New All-Ages Comic Line Tied to MARVEL Animation (Updated)
Those concerned didn't need to be for too long, as April brings the first issues of two new all-ages series from Marvel: The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes Adventures and Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures. Both are new stories set in the world of Marvel TV's Disney XD animated series (Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Ultimate Spider-Man, as you've probably already surmised), and feature involvement from folks directly involved with the shows, including head Earth's Mightiest Heroes writer Chris Yost and the Man of Action team (Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Steven Seagle and Duncan Rouleau) on Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures.
Heroes #2 cover.Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott and all-ages comic veteran Ty Templeton (Batman Adventures) are also contributing to the first issue of Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures, with art from Nuno Plati. Adam Dekraker is illustrating The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes Adventures.
Newsarama talked via email with two Marvel editors working on the new books, Stephen Wacker and Tom Brennan, about the importance of "all-ages" titles in Marvel's publishing line, how closely the comics will resemble the shows, and using digital comics to reach new readers.
Newsarama: It could reasonably be argued that Marvel puts out a good deal of titles that are, at the least, acceptable for say, a 12 year old. (I'm not a parent, so my judgment might be skewed). So given that, why is it important for Marvel to have comic books that are explicitly labeled as "all ages"?
Stephen Wacker: I think what’s important is having as many venues as possible for our characters and stories to reach an audience that has more options than ever on how to spend their time. It’s the same thinking behind every sub-line we have from MAX to the Marvel literary adaptations we do.
To me, The "all-ages" aspect of the line isn’t the most intriguing part since most of the books I work on I would have enjoyed at any age (except Moon Knight which my mother says I can only read when I turn 40.). I am much more excited about being a bridge for anyone who walks away from the new Spidey and Avengers shows anxious for more.
#1 cover.As I see it, the “all-ages” tag we use is really a guideline for parents and retailers. While out greater Marvel U has long-spanning stories filled with lots of payoffs for long time readers that draw you in to our greater continuity, these will be more contained stories focused on action.
Tom Brennan: When you look at the last few years of Marvel Publishing, the stories have been heralded – rightly so — for the innovative way they’ve addressed adult themes. So I’d agree with you, Albert, most of the line is appropriate for younger audiences, but the messaging hasn’t always been clear. With this line we have the freedom to say, “This is your jumping on point for the Marvel Universe.”
Nrama: In the past, some all-ages books have struggled in sales, at least in the direct market. Given that, what is this initiative looking to do differently?
Wacker: We’ll be tying into the animated series (Ultimate Spider-Man and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) for one, which will serve a different set of readers entirely.
Honestly though the expectations for this line are very different from our main Marvel U books.
Over the past few years, the many talented people associated with the all-ages books have brought hundreds of thousands of new readers to Marvel through channels our direct market customers don’t see: From school and public libraries, to international magazines, to all sorts of custom publishing initiatives.
Nrama: One thing that stands out from the initial announcement is the high-profile creators involved. Was it important to get people like Chris Yost and the Man of Action crew — who are not only big names in comics, but involved in the respective TV shows — to prove that the comics aren't simply rote tie-ins? (Also, given how busy Dan Slott has been with Amazing Spider-Man twice a month, how has he found time to contribute to Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures?)
Wacker: Dan was easy because he’s grown used to doing what I tell him. Though I did have to promise that his Spider-Man/Human Torch cohort Ty Templeton could draw the story… (Gee, twist my arm why don’t ya!)
Yost and The Man of Action Crew are contributing to these books because, well, they want to. We’re very fortunate to have Chris and M.O.A. team working with us given their roles as writers for EMH and USM respectively. Getting them on board for the launch was crucial to setting the tone and making sure our books reflect the TV shows right out of the gate. So it made my life easier… which is every editor’s goal.
Brennan: Getting a little more into your question, we’re constantly hearing from high-profile creators that they’d love to do more all-ages work — it’s just been a matter of scheduling. As these books continue, you’ll be seeing a mix of familiar faces and new voices sharing the writing duties.
Nrama: How close will the books be "on model" to the shows?
Wacker: As close as we can get while still giving out artists a chance to show off their stuff. But these comics are meant to fit in with the style of the show.
Nrama: Is there a chance that we might see things in the comics before the shows? Say, could the Serpent Squad show up in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series even though they haven't been in the cartoon yet?
Wacker: There is a chance. Yost in particular is looking to hint at some upcoming events on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Nrama: The press release mentions Agent Coulson in the Earth's Mightiest Heroes series, and it's already been revealed that Coulson plays a major role in the Ultimate Spider-Man TV show. This is a bit of a leap, but is there a loose degree of interconnectivity between the two comics?
Wacker: Not really. The shows stand alone, though they do share characters.
Brennan: It’s crucial that both of these books be jumping-on points for any audience, so we have no plans to connect these two books. Coulson’s become a fan favorite, and in his story in EMH #1, we needed a character to introduce this world of Avengers to the readers. Coulson seemed like the perfect fit.
Nrama: Since reaching an all-ages audience obviously involves reaching out to new readers, what's the plan for making these books stand out on shelves? Will there be a heavy newsstand presence for the titles? On the same note, given that there are surely kids out there much more likely to read on an iPad than a paper comic, can we expect to see a digital push for these new series?
Wacker: Speaking generally, I simply don’t believe newsstands are where you reach the most kids anymore. We do have a lot of exciting digital stuff planned though… particularly with the Marvel app and at marvelkids.com. That’s our new newsstand… that’s where you grab new people, particularly now that the app is on Android and iOS.
Nrama: To wrap up, there is bit of a public debate between "all-ages comics" and "kids' comics," with the former being something desirable and pan-generational and the latter being something to avoid, seen as talking down to the audience. How do you view the distinction between the two? In your minds, what's the target audience for these new books?
Brennan: I couldn’t speak much to that debate as I’ve never really been a part of it, but I do know that a good story well told is, on some level, universally understood.
#4 cover.Good writers are good writers, be they writing a murder mystery or a children’s book. If you write a good story, ideally any audience will enjoy it. The target audience for these books is all ages. It’s got sophisticated and accessible action, adventure and excitement that every audience will love.
Wacker: See why I like Tom so much?
I don’t have a ton of faith in adults debating what kids really want because it usually just becomes what the adults want… just couched in intellectual terms. It reminds of the scene in Big when the executives are all sitting around talking about what kids want out of toys… until 13-year-old-brained Tom Hanks shows them all up. My target audience is people who like Spider-Man and the Avengers and viewers who love the new shows.
To your point, I believe readers of our superhero comics of any age want exciting, heart-stopping, emotional stories about people using their gifts to do the right thing. That’s what new need to deliver each month.
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