FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK: Tom Brevoort

Fri, September 19th, 2008 at 3:17pm PDT | Updated: September 19th, 2008 at 4:55pm

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer
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Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo's "Fantastic Four" and Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting's "Captain America" are among Tom Brevoort's career highlights at Marvel

Last week we began our in-depth look at the mysterious world of comic book editors by chatting with Marvel Comics Executive Editor Axel Alonso, who overseas the publisher’s X-Men line, among other projects. FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK continues today as we talk with Executive Editor Tom Brevoort.

One of Marvel’s top editors, Brevoort has worked on such auspicious projects as Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s “Fantastic Four”; Kurt Busiek’s “Avengers” and “JLA/Avengers”; Karl Kesel and Wieringo’s Amalgam one-shot “Spider-Boy”; Busiek and Mike Allred’s 1986 “Untold Tales of Spider-Man Annual”; “New Avengers” by Brian Bendis; Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s “Civil War”; Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s “Omega: The Unknown”; Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s “Captain America”; Busiek and Carlos Pachecho’s “Avengers Forever”; “Avengers ½” by Roger Stern and Bruce Timm; “The Twelve” by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston; and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure.”

Brevoort is also responsible for bringing back the Marvel Masterworks, as well as another very special comic: “It's really nothing to do with me outside of the fact that I was the one who made the phone call, but Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did their contribution to the ‘Heroes 9-11’ benefit book through my office. I've kept Alan's fax of the script in my files ever since.”

The first comic book Brevoort remembers reading was “Superman” #268, a story titled “Wild Weekend in Washington.” “From there, I started to pick up other comics,” Brevoort told CBR News. The younger Brevoort wasn’t a fan of Marvel books until many years later. “I happened to hit bad or off-putting issues of various titles that didn't appeal to me--for several years in my youth, I thought that Marvel sucked. It was only once I'd gotten a little older that I found the appeal of the Marvel characters and books, and again that was primarily fueled by reprints of the classic Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] and Steve [Ditko] stories--so clearly the comics of the 1960s resonated with me, even though I wasn't around to have read them firsthand.”

Mark Millar & Steve McNiven's "Civil War" and Kurt Busiek & George Perez's "JLA/Avengers" are among Tom Brevoort's career highlights at Marvel

Brevoort knew almost from the time he started reading comics that a career in the industry was something he wanted to pursue. “Like so many others, I began to make my own comics, typically thinly-modified versions of the characters I loved,” he said. “By the time I reached college age, though, I'd gone through a whole cycle of comic book reading: starting with the DC stuff, expanding into the Marvel books, and then increasingly outwards into the then-exploding realm of the new independent publishers. I found the work being done in the indie arena more interesting and appealing. I became a devotee of creators like Dave Sim, and embraced some of his philosophies about self-publishing and expanding the medium.”

Inspired by the indie self-publishing movement, Brevoort enrolled in the illustration program at the University of Delaware. “And on the first day of orientation, the head of the department walked the Freshmen through the educational track of the program, and how in your Senior year you'd be expected to get an internship somewhere within the field. ‘One of our graduates even did an internship at Marvel Comics,’ he said--and that was all I needed to hear. From that moment on, that was going to be me. To this day, I have no idea who that other U of D grad who interned at Marvel before me was.”

The X-Men’s world is in the hands of Axel Alonso, but most of the Marvel Universe falls under Brevoort’s aegis as Executive Editor. Brevoort works on “Fantastic Four,” the three Avengers titles and their related series, as well as a number of specials and limited series. Additionally, Brevoort oversees the work of seven other editors, associate editors and assistant editors working on titles starring characters like Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Thunderbolts, Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Girl, Iron Fist. “I also oversee Mark Paniccia's Marvel Universe titles, though Mark doesn't directly report to me,” Brevoort added. “So that involves me in stuff like ‘Hulk’ and ‘Skaar’ and ‘Agents of Atlas.’”

Tom Brevoort oversees the work of other editors on titles including "Nova" and "The Immortal Iron Fist"

The editors Brevoort works closely with include “Amazing Spider-Man” editor Steve Wacker and assistant editor Tom Brennan; “Thor” editor Warren Simons and assistant editor Alejandro Arbona; “Nova” editor Bill Rosemann and assistant editor Lauren Henry; and associate editor Jeanine Schaefer, who works directly with Brevoort and will soon edit “Spider-Woman.” “I actually sit in the same office with Steve, Tom and Jeanine, so I'm in constant contact with them, and I see everybody else daily,” Brevoort explained. “On any of the books my guys are working on, I read the script and give comments, and I read the lettered black-and-white comic and give comments. This is also true for the Mark P titles I'm involved with. I average something like eight scripts or black-and-whites a day, on top of everything else. Because we're spread out all over the place in terms of the geography of the Marvel U, there hasn't been a real need to have regular weekly group meetings.”

There’s no such thing as a “typical” workday for Tom Brevoort. Explained the editor, “In any given week, I'm focused on sending a number of books to the printer, both the ones directly in my care and those being edited by my lieutenants. I'll be reading and commenting on a number of scripts and lettering, and discussing my thoughts with the editors involved. I'll be reading and responding to three-million e-mails about a variety of subjects, from creators working on the books, people in other departments at Marvel who need something, comic journalists, and fans. I'll be on the phone with creators, most typically writers, on a regular basis--I speak to guys like Brian Bendis and Dan Slott directly at least once a week. I try to write a blog posting at least a couple times a week. I'll go to meetings about various things, both directly related to the comics and otherwise.”

Brian Bendis' "New Avengers" and Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s "Omega: The Unknown" are among Tom Brevoort's career highlights at Marvel

Brevoort stays in close contact with his writers because of the need to discuss things like storyline particulars and the availability of characters. “It's simply a matter of maximizing the effectiveness of my time, as there are only so many hours in the day,” Brevoort remarked. “Doesn't mean I don't love my artists, but most of their concerns can be dealt with effectively by Jeanine (so there's still contact with the office.) And of course I'll communicate more with some than with others, that's the nature of the beast. Every writer is different, as is the way they approach their craft, so I'll try to tailor my interactions to each individual, to accommodate the way they work.”

The idea that editors use their position to tamper with characters is just one of the many misconceptions Brevoort feels people have about his job. “There's also that personal empowerment thing where [fans believe] the editors clearly don't love the characters or have respect for the characters the way certain fans do,” Brevoort said. “Beyond that, most readers don't understand the job of the editor at all--we're a convenient target when they don't like something. Which really means they understand the job perfectly well, because a big part of it is to be the person responsible. One of my little aphorisms is, ‘Creators get the credit; editors get the blame.’ And I don't mean that to be defensive, or to rail against injustice--that's just what the job is, so if you're going to do it well, you need to accept these conditions. Virtually nobody buys a comic book because of the editor (though they often will because of what the editor does.)”

Over the years, Brevoort learned a number of useful lessons that he still heeds today as an Executive Editor. “I hate to say it, but a lot of the lessons I learned were along the lines of ‘what not to do.’ When I came into Marvel in 1989, there was an editorial philosophy--established by Jim Shooter's regime, and carried over into Tom DeFalco's era--that the editors were the ones who made the comics, rather than the creators, that they were the important ones. And coming from the mindset of independent comics, I knew that was wrong. So I could never quite get on board with it, and I saw several occasions where somebody would louse up a perfectly good project through an inflated sense of self-importance.

Tom Brevoort edits "Secret Invasion"

“Now, it wasn't all bad, of course—I learned a hell of a lot of technical stuff about putting together a comic book, theories of storytelling, different approaches to art, and the vagaries of creating mechanicals and doing paste-ups -- talents which are largely useless to me in this digital age. There were a lot of very talented, very knowledgeable people in the place. But at its heart, the mindset was flawed, and that hubris is part of what led to the formation of Image Comics.”

In recent years, Brevoort’s tackled the difficult task of editing Marvel’s Big Event stories. He’s worked on House of M, Civil War, and he’s currently overseeing Secret Invasion. “What keeps me coming back to the event stories is that I'm pretty much responsible for overseeing much of the central core of the Marvel Universe, so there's almost no way I couldn't be involved--it wouldn't make sense for somebody else to handle an event storyline that was going to impact in a major way on all of my titles,” Brevoort explained. “Plus, I seem to be pretty good at it. But, for example, when ‘House of M’ was first discussed, it was going to just be this little Magneto, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch limited series. And there was a bit of miscommunication between myself and Mike Marts, who then was editing the X-Books, over who was going to be handling it. And I remember going to Mike and saying, ‘I don't know why I'm fighting over this, just because it comes out of ‘Avengers: Disassembled.’ If you want to do it, go ahead.’ And then, a few days later, we had the big creator summit at which Bendis outlined his larger ideas for ‘House of M’ (he hadn't been attached to it at that point as writer) and I had to go back to Mike and say, ‘Sorry, but now that Brian is doing this, and it's going to impact on my world more than your world, I think I really need to do it.’ And that was that.”

Tom Brevoort edited "House of M"

For a Big Event story to be successful and resonate with fans, Brevoort believes it needs to have certain ingredients. “The Big Event story grows out of an almost childlike paradigm: what if there was one big story in which all of the super heroes got together and fought all of the super-villains and it was awesome? For an Event story to work, you have to achieve a certain amount of this,” Brevoort said. “You need to involve a lot of characters, ideally most of the central axis of your publishing universe. You need to have an interesting, easy-to-grasp premise, one that relates in some way to the stories of the past but isn't so weighted down with obscure continuity that a relatively new reader can't hop on board and understand what he's reading. And you need to leave some lasting mark on the landscape of your publishing universe--something needs to have changed as a result of the story. If you can hit all three of these points, you've got a pretty good chance of having a successful event.”

Big Event stories are usually Marvel’s top selling titles, but like all editors at the House of Ideas, Tom Brevoort’s worked on some books that he was very enthusiastic about that failed to resonate with fans. “It's typically the new stuff that has a hard time finding an audience--for all that we hear constantly from readers that they want something different, it's incredibly difficult to reach a critical mass on a title that doesn't feature established characters,” Brevoort explained. “I try to do one or two new things every year, though, partly as a way of replenishing the gene pool of the Marvel Universe. So while things like ‘Skrull Kill Krew’ or ‘The Hood’ or ‘Livewires’ may not have been tremendous sellers when they were first released, they were all worth doing because they added more life to the Marvel U--and even though it might take a decade as in the case of the Kill Krew, those investments in the future tend to pay off in the long terms.”

Brevoort maintains his Blah Blah Blog at Marvel.com, which gives him a chance to inform readers more regularly as to what his duties at Marvel actually are. “Before the blog, I used to spend a lot of time hopping around the net, answering questions here and there and interacting with people,” Brevoort said. “In all honesty, it wasn't very effective, and it wasn't really accomplishing much. But by having a single place where I communicate with the readership, it's given the people who are interested a specific place to go. It's also let me peel back the curtain a little bit, and illuminate what an editor actually does, and showcase some of the behind-the-scenes material involved in putting together a comic book story.”

Brevoort enjoys working with new talents like Paul Cornell ("Captain Britain and MI:13") and friends like Dan Slott ("Amazing Spider-Man")

Like Axel Alonso, one of the highlights of Brevoort’s role as Executive Editor is the chance to work closely with many of comics’ best up-and-coming creators. “I think Paul Cornell has a strong, unique voice. Khoi Pham is really developing nicely on ‘Mighty Avengers.’ Stefano Caselli's made tremendous strides in the year he's been drawing ‘Avengers: The Initiative.’ Jonathan Hickman's got a great, distinctive point of view. Of course, my buddy Dan Slott. Really, the overall level of talent in the industry, particularly writing talent, has just skyrocketed in the last decade--so proportionately, the bar has been set higher. But there's good stuff to be found almost anywhere you look.”

Toms Brevoort is particularly excited about the developments and new titles spinning out of the current Secret Invasion event, including a Spider-Woman series by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev, a War Machine series by Greg Pak and Leonardo Manco, and “Secret Warriors,” the new Nick Fury series by Bendis and Jonathan Hickman. “And that's just the stuff we can tell you about for now,” Brevoort teased. “There are also some big changes coming for the whole line of Avengers titles that should excite some and terrify others. Andy Diggle and Rob De La Torre on ‘Thunderbolts.’ And big, explosive plans for the universally-praised ‘Amazing Spider-Man,’ everybody's favorite comic.”

Brevoort’s internship in the late 1980s was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with Marvel, and he’s been with the company ever since. “Working in comics is fun! It's work, of course, and it can be a big pain-in-the-ass like any other job, but it's a hell of a lot more appealing that digging ditches or working on spreadsheets,” Brevoort remarked. “I enjoy what I do, Marvel compensates me pretty well for it, and I get to play with all of these cool characters and work with all of these talented creators--what's not to like?”

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TAGS:  from the editor's desk, tom brevoort, marvel comics, secret invasion, civil war

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