The old order changeth: Last week, Axel Alonso vacated Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief position – a role he held since 2011 – after leaving what the company called “an incredible mark” with “his vision [shaping] some of our most iconic super heroes and stories”.
His replacement is C.B. Cebulski - a former Marvel editor and talent scout, who has most recently worked for Marvel in China as a Vice-President of International Business Development & Brand Management.
This makes for a tumultuous time at Marvel, as just 10 days prior Brian Michael Bendis – arguably the company’s top writer for almost two decades – announced plans to exit the company for a ‘multiyear, multi-faceted’ exclusive deal with company rival, DC Comics.
Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada was Alonso’s predecessor in that E-i-C role, and was in-charge when both individuals joined Marvel’s staff. With these events coming out in the past two weeks, Quesada took some time to talk with Newsarama about what’s happening – as well as the future.
Newsarama: Axel Alonso is out and C.B. Cebulski is in as Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief. Joe, why did this switch happen?
Joe Quesada: Axel had a tremendous tenure as Editor-In-Chief, and it’s important that we thank him for that. He led Marvel through some of the most profitable times in our history. While we’re making a change, I don’t want that to get lost in the shuffle. Change is a constant in comics, or in any creative endeavor. It was simply time for a creative change. Axel is a brilliant story editor. He’s very smart, really downright brilliant at that, and I know he’s going to do great things in whatever he chooses to do next.
Nrama: So, what makes Cebulski the guy you targeted, and what makes him appropriate for the job?
Quesada: Like every new E-i-C, C.B. is coming in with a new and distinct editorial voice. Qualification-wise, C.B. is without parallel. He’s done everything at this company and outside it from editing books to managing divisions to now working in Asia to make Marvel an even stronger international brand. He understands so many aspects of the business.
And C.B.’s reputation among creators and our staff is top-notch. They love him. So much - so much! - of this game is talent relations. I came in with a lucky advantage in that I had knowledge from both sides of the desk. I understood what it was like to be talent in need of management, and could also see from the other side, driving creative and helping talent with their stories and their dreams. And this is one of the big reasons C.B. was hired back in the day. I saw so much of that exact same thing in him. He truly cares about the people he works for, and the work they produce. That’s such an important part of being E-i-C - getting the talent know that you genuinely care, and more importantly, that they can trust you.
C.B.’s a creative guy to begin with, and has a great eye for talent. He’s done every aspect of this job, and has always been an amazing advocate for Marvel. Now as Editor-in-Chief, he’s now the face of our publishing division. And that “face” is a big part of the job as well. He’s always had a good public and private persona, and again, creators adore him.
He’s also one of my dearest friends, so selfishly speaking, one of the things that gives me great joy about his new job is that we get him back in New York.
Nrama: Who at the company was involved with pulling he trigger on this switch?
Quesada: That’s internal company business. I never comment on internal Marvel business decisions. I don’t feel it’s appropriate.
Nrama: What is your job these days? How involved or not involved are you in publishing?
Quesada: There are a lot of facets to Marvel, and as Chief Creative Officer, my primary focus over the last few years has been TV, and some other secret projects that I really can’t talk about. I’m also working within other divisions of Disney, such as the Theme Parks Imagineering crew. Have you been on the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT! ride at Disneyland yet?
Nrama: No, but my wife has.
Quesada: Get there, it’s cool. But publishing has always been my first true love and I’ve been shifting my focus more in that direction over the last month-and-a-half.
I’ve already talked to some of the guys at Marvel and told them I want to shift some more of my focus so I can do a little bit more in publishing, as I want to be there to help C.B. land with both feet running and be there for him in any way he needs me to be. So yeah, it was around early October that I started to shift my focus a bit. We have a young editorial crew and these kids are super bright and eager to learn as much about Marvel and the industry as possible so I started doing a few seminars on covers, design, pacing, etc. It’s been a blast getting back in the trenches.
Also, during my tenure as Editor-in-Chief, I was amazingly fortunate that I had guys like Axel and C.B. and [editors] Tom Brevoort and Steve Wacker and Nick Lowe as part of the crew. If I couldn’t be at a convention, C.B. would be there. If I couldn’t be at a talent function, Steve Wacker would be there. I had a truly amazing staff, we were simpatico, and they always had my back. C.B. was there for me to help build our publishing division to what it became, so I want to be there for him in any capacity he needs me to be.
Nrama: Back when you started as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief in 2000, your first two priorities were "Fix Spider-Man, fix X-Men." Do you see any high-priority hot buttons for Cebulski now?
Quesada: I’m not Editor-in-Chief. So just like I wouldn’t want someone talking on my behalf on what the focus should be when I haven’t even had Day One yet - C.B.’s flying in from Asia right now - that’s a conversation that C.B. needs to have with our team when he gets here. If he wants me to have it as well, he can. But with all due respect for our new Editor-in-Chief, it’s best for him to talk about those things
Newsarama Editor’s Note: Marvel has stated that Cebulski will be doing no interviews in the immediate future, but may in the coming months.
I know he has his checklist. I’m in firm agreement with it. The beauty is, we’ve been talking on the phone and emailing back and forth about everything and half the emails have been, “I was just about to email you about that exact same thing!” So he has his eye on the ball, and I’m pretty excited. But it would not be proper for me to talk about that for him.
Nrama: Do you have any general advice for Cebulski then, speaking as someone who used to occupy that chair?
Quesada: I’d give him the same advice former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco gave me when I took the job. Actually, I don’t have to tell him ’cause C.B. has already heard this story.
But one day, Tom walks into my office, and he gave me the greatest advice in the world. He said, “Joey, you gotta have a broad back for this job. Everything that happens from now on, the good, the bad, and all the slings and arrows, it all comes back on you. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you have a broad enough back. If you don’t think so, quit now, for your own sake, your sanity’s sake, and the sake of your family. It’s a tough job. And the toughest part is all it comes back to you.”
And…he was right. It’s great advice! If we did a poor story, we got hit, which meant I got hit. If we did a great story, we still got hit, because you can never please everyone. And those slings and arrows have only been amplified today by social media. No matter what you do, or don’t do, there will always be someone who hates your guts for it. But at the end of the day, we cannot listen to that. We cannot publish in fear. We have to focus on great stories, get back to fantastic art. It’s a lesson I learned from former Marvel President Bill Jemas that still applies.
Nrama: Marvel has taken a lot of heat from retailers of late, you had last-minute Punisher-related changes at New York Comic Con, you canceled a custom comic done in conjunction with Northrop Grumman, and your go-to writer of 18 years recently left. Now you’ve just switched chief editors. Is the house burning down?
Quesada: [Laughs] You know, this is the kind of stuff… No, the house is not burning down. This is the ebb and flow of comics that has been happening since our dawn of time. There are good years, bad years. There are good months, bad months… and great years and great months.
And [laughs] this is the only industry I know, that in my - I’ve now been a working professional for 27, 28 years in comics - it’s the only industry I know that is consistently predicting its own demise every year. It’s always, “This is it! The end of comics!”
What I find unfathomable is while some people think the house is burning down, our sales are still better than our competitors, our movies are still hits, and we’re still the industry leader. It’s insane to me, but[laughs] people see what they want to see. Have there been some bumps in the road? Absolutely. But there are always bumps in the road. My philosophy in this is always the same: If you learn from the mishaps, then these are huge opportunities not just to fix the problem but also to get better at doing what you do. There have been a couple of recent missteps, and we lost a great talent in Brian Bendis. And while I’ll miss him dearly, this is an opportunity for us as well.
If there’s a slog on the market right now… it’s on all of us. It’s on Marvel, on DC, on all the publishers. When I took this job many years ago, people told me it was a waste of my time because comics are a dying medium. Well it’s only a dying medium if we don’t constantly improve the product. We have to take a look around, and look at ourselves. Let’s see what kind of product we’re putting out, and how we’re marketing it - maybe we’re marketing in a way that’s not relevant to today’s audience. I feel we’ve always been a very pliable business, and all of this is part of that pliability, that change. We’re incredibly turnkey, so anything can change overnight. All it takes is one great idea. So yeah, if it sounds like I’m stoked and feeling incredibly positive right now… I am.
I had a ton of adversity in my tenure as Editor-in-Chief, and we always came back stronger, punching harder. So to Marvel fans out there who are concerned… I understand the concern. I love the fact that you’re concerned. The fact that you’re passionate about Marvel shows me that you’re every bit as concerned as me, or C.B., or everyone else in the office. Wait ’til you see what’s next. Is it a little bit of a rebuilding process? Yes. But I think we’re a championship team. We’re not going away anytime soon.