It's Friday! Why not wrap your week with a little T&A!
CBR News is back again to present an open and honest Q&A with Marvel Comics Vice President Executive Editors Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso for our regular column: MARVEL T&A! Aside from being the minds behind the biggest franchises at the House of Ideas, the pair have taken the reins of the editorial staff on a day-to-day basis since the many changes that have upped the profile of both Marvel and the company's senior staff in the past year. So who better to look inside the halls of Marvel and make some memorable reader Q&A?
Each Friday, in addition to our regular CUP O' JOE installments, CBR presents a new interview with the T&A duo covering everything Marvel Comics. This week Tom and Axel dive in to a discussion that's been burning up every message board and comment thread for weeks: Marvel pricing! What policies and practices will be affecting books new and old in 2011? What should readers know about the size and shape of the Marvel line? The answers to those questions as well as talk of character crossovers, Thor specials, CrossGen plans and more lie ahead. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: I wanted to start this week with the question getting most often on message boards and comment threads these days – one of pricing. After Marvel's David Gabriel spoke on a price drop on select titles at NYCC, the January solicits hit with somewhat less change in the line than a lot of folks had expected, though the overall amount of titles seem to be thinned out a bit as well. It's been hard for folks to get a grasp on. From your point of view, how would you characterize the plans for the pricing of new books and the shape of the titles overall moving in to 2011?
Tom Brevoort: I think that the key thing, from my understanding of it at least, is that people either misreported or misconstrued what David Gabriel actually said at that panel. They kind of confused it a bit with the DC announcement and mixed them all together, and so it created what amounts to an unrealistic expectation for what would be happening in January. As I understand it, in the panel that David was in speaking about digital comics, he said that our digital comics sales had been really successful and that as a result of that, beginning in January we'd be able to start pricing some of our upcoming limited series and other releases at $2.99. This announcement came at around the time that DC announced that they were rolling back all their titles to $2.99, and people got very excited and confused and a little crazed, and I think that all of the particulars got lost in the shuffle. So now that the actual January catalog is out, people are going, "Wait! Didn't you say all these books were going to be priced at $2.99?" No, we didn't actually say that.
We said two things: one, we're going to be able to do more things at the $2.99 price point as a result of the success of digital comics, and two, that we're going to try to contract some of the wild line expansion that we've had over the next couple of months. It's not all going to happen instantly-- it's not going to be that suddenly in January we're down to only four Deadpool books. We're still going to have the same number of Deadpool books that we normally had (or perhaps a little bit fewer just to pull that all back.) But this morning we announced the Point One initiative that we’ve got running through many of our monthly titles between February and April, and all of those books are priced at $2.99. And you’ll see more initiatives like that in the months to come. So really, what this kind of amounts to from my point of view is either people reporting the wrong message or reading the wrong message from those reports and then being upset that reality isn't exactly the thing they had in their heads.
While I'm sure there were some who read the reports of what was said and came to conclusions by assuming things that weren't said, I'd counter that a lot of that can come from the fact that there wasn't a lot of specificity from Marvel on what would happen, which leads to speculation. What have you discussed internally about the game plan or system for determining what product sells at what price point? Are there certain kinds of books that will be $2.99? Certain that won't be?
Brevoort: David Gabriel could speak to this more specifically than we could, but I think the general sense of it is that as we move forward, a lot more of our limited series and one-shots will be priced at $2.99. I don't think we're rolling back any particular [ongoing] titles to $2.99. It's possible that we might choose to take a $2.99 price point one or more of them at some point, but I don't think there's an organized movement towards rolling back prices on everything. This is more about whatever new, additive product we have coming up outside our core series in the months ahead.
Axel Alonso: I was talking with David the other day because I have a number of limited series or specials that are in development. So I think it's better that he talk about this than I.
One thing I think you guys can speak to more specifically on is the reduction in the line. Tom, you talked a bit at the convention about the idea that you'd heard from retailers that there was maybe a bit too much stuff coming out to prep for the "Thor" and "Captain America" movies which could be causing a little bit of confusion on what each book's purpose was or who would be focusing on each release. Is January the first month where we'll see some changes on that front? Do you think the month is smaller than average or still the same as the first of the year has been?
Brevoort: I think it's going to take a few more months before you really see the evidence of that in the catalog. But if you tally everything up for January, you can already see just the barest tip of the iceberg—we had fewer releases in January than in previous months, I believe. We announced this at NYCC, and that was shortly after we started talking about it amongst ourselves and about what our strategy was going to be. That being the case, it'll be at least three months before you really see a tangible difference. And honestly, I don't know how much of a tangible difference the average person is going to see.
Right now we're doing a lot of "Captain America" product because we're ramping up towards the Captain America movie, and we want to have a batch of particularly accessible collections that are brand new on booksellers’ shelves when that movie opens. It's no different than what we did in the past with Iron Man or the Hulk or X-Men. That sort of publishing was done at a time when the marketplace was in a slightly different place, and so now we're adjusting our thinking process on this stuff going forward. But inevitably, what you see in regards to all that is that those limited series end. They go away, and then they're replaced by whatever new limited product we'll be starting then. So I'm not really sure that except for those people who really scrutinize our Previews catalog with a fine-tooth comb how evident these shifts are going to be in the short term. I think in the long term, you'll definitely be able to detect an obvious difference. But it's not going to be the type of thing where you compare our February catalog to our January catalog and go, "Wow! They're putting out only two-thirds as many books!" We're still going to be releasing an aggressive publishing line and scaling back intelligently over the course of time.
Alonso: Yes. Speaking about the titles that I directly supervise, you're definitely not going to be able to see much difference until probably March at the soonest. Even there, it'll be subtle. This is a change in orientation, but it's not a seismic shift. When we talk about ramping up the monthlies and reassessing how many limited series we do, that doesn't mean we're ending production of limited series. It just means we’re looking to be more on-point about why we're doing them, and how we're marketing them. We want to make sure fans want them and retailers can move them. By the same token, I can't imagine we won't ramp up Deadpool series when and if the "Deadpool" movie comes out. That makes a lot of sense for us and retailers that fans want and need this stuff around those movies. We operate months in advance, so again I'd say don't expect anything until at least the March catalog.
Like I said, we're in the midst of a lot of Thor product right now in advance of the movie. Certain books play a bigger role for the mainstream Marvel U while a book like "Thor: The Mighty Avenger" is getting a lot of attention for being a fun, all-ages series. For each of you, what's a Thor product you've had a hand in you think sticks out from the bunch or maybe deserves to stick out a bit more?
Alonso: I'm very excited about "Thor: For Asgard," Robert Rodi and Simone Bianchi's Marvel Knights series. Rob is famous for "Loki," which is a very influential Thor story – even if it's not canon. And Simone Bianchi was born to draw Thor.
Brevoort: I'm not directly editing any Thor projects myself. They're all being done by the editors under me. I do have something Thor-related coming up early next year, but it's a little premature to talk about that. I guess out of all the things floating around in the ether for Thor that I've seen, I'd point my finger at "Astonishing Thor," also written by Robert Rodi and illustrated by Mike Choi. That's set in the core Marvel Universe but like the other Astonishing books is a big, sweeping whale of an epic adventure that's got a nice beginning, middle and end. It connects to the mainstream Marvel U but can be picked up and read by almost anybody and delivers a big, cosmic Thor story with a lot of heart and emotion to it. Much like the other Astonishing books, I kind of recommend that for anybody, any reader.
I know that neither of you guys are editing the "Thor" title that Matt Fraction and Pasqual Ferry are working on, but we've spoken about how there are some big events coming from the series, and Fraction has teased on Twitter that it may be leading to a bigger Marvel Universe story down the line. How do you deal with a title like that which isn't overseen directly by you but eventually may crash back in and effect your books and the whole line? Do you work differently with the other editors on those big, important series?
Brevoort: I don't think it changes things drastically. Ralph Macchio is editing "Thor," and Ralph has as much editorial experience as Axel and I combined, so there's not a lot of fear that he can't build a good, strong, classic comic book. And Matt is one of our A-list writers, so he knows how to put a story together. We've sat in a number of meetings and creative retreats where Matt's set out all the particulars of the stories he's telling in that book, and we know how they link to the bigger events coming down the pike. So on a month-by-month basis, there's not a heck of a lot of need for us to have our fingers in that series. We check in, and Ralph operates under me in my division, so I sort of know day-to-day or week-to-week where things stand – whether there's a scheduling problem or a story issue or anything that he might need my insight into – but we trust our individual editors to helm the titles they're responsible for. The worst thing we can do is try to run these titles by committee and have so many people involved that any particular voice or viewpoint gets drowned out by the number of chefs in the kitchen all having slightly different takes on what you're doing. As long as we agree on the broad strokes in macro, we're reasonably confident that Matt, Pasqual, Ralph, Ralph's assistant Charlie Beckerman, and the other people working on the book month-to-month like John Workman will deliver a strong, quality Thor reading experience that will get us exactly where we need to be.
Right now in the Avengers franchise, we've got any number of characters playing part from X-Men to the Red Hulk, but the core solo book associated with that franchise like "Thor." "Captain America" and "Invincible Iron Man" seem to run pretty much as their own concern. Have there been talks at Marvel in general about maybe crossing the monthly solo books over with each other more often rather than having all that interaction taking place in the teams?
Alonso: Yes. There will be two major characters crossing over some time in the next eight months. I'm still working out the logistics on that. And over in adjectiveless X-Men, look for cameos galore, starting in January with “To Protect and Serve,” guest-starring Spider-Man.
Brevoort: I think we've done this a couple of times over the last couple of months. There was the "Dark Wolverine"/"Frankencastle" crossover which included two issues of both of those titles crossing over in a way that was crucial to the development of both of those characters. The current "Wolverine Goes To Hell" story in "Wolverine" has a definite effect on "X-23" and the new Daken book. So that's a little cluster of titles that’s doing this--and I think "Namor" is going to touching on that storyline as well. We try not to do this too often, though, because it can be as much of a strain on our creators as it is on us. It sounds so easy to go, "Ah, everyone will work together and get along," but most of our creators have a unique vision and sensibility, and the best expression of that is them telling the story they want to tell. There are occasions where stories dovetail and people get excited about working together, or events simply mandate the need for connectivity. In the case of Daken and Frankencastle, Daken was responsible for Frank being chopped up into bits, so it only made story sense that this would lead to a confrontation between those two characters. You could have just done that story in the pages "Frankencastle," but the creators involved were interested enough in playing it out on a larger canvass that you could get a nice, four-issue ping pong match between the titles that was important for both.
We'll continue to do this sort of thing as the opportunity arises, but we're not incredibly worried about making all the books walk in lock-step with one another every single month. We do this kind of thing when it's fun and interesting. Every once in a while – though not for a while now – we'll do a "Secret Invasion" or a "Siege" which impacts everything. But apart from those, we're largely content to let "Avengers" be "Avengers" and let "X-Men" be "X-Men." But whenever there's useful connective tissue, we'll take advantage in whatever way that may be.
Alonso: In issue #5 of "Uncanny X-Force," Rick Remender will be bringing one of my favorite Marvel characters into the series in a story arc that just makes utter sense. Details to come in the next Previews. Esad Ribic is going to draw that arc.
I've heard that this week at Marvel you've had some promotions and changes in editorial. What can you tell me about that?
Brevoort: We had a few minor shifts motivated by the departure of Nate Cosby – and good riddance! [Laughs] Bill Rosemann, who's been working on the cosmic titles and some of the "Shadowland" tie-ins and the upcoming "Heroes For Hire" and "Avengers Academy" – he's shifting over to take on as more of his primary responsibility our custom publishing divisions, which most people don't tend to see or think about in our marketplace, but it's an enormous source of not just revenue but exposure for the Marvel characters. Any books that they do have print runs potentially in the millions and get in front of a lot of people, so keeping quality high on those is crucial. Two good examples of this kind of project would be the Eminem/Punisher digital comic we did, that got hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, and last week’s Marvel-covered issue of ESPN Magazine, over which Axel and George Beliard slaved for weeks. Bill's still going to be keeping a number of Marvel Universe titles in his hands including "Avengers Academy," "Black Panther" and "Heroes For Hire" so it's not like he won't still be in our midst. He's just shifting his priorities a little bit.
As a tertiary result of that, we had two promotions. Alejandro Arbona (seen above to the left), who works on "Invincible Iron Man" and who in the past worked on "Iron Fist" and is also currently working on "Daredevil" with Steve Wacker has been promoted to Associate Editor and will be getting more involved in the world of all things street and Iron-y. He'll be editing the "Iron Man 2.0" series that Nick Spencer is writing. And simultaneously, Tom Brennan (Seen above to the right), Steve's much put-upon assistant as seen in the letters pages of "Amazing Spider-Man," has also been promoted to Associate Editor, and he's going to pick up a number of the titles that Rosemann has had to leave behind, including "Thunderbolts," as well as keeping all of the projects he was already working on like "Spider-Girl and "Thunderstrike.” They've worked hard to earn this chance, and we've got great confidence in the both of them, and hopefully this is the beginning of more good things for them.
They’ve all brought along some awesome previews for you of "Spider-Girl" #1 and "Thunderstrike" #1:
Congratulations all around! The last thing I wanted to ask about was something out of New York Comic Con where you guys teased the plans for the CrossGen titles. I know you showed a picture of Ruse and noted that Mark Waid would be working on a title, which everyone assumes just means Mark will be writing "Ruse" again, but what can you tell us about the direction of the line as a whole? Will you be continuing stories from the old series or reprinting the original tales?
Brevoort: I think the one thing worth stating is that what we're doing with these CrossGen properties isn’t just picking up where they left off and continuing them. If nothing else, it's been four or five years since any of those series were in print. So this is effectively a new start, wherein those properties will be reimagined (some more so and some less.) Yet all of them will be recognizable in their connection to the original material. But it's not like all of the sudden we're going to release "Sojourn" #40. They're all going to start fresh, and none of the titles that we’re planning at the outset will be set within the Marvel Universe proper. They'll be of their own place and time. What we're looking at this as is a place where we can potentially tell some more genre-related stories than we typically do in the Marvel Universe. One of the things that CrossGen was excellent about was that they didn't do any real super hero books. They did Victorian crime fiction and pirates and space marines and sword and sorcery and '50s weird horror and '60s kitsch super-spy stuff. So getting to play in all those genres in a way that also hopefully gives us a bit of a built-in fanbase to launch the line off of is an interesting, compelling challenge we'll be moving to meet.
I don't think we're ready yet to talk about specific titles. And beyond what we showed at the panel, I don't think we're ready to talk specific creators. I think we can say that the initial books we're launching will hit in March, so within the next four to six weeks you'll be seeing some further announcements. And we're going to be rolling these out slowly. We understand the way the market is right now and that nobody can absorb eight new titles into their buying habits. We're going to start out with a smaller number and then roll into some new series out as the months roll on.
Alonso: The game plan for CrossGen is “slow and sure.” I'm extremely excited this initiative since it allows us to do a wide span of delicious genre material. And the talent involved – writers and artists – are bringing their A-game, each motivated by very…personal things. [Brevoort Laughs] I think this is a great opportunity to build something new at Marvel.
Kiel Phegley: Getting into fan questions for the week, we've got one from DownInAHole that piggybacks on the pricing confusion from above. He asks, "I wonder if Mr. Alonso would address the whereabouts of the missing pages in Uncanny X-Men #527-528 (and presumably 529-530)? All four books were solicited at $3.99 for 40 pages. When 527 and 528 were released they were indeed priced at $3.99 but the page count went down to 32. When the extra pages went away why didn't the extra dollar also disappear? Of course you guys can and will price your books however you want to but I think you should be honest about it. It seems like you are trying to trick readers into buying a $3.99/32 page book. This seems pretty dishonourable and I would like to hear Mr. Alonso's thoughts. Thank you."
Alonso: A decision was made that "Uncanny X-Men" was going to shift from $2.99 to $3.99 – a business decision that we aren’t going to get into here. On an editorial level, we wanted to add more content to increase the draw of the book. We knew there was a chance of not getting the material together, so we never solicited titles or talent for the back-ups or even stated that there would be back-ups. Unfortunately, our eyes were bigger than our stomach and we were only able to get one of the backups ready: the one by Allan Heinberg and Olivier Coipel. Getting the books out on time became the priority and we canned the backups, immediately notifying retailers of the page-count change so they could adjust their orders. Does that mean there won’t ever be backups? No. Does it mean there won’t be backups for the near future? Yes.
On the character side of the X-Men line, red eyes wondered, "Are there any plans for a Gambit solo series?"
Alonso: There aren’t any plans for a Gambit solo series, but he has a major role in “X-23” and something else you’ll be hearing about pretty soon.
And finally, Hypestyle was looking for some education on a Spidey head-scratcher, "Today I write to revisit a forgotten, lingering subplot in the Spider-Man saga. Has Peter Parker finally finished his graduate studies? The last time I remember this being touched upon was the late 90's, and not really since. It occurs to me that Pete might be able to make some better money if he finally had his masters' degree. How about it?"
Brevoort: If I remember correctly, Hypestyle, Pete resumed his graduate studies back in the 1990s, but never actually completed them. In any case, he’s about to hit the Big Time courtesy of Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos in "Amazing Spider-Man" #648 in just a few weeks, and that’ll include a new job which’ll allow Peter to employ his smarts on a regular basis. No Masters degree necessary!
Have some questions for Marvel T&A? Please visit the CUP O' Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Universe forum. It's now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel staff that CBR will pull questions for next week's installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!