Had a thing happen not long ago that I’ve been thinking on a little bit. I was speaking to a creator about another creator, a mutual acquaintance who had expressed some recent sentiments indicating that he was down about his career and his place in the industry. I was asking Creator 1 whether he’d spoken with Creator 2 recently, and whether Creator 2 was okay. I indicated that, if I heard nothing to the contrary, I’d reach out to Creator 2 myself to see how he was doing. At which point, Creator 1 enthused words to the effect of, “Great, then you can hire him for a writing assignment and make him feel better!” And at that point, the conversation spiraled.
This is why, for all my many years in the field, I have so few people I consider actual friends. Because when you’re dealing with creators whose livelihoods are intrinsically connected to their ability to get high-paying gigs and you are one of the ones responsible for handing out those gigs, there’s an expectation in friendship that you will use your abilities to assist your friend. To me, though, doing so would be a violation of the Editor’s primary responsibility, which is to the project he or she is shepherding. I must make creative choices honestly, and not be swayed by personal relationships. The audience doesn’t care if so-and-so is my friend, they only care about the work and whether or not it’s worth the cover price they’ve payed to peruse it. And that unspoken understanding that friends help friends out, the expectation that I would use my position to help people into assignments I didn’t think they were legitimately the best person for, is one of the main reasons why I keep so many people in the business at arm’s length. That and the inevitability that at some point in the future, I may may be called upon to fire them—to “shoot them”, as I often refer to it. Hard enough to do that to a person with whom your work, harder by far to do it to a friend, to someone whose circumstances you know intimately.
This is also the reason why attending conventions can become onerous, especially when I approach an Artist Alley. Entering such a cul-de-sac, I have the feeling of being raw meat, that everybody around me who realizes who I am is suddenly interested in talking to me in the hopes of getting hired by Marvel, amateur and professional alike. You can see the cash register dollar signs light up in their eyes as I amble by their tables. And if I left the job tomorrow, all of that would change, it would all evaporate, dispel like smoke. Because it’s not about me at all, it’s about my title. Which is to say nothing of bumping into folks who used to work at Marvel in the past, who for one reason or another either left staff or were laid off in years past. Those conversations are almost always tinged with some moment where I can almost see the cartoon thought balloon over their heads, saying, “How in the world is this idiot still there, and I’m not?” It’s a good question, but not one for me to answer.
I know, boo-hoo, Tom’s job is sometimes hard. But it can be rather solitary, for all that one is dealing with people constantly.
But enough about me, let’s turn things over to you for your questions from this week. We’ll open things this time with a request from Tony Tower which a couple other people echoed:
Can Tom (or someone) share a link to the CEREBUS/Dave Sim video essay he mentions? Thanks.
Certainly! it can be found at this link.
Award-Winning Retailer Brandon Schatz had this to ask:
I'm a big fan of Marvel's Unlimited program, and somewhat counter to conventional wisdom, I'll often tell customers who are on the fence regarding a series to really explore that app. The goal has always been to laser focus on having their experiences with print be something they absolutely love, because attrition sets in. Anyway, we have some folks asking about the various Unlimited series that run, and if those will be seeing print. A few projects have popped out here and there in single issues, but is there a plan for printing much of these? Or is it mostly a case-by-case, gut feeling thing? I know personally, we could sell the new Trung Le Nguyen story that's currently running Love Unlimited hand over fist - ideally in the YA sizing with labeled spine. As it is, the creator casting seems perfect for the current format, so no notes on that front.
I expect that a lot of that material will be collected in print in some format at some point, Brandon, but exactly when and how is still up in the air. As you say, we’ve done a couple of things as stand-alone comics, and a few others have been added to collections of otherwise-print material. But we’re still working out the best way in which to do things, especially as the amount of material we’re creating in that vertical format continues to grow exponentially. Also, you’ve given me a nice opportunity to plug that KARMA: LOVE UNLIMITED story by Trung Le Nguyen, as it was edited and overseen by my Associate Editor Annalise Bissa. But because it was in a track not typically associated with my office, it got overlooked as a Pimp My Wednesday call-out when it was first released. So go take a look at it, people.
Next up, David Berlanga:
I LOVED the Fantastic Four by Millar & Hitch. Some people were quick to criticize it, even though I knew they were building up to a big finale. Then Millar & Hitch left the book before the big finale. And the fill in team was absolutely terrible! Was there a REAL reason they left that we never heard about? And could Millar & Hitch possibly return for a limited series finale? Like a 4-5 issue "Battle Against Doom" story? Where it does not need to tie in directly, it stands alone. But for those of us who know, it is the finale? Once Millar’s contract ends with Netflix in a few years, of course. And Hitch is available.
Fans sure do want there to always be some secret reason why certain things happened the way they did. Is it a Conspiracy Theory fetish? I don’t know. Anyway, David, thanks for the nice words on that FANTASTIC FOUR run. But the real reason that Millar and Hitch were absent from the final issues was exactly what was reported at the time (though we perhaps weren’t as forthcoming with all of the details as we can be now that Mark has discussed his condition openly.) A flare-up of Mark’s Krohn’s Disease caused him to need to step away from writing the last two scripts, and so he gave his notes to his hand-picked replacement, director Joe Ahearne. But because things were consequently running late, Hitch was caught between FF deadlines and beginning on CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN. When push came to shove, REBORN was adjudicated the more important project for Marvel’s fiscal bottom line, and so Stuart Immonen was brought in to finish things up—again, with the direct input of Mark and Bryan. So I’m sorry that you didn’t care for the way it all came out, but I can’t honestly say that the pinch-hit creative team was anywhere close to “terrible.” In terms of them coming back to create a new conclusion, putting aside the question of logistics like Mark’s Netflix deal, I don’t know that either person I would be especially interested in doing so. That run is something like fifteen years old at this point, and not something that I’ve ever heard either creator lament. So while it’s not absolutely impossible, I think it’s probably as unlikely as to be virtually that. It’s a busted run, sometimes that’s the way things work out. Nobody’s ever happy with it, but that’s the way it goes.
And now, a complex set of questions from Mortimer Q. Forbush:
I just finished Sean Kleefeld's Fanthropology, which was great (apart from the Forward, written by some hack whose name I don't recall ;-). It closed by Kleefeld commenting that according to his research, apart from enabling the ability for diverse fans to get together, it hasn't changed the fundamentals of fan behavior.
That was circa 2011 and I wonder if that holds true today. The first factor that springs to mind is the access the public has to creators is so much greater, that irate "fans" with poor impulse control can attack (verbally or worse) creators, staff, and actors for their creative choices or perceived political alignments. The second is that as with certain media ecosystems that are packaged to resemble news, that distorted opinions and outright falsehoods promulgate across social media before a person can form their own opinion of the work in question. And this particular dynamic is now incentivized by social media algorithms that rewards HateBait™ to the point where it can be actually lucratively monetized on YouTube.
QUESTION 1: In your experience as a fan, your experience in the industry when the Internet was still in its crib, and your vantage today, have you seen any "This is different now" shifts in fandom?
QUESTION 2: If "toxic fandom" is a dynamic that is real and worth addressing, and assuming its easy for a fan to fall into without even noticing it; do you have any observations for self-diagnosis tips, like particular bad habits that are warning flags? (I'd love to open this one up to any thoughtful folks with relevant experience who may be reading this).
ANSWER 1: As I’ve said a couple of times over the years, the big change that the internet brought to online interaction is the ability for fans with outlier opinions about a given story, creator, character, whatever to be able to link up with similar fans across the world who share their perspective. When I was coming up as a fan, every reader I knew had some strongly-held opinions, some of which were either absurd or else rooted in that particular individual. But the group, small as it was, wouldn’t necessarily be on board with them. Once the entire world became the group, it became way easier for even the nuttiest of fans to find others on the same wavelength as them. And as I’ve opined about behavior in general, in a crowd situation, you only need one other person in the room who buys completely into whatever nonsense you’re throwing down to become emboldened to behavior you might not undertake otherwise, for fear of being ostracized.
ANSWER 2: Here, I think I can only give you the DOCTOR WHO response: “Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind.” Focus on positivity rather than negativity. there are always going to be developments in this field that are not to your tastes, but don’t receive them as if they are somehow a personal attack on you. Avoid ganging up on people, or from encouraging others to do the same. Don’t be a dick. Don’t say or do anything that you wouldn’t do if you were face-to-face with the person in question. And read or experience a piece of media before you put forward and stand behind an intractable hardcore reaction to it. In other words, observe the regular rules for behavior in a civilized society, just as you do when you’re navigating the real world. I think it’s really as simple as that.
Next, one from Ryan M:
Just wondering something, as my wife and are rewatching Loki to get ready for Ant-Man, have you checked out the Marvel Disney+ shows? If so, which one stands out among them to you? After this rewatch it goes Loki, followed by Wandavision and She-Hulk for me. I love the Gillen/Ewing take on the destined to be a villain-yet sympathetic Loki.
In part because I often get to see some of these things ahead of their broadcast premieres, and thus I’m always a little bit sketchy about exactly what information has been made public and which hasn’t, I generally tend to avoid discussing any of the Marvel Studios productions publicly. But I have seen everything that’s been released so far, yes, and I’ve enjoyed them all for the most part—some more than others, like anybody, of course. Beyond that, I don’t really feel like it’s my place to comment. Sorry, another of those nothingburger answers that pop up here from time to time.
Let’s see if we’ll have any more luck with Ray Cornwall:
Actual comics question: I've started reading the post-Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four run. While I've read all of the Lee/Kirby comics, and every issue past 190 or so, I realized I never read the run between. It's an interesting read, watching great comic creators like John Buscema, John Romita, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway (who's so YOUNG!) try to come up with new stories so quickly after Kirby, then Lee, left the title. Do you have any favorites in that time period (issue 103 to issue 231 or so- i.e. before Byrne starts his signature run)?
Also, am I the only one who realized that issues 105 to 116 take place in one single day? The team just bounces from one situation to another, with every issue ending in a cliffhanger. There's no "the next day" transition as far as I can tell. You could literally package the issues together in a collection titled "The Longest Day" or something similar.
To tackle your second question first, that’s not really entirely the case. It’s just that the time-skips aren’t called out especially strongly. But, for example, the Fantastic Four spend the night in jail between the end of #113 and the beginning of #114 when Reed gets them bailed out. There are a couple gaps of this nature baked into things, you just need to intuit where they are.
On your first question, this is the period when I started reading FANTASTIC FOUR, and it quickly became my favorite comic book, so I definitely have some opinions. For one thing, I like pretty much all of that long almost-one-day serial you mention between #105 and #116. And I like both the Roy Thomas and mostly George Perez string that begins around #164, as well as its successor the Len Wein and Marv Wolfman eras leading up to #200. That said, a lot of the 1970s, in particular Gerry’s tenure, wasn’t kind to the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine.
Montana Mott asks:
I was recently reading (and thoroughly enjoying) the Avengers Forever 1998 run. I noticed that in issue #8, the children of the Scarlet Witch were mentioned as beings that Immortus wanted to ensure did not exist due to their powerful potential (and till that point, to his knowledge he had succeeded given their disappearance in 1985 in West Coast Avengers).
In 1999, were there already plans to bring back the children of the Scarlet Witch at some point? Is that a sort of thing that editorial has as a soft goal? Or is it something that is completely initiated by a writer who wants to pick up on that story thread? I'm curious about how much editors help drive decisions like that if at all. Either way, safe to say it was executed amazingly in 2005 with the introduction of Billy Kaplan and Tommy Shepherd in Young Avengers!
No, there weren’t any plans to bring back Wanda’s children when AVENGERS FOREVER was being done. Rather, that was the manner in which we chose to interpret John Byrne’s earlier AVENGERS WEST COAST story and Immortus’ actions therein, to make them work with the overall tapestry that Kurt and Roger were laying out. The choice to bring Billy and Tommy back as Wiccan/Asgardian and Speed was entirely the brainchild of YOUNG AVENGERS writer Allan Heinberg when he pitched that series. Now, Allan was building on those earlier stories, but it wasn’t something that had specifically been laid down for that purpose.
Y. Lu says:
could've sworn Salicrup said somewhere online that he ghostwrote the script for that Nightcat comic as well. (It was the first time I ever heard of the book.) But Google's not turning anything up.
Question: Who typically writes the "Next Issue: Blah-blah-blah" caption at the end of an issue? The writer or the editor?
Jim Salicrup co-plotted NIGHTCAT with Barry Dutter, so it’s likely that a mention of that is what you’re remembering. But it was definitely scripted by Stan, trust me on that, i was there.
On a Next Issue blurb, it typically depends on where it’s positioned in the book. If you’re talking about effectively the last panel of the story, then that is likely written by the writer. If it’s something on a letters or text page, chances are greater that it’s the work of an editor, often a junior editor who may be in charge of putting that page together.
And finally, Manqueman wanted to know:
I keep wondering: How does the exclusive artist thing work? That is, what's in it for an artist? Is it a guarantee of work, a guarantee of pay, or both? (I know about the health insurance angle. Actually, it would be nice if Marvel allowed freelancers onto the plan, at their own expense of course. As we've seen, way too many are uninsured.)
And more or less back to an earlier question: How did the MacKay Avengers run come to be? Who reached out to who proposing what? And now that I think about it, isn't it kind of early to drop the preview?
There are different sorts of Exclusive Contracts as you might expect, for a variety of different circumstances. But in general, an Exclusive is a guarantee of a certain amount of work at a particular rate of pay. It may include other thresholds for if a certain number of issues are completed, or completed in sequence, and depending on a variety of factors, it may also include access to things such as group healthcare packages and the like.
And Jed got AVENGERS by pitching me for it—he was one of two people that I spoke to about writing the series after writing up my usual precis outlining where my thinking was at on what the book needed and what it had been doing well and so forth. There’s more that I could say, of course, but I think that I should probably hang onto that for some future date after the book has come out and we’re under way. But for a big series launch like this, the timing to begin to release promotional material is just about average, so not really early from our point of view.
Behind the Curtain
.I showed this online on Twitter at some point in the past, but I don’t see that as any reason why I can’t also share it with the bunch of you now.
What you see here is Alan More’s fax containing his contribution to the HEROES project, a benefit book pulled together in record time in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks in 2001. It represents the one and only time I worked together with the great writer (although “worked with” is a bit of an exaggeration—all I did was reach out to him and solicit a piece from him, and he did all the rest. No input from me, really.)
I did make the choice to see if I could line up Moore’s WATCHMEN collaborator Dave Gibbons to draw this page, which I was successful at. It seemed like an appropriate combination for this moment, and Gibbons did his usual outstanding job of distilling More’s lengthy description down into a powerful and singular image.
Here’s the original art for the final page. I did later make an attempt to convince Alan to write FANTASTIC FOUR, unsuccessfully—he did have an interest in doing ANT-MAN, though I was never quite certain whether we could sell it in sufficient quantities to make it worth pursuing, and it never came together in any event. But I bet his Ant-Man would have been mind-blowing.
Pimp My Wednesday
Let the good times roll, New Comic Book Day is right around the corner! And here’s what’s in the offing for you!
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE barrels right along in the pages of AVENGERS FOREVER #14 from Jason Aaron and Jim Towe. This one’s got a Doom the size of a planet alongside other such remarkable concepts all colliding with one another, as well as a surprising amount of heart. Things only get crazier from here on out.
And you’ve all waited long enough. FANTASTIC FOUR #4 by Ryan North and new father Iban Coello reveals what transpired in Manhattan to break up the titular team and make everybody not like them—to say nothing of the whereabouts of Reed and Sue’s and Ben and Alicia’s kids. Plus a menace attached deep dive style to an obscure part of Marvel history!
And from Associate Editor Annalise Bissa as well as more directly Eve L. Ewing, Ivan Fiorelli and Luca Maresca comes the third issue of MONICA RAMBEAU: PHOTON. Monica’s trying to get to the bottom of her displacement in the Multiverse, and a prominent character shows up to give her some clues? Sound intriguing?
And finally, in the digital realm of MARVEL UNLIMITED we begin a new storyline in the AVENGERS track, this one the work of writer Alex Segura and artist Jim Towe. It features an ad hoc team of Avengers, including Spider-Woman and Moon Knight as well as a character not seen in a long while, and concerns a town that’s been transformed into a haven for zombified people.
A Comic Book On Sale 60 Years Ago Today, April 10, 1963
Bit of a mixed bag released on this date, so let’s talk about AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2 for a little bit. After he was designed to be the new headlining feature in AMAZING FANTASY, the wall-crawler was left without a home after that title was cancelled out from under him. Two other Spidey stories had been in production when that happened, one of which is the lead tale in this issue that introduces the Vulture, who holds the honor of being the first super-powered antagonist that Spidey ever faced. The back-up story, in which the web-slinger takes on a group of aliens, was produced specifically for this issue, and it’s about as off-brand as any Spidey story could be, with its extraterrestrial enemy. Years later, Roger Stern would retcon these aliens into being special effects guys in costumes in an attempt to fit the story better into Spider-Man’s world. But you can see that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko didn’t yet quite have a handle on every aspect of their new wonder-boy’s series. At this point, in fact, Peter Parker still doesn’t have much of a supporting cast to speak of apart from his Aunt May and Jonah Jameson (who buys Pete’s photos of Spider-Man for the first time in this issue, setting up the long-term relationship.) It would take Lee and Dtiko a few more issues to work out the kinks in what they were doing here. Nevertheless, Spider-Man was extremely popular from the first, even in this prototypic form. And what a great cover! I can recall the first time I saw it, on my very first trip to my very first comic book shop in 1978, where it was displayed behind glass at the counter. This was also the month when Marvel Comics gained both its name and its long-running corner box trade dress. The corner box was a Steve Ditko innovation—he correctly intuited that, since comic books were either racked with only either the top portion of the cover or an inch of the spine showing, that featuring an image of the character in that upper left space would always make it clear to a prospective buyer just what title it was, even while buried behind other releases.
A Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
The one and only MARVEL VALENTINE SPECIAL hit comic book racks on February 12, 1997. It came about due to the success we’d been having doing yearly HOLIDAY SPECIALS. So trying a different Holiday seemed like a workable idea. Plus, all sorts of people had some nostalgia for the romance comics of years gone by, even if they hadn’t really read the things themselves. They were considered kitsch. Looking back over it, this is another solid package of assorted stories by a wide variety of talents. It leads off with a fun Spider-Man and Mary Jane story by Tom Peyer and Mark Buckingham. Including a Spidey tale that could run up front was a good way to help sell in a magazine like this, and to leave opportunities for other more niche-based content that might be of less value in selling the book. It also included a Daredevil story by John Ostrander and Mary Mitchell, an Absorbing Man and Titania piece by Tom DeFalco and Dan Lawlis—DeFalco always had a soft spot for the big goon Marvel villains, and he had paired off Crusher Creel with Titania during his time on THOR—and an X-Men piece also by DeFalco with art by Kyle Hotz. I have a memory that another creative team was meant to do this story, one more associated with the X-Men line, but that it fell apart, causing us to scramble to pull this replacement tale together. DeFalco and Hotz are not who I would typically turn to for an X-Men piece at this time, but they did a nice job with it. In every anthology of this sort, I always tried to do one story just for myself, and in this one it was a story of Venus involving the pre-hero Marvel giant monster Goom. It was written by Frank Strom and illustrated by Dan DeCarlo and Terry Austin, and I honestly don’t know if anybody really got much out of it besides myself. Pound for pound, this book likely isn’t quite as sharp as the HOLIDAY SPECIAL I talked about in the past, but it’s still a lot of fun for what it is.
Another Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
This issue of IRON MAN, #65, was released on February 12, 2003, and was the last one written by WARLORD and JON SABLE creator Mike Grell. It was also the first part of what was intended to be a five-part storyline which thereafter had to be reconceptualized and retooled on the fly, which resulted in a reading experience that was not all that I would have liked. So what happened? Well, two words, really: Bill Jemas. At around this time, buoyed by the success he’d achieved so far, and despite the fact that he really didn’t care about the mainstream Marvel books all that much, Bill began getting involved in them more and more often, often mercurially, often in a reactionary fashion. In this instance, two factors conspired against the status quo. The first was that Bill had determined that the writers in comics by and large were no damned good, and so he was looking to bring in new people from teh outside world, people whom he could indoctrinate into his way of thinking about what made for a good comic book (whatever that was.) He’d hired a woman, Theresa Focarile, whose job was to find and recruit writers from other fields. Which wasn’t a bad impulse per se—a number of very good writers got into Marvel through this outreach program, including Greg Pak and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The difficulty, of course, is that once you’ve found these writers, you need somewhere to put them, and led to the second factor. Just before this, Grell had written and drawn a three-part IRON MAN story in which Tony Stark found himself returned once more to medieval times. And Bill hated that story, hated it with a burning passion. So one day, he came down to my office and told me that I had to fire Grell immediately. I attempted to protest, I told him that we were beginning a multi-part storyline and that the timing was consequently pretty bad. But he wouldn’t be naysayed, he didn’t give a shit, and so I wound up having to phone up Grell and letting him know that he was off the series—all without telling him any specifics about what went down or why this was suddenly happening. It was a difficult phone conversation to have, but Grell was an established pro, this wasn’t the first time that a horse had been shot out from under him, and he was understanding about teh situation and even a bit sympathetic. But it still kind of sucked. Grell’s replacement was a fellow by the name of Robin Laws, who seemed like a very nice guy but whose skills and aptitudes didn’t really make him a great candidate to write IRON MAN. And he lasted only until Bill had another new endeavor that he wanted to shore up by putting somebody in place on IRON MAN, which led to Laws getting the ax just as suddenly. But that’s a tale for another day.
And Another Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
Just a quick blurb for this one, WINTER SOLDIER: THE BITTER MARCH #1, which came out on February 12, 2014, largely because in all the time I’ve been doing these Newsletters, I haven’t had an opportunity to write about working with Rick Remender. Which was often a lot of fun, Rick had crazy, wild ideas for his stories, and he approached them with a fearless verve that made his work unrelentingly interesting. Rick wasn’t always at his best in a team situation, though, having come out of creator-owned books, and so he occasionally bristled at the needs of the organization or certain individuals within it. But we got along well. In this case, with me wanting to do a WINTER SOLDIER project because the second CAPTAIN AMERICA film was in the offing, Rick came up with a story concept that killed a few birds at once, while setting things up for events to come in CAPTAIN AMERICA, which he was then also writing. In essence, Rick made the Winter Soldier into the villain in his own limited series, setting the story during that time when Bucky Barnes was being used as a super-secret Russian assassin. For his lead character, Rick introduced SHIELD operative Ran Shen, who would later in life become the villainous Iron Nail that Captain America was contending with in the present. So effectively, it’s the origin story of a villain with the Winter Soldier acting as a Jason Voorhees-esque unstoppable pursuing killer, a great premise. But the real star here was artist Roland Boschi, whose sense of page and panel composition and ability to depict action in a cinematic fashion made this series a delight to work on. It’s a really good spy/adventure story with some real punch to it, especially in that Rick didn’t have to worry about keeping almost any of his cast members intact to the end of the adventure. A real hidden gem that’s worth seeking out.
Posted at TomBrevoort.com
Yesterday, I wrote about the simplified editions of several then-current comics that DC/National Comics produced for the United States Navy during World War II, focusing especially on the first one, this issue of ACTION COMICS
And five years ago, I wrote about the first all-new issue of BATMAN FAMILY.
And that ought to hold everyone for another week, I expect. But as usual, watch your phones and other devices for another dispatch come Sunday the next.
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I’m curious how much input editors have on paper stock for a series. Lately, I’ve noticed more Marvel first issues with thicker covers akin to what we used to see before Marvel changed to flimsier covers a while back. I also noticed that the Doctor Strange Fall Sunrise mini is printed on different paper than most Marvel titles. Is this something that editors influence, or is it a decision made elsewhere in the process? How difficult is it to get approval to deviate from standard materials?
Also, I recently read through the Avengers/Fantastic Four Domination Factor event based on your description of it here. It was a great reminder of how much I loved that Heroes Return era where creators seemed to really be melding classic sensibilities with modern (for the time) technique. Are there any other lesser-discussed or underrated books from that era you’d recommend?
Thank you so much for answering my Young Avengers question! I'm so happy that Heinberg built on those story threads the way he did, and in doing so created some of my favorite characters in fiction. I might have some more questions in the future, but for now that will do. Your posts have become a highlight of my Sunday, and I will eagerly await the next one.