Comic shops, Disney Stores, and other outlets held birthday parties for Marvel Comics this past Sunday to celebreate the publisher being in business for 80 years ... and oh yeah, to sell some comic books. In the Direct Market, the just-launched House of X / Powers of X twin titles have been top sellers so far, and titles like Immortal Hulk have received critical acclaim. Some might say it's a interesting time to be a Marvel reader.
For C.B. Cebulski, it's also an interesting time to be Marvel's Editor-in-Chief. Whereas previous previous E-i-C's were regarded asthe 'artists' E-i-C' or the 'writers' E-i-C', Cebulski sess himself as the 'fans' E-i-C, and he admits he's as big a fan of the X-Men as anyone.
As Cebulski's two-year anniversary as the man with final edit (and his 20th anniversary since he began working with the publisher), Newsarama spoke with him about those recent X-launches, the pros and cons of being a diehard X-Men fan given this responsibilities, and ever-present topics of interest to readers such as the current health of the Direct Market, and his office's interaction with Marvel Studios.
Newsarama: So C.B., when did you first become aware of Jonathan Hickman and Marvel's courtship to renew that relationship? Hickman has said it began before your E-i-C tenure there, but didn't get serious until later.
C.B. Cebulski: I don't remember how it all came about, to be completely honest. I know that Jonathan and [Marvel Comics' President] Dan Buckley had been talking about Jonathan coming back. Jonathan and I had been keeping in touch, but not about comics - personal things.
But one of the first things when I took over as Editor-in-Chief was to start talking to Jonathan about returning to Marvel Comics. And it all went from there.
Nrama: Years ago when you took a hiatus from Marvel, you mentioned Jonathan as one of the stars you helped usher into Marvel. Do you feel like a proud papa of sorts seeing how far he's come?
Cebulski: I remember giving Jonathan a portfolio review at HeroesCon; he had Nightly News pages he was working on. I was blown away by his commitment and his love of the medium.
It was John Barber - then at Marvel, now at IDW - who first gave Jonathan a gig here at Marvel. Of course, I take some amount of pride like I do with any creator, but I always say we're just here to open the door; it's the creator's talent that keeps them through and in the house.
I could not be prouder - but I can't take credit.
Nrama: In some aspects, House of X and Powers of X re-positions the X-Men as the center of the Marvel U - which would be a return of sorts to the mutant titles' status in the 1980s and 1990s. With all due respect to Marvel's other titles, what did you see in Hickman's pitch that made it something you think you could use the Marvel machine to accentuate and magnify?
Cebulski: Ever since I came up I've been saying that in order for us to move to the future, we need to respect everything that came before. We have this amazing, interconnected tapestry thats been building over the course of 80 years.
When Jonathan first came to us with his X-Men idea, I couldn't believe the scope of it at first. This was not just an 'evolution' of mutants, but taking them to a new stage in the Marvel Universe. He didn't want the X-Men to be outsiders anymore; he didn't want the X-Men to be a silo inside the Marvel U. He wanted to make sure that people knew the X-Men were more important than that to the Marvel U.
As we go forward with House of X, Powers of X, and "Dawn of X" in the fall, you'll see even more.
Nrama: You've said in your Marvel Fanfare convention panels that you're a long-time X-Men fan, with the pictures to prove it. Would you say you're more receptive to X-Men ideas because of that, or does that make you more wary?
Cebulski: I would have to go with the second. I'm a little more critical given my love of the characters and my intimate knowledge. I have it easy up here now though, as our X-Men group editor Jordan D. White is also a life-long X-Men fan and could probably rattle off more first appearances and X-Men history than I can.
Jonathan has the utmost respect for the content and the creators in the X-Men books. He has such an ingrained love for all of the merry mutants. While I am prone to be more critical, Jonathan and Jordan have made it easy.
You know, my one true love is the New Mutants. Of all our groups, they're the ones I love most - and that's something Jonathan and I share. When we started planning out this fall's new New Mutants title, I do admit I've been a little harder on him with scripts than the other X-Men books he's doing.
Nrama: Hickman mentioned in passing at San Diego Comic-Con that in addition to the three big eras of X-Men he looks back on, he also is taking a bit from Chris Bachalo's Generation X run. What say you to Bachalo's star turn there and the introduction of characters like Penance, M, Husk, and the others?
Cebulski: I was a huge fan of what Chris did on that series as well. Especially with the early "Age of Apocalypse" tie-ins, of all of those, has stood out for a lot of people. He incorporated a little manga and anime design, but also had a sense of storytelling.
Jonathan and I talk with Jordan alot about the impact Chris had with so many artists - including so many artists working with us now on House of X, Powers of X, and "Dawn of X".
His work there is a great example of designing new costumes, introducing new characters (and new versions of old characters), but also telling stories in a different way.
Nrama: Who is your favorite Marvel character or team that's not in comics right now?
Cebulski: That's a good question. Geez... it's funny, certain things I can't sy because I know in the back of my head what's coming.
Nrama: You can go obscure and show your fan roots, C.B...
Cebulski: No, not going to go obscure.
I'll say Starjammers, even though Corsair is on the cover to October's X-Men #1 with Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Yu. He's a part of that book, but there's some things out there that will be very cool for the cosmic side of the X-Men, as well as the Imperial Guard. We haven't touched on those two groups yet, but someday...
Nrama: On August 31 there will be 80th birthday parties for Marvel at comic shops, Disney Stores, FYE, and Box Lunch. You've been heavily involved in getting other Disney divisions onboard with Marvel, and that partnership with Disney Store seems ideal. Can you talk any about that?
Cebulski: I can't really speak to that from the publishing end, but I got to know our friends at Disney well when I was an ambassador of all things Marvel across the company.
Once we had a plan for Marvel's 80th birthday, they were all happy to come aboard; everyone realizes comics are where everything was birthed. Everyone is keen to spotlight the amazing 80-year history of Marvel.
Nrama: In November you will have had two years in the chair as Marvel Comics' Editor-in-Chief. Joe Quesada has said that each E-i-C makes the position his own and defines what the job entails to some degree; do you feel like you've found that rhythm?
Cebulski: I'm still learning day-by-day. I feel like I have the rhythm; the team here has helped me adjust well since coming back to the New York offices. I work to listen to all of their voices, to make sure everybody is being represented, and hearing everything clearly.
Like you said with Joe's views on this position.... when he had it, he became the "artist" Editor-in-Chief. When Axel was here, he was the "writer" E-i-C in what he did with storytelling, editing, and finding new voices. The way I've seen myself is as the "fans'" E-i-C - I grew up a Marvel fan, and I never stopped - from six-years-old to 48-years-old not a week has gone by that I haven't bought or read a comic book... no matter where I've been in the world.
My #1 is listening to my team, and my #2 is listening to the fans - including the one inside me. Every day I'm going to continue doing that - the fans' opinions are important.
Nrama: Closing in on your two-year anniversary, which project are you proudest of so far?
Cebulski: What's fresh on my mind is House of X. As an X-Men guy, there's really a sense of pride over this. The fact that it's come out and has been so well-received is re-affirming of the great job the creative and editorial teams have done in bringing it to life.
There's so much else that's happened, though; and so much else that's coming! The new Ghost Rider... he's another character I've wanted to put the spotlight on in a unique and original way. I have a respect for Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch, and I think we've got a great new take on it.
I'll have to say, it's become a cliche - you love all your children equally.
Nrama: Conversely, two years in ... anything you would have done differently if given the opportunity?
Cebulski: Nothing comes to mind - I'm proud of everything we put out. Everybody wants second chances, and hindsight is 20/20, but I'm not really about reflecting on any mistakes or missteps. I just think we need to learn from it.
Nrama: Outside of a specific published title, do you think you've put your stamp on Marvel yet? And if so, what do you think it is and if not, what do you hope it will be?
Cebulski: I don't really want to put my editorial stamp on too much - the content should speak for itself. At its best, the editorial hand should almost be unseen. When a fan opens up a comic, let the characters and creators speak for themselves. I'm not out there to put my name or stamp on things, but to put out the best work possible.
Nrama: So what have you learned?
Cebulski: I've learned that I like to be proven wrong. I might have a specific opinion on a character or a creator, but I put trust in my editors. When they prove themselves with great sales following opinion I disagreed with, I've learned to be more open.
Nrama: How would you describe the operating relationship at this point with Marvel Studios? Do you guys know things they're working on years down the road? Do you share with them things you're working on the public doesn't know yet? Did you for example know about what was announced at Comic-Con and D23 beforehand?
Cebulski: I don't want to get into too much 'behind the scenes' stuff in particular.
But sitting in Hall H during the Marvel Studios panel and being there when they called out Jason Aaron by name for his work turning Jane Foster in Thor... I was thrilled to see that, and hear that.
We have a very good working relationship with Marvel Studios; we've always been close with Kevin [Feige], and the other producers. I work in close coordination with them.
Nrama: We're going to flip the script a little, and ask first instead of second, what's going right in the comic book Direct Market right now? Tell us the good news.
Cebulski: It's the excitement that fans have for comics, in general - not just Marvel. We're doing great, but it's great to see sales overall up and the Direct Market doing well.
I'm very happy with our line right now. As I've told my team, every one of our books is top notch and our most recent catalog could not be more cohesive, the cover art is popping, and all that translates into excitement for readers and retailers.
Nrama: That being said, the health of the Direct Market and comic book in general is a perpetual preoccupation. What needs to be improved right now?
Cebulski: Honestly, I don't have an answer for that. I like everything we're doing.
Nrama: How about sales outside the Direct Market - booktrade, digital, and the Marvel Unlimited subscription service?
Cebulski: I'm very happy with the growth in those areas. Our Marvel Unlimited subscriber base continues to grow, as does sales from comiXology. House of X and Powers of X have been some of our best-selling digital comics ever, and the Director's Cut edition helped to reward fans.
It doesn't matter where you get comics - our goal is to get the comics to as many fans as possible.
Nrama: We have a story on Newsarama that gets pretty strong perpetual traffic and a few weeks back writer Gail Simone made a thing about it on Twitter - a new Marvel/DC crossover - is now or soon a good time, why or why not? Can we help arrange that phone call?
Cebulski: I love the DC characters. Despite any perceived online rivalry, we're all friends. The editors and creators are all friends with each other.
Ideas get floated every now and then, but I don't think you'll see it happen soon. We're both doing quite well right now. I'm very happy where our characters are, and we have a lot of big plans over the next three or four years. Right now I don't think we need a crossover like that.
Nrama: So a few weeks back you corrected us, that despite their proximity of your social media posts, you never actually ID'ed your idea for a million copy seller as Marvel Comics #1000. Any new insight as to what project you were referring to?
Cebulski: There are a lot of different ways to sell comics - Star Wars #1 was a benchmark for us. I still think we can do it, and we have certain things coming that would help us get to those numbers.
Nrama: Last question - Years ago you had an initiative called ChesterQuest to find new talent. That quest is over in a way as you are now E-i-C... so what would your new 'ChesterQuest' be for yourself and Marvel now?
Cebulski: Marvel still does a number of talent searches; we just finished two nationwide searches in Japan and China. We're still open to finding the best talent, no matter where they are.
Our talent manager Rickey Purdin is at a different show almost every month.
So what's the ChesterQuest now? Same as it ever was, to find new writers and new artists - the best, boldest new voices for Marvel. So you know, the door is always open if the talent wants to walk through it.
Nrama: Do you still get a chance to do some talent searching of your own, either at cons, online, or browsing social media?
Cebulski: We take talent in no matter who finds them. Editors can bring them in, Rickey can.... Before I saw you on Sunday at Comic-Con, I was over at Artist's Alley and met a couple people who could contribute to some things coming up for us.