Friday, September 09, 2005

Conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Entertainment about comics

Good morning, Mr Quesada. I know you're not one to stand on ceremony, so can I call you "Joe"? Love your office, Joe. Was that signed by Patrick Stewart himself? Cool.

Thanks for letting me come and see you, me being a mere reader and all that. I know you're a busy man, Joe, so I'll keep it short. You're also a good man, and you must understand that I never take cheap shots at you on my blog. Oh? Well, I did once threaten to come to New York and happy slap you, but I was just joking. Thank god you've got a sense of humour. You are comics through-and-through, Joe, and without your "Marvel Knights" range a few years ago, I swear comics would have been lost to me. You made them fun again, and I owe you. That Daredevil you drew with David Mack, it's one of my favourite comic books ever.

Why am I here? Well, I'm worried about what the future might hold for us. I saw on Newsarama that Marvel has changed its name to "Marvel Entertainment". Great name, by the way, and congratulations on not being put off by that being the name of the company when it filed for bankruptcy. Things are going well right now, so why worry about past mistakes?

But it got me thinking, What if Marvel is out-growing comics?. I mean, how much do you make out of selling little printed magazines, as opposed to cinema multiplexes? For instance, how long would it take for Fantastic Four monthly to take in the same revenue as the film version? That long? Wow. So if we added up all the revenue from Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man and Astonishing X-Men it still pretty much pales into nothing compared with having one Hollywood blockbuster, doesn't it? Even if you included Cable and Deadpool as well. And that's without the boost in merchandising that a film brings. So even if a film boosted a comic's sales by 50%, the comic still wouldn't be pulling in much money, would it? I'm trying to get this straight in my head, Joe, but haven't we got a chicken yoked up with an elephant?

On a side point, Joe, do you realise your new UK retail arm sells everything except monthly comics? I trust you, so I know there must be solid commercial reasons for this, but it looks like, well, like your organisation don't really care much about comics.

Marvel Entertainment is a publicly listed corporation, isn't it? I'm not an expert on US corporate law, but doesn't that mean you have a statutory duty to maximise shareholder value? So if you were to discover, say, that comics revenue is utterly dwarfed by film revenue, then you would be negligent not to pursue the latter. And if plot developments in a monthly comic were potentially to damage a character's marketability, then you pretty much have to put a stop to it. And, for consistency's sake, characters in comics are going to have to conform with those portrayed in the films, even if the film characters are partly based around the actors playing them. And, what's worse, the more successful films you have, the larger the number of comic book characters whose development is going to be constricted by corporate concerns. I just wonder - and I'm sure I'm worrying unnecessarily - if my favourite books are going to end up preserved in Hollywood aspic.

So if you're an entertainment company, then your main function is to get ahead in the entertainment world, and that means making alliances with film and TV programme makers. And if some of those grew up loving comics, then they might get a big kick out of working on characters they used to read. They might not necessarily be the best writers to work on any given book, but, when it comes to getting a director or writer to work on the big screen version of Swordsman loves Mantis, it doesn't hurt to have a stable of film creators already doing work for you, does it?

And - this worried me most - I don't really see that Marvel needs to produce comics any more. You have enough characters and plots to fill a thousand movies. Your famous "five thousand characters" were built up by creators who gave up their greatest creations for pretty much nothing, but that doesn't happen now, does it? If you're Grant Morrison, say, or Warren Ellis, you would have to be an idiot to give up control of your ideas. So the best ideas are creator-owned now. Keep publishing comics for the next thirty years and I doubt you would gain more than a tenth of the stock of good characters you already own. What I'm saying is comics aren't even much use as a character kindergarten.

If comics stopped tomorrow, would Marvel Entertainment be that badly affected? What about in five years?

Now I'm hypothesising, Joe, but what will happen to Marvel Entertainment if superhero movies go out of fashion? You wouldn't retreat back to comics, would you? I think you'd start producing science fiction or action films or television dramas or whatever happened to be fashionable. I truly wonder whether Marvel Entertainment might wake up one day and finds that it no longer needs comics or superheroes.


And then there's these crossovers, Joe. The thing I most respected you for was killing the yearly "big event". I know you said that "Infinite Crisis" was corporate-driven and "House of M" creator-driven, and I'd like to think you're right, but to be honest, I have difficulty in seeing the difference. And now it turns out that "House of M" isn't the end of matters. There's something called "Decimation" coming after it. And after that? It's not even annual, it's a never-ending crossover now. On both channels, Marvel and DC. Joe, we're almost friends, right, so can I whisper something?

I don't give a fuck about universe changing storylines.

They all feel the same. Endless bluster and fighting. Explosions. Everything in 48-point type. I want to believe they're going to be great, and I do buy them, but the truth is they have a long track record in disappointment. Go back and read Disassembled, if you don't believe me.

And they'll never change the true reality, which is that of a team of creators coming together to tell us a story. Let the writers write, and the editors edit. I love comics, Joe, and what I want to read are stories, not events. What I find strange is that when you replaced Bob Harras (how is Bob these days?), you seemed to understand that. We don't communicate any more, Joe. Maybe I've changed, maybe you. Actually, I'm pretty sure it's you.

Is this a corporate revenue thing, Joe? If DC kicks it all off, do you have to wade in too? These crossovers damn near killed Marvel a few years ago because we all got sick of them. I think your creators are better than they were ten years ago, but I fear it'll happen again. Crossovers stamp out creativity like a virus. Even as we go out and buy them, we will work out eventually if you are playing us for idiots. Right now, Marvel and DC are using up the reserves of goodwill they have spent the last few years building up.

Comics, every single one, should have something special about them. Funny or sad, exciting or mournful, direct or complex, something that makes us glad that we bought them. Not corporate statements or marketing plans or favours to film makers, just literature. If you take it away from us again, then we'll desert you, just like we did your predecessor.

So there are dangers ahead, Joe. Anyway, it's been great to meet someone I admire so much, and say hello to Stan next time you see him. Is there any chance of a free T-shirt?


Blogger Psychbloke said...

Garth Ennis had the best take on crossovers. Whenever his Hitman title got dragged into one, he just used it to take the piss. I remember when the sky fell black during 'Final Night' or whatever it was, the whole cast sat in the bar throughout the issue telling war stories. At one point some guy says: 'Hey, ain't it strange how something real bad happens every year - the superguys sort it out and then everything goes back to normal' ?

As for the death of Marvel Comics. When Jay-Z had made enough out of the Black Album, he just let people go off and do whatever the hell they wanted with the vocals. Maybe Marvel'll do the same with their properties - just let people do whatever the hell they want with them ....

yeah, right......

7:37 pm  
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