On Sunday at Emerald City Comicon, Marvel Comics held their traditional "Next Big Thing" panel, bringing together Senior VP of Creator & Content Development, C.B. Cebulski, writer Brian Michael Bendis, writer Paul Tobin ("Spider-Girl"), editor Lauren Sankovitch ("Avengers"), writer Jeff Parker ("Hulk") and writer Nick Spencer ("Iron Man 2.0"). Cebulski kicked things off by announcing that Spencer, who has previously written for DC and Image, is Marvel's newest exclusive writer. Spencer described writing for Marvel as "a long-time dream" but made a point of assuring fans of "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" and Morning Glories" that he is still involved in his creator owned work as well as the DC Comics series he launched last year. Other writer news included Cebulski's confirmation with a simple "yes" to a question about whether Garth Ennis would be returning to Marvel in the future. He did not, however, elaborate on this further.
From there, the panel transformed into a Q&A session, serving as an opportunity for fans to ask "anything and everything [they] ever wanted to know about Marvel or anyone on the panel." But, like Saturday's DC Universe panel, many of the questions had to do with the futures of readers' favorite characters, which the panelists generally declined to answer, or were about Marvel films, though, as Cebulski explained several times, the panelists "really don't know too much about what goes on with the studios." He could only assure one fan, eager for more "Hulk" films, "success breeds sequels."
Many of the questions dealt with Marvel's popular "Ultimate" line of comics. One reader wanted to know if Marvel planned to keep "Ultimate Avengers" running; Bendis fielded this question, responding, "this is probably going to be the biggest year the Ultimate universe has seen since its inception...and 'Ultimate Avengers' is going to be a big part of that." He went on to promise fans, "you're going to be happy." Another fan wanted to know when readers might see new "Ultimate X" issues. Cebulski explained that artist Arthur Adams, has "a very detailed, meticulous style" as well as a new baby which has "slowed him down." But, Cebulski assured the crowd, "you're going to see more 'Ultimate X' coming out very soon."
Bendis also excitedly related to fans his experience working on the first season of the "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon. With a pilot by Paul Dini, and several episodes written by himself, Bendis described the first season, due to air on Disney XD later this year, as "funny" and "breaking all the rules." "It's much more akin to '30 Rock' or 'Arrested Development' than any other superhero show." In response to a fan request to see Rocket Raccoon in the future, Bendis replied, "I wouldn't be surprised if Rocket Raccoon turned up in the 'Ultimate Spiderman' cartoon -- that's the level of nerdiness that we're at."
As for the fate of other fan favorite characters, Cebulski confirmed plans to bring back popular X-Men villain Omega Red while assuring another fan that there are "big plans for the X-Men in 2012 and 'X-Factor' is going to play a big role." He later added, "The end of this year and next year are going to be big" in terms of the X-Men.
When asked what character fans should keep an eye on in 2011, Bendis replied without hesitation, "Moon Knight." Others listed were Hope from "X-Men," Ultimate Spider-Man and Dani Moonstar, with Tobin adding, "M.O.D.O.K. -- always M.O.D.O.K.." Cebulski assured a fan that Marvel has "interesting things" planned for Venom, saying, "there's a new person the symbiote is attached to and there's some cool things planned." Additionally, Cebulski said fans can look forward to "all things Thor and Captain America" because of Marvel's "Fear Itself" event. He assured one Thor fan that "Fear Itself" revolves heavily around all things Asgardian," adding, "Wait and see. There's some cool things in store, but I don't want to give too much away." Bendis quickly added, "And you're gonna love the movie!"
To a question about how artists looking to work for Marvel should go about it, Cebulski said that he looks for talent at art schools, conventions, Facebook and has even "hired someone from Twitter." "The best thing you can do," he said, "is brand yourself. The more exposure you get for yourself, the better your chance that we'll find you."
In terms of the future of distribution, the panelists were excited about the possibilities to be explored with digital comics and to discuss ways in which, as Bendis said, "the language of comics" might change as a result. Spencer was passionate about the possibilities, explaining "the page has changed now. We can break out of the panel grid, but still make it sequential storytelling." He seemed intrigued by the prospects of "breaking the rules" with digital comics. Bendis mentioned a signing he did recently in which he was "literally signing digital comics." But for readers who prefer comics in book form, he said of digital, "It's not going to replace the books, we love the books. And as long as there's enough people buying the books, we'll make the books." Cebulski added that Marvel is committed to keeping both retailers and readers of physical books, and those who like digital comics, equally happy.