Former CROSSGEN Creators Speak Out on Marvel's Announcement

Former CROSSGEN Creators Speak Out

Possible new CrossGen logo, shown late last month at Comic-Con International.

CrossGen is coming back. Late last month at Comic-Con International: San Diego, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief and chief creative officer Joe Quesada showed, without comment, an animated teaser image during his “Cup O’ Joe” panel. It featured the CrossGen “sigil” logo being engulfed in flames, then replaced by a similar, one-color logo accompanied by the text "2011." For CrossGen fans, it was the first sign of hope in years that the characters and concepts might see a revival.

The publisher isn’t ready to talk about their exact plans yet, but it’s clear there’s something in the works for the CrossGen properties, even if “when” and “in what form” remains unrevealed.

Ron Marz, currently the writer of Top Cow’s Artifacts, wrote Scion, Mystic, Sojourn and The Path for the original incarnation of CrossGen.

“My first reaction was general surprise because I had no idea anything like that was even being discussed,” Marz told Newsarama via telephone. “From the point-of-view of Disney owning the material, and Disney owning Marvel, which obviously produces comic books, it makes sense. But as with anything that was ultimately a failure, you’re never sure if you’re going to see any of that material again.”

CrossGen was founded in 1998 by Tampa, Florida-based entrepreneur Mark Alessi. With an unconventional approach to the industry — the bulk of the company’s writers and artists were full-time employees who worked out of an office, complete with health care and steady salaries, instead of freelancers working from home — CrossGen quickly attracted high-profile talent, including Barbara Kesel as “head writer” and Marz and Mark Waid as “senior writers.”

Their first comic, a preview book called CrossGenesis, came out in January 2000. Six months later, publication started in earnest with sci-fi series Sigil, fantasy tales Mystic and Meridian, sword and sorcery book Scion and CrossGen Chronicles, meant to tell the story of the larger CrossGen Universe. The goal was to publish genres beyond superhero comics that continue to dominate the direct market. Early CrossGen titles were all unified in the “Sigilverse,” with specific characters in each series supernaturally powered “Sigil-Bearers.”

CrossGen soon became a major player in the industry, releasing popular titles such as Sojourn, which featured the art of Greg Land, and the critically acclaimed Mark Waid-written detective comic Ruse. CrossGen expanded in 2002, creating the “Code6” imprint for non-Sigilverse titles including Demonwars and Crossovers. The company was also at the forefront of digital publishing with their “Comics on the Web” initiative, putting their entire library online and accessible through a subscription service. CrossGen Education brought their comics into the classroom, to help teach reading comprehension.

It wasn’t a business model built to last, though. Amid resignations from key staff members, allegations of embezzlement and reports of unpaid employees, CrossGen filed for bankruptcy in June 2004, leading to the abrupt cancelation of their entire line.

Marvel’s use of the CrossGen properties stems from a convenient bit of corporate synergy. Disney Publishing Worldwide acquired CrossGen’s assets in November 2004, due to interest in the J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog series Abadazad. Disney purchased Marvel in August 2009.

“I was startled, but not surprised,” Kesel, writer of Meridian and Sigil said via e-mail of Marvel’s Comic-Con teaser. “I've been predicting that somebody at Disney would notice that they'd purchased some comic book IP and now have a comic book company in their basket.”

Waid has expressed displeasure with the way CrossGen was run — describing his experience at the company “like being first mate on the Pequod” and calling Alessi "a spoiled eight-year-old with a checkbook" in a 2009 interview with Ain’t It Cool News — but he’s nonetheless optimistic about the news that Marvel’s has plans for the properties.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Waid wrote via e-mail of his reaction. “There's some gold in them thar hills, provided Marvel plays up what works (the individual concepts) and ignores what doesn't (the forced shared-universe nonsense). But they've got the best roster of work-for-hire talent available to them in comics today, and I'm eager to see this work!”

CrossGen’s most enduring legacy might have been its ability to either discover new talent — Steve McNiven and Joshua Middleton both got their big breaks illustrating Meridian — or helping to bring wider exposure to creators previously unrecognized. Jim Cheung had worked for Marvel before drawing Scion, but became a much bigger name, landing assignments such as New Avengers: Illuminati and Young Avengers, after his CrossGen experience.

Paul Pelletier had been drawing comics full-time since 1992, but since working on CrossGen’s Negation, he’s been a regular fixture at Marvel Comics.

"Working on Negation will always be one of the highlights of my career," Pelletier told Newsarama via e-mail. "The idea of working with Tony Bedard and Dave Meikis on this book brings a smile to my face. But would I give up penciling The Incredible Hulk to work on Negation again? I don't think so!"

It wasn’t just artists — writer Tony Bedard, a former CrossGen exclusive writer who worked on Mystic, Negation and Route 666, among others, went on to write Exiles for Marvel and the current R.E.B.E.L.S. for DC Comics. Before his time at CrossGen, he worked in the editorial department at DC and wrote for Valiant and other smaller publishers.

“I welcome the news,” Bedard wrote to Newsarama via e-mail. “I'd hate to think those properties would just sit in the drawer. I'm curious to see what Marvel does to revamp/update them. For example, I was a big fan of the New Universe back when it came out, but I also really enjoyed Warren Ellis's recent take on those characters.”

When CrossGen went out of business, several books were left unfinished — including Bedard’s.

“Mike Perkins and I completed the 6-issue spy thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but that 6th issue never saw print, even though it's inked and lettered,” wrote Bedard, who added that he guesses Marvel will "downplay the Sigil stuff" with whatever form their revival takes. “Karl Moline and I talk about how we wish we could have finished Route 666 every time we have lunch together.

“But the book I wish I would recapture most is probably Negation, with Paul Pelletier on pencils and Dave Meikis on inks. We had a real special thing going there.”

Which CrossGen titles would you like to see return?

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