And the hits just keep on comin’.

This year, Marvel Comics is holding two aces up its sleeve geared to launch the publisher to the next level. Remember how important Marvel Knights and the Ultimate Universe were to Marvel from both a financial and artistic standpoint? Well in April, Marvel begins the Tsunami with new monthly titles Human Torch, Sentinel, Venom, Runaways, Mystique, and Namor. And this is only the beginning apparently…

Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new initiative, and along the way answer other burning questions regarding DC’s newfound aggression, 1602, and Peter David.

Let’s get it started.

Brandon Thomas: Marvel just announced Tsunami, a new line of titles with evident manga sensibilities. Was there any one factor that told you this was something Marvel should invest in?

Joe Quesada: The comic industry has been feeling the influence of Manga since the days that Epic started to reprint Akira. You could see it bubbling in guys like Joe Mad and artists of that ilk. In the last year it’s become very visible to anyone looking at bookstore sales and the demographics at the stores, and even more visually at comic cons, that Manga is exploding and reaching readers comics have been having trouble reaching since, well, since the dawn of comics. To ignore this influx of young readers, especially the young female reader, is just foolish.

Thomas: You’ve commented that Marvel is willing to throw several ideas at the wall, fully understanding that not everything will find an audience. Twelve months from now, how many Tsunami titles will be publishing monthly?

Quesada: I don’t even want to venture a guess, I just don’t know. The big difference between this and launches of the past is that a great deal of care has been taken with the stories in these books. Our writers really knocked themselves out with these projects and we stayed on top of them editorially, and we all feel that these are outstanding books putting story first. In the past if you told me that a book with new characters and concepts like Runaways was just going to fail I would have agreed with you. But you’re also talking to a guy who heard that about Inhumans and Black Panther when we launched them at Marvel Knights. In the past Marvel would just throw these concepts out and pray that they would stick, but this time we’ve really worked hard to make sure that from the content through the marketing they stand a better chance. Let’s see what happens, all anybody needs to do is read these books and they’ll see what I mean.

Thomas: Are the eventual trade collections going to be printed in the reduced format that Tokyopop has been using, something similar to CrossGen’s Travelers line, or standard comic dimensions?

Quesada: Wait and see.

Thomas: Given that Tsunami’s mission statement includes appealing to the currently untapped female audience, and with the launch titles featuring only one prominent female character (Mystique), was any thought given to reprinting Spider-Girl content as a companion to the line?

Quesada: No. Outside of letters from grown forty-year-old men pretending to be girls in junior high school, I don’t have any concrete evidence that Spider-Girl is actually reaching a large female readership. By the way, this is only wave one, there are more female characters coming. I also think that many women would find the implication that they only want to read about other women quite insulting.

Thomas: The “imprint” also sees work being delivered from in most cases, fresh talent beginning to catch fire or independents that haven’t done much mainstream work. Is this an agenda for the company in 2003? Find and spotlight the next big creators?

Quesada: Are you familiar with my track record at Marvel 😉 Remember a short balding unknown by the name of Bendis, or this guy named Mack? 2003 is no different than 2002, 2001, 2000 or 1999 for me.

Thomas: From what you’ve seen, is there a title that’s going to stand as the flagship title of the line? What’s your favorite project from the batch?

Quesada: I’m really digging them all, no joke. All I can say is that I’m rooting for the brand new concepts, things like Runaways or Sentinel because those are the toughest sells and both are really just wonderful books.

Thomas: The ‘teaser’ campaign that served as a launch pad for the Tsunami projects. Is it something that Marvel will use again or will you find some other way to begin the rampant speculation?

Quesada: I don’t know, we don’t like to repeat ourselves too often so maybe another time or two. That’s what I love about Marvel, we’re always changing. Just the other day we were looking at the way we were doing something in the catalog and Bill asked for us to change the way we were doing it. When someone asked Bill the logic behind the change he said, “No reason other than it’s nice to change things up so people don’t get bored.” That’s just a fantastic thing to hear when you’re a creative person.

Thomas: Moving on to other concerns, DC Comics seems to have awaken from their slumber and are approaching your back door. What’s Marvel bringing to keep them back?

Quesada: Can you please explain what that means? They have a top selling Batman book, before that they had a top selling Green Arrow book. That’s been in the 2.5 years that I’ve been EiC. If Marvel only had 2 hit books in 2.5 years people would be calling for my head. I respect what those guys are doing cross-town and it’s actually nice to see them get a W in their column every once in a while, but I just don’t get this knocking on our door stuff. Seems that people weigh their successes differently than ours. They have a Vertigo book that breaks 20K and it’s considered a blazing success, well perhaps for Vertigo, and God Bless. But what I don’t understand is that every one of our MAX books sells better than that and people view them as failures. It’s just weird you know, but that’s what happens if you only listen to the Internet.

Thomas: What I meant was that DC seems to have become slightly more aggressive of late in regards to their creators and projects for 2003. Do you think a healthier Marvel makes everyone work harder?

Quesada: A healthier industry makes everyone try harder. Yes, it’s nice to hear people answer the bell, but what’s frustrating is that all of it is in reaction to us, just counter punches. It would have been nice to just see an aggressive DC from the start but hey, they’re a different kind of business. In many cases I feel like they’re approaching certain talents not to have them because they have creative ideas with what to do with them, but rather to keep us from having them. That’s a situation that worries me more for the talents’ sake than Marvel.

Thomas: Any truth to the rumor that you’ll be providing some covers to Jeph Loeb’s upcoming Batman/Superman title?

Quesada: Not that I’m aware of. Probably Jeph spreading that around to get a nice push on his book.

Thomas: What is one quality that you’d borrow from a competing company in a heartbeat?

Quesada: I wish we could publish stuff and not worry about whether it makes money or not. That would be nirvana in some ways as long as you don’t become complacent.

Thomas: Hypothetically, if Marvel didn’t need to be as concerned about making money, what things would the company publish? What would be the ultimate (no pun intended) vision of Marvel Comics?

Quesada: We’re already aggressive with trying different genres but we would be able to look less at the bottom line and just let certain things fly. It’s tough to say without something already in front of you.

Thomas: Neil Gaiman’s 1602 is one of the most closely guarded secrets in comics. How are you guys keeping information about the series on the down low?

Quesada: We haven’t told anyone, but with the competition knocking on my door, I doubt this book will break the top 10.

Thomas: You recently had a bit of a public disagreement with Captain Marvel scribe Peter David. Some took comments made during the exchange to mean that you aren’t cool with freelance creators criticizing the company they cash checks from. Is this true or an overstatement?

Quesada: Yes, everyone blows off steam, it happens and in most cases the talent either apologizes or gives you a heads-up. Peter does neither and has made a career of it. Peter has never called me to express a problem, he has chosen, ALWAYS to put it in his column for us to see for the first time along with his readers. Not cool, simply not cool. Remember this is the guy that many years ago called Marvel “The House of IDEA.”

As always, I will preface this by saying that I like Peter and it’s not personal, but you can’t write an outsider column while you’re an insider and not expect to have an employer be really angry about it. It’s like a professional writer writing a comic critique column rating another writer’s work. You can do it but no one will think that you’re cool for doing it. You online guys don’t like it when other online guys critique your sites or columns; now imagine if that person worked for you. It’s really simple.

Thomas: Speaking of online guys, what’s the biggest story that neither Rich Johnston nor Alan Donald have gotten hold of?

Quesada: There was ORIGIN and there are about five right now that they don’t have a clue about including 1602.

Thomas: As an EiC, where are you in terms of your life cycle? Are you almost done with running Marvel, or have things only begun?

Quesada: I wish I could tell you, I’m having tons of fun, there is no better company in the world to work for than Marvel, but I’m also well aware that my time is limited, you can’t be EiC forever. How long I’ll stick around, I have no idea, it can be a week it can be 10 years. I just don’t want to overstay my welcome to the point where one day I’m a hindrance to Marvel, my editors, my freelancers and myself. It’s the greatest job in the world as long as you have ideas in your head and I’ve got tons of them, and I got a boss who has just as many. I look forward to every day that I get to come to work, but I also look forward to the day that I can just sit in my own home and draw the days away. Perhaps that’s the only certainty I have in my future whether it’s as EIC or not.

Thomas: Thanks Joe. Best of luck with Tsunami and the rest of 2003.

Next week: J Hues and I take another trip “behind the panels” to review the first issue of Marvel’s new MAX series Rawhide Kid. In seven, it’s Raw Dog…

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