Amongst the classic TV celebs, wrestlers and Star Trek cast members that populated the floor of this year's Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con, comics events, booths and talent also worked their way into the overall pop culture mix including one of the newest faces on the best-seller side of the superhero scene: Victor Gischler.
The crime novelist and Marvel Comics scribe saw his first sales chart-topping direct market book hit in July in the form of "X-Men" #1 – the only single issue to notch over 100,000 copies in sales estimates that month – which kick-started the heavily promoted "Curse of the Mutants" storyline.
CBR News caught up with Gischler on the show floor for his take on the sales success of his series and why it doesn't affect him too much, how he is approaching the building of a new X-Men book and team with the help of editorial and fan support, why Jubilee has become a lynchpin character for his story and who else will be playing a role as the war between mutants and vampires continues.
CBR News: Well, Victor, I suppose my first comment has to be "Congratulations!" "X-Men" debuted on the sales charts as #1 with over 100,000 copies sold. That must be a nice feeling.
Victor Gischler: It is! I've heard a few different numbers. I've heard some numbers that seemed pretty unlikely, but people told me that it did very well. A second printing with another variant cover is on the way. I don't think about that when I'm trying to sit down and work with the editors to write the very best story I can, but then later, when I hear the numbers, I'm glad.
Over the past year, Axel Alonso has been building up a push to bring X-Men back into the Marvel U. Part of that feels like a reaction to the idea that, over the past decade, "Avengers" has eclipsed "X-Men" as the biggest Marvel franchise. Do you see this book as a part of that rejoining of the two sides of Marvel in some way?
Well, I know that one of the things we want to do with the "X-Men" book is to get those characters interacting more with the rest of the Marvel U. That's the mission statement. We still want to preserve what it means to be and X-Man and be an X-Men book, but you know how it's been for the X-Men for a long time. They've been circling the wagons and fending off threats and fighting for their lives against extinction. This book is "Let's get a little bit more proactive. Let's get the X-Men out saving people and being heroes in a way that goes with the Marvel Universe." As far as the numbers [and who's at #1], we just want to make the best book we can. Obviously, Marvel headquarters wants to sell as many books as possible, but at my level as the writer, I'm just trying to figure out what the best story for readers is and create the best situation. One of the ways to do that is to get the X-Men out and interacting 9with the MArvel Universe] more.
In a recent interview, Axel stated that you and he and been talking for a long time about building up the vampire lore of the Marvel Universe without knowing how to fit that in, but then when the idea of the X-Men being the foil to that stuff came along, everything more or less took off.
It really was organic. It's like "Hey, we got a guy over here slicing bread, and that smells really good" and then on the other side of the room it's like, "Hey, we've got a guy over here with some really nice ham and cheese! Hey, wait a minute!" [Laughter] In hindsight, it was almost like "Duh! Of course, this has to all go together!" But for me, when we worked on "Death of Dracula," we worked hard not to just make it a good, fun story but to do something interesting with vampires in the Marvel Universe. I think – as happy as I am that "X-Men" is doing so well, and I am pleased – I think the big surprise pleasure of the year so far is when I was told "Death of Dracula" sold out very quickly. I had a lot of people come up to me and tell me, "Oh, 'Death of Dracula' was great!" That was really gratifying because we had a lot of people working hard on that book, and it was the spark that led to taking the vampires into the "X-Men" book. It was one of the highlights of my year.
Let's talk about the building blocks of the story in that sense. The one feeling I've got from the book so far is that while both of these species have things in common, there is a bit of a class war going on between them. The vampires are very old and aristocratic while the mutants are the young, upstart kids on the block. Is that something that you think about as you shape each side of the conflict?
A little. I think unconsciously, a little. But I think I've more focused on the similarities between the vampires and the mutants, and the reason is because when you focus on those similarities, the more you think, "Well, yeah, there are similarities, but come on! The vampires are the bad guys and the mutants are the good guys!" In a way, it has the reverse effect. Look how similar they are, but we really know who the good guys and bad guys are. That's been the strategy – the gut, reverse feeling.
"Uncanny" has become this X-Men book that's so much about involving all the mutant characters and this entire nation of people, and your series seems to be balancing that approach out a bit by utilizing a more controlled cast of players. How did you pick up who would feature strongly in the book? Was it a game of picking favorites from your past as a reader, or did you have to focus on who fits best with the story at hand more?
Part of it has to be "Who fits best?" This is the book that, since we're engaging the Marvel Universe, we want to bring in some people from the outside. It's like, "Hmmmm...we've got vampires. Okay. Blade is a no brainer." For instance, I'm already looking ahead for the next arc. I was going to take five X-Men on an adventure, but I've already pared that down to four. I just looked at the story and what was needed, and I went, "I would rather give four X-Men good focus than try to jam a fifth character in there and not give anybody their due in the book."
One of the things I was thinking about when I put together my team was that I wanted to take a close look at Gambit at the same time that people were whispering in my ear, "Hey - look at Gambit! What about Gambit?" So if I'm thinking about Gambit and there are all these people that want Gambit, it just feels right. That hits my gut feeling as a good choice. So when I'm thinking about who the team is going to be, there are a lot of factors that intersect: Who's right for the mission? Who do I think I can write well? Who do readers want to see? There's a lot to consider. Also, as someone who lives in Louisiana, I feel like Gambit's kind of a hometown pick. [Laughter] I was doing a signing at a store in Lafayette where they had me in, and people were like, "Are we going to see some more Gambit? He's the hometown boy!" I took great pleasure in going, "Oh, I think you'll see some more [of him]." So there's a whole lot that goes into that process, not the least of which is a whole editorial team saying, "What do you think about Gambit?" I've got Axel and the other guys going, "That's a good idea," or when I ask about another character going, "Well, she's kind of busy doing other stuff." There's a team effort in those decisions too.
As a reader, is there a specific era that you followed that you draw on when you write?
Honestly, I would say the bulk of my X-Men experience as a reader was in that Chris Claremont era. When I went off to college in the '90s, I got really distracted from comics because there was a lot of other stuff going on in my life, and there's a decade there where I'm really loose on my knowledge of "X-Men." So my gut feeling of who the X-Men are is not solely formed by the Claremont area, but it is significantly formed by the Claremont area. Then, when I got back into it and have been reading Matt Fraction's "Uncanny" I started to get a better feel for it, so I feel like I'm also getting a real modern sense of who the X-Men are as well. Even with the gap in there, I'm filling it in. I've got people telling me what I need to know, and I'm catching up and doing okay. But the first name off the top of my head when you ask a question like that is going to be "Chris Claremont."
The story in your book has had a few twists already even though we're two issues in. On the vampire side, we've seen that even though Dracula's been killed, he's not ever going to be a force that's completely out of the picture. How do the X-Men use that to their advantage?
I don't know. I know that we're still early in the arc, so right now the X-Men are looking at Hail Mary plays. "Oh my gosh, we've got thousands of vampires waiting to jump on our heads! Let's do something desperate!" As far as strategy goes, opportunities are going to arise and one of the things that makes Cyclops a good leader is that, even though he doesn't have a solid plan right now, in the very next minute he can see an opportunity and say, "There's an opening! I've got a plan now!" He's going to be able to exploit that opportunity when it arises. That's how things go over the next few issues.
Marvel just released a preview from issue #3 containing the scene people have been nervously anticipating since the teasers first came out: vampire Jubillee mixing it up with Wolverine. Is part of what it takes to make a vampire story good is to amp up a bit of that shock factor?
Yeah, I think so. First of all, let me say that no matter what you see in that preview, there's still a couple surprises left. We didn't shoot all of our bullets showing you that picture. There's more surprises and more opportunities for the X-Men to get their licks in coming up. But I've actually sort of fallen in love with writing Jubilee in this vampire arc. I'm a couple issues ahead of you guys, so I know what's going to happen. I've heard some hints about plans down the road, and it all points to Jubilee being a very, very interesting character, certainly in the next few issues of "X-Men," but maybe down the road as well. I feel like that moment is an "Oh shit" moment, but in the best possible way. People that aren't Jubilee fans are going to be Jubilee fans, and people who are already Jubilee fans are going to kick it up a notch and be double Jubilee fans, in my opinion.
One thing that really comes across in her thread in the story is a kind of teenage angst feeling that works so well for vampire stories in general. It plays off the zeitgeist in a way.
I tapped into my inner Joss Whedon. [Laughter]
The teenage stuff does strike strong with some readers. I think the most common question we've gotten for Cup O' Joe and the T&A column since issue #1 came out is whether or not more "Generation X" cast members are coming back, so I think you'll have fans working your ear a bit this fall.
I don't mind that. The fact is, the more people who are whispering whatever into my ear, mathematically the less I can listen to. I love hearing from readers. I take their comments seriously. The editors and the people at Marvel, though, are the ones who pay me, and I'm bringing all those ideas on character into it. So far I'm thrilled about how it's going. I don't want to say too much, but I think getting back to the teaser preview, that does its job. But there's more! Don't think you've seen it all!
You've got your latest novel, "The Deputy," that you're also promoting here at the show. Are you seeing any crossover between readers of your crime fiction and your superhero comics?
There is a little crossover, but I think what I'm hoping – if I could be selfish for a second to talk about this – is that there could be a little more crossover. Holy cow, if 10% of "X-Men" #1 go and buy my novel, that'd really make my publisher happy. I'm not kidding because the numbers are different with novels than they are with the comics. At least they are for me. With someone like J.K. Rowling, it's different, but those are two totally different worlds. But I have had people on Twitter or Facebook say, "Hey, I read your comics so I thought I'd try one of your novels" or vice versa. So that's been very gratifying, but I'd love to see more of it.
[I'm here with] "Crimespree Magazine" this weekend. I've got a panel and a couple of signings with them. The thing about that booth for Crimespree is that I know those guys, John and Jordan who publish the magazine. They called me up and asked me to come to this show because I hadn't planned to come to this convention. But they asked me to come up, and I thought, "These are good guys, I better do it" and I'm glad I did. I'm having fun, and this is a good con. I haven't been to a lot of cons, so I need to go out more and get the lay of the land.
"X-Men" #3, the latest chapter in Marvel and Gischler's "Curse of the Mutants" event, hits comic shops on September 9.