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    A Whole Gallon of Joe

    By Tim Leong

    Since becoming Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics in 2000, Joe Quesada has been credited with leading the company to a full revival from the bankruptcy of the ’90s and creating an industry leader. Sales are up and the depiction of characters smoking cigarettes is down. He’s done good so far, but what does Quesada have up his sleeve for the future? The passionate penciler sat down with Comic Foundry so we, and you, could find out.

    1. How do you think you’ve evolved as an editor since you became Editor in Chief?
    I’m a little more patient. I think a lot of it has to do with when we first started this thing at Marvel, there was a real sense of urgency in the comics industry. Every month the business was getting worse and worse and worse. So there was a real sense of “We better fix this or we’ll all be out of a job and there isn’t going to be a comic industry left.” So, I’ve grown a bit more relaxed in the sense that we’re building this and now we can plan long term. When we first started, we were planning three months out, six months out, with respect to what we were doing with our stories. Now we’re literally a year, two years out knowing what’s going to happen in the Marvel Universe so we can strategically plan the course of things. It’s the same thing with our writers too. There are certain people who started out as beginning writers at Marvel when I started as Editor in Chief, or at least just beginning at Marvel. (Brian) Bendis, (J. Michael) Straczynski, Mark Millar – these guys were all really playing with the toys for the first time, as was I. And now there’s a sense of proprietorship. We’ve been in the trenches now, we’ve worked with these characters for a long time, we’ve grown more accustomed to them, so we’re able to do different things with the characters. At times we’re more reverent, at times we’re significantly less reverent. And also we understand the durability of the characters. Like, it’s okay to take a character and push it to the wall where it almost breaks, knowing that there’s resiliency there and that you can bring it back. So it enables you to do really wonderful things with the story to a place you’d never expect, knowing that you can bring it back. There’s a feeling that we’ve earned the right to do certain things as well. And I think the fans have earned a certain amount of trust and also learned to expect a certain amount of craziness that we do, too.

    2. Do you read every book that you publish?
    It’s impossible for me to read every book. At one point or another, I try to read the majority of the books before they go out. What I can’t read before it goes out I try to at least read somewhere before it goes to press. But it’s impossible to do. There are certain books you can trust a creator to deliver a great product. Usually the stuff I get to immediately is the stuff that may be problematic or the stuff we’re trying to commercially juice up a little bit. So surprisingly, the bigger titles are the ones I get to a little bit later because they’re the ones that are usually running healthy and okay.

    3. In the market share you and DC are always neck and neck, but Marvel is usually ahead. What do you think you do as a company that creates that gap?
    I think it’s a testimonial to the characters, the Marvel brand and the creators we have. Cross town they have some very good creators, but I think pound for pound, when you start adding up your A-list artists and writers, we just have three times as much. We do beat them most of the time in market share and in dollars and titles sold. I think the competition is also great. I’m thrilled they’re putting out some great product now. It’s just good for comics and great for the industry. I think that’s what everybody really wanted was just a really good dogfight at the end of the day. And I love the fact that fans are like, “I love Marvel! I love DC!” It’s fantastic. That’s what it’s really based on. Even at the end of the day, those that say, “I hate Marvel” – they’re probably picking up a couple of titles. And even the guys that say, “I hate DC” are picking up a couple DC titles as well. But that wonderful rivalry, it’s proven very healthy for our business and something I’ve been preaching since I began, so I’m glad to see it.

    4. The industry is pretty healthy right now, especially in comparison to when the bottom dropped out in the ’90s — are you forecasting or aware of what might push the industry over that cliff again?
    That’s a very slippery slope. From day one I’ve been preaching that this industry is going to start growing. And I pray that it’s slow, steady growth. We don’t want to have happen what happened in the ’90s. It was great — a lot of people got rich, and most of those people aren’t even in the industry anymore. They took their money and they ran. They literally just raped and pillaged this industry and didn’t give a damn about it when it’s all said and done. So at the end of the day, I prefer slow, steady, healthy growth. What that indicates to me is readership. If all of a sudden this month or next month we grow by 10 percent or 20 percent, my alarm bells would go off. It’s indicative of a whole different thing. That’s not what we want. I’m very, very happy with this, but looking forward, it is one of those things we look for. We keep an eye out for industry growth to see how fast is it growing and how it is growing. And ultimately, you can’t really prevent it if it happens. You just have to be smart about it.

    5. What goals do you have for the company for this year?
    The same goals that I have when I started. And it’s not just for the company, it’s for the industry as a whole, which is: I want mainstream respect. I want anyone who reads comics, anybody who knows what we do for a living — not just at Marvel but the industry as a whole — to understand the sophistication of the industry, what it’s capable of, the fact that it’s just as viable of an entertainment medium as movies, TV, novels, plays. And just as sophisticated as many of those. I hope for a day in my lifetime that comic artists, comic writers are as revered or respected as great novelists, great playwrights, classic painters. That’s the world I want to live in. I want to live in a world where the comic creator is as much a celebrity as Stephen King. And I don’t see why that can’t happen, except for the fact that there’s a prejudice in particular in America. They don’t have this problem in Japan or most of Europe. But because of the whole censorship over the ’50s with Wertham’s book that really got it into America’s head that not only is it a child’s medium, but it should only be a child’s medium. I think we suffered long enough with that. And I know it’s happening slowly, as I see comics incorporating everything.

    6. When you first started as Editor in Chief, how many exclusive artists and writers did Marvel have?
    Not many. Four or five.

    How many do you have now?

    I don’t have the actual number, but it’s a lot more than that. A lot more than that.

    What do you think caused that spike?

    I think everybody wants to lock in talent. And for talent, the benefit of getting locked in is a lot more money. In a lot of ways it’s sort of this Cold War, nuclear arms race where people are trying to lock in the best talent for their company. Like anything – I predict this now, this pendulum will swing again and what’ll happen is that it’ll become in vogue for creators to work for everybody. It’s going to happen. This is just one of those many cycles in comics. And it’s not much different than in the ’60s in a lot of ways where there wasn’t exclusivity but (Jack) Kirby was at Marvel. That was the thing. Kirby was Marvel. Curt Swan was DC. Stan Lee. There were certain guys you expected to be at Marvel all the time and certain guys you expected to be at DC all the time. Then there was that day that Kirby went to DC and holy mackerel – and the world’s axis shook. While there wasn’t exclusivity, there were certain expectations and certain people play on certain teams. But it’s the modern world we live in with contracts and lawyers and money involved and all sorts of crazy stuff. You could almost make the same correlation to professional sports. You expect a guy to be on a team but now if his contract is up, he could be gone.

    7. What’s the hardest part about your job?
    For me it’s how much drawing I had to give up. Only because I sometimes think back — I’ve been doing the Editor in Chief thing six years, I’ve been at Marvel nearly eight. I think back on, wow, what projects could I have drawn over those six years? What projects could I have created? Etc, etc. I don’t know. Hindsight is 20/20. But I often look back on that and really miss being able to draw. And if I’d drawn for six straight years, where would my artwork be now? What would it look like? In a lot of ways, that and the time away from my family is the big sacrifice. And when I say time away from my family it sounds dumb because this is kinda a 9-to-5 job, but if I’d decided in college that I wanted to enter the whit e collar executive world, my expectation in my head is that requires me to be a 9-to-5 guy for this many years of my life. Until I reach retirement or become my own boss. Well that’s not what I decided to do. I decided to become a freelance artist. And then being successful at that says to me that I have the ability at any given point to work from home. All daylong. So knowing that I could do that but knowing that I’m 9-to-5 gets to me sometimes. Because I know that if I drop this job tomorrow, I could go back to freelancing and being with my family and daughter all day long. But it’s those few hours – I go home and she’s getting ready for bed. Those are the great regrets.

    8. And with the Marvel site recently being redesigned and you guys are doing trailers now for books, are you really trying to focus on this more multimedia angle?
    I sure hope so. I’ve been preaching that for a while. I think we’re getting to that point. The world of comics as we know it — we provide great content, we provide great stories. I think we need to find additional outlets for these great stories and I think the electronic world is going to have a great future for us. It has to be.

    9. With Civil War going, what’s the scariest part about doing a company-wide crossover?
    The scariest part is that it’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of work. The easiest way to do a big crossover is to dictate the terms and the stories to your creators. That’s not the way we do business here anymore. We have some of the best creative minds in the world, so we try not to dictate terms and stories. Obviously the biggest fear in doing a crossover is that it drains your entire staff. It drains everyone. It’s an exhausting thing to do because there’s so much work involved. So if you’re not careful you can just burn people out. You run less of a risk of doing that if you’re not dictating everything.

    10. And to close it out, what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned since entering the comics industry?
    I’ve learned a lot of stuff. And you learn every day. I’ve learned everything from how do you handle large groups of people better, better ways of communicating with fans, better ways of communicating with the media, better ways of writing stories. One of the ways that I’ve grown in my job is as a writer. I feel like I’ve learned so much through osmosis — just working with the best guys in the business and editing some of the best guys in the business. I’ve learned so much about my own influences as a creator. It’s like going to school everyday when you get to work with the guys that we work with. Every day is a learning experience and it has to be. If I just came in here with my set ways and that’s the way it’s going to be, we would’ve been out of business a long time ago.

    Posted by Tim Leong on June 5th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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