SDCC 08: From Joe Quesada's Point of View

True, there have been dozens (hundreds?) of accounts from San Diego Comic-Con attendees at the con in the week and four days since it ended (yes, two weeks ago today, it had just gotten rolling… PTSD, anyone?), but we wondered what it would be like for the heads of the largest two American comic book publishers, Marvel and DC.

What were their experiences like? Did they even get to the floor? What else was going on while they were there? Why do their booths have conference rooms? What are their overall feelings about the changing face of San Diego?

We asked.

Today, we start with Marvel Editor in Chief, Joe Quesada.

Newsarama: Joe, let's start with a personal question - what's your own schedule like during San Diego? I think we ran into each other once, what...on Preview Night, and even then, you and John Dokes seemed to be in a rush to get somewhere... When did you get in to San Diego, and when did you leave?

Joe Quesada: Usually my schedule at San Diego is pretty jammed and this year was even more so as I was actually in LA prior to being in San Diego on some Marvel Studios related business. There was a whole bunch of Marvel Studios stuff on my docket so I used the time out west to visit Kevin [Fiege] and company and get as much done as I possibly could in a short period of time. On Tuesday night I went to Anaheim to catch an Angels game and then drove out to San Diego that evening. When you saw me on Preview Night, that was the only moment that I gave myself to walk some of the con floor, sadly without much success. I’ll be honest with you, it’s been years, I mean years since I’ve had the ability and or patience to walk the entire floor at SDCC, it’s just too massive- and incredibly crowded, of course. While it’s incredibly exciting that the show has grown that big, I do sometimes pine for the days when I could walk around and check out what vendors were selling and pick up a cool thing or two.

I left San Diego on Sunday morning as is my usual ritual at conventions these days. You’ll rarely find me at a con on a Sunday, especially one as long as San Diego; I just need to get home to my family.

NRAMA: Can you give a snapshot of one of your days, or will that cause unstoppable shuddering and post traumatic stress symptoms to flare up?

JQ: Sure, let’s see if I can get through this without my hands trembling too much. How about we look at Friday, it wasn’t my busiest day, but perhaps the one I can talk about more liberally without giving away too many behind-the-scenes secrets.

I was up early and met with Jim McCann for breakfast to go over our PowerPoint presentations for the day’s panels and Saturday’s as well. Since I left for LA earlier in the week, I didn’t have an opportunity to review any of our presentations or announcements before I left. I wanted to get a primer as I had no time to prepare for any of my SDCC panels. I like having my act together for our panels, so I was really feeling behind the eight ball at this show. Right from breakfast I ran to my 10AM Marvel Your Universe panel. Once done there I was shuttled off to my 11:30 Cup of Joe panel. From Cup of Joe I had to head back to the Marvel booth for my scheduled signing. Once that was done, I was off to a super-secret lunch meeting with a creator we’re looking to bring over to Marvel. Running tight on time, I had to run out of lunch and head back to the con for our 3:30 Stephen King “N” panel . Once that was over, I had to run out and back to the Omni Hotel for another very secretive meeting with Kevin Feige and the folks from Marvel West at 5:00. Leaving there, it was back to my room for a quick shower and then off to the Marvel dinner at the Palm. I had to leave the Marvel dinner a bit earlier than I would have liked in order to try to say hello to some pals from CAA at a cocktail party kind of thing they were having, unfortunately I got there too late and the party had all ready broken up by the time I found the location. Rushing back I was hoping to get to the Hard Rock in time for the William Morris party before the line got too long, but it was already around the block. It was at that point that I decided to call it a night and crash early so that could be relatively coherent for Saturday, which was going to be even crazier.

So, that’s sort of the Reader’s Digest version of it but does that kind of give you a sense of it all?

NRAMA: Yeah. That’s pretty packed. Bigger picture wise, what's the benefit of Marvel appearing at San Diego? You're #1 in monthly sales in the direct market, and have a very large, if not the largest presence of any comic book company on the pop culture landscape...what purpose does the booth and the requisite dog and pony show serve for Marvel?

JQ: Well, we’re more than just a comic book company now and San Diego is more than just a comic book convention. To me, San Diego is a very important place for us to show off our goods and what we have coming down the pike. Of course, like every convention, it’s a great place to meet and communicate with out fans face to face and one on one as well. It also provides our fans with the opportunity to communicate with Marvel directly either at the booth or at one of our many panels at the Con. This interaction, ultimately effects the day-to-day decisions we make at Marvel at all levels of the company. Also, and this is very important, it’s our fans who are truly the best Marvel marketers we could ever find, they get the word out, they spread the gospel so to speak.

Attending the show also allows us the opportunity to get in front of the media in a very large way. If we do our job right the media coverage we receive at the show far exceeds investment we put into attending.

All that stuff said, a it’s core, it’s just great to congregate amongst like minded folk who have a tremendous love for comics to sit and celebrate all that’s great about the medium that we love.

NRAMA: In talking with Tom Spurgeon, Ted Adams of IDW said that this year might be his company's last year at SDCC for a variety of reasons (chief among them being the production costs and also the apparent changing nature of the show itself).

First off - what is the production cost on Marvel's side of things? Does any work get done in the offices for the week leading up to SDCC and the week of SDCC? Is sending out the booth staff a significant drain on resources?

JQ: I can certainly see IDW’s perspective on this, as I could any publishers, it’s really very true. SDCC has become so much more than comics, and even from our perspective, we’re wary about how much staff we bring and of what we announce and don’t announce at the con these days.

From a staffing point of view, we’re very strategic as to who it is that we bring to SDCC and we’re very sensitive to the editors that need to be back home to keep the beast fed. When you look at the staffers that we have at SDCC, we’re pretty lean and mean, especially when you see the size of our booth and all the moving parts involved.

As for announcements and such, we have to be very smart about what we bring to SDCC as at the end of the day, it would just be all that much more white noise coming from the con floor only to be drowned out by the even louder white noise coming from the studios and networks. I could certainly see, when you add up the expense and the time involved in attending the show, how smaller companies would find it much easier to just avoid it all together and put that money towards other areas of marketing and creative. If I was still running Event Comics, I’d probably skip SDCC completely as a publisher and just attend as a visiting creator.

NRAMA: The nature of the show itself seemed to be what was on a lot of lips this year, and even the mainstream media picked up on it, with USA Today asking if the show had gotten too large and too multi-media. Two questions on that front - as a comics fan, personally, what's your feeling about Comic-Con being home to all the movie studios, genre entertainment, and even geek TV (The Office, for example) as well as comics?

JQ: I don’t have a too much of a problem with it because it’s just one show. If every comic’s con became what SDCC is, then that would honestly break my heart, but one massive show that shows off our goods to the rest of the world along side other entertainment mediums, I’m cool with that. Look, at the end of the day, when you look at other industries and their tradeshows, comics are very unique. Most large industries have one, maybe two large trade shows a year. Comics has dozens of them and they’re really direct to consumer shows as opposed to direct to vendors. So, SDCC is our one big media blast, fine, cool, it is what it is and it’s great for business. However, if every con suddenly became something akin to SDCC, I think it would be problematic for us in the publishing world.

The simple way of looking at it for me is this. San Diego Comic-Con International is becoming our version of the Cannes Film Festival.

Every year we are inundated more and more by celebrity culture and every year it becomes more and more a must place to be. Heck, Entertainment Weekly had a Comic-Con issue, what does that tell you?

Okay, now here I go, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make this statement as stupid as it may sound to some. But hey, I’ve never had any aversion to saying stupid things. I will argue that as time goes on, SDCC will become, in many ways, more important than a festival like Cannes. The reason is because what’s happening now at SDCC is that studio and network execs as well as agents are hitting the con floor like rabid wolves looking for that next great idea that they can turn into a franchise. In other words, what you see at Cannes tomorrow you can find at SDCC today. More and more screenwriters, producers and even performers are starting to see this and don’t fool yourselves, many are now looking at comics as a way to put their ideas out there with minimal financial risk in order to score the bigger payday.

Interesting and exciting times.

NRAMA: In that vein, as a company, how does Marvel view the "larger net" that SDCC now casts in regards to exhibitors and programming? Is it, say, a chance for Marvel to show its wares to (not to pick on it) The Office viewers who may not be readers, or are The Office fans there for The Office and other multi-media stuff, and not actively seeking out comics?

JQ: Well, not to be repetitive but, the ultimate goal is very basic, of course it’s to show off our stuff, but it’s mostly about meeting and greeting fans and creators in the flesh. It’s a hug gathering of like-minded folk and it’s a prime opportunity to shake some hands and kiss some babies. Of course there is the added benefit of people coming in because it is an event and even if we capture the smallest percentage of those attendees, it’s a percentage we would have never had been exposed to if not for the size and scope of the con.

NRAMA: As we know from talking with John Dokes last year, the Marvel booth has a conference room in it. Obviously, without going into specifics, what kind of business goes down at the show?

JQ: All sorts of stuff, especially since there aren’t just people from Marvel publishing attending the show. You can walk in there at any time and see meetings going on with different licensees, vendors, creators, celebrities and luminaries who deal with all the divisions of Marvel as well as the occasional hot fashion model. Did you see the Marvel Fashion Show?!

- - - - - - - -

Sorry, I had to take a pause for a moment. Anyway, let’s just say that there wasn’t a dull moment at the Marvel booth either up front or behind the scenes.

NRAMA: You touched on this earlier, but let’s dip in to the subject of announcements again. In terms of news and announcements, Marvel's SDCC announcements seemed to be on par with the number and significance of those made at the Wizard shows, despite SDCC having many times the attendance. Why is that?

JQ: You have to very smart with what you announce at SDCC as hardcore comics news is much harder to get attention for. When attending shows like Chicago or the New York Comicon , our focus tends to be heavier on the comics side of things because those are more publishing centric shows. At San Diego, everyone is screaming at the top of their lungs for attention and it’s usually the big players like movie studios and networks that win. I mean, lets be real here, if you had the choice of going to a panel which has a couple of A list Hollywood celebrities or one filled with comic folk, nine times out of ten, I’m pretty sure I know who’s going to win that battle. It’s because of this that we look to announcements like Stephen King’s “N,” which for the hardcore superhero enthusiast doesn’t seem like all that big a deal, but from a business and entertainment perspective is pretty significant.

NRAMA: One last personal question – were you able to make much progress on the floor this year on Preview Night?

JQ: Not for a second. On Preview Night I tried to make my way to see the Owl Ship and halfway through the floor (after running into you) I just gave up and decided to go back to my room and chill. I always love walking through the Bud Plant booth (I’m an art book junky) but I just didn’t have then energy to fight through the crowd.

NRAMA: Finally, as SDCC continues to grow, and, presumably continues to serve as the test market for genre entertainment and pop culture trends, possibly eclipsing comic books, do you foresee a chance in how Marvel will handle the convention in the future? More emphasis on the films and games, perhaps, or push on everything and let the audience take what part they want?

JQ: First let me say that I believe that comics, regardless of what form they take in the future, will always be the cornerstone of SDCC. If they ever make the mistake of losing that, then the show will invariably fail and lose the nerdy-kitsch, uber-coolness that makes it work and is the beating heart of the show. While perhaps comics on the surface won’t remain the main draw for many people, we will certainly remain the source for the products that companies will be showing off whether that be a comic, movie, video game, TV show or any other technologies that will inevitably come down the pike.

All that said, I think that in the future you’re going to see all the branches and aspects of Marvel represented in a uniquely integrated and very big way at SDCC. I think that’s been pretty evident as in the last few years as we’ve gone from having a predominantly publishing-centric presence to a diverse and synergistic one. Our presence at the convention now reflects our overall global position as a leading entertainment entity. Through everything we do at the show, from booth displays to events to panels, we’re setting out to promote our publishing, theatrical, home video, animated, licensing, digital, gaming, and licensing initiatives in a cohesive and seamless fashion. While at our core, we’re still a small company when compared to the huge studios that are at the show, it’s because of this that we have considerably less red tape and baggage between divisions that enables us to have this integration and this is something that will only grow and improve with each passing year.

What should be fun for fans is to watch that growth at SDCC and other shows in the years to come.

Tomorrow: DC President Paul Levitz on this year's San Diego Comic-Con

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