The year that was: Joe Quesada talks year one as EIC of Marvel

[Joe Quesada and Marvel]A year ago this month, Joe Quesada, then penciler for Daredevil and creator of the highly successful Marvel Knights imprint, was promoted to Editor In Chief of Marvel Comics. Most fans took this news as a sign that things at Marvel were about to really get hot again.

Over the past year Quesada has dropped the Comics Code, shaken up the X-Books, raided the creative talent of their Distinguished Competition, and put Marvel back in the Diamond Top Ten sales list with a bullet.

CBR News sat down with Joe Quesada and asked him to reflect on his first year as EIC, and take a look ahead at the future of Marvel Comics.

Keith Giles: You're coming up on your first year anniversary as EIC of Marvel. Reflect on the highs and lows of this last year.

Joe Quesada: Wow, August 30th will be one whole year; jeeze it seems like it was just a couple of weeks ago! Man, the highs are just too many to count and to recount them all would just seem like gloating! As for the lows, again hard to tell we haven't had any real low points this year, thank God. I think about the lowest I've felt this year is from the recent unconfirmed John Buscema news, that really hit home, I'm praying it's not even close to the rumor everyone was passing around.

KG: Overall, how do you rate the experience? If you'd known then what you know now, would you have still said yes?

JQ: Absolutely, Bill Jemas delivered on all his promises. When I took the job I asked for and required a certain amount of leeway, support and autonomy and he delivered in spades! I think the results show for themselves.

KG: Marvel is back on the top where it belongs. Do you feel like you can relax a bit now?

JQ: How about this, the day I find myself relaxing is the day you all get a press release saying that I'm calling it a day. Bringing Marvel this far is a thrill and I would sure be lying if I were to tell you that I knew all along that it was going to happen as quickly as it has, but the trick now is maintaining and while your maintaining, strive for even more excellence! As much of a Mets fan as I am I have to use the Yankees as an example. It's one thing to win a championship once, it's another to win it consistently and create a dynasty, that's the true sign of greatness. Guys like Alan Moore and Frank Miller aren't just one hit wonders, they built a career out of hitting it out of the park more times than not, that's what I'm striving for. Doing it for a year is one thing, doing it consistently is another. You can probably argue that some of that consistency was already achieved with Marvel Knights but that was on a much smaller level. I guess I'm just wondering if I have what it takes to keep the plates spinning for a while. I like to challenge myself every day and there is no bigger challenge in comics, in my mind, than running Marvel! Whether it's the microscope by which all of our moves are dissected or that no matter what we say always manages to get twisted around, there's never a dull moment, that's why this job is a blast! It's also a blast because I've been lucky enough to have some of the best Editors and talents in the business working for me, they ultimately are the ones that make my job look easy! They're also the ones that make my job so much fun to come to every morning. You have no idea how cool it is when you see all the brilliant work we're having produced come through our door every day!

KG: What titles are next on your "to fix" list, now that Spidey and X-titles are back on top of the sales charts?

JQ: I think that the titles on that list are pretty obvious. Thor has just started a new chapter with Odin's death, the ramifications of which are going to be amazing. Iron Man and Hulk are about to change direction and I'm thrilled about them and where they're headed and then there's Cap! Caps re-launch is really going to be special and something that the character has needed for a very long time.

This is no slight to those that came before on Cap, there have been some wonderful creators and some wonderful runs but its been a very long time since Marvel has really focused on the character in a significant way and has given a particular creative team the set of marching orders that we have given Reiber and Cassaday. It's another grand experiment, so let's see how it works out!

KG: Talk about Kevin Smith's return to Marvel with the Black Cat mini. Is there an artist yet? Have you talked to Kevin about what he's got planned?

JQ: Yes, and yes, but it's way too early to talk about. What I can say is that we're planning Black Cat's launch as one of our big Spidey events around the time of the movie but ultimately it's up to Kev's schedule. This book is going to be huge, especially when we reveal the artist! It's also going to be another Marvel book featuring a strong female lead which we could always use more of!

KG: It seems that Marvel and DC are back in the rivalry game. Do you think this is good for comics in general or would you be willing to extend the olive branch for the sake of the industry in general?

JQ: I love the rivalry! I use to love it when I was reading Marvel comics as a kid and I missed it during the days of Amalgam! First, understand that we're all in the same boat and that even though we take shots at each other, after business hours I hang out with plenty of people from DC. It's too small a business and I really like the guys and gals over there, we just have different ways of doing business and I think it's great for both of us to be competitive and poke fun at those differences and more importantly ... it's fun as all heck for the fans!

I can't help it, maybe it's the New Yorker in me, maybe it's my Latin blood, I love talking comics and sometimes I love speaking my mind and talkin' trash. There's no harm in it and as far as I can see it gets fans reading interviews like this--heck that's why you guys always bring it up! You're hoping for a great sound bite. What I really find fun is that a little over a year ago DC or Marvel would put out a release announcing whatever and you could go on certain message boards and see what, maybe 10 post about it at most? No one would even bothered to read the stuff! Just recently Bill Jemas gave a small online interview (one of the few in which he said nothing outrageous) and there were close to 200 posts about his small interview on the same message board that used to have ten! I don't care how you look at it, that's great for our industry! Let me tell ya, I love comics and I love the comics industry but we've been living in the 50s and 60s for way too long, it's time to grow our hair out and have a bit of fun with ourselves! I'll do whatever it takes to get our business back on its feet and I believe that that's exactly what we're trying to do at Marvel!

Now, that being said, If you told me that peace between Marvel and DC would mean the absolute guaranteed salvation of our industry I would personally kiss Paul Levitz' skinny white ass and slip Bob Wayne some tongue! How's that for a sound bite!

KG: Can you say a little about John Buscema's health issues and how that makes you feel as a fan, and as EIC of Marvel?

JQ: John's family has asked for privacy so I know as much as anyone else who isn't close to him or his family, which means next to nothing! All I can say is that I hope the report was greatly exaggerated as his family claims. John is in my prayers and I think that I can speak for all of us at Marvel that we wish him a speedy recovery from his operation.

KG: If you could have any writer or artist work for Marvel today, that isn't currently working with Marvel, who would they be?

JQ: Well, there's Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Paul Dini, Walt Simonson and so many others that I know if I continue naming too many I'm going to forget others and then I'll get angry e-mail's.

KG: Marvel is sitting on some really great older titles that could easily be developed into top-selling books with the right team on board. Are you interested in resurrecting any of these older books (like Alien Legion, Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, etc.)?

JQ: No, not right now. There's a part of me that would rather wait for the perfect proposal or do nothing at all. In the meantime, while we're waiting for just the right treatment I would rather focus my energies and look forward.

KG: Are there any strategic plans on the boards to cash-in on the new Spider-Man film in development?

JQ: Yup, we have a number of projects and all of it high profile creators doing some very classy stuff. As I mentioned, if all goes according to schedule, Kevin Smith's project will be right in line with all of that!

KG: Can you tell me where the David Mack "ECHO" mini-series is at right now? Is it in the works, has it been canned, post-poned?

JQ: The ball is in David's court. David has his own wonderful publishing business going, and for those of you not reading Kabuki, stop reading this interview and go buy a copy! The door is always open for David, he and I spoke about an Echo series but David wants to do all of it himself, so in order for that to happen he has to make the time in his schedule. I'm patient, it'll be worth the wait!

KG: Recently, another MAX title was announced, APACHE SKIES dealing with a new story arc with The Rawhide Kid and The Apache Kid. Are you a fan of the old Marvel Western titles like Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, etc? Are there any other new MAX titles you can announce?

JQ: I just like Westerns in general! As for announcements, just to show you that I'm not always in control, I was surprised that the news for Apache Skies was released today. I read it along with everyone else on the Internet. I knew it was coming I just didn't think we were ready to announce it yet.

KG: Marvel has been killing off characters left and right it seems. Can you discuss why this is so? Are you cleaning house to make room for fresh stories and characters? How do you feel about the way that Marvel has flippantly handled characters who die in the past?

JQ: I think I made myself pretty clear on how I feel about cheap deaths versus significant ones. There is only one death to concern yourself with at the moment and that's Odin's because that one is going to have far reaching implications in the future of the Marvel Universe. You may not see it a year down the line or two, but it's coming!

KG: Assuming that the War Machine title does well, would you be willing to publish another black and white weekly comic title?

JQ: Let me just say that Chuck Austen had a 3 year weekly story line planned. We had to have him chill on it a bit just to test out the weekly format! When we read the material we were tempted to just open the doors and let Chuck's freak flag fly for three years, but we figured that the world wasn't quite ready for his form of madness! I can assure you that there is more War Machine in the works and the weekly formula will depend on the fans in the end. I can say this, the last time I had this kind of feeling, in recent memory, reading a comic, was when I read Ennis and Dillon's first few issues of Preacher and Millar's Authority. It's that good!

KG: You also mentioned in San Diego the possibility that Marvel could do a Manga-line based on the reaction to the upcoming Manga Month early next year. If this is so, are there any artists, writers, etc. (Adam Warren, Kevin Lau, etc.) that you're looking at?

JQ: It's funny because we're looking at everyone and they're looking at us. I think that the whole American Manga community is looking at this event very carefully. Don't be mistaken and downplay how important this Manga 5th week event can be for the industry!

KG: Would you envision this as a Manga-version of the current Marvel Universe, or would you be open to brand-new Manga titles?

JQ: Right now the event is the Marvel Universe reinvented; we do have some original Manga ideas that we are looking at now. There are no hard and fast rules at Marvel anymore, we'll mix and match if we need to. There is no spoon!

KG: Could this even be combined with the black and white weekly line?

JQ: War Machine is pretty close to traditional Manga so you may be seeing it happen already in September. Tell me what ya think!?

KG: Talk about your decision to let go of the Comic Code. How do you feel that this decisions has affected Marvel? Has it been for the best? Have you received any major complaints?

JQ: I'll tell ya how significant it's been; we haven't felt a thing! Not a complaint and not a lost sale. This little scalloped terror was the biggest red herring and albatross in the history of our business -- possibly any business! I can't understand why our Distinguished Competition or anyone else for that matter is adhering to it at all. The only reason I can think of is that it gives them that warm fuzzy feeling that reminds them of their childhood in the 50s.

KG: What's new at Marvel?!?

JQ: What's new? Wow, we have 2 more superstar pencilers on the way and we may have a very important announcement to make very soon as to something we're involved in with respect to one of those creators that I would love to have work at Marvel someday! Outside of that, what's new is that everyday that I come to work I'm delighted to be doing what I'm doing and I'm delighted to see our industry growing stronger and stronger and I'm thankful to all the creators, fans and retailers who have made all of this possible and blessed me with the opportunities I've been given!

Godspeed to all of us, let's hope for another great year!

KG: Talk about the "Origin" book. I know it hasn't shipped yet, but are you sure this is such a good idea? Isn't Wolverine a more interesting character because of the mystery surrounding him?

JQ: I refuse to believe that what makes Wolvie interesting to readers is his lack of an origin. When kids see Wolvie for the first time the reaction is immediate. It's not like they view the character and say, "Hey, he's kinda okay," and then when they find out that he doesn't have and origin "Wow, now that's cool!" No, what people react to is his incredible roguishness, his look and the claws. Wolvie is all attitude, origin or not. The lack of a history has been use I believe as a crutch for creating stories and scenarios that readers have been pulled through and then had the rug pulled from under them. I can't tell you how much support from hard core Wolvie fans we have on this. What's happened at this point is that he's had no past for so long that the joke just isn't funny anymore. To be honest, I would be more concerned if the story wasn't good, but it's amazing! What this story will do is give Wolverine a new added dimension and a whole other set of questions that he needs to answer. I think everyone will be surprised by what kind of story this will be.

KG: Are you going to fix the Marvel Boy TPB printing errors for future runs?

JQ: Okay here goes. The simple answer is no, the book will not be altered because it was designed intentionally that way. This is what happened...

Back during the time that Marvel Boy, the original series, was being produced, Marvel was not in the TPB business so Marvel was still producing books that were geared and written in the traditional Marvel monthly cliffhanger method with little to no eye towards future publication. Since we are now heavily in the TPB biz we have a certain set of rules that we try to abide by with respect to how we want our artist and writers to construct their stories. J.G. Jones and Grant where not working under these rules because they didn't exist.

One of our new rules is that a writer or artist must keep in mind that in order for the pages in a TPB to line up, they would be best served to make sure that double page spreads all land consistently on even or odd pages within a given single issue. What this means is that if issue one has 3 double page spreads and the first one falls on pages 5 and six, the remaining two should also begin on odd numbered pages.

Now this can change from issue to issue because we can easily place a pinup or two to adjust for pagination so issue 2 or three can have double page spreads that begin on even numbers, as long as it's consistent within each single issue. Well, we had a big problem with Marvel Boy, many of the double page spreads went from odd to even and back.

I was given a decision to make; solution one, we were tight on page count with the book and to cut and paste and reformat some of the book would have added pages which would have added printing signatures which would have added a price increase to the book. Solution two; add a few pinups in-between chapters which would have been no problem but the page math still didn't work out so I was going to have to place a pinup or worse yet a blank page in the middle of a story. Solution three; try to split the double page spreads and the dialogue balloons in a way so that the action and story still moved left to right as well as possible but possibly screwing up the integrity of some of the double page spreads. I and I alone chose solution number three and here's why. First, I didn't want the price to go up on the book and secondly, my sole focus and theory with the TPBs are that they are a reader initiative. What I mean by that is that the TPBs are hopefully for new readers or readers that have never seen the book or missed out on the series. That is our ultimate goal with these books. My thought is that the casual reader won't even know that some of those pages were double page spreads but they certainly would find a blank page or a pinup in the middle of a story distracting and maybe perceive that as a mistake. As a matter of fact I can almost guarantee you they would see it as a mistake! The readers that know that they were double page spreads know this because they have the original books, so they can always go back to those if they want to see them in their full glory.

If you've noticed, I've done a few things with the way Marvel books look and read. Despite tradition, for the most part I got rid of footnotes in the actual pages and placed them in the back letter columns. I always found that they took me out of a great story. Imagine watching an episode of ER and one of the doctors calls out for something technical and all of a sudden Don Pardo interrupts the action, "Hey there, Dear Viewers, what Doctor Wyly was referring to was a blah, blah, blah!' How annoying would that be!? We also got rid of them from the actual pages because it would mean us having to do surgery on every one of the pages containing footnotes that were going into a TPB. Again, you're sitting there reading a great story and all of a sudden there's a footnote that says, "See Avengers #2976 for more details." It's just not a great way to construct your books if you want neophytes reading TPBs and feeling like they're getting a complete story and to me it's the same with placing a pinup in the middle of a story! Now maybe some other company will place something in the middle of a story and not care about disturbing the flow, but I know what my goals are with our TPBs and that's readability for people who may never have picked up a particular story in the first place and that's what happened with Marvel Boy. Now, that being said, when we do have extra pages we'll do what we can. Ultimate Spider-man early in its run also suffered from the odd-even problem, we managed to cut and paste many panels to try to make it work, unfortunately we didn't have that leeway with MB.

KG: Will there be a follow-up Marvel Boy book?

JQ: Grant wants to do one, we're just waiting for the right artist!

KG: I've got to ask you, will we ever get to see ASH again down the road?

JQ: Not anytime soon. I really love and miss the character but bringing him into the regular Marvel U is just too self serving (especially since fandom isn't burning down my mail box with requests) and to do it creator owned is just too difficult to even get into at this moment. I'm one never to say never, so you never know.

KG: When will your Web site be up and running?

JQ: Should be up and running sometime after Chicago-con. Figure a week or two after.

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