Joe Quesada is used to overseeing major change at Marvel. After becoming editor-in-chief in 2000, he and his staff began to implement high-profile and often controversial new creative teams, like Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely on New X-Men and Peter Milligan and Mike Allred on X-Force; runs that are considered among the most memorable in the company's recent history. A dozen years later, Marvel is at it again, this time with "Marvel NOW!," a post-Avengers vs. X-Men publishing initiative seeing the launch or relaunch of around 20 series starting with new #1s, character redesigns, reapproached covers, further integration of digital platforms and a host of creative team shifts — with an initial teaser image illustrated by Quesada himself. Except now Quesada is Marvel's chief creative officer, working with film, television, animation and video game divisions of the company along with publishing. In our third interview on "Marvel NOW!" — we talked to Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso here, and senior vice president of publishing Tom Brevoort here — Quesada gives us his perspective on how these current changes compare to the ones he introduced as editor-in-chief, how the revamp relates to plans for movies and TV, and the already attention-grabbing return of Jean Grey. Newsarama: Joe, the scope and scale of "Marvel NOW!" certainly seems not unlike the changes you instituted at Marvel when you first became editor-in-chief in 2000. Do you see a similarity between the two, and is there just a periodic need for a sweeping change to keep things fresh?
Joe Quesada: Absolutely. There's no question about it. This is something that is a part of Marvel tradition. Up to today in our history we haven't had to do a complete reboot. We've always managed to take our universe and refresh it, dust it off, modernize it in ways that don't disrupt the flow of the Marvel U for our hardcore readership. Marvel NOW! is no different. I don't want people to be mistaken that this is a reboot; that we're retelling origins. That's not what we're doing here. What we're doing is taking a fresh look at the Marvel U and coming at it again with a fresh perspective. We've had a huge event in Avengers vs. X-Men that's going to have sweeping changes across the universe, but everything that you read before is still intact. Your favorite characters will be there — or maybe not — but this is Marvel doing what Marvel does better than anyone — keeping our readership excited.
If we were the kind of folk that believed everything we read on the 'net, we'd assume that our readership doesn't like change, but at the end of the day, change is what everybody really wants. If we don't change, if we don't shake things up, then characters and stories become stagnant, and become boring, and we're not doing our jobs and we won’t be selling any comic books. Change is a predominant and very important aspect to any sort of dramatic storytelling.Nrama: It seems that it's almost part of the culture at Marvel now to not reboot. Would you say that it's something you specifically want to avoid?
Quesada: Yes. Absolutely. I don't know where stories will take us in the future, I can't predict that far, but I do know that it's something that we've always looked at and said, "You know, this isn't broken. What are we trying to do?" It's a lot harder to look at a universe that's been around as many years as ours, and try to refresh it, and try to make it new, and seem vibrant again. Instead of letting it get old, to continue revitalizing it. It is much easier to push a reboot button and say, "OK, boom, all new, let's go."
This has happened even before me, my EIC predecessors, and now Axel. We're not reinventing the wheel here. We're retreading it — and it's funny I just said that, because I remember saying that exact same metaphor 12 years ago. We're just retreading it, and putting it back on the road, and letting our readers know that, hey, it's an exciting place to be, you never know what's going to happen in the Marvel Universe.
Nrama: Since you're somewhat more removed from the publishing side now than you were as editor-in-chief, how closely were you involved in the development of Marvel NOW?
Quesada: My role is very much like anybody who's in the room, whether it's Axel, Tom, our creators, our editors — it's everybody in the pool. Marvel is an incredibly collaborative place. And this doesn't just go for our publishing division, it goes for our film division, our animation division — it's all about collaboration. There is no single voice. That includes during my tenure as editor-in-chief. I did not run a shop here in a ham-fisted manner. It was all about collaboration. "What do you guys think?" "Where do we want to go"? It's more about the "we" than it is the "I." In all honesty, if you want to be unsuccessful at Marvel, then come with a "my way or the highway" attitude. It won’t get you very far, it’s just not how this place is built.
I've been involved in this stuff just as everybody else has been involved. I've thrown in my share of ideas that were taken, and I've thrown in my share of really terrible ideas that weren't used. But that's really no different than any other time of my career here at Marvel.
Nrama: Since you've got a few years as chief creative officer now under your belt, has your perspective changed when approaching a publishing initiative like this?
Quesada: The perspective is different because we're a different company now. When I was editor-in-chief, my perspective was, tell great stories, sell a lot of comic books, but also very importantly, keep these characters whole and protected, so that the person who has the seat after me doesn't have a mess on their hands. It's very easy to change things and break characters, and then it's a lot of clean up, and that's when you end up having to do a reboot.
Now, as we've grown — we're a movie studio, we're an animation and television studio, and we're branching out in all different directions — my outlook is significantly more global. I know what's going on in each one of these areas, and it's my job to impart information as well as try to find synergies where appropriate. I'll go to the studio guys and say, "Hey, listen, just so you know, this is what's cooking in publishing. Certain characters are really starting to catch fire. Here's what I think…" It's the same thing, bringing information back from studios to publishing, saying, "There may be a teaser here, there may be a character they're thinking about working on in the future." And it’s the same with animation and video games.
Keep in mind, publishing is the House of Ideas. It's the source material. I've heard fans say that they're a little bit worried that Marvel Comics are just going to become a distillation of what's in the movies, and nothing could be farther from the truth. While you may see visuals that are similar to the movies and a concept here and there, that's just artists and writers being inspired by what they've seen on the big screen. Ultimately, we have to take the risks and the chances, and take these characters to crazy places, because those are the ideas that the guys in the studios and animation pick up and say, "Oh, that little idea that Matt Fraction had for Iron Man in the past, that’s cool and might work." They're able to cherry-pick from the stuff that we do in publishing in order to make their ideas really work on the screen. That's a tradition we have to keep here. Publishing has to be the place where all these ideas originate. I remember Bill Jemas telling me a long time ago, as we were discussing whether we should do the origin of Wolverine, that if we don’t tell the origin, the filmmakers will and then we’ll be stuck with what they came up with rather than having it originate from where it’s supposed to originate, publishing,
Nrama: In terms of visuals, it's an interesting case, because there are some characters in that Marvel NOW! teaser that seem like direct reflection of the movies — Captain America's costume, the new Nick Fury — and then some that look completely different from how they do on screen, like Hulk and Iron Man.
Quesada: In some cases, yes. It wasn't just the fact that Nick Fury was African-American in the movies that made us change it in the comic books. He was that way in The Ultimates, so there's always been that disconnect. When we finally came across a methodology that was like, "Oh, that's kind of elegant, that really sort of works," then we were able to really resolve this amongst ourselves and make everyone happy at the end of the day.
With Captain America's costume, there was no real mandate to say, "Hey, change Cap's costume." Jerome Opeña handed in new designs, and it just looks a little bit more like the movie. No one said, "Hey, can you make this look like the movie Cap?" Jerome just came up with a really cool design that had its roots in the movie and comics.
Nrama: And is there also an element in Marvel NOW! of giving characters a push who might be in line for development somewhere at Marvel? Obviously there are a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy movie rumors, and Rocket Raccoon is very prominent in the teaser image.
Quesada: Absolutely. There are characters there that you wouldn't expect in a big promotional poster. They're absolutely there for a reason. They're characters that we believe in, characters that we think are ready to really explode, that we really want to put a lot of energy behind, and see where it takes us. It's not without a lot of thought that those characters were chosen.
Nrama: At the same time, it looks like Marvel NOW! is embracing some of the things that are impossible to do in a movie because of licensing issues, like Uncanny Avengers. Is that part of the goal with the initiative?
Quesada: That's the beauty of publishing. In publishing, these are all ours. We don't have to worry about who's licensed where, and who's making what movie. But it's also an outcome of story. If anything gives you a clear example of what's going to happen after Avengers vs. X-Men, it's that particular book. There are a lot of changes to status quo. That's the fun part of this, that all of this is derived from story, and once you start putting all of these story ideas together, and you start to see how it takes shape, then you start to see the marketing platform take shape, "OK, we see a theme here." That happens a lot in my world. Creators thinking thematically in the same way, and you end up suddenly backing into a marketing initiative.
Nrama: Marvel characters have been multi-million dollar cinematic properties for years, but now more than ever with Avengers becoming the third highest-grossing movie of all time. But there's always been that paradox of how that hasn't really been a noticeable chunk of that audience coming to comic books. Is part of Marvel NOW! designed to reach out to those folks, and maybe try and unlock that riddle?
Quesada: It's certainly a flag in the sand to tell people, "Hey, this is a good place for you to jump into the Marvel Universe." If you've held back because you're afraid of what may be a daunting continuity, and you just want a clean starting point, then yeah, there is that. But realistically speaking, there are changes happening to the universe that don’t necessarily reflect the things that are happening in the movies.When we were looking at Civil War, I know there were a lot of people that thought we were absolutely out of our minds by making Tony Stark, at first blush, the villain of that story, when there was an Iron Man movie coming out. Consequentially, what it did was make Tony Stark, within publishing, the most popular character, because everybody wanted to write him. And here comes the Iron Man movie, and there really wasn't much of a disconnect. It all really, really worked in tandem.
I will venture to say that from our point of view, what's really important is that we've had this tremendous success with Avengers, as with all our movies, and what's really important for us to do is make sure from a story standpoint, we are telling the best stories that we ever have. If somebody comes to a comic shop, they've just seen the Avengers movie, and they pick up an Avengers book that looks just like the movie they just saw, and it's a crappy story — they're not going to come back. But if they pick up a book that's compelling, and really has them on the edge of their seat, and they can't wait to read the next issue, I would venture to say that it doesn't matter what those Avengers look like.
We try to appeal to everyone in this case, and have characters that are recognizable, that are consistent with what came before, while at the same time having grown and changed.
Nrama: It seems that sometimes new readers aren't given enough credit in that regard.
Quesada: I get it completely from a standpoint of, "I just picked up this issue, and I don't know what the hell is going on." That I get. That's a real pitfall of comics that we work very, very hard to avoid. I think we're successful more times than not. What we try to do very hard at Marvel is avoiding what I call going too far down the rabbit hole, or getting tangled in our own superhero underwear. In other words, getting so tied up in past continuity that only the most hardcore of loyalists understand the story we’re trying to tell.
Nrama: You've been heavily involved with Marvel's recent digital initiatives. How important is that aspect to "Marvel NOW!"?
Quesada: I think it's incredibly important. Digital comics are, in my view, the new newsstand. Once the direct market came into being, the newsstand really became the feeder system for new readers. A kid would pick up a comic at a newsstand or a 7-11, and really dig the content, and want to get more, and maybe they wouldn't be able to fulfill that particular desire at the newsstand, and they would venture into the comic shops. There were a lot of new readers who came in that way.
I think we can say the same for digital. There are people who live hundreds of miles away from a comic shop that don't have access to the material, but really have a craving for it. I've also been hearing evidence from local comic shops, saying, "You know what, I've had a lot of people come in who picked up a couple of books digitally, and now they want a hard copy." It's just going to expand the readership. I do believe that there are more comic readers out there that we can account for. They're either lapsed readers or new readers who desire the material that just don't know how to get it.
Nrama: So will platforms like the AR app and Infinite Comics continue to be explored?
Quesada: Absolutely. Those, to me, are the real interesting areas. I think with Infinite we've tapped into a methodology that I personally feel is going to be how we will be telling stories in the future of comic books. It's intuitive, it still feels like a comic book, but it enhances the experience by using the tools that are available to us on a tablet and in a digital realm.
The AR stuff is incredible fun. I think we're just scratching the surface. I don't think we know exactly where it'll end up, because technology changes all the time, and I have a feeling that we're going to find dozens of different uses for AR beyond what we're doing now. We're just coming up with new ways of using it every day. It's going to be fun to see where it takes us.
All of these tools are fantastic things for us to play with, and ultimately, it's about the readership, and they'll decide exactly which ones that they like the most, which ones are the most entertaining, and offer them the best added value.
The great unknown is this: Tomorrow, somebody might come up with a new technology that we'll feel is appropriate for what we're doing, so it'll be AR, it'll be Infinite, and it'll be digital tool X. It’s just too early to predict where it will all shake out, the fun part will be getting there.
Nrama: You illustrated the teaser image revealing a lot of these new looks for various characters, but did you have a hand in the actual redesigns?
Quesada: I had no hand in the physical redesigns. I made suggestions as designs started to come in from the artists, "Hey, how about this, how about that?" and then it would go back to the artist, and they either used it or they didn't, but I did none of the redesigns at all.
Nrama: As an artist, how important do you think it is to have a visual refresh of many of the main characters in an initiative like this, along with the storyline changes?
Quesada: I think fans love it. I think they gravitate towards it, they dig it; everybody has their favorite costumes that they love, the costumes that they hate. It's also fun to see how certain designs become classics when you don't think that they will. I think it's a fun aspect of comics, one of the things that we can do easily that fans really, really dig, and it also recharges creators' batteries.
Nrama: When you were editor-in-chief, there were a few things you wanted to change about the way the Marvel Universe worked, and you referred to them as "putting the genie back in the bottle." It's clear that the Marvel Universe is changing to some degree post-AvX, so is any amount of that because of those types of fixes, or is it change simply because it's time for a change?
Quesada: I think it's change because it's time for a change. Well, there is one genie that is being put back in the bottle. Or better yet, maybe it’s a genie being let out of the bottle?
Every once in a while there are characters that fans really clamor for their return. And there's been one character in particular that fans have been longing for, for a very, very long time. And my response to fandom has always been, "Just wait. Just hold on, you never know what's going to happen" — all the while biting my lip, because I knew that there was a resurrection of a character coming back in a way that was going to make everybody incredibly happy. It wasn't one of my prescribed genies back in the day, but it's certainly a character that no one here at Marvel lost sight of because of their importance to the universe and how beloved they were. I think it'll be a happy day for X-Men fans.
Nrama: You're talking about Jean Grey, right?
Quesada: Yes, I am. [Laughs.] I've had fans for many, many years asking for her to come back, and the issue with Jean is that there is also a lot of baggage with that character. The most obvious thing to do is, "Hey, the Phoenix brought her back." What's going to happen with Jean, and how does her relationships with Scott and Logan get resolved, and the "Emma of it all" — there's a lot of stuff there. But I do think that we've discovered a methodology that's going to bring her back, and put her right in the center of everything and all things X-Men that I think if you're a true fan of Jean Grey, you're going to absolutely love.
Nrama: Because it's teenage Jean Grey?
Quesada: It's classic, yeah. No baggage, nothing. It’s going to be amazing. I've been calling it "Days of Future Now."
Nrama: At this point, several runs are ending that started during your time as editor-in-chief — some pretty early into your run, like Brian Michael Bendis on Avengers and Ed Brubaker on Captain America. At this point, is there almost something of a sense of sentimentality for you, along with the excitement of seeing what's coming next?
Quesada: There's no sentimentality in it whatsoever. What there is, for me, is a great sense of pride for the guys and gals that wrote, drew and edited these books, and were on these books for all these years. As I mentioned in the beginning of this interview, part of my job as editor-in-chief was being a caretaker of these characters, and making sure that when the next person takes over these characters, that they are in a healthy and viable place where you can continue telling great stories.
I think we did that. I think the creators that have been on these books for many, many years now have done an incredible job, not just keeping the characters whole, but enhancing them, and bringing them to the forefront. What Ed did with Captain America is unheard of, and the stuff that Brian has done over years is fantastic. And they've left these characters in a better place than when we got them. So for me, it feels more like mission accomplished. On to the next thing.
I've never been good at looking backwards. I just can't. I have to look at the next thing. So that's why there's no sentimentality there. It's just a matter of, "What have we got going on? What’s next? Does it excite me? OK, I'm excited, cool. Let's go." I'm happy for the guys who are doing it, I'm thrilled for Axel, and I'm glad these guys are digging in and kicking some ass, and dusting stuff off. You can't live in the past and you certainly can’t look at the stuff from my tenure or anyone’s tenure as sacred. That’s how you end up with dull comics. I'm not somebody who sits here and goes, "Oh, I can't believe what they did to the characters and storylines that we created in my turn at bat." Seriously? Move on. If you don't move on, then I would think that you're not doing a good job.More from Newsarama:
- What NOW!? 10 Questions About Marvel's Non-Reboot Revamp
- Brevoort Reveals More MARVEL NOW! Details, AVENGERS Plans
- Alonso on Why The Time is Right for the MARVEL NOW! Revamp
- First Marvel NOW! Cover Revealed: UNCANNY AVENGERS #1
- NEW, Updated MARVEL NOW! Info, More Series Details