Joe Quesada is going back to the beginning.
Partnered with industry veteran Jimmy Palmiotti, Quesada’s work on the Marvel Knights imprint is largely responsible for the emergence of “New Marvel.” This April, the acclaimed creator and editor-in-chief returns to the Knights’ flagship character with Daredevil: Father, a five issue mini that finds the EiC pulling double duty as both writer and artist. You’d think that Quesada returning to the boards would be THE surprise announcement of 2004, but Marvel Comics is planning several big things for the new year. Joe was kind enough to visit and address some of the controversies of the past year, reveal how he stays ahead of the competition, and comment on those persistent New X-Men rumors.
Brandon Thomas: Thus far, what’s the biggest difference between a Marvel with Bill Jemas as President, and a Marvel with Dan Buckley as Publisher? What made now the time for Marvel to shift some of its management around?
Joe Quesada: First and foremost, I think it’s unfair to try to compare Dan to Bill or vice versa, especially in a public forum. Both are two of the brightest and nicest people I know and I’m enjoying working with Dan just as I have and still do with Bill. Dan is going to define his role here in his own way and in his own time.
Thomas: What went wrong with the whole Epic experiment, and in hindsight, what could’ve been done differently?
Quesada: Honestly, I don’t know much about the business behind Epic. It was its own thing separate from Marvel Editorial. Very much like the TPB department, outside of being called in on occasion as an extra pair of eyes with respect to reading a story, or looking over a cover.
Thomas: Even though you didn’t have heavy involvement with the line, as EiC, do you have some opinion about the whole thing? Will Marvel ever launch an initiative like this again?
Quesada: It was a noble and powerful experiment that we may revisit someday.
Thomas: How has the job of editor-in-chief evolved over your tenure, and what keeps you “hungry” to improve yourself and Marvel’s output?
Quesada: There’s always things that needs improvement and what keeps me hungry is that desire to always be number one and to kick the butts of my respective competition. I can’t help it. I also love comics beyond rhyme and reason, and I want to see this industry continue its growth spurt and I know that it can keep doing that as long as Marvel is in the lead.
As for what’s evolved, I continue to be as energized and hyper as always, especially when I think of what’s in store for 2004, but I think that the one thing I’ve learned most this year is patience. I’ve often said that for all I may bring to this position, I’m always learning something new. Patience is something that Gui Karyo had to drill into me for about a month, but I’m glad he did. I’m a very proactive guy, when stuff happens I like to respond right away, it’s a quality of my character that has worked well for me, but now I’m learning to let patience work for me as well.
Thomas: Judging by the recent solicits, it appears that in 2004 Marvel is attempting to expand the number of titles its most popular characters are featured in. (More Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Captain America, and so on). Is there any concern that the characters will be spread too thin, over too many properties?
Quesada: Of course I believe that there is an over saturation point, but I don’t think we are at that point. As long as the stories and creative teams are strong, we’ll be okay. For example, we have three Fantastic Four books out and all three are just wonderful reads. I think fans gravitate to great stories and that’s what we aim to give them each and every time.
Thomas: The rampant online speculation about the upcoming X-Men “Reload” has already begun. Fixing the X-books was one of the first tasks you completed as EiC. Why is it time again to refocus?
Quesada: Because in publishing you need to always keep refocusing or you get old and tired looking. You have to keep challenging yourself to challenge the readers and you have to keep trying to better yourself and the industry.
Thomas: Continuing on that thread, when are we going to find out Morrison’s successor on New X-Men, and was it difficult finding the right person to follow his well-received run?
Quesada: See, this is where the patience thing comes into play. I had Grant’s successor about two hours after he announced he was going exclusive with another publisher. Magic stuff like that happens all the time for me here at Marvel. Of course the brash loud mouthed EiC in me wanted to announce it a week later, but patience has prevailed and I think X-fans will be thrilled at the stuff they hear in the coming months and year.
Thomas: Some are under the impression that Joss Whedon and John Cassaday are the guys set to inherit the title. Hypothetically, if that were true, how big could that book be for Marvel?
Quesada: Well, if they were doing New X-Men it would probably break all sales records, but I hate to break it to you, Brandon, and I hate to break it to the fans, but this stuff about Whedon and Cassaday doing New X-Men is just a nasty rumor.
I know, I know, I can hear the people groaning all the way over here where I’m sitting. I just figured it was time to set the record straight so that there wouldn’t be any disappointment later on. I’ve heard everything from Whedon to Gaiman to Vaughan on New X-Men and none of it is true in the slightest.
Thomas: So it’s not Whedon, it’s not Gaiman, and it’s not Vaughan. Who is it, and after all this “hype” over Joss Whedon, is the reality as exciting as the rumor?
Quesada: You’ll just have to wait and see.
Thomas: All of this speculation really began when Grant Morrison signed an exclusive deal with DC. Is there ever any pressure to match the number of titles that DC is putting out, or to outdo them in the back and forth of exclusive signings?
Quesada: At times they’re putting out between 20 to 30 more titles than we are, and I don’t think that’s a healthy goal for us right now considering where the market is. That’s not to say that we won’t publish 80 titles one day, but I believe it will be when the market can bear it to the point where we’re not eating our young. So the answer is no, there’s no pressure to shoot for that many titles.
I mean it really gives one pause to think, what would happen if they decided to print fewer titles? Even with that exorbitant amount of titles more than we have, we still beat them in market share and dollars nearly every month of the year. Perhaps they’re cannibalizing themselves, who knows? Ah, whom am I kidding, if they produced less we’d just beat them by even more. [winks]
Thomas: When facing a competition with decidedly deeper pockets, what does Marvel have to offer its exclusive creators to keep them at the House of Ideas?
Quesada: JUST TO NAME A FEW-
- Creative freedom like no other work for hire company can offer.
- Better selling books.
- Better characters, fresher characters.
- A better marketing machine! Want to make a name for yourself as a creator, come to Marvel!
- You get to work with the best writers or the best artist.
- Say it with me, TOP 25 BOOKS!
- We have the best editors in the business.
- Dan Buckley’s headwear.
- We’re a lot more fun!
- We’re a hell of a lot cuter!
- There’s actually a lot more stuff, but why brag? [winks]
Thomas: Moving on to another publishing initiative you guys have going in 2004, what exactly is the Marvel Age, and is it aimed at the same audience that Tsunami originally was?
Quesada: That’s a question I’m going to hold off on for a bit, since it’s a bit premature to really talk about. That said, it’s really shaping up to be a hell of a primer for new and young readers.
Thomas: Did you think the number of canceled Tsunami titles would be this high?
Quesada: Actually I’m happy with how many of those titles survived. When you throw that much stuff against the wall, you hope at least one thing sticks but you just never know. Tsunami has served many masters and we still have big plans for it. I just can’t get into the details yet.
Thomas: A very vocal letter writing campaign was able to save Spider-Girl from cancellation. What could’ve Priest’s fans (myself included) done to save The Crew?
Quesada: Bought more copies.
Thomas: While that’s true, is there anything that Marvel can do to help a tough sell, which I think The Crew, Sentinel, and Inhumans definitely were, survive in a market that seems to chew up “new” concepts and characters? Using the six titles launching in March as an example, what is being done to ensure those books get a fighting chance?
Quesada: Much of that has to do with the after-market if the direct market doesn’t support a title. What’s unfortunate for us is that our biggest competitor operates under a different system than we do and that system actually spoils the fans to some degree. As a fan, I must admit it spoiled me as well. There is no other company in the publishing world that can afford to publish unprofitable books, there is no company in the world that can stay afloat being unprofitable unless you are backed by a larger entity.
We’re not trying to be malicious or insensitive to the fans, we just have to operate like a business. If there aren’t enough fans to support a book then the book goes away in lieu of another. Very rarely can we be charitable in those efforts, we have a responsibility to be profitable. It’s actually quite democratic when you look at it, the majority decides what sticks around. You also have to wonder if keeping unhealthy titles alive in the market is a good thing.
Think of it from this point of view.
You have a very good writer and artist on a title that is not doing well, however you decide to keep it alive for whatever reasons. That title isn’t really making anyone a hell of a lot of money including retailers. Now, every creator has a limit to how many books they can do, so, what if you canceled that unprofitable title and moved that strong creative team onto a more profitable concept? Doesn’t that help out the industry in so many more ways? I can’t tell you how frustrated it makes me when I see a top name creator languishing on something that isn’t selling as well as it should. Of course I know, some people fall in love with their projects, but you really have to ask yourself, who is it benefiting?
Thomas: You’ve recently stepped back into the writer’s chair for NYX. Has writing that book made you want to step into that role more often?
Quesada: Writing is tough, especially when I have to look over my shoulder and see all the great writers we have working here ready to poke fun at me unmercifully. It takes a lot of time, time that I just don’t have on a consistent basis as EiC. That said, I’m really proud of the work on NYX, although I’m still learning and I really think that Josh Middleton has proven himself to be one of the top industry talents on that book. In other words, he makes me look good. The real writing goal for me in the future and probably the next thing I will write, will be something that I draw myself.
[Note: see Daredevil: Father launching in April from Marvel Knights.]
Thomas: Is there any Marvel-related topic that you are sick of seeing the Internet discuss? (Kevin Smith, Chuck Austen, Bill Jemas.)
Quesada: I honestly don’t go on the net or message boards that often anymore, it’s not healthy. I go to my own website http://www.joequesada.com once in a while to answer a Q&A thread, but you’ll very rarely see me involved in any of the threads. I’ll go to news sites, check out the headlines, and if it’s something that intrigues me, I’ll read the article but I’ll never scroll down to the posts. I think that the only time I actually read some of the net craziness is when someone on my staff says, “hey, did you read what so and so said?”
At that point it’s too late, I just have to go and read it, and then afterwards I’m sorry that I have. It’s like stopping to look at a car wreck. Perhaps what’s also turning me off so much about the net these days, is that almost everyone has a rumor site, it’s yellow journalism all over the place. I’ve seen actual front page web news that was based on nothing but conjecture. What these reporters don’t see is how this affects the creative community in comics. We now have to be careful whom we talk to and what we say, and it’s crazy. Also a wedge has been driven through the community and sometimes into friendships because of this.
This year at Wizard World Chicago we couldn’t allow a certain web person into our hospitality suite, not because they’re a bad person, but because we couldn’t trust that what was discussed in the suite would stay in the suite. Unfortunately, now there are just that many more people whom have to be excluded from our circle. It’s not personal, just business. The net can be an unhealthy place.
Special thanks to Joe Quesada for participating, good luck to the House of Ideas in ’04, and I’ll be back in seven (and a bit).