Marvel: Your Universe Panel Report

Inspired by the Sunday Conversation panels with DC Comics Executive Editor Dan Didio that have become fixtures at recent comic book conventions, Marvel Comics hosted at last month's Fan Expo in Toronto the Marvel: Your Universe panel, an open Q&A covering everything on the fan side of reading Marvel Comics. To get the event rolling, the assembled panelists shared some love with their Canadian audience by trying to one up each other on their Toronto cred.

The love fest started when Manager of Sales Communications Arune Singh introduced himself as a Toronto native before being shot down by writer and talent scout C.B. Cebulski, for Singh now carries an American passport. VP of Marketing Mike Pasciullo earned a round of applause for noting that Toronto was better than Philadelphia, San Diego, New York and LA. Cebulski got the last word, noting that it was his tenth year in attendance at Fan Expo before leading the discussion on to more fanish areas.

An opening shot on what the panelists' first comic was drew responses from "Legion of Super-Heroes" to "Uncanny X-Men," but writer Dan Slott's ("Amazing Spider-Man") tale of getting copies of "Marvel Team-Up" #38 and "Marvel Tales" #70 signed by the Spider-Man at his local 7-Eleven as a boy drew the biggest response from the crowd. "I biked there and camped out early because I wanted to see Spider-Man swing in," described Slott of his seven-year-old self. "I was just looking at the sky, and this is in a suburb in California where there are no tall buildings, and I started to realize that there was nothing for him to web onto, and I got really concerned. And this was the '70s, and so if you imagine a couple of guys from the '70s who had access to a Spider-Man costume, and they were coming off the freeway. One of them had dressed up in the Spider-Man costume and was standing in the bed of the truck waving to everybody going, 'Yeah! Spider-Man! I'm Spider-Man!'

"And I see Spider-Man coming off the freeway, and I totally bought it. Of course that's how Spider-Man would show up in suburban California! The truck pulls up, and I'm the only one there. It was all for my benefit -- he jumped out and landed in a crouch, just like Spider-Man."

The discussion then swung to where fans first started buying their comics and responses ran across everything from Toys 'R Us to fantasy role playing shop. The majority of audience members admitted that many of them got into the habit of reading comics because an adult had given them books when they were young, but the pattern of reading had swung from single-issue buying at local drug stores to trade paperback collecting in comics shops and big bookstore chains.

On the specific practice of reading trades, some fans expressed their enjoyment in buying books second-hand on the cheap, which replaced for many the "quarter-bin"-buying instinct. Others noted that Marvel trades and hardcovers were better for buying because of their frequent output and higher quality paper stock. Some attendees also said trades proved worth buying for the extra features often included.

"I find I'll buy a comic the week it comes out, and I'll read it right away. Like, there's a Wednesday gorge," said Slott of his own preferences. "But then later in the week, I'll reread a lot of those. Then if it's really good, I'll set it aside and say, 'Yeah. I'm getting the trade of that one.'"

A fan asked if Slott himself wrote comics for the trade format, as it seemed to him that the writer's books were more packed with story on an issue-to-issue basis. "A lot of people ask me stuff like that at cons," Slott said, noting that his early nickname amongst online fans was "The Anti-Bendis," which made for a somewhat awkward first meeting between himself and the acclaimed Marvel scribe who has often been accused of "writing for the trade." "But there's benefits to both sides [of the 'compression debate']. One of the things I did was buy up tons of the 'Ultimate Spider-Man' Vol. 2: 'The Learning Curve' and was giving that out to everyone I knew that liked comics. I was saying, 'You've got to try this out.' You can look at every issue in that collection and go, 'That was a good issue,' but when you put it all together, that's one of the best graphic novels anyone would ever read."

Love of secondary characters was a recurring topic at a few Marvel panels over the Fan Expo weekend, and came up in the Your Universe panel when an audience member asked how the creators kept so many C-listers straight. "It's all in there," said Slott pointing to his head. "There's nothing useful in here. I don't know the periodic elements. I don't remember the names of my cousin's children, but I can tell you all about Thor Girl."

Online comics, from official company releases to pirated scans, were also a hot topic, with Pasciullo saying, "I think online comics are extremely important to the industry right now. A lot of people spend time on their computers from what I hear. That internet thing, people are all about it." He added that with the drop of mass-market retailers selling comics like the 7-Eleven and drug store stores invoked earlier in the panel, the internet would become a much stronger entry point for new readers. "We need to communicate to kids where they're at, and they're on computers now. Think of digital comics as the gateway to get them to go to the stores eventually. They start reading online and get an affinity for these characters, and then as all of us probably did as well, they'll start to buy one or two comics to read and start buying more and more."

When asked if there was a plan to help curb the pirating of comics, Pasciullo said, "It's tough. When we see it happening, we go after [the people responsible]. It's funny when you start investigating these sites and they're based in Bangladesh or somewhere where they think they can get around [copyright law]."

Pasciullo added that the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited initiative was started with an eye on providing a legal alternative to piracy, and that a promotional effort to bring fans into the program included online-exclusive stories and specials, which the publisher plans to continue to release in the future.

Another contentious point was brought up when one fan simply stated "End the Skrull stuff. It's awful." While not everyone in the crowd agreed with the sentiment, there were many varied opinions on both "Secret Invasion" and event comics in general. "I think ['Secret Invasion'] should be shorter," on audience member said. "Eight months is way too long to be going on for. In the time 'Secret Invasion's' been coming out, I've done a ton of things, and those characters are still stuck in the same day. It's been like an hour and a half."

However, many fans said they were still following along with the main event books, but only with selected tie-ins. When Cebulski asked if a more contained event like "X-Men: Messiah CompleX," which took place over three months, would be better, many fans agreed that it was a stronger alternative. But at the same time, few readers kept with some of the lower selling titles brought into the event ("X-Factor" being a noted example).

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