This November sees “Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors” and “Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble Season Two” return for new comic series at Marvel, with head writer Joe Caramagna once again at the cockpit of the helicarrier. With both books launching into their “seasons,” things are changing for both our friendly neighborhood hero and Earth’s Mightiest. Spidey’s joined the big leagues now, and the Avengers are about to face down one of their biggest threats yet — the tongue-twisting trickster Loki.
But that’s not all! Not content with teaming up Marvel’s biggest characters in the comics themselves, Marvel’s all-ages roster will see a creative team-up too, as Jim Zubkavich swings in to write back-up stories for “Web Warriors”. To find out more about this titanic team-up, CBR News spoke to both Caramagna and Zub about the relaunch — and what we can all expect from the comics over the next few months!
CBR News: Let’s start with “Spider-Man: Web Warriors”. Who are the web warriors and how do they come into Spider-Man’s world?
Joe Caramagna: Up until now, the “Ultimate Spider-Man” animated series has been about Spider-Man training with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. to become the ultimate Spider-Man. This season, Spider-Man is invited to the big leagues by the Avengers and we get to see him team up with some of Marvel’s most exciting heroes. For the comics adaptation, we’ll be taking their lead and bringing some of Spider-Man’s greatest team-ups from the Marvel Animated U to the printed page, with some easter eggs and bonus features thrown in for good measure.
What’s your take on this version of Peter Parker? Is he starting to come into his own as a hero? How used to his powers is he by now?
For the first two seasons of the series, Spidey has been working to get better at using his powers to maximum effectiveness. He’s not really sure he’s ready to take the next step, but he’ll come to realize that he’s one of the best out there, he just needs to forge his own path.
The first issue sees him teaming up with Captain America for a trip to Latveria for some sightseeing… or something more dangerous?
Not many people know this, but Latveria actually has some gorgeous tourist attractions, like Doomstadt and Castle Doom. And if you happen to be there for Doom Day, you’re in for a real treat! For dinner, I recommend Doom’s Diner. Try the “ghoul-ash.”
You’ve made quite a name for yourself as Marvel’s resident kids’ comics writer over the years. Was there anything in particular that made you want to step into that role? Why take up this baton?
More and more every day we hear about how people aren’t reading as much as they should be, especially kids. I have three kids, so I know how much competition there is for dollars and eyeballs, and reading is the least glamorous activity in that contest. But I know that kids love super heroes. When I take my kids to school, a majority of their classmates have super hero shirts on, or backpacks or sneakers. That says to me that super heroes are a way to reach them and get them into reading.
I know that my love of reading — and writing — started that way. I was first introduced to Spider-Man on TV before I ever knew he had a comic book, and when I found out, I read as many of them as I could! If we can get more comics into more kids’ hands, then more kids will learn to love to read.
Recently on Twitter you said that you didn’t like the “all ages” tag particularly. What is it about the idea of “all ages” as a comics description which you don’t like?
I think it’s a misnomer. I understand why publishers like the term — because kids don’t want to feel like they’re doing something childish and want to be like the older, cool kids. But all ages comics aren’t written for “all ages,” they’re written for young children, which is perfectly fine, but older readers see the term “all ages” and they stay away for that reason.
To me, the epitome of an “all ages” series, when you use that term literally, is “Thor: The Mighty Avenger” from a few years back. It was a continuing series that was smart and sophisticated, but wholly appropriate and accessible to kids. THAT’S what all ages is to me, and if I had my way, I would take the ratings off of all books and that style of “all ages” comics is how all of the major flagship titles would be handled. “All ages” wouldn’t be a small subset of the line — it would be the standard. Then you could have a line of young readers comics for those just learning how to read, and a line of mature comics for those who like that kind of thing. That way anyone could jump right into the comics easily.
But the market is what it is. And too many of us geeks, even though our hobby has gone way mainstream, are still too insecure in our hobby that if our comic books about magical people in pajamas didn’t have little moments of sex or excessive violence, we wouldn’t be able to convince our non-comic reading friends that we aren’t doing something childish. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to feel like a kid again. That’s what hobbies are for, man! Embrace it!
Steve Wacker was the man overseeing all of Marvel’s kids comics until he moved to the TV side of things — where he’s now overseeing the cartoons which inspire these comics. Is he still involved at all in these books?
We trade e-mails from time to time, but more about exchanging information and technical stuff in the adaptations. I’m hoping to get him more involved, so we’ll see. You’re not rid of me yet, Steve!
The second book you’re launching will be season two of “Avengers Assemble”. Where do the Avengers find themselves as season two begins?
In season one, the team had to endure some growing pains and defeat the Red Skull’s cabal, and the addition of Falcon to the team created a whole new dynamic. This season things are going to get a little cosmic, and we’re growing to bring that to the comics as well!
How is the team dynamic working in issue #1? Have they come together now, and formed a pretty solid unit?
They definitely have bonded more over the course of season one, so they do work more effectively as a team now – though with the usual snarky banter. But the threats in season two will do their best to divide the team.
You’re also writing the back-up stories for “Avengers Assemble” – who’ll you be spotlighting for that issue? What’s that particular story about?
I would describe each eleven-page story as “Avengers Assemble Season One-And-A-Half,” because it’s an extension of the first season, but instead of battling the Red Skull, the Avengers have to deal with Thor’s brother Loki — who’s looking to form a cabal of his own.
There will also be a series of “Ultimate Spider-Man” shorts written by Jim Zub, who wrote one of my favorite Marvel books of 2014, “Figment”!
Well let’s bring Jim into this interview, then! Jim, I believe this is your first time getting to write Spider-Man. Are you a fan of the character?
Jim Zubkavich You have no idea. Spider-Man was the first super hero comic I voraciously collected when I got into comics. My comic habit started with Marvel’s “G.I. Joe” series but “Amazing Spider-Man” lead me into the Marvel Universe. I can still remember the first issue I bought with my own allowance money: “Amazing Spider-Man” #231, ‘When a Cobra Comes A Calling…’ I collected “Amazing Spider-Man” from that issue [in 1982] through to #350 [in 1991].
When Dan Slott began his “Big Time” story arc I started reading again and have been eagerly anticipating every issue since. Spider-Man is near and dear to my heart and getting a chance to write Spidey stories is pure joy for me.
I was a bit intimidated at first when editor Bill Rosemann offered me the series but, given my reading history with the character, I was pleasantly surprised how natural it felt writing Peter Parker. The animated series has done a great job at establishing a young, driven hero juggling great power and great responsibility along with high school troubles and S.H.I.E.L.D. agency expectations. I’m having a great time with it.
Are you doing a single long-term storyline for the back-up, or a series of short tales?
These are done-in-one, eleven-page tales that are lean and mean in terms of storytelling. The stakes are established quickly and the action is fast and furious. If you’ve watched the “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon you can see where each one fits into the overall show continuity, but they’re built to work on their own as well, giving new readers a way to easily get on board.
What’ll the focus of your stories be? Which characters are you featuring?
I was given a list of villains to choose from and, once those were used up, I was free to pitch stories using any of the characters who have appeared on the show. Expect to see stories with Electro, the Lizard, the Rhino, Venom, and other villains along with everyone from the show’s supporting cast — Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, White Tiger, Power Man, Iron Fist, and many more.
How do you both differ the comics from the cartoons? Is it difficult at times to separate and find different one-liners, or character moments?
Caramagna: Because so much of the episode doesn’t make it into the comic, and because certain things need to be explained in the comic because I don’t have the benefit of movement like the episodes do, most of the dialogue is original. I try to keep lines and one-liners to keep it somewhat true to the episode, but it’s not always possible, so having a solid grasp of the characters’ voices and relationships to one another is very important so that what they say is true to the series.
Zubkavich Working from the cartoon has been a fun assignment, actually. With only 3 seasons of material to work with, it isn’t as continuity intensive as the regular Marvel Universe. Don’t get me wrong, I love the 616, but not having hundreds of stories trailing behind is kind of nice too. The team working on the cartoon have done a great job at establishing the setting and characters, leaving open all kinds of storytelling opportunities.
Whenever I find myself stuck for ideas I try to mix things up, combining characters in different settings or coming up with a visual action set piece to get things rolling, then I’ll work my way backwards figuring out how to get the characters into that situation.
Bill Rosemann, Assistant Editor Mark Basso, artist Mario Del Pennino, and the rest of the crew have been incredibly supportive. I love the Marvel characters and my fingers are crossed that this fun assignment leads to more super hero writing opportunities in 2015.
Joe, what’s the adaption process like for you on stories like this? How do you put a story together from the artwork you have?
Caramagna: I actually pull the artwork myself. I start by watching the episode a couple of times to get a handle on the story and what I can cut out, and how I can compensate for the beats I’d be missing by cutting those scenes. You’d be surprised at how few of the 22 minutes of television can fit in a 20-page comic. Sometimes I have to start the story in the middle and catch readers up, sometimes I cut huge chunks out of the middle. Then I watch a time-coded version of the episode, and I have to let Marvel Animation know which frames I need for the comic, and I arrange those files into comic book pages.
And that’s where my Joe Kubert School training comes in handy. In school I was never much of a draftsman, but I was always a solid storyteller, so I know when I need an establishing shot versus a close-up and whatnot to be able to tell the story without any words at all. When it gets especially tricky is when the episode doesn’t have the shot that I need and I have to compensate.
Adapting the cartoons to comics is an interesting job — and one which, I’d suggest, plays into your work as a letterer? Is there much of a crossover there, the idea of having artwork and having to provide a bit of structure, and create a complete story?
Caramagna: Being the letterer of the series really helps in certain situations. Sometimes I use balloon placements and sound effects and other lettering effects to sell a punchline. There have also been times when I get one of the frames from Animation and the blur effect used in the episode makes the frame unusable in print. So instead of showing the actual impact of someone crashing through a wall, I’ve had to cut the panel out entirely in the lettering stage and replace it with a big sound effect.
Do you think that your work as letterer effects on the way you write? Do you always have an eye to how the text looks, visually, on a page and as a sequence?
Caramagna: Yes, it definitely works the other way as well, where my experience as a letterer helps my writing, especially in original stories — meaning, not the adaptations. And my art training helps too. I have a good idea of how much room I’d have for text, and if what I’m asking of the artist would work for the dialogue and balloon placement. I try not to throw everything into a panel to leave for the letterer to figure out, I try to make it easy on my letterer. That’s why I’ve joked that if I ever wrote the X-Men, I’d kill off the telepaths and become a hero to the letterers. Those telepathic balloons are a pain in the neck!
Comics aside, last year you also put out your first book, “Halloween Double Feature”, and you’re going to be re-publishing it this year, is that correct? What’s the book about?
Caramagna:“Halloween Double Feature” is on sale RIGHT NOW at amazon.com — and amazon.uk, amazon.ca, etc. — for just $1.99 for your Kindle device or app for your smartphone, computer, and tablet! It was inspired by the old double features of the 1940s and 1950s when movie houses would package a popular horror movie with a lesser known film as a two-for-one to sell more tickets.
I had two short story ideas that were too short to stand on their own as their own books and thought it would be a fun experiment in self-publishing, so I asked comics editor Sebastian Girner to edit it for me, and commissioned a cover from the amazing Hannah Nance Partlow, formerly of BOOM! and now Warner Bros., and I was on my way!
The first story is about an old man whose family is terrorized by a monster that lives in the nearby woods, and he vows to protect his homestead “Until His Very Last Day,” which is the title. The second story is more of a “Twilight Zone”-ish story about a guy named Michael who finally gets the attention of his boss, but quickly realizes that he might be in over his head.
Last question, for both Joe and Jim. What else are you working on at the moment? Where can people find you and your work online?
Caramagna: Right now I’m still writing the “Avengers Assemble” shorts, and my Kickstarter comics project “The Further Travels of Wyatt Earp” is finally scheduled to go on sale in Spring of 2015! And of course I’m still lettering some of your favorite Marvel Comics titles. You can find out more information and hear a lot about candy, doughnuts and hockey by following me on Twitter @JoeCaramagna!
Zubkavich I feel a bit ridiculous listing all these projects, but it’s a busy time right now in Zubville:
On the creator-owned front I have my newly launched “Wayward” series, and “Skullkickers” are still rolling at Image; as well as the second volume of “Makeshift Miracle” coming out from UDON at the end of this year. Over at IDW I’m writing “Samurai Jack” and “Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate”. For Dark Horse I’m co-writing “Conan-Red Sonja” with Gail Simone and that should be coming out early next year.
People can find out more about what I’m up to — and read some tutorials on writing, pitching, and creator-owned economics — over at www.jimzub.com.
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