Fan Expo Canada hosted a team of artists, writers and editors Saturday afternoon for its annual Marvel: All Access Panel, where fans can ask creators anything about the Marvel Universe. Talent scout C.B. Cebulski and editor Jeanine Schaefer were joined by artists Adam Kubert, Mahmud Asrar and Ryan Stegman along with writers Greg Pak and Charles Soule. During the a free for all, ask anything panel, the upcoming "She-Hulk" storyline was discussed along with the growing dominance of strong female leads on store shelves. The panel also talked about everyone's favorite Canadian, Wolverine, slated to die later this year.
"You're all here because of Marvel, right?" Cebulski asked the crowd, who answered with cheers. "Basically what we do on these panels is share our love of Marvel comics, the films the video games, the toys. Really, all access means feel free to ask us anything."
Cebulski had the panel kick things off by talking a little bit about what they are currently working on. "I don't know if you have any projects you want to hype," Cebulski said. "Marvel is a creator-friendly company, so, if you want to talk about stuff you're doing with other independent companies or some creator-owned work, feel free."
Starting with Adam Kubert who has been working on "AXIS," Marvel's next big event, the first issue of which arrives in October. " I will be penciling and inking issues 1, 2 and 7," Kurbert said. "After that, I have a project with Nick Lowe in the works, which I probably shouldn't discuss. I'm really excited about that also. But I have to say, 'AXIS' is a hell of a lot of fun. I did some 'Avengers VS X-Men' on that event, and I guess I couldn't get enough characters into the book, so now is my opportunity, and I'm having a blast."
"That's written by Rick Remender, right?" Cebulski added. "What's it like when his scripts come in?"
"Rick has so many ideas," Kubert said, praising the writer. "I didn't know this until I met Rick face to face, but he's an artist. He does storyboards, which makes my job that much easier. He understands that you can't have two or three actions in a particular panel. So, it's really enjoyable and it's as easy as it can be when you have 35 characters that you have to draw on each page."
Moving on to Mahmud Asrar, whose "All New X-Men" #31 is out this week, the audience got a chance to find out about his process. "It keeps me really busy, with lots of panels and characters," Asrar said of the title.
"You're really moving up," Cebulski said. "You're on 'Wolverine and the X-Men,' which is one of the more junior X-titles. What was it like getting that call, asking if you wanted to draw X-Men with Brian Bendis?"
"It was certainly a graduation, I think," Asrar said with a laugh. "It felt like I got my diploma. 'Wolverine and the X-Men' was great, but it was a really hard book to do, lots of kids to draw. It was a lot of fun, but it's amazing drawing the original X-Men. I've been a fan of Jean Grey all my life, and now she's back and I get to draw her. I couldn't ask for more."
"For Adam, Mahmud and Ryan -- do you find it harder to draw children than adult heroes?" Cebulski asked.
"For me, not really because I like to find a way to exaggerate everything anyways," Stegman replied. "I just find it an opportunity to figure out an exaggerated way to make them look younger."
"The trick is to keep track of current fashion trends, because a 16 or 17 year old isn't going to wear what I wear," Kubert added. "They're not going to wear Harley Davidson. I think it's important just to do the proper reference."
I've been doing the Wolverine book, so I had to draw lots of kids," Asrar said. "It's a challenge in the way you can do more enigmatic faces or expressions with them. I think it makes things more interesting. Drawing someone who is series can get boring after a while with all the squinting and everything."
Ryan Stegman has been working on "Inhuman" with Charles Soule. "The appeal of the job for me was the idea that it's kind of rare that we get the opportunity to create characters and have the full backing of the company," Stegman said. "Which we do. My wife was throwing ideas at dinner last night for characters."
"That's true," Soule confirmed. "Do you want to tell them about the very first character you created and made me shove in the book?"
"The very first thing I did when I was testing the waters with Charles when I got the job was, I started throwing ideas for him for a character," Stegman explained. "I thought he was blowing me off --"
"Like writers do all the time," Soule chimed in.
"And then I got the script, and he had already written her in. I think Issue #5 is her first appearance," Stegman said, proudly.
"'Inhuman' is great, because it is a new concept and it's expanding the Marvel Universe," Soule added. "For us, and everyone working on the book, what's so amazing is that we get to take a corner of this universe and we get to make everyone in the world a potential Inhuman.
"The premise of the book is that there is this big mist that is covering the world," Soule continued. "It's this big cloud, traveling everywhere, and if you breathe some of it in, and you happen to have the right genetic code, boom! You just change right away into something else. You're stronger and you're tougher and you hypothetically have some powers, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be good powers or you might look cool. You might look really weird. So, a lot of the book is what it's about if that were to happen to you." Soule calls it a neat way to make the Marvel Universe bigger and more relatable.
In a big, booming voice, Greg Pak introduced himself as the writer of "Storm," to the audience's amusement.
"I said that in a big voice, 'cause I was just trying to milk a little applause out of you guys, so thank you." Pak said. "Storm has been one of those characters that I loved since a kid, and I got a call a while back from Daniel Ketchum, who is also Storm's number one fan, who is also an editor in the X-Men office. He asked me if I could write 'Storm,' and I said yes and it all came together." The second issue just came out two weeks ago, and Pak said the reader support has been amazing.
Circling back to Soule and "Inhuman," the writer explained that "Ms. Marvel, the star of that book, is an Inhuman. The idea is to infiltrate these Inhumans into a whole bunch of teams and places. It's a really cool storyline to be following, and it's going to be really big. It starts to percolate out and affect the entire Marvel Universe."
"Another book I'm working on with Jeanine [Schaefer] is called 'She-Hulk,'" Soule said, to more audience approval. "I'm really, really proud of that book. I'm very happy about the response it's gotten. I sign as many of those as I sign 'Superman/Wonder Woman,' 'Inhumans' or any of the other books I work on.
"It's great because it's a book about Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk, who is an attorney. It's a book that focuses on her life as a kick ass young woman who started her own business as much as it is her doing superhero stuff," Soule explained. "I have some experience as an attorney myself, so I put as much of a real world feel into the book as I can."
Issues 8 - 10 will be hitting the shelves over the next few months, and Soule promised they will be filled with interesting subject matter. "They feature Daredevil and She-Hulk going up against each other on opposite sides, which is the first time that's every happened in the comics that I'm aware of," Soule said. "[It's] very difficult to write those issues, because you have to make sure you don't make Daredevil too much of a jerk, even though he is on the other side. It was a tricky balancing act."
"Can I say who the defendant is?" Soule asked Schaefer, who replied in the affirmative. "The client is Captain America." The audience erupted in cheers, liking this information. "It's kind of dark and momentous and it means a lot for all three characters, I think. It's a great story."
"What's that other book you're doing? He's from that country you don't like," Cebulski asked Soule.
"I'm also doing 'Death of Wolverine,'" Soule answered. The first issue comes out this week, with art by Steve McNiven.
"I've been staring at the 'Death of Wolverine' bag all weekend," Soule said, referring to the V.I.P. packages being carried around by many Expo attendees. " The story is done, I know what happens. We finished it over a month ago. We are so excited to get it out in the world. I'm a little nervous," he admitted. "I'm going to be killing this guy that a lot of people have a lot of strong feelings about, one way or the other. I think the work is strong, I think he's being sent off in a way that does him justice and I can't wait to hear what you guys think."
With Cebulski turning the panel over over to the crowd for questions, the first one was directed at Schaefer. "Being a woman in a male-dominated industry, could you speak on the depiction of women, physically, in the books?"
"That's pretty huge -- I can probably chat about that for the rest of the panel," Schaefer responded. "I have many feelings with a capital 'F' about this, so I'll try and keep it brief. First of all real quick, 'Ms. Marvel' is amazing. That's a book were we keep saying, if you like a book, if you like the diversity, if you want to see more voices, you have to vote with your dollars, and that's happening with this book. You guys go out and you demand it and you buy it. It is doing so well, so thank you."
"On the international level, it's is our highest selling digital comic, month after month, outside of North America," Cebulski added.
"However, in regard to your question, I want to try and speak positively about it," Schaefer said. "Recently, there has been a real ground swell of, we want to see more diversity in the art you see, the types of costumes you see and types of women you see, and I think we have really been able to deliver on that because you guys are asking for it and you guys are buying it.
"I love all the new costume designs," she contionued. "So, yes everyone is wearing a lot of spandex, But recently, I think we've taken a huge lead in making them accessible to young women and showing young women, you can look like a million different things; it doesn't really matter what you look like or where you came from. Jamie McKelvie's redesigns of Captain Marvel in particular saw a huge swell [of support], just the cosplay of Captain Marvel alone. Kris Anka's redesigns of Psylocke and Storm, costumes they could actually wear and actually fight in, was great. She-Hulk also -- she is wearing this wrestling outfit, essentially, because that's what she would wear. I'm really excited we've been able to have this kind of diversity because you guys are asking for it and you're following up on it. I really do think we have taken a huge lead in putting stuff out there that we haven't seen recently, and not just having stuff be out there for titillation. Letting women be power fantasies for women, I think that men are finding they want to read about it. It's not only for women."
Let me just throw this in there," Pak interjected. "I'm pretty sure that the success of 'Ms. Marvel' also resulted in the fact that 'Storm' was greenlit as an ongoing series. This is a character that has been around for thirty-something years, and has never had an ongoing series, and now it's possible."
"I will say, too, because I want to give us some more props, we currently have nine headlining books, two more that are starting in the next couple of months, all led by women," Schaefer added. "Just the fact that we are able to do those things is super exciting."
"We always say the Marvel Universe is the world outside your windows," Cebulski said. "We were very reflective early on with African-American superheroes, gay superheroes. A lot of the heroes were defined by the creators, writing what they know. Now, we have a growing number of female creators, and how many female editors do we have on staff?" He looked to Schaefer.
"We are a third of the editorial staff," she answered.
"Everybody wants to create books that they can relate to, that their families can enjoy, that their daughters and wives can take home and read as well," Cebulski continued. "It's not just a male-dominated superhero industry anymore."
"We're not perfect or getting it right every time, but I hope you guys can see we are trying really hard and that it's important to us," Schaefer concluded.
The next question was a familiar one: is Wolverine's death really final this time?
"The idea is not to bring him back," Soule answered. "This isn't one of those stories where he is back in two weeks. The point of it is to tell an awesome ending story for Wolverine. I'm not going to sit up here and say he's never going to be back, because that would be very disingenuous -- we all have read comics for a long time. I will say for sure that I am involved in all the Wolverine-related discussions right now at Marvel, and no one talks at all about, how do we bring him back? I am involved in discussions for stuff out to 2016 at this point, so that gives you a sense for how long we are looking. That's not to say there aren't awesome things in play for that corner of the Marvel Universe.
"Over the course of the fall, after the death, we are doing a direct sequel called 'Weapon X Project,' which I'm writing and is five issues," Soule explained. "We are also doing a series that runs with it called 'The Logan Legacy.' The point of those two series are to look at the Marvel Universe without Wolverine in it, and to look at some of the characters that are very directly associated with him, like Sabertooth, X-23, Mystique and even some new characters who will be introduced during 'Death of Wolverine' who I think are super cool, and I hope you guys agree."
"I can't talk about any details which kind of stinks," he admitted "There are big plans about anything to do but bring him back."
"I apologize: one of the big reveal's in the Charles' series is that Wolverine is actually from Ohio," Pak joked about the much-anticipated book.
"Wolverine is a big, big deal," Soule said. "I'm not Canadian, but I've been here before. I like Canada very, very much. He is somebody whose reach, even just in the sheer number of books, the sheer number of classic stories that have been told with him -- it was very humbling, the idea that I was the guy to write his end beats. It was almost paralyzing for a little while, because you want to do it justice.
"His place in the Marvel world is that he is iconic," Soule continued. "To be trying to write this story was not easy. When I wrote the last five pages or so, which is where, spoiler, that's where he goes -- it was tough. I think even in the script, I wrote, 'This is not easy to write,' because it wasn't. I didn't like it. I knew what I was going to write, and I just took my hands off the keyboard and thought about it for a while. Then I typed it up."
Fans were curious how the artists on the panel felt about the diversity in the art across the different books in the Marvel Universe. "Artistic diversity is something we as a company strive for, and [Chief Creative Officer] Joe Quesada has always been saying we should push the boundaries. We don't want to have a house style. Fans don't want to see the same guys drawing men in tights. We are a company that hires artists but also hires cartoonists, people who have different interpretations of the characters through their mind and coming through their pencil."
"There are so many different avenues now for discovering new artists and talents," Cebulski said. "The Internet is a wonderful tool for finding new talent, scouting and the coordination and the level of talent out there is not only rising our accessibility to it is getting easier."
"We want even the artists that we currently have now to be able to stretch their legs and to always be pushing themselves to do the next thing, and the next thing," Schaefer added. "It's important to us to have the diversity of style and to always be on the cutting edge."
At the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, where Andy Kubert currently teaches, this is even more important for students. "I tell students not to draw like Jim Lee or like Andy Kubert," Kubert said. "They already exist. If companies wanted these people, they would hire them. One thing I would like to say is that I've been drawing for Marvel for quite a period of time, and never have I been told to draw a particular way or emulate a style because it is popular. It's such a non-restrictive place to work and a creative place to work. It was one of the things I enjoy about being at Marvel."
"I have actually changed styles in the middle of the issue," Stegman said. "No one said anything. They seem to know that's just me. I feel like I have to do it, and they let me do it."
Another fan wanted to know exactly how far in advance Marvel plans titles before release.
"Back then, if you talk to Stan or John Romita Sr. or any of the guys around at that point, they would tell you back then they were just doing it by the seat of their pants," Cebulski said. "There was no immediate response on the Internet, and they were drawing and putting out issues that would come out four months later. So they just didn't know what the response was going to be.
"Sometimes, they didn't know what they were doing and things came out and that morphed into what the Marvel Universe is now, through trial and error," he continued. "Now, we plan out now pretty far ahead. We're done through almost 2015 at this point, in broad strokes. We know specifics through August, and after August, we have a map we are going to follow. There will be cool things coming up there, and then, in 2016, we know what the even broader strokes are going to be and where we want to go as a company on the comic book side. Everyone thinks we're a big, big company. Truth i,s we are a company that can turn on the drop of a dime."
I mean, guys -- we are 15 editors," Schaefer added. "We are a pretty small, tight ship. For as much as we plan out, we try and leave room for something that catches. You never know, lightning in a bottle."
"We plan as best we can, but sometimes we take it as it comes," Cebulski concluded.