TALK TO THE HAT: Royalties & Relaunches

When it's time to make the big decisions on the nuts and bolts creation of Marvel Comics, people have to Talk to the Hat.

An outstanding industry vet and fashion forward editor, Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort is back on CBR News for Marvel's TALK TO THE HAT. Our latest weekly look inside the minds at Marvel spotlights Tom along with his signature pork pie and loads of comics news, views and discussion. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Brevoort will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and new interactive features.

This week, Brevoort addresses some of his own recent comments on the royalty policies of DC Comics and how it jibes with what Marvel does with their own books, plays "Last Man Standing" with a number of classic Marvel heroes up for reinvention in the Big Shots publishing initiative and answers your questions on Avengers supporting titles, John Romita, Jr.'s workload, the anniversary of a certain X-Man. Read on!

EXCLUSIVE pages from "Avengers" #11

Kiel Phegley: Tom, I was looking at your Twitter this week, and I was surprised to see you saying many complimentary things about DC.

Tom Brevoort: Well, I only did that for one day. [Laughs]

And as it just so happens, what I wanted to ask you about was one of the things you said there of late that was not so complimentary to DC!

Brevoort: Okay, I have a feeling I know what this is going to be about!

Well, one of your Tweets had addressed whether or not DC was paying out royalties to creators on reprints they were putting out of some old Marvel-produced Doc Savage comics. To start, what specifically have you heard about this, and how do you take issue with it?

Brevoort: Well, I should start by saying that this is complete hearsay on my part. I could be all wrong, and if someone from DC wants to set me straight, that'd be welcome news. But I heard from a couple of the creators who worked on those Doc Savage books back in the day, saying "No, we're not receiving any kind of payments from those collections," and I was kind of surprised by that.

At the same time, your comment hit a lot of folks' radars because I think there is a perception that Marvel doesn't pay as often or as much on royalties. I know I've heard from plenty of people that the foreign reprints royalties at Marvel aren't at the level DC does. Do you feel there's any disparity between how the two companies approach this stuff, and if so, what is the base level of fairness companies should be exercising in paying out on this stuff?

Brevoort: We have a system in place for incentive payments as does DC, but just as they wouldn't get too specific about theirs, we can't publicly go into detail either. There are a lot of elements of the business, from page rate to contracts to the cost of creating a comic, that we just cant-and shouldn't-discuss publicly because they're a part of why Marvel's been so successful.

So to answer your question, both Marvel and DC do what they think is fair and that's going to jibe with some while angering others.

Finally on this topic, with the announcement of Marvel's incoming "Disney•Pixar Presents" magazine of comics, folks have been wondering whether the creators who made material for BOOM! that you'll be reprinting will see a royalty or whether that talent will be invited to continue working on those characters at Marvel. What can you tell us about that?

Brevoort: That whole program is being dealt with on Marvel's side by Ruwan Jayatilleke, our SVP of Development and Planning, so this is a question better addressed by him:

Jayatilleke: Regarding the Pixar comics, the collaboration between Marvel Publishing and Disney Publishing Worldwide is a relatively new one with many moving parts both on the business side, creative side, and operational side. There aren't any open opportunities for writers and artists right now - our focus is on using the material we've already got in order to grow this product and its audience. That said, there may be opportunities in the future but that is a discussion that both Disney Publishing and Marvel Publishing will need to have first before communicating out anything to the creative community.

I know people have a lot of questions and some will be answered in time, but right now our big focus is making sure this is a successful launch for everyone involved.

In publishing news this week, Marvel has branded three upcoming relaunched under the Big Shots banner - "Moon Knight" by Bendis and Maleev and then "Daredevil" and "The Punisher" by mystery creative teams. On the latter two books, those are characters that have in recent memory been wrapped up or given time off, but do you feel they fall into the category where Marvel wants to get them back up and running ASAP? In other words, do they fit into the "always should have a title" category, or were there just some other circumstances that led them to being published now?

Brevoort: It tends to be case-by-case, but when you're talking about the bigger, more perennial, more popular Marvel characters that have sold a lot of books over the years - and certainly Daredevil and Punisher fit in that mold - it's no surprise that those are characters we think about more often than characters who may have sold a few books at some point but have been off the racks as long as they were on them. That being said, every once in a while we'll take a character and purposefully leave them on the bench for a period of time. Thor's a good example of this-we kept the character on the shelf and allowed the readers' hearts to grow fonder through his absence, and waited until we had the right creative team and story concept to bring him back to prominence in a big way.

The same kind of thing applies to a Daredevil or a Punisher. In this case, we've got some very strong creative teams that you'll hear about in the weeks to come. But these are characters that have had an enormously good track record. The previous "Daredevil" series only ended because of the events of "Shadowland" where we sent Matt into "Daredevil Reborn" and cycled the numbering of his monthly title over to "Black Panther." There was always the intent - whether it was going to be six months or a year or two years later - to eventually either bring Matt back or to introduce some new Daredevil. Once we realized we had the "Moon Knight" launch and the other two all happening at around the same time, given that they're similar sorts of characters - for lack of a better term, non-superpowered costumed adventurers - it made sense to group them together.

So yeah, they are amongst our perennial characters. And every once in a while, one of those guys falls of the radar a bit, though it's no surprise when they come back because they've got a bedrock track record.

It's interesting because if I tried to count off characters I would figure Marvel would always publish, of course Spider-Man and the Hulk or whoever would be in that group, but the Punisher seems to me to be right on the line of maybe/maybe not. Do you have a barometer for where that line is drawn? And are there any characters who were once perennials who have fallen below that level, say like Dr. Strange?

Brevoort: Just talking in broad strokes, the most resilient characters tend to be the characters created in the '60s, for obvious reasons. They're the bedrock of the Marvel Universe. At this time, the '70s characters have been around almost as long, particularly from the point of view of a reader who's maybe been reading for only ten years or even 20 years. But somehow, either because some of them didn't start out in their own books or because their books ended up cycling out at some point between the '70s and the '90s, those characters don't seem to be as absolutely essential to the Marvel Universe in the same way that the real '60s perennials do.

That being said, you pointed to Dr. Strange who is a pretty good example of a '60s character who was always on the bubble. His first book didn't even outlast the '60s. It ended in 1969 if I'm remembering right. And then it came back in the '70s and lasted through to the early '80s and then it came back again at the tail end of the '80s to run through most of the '90s before fading out completely. That indicates that Doc is a character who was maybe not as close to the center of the Marvel U and wasn't able to achieve the same level of critical mass. Nick Fury is another character like that. But somehow the '60s characters have an easier time feeling like they should "always be there" as opposed to the '70s guys and the guys created even more recently. It just seems right that there's a Daredevil comic, but I don't tend to blink too much when there's no Punisher comic. In fact, there were great swaths of time where there was no Punisher comic, and he was just a supporting player or a villain, depending on how you looked at it, in "Amazing Spider-Man" for ten or 15 years before anyone thought to give him his own book. At that point, he exploded out into two or three books and became enormously successful.

Thinking back, I don't know if anything created after the '60s feels completely bulletproof to me...

Wolverine really comes to my mind as being "safe."

Brevoort: Yeah, although even there I could see a time where you'd say "We don't need a Wolverine solo book. We can just feature him in 'X-Men.'" Again, maybe that's just me. [Laughter] Because that "Wolverine" book has been running for 30 years, yet being the old man that I am I think of it as a newcomer title because we launched it in the '80s. That was very late in the game from my point of view, but you're probably right about Wolverine. I'll grant you that it's unlikely that we'd go any stretch of time without there being a Wolverine series.

That being said, "X-Men" itself was a cancelled series. It was the other weak link title of the '60s, and it was cancelled in '69 or '70 but came back as a reprint title because the numbers on those last Neal Adams issues were good enough to warrant keeping it in reprints for four or five years. And now you can't imagine a world where there isn't an X-Men book. So these things can completely turn around depending on the zeitgeist of the time. We went from having no Deadpool books to having three or four. That number will bounce up and bounce down, and maybe we'll get to a point where there are no Deadpool books again. I hope not, because I like it when our books sell well enough to continue, but those are the vagaries of the comic book zeitgeist. There's whatever the audience wants at a given moment, and that's not necessarily a solid state thing. I always think it's a mistake to take any of this for granted.

That being said, when a book has lasted for a number of years it clearly means there was something going on there, and it may be worth it to try it again at some point. In the case of Dr. Strange, while you could say that the title has been launched three or four times and failed each time, you can also stack up the total number of issues that each series ran and say "There's evidence that the right hit at the right time can make a go of Dr. Strange." Sometimes maybe people let the opinion stray too far one way or the other. It's a fine line you have to walk with a character like that.

EXCLUSIVE pages from "Avengers Academy" #11

But compare that to a character you could make up tomorrow like Zip Boy. Zip Boy has no track record whatsoever. He'd just have the strength of the core concept, the creators, and whatever marketing platform you go out with. Maybe you introduce him in AVENGERS and he hangs out with them so everyone goes "Yay, Zip Boy! Who is this mysterious new Zip Boy? I want to read more about him!" And then tomorrow there could be four Zip Boy books, and he could build himself a track record. The Punisher had no track record for years. He had a few black and white magazines, and that was it. But that explosion in the '80s and into the '90s when he was able to carry four or five titles at a time means there is some strength-of-appeal there if you can just tap into it. There's a chance that retailers or readers will remember that and want to check the new book out because of some connection - interest or nostalgia or what have you. And that gives him a leg up on Zip Boy.

You're really enjoying this Zip Boy thing, aren't you?

Brevoort: He's zippy! [Laughter]

Would his powers involve zippers of some kind?

Brevoort: I'd think that he would move quickly from place to place in a zipping motion, but that's just my creative impulse. He could have zippers too. Maybe zippers could be the new pouches or belt pockets? [Laughter] In 2011, we'll launch a bunch of new characters that have zippers.

EXCLUSIVE pages from "Punishermax" #11

Keeping in line with some of our discussion, this week's first fan question comes from Dangerous, who asks "Do we have a date for Punisher MAX #11 yet?"

Brevoort: Let me toss this one over to the always-verbose "Punisher MAX" editor Sebastian Girner:

Girner: It'll be on sale on March 9th.

Brevoort: See? Just can't shut that guy up.

SomeBodyAtCBR is back this week with two queries, beginning with "1) This has been brought up on the Avengers board lately: with someone like Brian Bendis who submits scripts several months in advance, are extra editorial steps put in place to make sure the script fits in place when it's published?

For example, let's take the recent Clint and Bobbi break-up. Let's say that was rushed due to the book being cancelled and the writer wanting to get that beat in before cancellation. When Bendis wrote the script, it was unknown that the break-up would be rushed, so he wrote them being together (again, this is hypothetical). Would the script be modified to reflect the change before publishing, or are we as fans supposed to just place the events of that break-up after Bendis's story?"

EXCLUSIVE pages from "New Avengers" #10

Brevoort: I'm not a proponent of the school of thought that absolutely everything within the publishing line has to walk in lockstep at all times. So, to give you another example, in "New Avengers" so far, neither Spider-man nor the Thing have appeared in their new costumes. And the reason for that is that "New Avengers" is currently in the midst of a big six-part storyline, so there's no easy point within that span to make that change without confusing everybody. This kind of thing happens all the time-it's inevitable when you've got so many titles featuring these characters. But even in its most basic form-if an issue of Captain America ends with Cap hanging off a cliff, he can still be in that month's issue of "Avengers" fighting Kang. The assumption is that these stories aren't happening at the exact same time, even if the issues are coming out in the same month or even the same week. EXCLUSIVE pages from "Secret Avengers" #11

So we tend to calibrate things like this over time, and really, I leave it in the hands of the fans and the Marvel Handbook guys to work out the minutia of what specific order some events must have transpired in. There was a time where Marvel tried to be really anal about this sort of thing, and we spent a lot of time and effort on it, and it drove everybody crazy-and the comics weren't any better, and we got stuff wrong just about as often. So now we're a little bit more relaxed about this.

Which is all a long way of saying that, in a case like the one you cite, depending on what the situation is and where we are in a given storyline, we'll either adjust something or we won't, depending on what seems to make the most sense for the most people.

And continuing to "2) Keeping with the Avengers theme, I think it would be beneficial to refer to the roster's solo-books, especially if they are failing. I don't want to say if Hawkeye & Mockingbird got reference boxes in New Avengers the book would sell enough not to be cancelled, but if you have a title like Avengers with members that Marvel is trying to give their own solo-titles, why not pimp them out in the pages of the higher-selling title?"

Brevoort: Well, short of doing crossovers with those titles, or entangling all of our writers with one another so that nobody can cleanly tell their own stories, I'm not entirely sure how you'd go about that. And I would argue that the reason that something like "Hawkeye And Mockingbird" ended had very little to do with "Avengers" readers not knowing about it-it had more to do with enough readers of all stripes not being enticed to follow it. You can't make the audience pick up something that they're not interested in-all you can do is try to interest them. But the business of "Avengers," first and foremost, needs to be to tell the best, most compelling Avengers stories that it can. Once you start to think about it as a vehicle to push "Iron Man" or "Thor "or "Hawkeye And Mockingbird," you're putting the card before the horse, and what you're going to wind up doing is tanking the numbers on "Avengers."

We do tend to do things like promote related releases on the Next Issue pages in titles like "Avengers" or "X-Men," and there are occasions when the events in one title will spill over or impact upon another title. But to me at least, I don't see an easy way to do what you're saying without compromising the integrity and mission statement of "Avengers." We hear so often from fans as it is about "Marvel shoving that character down our throats!" when we're not doing this that I can only imagine the reaction if we did.

teddyeatsyourface wanted to know, "Rogue's 30th anniversary is coming up soon. Are there any plans to do a special one shot?"

Brevoort: X-Men Group Editor Nick Lowe didn't respond when I asked him about this...so I'm just going to go ahead and say yes. This way, once this sees print, he'll be forced to go ahead and get one done.

Let's wrap with Spidey616 who wants to know "It looks like Chris Bachalo will be drawing Avengers starting with issue #13 in May. Is John Romita Jr. just taking a break and coming back or is he indeed no longer drawing the Avengers title?"

Brevoort: Chris is coming on to do two issues, "Avengers" #13 and #14, and then John will be back with #15.

Finally, we're gearing up for another special guest in the column...one of you! Next week, we'd like to invite a fan off the boards to get in on our weekly call and ask whatever questions they want of Tom. The requirements are as follows: first, you must be available to talk on the phone between 11:00 AM and Noon on Tuesday, March 1st, and for two you have to pitch Tom on why you deserve to be the called by answering the following query from Tom...

Brevoort: To frame this up first, one of the things I'd like to see happen with this column, as with most of the similar things I've done over the years, is for it to become inclusory. I'd like you guys, the readership, to become involved and feel invested, and to feel like you're getting your voices heard (if not always listened to).

So in thinking about this, one of the ideas we've come up with is this notion of having a "special guest fan interviewer." This is your chance to ask the questions you want to ask, and have a direct one-on-one pipeline to somebody at Marvel, specifically me. And Kiel will be around to make sure that nothing goes awry.

Now, I don't expect this to be a softball session, but I do expect anybody who's serious about this to behave in a civilized and professional manner, and carry on a reasonable and intelligent discussion. So that's what I'm looking for-somebody who has something on his mind, some issue or issues regarding the Marvel books that they want to discuss, and who's willing to come into this with an open mind and on good behavior. And as Kiel says, you'll need to be available to dial in to the call at 11:00 EST on Tuesday, March 1st.

If this goes well, we may make it a regular feature, so this isn't all-or-nothing time. But it does mean that whoever is selected will have the responsibility of representing the fan community as a whole. If you think you can do that, then you may be our person. So what we want to hear is what you want to talk about, and Kiel and the CBR guys will make their selection from there.

Have some questions for Marvel's Talk To The Hat? 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 Executive 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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