Bill Rosemann on Marvel's Custom Comics Program (And More!)
Bill Rosemann on Custom Comics and More
Bill Rosemann is a quintessential example of a "comic book industry veteran." Previously known to fans as “Your Man @ Marvel” for his stint in Marvel marketing a decade ago, he also has time spent at CrossGen and DC Comics under his belt. He moved back to Marvel in 2006 as an editor, and even has a few writing credits to his name, including the 2002 miniseries Deadline.
Recently, Rosemann became the head of Marvel’s custom comics program, helping to create comic books for clients outside of the industry. He’s still directly editing several titles as well: Heroes For Hire, Black Panther: Man Without Fear, Avengers Academy and the cosmic miniseries Annihilators, which debuted this week.Newsarama talked to Rosemann via e-mail about all of that — including clarifying, for those who may be unaware, exactly what custom comics are, and their importance to Marvel's publishing line.
Newsarama: Bill, you're now in charge of Marvel's custom comics division — for those who may be unfamiliar with the concept, what's a custom comic, and why is it an important part of Marvel publishing?
Bill Rosemann: Since the House of Ideas, like Wolverine, is the best there is at what we do, we often work with other companies to create stories and art in the Mighty Marvel Manner to help them connect in new and exciting ways with their audience. For example, we recently created a 12-page prequel story for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 that's included in the Special Edition version of the video game, as well as an 8-page 3-D Fantastic Four comic for Hitachi (that you can read here) that spotlights their Virtual Storage Platform technology.
For Marvel, not only is custom publishing a strong revenue stream, but it also helps us introduce our characters and creators to a gigantic audience. The print and online exposure for many custom projects is often higher than the combined print runs of our top ten titles, while the distribution opportunities deliver them far outside traditional channels. Many readers' first Marvel experience is through custom comics, which is why — in addition to wanting to provide great stories for our partners — we're dedicated to making every custom comic as impressive and entertaining as our best books.
Nrama: In the past, Marvel has produced custom comics for clients including the US military. What kind of clients are you currently working with?
Rosemann: Because each partner has their own plans for publicizing their custom comics, I can't reveal all the names at this time. But I can say that we're currently creating a fun 10-page story for the Fire Department of New York City as well as some very cool stories for companies that are industry leaders in film, computer software, trading cards and soft drinks. We're also creating stories for a life-changing charity organization, and a hugely popular TV show. Assistant editor John Denning, project manager A.J. Fierro, and I have nearly a dozen projects in various stages of production, so every day brings fresh and ever-evolving opportunities to deliver the energy of Marvel to new readers.
Nrama: Also, what's the process like in selecting the creative teams for these books? I remember that Brian Michael Bendis wrote one for the military years ago — a New Avengers/FF team-up — but I imagine that most of the time it's names that are a bit more under the radar.
Rosemann: It really depends on the project. The key to creating a great custom comic is to approach it exactly as you would any Marvel comic. First you start with the story: what kind of tale is it, what is the mood we're trying to hit, what's the setting, and who are the main characters? Then it's time to write up the wish list of writers & pencilers who you think would best execute the story--and then see if the stars align with the creators' availability.
So far we've been lucky enough to work with great creators like Jeff Parker, Bryan J.L. Glass, Joe Caramagna, Sean McKeever, Greg Land, Todd Nauck, David Baldeon, Kev Sharpe, Frank Tieri, Manuel Garcia, John Taylor Christopher, Allan Patrick, Jason Armstrong, Alvaro Lopez, Dan Brown, Rob Schwager, Val Staples, John Rauch, Paul Renaud, Billy Tan, Matt Wilson, Harvey Tolibao, Ig Guara, Chris Samnee and Humberto Ramos. And we've also had the opportunity to bring several new names to the House that hopefully you'll be hearing more from in the months and years to come.
Rosemann: They seem to. Part of custom publishing is, as you note, meeting and brainstorming with outside clients, so it helps to be able to speak their language, understand their concerns, and help explain how our characters, creators and stories can connect them to readers of all ages. Hopefully I can use my experience working in marketing, sales and publicity to connect with our clients and then translate their goals into exciting comics.
Rosemann: Definitely. Now that we've introduced our cast, it's time to see how they'll interact with the wider world. In issues #11 and #12, Christos Gage and Tom Raney have cooked up a crazy collision between the Academy kids and the classic Avengers foe Korvac that is so big, it brings both the New Avengers and the Avengers to the school. Then it's time for "Super Hero Prom" in issue #13, which features the kids from Young Allies and former Initiative members like Komodo, Hardcase and the one and only Butterball. Oh, and then the Sinister Six come calling in issue #14. Are the students ready for the big time? We'll find out soon!
Nrama: Issue #7 saw Hank Pym return to his Giant-Man status. From your stance as an editor, how important is this change for the series, getting the character back to what's arguably his most recognizable persona, as opposed to the potentially confusing Wasp identity he had been using?
Rosemann: Part of the intrigue and fun of Hank is watching how he's altered his various costumed identities to express his internal strife and mental situations. And as cool as his time as Ant-Man, Yellowjacket and Wasp have been, the image of Hank as a towering colossus is hard to beat. To me, and many creators and readers, that's the persona that stands on equal footing with the likes of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. As with his past personas, it's a symbol of his new frame of mind, and it's also an identity that the students of the Academy can literally and figuratively look up to.
Nrama: Heroes for Hire is another book you're editing. You worked with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning on a lot of their cosmic epics for Marvel over the past few years they've obviously written just about every genre in their career, but coming off of four years of that, what kind of different perspective do they now bring to a "street-level" book like H4H? On a purely surface level, it seems like the total opposite of what they had been doing.
Rosemann: As far as just the setting goes, it does seem like a completely new playground, but when you compare a book like Guardians of the Galaxy to Heroes For Hire, you'll see that DnA are still doing what they do best: showing how a rag tag group of perennial underdogs can be some of the most interesting, entertaining, and noble characters in all the Marvel Universe.
Nrama: And without giving anything away for people who may not have read the comic yet, the ending of #1 featured a pretty big twist. Was that always part of the pitch, or was it maybe something that developed along the way? And — if you can comment on it at this point — is that character intended to only be the focus of the initial story arc, or part of the book long-term?
Rosemann: From the very beginning, DnA had that crazy twist up their sleeves. Part of the series' central mysteries — at least to the heroes themselves — is who is "Control," the person maneuvering them on the other side of their earpieces, and how long until the heroes themselves realize they're individual soldiers of a larger army? Then, on the last page of issue #1, DnA kicked readers in the gut with the revelation that a classic (but unexpected) villain was actually controlling Control. This week sees the release of issue #4, in which Control comes face-to-face with her captor — and there's yet another surprise waiting for Misty and the readers on page 22!
Nrama: The third book you're editing is Black Panther: The Man Without Fear. Like Heroes For Hire, that comic also had an extensive teaser campaign leading up to its announcement, except while Heroes For Hire showed off characters that were part of the comic, Black Panther threw a bunch of red herrings out there, like Gambit, Kraven, Nova and Falcon. It's going back a few months, but I'm still curious - what was the process behind choosing those characters as fake-out Men Without Fear? (If there was one other than wanting to see Francesco Francavilla's take on them, of course.)
Rosemann: The goal was to keep readers guessing by presenting a mix of options that would either have readers saying "Oh, yeah.I can see that happening" or saying "Huh? It can't be that.so maybe it is!" We also strategically tried to attract as many different eyeballs as possible by selecting characters from the Spider-Man, X-Men, Hero and Cosmic families. Plus, yeah, we really just wanted to see Francesco's take on all of these cool characters — and he nailed every shot!
Nrama: And given that Black Panther: Man Without Fear has taken over the old Daredevil numbering, how would you respond to skeptical fans who might think that means T'Challa is simply keeping the title warm for Matt Murdock's inevitable return?
Rosemann: Who says Matt is coming back to his old stomping grounds? Or that T'Challa is leaving if he does?
Nrama: Last question — Black Panther writer David Liss has written for Marvel before, but this is definitely his most prominent assignment yet. He's obviously an accomplished and acclaimed novelist, so how has his transition been in writing a monthly Marvel comic? What kinds of different insights does his background lend to the comic book world?
Rosemann: If you've ever read one of his novels (and if you haven't, you need to run out today and see why he's hailed as the master of the historical thriller), you know David is an expert on keeping you on the edge of your seat as his characters find themselves swept up in dangerous events far beyond their control. Now, with each issue he writes, David is showing a new audience his command of character, plot, humor, attention to detail and whip-smart swerves. T'Challa's feud with Vlad the Impaler is coming to a bloody and shocking conclusion — and just wait until you hear who's gunning for him next!