From Abraxas to Arnim Zola: Christiansen talks "All New Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe A to Z"

Wed, January 25th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

In the Marvel Universe, The Watchers are a race of giant bald aliens charged with observing and not interfering in the life of other races. However, there is a real life counterpart to these Watchers. Jeff Christiansen, Sean McQuaid and Stuart Vandal have been tasked with observing the events of the Marvel Universe in order to compile and create the 2006 version of the "All New Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe A to Z." CBR News spoke with head writer Christiansen about the series, the first issue of which hit stores today.

The all-new "Handbook" series will run throughout 2006 for 12 issues, starting with Abraxas in January, and planning to finish with Arnim Zola in December. "In addition, there will be 4 'Legacy' issues, each focusing on characters-- both major and obscure-- as they existed in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s," Christiansen told CBR News.

With the twelve issues of the "Handbook" and the special "Legacy" issues, Christiansen and his team are hoping to cover all of Marvel's sixty-seven year history. "There is a bunch on Golden Age characters, and the 1960s book is jam-packed with rare 1960s characters, as well as the headline characters of the MU as they existed up to and including 1969," Christiansen said.

Covering characters from the complete history of the Marvel Universe is a huge task, so the Handbook staff had to be selective with the characters they chose to cover. "We were initially given twelve books to run in the A-Z format," Christiansen explained. "We convinced the big guys to let us do 64 page issues so we could get more covered. We wanted to maximize the amount of character coverage and new information. Since we covered a lot of characters in the 2004-2005 handbooks (and a few other specials), in general, for the 2006 series we will be avoiding repeating those recently covered in the themes handbooks. Also, since the Original and Deluxe handbooks-- which so many of us know and love-- are being reprinted, we tended to avoid characters that had not undergone a significant status quo change since the Deluxe Edition. The 2006 series will focus on: (1) Those characters who first appeared after the Deluxe Edition; (2) Significant characters having appeared before the Deluxe Edition, but never having received an entry; (3) Characters who appeared in the Deluxe Edition, but have undergone significant change since then."

The various entries for individuals in the 2005 Handbook will be similar to the format used in the "Deluxe" and "2004-2005" versions of the "Official Handbook." "Each entry will have biographical data, covering real name, aliases, affiliations, relatives, first appearance, etc," Christiansen said. "History will cover everything of significance we know that the character ever did, including past history, origin, who they fought and why, major accomplishments and setbacks, etc.

"We wanted to cover the character thoroughly so that both writers and readers could read the entry and know the characters thoroughly," Christiansen continued. "Our hope is always that the readers enjoy them, and the writers might find some obscure, forgotten fact that could be followed up and fleshed out".

Readers of the "All New Official Handbook" won't be just learning about the individual names and faces of the Marvel U, but the series will also include a number of teams as well as some alternate dimensions, locations, technology, and alien races. Christiansen told us that they had planned on including another category-- the subject of which he didn't reveal-- but that category very well could get its own handbook (or two) in the future.

It won't just be the characters and concepts of Earth 616 that are covered in the all new Handbook. "There are several realities and extradimensional characters getting entries in 2006," Christiansen said. "There will be characters from MC-2, the New Universe, and other alternate Earths."

However, the Ultimate Universe will not be covered. "I'd say almost every Ultimate character was featured in the two 2005 'Ultimate Handbooks,'" Christiansen explained. "Given that Ultimate stories tend to occur in several issue arcs, most characters won't have changed greatly. If we get a 2007 series, I intend to feature at least one Ultimate character in every issue."

Past installments of "The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe" have included a supplement series called "The Book of the Dead." However, the 2006 Handbook won't be doing specials dedicated to the deceased. "Who do we put in it? Bucky? Phoenix? Colossus? Magneto? Adam Warlock? Thanos? Nighthawk? Hellcat?" Christiansen asked. "Given the revolving door policy on death in comics, I personally don't see the point in it. Each issue of the 2006 series, as well as those of the decades' specials will feature a number of characters currently believed to be dead."

The highlight of compiling the new Handbook for Christiansen was the chance to introduce characters, be they living or believed dead, to new readers. "For me, the most fun is featuring the obscure characters that few people know about," he said. "Whether its characters or teams from the hard-to-find black and white Marvel magazines from the 1970s, limited series and/or graphic novels, the Shadowline, Marvel UK, or even those only featured in comics published by Marvel Italia (Marvel's Italian Branch), I love to cover those that you can't find info on anywhere else. Drag them out, wipe off the cobwebs, and show them to a new generation or remind the older generations about them.

"The most difficult aspect is balancing doing all the research, editing, scanning, communication, and coordinating and still keeping up with my full time job as a veterinary surgeon," Christiansen continued. "As well as spending time with my wife and other family and friends."

Christiansen and his team did all that editing, scanning, communicating, and coordinating because it was their goal to make the 2006 Handbook an accurate and fun read. "Regarding the data, we wished to cover everything of significance, do everything possible to get it right (including sending the profiles to the original writers and editors for proofing whenever possible), make the info clear and enjoyable to read." Christiansen explained.

With the Handbook, It's not just the data that Christiansen and co. are concerned about, but also the quality. For the 2006 series the team has made every effort to increase the picture and content quality. "This includes different forms, identities, costumes, etc., as well as unmasked or unmutated pictures. With each issue, we are improving this. I think Book One is a major step forward from past editions, and we hope that Book Two will be better than Book One, Book Three better than Book Two, etc."

In an effort to expand that level of quality, the Handbook team encourages readers to send feedback to help them achieve their goal. "If you feel that someone was missed out, e-mail us (using the FAQ page, whose address is given on the inside of each handbook) and keep buying the issues," Christiansen said. "We'll do everything to get the character in 2007. With updates, expansions, and new characters, the handbook could absolutely continue indefinitely...and hopefully continue to improve with each issue.

"The Original and Deluxe Handbooks inspired me to start keeping data files on characters, which expanded into my own websites (the Appendix and Master Lists), which helped get me started working on the Encyclopedias and then the Handbooks," Christiansen continued. "Despite how exhausting it can be, this is a dream come true. We're giving the 2006 books our all, with the hope that a 2007 series becomes a reality."

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