Marvel's 1/22/03 Press Conference: Riding the wave of a Tsunami

[Marvel]The third and final Marvel Comics Press conference for this week was held this afternoon to discuss details of their upcoming Tsunami launch as well as other Marvel business. In attendance were Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas, Mike Doran, C.B. Cebulski and Sean McKeever.

Earlier today Marvel released the full line-up of titles including solicitations and creative crews. As a refresher, those titles are "Namor," "Sentinel," "Human Torch," "Mystique" and "Runaways."

"Let me start off with a little intro on this publishing wave which we're affectionately calling Tsunami," Marvel President Bill Jemas told the assembled press on the line. "The theme for the next few months at Marvel, and hopefully, if we establish the right trend, for the future, is that we are going to constantly reach out to new creators. Let them tell their stories. Provide a pulpit, a soap box, a podium for people to get out there and say what they have to say. We talked about this earlier this week with respect to '4/11.' This is part of that same initiative. It's no accident that inbetween these two press conferences were our X-Men announcements, which means we're not going to stop doing business as usual which is telling great super hero stories about the most popular characters in the world. We see that as just part of the job.

"We have an editor, C.B. Cebulski, who really understands the art of Japanese storytelling and knows the artists and writers of that community. We've reached out in a very major way to bring those people in. C.B.'s also recruited U.S. artists who have also gravitated to that story telling type of style.

"What you're talking about with Anime and Manga combined is a real reversal in the way kids trends travel around the world. It used to be the U.S. first, and then properties would move to Europe and Japan from the United States. Three of the great sensations over the past few years have been 'Power Rangers,' 'Pokemon/Digimon' and 'Yu-Gi-Oh' is riding to that level of prominence, all coming from Japan to the U.S.. We're going to be right in the middle of that the Marvel way. These books are all written by people who understand that story telling style. They're all very accessible to new readers. There's a lot more human interaction. There's real love stories. There's female heroism. There's lots of teenage angst and love. That's what these books are all about."

The books will hit stores starting this April with the launch spearheaded by the .25 cent "Namor #1." Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada was quick to clarify what Tsunami is and is not.

"Tsunami is not an imprint," said Quesada. "For a lack of a better word it's a movement or wave of books that we're attempting and there will be another Tsunami wave later on this year as well."

Marvel believes that by embracing Manga and imbuing these titles with those themes they will be able to reach and grow a brand new audience.

"Part of the new audience that we're trying to reach are teenage girls and boys and Manga really has established a foothold with teenage girl readers," stated Jemas.

"The other thing that these titles bring is on-continuity characters as a great jumping on points for audiences of all ages," continued Quesada. "We're trying to hit retailers with these books right around the time of the height of Marvel's movie push. As people come into the comic stores, sure they're going to be looking for 'Daredevil,' 'X-Men' and 'Hulk' stuff, but we want to offer a whole new set of books that are great for all ages. At the same time we're putting the focus on a lot of our younger creators.

"Every couple of years Marvel does something like this. We did Marvel Knights way back in '99. Two years later we came out with [the Ultimate line]. This is once again one of those new wave pushes where Marvel looks at the needs of the market. Not for nothing, but Marvel Knights and Ultimates were really no slouches. They really changed the way Marvel did comics and did business and the way the comic industry was doing comics. Tsunami, although it is not an imprint, is really no different. We've taken a lot of care and effort in making sure these books are absolutely, as Bill would say, 'First Class Products' with great stories that really give readers and retailers as much bang for the buck as possible."

Quesada along with editor C.B. Cebulski addressed the goals of these new series and what they say are the strengths of Manga.

"We all tried to figure out what about Manga is so appealing," explained Quesada. "Is it just the art? Is it just the storytelling? Is it the combination of all those things? When you look at the most popular Mangas you notice there are inconsistencies in all those areas. In the American market it's very easy for us to define what's going to be a hit book. In the Manga department it's a little bit of a mystery and I'd be lying to you if I told you we had the formula figured out. We're going to try a number of different things. Some books are going to be solid wall-to-wall Manga in the sense of the style of storytelling and art. Some will be a mixture of Americanized style storytelling along side Japanese style art, or the other way around."

"Manga's kind of become a controversial buzzword here in the United States over the past two to three years given the rise in popularity of itself and Anime," said Cebulski, "but I think the popular misconception is that most people take the word Manga and associate it with an art style which is almost completely incorrect. There are a lot of different components that make up Manga that people totally forget about. When Kia Asamiya took over 'Uncanny X-Men' the initial reaction was, 'Oh, it's Manga, oh it's got that art style.' Nobody took notice of the storytelling aspects of what he wanted to do with the characters. I would make the comparison how when I go over to Japan and talk about American Comic Books to the creators I know, which we call Amecomi over there, and they all go, 'Amecomi? Oh, that's all the same! It's just the same art style over and over again.' Any American comic fan here would argue that's not true. Brian Hitch, compared to Mike Mignola, compared to Eduardo Risso, compared to Travis Charest are completely different. That's the misconception we're going to try to break with a lot of the books in Tsunami.

"There are different things we're paying specific attention to. First thing being diversity. In Japan you can get a Manga about anything! With Tsunami we're going to try to diversify that content. We are going to have some super hero titles obviously, but there's going to be some titles that are going to be more character driven, which is another big aspect of Manga. Real characters in unreal situations.

"Also, the storytelling. Manga tends to flow from panel-to-panel, page-to-page, no captions, bigger panels, let the artwork speak more than the word balloons will. That's something a lot of the artists we're bringing in will be taking care of.

"Everybody also thinks that Manga has come to mean trade paperbacks," continued Cebulski. "One of the things you have to realize is when Viz and TokyoPop are going direct to trade paperback they have the option to do that with previously collected material, but everything that's in those trade paperbacks did come out in monthly or weekly format in Japan. When we're doing the Tsunami books, we're going to be keeping in mind that these are going to be collected so the story is going to be one continuous story."

These books will take place in Marvel Universe continuity and Jemas further explained their relationship to the universe using "Namor" as an example.

[Namor]"Namor is a real part of the fabric of Marvel's history and at one time had been one of the most important early characters in the Universe," said Jemas. "In the next couple of years Namor is going Hollywood; Universal Studios purchased the rights to the character. They have a first class creative team in full-scale development of the property. Our job at Marvel, once we know a property is going Hollywood, is we make a real emphasis to do the things that comic books do best which is help get groundswell behind the character early. One of the reasons why Hollywood is so interested in comic books is because they like the buzz that comic book fans create and they understand that comic book fans in general are pretty good at predicting media trends.

"The creative pitches [for Namor], and these are from some of the people I like best in the industry and you know who you are and know I'm making fun of you right now, they fell into two categories: One was from people that were so tired of the old Namor stories that they had the character walk around the rust belt with a backpack, 'I am the former Prince of Atlantis hiding out in Pittsburgh working in a diner,' which I think has nothing to do with the essence of the character. Or they were so in love with the old stories that they did what I call 'Tip-toeing through the Tuna,' where the books were really entirely creatures of 1950s, '60s, '70s storytelling. The approach to Namor had to be very consistent with the original story, but not to let the specifics of the original storytelling guide the narrative.

"Namor is a wonderful character known as a fiery young man with significant passions. The book is a love and political story set in Atlantis in 1930s and the United States. There's nothing about the book that is terribly inconsistent with continuity, but it's certainly not an Ultimate book. It doesn't throw away the old continuity and set the character in the year 2003."

As to the books themselves, Jemas will be co-writing "Namor" with indie creator Andi Watson. Jemas explained his involvement in the process and why he's teamed up with Watson.

"I think to some extent it's important when you're re-launching a character that you have somebody who has a perspective on the role the character will play in the Marvel Universe," explained Jemas. "It does help to have Joe or Me or one of the Marvel editors to be very, very involved in the development of the first story arc. The way it's played out so far is I did the beat sheets for the six issues and some suggestions to Andi for the next six. He's has some of the best scripts I've ever read off of the beat sheets and has done an outstanding job."

Following the first twelve issues Jemas expect Watson to take over the writing chores completely.

[Sentinel]"The Waiting Place" writer Sean McKeever talked about his book, "Sentinel," explaining the book is more than just the story of a boy with his very large robot, one of the Mutant hunting Sentinel's.

"'Sentinel' is essentially a teen drama about a kid with regular everyday problems, just like other kids," said McKeever. "Fifteen year old kid, a bit down-trodden, under privileged, unpopular, and in the middle of this we throw this 30' tall engine of destruction that he finds in his father's salvage yard. I think that 'Sentinel' really shows off a lot visually and in terms of storytelling what Manga can accomplish.

"I found myself in an odd position. I've become a fan of the series 'Peach Girl,' which is obviously not written or targeted for me. There's something about that that kind of book that's very character centric and visually exciting. I'm trying to put that into 'Sentinel' and feel I did that in books like 'The Waiting Place' and other teen drama kind of stuff.

"While 'Sentinel' is a boy and his robot Male-power fantasy kinda book on one level, the other major storyline is a romance story. It is about a boy who meets a girl."

Finally, Joe Quesada spoke a bit about 'Venom,' and how with this new title we'll be seeing a very different Venom compared to previous series, getting back to the roots of the character and staying more true to his original design.

[Venom]"We had a great character in Venom back in his inception," said Quesada. "When we decided to make Venom his own lead I think there were a bunch of signals that crossed here at Marvel because we only do books about heroes. So how do you do a book about a villain like Venom? What I think we ended up having was a book that was basically a white-wash of what the character should really be. We came across a way of producing a 'Venom' title, much like the way we produce the 'Punisher' right now, where we can tell an honest story about this creature that's not very nice without diluting the essence of the character.

"I think you're going to find in 'Venom' that it's truer to its original roots than what you've seen in previous Venom series."

Additionally, "Venom" is part of current Spider-Man continuity and it's being handled by "Spider-Man" editor Axel Alonso, but is not required reading to fully understand what's happening in the various Spider books.

Jemas also pointed out that fans should not type-cast any of the Tsunami books as geared for just a specific sex, noting how this summers biggest movie, "Spider-Man," was embraced with great enthusiasm by women. All the Tsunami books will feature a distinctive look and graphic elements which will first be seen in early trade ads. Also, following closely upon the completion of each story arc in these books, a trade paperback collection will be made available and Jemas explained Marvel's thinking regarding the quick compilation of the monthlies.

"There was a theory that we've never seen proved that you should leave a gap between your monthly book and trade paperback release," said Jemas. "Since Marvel pretty much does limited-edition printing on our monthly books [a reference to their no over print policy], our sense is that the faster we race out to trade paperback, the trade paperback becomes the jumping on point for the next series of monthlies. As soon as we can possibly collect the book we go out and collect it and get it out to bookstores and comic shops."

One additional note not related to the Tsunami line of books mentioned during the conference was a follow-up regarding Mark Millar's exit from "Ultimate X-Men." While Millar may be leaving the title, that does not mean he's leaving any other title in the Ultimate universe for now.

"Mark had all intentions and always planned that this would be his last hurrah on 'Ultimate X-Men,'" explained Quesada. "He's not leaving the Ultimate universe. As a matter of fact he's got some very good things planned for that and for Marvel in general. He's made Marvel his home. Mark has always said to Bill and myself that he's really a two-book a month kind of guy, maybe three if he pushes it. In order for him to try other projects, which he's elevating to do, something had to give. 'Ultimate X-Men' was the book that had to give."

For the full line of Tsunami titles, including cover images, click here. For wrap-ups of the two previous press conferences this week, read the January 21st report and January 20th report. And return later today for more on the Gail Simone title, "Gus Beezer."

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