Digital Royalties & Avengers Summits

Mon, June 28th, 2010 at 3:28am PDT

Comic Books
Joe Quesada, Columnist

Welcome back to another no holds barred installment of CUP O' JOE! Exclusively here at CBR, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada opens up the minds of the Marvelous, revealing the ins and outs of everything from comics to animation and beyond!

Driven by a regular string of responses to the boldest questions submitted on the CBR message boards for our CUP O' Q&A feature, we present loads of CUP O' JOE content across our mini-site from the latest installments of Joe's regular interviews with the CBR staff, CUP O' DOODLES sketch fests, polls, videos and more!

This week, the talk of the comics internet is once again on digital comics, but rather than the unpacking of Marvel's latest plans, discussion has centered on the particulars of their Distinguished Competition's recent digital rollout and the thorny question of how creators will be compensated. Below, Joe Q explains why many assumptions about Marvel's digital royalties plans may be missing the mark and defends the company's record on that front. Along the way, he'll give a sneak peek into the creative minds at last week's Marvel Avengers summit, reveal some exclusive art from "Avengers" #3, take some fan questions and make a special announcement about the future of Marvel and CBR!

CUP O' JOE is Executive Produced by Jonah Weiland and Produced by Kiel Phegley.

Story continues below

Kiel Phegley: Well, Joe, I understand you've spent most of your week at Marvel's latest Avengers Summit with some of the company's top talent, and there's plenty of that to discuss in a moment. But in the meantime, the hot topic online has been DC's long-rumored digital comics rollout. There's actually a lot to discuss about this as well, specifically involving Marvel. Ater our talk last time where you had said how you think other companies are learning lessons from what Marvel does right and wrong, I thought I'd start by asking your general response to DC's whole announcement. Are there things there you see that Marvel might learn from, or conversely, things you think Marvel's doing that DC isn't?

Joe Quesada: I don't know if there's really anything to learn yet. All DC has done at this moment is just announce that they are slowly getting into the realm of digital comics. We've been way ahead of this curve for some time, including saying on several occasions that we will be paying creator incentives. So, I think it's a great announcement for DC, that they’re getting into the game. Good for them, their creators, and the comics industry as a whole.

EXCLUSIVE: John Romita Jr. pages from "Avengers" #3

Kiel Phegley: Well, the big talk as far as Marvel is concerned is this hubbub over royalties from digital sales. There seems to have been some Twitter push back against the perception that DC is the first company to offer payments to creators from digital sales. Marvel's C.B. Cebulski Tweeted that said idea was untrue and got some Retweet love from yourself, Brian Bendis and others, and later on Tom Brevoort made his own statements to that effect. To take all the issues surrounding this piece by piece, has Marvel been paying royalties to its creators on sales of digital comics?

Joe Quesada: Yeah, I sort of came across the DC announcement a bit later than everyone else, so it felt like a lot had already gone down and been said on our side. That's why I merely retweeted something C.B. had already posted.

But this is all really just a tempest in a teapot, to me. Going pretty far back, in discussions about electronically/digitally distributed comics, our publisher Dan Buckley stated at several convention panels and in interviews that we would be paying incentives for creators of these books. We just didn't put out a press release about it, and I guess some folks just didn't catch it when he said these things. But there you go, welcome to the world of the Internet.

Kiel Phegley: To clarify the specifics of Marvel's plan a bit more, why did the royalty program take longer to get in place than the digital comics sales platforms?

Joe Quesada: Well, that's just the thing; it hasn't. Like all incentive programs, whether paper or electronic, sales are tabulated, math is done and then, eventually, checks go out. If you want specifics, okay I'll give you one: our first incentive checks for e-comics will be going out sometime right after San Diego Comic-Con. Announcing this, now maybe DC can put out a press release saying that they’re going to pay their incentives the week before San Diego. Cool, if they do that, then they’ll manage to be the first at something in the digital arena. [Laughs]

I'm kidding of course. But the reason I think this was so important for so many staffers and freelancers at Marvel to address individually online was because of the inaccuracy of the statements made and the fact that it struck at the core of something that we value and take very seriously, which is our relationship with our creators. There's a reason the top creators in the industry come to Marvel and choose to make it their home year in and year out, and that's quite simply because of the way we treat them. Are we perfect? Absolutely not, no company can be perfect – especially companies the size of Marvel and DC. But within the context of what it is that we do for a living, the huge number of freelancers that we deal with, and the tremendous amount of content that gets produced within a company the size of ours, I think we do an amazing job of keeping our talent happy and are always looking to manage their careers in the best ways possible.

So the long and short of it is that just because we didn't put out a press release announcing an incentive program doesn't mean that there isn't one in place.

But, let me be clear here; the whole realm of digital comics is brand new, so there will always be hiccups along the way and this will be true of any comics company. We’re just going to continue to do the best we can to continuously improve what it is that we do, and if that means learning that someone else has found a better methodology, then we’ll look into improving ours as well – just as other companies will look at us to find out how they can improve. This is the essence of business, the competition is good for everyone.

Kiel Phegley: The talk has been that Marvel's royalties will only apply to exclusive creators. If true, what's the reasoning behind this, and will that plan expand out to all creators whose work is sold through Marvel's digital platforms?

Joe Quesada: Wow, the Internet strikes again. I don't know where you've heard this, but it's not true. Incentives will be paid on the sale of e-comics regardless of whether a creator is exclusive or not.

EXCLUSIVE: Things get crazy in "Avengers" #3

Kiel Phegley: I think, really, the question people have been asking most about in terms of this is why Marvel hasn't been publicizing their plans for royalties in the same way DC did? Is there some specific reason why these issues aren't made public knowledge?

Joe Quesada: We just didn't think it was an issue. When we made our announcements that we would have electronic comics on the iPad, iPhone and PSP, that, to me, was the only real announcement that was important for the public to know. Internally what creators make, whether it be their page rate or incentives, wasn't really an announcement for the general public. The only time I guess an announcement like that would be important to make publicly would have to be if you're trying to win some sort of public relations war, which I kind of get in some ways. But when we announced our e-comics, the whole incentive issue wasn't anything we felt we had to advertise. What was important is the fact that we are now in that domain and looking to succeed beyond anyone's imagination and continue to preach the gospel of the world of comics. You know, now that I think about it maybe my initial answer to your first question was wrong - there might be something to learn here. Next time we announce a new publishing initiative, I'll see if our marketing team can make it a point to announce that we will be paying creators page rates, incentives and every other little thing we do behind-the-scenes. [Laughs]

Kiel Phegley: Lastly on this issue, this whole thing has brought up the general difference between Marvel and DC in terms of incentives and royalties for talent, from supposed expiration dates on rights to foreign rights and all sorts of other things. I'll admit that I know very little on the specifics of this, and I doubt most others who aren't creators do either, but rather than hash out contractual matters in the public space, I think the question I'd have for you is whether you think there's any kind of difference or disparity between Marvel and DC's royalty programs and whether those programs can affect either publisher's ability to recruit and keep talent happy?

Joe Quesada: There are differences I'm sure. I'm not privy to DC's entire incentive plan as I'm sure they’re not privy to the entirety of ours. But at the end of the day I'm sure we are better in some areas than they are and they are better than we are in some others. However, I think when you add it all together and you push and pull the numbers, it all breaks down to be about the same. It’s just coming from different pools. However, the big difference is the Marvel books on average and across the board sell more than DC books and that affects incentives in a very, very big way and it’s obvious that Marvel’s iPad announcement really helped cement us as the industry leader.

Speaking of which, have you checked out the Marvel app on the iPad and iPhone! Wow, it’s just amazing. I live on my iPad now, I can’t put the darn thing down…Damn You, Jobs!

See what I did just there?

Kiel Phegley: All right. As I said before, most of this has been happening with Marvel in partial absentia because of the big Avengers Summit. What can you say about who was all in town at the Marvel offices this week and the marching orders in terms of stories you were planning?

Joe Quesada: This week was one of many smaller family title summits that we have throughout the year. Avengers was the subject of the week so in attendance, aside from us editors, were Ed Brubaker, Bendis, Matt Fraction and Christos Gage, and the simple marching orders were to create the biggest and coolest Avengers Family stories we could come up with.

I think we succeeded.

This was one of the best summits I’ve been to in some time. Everyone’s juices were flowing, as I suspected might happen after taking a break from big event-style publishing. We actually had too much stuff and had to figure out how to parse it out properly and maybe put some ideas in our back pocket for another day. But as I like to say, these are high-class problems to have.

Kiel Phegley: We've talked a lot in the past about how vital these summits are, both for keeping things creatively energized at Marvel and in terms of building the line for the year. In this case, with the Heroic Age branding well under way, how has the discussion changed in the room? Have story ideas continued to revolve around their respective books, or are there some broader elements of crossover that we may see in the Avengers line coming up in the future?

EXCLUSIVE: The Mighty Thor gets violent

Joe Quesada: We’re talking about much broader stories at this point. Matt and Ed came to the table with a huge, let me re-emphasize huge idea for the Marvel U, and the entire room got stoked. It’s still at the bare-bones stage, but we found a great theme and structure by which to start hanging stories on. This will all most certainly change, gather momentum and get fleshed out once we have our next summit, which is our big Marvel U get together in which everyone is in the pool. This is really where the magic starts to happen, as more and more people start giving their input and look at the structure that we bring to the table with fresh eyes. It ends up being an incredibly exhausting creative endeavor but really priceless in the sense you have so many brilliantly creative brains locking in and doing the Borg hive-mind thing.

Kiel Phegley: We often hear stories of brand new series or big ideas breaking out of the jam sessions that happen at Marvel Summits. Without giving too much away, can you say if any creator really hit a home run in terms of launching some new Marvel Comics that'll be coming in the months ahead?

Joe Quesada: No, not yet, that’s the stuff that happens at the big Marvel U summit I just mentioned. Right now, the discussions we had were about the existing Avengers titles and the Avengers solo character titles. That was the sole focus of what we were looking at. I mean I don’t know, we kinda have these two movies coming out next about Thor and Captain America, so call me crazy, but it felt kind of important to make sure that the world of Avengers is rocking and rolling.

Kiel Phegley: Let's wrap with a few fan questions! Since you were just at an Avengers Summit, alemander's question seems pretty timely: "I was wondering if Marvel had plans to do any more renumbering with its titles? I doubt with the relaunch of the Avengers that it will get renumbered anytime, but it deserves to have the higher number. I am also a huge Iron Man fan and want his title to get back to its proper number."

Joe Quesada: Hey there, alemander, here’s the truth – while I’m not sure what our marketing team has up their sleeves, if renumbering a title gets it additional attention and higher circulation, then you can be pretty sure we’ll be doing it again down the road with whatever title it’s appropriate for. As for my own personal belief, I kinda like the big numbers, I love the legacy that speaks to. It’s also one of the reasons why I asked that my "O.M.I.T." storyline appear in the regular run of "Amazing Spider-Man." It would have been very easy to do it as a self-contained four-issue miniseries with a big fat #1 on it, but I personally dig that my story begins in "ASM" #638.

See what I did just there?

That's twice in one column, damn I'm good!

Kiel Phegley: Board Member rZi asked, "I was looking through your spider-man one more day sketchbook and there are a few head sketches of Norman Osbourne. Was there ever any plan to use him in the story? and if so, what were they?"

Joe Quesada: Yo, yo, yo, rZl, no there were never any plans for Norman Osborn to appear in "One More Day," at least none that I know of. JMS never mentioned it, nor was I expecting him to appear. Those head sketches were just me doodling for fun or trying to stay interested and awake during budget or scheduling meetings. Once I knew that I was going to draw the project, I just wanted to get into a Spidey headspace, so I was doodling all things Spider-Man.

Kiel Phegley: and to finish where we started with a question inspired by digital comics, Jeg 1701 asked, “thanks to the iPhone Marvel app, I've been reading The immortal iron fist, and I'm loving it! Why was this canceled and any chance of another Iron Fist ongoing?"

Joe Quesada: Well, Jeg 1701, Iron Fist originally went away because despite how much we loved the book, the great reviews, and the high ratings that each issue received, the sales were not there to support it on an ongoing basis. However we’ve kept it alive through collected editions, the Omnibus, and now through our digital comics initiatives. Read "Shadowland" and the "Power Man" tie-in series, and you may have an idea of where Iron Fist is going to show up next.

And speaking about things that go away and come back from time to time, I don’t think it’s a mystery that with all my new duties here at Marvel, that my doing this column on any weekly regularity has been a bit tougher to do than back in the days when Marvel was just merely the greatest comics company in the world. I’ll be honest with you, whenever a Friday goes by that I don’t get a chance to answer some CBR and reader’s questions, I can’t help but feel like I’m letting everyone down and the Marvel faithful may not be getting their heavy dose of what’s going on inside The House. So to try and cure that, I’m going to do my best to get to this column as time permits, but I’m also going to start providing everyone with a little T+A. That’s right, you heard me!

Executive Editors and certified Bobbsey Twins, Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso will be premiering a new column right here on CBR. Stay tuned for details.

See, I did it again!!!

Have some questions for Joe Quesada? Please visit the CUP O' Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Universe forum. It is from this dedicated thread that CBR's staff will pull questions for our next week's massive return to our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer session with Joe! Do it to it!

TAGS:  cup o joe, avengers, digital comics

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