain the thing to me. I actually think comics are fantastic in that sense as an introduction into the real world. Illegitimacy happens. I think the percentages are something like 30-40% of families start this way, certainly over here [in the UK]. There's no stigma today like there was in the sixties. I think it's not distasteful, it's just very realistic."

Millar noted that with "Trouble" he's done his best to make sure this is a story that could be enjoyed as a stand-alone book, without having to know a great deal of Marvel history.

After Millar took on "Ultimate X-Men" and "The Ultimates" he found himself deluged with offers to write other Super-Hero books, so when "Trouble" was presented to him he found the ideas a nice departure from what he's been doing and a chance to keep himself from being pigeon-holed as simply a super-hero writer. "This book is probably as far from 'The Ultimates' as you can get." He also talked about how female attendance at conventions has increased exponentially over the past three years, so a book like "Trouble" is perfect for young teenage girls who might not be interested in main line Marvel super-heroes.

Mike Doran also talked about how as part of the rollout of "Trouble" Marvel will be working aggressively to promote the book, utilizing house-ads as well as reviews and coverage in mainstream media, including a review in the Washington Post on July 2nd and Entertainment Weekly will have a review in their July 20th issue.

Joe Quesada also took time out to thank photographer Philipe Biabalos for his work on the photo-cover to "Trouble" #1.

"A tip of the hat to another artist involved in this. I want to thank Philippe Biabalos who's is the fashion photographer who did the shoot for Marvel. He's a pretty prominent commercial guy, does a lot of fashion work, and is just a lover of Marvel Comics and jumped at the chance to do this."

Jemas was asked what he hoped the reaction to "Trouble" would be or wouldn't be to this kind of book.

"It's interesting. The closest analogy I can think of is the famous Stan Lee drug issue where the company got a lot of heat from marketing partners, comic book code authorities, everyone and their brother who felt nine year old kids shouldn't know about drugs. Knowing what we know now about drug abuse, that was a story that was twenty years ahead of its time and not a moment too soon. The reaction that we could have that I'd be perfectly willing to withstand is market reaction asking how Peter Parker could be illegitimate and hadn't mentioned it before!

"We live on a tight rope as a youth publisher. We can either become irrelevant to children by hiding significant issues from children, or we can stay relevant to children and ruffle the feathers of moms about things that they don't think their children at quite the same ages the child thinks they should be reading it."

Look for a review of "Trouble" #1 from Augie De Blieck in Tuesday's Pipeline Commentary.

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