When it's time to make the big decisions on the nuts and bolts creation of Marvel Comics, people have to Talk to the Hat.
An outstanding industry vet and fashion forward editor, Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort is back on CBR News for Marvel's TALK TO THE HAT. Our latest weekly look inside the minds at Marvel spotlights Tom along with his signature pork pie and loads of comics news, views and discussion. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Brevoort will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and new interactive features.
This week, Tom welcomes his second-in-command to the column: Marvel Associate Editor Lauren Sankovitch. As the #2 on franchises like "Avengers" and "Fear Itself," Sankovitch keeps the trains running in numerous ways creative and clerical, and she also solo edits a wave of Marvel monthlies including "Fear Itself: The Home Front," "Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt," "Onslaught Unleased," "Secret Warriors," "Avengers Academy Giant-Size" and "Captain America And Bucky." Below, Brevoort and Sankovitch explain the inner workings of the up-and-coming Assistants and Associates of the Marvel Bullpen, share the secret turns in story that make "Fear Itself" its own Marvel event, tease the future of Jonathan Hickman titles like "FF" and "Secret Warriors" and tackle a new round of fan questions. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome, Lauren! Before we got to the questions on the books this week, I wanted to start by giving folks a bit of an introduction to what it's like being at the Assistant or Associate level in Marvel Editorial. I think that we see a lot of the top editors like Tom and what they do through interviews and con panels and such, but most folks don't know what you guys do day in, day out. What do you view as some of the specific challenges of working in Marvel Editorial when you're dividing time between your own books and helping someone like Tom put their stuff together?
Lauren Sankovitch: Well, basically as an Associate – and I came up as an Assistant – a lot of what we do is the nuts and bolts kinds of things. I'm moving the files around. I'm giving creators a hard time about their deadlines. I'm routing proofreading and covers. But as I'm doing all that stuff to make sure the books get out the door, I'm also trying to get my hand in on story and talking to writers and build my own projects. So there's a very wide variety of things that the Assistants and Associates end up doing, and as we continue our march towards becoming full editors we try to get our hands more and more into the story part of things and the actual projects and the marketing of those projects to build our own body of work, as it were. So that's a very basic overview.
You've been at Marvel for a number of years...
Sankovitch: Almost four at this point!
Before you worked with Tom, you were with Mark Paniccia in the Ultimate office. What was the very first project you worked on at Marvel?
Sankovitch: The very first book that ever had my name in it – and I know this because my mother has it framed, not the cover of the book but the actual credits page – was "Marvel Illustrated: Treasure Island" #4. When I came in I worked under Ralph Macchio, and with Nicole Boose and Bill Rosemann. We were all within the same office, but I was working on different groups of books with different people. With Ralph and Nicole, we were putting together the Marvel Illustrated line with classics like "Three Musketeers," "Man In The Iron Mask," "Last of The Mohicans," "Treasure Island" and others. And then between Bill and Ralph I worked on the Ultimate books, and then under Bill I worked on the Cosmic stuff. That was ridiculously fun. I jumped in right at the beginning of "Annihilation: Conquest" as we were riding the wave of popularity off the first "Annihilation" event. It was fun to dive into that and also into "Cable & Deadpool" which was a favorite of mine before coming in. So to be able to work at Marvel AND work on my favorite book with my first step in the door was the most exciting thing ever. So that's where I started – right in the soup, right in the middle. I had a spread of projects I worked on, so it was very exciting to get that. And I almost forgot "The Dark Tower!" I worked on that with Ralph as well.
I'm always interested in hearing what editor's particular point of view or creative preference. You mention "Cable & Deadpool" as a favorite, and I notice a lot of titles starring younger characters like "Onslaught Unleashed" on your resume. When you came in, did you have a specific idea of "These are the kinds of Marvel comics I love and want to see more of"?
Sankovitch: I don't know if I had a very specific "This must get made" idea, and this may sound kind of boring, but I was just excited to be in the door when I first started. I was like, "Wow! This was exciting!" And the fact that I did get to work on that wide variety of books – Cosmic books and the Ultimate books, team books and individuals and adaptations of classic novels...I'd have to say that I'm definitely a huge fan of doing those adaptations because I was partial to a lot of those novels and invested in seeing them come to life. I also got to work with a lot of newer artists, and it was exciting to get that hands on experience help them learn the process and create a fresh look on an older book.
Now as I’ve done more work in Ralph's, Panic's and now Tom's office, I have leaned more towards the younger characters. I've had opportunities to work on books like "Young Allies" and also the Avengers anthologies and "Age of Heroes." Now with "Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt" I've made it a point to bring teen heroes to the fore and hopefully create new fans in the process.
Tom, I'm assuming that with all your larger responsibilities at Marvel, your Associate may have a bit more on their plate than even some of the other people in the building working in different offices......
Tom Brevoort: It kind of goes without saying, there's a lot of work to be done at Marvel in general and a lot of work to be done in my office specifically. It's not an easy place to be or an easy thing to run, especially as my responsibilities have grown wider and wider in my Executive Editor role. So anybody that's functioning as my direct Associate Editor is going to have to be able to carry a lot of water – to pick up the baton and run with it and oversee a wide variety of things and to do a lot of the things I used to do but no longer have the actual time to oversee. That particularly includes the actual nuts and bolts of getting comics to the printer on time and interfacing with the talent on most of the day-to-day stuff. If there's a story situation that needs my input, people get to talk to me, but in terms of the daily ebb and flow of people sending in pages and work being trafficked to the next person and everybody staying in contact with everybody else...I just don't have the manhours to deal with this stuff to the degree I once might have.
Lauren is – and I say this having had many, many Assistants and Associates over the years – probably the single best scheduler I have ever seen in terms of being able to foresee difficulties ahead of time, interface with creators to make sure books get done and out the door when they need to and to just run the overall schedule for the office. She's incredibly invaluable on that front simply because she's better at it than anybody else, including myself I think. That's the least glamorous thing about doing this job, but it's absolutely vital to keeping the machine operating effectively. Beyond that, I want somebody in that position that shows growth potential. We don't promote anybody up to the Associate level with the notion that they're going to remain an Associate Editor forever. The stated goal really is that when openings arise, our Associates will be ready to be promoted up to full Editors. So at the Associate level, we expect the Associates to head up more projects that are their own conceptually and creatively than at the Assistant level, where they might get the chance to oversee one or two projects, but they're mainly there to be the hands of the Editor. The Associate is a development position in essence but a difficult one because at the same time you're being called upon to develop your own books, you also have to keep all the plates spinning with all the other books you're working on in conjunction with an Editor.
So basically it's not a lot of fun, necessarily. [Laughter] But it's a necessary stage of the learning process.
Let's talk about some of what you've been working on of late. The readers are just getting into what you're embroiled in, which is "Fear Itself." This is a lot more to juggle than even the biggest single title. Lauren, as the direct Editor for some of the tie-ins in what way do you help break ideas out from the main story and into their own books? Since you're Tom's assistant, do you get to cherry pick certain minis to do yourself?
Sankovitch: We have regular bi-weekly meetings with everyone in our office, and so when we do these larger events, we know there're going to be tie-ins. So we'll get together, we'll know that things will happen in a particular month, and Sales might have an idea of "We need some titles in months X through X." So then we'll open up the floor to the question of whether there's a particular group or character that you'd like to do a story for, and it'll become "Let's do something with some of the younger characters" or "Let's do an anthology for a more global point of view." Sometimes we'll know we're doing something with Spider-Man or one of the Avengers teams, so to a certain degree things are pre-planned. If you're tying into a particular character with their own series, usually whoever's editing that series will weigh the cost/benefit of participating in the larger event. But there is definitely some leeway with the series that stand outside of the regular ongoings..
I knew going into "Fear Itself" that we were going to do a “man on the ground” kind of book, which became "The Home Front." I liked doing anthology books. I've done several at this point. I wanted to put my hat into the ring, and if my schedule allowed and I was smart about the way I'd planned this, then I'd be able to take over that book. But we try to be as accommodating as we can for people if they have a strong idea that might go somewhere. If they've got something that fits well into the tie-in mold, and we've got space for it, then we'll do what we can to back that and make it a reality. Between Tom and I, we have a big chart of where the different tie-ins are landing and what the basic idea of what's in each of them and what the bigger moments are happening each month. That helps everything synch up, and you can imagine that there's a lot of coordination necessary. In the course of the event, some things may fall down, but we do our darndest to keep track of it all and to keep the rest of Editorial in the loop so they can plan accordingly as well.
Brevoort: Just as a tiny little specific example, just yesterday you had to gather a bunch of reference for Stuart Immonen, including what looked like a massive amount of reference on the X-Men tie-in that's all for one panel that Stuart will draw in the main book. [Laughter] So there's like nine megs of visual data being sent to him so he's got the reference of whomever he’ll draw in this one panel. That sort of thing happens quite often on a tie-in-heavy series like this. And the reverse is true as well. People knock on our door and go, "I need reference on this sequence that happens in 'Fear Itself' #2." Sometimes we've got it, and sometimes it's not quite done yet. So balancing all that and getting the reference for the other offices tends to fall on Lauren, too, because, again, I'm tied up with other things.
It reminds me of how in "Secret Invasion," we had the big actual invasion moment in NYC, and that was the point where so many of the tie-ins took their origin. It was a defined plot point that all these other things could pivot out of. Is there a similar moment to look for in "Fear Itself" that will be particularly useful to making this whole machine work?
Brevoort: I think that moment is already there in "Fear Itself" #1 – it's the objects falling from the skies. We see these things coming down at the end of issue #1, and they're going to hit all over the globe. What are they? What effect are they going to have? What impact are they going to have? That was the easiest thing for a lot of creators to key in on. And as you'll see in "Fear Itself" #2, most of the tie-ins will start to flow out from there. What are these objects? Where have they landed? What kind of damage have they done when they've landed? Who's ended up with them, and what kinds of struggles have there been to acquire them? What characters are going to intercept them, heroes and villains? So, in the short term, that was the most obvious touch point. Moving ahead in the story, there are others. There are other big things that happen that a number of books can and will tie into and that other books can reflect from their own point of view. There's one that takes place in "Fear Itself" #3 going into #4 that's reflected in a bunch of books, and there's a big one from #4 going into #5 that you'll see reflected in a bunch of titles in a number of different scenes that are set a moment before or after from the perspectives of the different characters involved.
So it won't be as cut and dried as "Secret Invasion" which had that one moment with everything spinning out of it. Part of that is because "Fear Itself" is seven months long – not that "Secret Invasion” wasn't similar – but you want to have multiple points of contact so that different books telling their stories at different times can find ways to naturally synch up with the home book.
One of the franchises your guys' office is best known for is "Avengers," but after last week, we don't need to talk about the Avengers again. [Laughter] However, one thing of late we've been getting questions from the boards on is Jonathan Hickman's books, and I know each of you work with him solo. The big topical point to hit on is "FF" whose second issue this week revealed a twist connection between Val Richards and Doctor Doom. The book started very much in the vein of "big ideas on Reed's terms," but how stable is the state of the Future Foundation as an organization really?
Brevoort: I don't know that it's terribly stable because I don't know that anybody knows exactly what it is. Some people assume that it's just the Fantastic Four with a coat of white paint, and that's not really entirely what's going on. This is a series of events that Jonathan's been building up to over a year and a half – essentially since he began. And now over the next couple of months, we're going to see a number of these ideas and concepts that he's slowly been putting onto the table and arraying around the Marvel Universe start to collide with one another in interesting ways, and the larger pattern of what he's been doing will begin to reveal itself to people. It's the kind of thing where if you have read the now going on four collected editions of his run, you'll get a pretty good payoff for that. That having been said, if you started reading from "FF" #1 last month, hopefully we'll have done enough to bring you up to speed because things are electric enough and exciting enough that you'll be able to get on board and follow along and understand the scale and scope of what's happening. Certainly Reed is at the center of it as is everyone that's in the family and the larger extended family. Having already killed the Human Torch, I would posit that nobody is safe necessarily. But beyond that you'll have to wait for "FF" #3 and #4…
We've also had a lot of questions about "Secret Warriors" and where it's headed with its finale, but before we get into specific fan queries, I was wondering what it's been like for you Lauren to come in as direct Editor on a title with such a big masterplan part way through its run. Were there adjustments you had to make to get a handle on all the pieces spinning around in that series?
Sankovitch: Fortunately, two things happened. One was that I actually started Assisting on this book back around #8 or #9 when there was a lot less to catch up on, and I had a general idea where we'd come from. I stayed on the book until #16, and then it passed to another Editorial team, and I got to jump back on as full Editor around issue #21. I'd kept up with the book in the meantime just because I'd enjoyed it. So getting back into the book wasn't all that difficult because I'd more or less had my hand in the pot for the majority of the run anyway. The other point is that Jonathan has been really organized. He really knew where he wanted to end up and more or less had the beats in between worked out. So a lot of the back and forth and working of all that stuff out, he'd already done. Not that there was nothing for me to do because it wasn't all peaches and cream, but for the most part it's a very smooth book to work on because I have a map that Jonathan has laid out to work from. I'm making sure all the individual pieces fit well and that anything that may come up with continuity issues is something we're on the up and up with. For the most part it's been crazy spy-filled romp.
A lot of the fan questions we've gotten on the series involve things like whether or not big name heroes like Captain America and Bucky are going to work their way into the finale and whether or not the Secret Warriors after their series wrap will role over into a "S.H.I.E.L.D." series – things that overall wonder now that the end game is here for the book, how will it go out with a bang. Have you and Jonathan talked about what you want to do to help stick the landing, so to speak?
Sankovitch: Actually, the script for #28, the last issue, has been written for quite a while now. That last arc from #25 to 28 came in fairly quick succession. We had a big chunk together with some pretty huge revelations getting made and more to be made. I'm sending #27 to the printer this week. So we had a lot of conversations about did we cover our bases or with the cards we wanted to turn over, did we set them up properly. And are we turning over all the cards that we set up? And I feel like we did. Even though there's a lot of information being parsed out over these issues, I'm confident and hopeful that the people reading them feel like they got their money's worth and feel like where it's building to is satisfying. I hope they feel excited about how these characters have evolved and grown and been treated over the course of the series.
With the ending, like I said, Jonathan knew where this was going from the very beginning pretty much. He had this plan, and while I don't have #28 drawn yet, I feel like there are some really wonderful moments that call back to the first arc and even into the prologue that for longtime readers will create a feeling of a real bookend on the action. And for people who may have jumped in later, the book will be chockfull of eye-popping wrap-ups, exciting synergy with some of Jonathan’s other books...and some humorous moments too.
All right, well getting into some fan questions proper let's start with CMBMOOL who wonders, "Any chance at seeing other former New Warrior members, besides Speedball and Firestar, with in their respective Fear Itself minis?"
Sankovitch: No Warriors in their own minis I’m sad to say BUT in just the first issue of Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt (& beyond!) you’ll get an eyeful of many of the former New Warriors along with a big chunk of the original Initiative recruits. And did I mention The Order…?
We had two questions about the cast of "Avengers The Initiative" – one more general and one very specific. First up is SuperCooper who asks, "Are there any plans to use Initiative characters following 'Youth in Revolt'? Will any of the State teams be involved or recognized in the mini?"
Sankovitch: That’d be a big, fat, tremendously excited YES.
Next IronMagnus looks at one character with a fine focus, wondering "Back in 'Avengers: The Initiative,' Ultra Girl took on Ms. Marvel's original red costume, and it seemed as if the character would finally get a push back into the spotlight. Soon afterwards, however, Moonstone claimed the costume for herself when she became part of Osborn's Dark Avengers team. Now that it is no longer being used, can Ultra Girl reclaim the costume for her own again? Marvel needs more strong female heroines, and I would love to see Ultra Girl get a chance to shine, both during, and after, her appearance in 'Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt'?
Sankovitch: Currently Ultra Girl is continuing to rock her sleeveless orange number but ya never know. Always nice to have options in the closet.
Sankovitch: While the book will most definitely be featuring both of these fine fellows, in a lot of ways, Bucky will be the star of this book. The first arc of C&B will actually start right at the death of Bucky’s father, which I don’t believe we’ve really seen before, and will fill in a lot of the blanks from his history, how he ended up as Cap’s partner and, since its Ed [Brubaker] (and the immensely talented Marc Andreyko!), we’ll be doing some delving into Buck’ shady tenure as the Winter Soldier as well. Pretty much everything we cover in this series will have some connectivity to the main Cap book as well. And lest I forget, artist extraordinaire Chris Samnee (“Thor, The Mighty Avenger” anyone?) is really bringing the heat to these pages and crafting a visual feast of multiple time periods and sheer “actiontasticness”. I had to make up a new word for it.
And finally, Rheged has this to share: "You've edited several Golden Age characters and books, like The Patriot (which was AWESOME), The Torch, The Marvels Project, Agents of Atlas (which was more AWESOME) and of course several Cap books. What's the appeal of those for you? Are those characters or the historical era your favorites? Did you choose the books or were you just assigned them?"
Sankovitch: Hey Rheged, excellent query! I am in fact a HUGE history buff so these characters with a more historical bent are a definite treat to play with. A lot of these have come across my desk as I moved offices but some, like “Agents of Atlas” for instance, I petitioned to be a part of as I was intrigued by the characters and the story potential of their shared past and ever crazier future. Captain America just so happens to by my favorite character so I make it a point to jump at any chance to take a turn at playing in his sandbox.
Have some questions for Marvel's Talk To The Hat? 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 Executive staff that CBR will pull questions for next week's installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!