Marvel Editors Chat with Fans at Midtown Comics

Marvel's top editors and execs descended on Midtown Comics in downtown Manhattan last night for a special chat with fans. As soon as they sat down in front of the packed store, the question and answer session began.

Thor Parker of Midtown comics moderated the proceedings, and started by introducing the panel.

Tom Brevoort, Nick Lowe, Mark Paniccia, Axel Alonso, and C.B. Cebulski were all in attendance.

Parker started with talking about Fear, Itself, asking what kind of input each of them have.

Alonso said that Fear, Itself grew out of the idea Matt Fraction had a couple of retreats ago. "We scoped a lot of these ideas through a long editorial process." They get into a room together and really "beat up" the idea, no matter how good it is.

Brevoort said that "talking about stuff out loud" is key to opening it up. Once it comes down to actual execution, it's the writer itself.  So he gave strong credit to Matt Fraction for this particular event.

Fraction takes it upon himself to talk to the writers of the other main characters so that he's not stepping on any toes.

Cebulski mentioned that Brevoort also has a master document that lists all the characters and how they're effected by the event.

Parker asked if this is put more under the microscope than a regular monthly, and Brevoort said definitely. "It's going to have a domino effect on a lot of different thing, so it needs to be more scrutinized than a regular book."

Lowe mentioned there is co-ordination when they just share characters, like an X-Men character jumping into Avengers for a few months, but not to the same level as the big events.

Alonso re-iterated that it is very important to them to keep things coordinated.

Fan Questions started next. How often do you have retreats?

Alonso said about twice a year. The line-retreats will be smaller, with just a 2 or 3 day retreat for Avengers or X-Men. Cebulski noted that about 10-12 creators will come to the big ones, where only 5 or 6 will be on the smaller line retreats.

"Is there anything specific you want to do to distinguish your era as E-i-C, Axel?"

Alonso said he came in to Marvel "at the same time as Joe Quesada, and because of Joe Quesada. The biggest thing right now is maintaining a standard." He wants most to make his mark by having big ideas, "I'm not looking to change Marvel so much as learn the job over the next year, and at that point see what we can do creatively."

The next fan question asked about how difficult it is as an editor to steer away from personal preference.

Paniccia said "that's the job. We have to kill babies." Which Lowe laughed about and re-iterated.

Alonso said that if a creator comes with an idea, they have to see if it has merit, rather than if it fits their personal preference.

"You don't want to force your POV down someone's throat," said Lowe. Brevoort added that you won't always choose what things you're going to be editing. Paniccia said "you have to find the nugget that drives you."

Brevoort talked about editing Venom years ago, which was a book and character he didn't connect to. But his job was to make Venom stories that "work for the audience that likes this." "Everyone will have stories that they love and some that you don't have a particular affinity for."

Cebulski noted that they all love comic books, and all have favorite characters. They'll hash things out with each other to help out when situations like this hit them as well.

The next question asked about the Disney purchase, and if they have a little more leeway with keeping books on the shelves.

Brevoort said "no, and to a certain degree, thankfully no." "Putting out a comic that appeals to a tiny number of people but is not successful is a tremendous amount of effort. So it's a very Darwinistic kind of approach."

He went on to say that if DC has the ability to leave things on shelves because of their corporate ownership, it would be more of a disadvantage, because they aren't fighting for quality as much.

"I fight every month to keep those g*ddamn X-Men books down" he said to laughter.

Cebulski also clarified that Disney has had no creative or publishing control over Marvel at all, though they've helped them move out into some new markets, including the Disney stores.

Alonso joked, "Show of hands for Deadpool vs. Goofy?"

The next fan question was "why did you feel you had to kill off an iconic character like the Human Torch?"

Brevoort, "It wasn't like it was Thursday, the turkey timer went off or Disney ordered it." He explained that Hickman's master plan for Fantastic Four and FF, and it included this. "Whenever it comes to a situation like this, or Captain America, or Nightcrawler, we sit and discuss it and see whether it's good for the stories overall."

"Hopefully those last couple issues were pretty good, and people seem to like them."

Alonso brought the conversation back to Nightcrawler and his death in last year's Second Coming crossover. Lowe said when they figured out which one would have to die, they were all very sad. Alonso noted that Nightcrawler was the perfect one to affect Wolverine and affect Cyclops and so many others on the team.

The next fan asked if there's any possibility of a DC/Marvel crossover?

Cebulski noted a drunken fan's pitch for a Lobo/Deadpool series.

Brevoort said it's unlikely because of both companies being much more entrenched in their parent companies and "big business." "Why should we lend the prestige of Iron Man to their up-and-coming character Green Lantern? Or Why should they lend the marketing of their new movie Green Lantern to this old character Iron Man?"

Alonso said "Very unlikely, but never impossible."

The next fan asked about how they felt the Point One initiative went?

Cebulski said "I think it did exactly what we wanted it to. The sales numbers were great." Brevoort added that "The numbers for almost ever one of them was better than the regular issues of their books." He noted that the sales numbers found online are not always accurate.

Cebulski and Paniccia both praised the stories in them creatively, as well.

"How heavily will you promote the comics that go with the movies this summer, and are you excited about them?"

Lowe, the X-Men editor, skipped the X-Men movie and instead said he is very excited about Captain America especially, which C.B. joked about.

Alonso noted that their jobs don't depend on them, but they are very excited. "During the release of the movies, we try to have a lot of product on the shelves related to them that is very new reader friendly." He noted that the movies helped raise Iron Man's pop culture profile, but the stories in the comics are what keep him at that new level.

Next question was "how do you decide which characters are used in a book?"

Alonso joked, "Disney," before saying it starts with the writer.

Brevoort expanded saying, "It will shock no one in the room that Brian Bendis likes Luke Cage. So he does a lot of stories with Luke Cage!" Brevoort went on to note that the big events allow them to take some more obscure characters and do new things with them. "Every once in awhile, there's just a character that is on everybody's minds. A couple years ago it was Moon Knight. Once that starts to happen, inevitably those characters start to come to the fore."

The next fan asked about the West Coast in the Marvel Universe, and if it is intentionally kept separate (especially the X-Men family).

Lowe said that they've been trying to do that more recently, especially in the title X-Men. He noted the annuals as well that push them out into the Marvel U a bit more.

Brevoort says it's less to do with geography than more that they have their own stories to tell amongst themselves.

The next fan wanted to know what their favorite parts of the job are.

Lowe said "for me it's still seeing the art. A page of art comes in and it blows me away." Paniccia added "it's like Christmas. You remember reading the script and the artist turns the page in, it's mind-numbing."

Cebulski said it's the people that he meets at conventions and events like this.

Brevoort says he "loves the way Axel says Hit-Monkey." to some laughter.

Alonso said Lowe "hit the nail on the head" with the receiving of art.

The next fan asked where they each started with marvel.

Both Lowe and Brevoort started as interns. "That's how I got to see how the business worked, and that's why I wanted to be an editor," elaborated Lowe.

Paniccia "wanted to break in as a penciler, and wound up being an editor."

Alonso worked in magazines and newspapers, and answered a DC Comics ad in the New York Times. After working for Vertigo, he started rediscovering superheroes and accepted when Marvel called.

Cebulski said he took a winding road through many positions, but likes being talent manager cause he's "good with people and can drink more than most."

The next fan asked Lowe what an Omega-class mutant was, and what you do with a character that has reached their potential, like Rogue gaining control of her powers.

He explained that Omega-class is an easy way of saying "Mutant WMD." As far as Rogue goes, they play with it. He did say, however, "she won't have control of her power forever," though there are no concrete plans to do that to her yet.

"Are you planning to bring some of these characters back any time soon?"

Lowe joked that "Dead is dead!" but Paniccia said that in the Ultimate Universe, on "his watch," dead will in fact be dead.

A fan wanting to know what the process for becoming an intern is was told the keys are it being unpaid and you have to be able to get college credit.

"Can you give us any sneak on a new or big hero that's coming up?"

Lowe noted there are five new mutants in Generation Hope. Alonso noted some really cool bad guys in Fear, Itself, and Brevoort noted a new team showing up in the Fear, Itself Hulk book. Cebulski noted Youth in Revolt, another Fear, Itself tie-in.

Parker asked them how comic news sites affect their daily work, especially when stories break ahead of their marketing plan.

Lowe said it's "part of our job" to read over interviews and such. If spoilers hit early, it can affect sales negatively, so that's no good. Alonso noted the "hit to miss ratio" to a lot of scoops is "pretty high." Cebulski said that "a lot of that stuff you see wis run by us, and we let it go up."

Next fan question was about Young Avengers and future plans for them beyond Children's Crusade.

Brevoort said "We don't want to say too much beyond that," for the time being.

The next fan asked about a creator suddenly having to leave a book for any reason and how they change direction on a book.

Paniccia said it does happen, and depending on an outline's strength they might keep it going.

Alonso said "sometimes a writer may leave you in the lurch and go sign with DC without telling you." Brevoort said he's had a writer just "fall off the face of the Earth" and they just have to deal with each situation as it comes.

"What books coming out do you feel are not getting enough recognition?"

Brevoort says he doesn't usually think of it that way. "There's no book or creator in existence who says 'I have enough promotion'. Even on an Avengers book," he wants more people to know about it.

Cebulski said Avengers Academy is a book that he'd like to see sell more, and Brevoort said "that's a good call." Lowe said he thinks Generation Hope "might be the best book in the X-Men office." Alonso noted Punishermax.

"Is there ever a time when bad ideas sound like good ideas?"

Alonso, "We all have things we wished we didn't do."

"Get Kraven would be one for me. Joe even did the covers for me. There were a couple pages that were funny."

Cebulski said miscommunication between writer and artist has lead to that at times.

Brevoort didn't want to point anything out, but said he more looks to see that everyone involved put forth their best effort.

Parker asked another question, about how editors might clash over a creator's schedule.

Brevoort said that there can be problems over scheduling and that there is a push and pull there. While it's important that his books sell well, it's equally important that the other books in the line do well too. "It usually falls to the math of the greatest need," added Lowe.

The next fan asked how they're trying to address female readers.

After some jokes, Alonso said that they're aware of what characters have more appeal to women, and that they all have female editors in each office.

Brevoort said it's deceptive too, because the "female audience is just as diverse and scattered as the African-American audience or the white male audience" or any other broad group. He said that marketing and distribution to new audiences like an expanding female audience is the bigger problem.

A fan asked about the Marvel Anime, which Cebulski noted it goes Iron Man, Wolverine, X-Men, and Blade in that order as the four to start it off. "Depending on how those do here will determine the relationship with Madhouse on doing more of those."

For Icon books, when they edit them they don't have to worry about coordinating with other editors or dictate the story, so it's a different process.

The next fan asked if new artists are hired through the cold submission process.

Cebulski said that "most of our hiring now is done through online portfolios or through conventions."

The penultimate question asked if there would ever be an alternate universe where things go well for the characters.

Brevoort said "that'd be the Dull-iverse where everything's going well so there's no stories to tell."

Cebulski said, "That's the DC Universe" to a mixture of laughs and groans.

They talked briefly about the Ultimate Spider-Man animated TV show and said that there will be more cartoons produced by Marvel soon.

Any future projects for The Runaways?

The good old "we're waiting on the right pitch" was answered by Lowe. He noted that in the "tough market right now" it would be difficult to relaunch a book without a very solid pitch.

Last question was, "how do you feel about X-23, did you anticipate her big rise in popularity?"

Lowe said that after Craig Kyle created her in "X-Men Evolution," she ended up coming into the comics through NYX. They "had an inkling she'd be popular with the Wolverine connection." He said that Kyle and Yost's love for the character, and the story that they had fleshed out for her is what made her work so quickly. Cebulski noted that continued with the other writers.

With that, the Q&A came to a close and the editors spent some time greeting the fans that came out for the event.

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