Ten years ago, Marvel Comics was in Chapter 11 and Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti were running Event Comics. They were doing all their own promotion and gathering some favorable attention, but not a lot of money. When Marvel brought them in to see what they might do at the House of Ideas, Quesada and Palmiotti saw it as a chance not only to do what they wanted, but also make money. They’d always spent a lot of time sitting in bars, talking about what they’d do if they had control of this character or that book, and this was that chance.
They knew Marvel wasn’t going to give them Spider-Man, but they also knew there were some diamonds in the rough that they could polish up and make special. Daredevil, for example, was only a few issues away from cancellation at the time.
Management at Marvel was distracted by bankruptcy issues, and negotiations faltered. Dan Buckley, who was in Marvel marketing at the time and is now publisher of DC Comics, was instrumental in pushing the deal through. Marvel gave them office space and for the most part left them alone. At the time, Marvel had trouble attracting topnotch talent. They paid well, but if you wanted to develop a vision different than editorial’s, you had to go elsewhere, and that’s what the best guys wanted to do. What Quesada and Palmiotti did though Marvel Knights was open things up and give the talent a reason to come to Marvel. In essence, they became the buffer between Marvel and their creators. Quesada mentioned that he was particularly proud of bringing JG Jones in.
After the thrilling origin story, Q and P showed the audience a video montage of Marvel Knights covers with a metal soundtrack.
When Marvel had a successful brand, they tended to bring out more and more material attached to that brand until it was diluted and no longer attractive. Quesada and Palmiotti were very much against that happening to Marvel Knights, wanting to keep it small enough that they could maintain control. Marvel had a Moon Knight series sitting in a closet somewhere and tried to stick a Marvel Knights logo on it and sell it on the strength of the logo, despite the fact that Quesada and Palmiotti had never even seen it. When word got out, there was a big closed door meeting and Dan Buckley raised hell, getting the Knights brand taken off the book, and ultimately quitting. If that book had gone out, there would have been dozens of Marvel Knights books out and “Marvel Knights never would have succeeded.” said Quesada.
They then turned to a discussion of the initial books in the Marvel Knights line. They knew they wanted to use Black Panther from the start. He had all sorts of potential, a unique look, and Quesada felt a connection to him. ” I was in one of only two Hispanic families in my neighborhood growing up.” He said. “Seeing a person of color told me Marvel books were speaking to me.”
“We wanted to do something different, because we felt that what Marvel was doing at the time wasn’t working.” said Palmiotti. A lot of fans were upset with the new direction Punisher took at the time, but it cleared things up and laid the groundwork for what he’s become today.
As noted earlier, some talent was hard to sign to the new label. Paul Jenkins, for example, was hesitant to work at Marvel. The company didn’t have a good reputation at the time, and Jenkins’ publishing experience prepared him for the worst. Still they managed to convince him, and he ended up winning an Eisner for his work on “The Inhumans.” He’d done other books before, but this was the book that turned him into PAUL JENKINS!
Quesada’s wife Nancy developed a special relationship with artist Jae Lee. She had a reputation for meeting deadlines, he had a reputation for missing them. She would call him every day and keep him on schedule. One time he was behind, and she called him several times, threatening to go down to Virginia and collect the pages by hand. On the final call he promised to send the pages that day, and she said “Don’t bother. I’m outside. Open your door.” After that, he (mostly) stayed on schedule.
They brought in Kevin Smith to write Daredevil. Smith delayed and delayed and finally told Quesada he couldn’t do it; he couldn’t walk in the footsteps of Frank Miller. Quesada was ready to let him off the hook, but Palmiotti decided to be the bad cop. He laid the guilt on Smith and got him moving. The book was a Marvel Knights success. Quesada considers it a seminal moment, as you very seldom see someone going from a big pond to a little pond. Kevin had a lot of indy cred in Hollywood, and him writing a comic book changed everything. Suddenly comics people were getting interviewed on MTV. Smith brought that recognition. “It made us geeks sexy.” laughed Quesada.
The moderator asked them what reaction they got from killing off Karen Page.
It would have been very easy, Quesada pointed out, to sell 20-30% more books by leaking the news that Karen was going to die. However, they wanted the story to have the impact that the “Death of Gwen Stacy” did back before they would solicit books in advance. Marvel supported them, and they kept the secret. Today, it’s extremely hard to keep secrets in comics because there are too many people involved. Palmiotti said they used to have a big white board on the wall, and we’d write things on it just to throw people off track. Marvel still does that, added Quesada.
Finally, an audience member asked if Smith was ever going to finish writing Target. “I doubt it.” Quesada replied.
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