Hello! And welcome to this latest descent into madness. My name is Tom Brevoort, and I’ll be your host for this experience. Thanks for signing up to follow this Newsletter (unless you’re simply reading it at the site—which is also fine, we don’t judge here.) I’m probably best known to most of you thanks to my long and still-enduring career at Marvel Comics, where I presently hold the important-sounding title of Vice President, Publishing and Senior Executive Editor. I’m also recognized as something of a comic book historian, and spend a bunch of my spare time writing about it, and related subjects, primarily over at The Tom Brevoort Experience
So why am I committing myself to yet another demand on my time like this? Well, partly it’s because I’ve been feeling nostalgic of late for my old Formspring page, where I’d answer a bunch of questions posted by fans almost every morning—at least until the site turned into a fiery death-pit from which there was no escape. Discourse hasn’t exactly been valued in our culture these past couple of years. But time was, I used to bang out a blog entry for Marvel.com practically every day, and while none of those entries were deathless prose, some of them contained some worthwhile insights—even if only into the workings of my own mind.
I like to experiment with all of the different ways we have available to us these days to communicate with one another. And I absorb so much pop culture on a regular basis that I almost always have some pithy observations to be made that are more substantive than 260 characters, yet which don’t truly warrant an entire full piece at the website. I also like the flexibility of writing about whatever strikes my fancy at a given moment. Hence, this new experiment.
So for all of you who weren’t around for those earlier forays into digital social interaction, let me go ahead and lay out the way this is all going to work. I’m going to be operating at first on a trial-and-error basis, figuring out what works best for this format and what doesn’t. So if you like something, let me know and you’re more likely to get more of it (and if you hate something, I have no doubt you’ll make that opinion patently clear—internet, you know.) Just like with my old Marvel.com blog, I’m going to mostly be composing these pieces in one draft, straight to plate, with no real editing involved. Look for plenty of “teh”s to crop up along the way—for some reason, a few years back, my fingers began to transpose the e’s and the h’s on “the” and though I’ve tried to correct it ever since, there doesn’t seem to be any real remedy.
This newsletter will always be free. I already have a job, and Marvel pays me well enough to underwrite my lifestyle, so I don’t see any need to burden you with making a financial contribution to fund my ego-boost. However, if you do feel the urge to give a little something, donations are always welcome to The Hero Initiative, the charitable organization that helps out comic book creators who have fallen on hard times. Believe me, any cash that you’d drop on me could do a lot more good in their hands.
Also, this Newsletter isn’t in any way Marvel-affiliated. That means that any and all opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. And while I do figure that I’ll wind up plugging assorted projects that I may be working on along the way, we’ll also be talking about a wide range of subjects, so I want to be very clear about this division right up front—especially given that, sooner or later, we’re going to wind up touching on something that may be political or hot-button. If you have a problem with anything I’ve said, that problem is with me, the monolithing Marvel organization has nothing to do with any of this.
I’m also going to try to keep things positive in this space as much as possible. Which may prove to be a challenge given that I’m typically a pretty negative, cynical, glass-half-empty sort of a person. But I feel as though we all get enough of that in our daily lives, so why not try to be the change you want to see in the world? In that spirit, while I welcome dissenting opinions and positions to mine, if you’re going to leave comments or feedback, I’d ask that you try to be respectful of everybody involved.
Finally, my game plan is to produce this Newsletter on a weekly basis. It’s not unlikely that I may miss a week here or there if real life gets in the way, but such is my intention. Having done the blog for years, jamming one of these out a week doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable workload. And I like the discipline of having a weekly deadline.
So that’s me. One more thing that isn’t really your problem but that you ought to be aware of: every time I play with one of these new formats, I’m keenly aware of the time-to-result ratio. Put plainly, I’m hoping to grow a nice little audience here for my nonsense, one that’s large enough to warrant spending the time on this. This is what ultimately back-burnered my sketchy attempts at creating video content, I couldn’t penetrate the algorithm enough to make the endeavor worthwhile—it took less time to do written pieces, and those pieces reached more readers. All of which is to say that I’d appreciate your support in getting the word out about this place assuming that you like what you read, and that doing so is really the best way to help insure that I continue with it. But I don’t know, maybe you’re sick of me already—you wouldn’t be the first.
All right, enough with the preamble. Let’s get into an assortment of actual content.
Behind the Curtain
I expect that from time to time I’ll include a look at different artifacts from my many long days in the comic book field. So to start with, let’s begin in the gutter…
These two signs hung in the Men’s room at the Marvel offices a few buildings ago. You can imagine for yourself what the typical conditions of that bathroom were sometimes like, that they warranted such helpful instructions to be posted. Comic book people, it turns out, are often poor at basic hygiene. I can only assume that there was a similar Elektra sign situated within the Women’s room, but I never had the opportunity to find out for certain. I’m not sure who the artist was who executed these two pieces, but they’ve never been published anywhere else so far as I know.
Pimp My Wednesday
Now, one of the things a Newsletter like this is for is to plug upcoming projects. And for me, most all of those projects really belong to somebody else, the writers and artists who come up with those stories and carry them to fruition. Still, I’m going to use this spot to highlight whatever books I have turning up in comic shops and through digital delivery the next coming Wednesday, and I’ll probably say a few words about what they are. Don’t feel obligated to purchase any of them, unless you care about the welfare of my wife and children.
As it turns out, this was the wrong week to start up a Newsletter, as thanks to some supply chain issues that have been impacting Marvel’s ability to print and ship books, I don’t actually have anything coming out this week, at least not in print. But there is one release, the final chapter of the AVENGERS FOREVER INFINITY COMIC, #4, on the Marvel Unlimited service. This is a completely original, never-before-in-print serialized story by writer Jason Aaron and artist Kev Walker that connects to the ongoing storyline in the regular AVENGERS FOREVER series as well as current events in AVENGERS. For those not in the know, the Infinity Comic format is a vertical scroll similar to a webtoon that’s designed to be best experienced on a phone or a tablet. Right now, these stories are only available to subscribers of MARVEL UNLIMITED, the digital library subscription service, but that thing is such a bargain in terms of the quantity of available material as compared to cost that I don’t at all mind plugging it here. It really is a great value for any folks who are comfortable consuming their comics content, new and old, on a screen of some kind.
We also just announced ALL OUT AVENGERS at the Philadelphia Fan Expo this weekend, which I’ve been working on for a while on the QT. I’m writing this on Friday night, but it isn’t scheduled to go live until Sunday, when the panel referenced above is scheduled to take place. So no doubt there will be some additional information and artwork floating around the interwebs in the aftermath of that. For now, let me just tell you that it’s a new series being written by Derek Landy and illustrated by Greg Land (yes, the creative team of Landy and Land) backed up by inker Jay Leisten and color artist Frank D’Armata, and that it’s got a fun storytelling hook that will make it the Loudest Marvel Comic Book currently being published. You’ll be able to get a tiny 3-page taste in this year’s FREE COMIC BOOK DAY offering, with the actual series rolling out later on this year. And I’ll no doubt have more specifics that I can reveal to you about it as we get closer to the actual publication day.
And now we’re done with the shilling. See, wasn’t that relatively painless?
Comic Books On Sale 60 Years Ago Today, April 10, 1962
One of the things that I’ve been doing over at the Twitter account is posting images of the various comic books that were first released every day in five year increments, going back all the way to the 1930s. I thought I’d expand on that concept here a little bit by spotlighting books that came out on the same date that the Newsletter releases in five year increments that might have something noteworthy about them. So for our first two examples:
Boy, it starts to seem like Jack Kirby only had one design idea this month 60 years ago, doesn’t it? Both Doctor Doom and the Monster in the Iron Mask appear to purchase their facial apparel from the same blacksmith. Amazingly, both of these Marvel books hit the comic book racks on the same day. Despite this, some oblivious or unscrupulous dealers over the years have attempted to sell TALES OF SUSPENSE #31 as a “Doctor Doom prototype—for the most part, most of the Pre-Hero Marvel prototypes are nonsense. Not only does FANTASTIC FOUR #5 introduce the best villain in the Marvel Age of Comics, but it also sees Kirby’s work inked by Joe Sinnott on a super hero title for the first time. This combination looked so much more complete and polished than what had come before (and most of what would come afterwards for another twenty or thirty issues) that fans of the time actually clamored for more. One of them, editor and scripter Stan Lee, would have happily acquiesced, but Marvel publisher Martin Goodman wouldn’t kick in the additional five dollars a page that would have cost, and so Joe had to turn back the next issue with only a few faces and figures inked when he got a more lucrative offer from another publisher. It’d be four more years before the Kirby/Sinnott combination would become the gold standard of Marvel artistic collaborations and coincide with the strongest period of the series. Sinnott would thereafter remain associated with the title for another twenty years, defining the book’s look despite whether it was being penciled by John Buscema, John Romita, Rich Buckler, George Perez or Keith Pollard.
Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
As an adjunct to the above, I thought it might provide a good range of potential material for me to talk a little bit about individual comic books that came out on this date in past years that I had a hand in. Having worked at Marvel for in excess of 33 years at this point, I’m relatively sure that I can find a book released for almost any date on the calendar. And this is a good one to start with.
TOMORROW KNIGHTS #1 came out on April 10, 1990, and was one of the first titles that I worked on as a newly-hired Assistant Editor. I don’t recall whether I’m credited in this issue or not at this point. See, when I was first hired into Bob Budiansky’s Special Projects office at Marvel, it was to work with his new Managing Editor (what we call an Associate Editor these days) Marcus McLaurin. Marcus had been working with Carl Potts on the Epic line of titles before he’d been promoted, and he’d taken a number of them with him, TOMORROW KNIGHTS being one. It was a science fiction series by Rod Whigham and Roy Richardson that I remember having a bunch of potential to it, but which really didn’t make a ripple when it came out—EPIC had an ongoing problem with trying to sell non-super hero/non-Marvel Universe projects from a company and in a marketplace that was so geared to the Marvel Universe. So TOMORROW KNIGHTS only lasted six issues. Anyway, I only worked with Marcus for about a month before Bob’s direct assistant editor Dwayne McDuffie left staff to go freelance as a writer and Bob shifted me over to work directly for him, a plan that I expect he had in mind from the moment he brought me on board. It was probably just as well, as Marcus and I weren’t all that simpatico in terms of taste or approach. But I did learn a bunch of things from him. For one thing, he was very interested in design, and that was an aspect of comic book publishing that I really hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to up until that point. Anyway, probably the most lasting thing that came out of TOMORROW KNIGHTS was that it led to me meeting Karl Kesel for the first time. Karl was a friend of writer/inker Roy Richardson and came up to the office with him at one point. I remember that I told Karl that the HAWK AND DOVE series that he was then writing was the best Spider-Man book on the stands, a comment that made Marcus blanch a little bit. Yeah, he and I were definitely coming at this business from very different places.
In his letters pages for POWERS and other titles, Brian Bendis would routinely include a feature he called NO LIFE, in which he talked briefly about different bits of media that he was consuming that struck his fancy. As I read a lot and watch a lot, and tend to have a myriad of thoughts about what I’m watching and reading, I thought that I too would follow suit. The Monofocus title refers to the fact that, when I come across something new that makes an impact, I wind up deep diving into it in as complete a way as possible as quickly as possible—with an all-consuming passion. Thereafter, once my initial interest runs its course, it’s occasionally like a fever breaking, where I’m thereafter not even all that interested any longer beyond a cursory glance. Not everything falls into this category of behavior, but some of it does. And I recognize the patter, as my son Torin is very much the same way (albeit with very different interests than my own.)
So here’s a quick overview of some of the material that’s been competing for my attention this past week or so:
In terms of reading comics, I’ve been primarily focused on the WALT AND SKEEZIX collections of the GASOLINE ALLEY newspaper strip from the 1920s and 1930s. It’s just a little bit miraculous that these little four-panel stories were conceived and executed more than a century ago, and yet we can still experience and enjoy them today. Growing up, I’d never had any interest in GASOLINE ALLEY despite it running in our newspaper every day, but the earlier strips, by originator Frank King, are really lovely. Chris Ware, who packages the collections, mentions in his first introduction that in order to truly appreciate King’s strip, it’s necessary to read a whole bunch of them at once, to find the rhythm of what he’s doing. I found that to very much be the case. GASOLINE ALLEY started out as a strip created to capitalize on a fad: the sudden availability of automobiles to the public at large. But after a few years of car mechanics-related business, the strip transitioned into a long-running soap opera when an orphaned baby, quickly named Skeezix (derived from a slang word meaning rascal), is found upon the doorstep of bachelor car enthusiast Walt Wallet. he interesting thing about King’s approach is that, starting with the arrival of Skeezix, he permitted the characters to age in real time, with birthdays and anniversaries celebrated every year, and the progression from infant to toddler to child to teen to man and beyond. It’s not a strip with huge stakes to it for the most part, it’s very much a slice of life affair. But it’s a compelling piece of work when experienced in big, years-long chunks, and it provides a window into the manner in which people lived years ago. (Of course, some of the racial caricatures are cringeworthy, a common drawback with almost any material that’s this old.) I’m just about to start in on the 1929 volume, which is when the Great Depression hit the country, so I’m interested in seeing just how King folds that social situation into his narrative, and what the impression of it is like in real time. That’s analogous to a creator today making the Covid-19 epidemic a central plot point in a daily narrative, as it’s going on.
On television/streaming, I’m at something of a transition point, as I’ve been wrapping up certain shows while others are in the offing. I finished up the second season of UPLOAD on Amazon Prime, which wasn’t quite as strong as the first season but which found its equilibrium in later episodes. I’m continuing to watch whatever STAR TREK show happens to be airing new episodes—like the Marvel series on Disney+, Paramount seems to have them lined up in such a way that the end of one coincides with the start of another. The current second season of PICARD is as rocky and poorly plotted as ever, relying on my nostalgia for the character and Patrick Stewart to carry me through; so far, that gambt is working for them, but it’s good that there are only a few episodes to come, it’s a vexing production.
On the flipside, I was totally consumed by LOVE IS BLIND: JAPAN, blowing through its short season pretty rapidly. I really am a sucker for a good dating show, and while the U.S. production it is based on is, by reputation, a typical American reality series trash fire, the Japanese incarnation is sweetly genuine. It shares some of its DNA with TERRACE HOUSE, which was another small obsession of mine, in that, at least for this first series, all of the contestants take the situation absolutely seriously. I’m sure there’s some reality TV shenanigans going on in some of the staging of events, but the end product is so earnest that I really don’t care if that was the case. I’ve also been continuing with my rewatch of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, inspired by the conclusion of the sequel series. I’m up to the middle of the third season at this point, and you can see the show starting to become more cartoonish and outlandish as it goes, and as the producers realize that it may run for a long time, so they need to stretch their premise out. I was a regular viewer back when the show was first being aired, because I liked that it was usually really smart even when it was being stupid, and the cast was all really good. Plus, I liked the gimmick of the premise. I had totally put that show away after its disastrous conclusion—but I wrote about that already over at the website, so you can read about it there if you’re interested.
Finally, inspired by seeing a band on YouTube do a cover of its theme song, I’ve gone back to take a second look at MOBILE SUIT VICTORY GUNDAM. I had tried to watch this series when it first aired in 1993, but a bad narrative choice—the producers were worried that the titular robot didn’t show up until episode 4, so they juggled the order of the initial episodes, starting the series en media res without a proper introduction to the characters and situations—kept me from really being able to follow it well. It’s honestly not a great show, a lesser effort in the GUNDAM canon. But it had some solid designs and a nice set of opening titles, as seen below:
I had more that I wanted to say here, but apparently I’m hitting the Gmail word limit—who knew! So I’ll hold that stuff off for next time, and see you folks in seven days. Thanks for being there!
Thanks, Tom! I'll be reading...