Perkins, McCann, Immonen, Gage and HickmanFor the true believers at FX this weekend, this panel was it. The Mondo Marvel Panel was an opportunity for fans to ask the top creators at Marvel about what has been on their minds concerning all corners of the Marvel Universe and beyond. Christos Gage (Avengers: The Initiative, War of Kings – Warriors), Jonathan Hickman (Fantastic Four), Mike Perkins (The Stand), Jim McCann (New Avengers: The Reunion), and Kathryn Immonen (Hellcat, Runaways) made up a star-studded panel that took on all the questions that the fans could throw at them.
The panel, however, quickly turned into a round-table discussion when the creators came down and pulled up chairs in the audience. “It’s called a Mondo Marvel panel,” began Jim McCann, “but for anyone that’s seen us at other conventions, you know that we are quickly becoming a Marvel: Your Universe Panel.” Fans were encouraged to talk about whatever they wanted – what they like, what they don’t like, what they are reading, what they want to see. Jim warned them, however, that the creators on the panel may turn the tables around and ask the fans questions.
Before opening the floor to questions, though, Marvel had an exclusive announcement they wanted to make, and those at FX were the first to hear – Marvel will be putting out a new House of M: Masters of Evil mini-series, telling the story about what is happening to the villains in the House of M world. Villains in the story will be Absorbing Man, Madame Masque, as well as others. It was described as showing what happens when the bad guys unite to get rich, yet find themselves instead becoming an inspiration to the public. They suddenly realize that they can run the biggest scam of all time and get away with it. Christos Gage is writing (“I love writing villains,” he said), and Manuel Garcia is doing the art.
The panel then turned it over to the fans for questions.
The first question was how those creators present actually broke into the comics industry.
Mike Perkins had a friend at the time who was recycling paper to write his scripts, using both side of any paper he found. His friend sent in a script to Marvel UK, and they phoned him back and said they weren’t looking for writers, but they absolutely loved the art on the back of his script (which art was some scribbles that Mike had previously done, and his friend had used the back of that to write his script!). In America, Perkins’ initial break was through independent comics, following which, he started picking up extra work from the bigger companies.
Jim McCann started in the offices – he was a traffic manager at Marvel, which means trafficking deadlines for scripts and art. Then, one day, someone asked him to help fix up some solicit text, and when Marvel found out that Jim previously wrote for soaps, he ended up moving into the advertising/publicity side. From there, he had the opportunity to write a few 8-page back-up stories, then got into writing mini-series.
Kathryn Immonen and her husband, Stuart, started self-publishing years ago, but she mostly has designed clothes for public theatre. She pitched an idea for a Patsy Walker story that ended up in Marvel Comics Presents, which interested Marvel enough to ask her to do the recent a mini-series. She was then called a couple of months ago and asked if she wanted to try a run on Runaways, which she did.
Christos Gage broke into comics in a round-about way. He went to film school, where he met his wife. They were working together as screenwriters when he met Jimmy Palmiotti. They became friends, and while he was in New York for the shooting of an episode of Law & Order: SVU that he helped write, Jimmy set up a lunch meeting at DC with Dan DiDio. Out of that lunch meeting eventually came the Deadshot mini-series that Gage wrote years ago. Following that, when he was in L.A., he went up to the Marvel offices there and asked for work. He eventually pitched a story Spider-Man Unlimited, which he got.
Jonathan Hickman was an art director for a decade, which he hated. He read Powers by Brian Bendis, and in the letters column, Brian talked about a self-help guide for comics, so Hickman went and bought the book. He went to the seminar and decided that he could do this. So he put together a five page pitch to Image, which he mailed off on Monday and had a signed deal by Friday.
Gage quickly threw in a disclaimer to the fans that the results talked about by the creators on the panel were not necessarily typical. “Everyone breaks in a totally different way,” he said.
The question then turned to whether any of the creators found it difficult to work for someone else’s properties after doing creator owned work. “We’ve all grown up on these characters,” Gage said, “so we’ve always had an interest in them. It’s nice to play in the sandbox, so to speak.” For Perkins, it wasn’t really shocking, but a lot of fun. Immonen said that the things you do for yourself are much easier, since there is less at stake; but working for a publicly held company, the characters matter, the properties matter, and it matters across a wide spectrum. The big companies are careful about who gets to write what. Unless they want a “Wolverine Goes Shopping” mini-series, Kathryn laughed that the fans won’t be seeing her write Wolverine (although at the mention of this idea, the rest of the panel suddenly started throwing out ideas for just such a story!). With Patsy Walker, Kathryn said she went running at her, because her love is boundless for that character. It’s sometimes hard to find ways in, but if you are good at it and have enthusiasm for it, you’ll find your way in. Gage said he is doing things backwards, since he is just now getting into independent comics. But he made it clear that if you aren’t interested in a character, your pitch won’t be any good. “You don’t want to be the one who wrote the story that ruined Union Jack,” he said. Jonathan, on the other hand, grew up a big X-Men fan, so he always assumed that if he worked at Marvel, he would do X-Men. That has not been the case, however. The editors at Marvel are really good, and Hickman has been really surprised at what he’s been offered. He never read Fantastic Four prior to his current gig, so he had to buy the big Essentials, grab Byrne’s run, Waid’s run, and just read a whole bunch of the series. He didn’t view it as nostalgic or a childhood trip for him, since he had never read any of them before. He got to read them all at the same time, so he picked the best parts, didn’t worry about the bad parts, and became so excited about it, he couldn’t wait to write. “Sometimes it’s good to step back and let an editor pick the project for you,” Jonathan added.
McCann then asked Hickman to talk about his Fantastic Four run, but Jonathan declined, saying that since it doesn’t start until after the Dark Reign stuff, he didn’t really think he could mention anything. Perkins suggested he act out the cover instead. Hickman did say that he loves writing kids, since the kids in the book are his own kids’ age. “It’s about a family,” he said, “so I find that I am writing myself into the stories.”
Another guest wondered what the creators have planned, since the group books they are working on really have the opportunity to shape the future of the Marvel universe.
Christos said that the fun of the The Initiative is creating the heroes of tomorrow and at the same time, plucking out some obscure characters. “I created Butterball, after all!” he said, which brought about a few laughs from the audience. It’s been fun for him, creating some new characters, not just playing with the old ones. Christos believes that comic creators need to always be coming up with new characters and new ideas. He did an X-Men/Spider-Man mini-series recently, and the third issue focused on the Spider-clone. Gage said he ended up falling in love with the character by the end of it, since he knew what would eventually happen to him. He was surprised when he started getting e-mails from fans saying how great it was to bring the character back. “Runaways is a great example of wonderful new characters that have come into the universe in recent years,” he said. “I’m also excited to see what new characters Jim and Jonathan will come up with, and those that Mike will design,” mentioning specifically the new Arabian Knight that they used in the Union Jack story.
Immonen said she’s been a huge fan of the Runaways, and for her, what they are trying to do is reconnect the characters back with the title of the book. Where’s the risk for extraordinarily talented youngsters who are without the resources of the adult heroes. Readers will see how they develop their relationships with adults – there are some very substantial, very real and present risks for the kids, and it’s time to get them running away again and what that means for them.
Hickman said that they all know where they are going for the rest of the year, and they got an e-mail from Quesada last night for stories happening later on down the road, which he couldn’t talk about right now. But since Civil War, Marvel has done a good job putting out good books, and he knows that the fans are wondering how long that can continue, how long can the big, epic stuff keep going on? “After reading the direction we are heading,” Jonathan said, “I am very excited and hyped up.”
American Son Teaser #2The next question concerned the upcoming “Spider-Man: American Son” and what creators would be involved in that story. Jim said that no one on the panel was involved, but that he did have some knowledge about the story. He confirmed that it is a Dark Reign tie-in, heavily involving the Iron Patriot and Norman Osborn, as well as a new hero for Spider-Man’s world. It’s going to be a five part story, starting with Amazing Spider-Man #595 and leading up to #600. The panel reminded readers to remember that in the world of the Dark Reign, new heroes don’t necessarily mean good guys. Issue #600 of Amazing Spider-Man will be a huge, massive issue. According to the panel, Marvel is doing something that no one has done before, which is to do a super-sized issue that has a 60-page lead story written by Dan Slott and drawn by John Romita, Jr. In addition to that, there will be numerous 5-page stories by the rest of the Spider-Man writers. Then, also, there will be a 10-page story from Stan Lee himself. It will be a 104-page comic of all new material for only $4.99, and the story will thrust Spider-Man into his next year. And for those who have been wondering, “American Son” will answer the question of how Spider-Man reacts to having his greatest nemesis running the country.
Someone then asked the question about Marvel’s summit meetings, and how did the creators face those and from where do they draw their inspiration for the meetings.
McCann said that Marvel has full creative summits twice a year, with the lead writers like Brian Bendis, Jeph Loeb, Ed Brubaker, Dan Slott, and writers from every “family” of titles, and they sit down to take a close look at the whole line of comics that Marvel is producing. They basically lock down their schedule for six months, and plan out the next 12 months. It doesn’t necessarily lock-in creators and prevent them from coming up with new stories that feed in to the direction Marvel is heading for those six months, but it frees them up to know where we are going. One thing that Quesada is good at doing, according to McCann, is getting all the creators to say, “If this happens, then what?” - which is how they feel every serialized story should be plotted out. That’s how the first day is spent, and they finally break for dinner, and when they get back together on the next day, throw everything out, having come up with something better at dinner that previous night. Roughly speaking, at San Diego Comic-Con, the X-creators usually have an X-Men summit, and around the New York Comic Con, the Spidey-creators who live there on the east coast have a Spider-Man summit.
For creative inspiration, many of the panel admitted to reading “outside comics.” McCann said he finds himself reading comics that have nothing to do with stories he is writing. He just started reading Y: The Last Man, and he has been looking at how the writer plotted all the way from the beginning to issue #60, he wants to see how that’s like. McCann also said he also watches a lot of movies, and he always carries a pen with him – while watching Slumdog Millionaire, he thought of a great line of dialogue that he had to write down on a torn piece of popcorn bag and stick in his pocket so he could use it later. For Mike, he goes hiking, since he’s sitting on his backside most of the time. He also goes to the cinema and likes to travel. For Immonen, she has a 40-pound hound that needs walking every single morning (which prompted Jim to suggest a “Patsy and Lockjaw Go Shopping” mini-series!). Kathryn said that she thinks inspiration is overrated Working is great, and making comics is great, and she admitted that she doesn’t really feel blocked or uninspired. For Christos, he draws his inspiration every day when he opens his mailbox and finds a bill in it. Outside of comics, he said he doesn’t do a lot. He tries to exercise when possible. Sometimes, when he’s jogging and feeding the menagerie of stray animals around his house, he will get his inspiration. For Hickman, he likes to do jazz stuff, play with his kids, read, watch TV, and is a big soccer fan. He said he probably spends way too much time with soccer.
Jim then told of the time that he was really, really blocked, and he was freaking out about an ending to a story, wondering if it would be well-received or how anyone could like it. Someone told him to just start writing it, and even if you throw out the first few pages because they are crap, that’s fine. Just write something. Or sometimes, just get out of the house, because pressures help. Jonathan said showers are really good. Jim agreed, saying that sometimes he talks dialogue in the shower, which prompted his fellow panelists to start wondering what he talks to himself about in the shower.
A fan then asked if there will ever be a Union Jack tie-in with Captain Britain. Christos is not aware of any, but Mike said that they would love to do a Union Jack sequel. He did say that one problem with crossing the two over is that Union Jack is part of MI6, not part of MI13, and also Union Jack is not really super-powered based. He will, though, get used at some time. Mike said it’s very important that the writer get the character right, as the current Union Jack has a similar background as Mike.
McCann turned the question to the fans at that point and asked them what keeps them coming back for comics every Wednesday. The answers were varied, ranging from Anita Blake and other licensed stuff, to simply needing something to read. One fan said that sometimes comics are the only thing you can count on (to which another fan emphasized the word sometimes). It’s an escape for the week, cried out another fan. Something to look forward to. Excitement every week. The continued surprises. The planned-out stories and tie-ins keep the readers coming back to get the complete story. “So basically, it’s an addiction,” Jim said, getting a number of nods from members in the audience.
The panelists were then asked what each of them were reading. Mike Perkins said he loves to listen to audio books, and that keeps him going. He read Just After Sunset when it came out, and he’s now listening to it on audio book. Jim McCann reiterated that he is re-reading Y: The Last Man and actually picked up Dead After Dark, the book that the TV show True Blood is based upon. Kathryn is reading Iron Wok Jan, as well as Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, and British GQ. “The British one is where it’s at,” she said, to which Mike readily agreed. Christos said that he finds when he is reading fiction while he is writing, he ends up modeling his writing after that in the book he is reading. He did read World War Z recently, but normally he reads non-fiction. In comics, he reads a ton of stuff, both DC and Marvel, but also loves Walking Dead from Image. He also thinks that Avatar has a lot of good stuff from Warren Ellis. He added that he really enjoys the Johnny DC books, like Tiny Titans and Owly, which are wonderful books for any age. Jonathan, like Christos, tries not to read a lot of fiction, because he would start emulating voices, so he spends a lot of time reading biographies and research. He used to like a lot of fantasy, like George R.R. Martin. He’s also really excited that even though Robert Jordan died, they are finishing up his series. In comics, he missed eight years of reading any comics at all, so now that he’s just now getting back into them. He missed Hellboy, so he’s catching up. He missed Starman, so he’s also catching up on that series as well. Beyond that, his favorite thing that he has read in the last couple of years is Casanova.
Before the panel wrapped up, Gage stated that he is writing War of Kings: Warriors, which is one of the webcomics for Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. He is writing stories featuring Gladiator and Blastaar, while Jay Farber is writing stories featuring Lilandra and Crystal of the Inhumans. The stories will be 16 pages, broken up into two 8-page chapters each. Sometimes, Marvel’s webcomics will tie into events, sometimes they won’t. Marvel will reprint them eventually in trades or comics. They are gateways to get people who are so digitally plugged in and pull them into comics. It’s the taste to get them hooked on it and then get them into the shops. Hopefully, the webcomics will get them to want to read more about it.
Hickman told the fans that a lot of companies that are developing outside of what Marvel and DC are doing on webcomics. It seems that producing comics online is one place where people can break into the field. For those aspiring writers and artists out there, he advised getting a webcomic out there, produce one, get the word out there, there are so much good things out there, you don’t have to worry about the printing costs, and it will get you ready for when you have the opportunity to get into the printed comics. It’s a great way to get your voice out there and get known. Jim encouraged the aspiring creators to not get discouraged when they see that companies are not accepting open submissions. It doesn’t mean they aren’t looking. They are just scouring the net, trying to find the next great talents.
At Marvel, they are of the belief that there are all sorts of ways to reinterpret the comic medium. “It’s an exciting time,” McMann said in closing, “as we are moving into the future together with comics.”