Marvel T&A: Brevoort's Big Ideas

If it's Friday, it must be time to end your week with a little T&A!

CBR News is back again to present an open and honest Q&A with Marvel Comics Vice President Executive Editor Tom Brevoort while his partner in comics Axel Alonso travels America - the feature we like to call MARVEL T&A! An outspoken voice in the comic industry, Brevoort has plenty to share on his own including details on the ins and outs of comics creation at the House of Ideas!

Each Friday, in addition to our regular Cup O' Joe installments, CBR will present a new interview with the T&A duo covering everything Marvel Comics, and this week we're talking a very special anniversary for the last decade of the House of Ideas, the role Editorial plays in breaking big stories from "Civil War" to "World War Hulk," big Marvel teams from the Young Avengers to the international scene and the book Brevoort wants to see more of on the stands!

Kiel Phegley: Welcome back, Tom! It seems like it's been a busy few weeks for the Marvel crew. Axel is still traveling, and you yourself just got back from Baltimore Comic-Con. Before that there was the big Marvel summit where from the looks of it via Twitter you guys celebrated the end of Daredevil a bit. How was the cake?

Tom Brevoort: [Laughs] The cake was lovely. It had nothing to do with the end of Daredevil, though. That's people seeing a photo and jumping to a conclusion which was the wrong conclusion. I guess it's an interesting test case in that it shows what happens so often amongst our fans on the internet. They see something and try to interpret it with the best knowledge and best information they have, and they guess wrong, but that wrong guess suddenly becomes common wisdom. In point of fact, that cake had nothing to do with the end of "Daredevil." That cake was part of a celebration of the fact that Joe has been Editor-in-Chief for ten years. And so a bunch of us, headed up by C.B. Cebulski, all kicked in a little money and had a cake made as well as some other Daredevil and Spidey cupcakes. It was a celebration for Joe at the end of the three Retreat days...that is what the cake was actually about.

Mystery solved then!

Who says these T&A columns aren't as informative as they could possibly be? [Laughter]

Well, I'm guessing that Ralph Macchio is probably the only person there in editorial who's been working as long as you have...

He's been here longer than I have! [Laughter] Definitely, absolutely longer!

But you have been a part of a number of different Marvel regimes, management changes, what have you. What's it like for you to now be at the point where you've have one E-i-C in Joe and a somewhat stable organization for you guys for ten years now?

Well, it's not been without change, even during that time. While Joe has been Editor-in-Chief for the last ten years, solidly and consistently, within that time period we've gone through a number of distinct eras. When Joe was first hired, Bill Jemas was our President and head guy, and he had a particular viewpoint and way of approaching the business. Then eventually Dan Buckley came in as President and Publisher, and he did some things differently. And now, as we move into this new Disney world, things are changing even further. Even starting Marvel Studios to produce our own films rather than licensing our movies to other companies created an environment of change. So it's good that Joe has been here for the whole of that time as a stabilizing influence amidst all that stuff. But at least for me - and I can't speak for anybody else - Marvel has been a constantly evolving company during Joe's tenure as much as it had been for the ten years previous.

Looking at the three days of summit that proceeded the cake party, I know that sometimes these meetings will focus on one specific family of titles - the recent Avengers Summit for example - but this felt much more like an "all hands on deck" affair with a lot of the talent from across Marvel's line in attendance. Is the purpose here to get as many people as you can in a room to look over the big picture once in a year or so?

We do two or sometimes even three full-line Marvel publishing summits each year. And then aside from that, we'll do some additional focused editorial meetings - the Avengers one you speak of or the X-Men one that happened after San Diego or a Spider-Man one or an Ultimates one - that will be more tightly focused on a single line of titles and have fewer creators and editors in attendence. But in the central Retreats, we consider the entirety of the publishing division and try to work out what storylines or series directions will be most appealing to our fans. It's a concentrated brainstorming session that lasts for days, the fruits of which will be displayed all throughout the line for the next several months or even years.

I'm assuming there's not much to report on directly about what happened at the summit or what ideas were discussed...

[Laughs] Yeah. I can't talk too much about the actual goings on or what was discussed other than to say we talked about a little bit of everything. We came up with a number of big, exciting story ideas for the Marvel Universe that you'll see in print probably in the early part of 2011 and throughout the rest of 2011.

That's what I wanted to ask about: top secret, long-gestating stories and ideas. I know that part of the game is having a few threads and plots mapped out a year or more in advance, but to me it seems there can be a fear there of writers collectively going, "The next story is the one I REALLY want to tell." Do you find you've got to reign some of that in in order to keep the focus on the books and stories at hand?

I don't think we ever have any fear about planning things out well in advance because, even in planning things out, events can change and timing can shift. The prime example of that is that when it was first proposed, the story that became "World War Hulk" was going to happen much, much sooner. It initially was supposed to have happened around the same time as "Civil War" - possibly as a component of "Civil War." At that point, the "Planet Hulk" story was going to be maybe five issues long. At that time, it seemed like too much too fast on top of the other things we had going on. So taking our time with that story and letting Greg Pak, Carlo Pagulayan and editor Mark Paniccia have time to really develop the world of Sakaar and Hulk's journey from slave to gladiator to king definitely paid off, and it allowed us to give "World War Hulk" as a mini event a much greater focus than it would have had if it was shoe-horned in around "Civil War" or dropped right after "Civil War."

So we're always open to moving stories or shifting events around. There are stories we thought were going to happen at a certain point that we still haven't quite gotten to because as things have gone on and times have changed and new ideas have come up, they haven't fit in properly with what's going on everywhere else. At some point hopefully, if the story idea is solid, there will come a situation where it is applicable, and suddenly we'll go, "Hey, now we can do that thing we talked about last year!" But having a bunch of ideas on the horizon and a star to guide your course is never a bad thing, even if that course turns out to be a little longer or a little more winding than you might have thought when you set out that way.

I know every writer comes in with their own process to how they craft their monthly stories outside of the big plans. I was thinking about this after reading some of your interviews around this new "Three" story for "Fantastic Four" and some of the reports out of Baltimore. I know that with Jonathan Hickman, he comes in with a very specific plan for what he wants to do in all his books from "Secret Warriors" to "S.H.I.E.L.D." That seems different from someone like Ed Brubaker who while he does have long term plans for his books has talked in the past about following the story as it develops like with the expanded role of Bucky as Captain America. As an editor working with these guys, how much do you change up your process from giving story notes to planning arcs?

Well, the process of working with any individual writer is different in each specific case. I don't think I work exactly the same way with any two writers. And that's sort of by choice because I want each writer to be able to work in a process that's best and most comfortable for them - where they feel like they can function to their fullest. I don't know that my story notes themselves are all that different, though. If there's something in a story structure that doesn't work, I say more or less the same thing regardless of which individual writer it is, and then we talk the problem through or go back and forth to find some solution to whatever the situation is.

To give you a snapshot, when it comes to Brian Bendis he will tell me in broad strokes "Here's the story I'm going to do in 'Avengers.' I have this idea involving Kang breaking the timestream with the team having to go into the future and encounter the Next Avengers characters. That's my first six issues." We agree to that, and from then on there might be a question from Brian about some specific aspect of the wider Marvel continuity or events going on elsewhere in the publishing line, but Brian is most comfortable when he's just sending me each script and I'm reading it very much like the audience. So I will get a script in from Brian, and within the course of those 22-pages will not know specifically what's in that issue until I read it. He's more comfortable with that. He likes me to be able to react to the work like a reader, and that's fine. So I'll read the script and either go, "That's great!" or say "Here's a thought" or "There's a conflict with this other book" and then we work all that through.

With other writers, the process is somewhat different. Depending on how busy things are, Ed Brubaker likes to talk over the particulars of where he's going, not necessarily on a page-by-page basis, but certainly on a storyline-by-storyline basis. I spent some time with Mark Waid at the Baltimore convention this weekend, and we broke down some of the structure of the "Cap: Man Out of Time" project that he's writing. And that's more nuts and bolts oriented because that's the way Mark thinks. The advantage of that for him is that when he sends in the script, I pretty much know exactly what's in it to begin with and have probably agreed to all of it ahead of time. But the process varies literally from individual to individual. You want to let each writer bring their best game to the table and adapt what it is you do to compliment their strengths.

As you were at Baltimore this weekend, does your focus entirely shift off the books and into talent recruitment/promotional mode, or are you still working on stuff 24/7 as you bump into Mark Waid or whatever?

All the nuts and bolts work tends to stay at the office for the most part. I'm not sitting there editing a script or reading lettering or anything of that nature. That being said, if I'm out at a show or at one of these retreats where guys are in town, I'll go out with Allan Heinberg or somebody to grab a drink, and inevitably the conversation with turn to whatever it is we're working on, and we'll talk over a bunch of plot elements or story ideas. If there's anything that's giving us a hard time, we'll take advantage of the fact that we're both there face-to-face and are able to have a conversation that might bear fruit.

How was Baltimore overall? Any new talent you spotted that you hope will bear fruit for Marvel or any interactions with fans that caught you in a way you weren't expecting?

Actually, it was a relatively sedate show - fun and comics-oriented. I think due to the fact that it ended up taking place the same weekend as the Fan Expo in Toronto there was a fractured focus. You could see it looking at CBR's front page - half the articles are about Baltimore panels, half are about Fan Expo panels, and in some cases they're virtually the same panels. [Laughs] It's just different people discussing the same issues and making the same announcements. Speaking for myself, I did three panels in Baltimore - a Thor-specific panel that was very much the "Walt Simonson and Friends Hour" as it should be, a general "Mondo Marvel" panel with me, Jonathan Hickman and Jeff Parker answering questions about what's coming up and then the "Marvel: Your Universe" on Sunday which is a much more casual, free-flowing discussions between the fans and just me.

I don't know that anything came up that was really a surprise. As with anything, there were people there that liked X or hated X or liked Y better or wanted their favorite obscure character who's not being used right now to come back. At the very end of the "Marvel: Your Universe" thing, there was a little groundswell among the readers in that room for the Beast to get his own comic, which isn't something that I'd considered or that I've heard that the X-Guys have considered at all. But at least judging from that room, maybe you could do a series starring the Beast and at least those 150 people would buy it. I don't know how much weight that would carry back in the offices, though, unless people came back from Canada going, "Yeah, there's a lot of chatter about the Beast up there too!" Then maybe there's some gold in them there hills. But really, it was a very laid back sort of show, which quite honestly after a week of Editorial Retreat stuff was just my speed.

I'd assume that the #1 topic at Fan Expo every year is Alpha Flight. Have you heard what the reaction has been to the news of the new story up there yet?

Certainly, if you're up in Toronto or in Canada in general, there are going to be more people interested in Alpha Flight per capita than anywhere else in the world, and we did that special "Avengers" #4 cover which was sold at the Fan and sold out by noon on Saturday. I haven't really had an opportunity to talk to anybody just yet about the Toronto show in depth, so my answer is "I don't know." But my expectation is that, yes, people were pretty interested in what's going on with Alpha Flight and the "Chaos War: Alpha Flight" one-shot. Beyond that, we'll see what develops.

So my last question before we get to fan stuff for the week, since we're at another T&A column where Axel is traveling, is the question of what should I ask Axel next week that he really doesn't like to answer?

Well, Axel doesn't really like to talk about it, but he likes to relax by drawing and painting. He's an accomplished artist-though his choice of subject matter can be a little bit disturbing, and definitely not always Safe For Work. I'm sure he's got a portfolio somewhere.

So you might ask him about that...

Oh man, I so totally will! Let's kick off our regular fan question run with marvell2100 who asked a question that inspired one of my own. He asked "Will Young Avengers be tied more closely to the other Avengers teams in the future?" and while I'm sure that's precisely what is happening in "Avengers: The Children's Crusade" I though I'd add on to marvell2100's query the question of how that series will reverberate out a bit into the rest of the line as it goes along?

Brevoort: This is that double-edged sword that Axel was talking about a week or two back. Every time we look to the message boards or attend conventions, we hear from fans that they have "event fatigue" and would like the books to operate more independently. And then, whenever we announce any new project, those same people ask if it will be closely tied to everything else. It's a bit of a conundrum.

So in the case of "Avengers: Children's Crusade," yes, it's going to be reflective of what's going on elsewhere in the "Avengers" titles, and we've already published a back-up in "Uncanny X-Men" bringing the events of "Crusade" into context with the mutant titles. Moving forward, if there are appropriate opportunities to do similar kinds of things during the rest of the series, then we'll take advantage of them. But "Crusade" was really designed so that you could read it without needing to check in with a dozen other titles.

Once "Crusade" is finished, then we'll see where the Young Avengers are. And even during "Crusade," they may show up in other places, such as the first issue of the "I Am An Avenger" series, in which they're featured in the lead story.

After the news surrounding Canada's favorite superteam came out over our last few columns, thew40 asked, "I know this is a long-dangling plot thread, but what ever happened to the Guardian and Vindicator's baby? With the (brief) return of Alpha Flight, any sign of this kid?"

Brevoort: Wow, even I don't really recall Guardian and Vindicator's baby as a plot thread, so I don't think there's much likelihood that it's going to resurface any time soon - especially not until Alpha Flight has some kind of a series again.

And in fact, we had a few questions about international superheroes this week, and I wanted to put two together. First we have strathcona who asked, "Alpha Flight one-shot recently announce. Fantastic Winter Guard mini recently. MI13 one of the best recently canceled series. Is there any chance we can see an International Teams anthology book so we can keep up with these teams?" And as a great follow up to that, there's The GoldenAger wondering, "Will we see any more mini-series based on International Teams in the Marvel Universe (i.e. The Triumph Division, Les Heroes De Paris, etc.)?"

Any chance either of these ideas might work for some of Marvel's overseas heroes?

Brevoort: Possibly, though I think we do a disservice to these characters and their respective cultures and homelands by lumping them all together simply because they're outside the USA. I don't know that there's a widespread interest in any and all international teams per se, but there might be specific interest in the Winter Guard, or in MI:13 or in Alpha Flight. So when we consider projects headlining these characters, they have to be strong stories that are intrinsically keyed to these particular heroes.

So it's not out of the question that we might choose to do some manner of "Around The World" anthology, but I don't think it's incredibly likely. It's more probable that somebody will hit on a good approach for any of these specific teams, as has happened with Winter Guard and Alpha Flight recently, and then we'll do the project regardless of the nation it's set within.

Keeping things in the "old school team" category, LooseCannon wondered "The Hulk, Namor, Surfer, and Dr. Strange as well as Hellcat and Valkyrie are terrific and IMHO, the most interesting they have been in years. Any chance of an original Defenders team joining the ranks of the Avengers teams, Invaders, and T-bolts?"

Brevoort: "Defenders" is one of those series that we've been talking about a lot, Axel and I, so I wouldn't be surprised to see some movement on that front in the near future. By that same token, we're going to want to feel confident that we've got a pitch that captures the essence of what people loved about the Defenders in the past (without being manacled by faithfulness to the old title) before we green-light anything. But stay tuned.

Finally, we've got a question I'm hopeful will inspire an anecdote even if it can't draw some new info out of you from andybmcd who asked, "What brand new series would you like to get off the ground and running in the near future, but for some reason are unable to and why?"

Brevoort: I suppose the obvious answer would be "Marvelman," which is coming, just slowly for a variety of reasons. But as we've talked about in the past, we really want to make sure that we do this right. Readers have been waiting for new, modern Marvelman stories for close to two decades now, so a few more weeks or months isn't going to make a great deal of difference. In the grand scheme of things, it's more important that we live up to the history and pedigree of the series. But that doesn't make it any easier for anybody to wait.

Apart from that, I wish that it was easier in general to launch wholely-new concepts, such as "Livewires" or "The Blue Marvel" or "Agents Of Atlas." Even series like "Runaways," which are deeply beloved, seem to have a hard time getting and maintaining traction in our marketplace. And so we come around to that same double-edged sword again, where the readership says they're tired of all of the interconnectivity, but it proves to be a struggle to sustain anything that's too far apart from the Marvel mainstream. This is a definite challenge that we struggle with.

Have some questions for Marvel T&A? Please visit the CUP O' Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Universe forum. It's now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel staff that CBR will pull questions for next week's installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!

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