The Column: Issue #9

Fri, September 20th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Mark Millar, Columnist

THE CHAIR (1 of 3)

[Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas]
Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas.
One of them's a Harvard graduate, the other's an accomplished pianist and singer from the New York music scene. One of them's a former VP at the NBA, the other's an award-winning artist who's stint on Daredevil saw sales jump by an unprecedented 500%. Together, they've formed the most successful partnership in comics since the formation of Image back in 1992 and were the main players in hauling Marvel from a bankrupt abyss into a creative renaissance. Interviewing one without the other just didn't seem right so this week features the tag-team of Joe and Bill, each answering twenty of the most interesting questions posed by readers on the www.millarworld.biz message boards. JOE QUESADA is first in the chair.

Mark Millar: With so many good DC books out there at the moment, why should readers buy Marvel books anymore?

Joe Quesada: Because they're cheaper.

MM: Has dropping the Comics Code made a difference to Marvel or the industry at large as some people predicted last year?

JQ: Absolutely none! The big bad wolves of the US Government have been somehow kept at bay. The Mother's of America have focused elsewhere and for lack of a better word, the grand old men of the comic's industry were selling us a false bill of goods. What's funny is that we probably haven't needed the code for the last 10 years but it made certain people in charge feel all warm and cozy inside. My prediction is that in 3 years only Archie will still be using the code.

MM: In the last two years, Marvel Comics has aggressively courted the big names, but a few (like Ellis and Azzarello) have signed exclusives with DC. What did DC have which Marvel couldn't match?

JQ: Beats me. We don't really have a relationship with Ellis and we would never offer Az an exclusive because he has pre-existing work at AOLC. What we did manage to give Az was his highest selling book ever with Cage, we had just started our relationship with him when we heard that he signed his exclusive.

MM: Is Marvel still planning a vertigo-style creator owned line?

JQ: You're talking about 2 different things here. First Vertigo is not all creator owned. Secondly, creator owned is not a genre. Yes, we will be doing creator owned but we will not be creating an imprint for it. That would be the surest way to have it fail. One needs to assume that the Marvel logo is good for a certain number of guaranteed sales, so if a creator decides to do creator owned then he or she would benefit from that Marvel logo on their cover not some new creator owned imprint. Also, we're not interested in doing creator owned for any creator that comes to us with a project. What Image does they do better than anyone. We will only really be doing creator owned with the creators who have made Marvel a home, guys like Mark Millar for example.

MM: Several high profile creators, such as Alex Ross, won't commit to doing big sequential projects for Marvel because they feel DC offer a better royalty package. Joe said when he took over that one of his priorities was to review the situation where Marvel don't pay, for example, foreign royalties. Has this situation been reviewed?

JQ: Hmm, several? I love how we throw words like that around. Could you name 2 more? The problem lies within a foreign licensing deal that Marvel made with Panini that was done during our bankruptcy. It was a smart deal at the time because it put much needed cash in the company but the deal is still in existence. This deal made it impossible for Marvel to recoup certain foreign royalties for creators. This was only really an issue for Alex because without any TPB program at Marvel at the time, his was the only book that was really doing any sort of foreign business. The other thing to consider is that whatever amount a creator may lose in foreign which for the most part will be minimal unless you have a "Marvels" in your history, we more than make up with domestic royalties since Marvel books sell more on average which means that there are more titles breaking the royalty threshold. Anyway, the deal with Panini is currently winding down so we'll see what happens. [Mark, Bill will have a better answer for this anyway]

MM: At the moment, Marvel pay roughly two per cent of cover price as a royalty for the whole creative team whereas DC pay 2 per cent to each creator. It's true, their royalty package kicks in at sales over seventy thousand, but this means anything selling over a hundred thousand is going to make the creators substantially more money for the creators at DC than Marvel. How do you feel about this?

JQ: It's one of those things that looks great on paper. Marvel's royalty threshold is significantly lower than AOLC's which means that there are more books making royalties. The real test is how many AOLC books are actually breaking the 70,000 mark? How many do they want to promote to reach that mark? Let's see as of today's count I have between 15 to 16 books making incentives for creators, that's almost a third of my line. It's very easy to offer a high royalty rate if the threshold number is unattainable. On paper it looks great but the reality is that AOLC is only paying out a royalty to perhaps one or two titles. Also keep in mind that we pay most of our creators better which is like receiving the money up front (regardless if Their book is going to make a royalty) and our incentive payment program on our exploding TPB business is much better than AOLC. Ultimately, creators make more money working on Marvel titles, we're much easier to work with on an editorial level and professional level, we're a small company so issues get handled right away by the top people (creators call me directly with problems) and we're a whole lot cuter.

Also, Mark, you above all others know of the super, special, secret perks that one gets when they work for Marvel, nudge-nudge-wink-wink.

MM: Is it true that if Marvel collect a series within six months of publication that they don't have to pay the creators any royalties on the book? (quick aside, I know this isn't true, but three different fans asked this so it's probably best to set the record straight).

JQ: Mark, you as one of our freelancers knows this is a complete fabrication and that nice new mansion you just moved into is proof of this.

MM: The focus at Marvel these past two years has been to court superstar creators in the hope of boosting sales. Does this make it impossible for newcomers to break into Marvel?

JQ: It makes it harder for anyone to come to Marvel. We've raised the bar so anyone coming to our door has to elevate their game. A sport's franchise analogy works best in this case. If you have a team filled with veteran superstars does it mean that a rookie from the minor leagues or a seasoned great veteran can't get a gig? No, not at all, it just means that that rookie has to be exceptional and show great promise and the vet has to elevate his game to the level of the existing talent. A perfect example of the two are Daniel Way, a young up and comer and a guy like Bruce Jones who's been around for a very long time. Both have proven that they belong on this championship team!

MM: Marvel was accused of cronyism a lot during the nineties where editors were hiring their friends and each other to write Marvel comic-books. More recently, the cronyism accusation has been raised again with well-known names from outside the industry being given several high profile books. How do you respond to this?

JQ: The same way I respond to every ridiculous Marvel accusation, I laugh. Would we consider having Kevin Smith here cronyism? I mean he's one of my dearest friends (before ever getting a Marvel gig) yet he's an amazingly talented writer? Ron Zimmerman, who people accuse of getting a gig at Marvel because he's a friend, is another of those stupid accusations. We hired Ron long before any of us even knew or spoke to him. And guess what, he's an amazing talent too and folks will realize this as soon as they give his work a shot. Ultimate Adventures and Rawhide Kid will hopefully open people's eyes.

MM: What players do the other teams have that you'd like to sign?

JQ: I never answer this question because as soon as I do they start to throw contracts at people. Why give my competition a head's up?

MM: In the mid-eighties, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Marvel Wolfman and Howard Chaykin said they wouldn't work for DC because they were considering a ratings system. Does Marvel's recent ratings system mean that none of these four guys would work for Marvel?

JQ: I don't know, I've never spoken to them about it. It's also a different world and people change so you never know.

MM: Is it okay for a book to be late if it sells well and wins awards? Hitch and I are hoping, of course, that the answer is yes to that question.

JQ: Selling well is important, awards are really meaningless in the long run for a publisher because awards don't pay employees salaries and make for good page rates for talent. It means a lot for the creators but in the end doesn't add up to an extra sale but they're nice to put up on the mantle. The real trick is to be successful enough that you have great numbers and awards.

MM: Do you pay Frank Quitely by the hour?

JQ: Thank God no, he would be King of Glasgow by now and you would be his lowly Piss Boy.

MM: Why does Diamond have a monopoly?

JQ: This one I'm going to leave for greater minds than mine, perhaps Mr. Bill J would like to tackle it.

MM: Why is their no new Men In Black comic when Marvel owns the rights and the movies are huge?

JQ: There are a number of reason but Men in Black is just one of those concepts that works better on the screen and not as a comic. If memory serves, even the original comic never did well.

MM: Where is Marvel's untapped market?

JQ: Take a look out your window, you see all those millions of people...

MM: The mainstream press has recently picked up the story of how your team has pulled Marvel from bankruptcy and made it successful again. Rumour has it that this has caught the eye of Warner execs and you're both being courted to replace the President and Editor-In-Chief of DC Comics. Is this true?

JQ: A loud mouth like me?

MM: Your salaries are made public every year when Marvel opens their books. Do you think you are paid more or less than other people in the industry who occupy the same positions?

JQ: I don't care what others are being paid as long as I feel like I'm being treated fairly.

MM: Your press releases always make a big deal of pointing out that Marvel occupies most of the top twenty and sales are increasing, but September 2001 to September 2002 figures show that around a dozen high profile books have actually SHRUNK in numbers over the last twelve months. Is this an accurate assessment?

JQ: Oy, here we go again. There is always attrition in titles no matter what years in this modern era you look at (with the exception of the speculator glut years). Here are a few things to really look at.

Last September the highest selling Marvel comic, Ultimates did not exist. Black Cat was also not in publication yet. That is a considerable amount of units that put a lot of money in retailers hands that your question is ignoring.

Compare Marvel TPB sales for retailers last year as opposed to this year. Last year we were just beginning the program.

There was no hard cover program last year, which also puts considerable coin in retailer's pockets.

Attrition is a natural state for our industry; titles start at a high number and go progressively downward. You can spike from time to time to help but the trend continues for everyone, the key is to keep the erosion to a workable number. The fact that Green Arrow #14 didn't sell as much as Green Arrow #1 doesn't make it any less of a healthy book. It was a spectacular performing title.

Most importantly and this is crucial. In September of last year if you were to look at the numbers as opposed to the year before and the year before that you would find that every book for the most part was suffering attrition. If you were looking to find a book that was actually growing in sales you would have found maybe one, probably Ultimate Spider-Man last year from the previous September. This year compared to last September you actually have 9 titles that have grown in sales! That is the magnificent figure; we have finally stopped attrition across a significant part of our entire line! Now add to this that many of these titles are shipping twice a month and you can see the additional revenue to retailers that is also betrayed by your question. Also, many of the high profile books that have lost some sales due to natural attrition are also shipping twice a month. So if title X lost let's say 2% of its total sales since last year but it's shipping twice as often, what's the real loss here? If you want a real eye-opening figure find how many titles industry wide have grown from last September, I think you'll find the number shocking.

Moreover, even with attrition, the entire industry has improved from last year and that's the real positive news.

Bill can also give you the hard numbers that show the industry growth.

MM: Aliens say that unless you have sex with either Paul Levitz or Mark Alessi, they're going to destroy our world. Who do you choose?

JQ: I guess I'm going to be some Alien's bitch.

BILL JEMAS is next in The Chair, giving us not only his own answers but, in the interests of fair-play and universal equilibrium, the answers of a fictional, rival comic-book publisher known only as Laul Pevitz. He faces the same questions posed by the same readers as before.

Mark Millar: With so many good DC books out there at the moment, why should readers buy Marvel books anymore?

Bill Jemas: So they can read some GREAT ones.

Laul Pevitz: Typical. That's the typical insolent Marvel response to a serious question from a true comic book fan.

MM: Has dropping the Comics Code made a difference to Marvel or the industry at large as some people predicted last year?

BJ: Well, the predictions were that Sentinels would mulch our testicles.

LP: I said, "Senators would make us testify."

MM: In the last two years, Marvel Comics has aggressively courted the big names, but a few (like Warren Ellis and Brian Azzarello) have signed exclusives with DC. What did DC have which Marvel couldn't match?

BJ: Laul Pevitz.

LP: Screw you.

MM: Is Marvel still planning a Vertigo-style, creator-owned line?

BJ: You mean a creator-owned line that nobody but the creators and their friends want to read? No, I hadn't thought of that. We do plan on publishing creator-owned work from the best and brightest talent in the industry.

LP: And from Mark Millar?

MM: Several high-profile creators, such as Alex Ross, won't commit to doing big sequential projects for Marvel because they feel DC offer a better royalty package. When he took over, Joe said that one of his priorities was to review the situation where Marvel doesn't pay, for example, foreign royalties. Has this situation been reviewed?

BJ: Here's the math: Marvel pays more money. DC pays more percentages. You can't eat percentages.

LP: For the uninitiated, let me translate that bit of "Jemasspeak." Here we have a legitimate request from the creative community -- please pay us our fair share on foreign sales. It is a lot of work to do that, and DC does it -- gladly. Marvel just pockets the money and pleads poverty.

MM: At the moment, Marvel pays roughly 2 percent of cover price as a royalty for the whole creative team whereas DC pays 2 percent to each creator. It's true, their royalty package kicks in at sales over seventy thousand, but this means anything selling over a hundred thousand is going to make the creators substantially more money for the creators at DC than Marvel. How do you feel about this?

BJ: Here's the math: Marvel pays more money. DC pays more percentages. You can't eat percentages.

LP: At DC, we carefully manage 99% of books to sales levels that are between 5% and 75% below the 70,000 landmine.

MM: Is it true that if Marvel collects a series within six months of publication that they don't have to pay the creators any royalties on the book? (Quick aside: I know this isn't true, but three different fans asked this so it's probably best to set the record straight).

BJ: Mark, I would appreciate it if you would print this question without deleting your parenthetical. The Internet may be the information superhighway, but when it passes through Comicville, it devolves into a winding dirt road strewn with big clumps of goat crap like that one. You can't find a message board that isn't clogged up with lies, white and black, about Marvel. (Quick aside: thanks for the fat pitch.)

LP: Where there is smoke there is fire. Everybody knows that Marvel is up to no good. Jemas, we know you are up to something, and someday we are going to find it.

MM: The focus at Marvel these past two years has been to court superstar creators in the hope of boosting sales. Does this make it impossible for newcomers to break into Marvel?

BJ: Don't forget, before these past two years, it really was nearly impossible for a superstar creator to break into Marvel. You were a GOB [good ol' boy] or you were SOL [$% outta luck].

Right now, we would like nothing better to recruit the next wave of creative superstars. I expect to spend a significant amount of my own time over the next year trying to do that.

LP: More "Jemasspeak." He will spend his time watching the editors at DC, Vertigo and Wildstorm recruiting and training new talent. Then he'll wait until we have some little creative dispute and swoop in like a SWAT team and steal them away at a time when they are so angry at me that they don't notice what an a-hole he is.

MM: Marvel was accused of cronyism a lot during the nineties where editors were hiring their friends and each other to write Marvel comic books. More recently, the cronyism accusation has been raised again with well-known names from outside the industry being given several high profile books. How do you respond to this?

BJ: Of course, when Marvel brings in a "well-known name," their projects are, almost by definition, going to be high profile.

LP: And they say I'm full of $%&*

MM: What players do the other teams have that you'd like to sign?

BJ: John Irving, but he may be out of our league.

LP: Washington Irving is out of his league.

MM: In the mid-eighties, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Marv Wolfman and Howard Chaykin said they wouldn't work for DC because they were considering a ratings system. Does Marvel's recent ratings system mean that none of these four guys would work for Marvel?

LP: They all work for me. I am the boss of them.

MM: Is it okay for a book to be late if it sells well and wins awards? Hitch and I are hoping, of course, that the answer is yes to that question.

Jemas: Check's in the mail.

Pevitz: Check's in the mail.

Malessi: Check's in the mail.

MM: Do you pay Frank Quitely by the hour?

BJ: Yeah, and his checks go by Pony Express.

MM: Why does Diamond have a monopoly?

BJ: They would say they don't.

LP: They all call me Mister Pevitz down at Diamond.

MM: Why isn't there a new Men In Black comic when Marvel owns the rights and the movies are huge?

LP: DC can publish a Men in Black comic and pay Marvel a royalty . . .

MM: Where is Marvel's untapped market?

BJ: In the millions of fans who loved the Spider-Man movie and who barely know what a comic book is -- yet.

MM: The mainstream press has recently picked up the story of how your team has pulled Marvel from bankruptcy and made it successful again. Rumour has it that this has caught the eye of Warner execs and you're both being courted to replace the President and Editor-In-Chief of DC Comics. Is this true?

BJ: No comment.

LP: What part of "screw you" didn't you understand?

MM: Your salaries are made public every year when Marvel opens their books. Do you think you are paid more or less than other people in the industry who occupy the same positions?

BJ: I never cease to be amazed at the positions people occupy in this industry.

MM: Your press releases always make a big deal of pointing out that Marvel occupies most of the top twenty and sales are increasing, but September 2001 to September 2002 figures show that around a dozen high-profile books have actually SHRUNK in numbers over the last twelve months. Is this an accurate assessment?

Unit Share Summary 02 YTD
Est. Product
Ship Month
Initial
Orders
Total
Orders
Diff.
January 2002 43.32% 37.08% -6.24%
February 2002 39.13% 42.54% 3.41%
March 2002 39.13% 43.16% 4.03%
April 2002 40.88% 41.04% 0.16%
May 2002 39.44% 42.17% 2.73%
June 2002 44.06% 43.47% -0.59%
July 2002 41.19%  
August 2002 48.17%  

View the chart by clicking the image above.
You'll need the Adobe Acrobat reader.
BJ: The stat isn't accurate, but the chart that I'm providing is, and comes directly from Diamond.

LP: More Jemasspeak. He's trying to distract you from the shrinking number charts that are also from Diamond and they are every bit as accurate.

MM: Aliens say that unless you have sex with either Paul Levitz or Mark Alessi, they're going to destroy our world. Who do you choose?

BJ: A guy goes camping with his buddy. The buddy goes to take a leak in the bushes and gets bitten (you know where) by a rattlesnake. Guy hauls ass to the nearest phone, which is 50 miles from the nearest doctor.

The doctor gets on the phone and says, "There is no time to lose. You must go back to your buddy immediately. Take a pocket knife, make a tiny incision over each puncture wound and then suck out the poison."

The guy says, "Oh come on…."

The doctor says, "You must do this within the next 10 minutes or your buddy is going to die."

The guy hauls back to camp.

His buddy asks, "What did the Doctor say?"

The guy replies, "Doc says you're gonna die."

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