Perhaps he was prescient, perhaps he knew something before the fans knew it, or perhaps a little bit of both, but Marvel Comics' Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada's comments at a Friday Q&A panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego turned out to be eerily prophetic about the news that was to come out from his Distinguished Competition over the weekend.
Asked why Marvel didn't have a booth at the world's largest comic convention for the second year in a row, Quesada was frank:
"Essentially, we have to cut costs every once in a while. Marvel was bankrupt, and if you look at some of the costs ... they were pretty ludicrous," he said. "Unfortunately, San Diego fell by the wayside, along with some other conventions. ... Hopefully next year, we'll be here, maybe not."
Marvel would be at Wizard-World in Chicago in full force, he said, and he acknowledged that DC Comics wasn't facing the same sort of financial problems, in part due to that company being owned by Warner Brothers. While Quesada pointed out that this meant Marvel wasn't as beholden creatively to somewhat conservative corporate interests -- for good or bad, the big changes Spider-Man went through throughout the 1990s were ones that only an independent company could have enacted -- he also admitted that the fat Warner Brothers check book had its own benefits. To wit, any time there was a "bidding war, DC is going to win."
And this was prior to the news that Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, JephLoeb and Tim Sale are all now, or are soon to be exclusive to DC Comics. While reports from the convention floor say that Quesada was aware of at least one of those moves a week before CCI opened its doors this year, DC Comics specifically mentioned having inked the deal with Loeb and Sale only shortly before the Saturday panel where they announced said exclusivity. And while you couldn't swing a dead cat on the convention floor without hitting a DC editorial staffer -- and swinging a dead cat was a sure way to improve the aroma of the convention center by Sunday afternoon -- Marvel's presence was much lighter, no doubt due to the cost cutting measures Quesada mentioned.
Not exclusive, but not without a messy public split of their own with Marvel were former "Fantastic Four" creative team Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. While Quesada said he'd mended fences with Waid, he admitted the changes could have been handled better.
"There's a very big year for 'Fantastic Four' on the horizon. There's going to be more than one book of FF. What I can say is that we handled it badly publicly, it was not our shining moment. ... [but] as for why we made that change, it's a change we had to make," Quesada said, explaining the changes to the book were to bring it more in-line with their long-term plans for the book. He also said that it would be unfair not to expect Marvel not to make some mistakes, as essentially, "The people that run Marvel [weren't there three years ago, and] it's a three year old company. We are learning what to do and how to do it. ... Every once in a while, we get in our own way, we step on our own toes and we screw up."
Having said that, Quesada said the recent "X-Statix" problems with Princess Di and the British Royal Family were more a case of a scandal that wasn't.
"We never heard from the Royal Family. This was just a matter of a little soul-searching at Marvel," Quesada said. "Let's just not do it, let's just not do it. ... We have plenty of skeletons in the closet, but this is certainly not one of them."
Quesada also talked about Marvel's mixed track record for movies in 2003.
"I was very, very attached to 'Daredevil,' obviously. I had a good time. I think of all the Marvel movies so far, 'X2' was the best. You can always find things to bitch about with these movies, but 'god damn, the Hulk's on the screen!'"
Asked about how well the more manga-influenced books Marvel's done of late have been doing for them lately, he said it was more of a bookstore success than a direct market success.
"It either does well in the direct market, or so-so. But it all seems to be doing very well with the aftermarket and the mass market. ... So, we're pretty happy with it."
Fans looking for the return of the letters pages (a question asked repeatedly this weekend at both DC and Marvel panels) got some good news: "You might not see them across the board, but you might start to see them in selected titles," Quesada said.
Likewise, those hoping for an infusion of new blood from Marvel's new Epic line have no cause to worry: "The Epic program is still in full bloom. There's a LOT of submissions. ... I have a very very tired editorial group working to get these books done."
Finally, while happy with how well many of the books released in 2003 have been received, he did think fans might be overlooking a few gems: "'Runaways' and 'Sentinel' are two very good titles that are in need of further recognition from people."