Marvel Comics held another one of their regular press conferences this time focusing on "1602," the upcoming eight-issue Marvel Knights title by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove, with covers by Scott McKowen (well known for his theater poster work) set to see release 8/13 (First issue 40 pages, subsequent issues 32, #3.50 each). The conference was attended by Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas and Gaiman as well as Marketing Communications Manager Michael Doran.
Earlier this year Marvel released a handful of preview images for "1602." Those images can be found here. Marvel also provided the comics press with a preview of "1602," included below. Click the images to enlarge.
Additionally, Marvel included this statement from Neil Gaiman:
"1602 is an 8-issue mini, set in a Marvel Universe in which, for reasons which will take a while to uncover, the whole Marvel Universe is starting to occur 500 years early: Sir Nicholas Fury is head of the Queen's Intelligence, Dr Stephen Strange is her court physician (and magician), the Inquisition is torturing "witchbreed", many of whom have taken sanctuary in England under the wing of Carlos Javier, and now a mysterious treasure -- which may be a weapon of some kind -- is being sent from Jerusalem to England by the last of the Templars. Something that may save the world, or destroy it, which has already attracted the attention of such people as Count Otto Von Doom (known as "The Handsome")...
"It's a race against time in a world in which time is the enemy --
"It's not a What If or an Elseworlds. And it's really fun..." - Neil Gaiman
The Marvel press conference kicked off with Gaiman introducing "1602."
"So, '1602!' Although it will look at first glance kind of like an Elseworlds or a 'What if' or one of those things, it actually isn't. It's set 400 years ago in the Marvel Universe, but in a version of the Marvel Universe in which the mighty world of Marvel has started coming into existence 400 years early, for reasons that will become apparent as the series progresses. We are dealing with analogues of characters that we know and love. We're in a world in which Sir Nicholas Fury is the head of Queen Elizabeth's intelligence organization. In which Dr. Steven Strange is her court physician and court magician. In which young people with remarkable powers known as the Witch Breed are being persecuted by the inquisition. Most have fled to England where they have taken sanctuary with Karloff Javier, an exiled Spaniard with some remarkable mental powers.
"Into this world, as issue one kicks off, there is some very strange stuff going down. Peculiar weather. People are starting to talk about the end of the world. The mysterious thing that may be a weapon and may be a treasure is being sent to England from the Last of the Templars. We're not quite sure what it is, we're not even sure they know what it is, but Nicholas Fury sends his top agent, a blind Irish ballad singer named Matthew Murdock, off to bring it back safely. That's where everything begins.
"I will just say that if you try and read this as an Elseworlds story it's not really a narrative strategy that will get you very far. If you read it much more as a puzzle and as an adventure, things will start to become apparent as the story goes on. How the world got this way, whether we can get it back and what it means."
The best way to describe Gaiman's mood when asked how he felt about writing "1602" and working with artists Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove is ebullient.
"I'm having a wonderful time. The joy of writing this stuff and see Andy draw it is really cool. It takes everything in interesting directions. It took us about an issue to get comfortable with each other. And once I saw what he could do I sort of wrote to let him let loose."
Later in the conference Gaiman added, "Andy's art is really, really cool. It just gets better and better with each issue. It's enormously fun. I keep throwing things at him I think he's going to find difficult and the pages come back and he's nailed it! I'm really looking forward to seeing what Richard does with it actually colored. I'm looking forward to seeing more of it!"
Quesada added at this point, "I couldn't kiss Neil's ass anymore! It's spectacular work. It's been a pleasure to see it come in. Neil's a joy to work with, Andy as well. We can't foget Richard Isanove who's just doing a spectacular job on this project."
Gaiman was asked whether the profits from this series were still going to Marvel and Miracles, LLC., a fund created to aid in his legal battles with Todd McFarlane over the Miracleman ownership issue. The initial press release from Marvel can be found here, while coverage of that press event can be found here. In October of 2002 a jury found for Gaiman on every count. Gaiman responded, "That's still the case. That was the reason why I agreed to do this project. As you know, the lawsuit with Todd got very odd. We won on every count. It's still at appeal. Further than that is probably me commenting on things that I'm told by lawyers is a very bad idea, but yes, that is where the money is going."
As to how Gaiman got together with Marvel, Gaiman and Quesada had been speaking for a while about Neil doing some work for Marvel Knights while Quesada was EIC of Marvel Knights. When Stuart Moore took over after Joe took the EIC chair at Marvel, Moore arranged a quick meeting between the two in the short time Neil had before a flight to Europe. Quesada and Moore met with Gaiman in his hotel room. Neil revealed that at the time Quesada was trying to persuade Gaiman to do "Secret Wars." Gaimain went on to explain the genesis of the project.
"The idea for the story came about in part because I was plotting it immediately after September the 11th. The first day planes were flying again, I had to go to a Sci-Fi/Comics thing in Triest, in Northern Italy, and I wound up with a day on my own in Venice just to sit and plot whatever it was I was going to do for Marvel. I decided that whatever I did, given the mood I was in at that point, it wasn't going to have skyscrapers, it wasn't going to have bombs and it probably wasn't going to have any guns or planes in it. That was simply what I felt like at the time. 'I don't think this is stuff I want to put into my fiction right now.' As soon as I put that together, the ideas of '1602' sort of fell straight into my head. When I got back, I phoned Stuart and Joe and said, 'No one's ever done this before, have they?' and I explained what I wanted to do."
Quesada and Moore told Gaiman that indeed, no one had done a story like that before, and the stage was finally set for "1602." Now it was time to choose which characters would and would not make the cut for the final publication.
"A lot of the fun for me was just going in and figuring out what I loved about each of these characters and where I could play with them. I also wound up feeling like it must have been to be Stan and Jack a long time ago.
"I don't know if any of you caught the History Channel show on comics the other night, but when I was getting filmed for that, when I came out of my filming Stan Lee was waiting in the lobby to go in and do his bit. We stopped and chatted and he said, 'What's this '1602' thing you've been working on?' I said, 'Well, I'm not going to tell anybody, but for heaven's sake I can tell you!' So, I started telling Stan and he just started giggling. I got half way into it and he said, 'Nonono, you don't have to tell me anymore. I know how this one goes! This is fun!' It made me feel sort of reassured."
With regards to whether the story is open ended or not, Gaiman indicated that answering that question would be revealing a bit too much at this point, especially for a writer currently working on issue #6, but he definitely plans on more Marvel work in the future.
With the story set in the year 1602, the book will be visited by historical figures and reflect that which went on in Elizabethan England at the time. Gaiman indicated that historical characters such as Virginia Dare, Queen Elizabeth and King James would play roles in the book, plus references to the first British Colony of Roanoke, founded in North America in 1585, completely disappearing 10 months later.
"What I found when I started this thing is that I came up with an idea that was completed grand of scope. Originally it was meant to be a six-issue mini-series and I was half way through issue 2 when I realized that the story I had was so much bigger than I thought it was. At that point I started jettisoning it. There were a bunch of historical things that were going to be in there, but I said, 'I don't have any room for this and nobody will ever notice they're gone but me!' So, I was happy to toss them out."
"I made two rules when I began. One of which is this Marvel Universe is coming into existence in the way the one we're familiar with 400 years later did. For example our X-Men, a Beast, a Cyclops, an Iceman, an Angel, and a character that looks suspiciously feminine, who the others all refer to as Master John Grey, who is pretty obviously a young lady in drag. I started there. The territory doesn't go much further than 1969 in terms of the characters that I picked to use. I couldn't get everybody in because there are an awful lot of Marvel characters.
"The second rule was jettisoning anything that doesn't work in the story! For example, I came up with dozens of different ways to stick Iron Man into the story and then eventually decided that in the 16th century, I can cut it anyway I want, he's still a bloke in armor. Although I had various Tony Stark plans, I gave up on them. They may be alluded to at some point, but he's barely in there."
Will the story in "1602" have lasting impressions on the Marvel Universe as we know it? Gaiman teased, "That you will have to wait and see!"
As to what role religion will play in the series, Gaiman responded, "Mostly it's background, although there will be a certain amount of religious stuff going on, partly because in that era there was a lot more religious stuff going on. There's one little sequence where we actually get to see the X-Men in their chapel praying. It's not a story about religion, it's a story about what happened."
Gaiman did indicate the Arthurian legend is not in "1602" saying, "There's such a thing as over egging the pudding!"
"1602" was chosen as the time period to set the book in because it provided Gaiman an exciting time in history in which to place these heroes.
"It was a nice place to set the story," revealed Gaiman. "It gave me America and it gave me a lot of things that I wanted in terms of the way the world was changing. It also gave me the sense of wonder and magic.
"It's right at the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign. I wanted to set it when she's very old. We have King James who in real life hated all witches, so on and so forth, ready to come down. The story is utterly against anything he identifies as magical. He hates Doctor Strange with the same venom that he hates the X-Men.
"I keep being fascinated and frustrated when I write this by the length of time it takes people to get places. We're so used to standard super-hero comics or even standard fiction in which people hop into airplanes, get into cars or they fly. Currently I have one flying character, one levitating character and a lot of people taking a long time to get places, which is really interesting. It changes the way you have to tell the story."
And as you may gather, there are a large number of parallels to this story and the origins of the Marvel Universe as published in the 1960s. For instance, there is a analogue to the moment when Reed Richards blasted off into space, only to be irradiated by cosmic rays on the way back.
"Yes and in the first issue there are clues to that. It might be something of a spoiler, but play close attention to the 'Ballad of the Fantastic,' which is the song that Matthew Murdock tends to sing whenever he actually has to sing a song."
"1602" was originally a working title for the series and Gaiman had intended to change it as he got further into it. But, much like is the case with his novel "American Gods," Gaiman et al became comfortable with the title and it stuck. "…'1602' sounds rights. It fits in the mouth happily, in a way that 1601 doesn't!"
On adapting the Marvel characters to this world Gaiman said, "I had a lot of the fun with thinking about what I liked about the characters and having them completely free of baggage, aside from any baggage I gave them. A few of them were obvious. Oddly enough, some of the ones that had never been characters I particularly had much interest in over the years rapidly became one of my favorites." Gaiman stated that while he was awed by the Steranko issues, he never was a fan of Nick Fury, but in developing the character for this series he found it to be a real joy.
There are some characters Gaiman would have liked to include, but they just didn't fit within his plans. "I would have loved to include Wolverine and couldn't put him in just because the era of this story is pre-Wolverine. He's such an archetypal character it would have been nice to include him, but on the whole I haven't felt at any point that I've missed anybody.
When asked if the Hulk would be making an appearance Gaiman responded, "We'll see!" Additionally, when asked if the God of Thunder Thor would show up, Gaiman teased by answering with, "What an interesting question!"
On other villains we may be seeing in the book Gaiman said, "My favorite of all of the villains that I'm using is known as Count Otto Von Doom, known as 'The Handsome.' He steals every scene that he's in. He's enormously fun. The head of the inquisition, the grand inquisitor, I'm not going to say who he is, but I think most of the readers will probably figure it out during the first two issues. If they don't, it'll become very clear in issue three."
Gaiman noted most of the characters will be immediately recognizable to most fans especially when their names are revealed, but there will be some that readers will have to think about a bit.
On what he finds so attractive about the Marvel Universe Gaiman said, "The most attractive thing, that as a young man was also the most frustrating thing, is the fact that it always has been ne big place in which these characters interact. The DC Universe always feels like a bunch of discrete elements where, in order to get from somebody's comic to somebody else's comic, you practically need a passport, or at least a long bus ride. Whereas you always feel that Marvel is, for good or ill, it's a universe. As a kid that was incredibly frustrating because in England, where comics came over as ballast on ships, the only rules were every Marvel comic would be continued in a different Marvel comic. That was rule one. Rule two was you would never find that comic."
"1602" as a story is conceived to be very accessible. According to Gaiman and Quesada, the origins of the 1960s Marvel Universe are not required reading to understand "1602," and a real life event convinced Gaiman that writing the series with Elizabethan dialogue would ultimately hurt that accessibility.
"I wrote it at all times wanting it to be fairly accessible," said Gaiman. "Two Octobers ago I was at the Chicago Humanities Festival with Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner and Scott McCloud, and they asked me to give a talk to a bunch of inner city kids, many of which wanted to be comics artists, who had been given 'A Midsummer Nights Dream,' the Sandman episode to read. At that point I was still putting together '1602' in my head and I was thinking what fun it would be to actually write it in accurate Elizabethan dialogue. Then I went out to meet these Chicago inner-city kids and slowly realized that while they really liked what Charles Vess had drawn, they had no idea what was going on in any of the world balloons. So, at that point I thought, okay, I don't think I will write it in genuine Elizabethan style. I really want these kids to read it and enjoy it."
"This book is incredibly accessible and is an all ages read," continued Quesada. "I can see school teachers across America compiling this later on and using it in classes. It will speak to all ages, all genders. Even if you know nothing about the Marvel Universe, it's just a fun romp through this time period, using some historical fact. If you do know the Marvel Universe, then you do get the joy of the reveals as you realize who each one of these characters is meant to be."
Gaimain is excited about his return to comics.
"It's been very odd for me in this August/September period, not having any comics come out for seven years, I suddenly have three coming out in a very short period of time, which is 'Wolves in the Walls,' 'Sandman: Endless Nights' and '1602.' I guess what's nice about that is that the three of them are so fun and so different. 'Wolves in the Walls' is a comic done by me and Dave McKean, for all ages. It's a graphic novella for all ages. '1602' is fun! I'm having enormous fun writing it. It's something I'm enjoying. It's not meant to be Sandman. The glorious thing about that is 'Sandman: Endless Nights' is meant to be Sandman. So if anybody goes to '1602' looking for Sandman they're not going to find it, but they will in 'Endless Nights.' What's fun about '1602' is it's its own thing. It's not like anything else I can point to."
Gaiman has a busy press schedule coming up to promote all his books. There's a huge Publishers Weekly insert spotlighting Gaiman. Entertainment Weekly will be doing a piece, as well as Spin magazine and other major media publications. "People will be completely sick of me by October."
Finally, Gaiman was asked about Todd McFarlane's plans to release a PVC version of the Miracleman statue at San Diego this year and what he thought of it. Gaiman responded, "I thought it was astonishingly ugly! What we've actually done is, Marvels and Miracles has licensed Miracleman to Randy Bowen on the basis that I really like Randy's stuff and he did all the nicest Sandman statues, so he's going to be doing a Miracleman statue. Mainly just to go, 'No no no, Miracleman doesn't look like that. He doesn't clench!' The Todd one is terribly clenched."