Milton Griepp Interview

Milton Griepp at the 2010 C2E2

Milton Griepp at the 2010 C2E2

Originally published in May of 2004. This is another one of my comic business type interviews. One of the most significant events to happen in the comics industry was Marvel buying Heroes World and exclusively distributing their comics through them. That started a chain reaction leading to Diamond having a virtual monopoly on comic book distribution to the direct market. Milton Griepp had a unique view of those events that I don’t think anybody else had asked him about.

 

Milton Griepp Interview

Milton Griepp has been in the comics industry for 30 years as a publisher, distributor, retailer and consultant. He once ran the largest direct distribution comic book company Capital City Distribution. He was involved with the Internet retail company NextPlanetOver.com and is currently running ICv2.com, a pop culture industry news Website. Along the way he has also done lots of consulting on the comic book industry. In this interview we go through his career and he gives us his analysis of the comic book industry. He also examines the effect other media are having on comics and whether manga’s popularity will last.

 

Jamie: Let’s take it from the beginning. I’m sure that like most in this industry you started as a reader. What kind of comic books got you hooked?

Milton Griepp: The first comic I remember reading was a Carl Barks Disney comic and I continued to read those. I also read a lot of DCs. Superboy, The Legion and Superman were probably the three things I read the most. I inherited a collection from my cousin that was mostly 50’s comics, including a lot of DC’s, and I continued buying those until the 60’s. In his collection were things like the Fox and Crow and other funny animal stuff that I read. When I got to college, I started reading Marvels and I also read a lot of undergrounds which were coming out in great numbers at that time.

 

Jamie: When about did you get involved in the business end of comics?

Milton Griepp: From a friend in high school. When we were in college he started a business advertising in shopper papers in northern Wisconsin, buying collections, and taking them to conventions and selling them there or selling them though the Comic Buyers Guide. I started going to shows with him in the early 70s, about 72 and 73, and working behind the table with him was my first exposure to comics as a retailer.

 

Jamie: When did you move into distribution?

Milton Griepp: That experience in the comics business got me a job in 1976 with a company called Wisconsin Independent News Distributors which carried some magazines and books and had a comic department. I was hired for the comic department. So that was my first distribution experience. The territory was fairly limited: mostly Wisconsin, a little of Illinois, a little bit of Minnesota. Then they went out of business and their business got absorbed by a company called Big Rapids Distribution Company, which at one time became the largest direct distributor in the late 70s. I worked for them, also out of Wisconsin.

 

Jamie: I understand you and John Davis teamed up to form Capital City (Distribution). When about did that happen?

Milton Griepp: I hired John at WIND and we also worked together at Big Rapids. When Big Rapids went out of business, John talked me into starting a business that would handle just comics. Both Big Rapids and Wisconsin Independent News Distributors had comics as a small part of the company, along with book and magazine distribution. So the idea that was different was to do something that specialized in comics. That was in the early 1980s.

 

Jamie: I understand at one point a group of smaller distributors all combined to take Capital to a national distributor?

Milton Griepp: I don’t know where you got that impression.

 

Jamie: That never happened?

Milton Griepp: That never happened, but we did do some small acquisitions. Our first location outside of Wisconsin was–we bought a little company called North Eastern Ohio News, which was primarily a comics distributor, based in the Cleveland area. We did some other small acquisitions over the years but most of our growth was by sales efforts one store at a time.

 

Jamie: I understand Capital was #2 going up to #1 competing against Diamond most of the way . . . Were you surprised when Marvel decided to pull out, buy Heroes World and distribute exclusively through them?

Milton Griepp: Just to set the stage, Capital was #1 until Diamond bought Bud Plant. Diamond was #2 and Bud Plant was #3 and the combination of those two companies made them larger than we were. So we were #2 at the time Marvel did their deal with Heroes World.

I guess in one sense it wasn’t a surprise, as Marvel had been making noises about being dissatisfied with the direct distribution system for a couple of years, primarily because they didn’t think they were getting their due as the largest publisher. But primarily I was surprised, because I didn’t think anybody would do anything that stupid.

 

Jamie: At that time, what did you think would happen to the comic industry?

Milton Griepp: Well, it was a very dynamic situation. We really didn’t know what to expect, so we ran the business on several tracks trying to prepare for different contingencies. There was a lot of damage done to the business during that period. Heroes World was really incapable of distributing Marvels nationally, so that was happening. Also, at the same time, the market was declining rapidly after a period of explosive growth during the early 90’s. And other publishers were maneuvering, deciding what they were going to do in the wake of Marvel’s decision. So it was an unpredictable situation, and it required a number of contingency plans for different eventualities.

 

Jamie: Looking back, do you wish you had tried harder to get DC to go exclusive with Capital instead of Diamond, with some other deal you could have made them?

Milton Griepp: Well, DC came to us and other companies and said they were thinking about going with a single company for their distributor as Marvel had. And we did pitch them hard to go with Capital; we couldn’t have tried any harder to do that. We were also trying to convince them not to go with a single distributor, and we felt they could have taken a leadership position with the retailers and distributors and united the rest of the industry against the model that Marvel was developing with the single distributor model. It would have gotten a lot of good will and a lot of support and I believe that would have been a very viable and successful action for them.

In the end I see DC’s choice as the most conservative option, which is not surprising as DC is part of a large company and that creates a tendency towards conservatism. The first instance of conservatism was that they followed what Marvel had done (Marvel was #1, DC was #2) and they followed to a single distributor. The second conservative choice was picking Diamond, as they were larger than we were, and so it represented less risk of losing business to choose Diamond than it did to choose Capital. So they took the two low-risk decisions and that led them to Diamond.

 

Jamie: How do you think the exclusive agreements between publishers and distributors have affected the industry?

Milton Griepp: Well, it’s brought stability and I think that’s had both positive and negative affects. On the positive side, considering the circumstances (this is very important), publishers had a reliable way to reach the market and through a very profitable company that always pays its bills. Given the volatility in what was happening to the smaller distributors at the time, that was a good thing for publishers and ultimately the industry.

It was also good for retailers because they were experiencing the same upheaval in terms of where and how they got their products. So after the transition period when Diamond took over the Capital stores after they bought Capital City, that led to a very reliable system of distribution for retailers. That was a good thing.

On the negative side, the fact that there were fewer viewpoints at the distribution level slowed innovation to some degree. I don’t know how much of that effect there was, but you have to assume that a number of companies all working in that field with a variety of viewpoints would have led to faster change and more innovation.

 

Jamie: After Diamond bought out Capital, did they offer you a position there?

Milton Griepp: They didn’t and I really didn’t expect one. I was a CEO and they didn’t need a CEO and they didn’t need a COO. They had Steve Geppi as the CEO and a very capable COO with Chuck Parker. They didn’t really have a position that fit my skills so I didn’t expect an offer and didn’t receive one.

 

Jamie: After that you started working with NextPlanetOver.com. What was that experience like?

Milton Griepp: Actually that was a while after the Capital sale, and both before and after that I did some consulting in the field.

Well, the NextPlanetOver experience was a unique time and place. It was in San Francisco, and at a venture-funded Internet company at the peak of the dot com boom. That was a really interesting time and place to be geographically, from a business history point of view, and from a technological innovation point of view. It was a really interesting thing to see.

I’d seen a lot of bubbles before in the pop culture products business, you know especially when there is a resale market involved. Like the black and white comics–there was a bubble and then everybody produces them, then there’s too many and then the market collapses. I hadn’t seen a capital bubble of this type, which was that the cost of capital was very low and the money was flowing into all kinds of Internet businesses. So that was new to see, and although there were some negative outcomes, the experience was very positive. I learned a lot about private equity, learned a lot about technology and the Internet.

Capital was a very technologically progressive company; even in the early 90s we were doing order uploads and using electronic communication with our customers. But this was on a different level, because we were on the real cutting edge, at that time, of the development of e-commerce technology. So we sold off the company at the end and that was a negative, but the experience of being there at that time and place and how much I learned was very positive, on balance.

 

Jamie: There was controversy at that time, particularly when they were being located at the same warehouse Diamond was shipping comics from. What did you think about that at the time?

Milton Griepp: Well, it wasn’t really located at the same place. Diamond was doing order fulfillment for NextPlanetOver. NextPlanetOver bought merchandise from Diamond and rather than Diamond doing one big shipment to NextPlanetOver they shipped it directly to NextPlanetOver’s customers. That was a very efficient system in that it gave NextPlanetOver access to a large inventory and allowed the company to offer that to its customers without being in possession before it was being purchased.

It was on the original model that Amazon was built on–an inventory-less model where the product was offered, then acquired from a wholesaler at the time of sale. So from a business point of view I think it made a lot of sense. There was some controversy from the reaction from retailers thinking NextPlanetOver had a special deal that was going to hurt them. But ultimately there was very little threat to brick and mortar retailers from that arrangement. The controversy boomed and then tailed off. It wasn’t unexpected and ultimately didn’t affect our business.

 

Jamie: Out of the whole ordeal what did you learn about trying to sell comic books online?

Milton Griepp: I wouldn’t really call it an ordeal. There were certainly parts of it that were an ordeal, but over-all there were also some positive things about it.

From my first involvement in the company, I wanted it focused not on selling comic books online (periodicals), but on selling graphic novels, toys, apparel–selling the things that customers bought other than comics. Comics are really too cheap to sell through a traditional shopping cart model where you are selling, at that time, a two dollar product one at a time. It just wasn’t an efficient model and ultimately we did change the orientation of the product mix to emphasize the other product lines that Diamond also offered.

The subscription service model that’s been around for many years works well for selling periodical comics via mail order or via the Internet. Selling one at a time is just not a terribly efficient model, which was what I thought going in and that was proven by the results. We did re-orient the mix to focus on some of the higher-priced items and I’d say that was the upshot of the learning experience there–that selling comics like backlist in an “off-the-rack” situation was not a viable business model, but I do think, as other businesses have proven since, selling graphic novels, toys, and the higher-priced stuff works fine.

 

Jamie: During that time you were also doing some consulting work. Were there any clients in particular you could name that you worked with?

Milton Griepp: Well, I’ll talk a bit about the categories I’ve worked with. I worked with publishers, I worked with retailers, toy companies, international consulting firms, educational firms, educational institutions, investment firms. My clients generally prefer that I advise them without revealing their identities.

 

Jamie: When coming up with ICv2.com, why did you decide to go as a Website instead of as a printed magazine?

Milton Griepp: I had just come out of a Web business, and I learned a lot about it, so I had this knowledge base on how to do it. It seemed inexpensive to start a Website as a result of improving technology at the time. When we started NextPlanetOver, for example, the code for the content area had to be all written from scratch. By the time I started ICv2, things like the search function could be acquired relatively inexpensively instead of writing it from scratch. That learning experience of how to develop the Website relatively inexpensively allowed saving a non- trivial amount of money.

The reason I wanted to do it on the Web was to use that knowledge, and I felt the Web was a superior way of delivering news. Obviously it’s faster and more accessible; also it involves the ability to interact with the user, which does not exist in print. I also believed I could develop an audience at a lower cost on the Web than in print so it was a classic business model-driven decision.

 

Jamie: Last year ICv2.com did a printed magazine called the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Graphic Novels. How successful was that?

Milton Griepp: Actually we’ve done a number of magazines; I think the number is over 10, in three categories. We do the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Anime and Manga, the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Graphic Novels, and the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Games.

I started pitching the first magazine at San Diego a year and a half ago and was really surprised at the response, which was that advertisers that were resistant to the idea of advertising online were receptive to the idea of advertising in a magazine. I think it’s just a matter of preference that people have established over the years with certain types of media. So that was a big response on the advertisers’ side.

On the content side, the magazine was also a good fit with our online content. The online content is very fast; we publish daily, with shorter articles, primarily news. The print medium allowed us to take a longer view of things, do more analysis, more features, more in-depth reporting. I think the two media, online and print, are complementary and we really like the way they fit together. I think both are important to how ICv2 serves its audience and advertisers. So online was a good place to start and print was a good place to expand to.

 

Jamie: Despite doing well in bookstores, many comic book retailers are having a hard time selling manga. What do you think retailers have to do to move manga like the bookstores do?

Milton Griepp: Well, I want to push back on the idea that comic stores are having a lot of difficulty selling manga. Obviously they are selling a lot more manga than they were a few years ago and I think that’s going to continue. The thing is, some comic stores are a lot better than others at manga, and I think it’s a matter of how they merchandise the manga line, also what their clientele base is like, and how they retail to their clientele.

The reason bookstores have grown much faster than comic book stores have over the last few years is that bookstores have a larger female audience and a lot of the manga content is directed at female consumers. So a comic store that focuses on superheroes or action adventure material that has a primarily male audience is going to miss out on a lot of manga sales because there is a lot of material that doesn’t appeal to that action adventure audience.

On the other hand, I have seen some comic stores do a very good job with manga. In fact, the best manga stores I’ve seen are comic stores that carry far greater variety than the best bookstores. They also have better product knowledge at the counter than the best bookstores. So I think that comic stores can be extremely successful with manga, it’s just a matter of how they merchandise it, who their clientele is and how they reach out to their clientele–a store that is friendly for consumers of both sexes and all ages (as the manga audience in bookstores is a little bit younger than the typical comic book store audience). So comic stores can reach that audience, but historically comic stores have been a male-supported distribution channel and that presents barriers in some stores.

 

Jamie: ICv2.com has been tracking sales numbers for quite some time. Are there any particular tends you’ve noticed that others in the industry should know?

Milton Griepp: Well, first of all there has been a change a little over a year ago in how Diamond puts out their numbers, how they calculate indexes, and that has affected our ability to do year-to-year comparisons. Between 2000 and 2002, we were able to do year-to-year comparisons which were extremely useful, because it tracked what was happening in comic stores in that period, which was the first growth that had happened in about a decade. That was really a good thing to track.

Now we’re just getting to the end of the first year with Diamond and its new numbers. Once again, the first month we did comparisons for, the market was up and that was a good thing. In the long run, Diamond using actual numbers instead of pre-orders for their index is going to be very positive because it’s a much more accurate snapshot of the market.

In terms of overall trend analysis, by looking at the comic stores and other channels, the biggest growth is graphic novel sales in bookstores. The biggest thing happening there is that bookstores are replacing newsstand distribution, which collapsed for comics in the last five to ten years, as a feeder system into comic book stores. In other words, consumers are exposed to comics in book stores and if they want to find a broader range of titles they’ll end up in a comic store. Before, it used to be that happened from magazine-type outlets and newsstands, convenience stores, those kinds of outlets, where people pick up a comic book and then find their way to a comic store later. I think that’s a huge, huge shift in the comic business.

I mentioned earlier the fact that younger readers and female readers are finding comics in bookstores and that’s a hugely positive trend for the entire industry. Opening up the market to female readers to a greater degree doubles the available pool of consumers.

Getting younger kids reading comics is positive because it will hopefully build lifetime consumers. The comic market has been aging dramatically for the last 10 to 12 years, and this can reverse that trend. Those are really positive things happening in the comics business, the fact that the business in comic stores is also growing, those are positive things.

I think we’re seeing a greater impact of other media on comic sales, specifically movies and television. Obviously the Batman movie had a huge impact on Batman product sales in the late 80s and early 90s, but now there’s a whole plethora of media influences on comic sales just in the last few years. Smaller movies like Ghost World and American Splendor, something like Road to Perdition or From Hell and the mega-blockbusters like Spider-Man, Hulk, and X-men, those have all been really positive events for comic sales.

On television now, not only are there a number of cartoons being done based on American comics but the anime, which is tied to manga, are also popularizing those properties to a great degree. So movies and television are having a much greater impact than they had in the past, which is obviously a very positive thing for the comics business.

There is a bunch of positive trends sort of coalescing in the industry and it’s a good time for the comic business.

 

Jamie: I noticed that movies don’t seem to help the superhero comics quite as much as do the independent comics.

Milton Griepp: Spider-Man and Hulk moved a lot of product through all channels and it lifted Spider-Man graphic novels to the top of the charts. The bookstores moved a lot of Spider-Man product, as did the comic stores, so I think there is a connection. Recent Marvel movies have shown that. I think it doesn’t always work that way, The Punisher, for example. The early indication is it’s not moving product quite as well as Hellboy is. So I think it depends on the combination of the movie and the material.

 

Jamie: How do you see the comic book industry changing in the next 5 years?

Milton Griepp: I see the comic audience growing in a number of demographic groups, including adults that are interested in comics as literature. Certainly there is a pop culture aspect to them, but comics are being taken more seriously as real literature. This has been going on for a while, but for the last couple of years we’ve really accelerated that trend. And at the same time, we see the market for comics growing among younger readers, girls, and women. Comics being reviewed by book reviewers in the literary establishment also opens up an even larger, more serious reading audience of adults. So again we see multiple audiences in which the comics medium is growing. So I think those are very positive trends.

Another aspect that is unlike some previous growth trends of the comic business: none of this is being based on the after-market value, so the risk of collapse in the business due to a collapse of after-market values or overproduction or whatever just isn’t there in the same way as was there in earlier growth periods. That again is a very, very positive trend.

 

Jamie: So you don’t think manga is just a fad then? (laughs)

Milton Griepp: It’s been going on too long to be a fad. The Japanese stuff has been growing since the early 80s, so you can’t take a 25-year trend and say “It’s a fad.”

 

Jamie: yes . . .

Milton Griepp: Certainly there are times where it gets super-hot and then cools off. Pokemon was a huge phenomenon and it exploded, then there was space for a while and shrinks back a little bit, but I don’t think it’s a fad. I wrote something in 2000-2001 that said something to the effect that we’re witnessing a change in world culture, in the sense that more and more pop culture is coming from Asia. You can almost say that as American culture took over from British as the ruling popular culture, now we’re seeing a move towards Asian pop culture.

Hollywood is not going anywhere, American television is not going anywhere, American comics is not going anywhere; but there is a growing influence in all markets from Asian pop culture. Something like Kill Bill is ostensibly an American movie, but it’s got elements of Hong Kong action movies, little pieces of old American movies, there is anime in the first volume.

You can see the Asian influence growing in American pop culture in so many ways. So that’s another reason that I don’t think manga is just a fad.

Brian Hibbs Interview

Originally published September of 2001. The follow up part was published a month later. What was interesting about this interview is that not too long after it Brian Hibbs would sue Marvel Comics for their refusal to accept returns on late or significantly altered books, as per Marvel’s own legally binding Terms of Service said they would do. Marvel settled the case out of court by giving comic shops credit for those books, which retailers were very thankful of. Shortly after that Brian was one of the founding members of ComicsPro, a trade organization for direct market comic shops.

 

An Interview With Brian Hibbs

Brian Hibbs is a very active comic retailer who owns a comic store called Comix Experience in San Francisco. Lately, he has been responding to public comments by both Editor in Chief Joe Quesada and President of Marvel Publishing Bill Jemas. Recently, Bill Jemas had an interview with GrayHavenMagazine.com in which he gave a number of surprising answers to questions concerning how stores should display comics, the price of Marvel vs. DC books, how quickly Marvel books sell and the very controversial no-overprint policy. In this interview, Brian responds to some of those statements by Bill Jemas and also talks about other topics concerning the industry.

 

Jamie: Tell us about your experience in comics. How long have you been a retailer, what’s your store like and what else you do in the industry?

Brian Hibbs: Comix Experience has been around for 12 years now. Opened April Fools day in 1989, but I’ve worked in comic retail for 16 years, something like that. I worked in another store before I opened my own. I’ve also done a little work in distribution, the only thing I haven’t done is publishing, actually. What’s the store like? We’re primarily a bookstore oriented comic shop. Trade paperbacks and Graphic Novels are our focus. We’ve been nominated and won national and local awards for excellence, that kind of thing.

 

Jamie: What’s different from your store than typical comic stores, I understand you are different in how you rack things?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah, we do genre racking and things like that, but I don’t know what a “typical” comic shop really is. Even among the stores that I would consider my peers and who run excellent comic shops, I don’t think any of us do things the same ways or stock things the same ways. It’s one of the things I like about the comics business, actually.

 

Jamie: Variety eh?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah, exactly. We’re really focused on reading. I guess the biggest difference I can say between us and the “average” store, we simply don’t allow speculation of any kind. You’re not allowed to buy more than two copies of any comic from us unless you tell us in advance that you want it. We’re completely focused on reading. That’s why we’re trade paperback and graphic novel oriented because I tend to think that’s a superior format for the reader, rather than a collector.

 

Jamie: I understand you also have a column?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah I write a… well, it’s not a monthly column anymore. It was monthly for many years there, about 8 years, in Comics and Games Retailer Magazine published by Krause Publications (the people that do Comics Buyers Guide). And yeah, I’ve written a hundred and six of them so far, about a third of them are up on our website if your readers want to check them out.

 

Jamie: That’s at ComixExperience.com right?

Brian Hibbs: Right.

 

Jamie: Are you in touch with a lot of retailers around North America?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah I like to think so, at least (laughter). Most of them are my friends and then there’s also things like some Robert Scott’s Forum on Delphi, which is a message board just for comic retailers, every day. There’s lots of threads going on back and forth there.

 

Jamie: Okay, we’re going to come up to Bill Jemas here. One of the things he mentioned in that Grayhaven interview was that he never read a comic book prior to becoming President of Marvel Publishing. Do you think that is a good or a bad thing?

Brian Hibbs: I tend to think it’s probably a bad thing. Comics is a very idiosyncratic business. We’re not like virtually any other business you can name. The things that work well in the comics field wouldn’t work well in other fields. I talk to a lot of other retailers who aren’t comic retailers and I tell them some of the ways our business works and they go “WhuuuHuh?” (laughter). They don’t get it, you know? But on the other side, I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with having an outsider’s perspective as long as you’re perceptive to the way the business actually works. Jemas, I understand, comes from Sports Cards and my perception has been that he is doing any number of steps that are appropriate for the sports card business but I don’t believe are very appropriate at all for the comic book business.

 

Jamie: One other comment that Jemas made was, “The simple fact is that the vast majority of retailers are doing very well with Marvel and are pleased with our current policies.” Do you agree with this?

Brian Hibbs: I would agree with the former part of the statement, I would very strongly disagree with the latter part. Certainly the retailers I speak to, I’d say only a third or less of them are “pleased” with the policies. Yeah sure, we’re selling more Marvel Comics but that’s a function of the fact that Marvel Comics are good and readable right now, not lack of stock availability. There was a long, long, long period…10 years…when they were just horrible tripe that nobody wanted (laughter). And now they’ve got really good creative teams on them, strong editorial directions. Of course the sales are going to be up in that context, but that doesn’t mean the policies to sell those comics to the retailers are necessarily wise or smart ones.

 

Jamie: Something else Jemas pointed out was that he thought the industry’s problems mainly stemmed from bad books. Do you think it was just bad books that hurt the industry for all those years?

Brian Hibbs: No, not at all. There’s bad books, bad stores, escalating price points, late shipping, inconsistent creators — all of these things play into it equally, I think. I don’t think you really can go, “Oh, it’s just bad comics.” Certainly looking at the sales charts, quality is not always a one-to-one relationship to sales. I’m sure you and I can both name any number of books that are excellent, superb comic books that just don’t sell very well in the average comic shop. I think that a lot of the problem is that most of the retailers do not appear to be stocking the wide range of material that would appeal to a wide range of people. They tend to focus primarily on the collectors and superhero completists. That’s certainly how this business, the direct market, evolved. I would tend to think bad stores are just as equal in the equation as bad content.

The real problem with the comics industry, as it stands at this moment, is there are simply not enough venues for you to buy comics in. There’s what? Three and a half thousand comic shops across this whole country? That’s really not very many at all, and more than that, the majority of them are concentrated in the big cities. There’s whole stretches of the country where you can go a hundred miles and there’s not a comic shop anywhere. Certainly there would be people interested in reading comics in those markets that aren’t being properly served. Even worse though, and this is going to sound a little arrogant and one thing I don’t like about interviews is you can’t see that I’m smiling when I say this, but about a year ago I did a tour of all the stores in San Francisco and went around looking at each one. I was looking for ideas mostly cause good retailers always learn from each other. But I realized that I don’t really have any “competition” in comic shops around San Francisco. Most of the stores here sell DC, Marvel and Image and that’s that, and that’s all they sell. They are much more focused on collectors only, and the stores remain small I believe because of that. Nobody in San Francisco has anywhere near the trade paperback selection that we do, except for Virgin. They’re the only ones that I would call my “competition” and they’re a media store or whatever. You don’t think of them as a place to go buy comic books, necessarily.

So I think the largest part of the problem is that there’s not enough good quality retailers out there. If someone does have an interest in comics that’s spurred by a movie or something else outside of comics, they’re probably not going to find what they want, in an environment that they want to shop in, because the direct market simply doesn’t have enough stores to give that to them. Outside of the direct market, you’re getting more and more venues that are beginning to carry graphic novels and trades, presented in a way that will appeal to people who aren’t interested in walking into a comic book shop every seven days to see what’s new that week. But again, I still think that it’s difficult if you’re a potential new consumer to just find a place to buy comics. When I was a kid growing up in New York, every little corner store had a rack of comics. That’s how I got into comics and everybody I know got into comics. We’ve lost the feeder mechanism to bring people into the marketplace, which is just a terrible shame.

 

Jamie: What sort of feeder mechanism should replace the one that we lost?

Brian Hibbs: Well, I think one of the problems is there is not enough of an incentive for new people to be opening comic shops. We also need the newsstands, there’s no doubt about it. In fact, I would be happy if newsstands went back to being 80-90% of comic sales, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing at all. I don’t know that’s going to happen because the amount of money a non-comics store can make off comics, seems to be generally limited in terms of periodicals. In terms of the perennial, the paperback, I mean obviously every bookstore in America should be carrying comics, some have done very, very well with them. In terms of the direct market, the main thing is to provide more incentives and a better business climate to which to show new entrepreneurs that it is possible to actually make money, to be successful selling comic books. I easily think we could double the number of comic book shops in this country and we wouldn’t even come close to meeting the demand that’s out there. And I think unfortunately, a lot of mechanisms in this business are really not geared towards making retailers any money. I do pretty well running a comic book shop, I’m not rich or anything. I don’t think there is a rich comic book retailer in this country (laughter). But certainly, if people are willing to work hard and really have a passion and desire for the form, it’s a business I would absolutely encourage people to jump into.

 

Jamie: Bill Jemas thinks that the most successful comic shops are the ones that carry the most Marvel Comics. Do you agree?

Brian Hibbs: Well, pretty clearly not (laughter).

 

Jamie: No?

Brian Hibbs: As far as I am aware, as of my last conversation with Diamond on the subject, I am the largest single comic account in San Francisco. San Francisco is one of the largest markets for comics in the country, and Marvel is a fairly low proportion of my business. Marvel is certainly an important publisher, is certainly a publisher that you shouldn’t go, “Agghh… I don’t want this,” but to say that you can not be successful, which is certainly the implication there, without Marvel Comics, is an utter fallacy.

 

Jamie: What do you think the most successful comic shops carry, then?

Brian Hibbs: The most successful comic shops carry a wide and diverse range of material that appeals to both their regular ongoing customers, and to civilians as well. Regardless of who publishes that material.

 

Jamie: Okay. Here is another quote from Bill Jemas from the same interview. It says, “On average, Marvel Comics sell more than twice as fast as a DC book and nearly 3 times as fast as an Image book and – are you ready – Over 10 times faster than the average indy book.” Has this been true in your experience?

Brian Hibbs: No, and I don’t even know where those numbers come from. I saw that and tried to figure out exactly what he was talking about. I think he was talking about average print runs. The problem is, when you’re looking at average print runs in the direct market, what is reported is initial orders only. For example, he said “twice a DC book.” Yeah, that’s probably true if you count all the newsstand-oriented comics DC does. Like the children books, which sell you know, ten thousand or less copies in the direct market because they’re not really geared to the direct market, they’re geared outside the direct market. So you’re really comparing apples and oranges in that case. Certainly in my experience if you believe in a book as a retailer and you are honest and straightforward with your customers, the customers could not care less who publishes that comic book. It makes no difference whatsoever, you know? Do they say, “I want to see a movie tonight and I’m going to see a Warner Brothers movie?” No, they go see a movie they want to see, with stars they want to see in it, by directors they enjoy or possibly even the screen writer that they think is a good one. That… it’s just a silly statement on so many levels I don’t even know exactly how to address it (laughter). I can say that yeah, it doesn’t come out very often, but a book like Eightball we sell probably 2:1, 3:1 on our average Marvel Comic sale. But again, that’s not really comparing apples to apples which is the problem of doing comparative analysis in such a flippant manner.

 

Jamie: Regarding Marvels no-overprinting policy. They say it saves them money and helps the comic industry in a number of ways. I take it you disagree with this?

Brian Hibbs: Well, I don’t know if I disagree with whether it saves them money or not because I don’t have access to their accounting, but I don’t think it serves the comic industry in any particular way at all, no. The direct market was primarily based originally around back issues. The average comic shop had a difficult time getting new comics and it was primarily selling old back issue comics. Most retailers would stock specifically for back issues. In the store I worked at before opening Comix Experience, we would order another case for the warehouse on certain books. Because we knew over time we’d sell them, that just made financial sense. Now of course, comics were only 75 cents then so our unit costs were, oh 35 cents, something like that. So you can stock a whole lot more in that case when the unit costs were so low and the majority of your business is based around the back stock. But that changed. The market completely changed as prices went higher, people stopped buying back issues by-and- large. Or at least they stopped casually buying back issues. It used to be that someone would come into my store with 5 dollars and they spent 3 dollars on new comics, getting a few new comics or whatever, then they’d have 2 bucks left and they’d spend that on back issues, just to fill out a run. As prices escalated, that same 5 dollars only bought you one or two new comic books and people could no longer afford to keep up on all the new books that they wanted, let alone buying any back issues.

So, the tenor of ordering properly meant that the retailer had to become much more conservative in their ordering because there isn’t an automatic pipeline anymore to sell those comics that come off the stands. What I found over the last 6 or 7 years, lets say, if I do not sell the average comic book in the first 30 to 90 days, it does not sell. If I order 20 copies of something and I only sell 18 of them, I will probably not sell the remaining two copies any time in the near future. It may take 3 or 4 or 5 years. So when you look at the business from that point of view, from a historical here-is-where-we-came-from-and-why-are-circulation- numbers-dropping-so-much POV it suddenly doesn’t make any sense for a comic book retailer buying non-returnably to over-stock their store. Certainly an awful lot of stores went out of business in the 90’s because they were drowning in overstock. Some of the best stores in the country nearly went out of the business during the 90’s because their inventory went out of control. Thankfully, these guys figured it out and have reduced their extreme exposure. A no-overprint situation means all the burden is put on ordering and selling that book up-front the first time, even if you don’t have any appropriate information to do so.

I’ll give you an example. Prior to the relaunch with Grant Morrison on X-Men we hadn’t sold, um… lets say 70 copies, max, of any issue of X-Men in like the 5 year period proceeding that. On a Grant Morrison book, I’m pretty sure we never sold more than a 100 copies at any point. Same thing with a Frank Quietly book. So I looked at that, thought, “This book is going to be big and I’m going to order… what the hell, I’m going to order 125 copies, let’s do it.” That, I think, is showing confidence in it. And I sold out of those in two days. Now, I probably could have sold 200, I could have sold 250, I could have sold 300 copies. Who knows? But because there weren’t any re-orders available, I wasn’t able to find out and customers went without that comic book. Now I more than doubled what the previous month of X-Men was and I sold out in two days. I couldn’t get any more. I don’t see how that can be a good policy, by any means.

I suppose Jemas would argue the reason that I sold out so fast was because people thought it would be short printed or something, but I certainly don’t think so. This is certainly not information that we’ve been making a big push of in our store. I think it was just the right book at the right time. But it under-performed to what it could do. You look at something like Green Arrow where we again ordered very strong, we sold out instantly, we called up and DC had some more for us. And when they ran out of those they went and printed up some more…and they printed some more…and they printed some more a fourth time. Green Arrow is my best selling DC comic right now, at least superhero-wise. And that’s precisely because I could keep going back and getting more copies, and more copies, and more copies each time. And of course I learned to increase my order the next time. Going back to X-Men, I saw how fast the first one sold out and I put in an advance re-order for the second one and took it up to 200 copies. The book finally comes in, it’s 5 weeks late, which doesn’t help anything and I sold 125 copies. I got 75 copies sitting there that I’m not going to sell anytime soon. I just took a bath on that book. I just lost money on the second issue of X-Men because I couldn’t get any more of the first one! When you look at it in those terms, I don’t see how I’m not doing everything exactly as I’m supposed to. I’m showing, in fact, statistically more support for a publisher, Marvel Comics, than the average quote, unquote comic shop. The average comic shop went up by about 40% and I went up a 100%. I think that gives me a bit of justification in saying that no, this is not a good policy. You cost yourself sales, you cost me sales, you cost Grant Morrison, you cost the distributors money, I don’t see how anybody is going to be happy with that situation.
The thing is, overprinting isn’t as expensive as Bill would like people to believe.

 

Jamie: Or Joe Quesada?

Brian Hibbs: Well, with him too, I guess.

 

Jamie: I know you had a public back and forth with him on Newsarama about this as well.

Brian Hibbs: Absolutely. The thing is, that when you do an analysis of what it costs you to print a comic book, your initial costs are amortized against your initial print run. So if it costs you X dollars to print, X dollars for talent, and X dollars to ship it out, X dollars for the retailers, then your profit or loss comes out of your initial orders. To flip the switch and have the printers run off another 5,000 copies is costing virtually nothing, it’s costing them 10 or 15 cents a book. You don’t amortize the entire cost back against the increased print run, you see what I’m saying? In other words, instead of costing me $3,000 to print 10,000 copies, if I print 11,000 it’s costing me $3,100. There is a hundred dollar difference there, for the “extra” 1000 copies. It costs you far less to print the “extras” than it does to print the initial run.

So, from any point of view, running an overprint is a very economical and profitable thing. The last statistic I saw from several different publishers was that they only had to sell 1 out of 5 of those overprinted copies to make a profit. As long as you sell 20% of it that’s okay, you can throw the other 80% of it away and you still made more money than you would have made otherwise. So, I definitely don’t think it’s a good plan at all.

 

Jamie: I noticed in the memo that Marvel sent to retailers regarding the no-overprint policy, they mentioned that some of the books found their way into the black market. Did you ever have a problem with that?

Brian Hibbs: No, I haven’t. I seem to think that is much more of an east coast thing because they print them up there, right in Montreal. Right close to the border. And that’s where copies are going through. I know there is… I don’t want to say which retailer it is… but there is one retailer in Montreal who says it was and sometimes continues to be, a massive problem for them. Boxes falling off the truck, or whatever. But I don’t see that as an issue with overprinting per se, certainly the same thing can happen even if you’re not overprinting.

 

Jamie: More of a security issue.

Brian Hibbs: Exactly.

 

Jamie: There are several other things they said in that memo that I know you disagreed with in the past, I guess I’ll get you to comment on them publicly. They say they kept their prices at $2.25 while DC raised them to $2.50.

Brian Hibbs: Well, that’s demonstrably not so. At the time when they made that statement, if you went in and compared Marvel’s list of comics vs. DC’s list of comics, most of DC’s books were still $2.25. DC has any number of $1.99 books to try and act as feeder books. I mean mathematically, at the time, it was not so. But still Marvel prices a lot of books at $2.99 and $2.50 constantly. So I don’t know… I mean… statements like that makes me wonder about the press sometimes, that they just run a statement like that without even going and checking if it was true or not (laughter). When someone makes a statement you should go and fact- check it, before you print it as fact y’know? But that’s just me, I suppose.

 

Jamie: Marvel says as a result of their no overprint policy, they’ve been able to build an inventory of trade paper backs and keep them in print. But I’ve heard Marvel has been having some troubles keeping trade paper backs in print.

Brian Hibbs: Yes, Marvel has been pretty damn bad about keeping trade paperbacks in print. But again, you have to look at the right way of doing the business model on this. You don’t just print for your initial orders and plus an overage to cover for the next couple of months. It doesn’t make any sense to do that. It makes a lot more sense to print a 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 year supply of the books because your unit costs are going to be that much lower. If you go back to press on another 3 to 5 thousand copies or whatever those numbers they are printing on, it costs you so much more than if you increase your print run to 10 to 15 thousand, if you see what I mean. It doesn’t make any mathematical sense. Now, if the argument is by not overprinting single comics then we can afford to print more trade paperbacks, that seems to me to be a fallacious argument on the face of it. Look at the disparity of the cover prices on those. As I say, when it costs oh.. lets say 15 cents to print off an extra copy of a periodical comic book on a 15 dollar paperback you’re looking more at a 2 to 3 dollar cost, lets say. My numbers may be a little off there but you would have to be overprinting by a really, really, really enormous margin to even come close to the math on that working out. Again, the problem is that Marvel has been doing a pretty bad job of keeping trade paperbacks in print, in stock and available. I mean, right now you can’t buy Marvels, the Kurt Busiek-Alex Ross book. That, if anything, is a perfect thing to hand to someone that hasn’t read comics in a long time, and to get them excited about superheroes and Marvel superheroes, in particular. It’s the namesake book of the line and it hasn’t been in print for something like 4 or 5 months! That, to me, is just absurd (laughter).

 

Jamie: A number of people think the no-overprint policy is mainly designed to enhance the collectability of a sold out comic. Does this help you at all?

Brian Hibbs: I don’t think it helps anyone, really. Look, comics are collectible because of supply and demand. Placing an artificial ceiling on the supply is… well, I think it is manipulative to the marketplace. I was always taught that the market itself should decide what is collectible and what is not.

Why would a publisher be in the business of trying to manufacture collectibles? They don’t see any money from that. Marvel doesn’t get a piece of E-Bay action. If the logic is, “This makes the initial orders higher”, well, I really challenge that. Morrison’s first issue of X- Men took a 40% leap (though the numbers went back down by the third one to only 20% above pre-Morrison numbers). I see that more of a function of the talent involved, rather than any false limitation of the print run. Besides, if it really was working then why are the Ultimates all down, across the board, from April to August? Spidey dropped 4%, X- Men 6% and Team-Up a staggering 22%. That wouldn’t be happening if they were truly collectible.

One other thing to take into account, is that Marvel’s plan seems to be to TPB their best-selling books as soon as humanly possible. Often before 30 days has passed since the last single issue. Now historically, TPB release of material deflates and softens the collectible value of the original issues.

 

Jamie: They also mention posting sold out comics on their webpage as a positive thing, do you think that’s good?

Brian Hibbs: Sure, why not? I don’t know that I believe that the experience of reading a comic on the web, especially one with the kind of pop- up pages the Marvels have, is even remotely the same as reading a printed comic, but anything that exposes our material to potential new customers is probably a good thing.

What I’m curious about is whether or not it actually helps drive sales. Like how many hits they get, and if they can point to any information that it is actually moving more units. Reading the sales charts, no, I don’t think it does. At least in no measurable way.

 

Jamie: Marvel has also been focusing on movies, hoping that they’ll increase the sales of their comics. In your experience, does comic movies help the sales of comic books?

Brian Hibbs: Virtually never, outside of a quick aberrational blip. What it can possibly do is translate to a greater awareness of a character or a concept in general… but it doesn’t appear to sell any more comic books. A quick look at the historical sales charts will confirm that.

There are certain exceptions, of course: Ghost World has had a significant impact on sales of that TPB. Our unit sales in that case have increased tenfold over what they were before the film. But that’s a rare exception.

 

Jamie: Bill Jemas seems real big on promoting the Ultimate, especially Ultimate Spider-Man as a good starting on point for new comic readers.

Brian Hibbs: It is a reasonable one. The story is well crafted, clear and easy to follow, and gives a good starting point for someone interested in super-hero comics. The thing is, the average non-comics reader isn’t particularly interested in reading super-hero comics. You’re much better off handing them a Ghost World, or a Maus, something that more accurately speaks to real experiences in their lives. Having said that, sure, I could think of far worse “entry points.”

 

Jamie: Including female readers?

Brian Hibbs: People are people, regardless of their sex. All things considered though, I’d hand a new female reader Ghost World, I think, over Spider-Man. The only real female roles in Spidey are “wife” and “girlfriend.”

 

Jamie: Jemas recommends Marvel-hating indy fans to read Elektra as a date comic. Think that’ll work?

Brian Hibbs: I’m not sure that Elektra is even remotely “indy flavored” (whatever that might mean). It is a decent enough comic, but within the Marvel line, I think I’d give an “indy fan” Morrison’s X-Men, or maybe X-Force by Milligan and Allred. Those seem to me, to be closer to that sensibility.

One thing though, and this is coming from a store where we sell as many “indy” comics as we do “mainstream”… the customers aren’t really that separate. It is very, very, very common for the cat who buys JLA or X-Men to also pick up a copy of Peepshow or Eightball or whatever.

 

Jamie: What books would you recommend as beginner books for males and females?

Brian Hibbs: More things than I could cover in an interview! I’d say it depends on who exactly that customer is. One of the tricks you learn in retail is finding out what a person’s interests are, and then matching a book to that. Comics are wide and diverse enough that I’m pretty confident I have something for anyone who walks in the door. Our massive and continued growth, strikingly above industry norms, should justify that statement.

 

Jamie: Marvel has recently announced an incentive for their TPB line. Saying, if retailers order 14 of their 16 TPB, you’ll get an additional discount going by the amount of books you order. An example being if you order two of each, you get an extra 2% discount. Is this an incentive that most retailers can actually use?

Brian Hibbs: Sure, I think so. The nice thing about this plan is they’ve set their quantities fairly low. That extra 2% comes with only 2 copies bought, and that is, I think, a good tool to use to get the average store to actually stock TPBs in the first place. The only problem with the plan is that they’re mixing in reprints of OP titles into that mix… a few of which had a low enough sales velocity in the first place to go Out of Print.

But anything that encourages more retailers to get into the book side of things is, I think, a very fine idea. TPB sales are the engine that is driving my business, and are a much better business model than non-returnable periodical comics. The reason for this is Just-In- Time ordering. Rather than investing real heavily on untested “floppy” comics, you can stock and restock the periodical. Well, assuming the publisher actually has them available, that is.

When you’re establishing yourself and sell two copies of Watchmen every month, when you sell one of those copies you can order another one. You’re only out of anything for a week, at maximum, at any time and your constantly turning over your cash flow in a real respectful way. This is a good business model.

 

Jamie: Now there were some things that Jemas said that seem to be positive, progressive things like he thinks comics stores should be racking by content rather than alphabetically.

Brian Hibbs: Oh absolutely. We’ve done that for years. Now having said that, some of the smartest retailers in the business vehemently disagree with that. I know Jim Hanley really strongly believes he gets much, much, much more great sales out of racking alphabetically. And I believe that’s true for Jim. As I was saying earlier in the interview, no two stores are really alike. I believe that genre racking is getting me increased sales over what alphabetical racking would. Jim feels differently, more power to him. But yeah, I’m definitely with Jemas on that one. I think that’s a good and smart way to rack material.
[Note: Jim Hanley owns Jim Hanley’s Universe at 4 West 33rd Street, New York, NY]

[Jim Hanley’s store is now called JHU Comic Books and has since moved to 32 East 32nd Street, New York, NY]

Jamie: Bill mentioned Marvel is trying to get new readers by giving away free online comics and giving away free samples. Examples given are the 500,000 Spider-Man comics within a game magazine, free Wolverine and X-Men Comics when the X-Men Movie came out, and in the future the 1 million Spider-Man comics going out through the Buster Brown Shoe Stores.

Brian Hibbs: Well, it’s been in the future for over a year now, so I don’t know (laughter) how much I trust that last one there. I think giving out comics is probably the smartest thing you could possibly do. Having said that, I have never, not once ever, seen anyone come into my store because of the giveaways that Marvel has done. I don’t know if… this is entirely possible that it’s just a regional thing. I do not believe that they gave out any X-Men comics at any San Francisco showing of the X-Men. I mean, I was there opening day and I didn’t see any comics being given away. I’m sure it’s happening somewhere, and I think it’s a great plan, again I think it’s a really intelligent and smart thing to do. The best way is, you know, “The first one’s free, kid,” particularly if the content of what you’re giving away is good quality content. That’s why I think giving away Ultimate Spider-Man would be a really smart thing to do. Giving away some bad X-Men comics could actually hurt you at that point. If someone comes out and says, “That was a great movie, what’s this free comic? Ewww… it’s not very good at all.” I don’t know if you remember the TV Guide X-Men insert?

 

Jamie: Yeah, I don’t think I got it, but I heard about it.

Brian Hibbs: Yeah, it was really, really, really bad. It was everything that was wrong with the Chris Claremont X-Men. Just page after page of people coming in and saying, “My name is this and here is my power!” and you know it wasn’t interesting at all. I’m sure that turned more people off from comics than it could ever have gotten them to come into a store and say, “Hey, this is interesting, lets check this out.” So you have to be very careful when giving stuff away for free (laughter). To make sure it’s good, quality, appropriate material.

Here’s the thing though: if you’re doing these sort of giveaways… shouldn’t you be informing the local retailers so they can capitalize upon it? If they did giveaway X-Men comics at the X-Men movie, I sure didn’t know about it.

 

Jamie: Marvel says their goal over the next 5 years is to double their sales. Do you think they can do that?

Brian Hibbs: Yeah, sure. Sure. I mean, I don’t think they can do it as long as they have a policy in place that’s says once we sell out that’s it, period. You know? (laughter). I don’t think that’s going to happen until they remove the no overprint program. I don’t think it can happen. But otherwise? It’s completely doable, completely doable. It’s just a matter of putting out good comics, supporting the stores, letting people know that the comics exist, getting people excited about the content of the material. Yeah, Marvel’s got no where to go but up right now and I think that’s a good thing. What’s interesting particularly in my exchanges with Joe Quesada, we had a bunch of e-mails back and forth and I was really struck with the impression that they seem to think I’m like anti-Marvel or something. And nothing could be further than the truth, I want Marvel to succeed, you know? I want as many good quality publishers producing good, quality material out there doing as many strong things as they possibly can, in my store. But, I don’t like being called an idiot. I don’t like being told I’m full of self-loathing. I don’t like a policy that is very demonstrably costing me sales. All those things are very negative and horrible things and when I stand up and go, “Hey this is wrong” it’s from that point of view. Not because I hate Marvel or I’m anti-Marvel or something like that. That would be silly, I’m a comic book retailer, it’s my job to sell comic books. When the publisher gets in my way of selling those comic books, then we’re going to have a problem.

 

Jamie: Just out of curiosity, what’s your IQ score?

Brian Hibbs: What’s my IQ score?

 

Jamie: (laughter)

Brian Hibbs: I don’t remember. When I took the IQ test I was like 13, or something like that? But I qualified for Mensa, if that counts? But I don’t know, I don’t care. IQ numbers?

 

Jamie: Sorry, that was just a question I had to ask (laughter).

Brian Hibbs: That was a very ill considered statement on Bill’s part. And I think he made it much worse by issuing the second press release saying, “Yeah, I’m fooling around but oh, by the way, you’re still idiots.” You know, that’s how I read it. I didn’t want to read it that way but that’s… you know, here we are… comic shop retailers work really, really, really, really hard and we don’t make very much money. Not that we’re poor or anything like that, but then to have a some guy go, “Well if you don’t agree with me, than you’re a dope.” You know? Pfft. That doesn’t help anything. That doesn’t help morale. And particularly coming out after getting through the 90’s, morale is an issue that… if I were a publisher, morale would be an issue I would be very, very concerned with. I wouldn’t want you retailers going, “I don’t know if this guy is someone I want to do business with.” It’s just dumb.

 

Jamie: I understand that Marvel recently had another retailer press conference, one that you suggested to Joe Quesada at San Diego. Within this, they openly admitted that they only invited retailers that had the strongest growth of Marvel sales and they left you out of it. How does that color your view of them?

Brian Hibbs: Well, I don’t know the specifics of the statements that Bill or Joe or whoever made at the conference call, so I don’t know what their standard was. I will say though, that their most vocal critics like me, like Joe Field, like Matt Lehman, who were invited to the first retailer conference, were not invited to this one. How does that color my perception? I don’t know, I think it makes them cowardly, is what I think it does. I think that if you can’t have an intelligent conversation about a policy, particularly now that we’ve had some time behind us and we can start to judge if that policy has or has not worked.
I would point out that the SCC filings that Marvel just made as of last Tuesday (from when we are doing this interview) show that from quarter to quarter, from 2000 to 2001 that Marvel Publishing sales have gone down. They haven’t gone up, they’ve gone down.
I would point to the very sales charts from April to August, that every single one of those months, the vast majority of Marvel Comics have dropped in sales from month to month. Nineteen of the twenty-five books that are on all four month’s worth of sales charts have dropped. To me, this says, “Well, this policy isn’t really working is it?” Yeah, absolutely, X-Men has gone up 25%, or whatever and that is a great thing, that is a wonderful thing for them. But Avengers has dropped by 6% and Daredevil dropped by 15% and Tangled Web dropped by 32%. So, I think at this point you should be willing, as a publisher, to look at what the actual impact is. As opposed to what you believe, or what you want to have happen. I think it’s really important to look at those things critically. The smart publishers and the smart distributors (well, which is pretty much Diamond at this point but…) have come to realize that critical thought is a good thing and something that should be embraced. That if we go to them, me and any number of retailers go, “We don’t think it’s a good idea,” they’ll go, “Okay. We’re going to think about it again. We’re going to actually look at this carefully and ask ourselves, “does our plan make sense or does our plan not make sense?” If we still think it makes sense as a publisher than let us go back to the retailers and go “Here’s really why we think it’s making sense and here’s some tangible, provable things that we can point to.” Marvel doesn’t have any of that right now as far as I can tell, besides just blind rah-rah. “No-No, it’s working. Look, X-Mens up!” (laughter)

To me that doesn’t tell the whole story, that tells a very small part of the story. How much would X-Men be up if we could keep going back to the well and keep getting more copies? Frankly, I think X-Men could have done 200,000 copies rather than the 150,000 or so that it did. I really do, I really believe strongly that it could have done 200,000 copies. But we’ll never know now. And if I were a creator, I’d be really upset about that. you know? “Wait a minute, what do you mean? There’s people who want my comic and you won’t sell it to them?” (laughter). That’s silly. So, to sorta back up there, I think it is extremely short sighted to only invite people to a conference call that are there to, let us say, be “positive.” Unflinchingly so. I think it’s always a good thing to have dissenting voices and to listen to them carefully and pay attention to what they have to say. I would love it, I would adore it in fact, if Joe or Bill came into my store, walked around and went “Y’know, we think if you did this, your store would be a better place.” And I would listen to that. I listen every time anybody comes into my store and says, “You know, I don’t think this is right, I think you should do this.” I look at it, I evaluate it, I think about it and most of the time I actually end up trying people’s suggestions. You know, that’s how you get better. You don’t get better by going “Oh, you can’t come because you’re a big meany.”

 

Jamie: At the same conference call with a number of your peers, Bill Jemas referred to you as “Hairy Neck” and kept calling Joe Field’s Flying Colors store “Failing Colors.” How do you respond to something like that?

Brian Hibbs: I’m not sure, honestly. I think it is incredibly juvenile to resort to name-calling, particularly in front of a group of peers. Several of the people involved as participants called me to tell me how ashamed they felt hearing that. I don’t think it is good business to insult your customers.

 

Jamie: Switching topics a bit here, I understand there is a weekly War Machine Comic that’s coming out, part of the experimentation that Marvel is doing. And because of it being weekly it’s very hard for retailers to order it in proper numbers. Can you explain to the readers why that is?

Brian Hibbs: Okay, because we’re basically ordering sight unseen and we’ll probably end up ordering all 12 issues before the first issue even ships. Now this is assuming it ships on time. I’d like to believe that if they’re doing weekly comics they can do them on time. But Marvel has been very, very, very bad on timely shipping recently. When you order a comic you’re… if you’re a good retailer, you keep up to date on what you sell of your comics. So, let’s say for War Machine, I’m going to look at it and go this is going to sell relatively in some sort of proportion, be it up or down or in the middle of, lets say, Iron Man. That gives me a good benchmark to work from. But War Machine is black and white. But it’s weekly, it doesn’t have any of the same creators that Iron Man has, it is a character that has failed in his own series in the past and that people didn’t appear to like very much. So, you look at that and you’re going, “Well, do I order 50% of Iron Man? Do I order 70%? or do I order 110%?” There is no way to know. We’re guessing. Every time a comic book retailer places an order they are basically guessing. They’re educated guesses to be sure, we have data we can look back at. I can show you in cycle sheets where books just take sudden shifts whether it’s up or whether it’s down for no reason. It’s the exact same creator team from month to month, there is nothing that changed about the book, not a character has changed or anything like that, and all of a sudden a third of the customers go, “I don’t want this anymore,” all at once (laughter). And there is just no way to predict these things. Ordering comics is not a science, it’s an art. It’s like trying to see the future. What are my customers going to want 3 months from now? And it’s much, much worse in the case of a weekly book because there are so many issues you have to order in advance. Now, a normal comic book, if we’re lucky, we only have to order maybe two, maybe three issues in advance before the first one comes and we can actually see whether it sold or not. In this case, we’re basically going to have to order all of them. If not, it’s all but 3 and even then you can’t really tell from issue #1 what a series is going to sell for issue #12. You can sorta tell, but not really. I don’t know, is that making sense? I never know how to answer these questions, because for me, comics retailing is so ingrained that do it without thinking.

 

Jamie: I think you explained it as best you could, I understand it.

Brian Hibbs: Okay. Well, if you understand it, hopefully your readers will.

 

Jamie: I know some retailers have been little squeamish on selling some of Marvels non-code approved books to kids. An example being the eyeless Wolverine issue. What are your feelings on that?

Brian Hibbs: I think in an awful lot of communities, retailers really, really, really, really need to be squeamish about doing those kinds of things. Because community standards are the important issue when it comes to the acceptability of selling a book. I am blessed, well not blessed because I’ve very specifically opened my store here, but I’m blessed by being in San Francisco. Not only in San Francisco, but in an extremely liberal part of San Francisco. So those are not particular concerns that I have. But yeah, I would be very concerned if I was in a more conservative area with having that comic or any number of things that have been announced or have come out. Because if just one wrong person sees it, you can lose your store. It’s entirely possible. Just look at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and look at all the retailers that have gone to jail, or who have lost their store or lost thousands of dollars fighting conservative forces. In something that is especially perceived as children’s entertainment by the vast majority of America, IE. Superhero comics, I think that becomes an even bigger issue to be aware of. I would not consciously sell that issue of X-Force or that issue of Wolverine with the eyeball to a child. I wouldn’t do it and I’m in San Francisco. How much worse it must be if your in, I don’t know, Iowa or something like that? Something else of note is that I used to be on the board of directors for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. And at no point was Marvel ever interested in supporting the CBLDF or what it stood for. At the time their reasoning was something very close to, “Well you know, we just don’t produce comics like that.” And now they are producing comics like that and I will be very curious to see if a store does get arrested for selling some of this material, what Marvel will do. I’ll be very curious indeed.

 

Jamie: I wonder if some of this comes from our own ideas of what kids should and shouldn’t be seeing vs. what Network TV keeps showing. Some think we should just follow their lead and just think if they’re doing it, we can do it too.

Brian Hibbs: Well, yeah, maybe. I don’t know I really want to wade into the censorship issue or the appropriateness issue because frankly, I think that’s a decision the parents have to make. The parents need to decide what they are comfortable with their children viewing. In something like that first issue of X-Force, which was an excellent comic by the way, I really liked that comic a lot… but you know, it’s got a character that’s ripped apart by a machine gun and his guts are leaking out of his body. I mean, it’s shown and it’s very visual and I don’t think you’d even see that on Network Television. I think it was really irresponsible, particularly in a comic which had been completely and utterly safe for children for 115, or whatever, previous issues, to sudden have massive eviscerations (laughter). But I really think it’s… I don’t really have a problem with Marvel having their own rating system as long as it’s consistently and consciously applied. I don’t know that it is and that’s my big concern. As far as I understand from reading their press release on it, if I recall correctly the Ultimate Marvel line was supposed to be G rated comics, as it were. And I think there are things in there that are probably not G rated and aren’t being thought about. Things like the Kingpin crushing some guy’s head. Yeah okay, it happens off panel but if I recall correctly there’s a spurt of blood. You know, you feel it and I personally wouldn’t go, “Well, that’s a G rated thing”. Again I’m in liberal San Francisco, so I don’t have to worry about these kinds of things, thank God (laughter).

Hibbs Interview Responses:
Last months interview with Brian Hibbs got a lot of traffic and reactions around the web. We decided to follow up on it by asking for responses by those involved. First we made the offer to Bill Jemas as he was the most talked about person in the interview.

Bill Jemas responded with:
By the way Brian Hibbs is just Paul Levitz spokesmodel – so you could go ahead and attribute his opinions directly to the Sultan.

We talked to Paul Levitz and he replied with No Comment.

Brian Hibbs replied with:
Why do I have this horrible thought of me wearing pearls and high heels, and doing that Vanna White hand-gesture thing?
Geez, I could have lived without that image in my brain!
‘Spokesmodel’? Can’t the man even insult correctly? First ‘hairy neck’ (huh?), now this!
Anyway I have to assume that it is only since Mr Jemas took over Marvel Comics, that he started reading Comics and Games Retailer, where my opinion column Tilting at Windmills runs.

If he had read the column prior to that, he would see that I have strongly criticized the policies of all and any companies (including, yah, DC Comics) that work against the best interest of comic book retailers. And, of course, when DC does dumb things in the future (and they will, such is the nature of things), I’ll be there to discuss their mistakes with my readers.

And, of course, as the older columns continue to go up on www.comixexperience.com your readers (and Mr. Jemas!) will be able to see that for yourself.
I’d like to think better of my fellow man, but it seems to me the reason that Mr. Jemas dismisses cogent and specific criticism with random insults is that he can’t defend his own position in any other manner.

It frustrates me as a comics retailer that the COO of Marvel Comics is determined to follow policies that are pretty demonstrably costing both them, and myself, sales.
It frustrates me as a person that he has to resort to name-calling when faced with rational debate on the subject.

 

Steven Grant Interview

Steven Grant at San Diego Comic Con 2013

Steven Grant at San Diego Comic Con 2013

Originally published in June of 2001. I read some of Steven Grant’s comics when I was young but not very many. In particular I enjoyed his run on the Punisher. I became more familiar with him through his Master of the Obvious column on ComicBookResources website. I discovered he was a very intelligent man and we had some of the same interests. Grant had just started getting work at Marvel again and I asked him for an interview to talk about that, his non-Marvel work, his columns and other ventures.

 

An Interview With Steven Grant

Steven Grant is today best known for his Master of the Obvious (MOTO) column on ComicbookResources.com and his recent run on Marvel’s X- MAN. His past comic book credits include Punisher, The Pope John Paul XXIII biography and Whisper. In this interview he reveals some info about his MOTO column, his thoughts on writing comics and more.

 

Jamie: For a while you seemed to have disappeared from the comic industry’s radar. Then one day you’re on CBR and then X-Men, thanks in part to Warren Ellis. How important has Warren been to your recent career?

Steven Grant: Oh, projects come and go. I’ll go for blocks of time without seeing print but I’m generally working. I’m friends with Warren and he puts in the good word for me now and then, but in terms of my recent work… Warren was completely responsible for my association with X-MAN. He asked me to do it. I was more than happy to and I liked his concept a lot. I could have gone another two or three years on it easily. But Warren had nothing at all to do with MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS. That was Gail Simone who put me forward for that. As a matter of fact, I put Warren together with CBR for his column. He’d been talking with someone else about doing one and that fell through due to the insanely stupid terms he was being offered. I mentioned it to Jonah (who runs CBR) and he asked me to put him in touch with Warren.

 

Jamie: You’ve done a large amount of work outside the comic industry. How has that helped you as a fiction writer?

Steven Grant: I don’t know that it’s helped me at all. Everything’s its own discipline. If nothing else, it has given me points of comparison that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m maybe more familiar with non-comics structures and dialogue constructions, but you could say that about any number of comics writers.

 

Jamie: Do you get more satisfaction writing comics than your work outside the industry?

Steven Grant: It depends on the particular project. You get your satisfaction where you find it. It can be money, it can be one little character bit or dialogue exchange you get in there, or the pleasure of developing a particular storyline a particular way. But you should only look for enough satisfaction to keep you going. I don’t think writers should ever be very satisfied. Satisfied writers don’t write. It’s really the flaws in work that keep writers writing, that mar they see they didn’t see while they were doing it, and the desire to try it one more time to get it right. People who are satisfied with their work don’t try to do better work.

 

Jamie: Are there jobs you take strictly for money satisfaction?

Steven Grant: The money’s never the satisfying part. Staying alive another week, that’s the satisfying part.

 

Jamie: Reading through your bibliography, I noticed you worked for a wide variety of publishers. If you had the money, would you self publish comics?

Steven Grant: Absolutely, though I’d probably mask it so it wouldn’t look that way to booksellers. And I’d find a partner who knew something about business and marketing. But it would be lovely to have a situation where I didn’t have to flog ideas to death before I could produce them, just up and go and get the material out while it was still fresh to me. That’s a big drawback with comics these days, it takes way too long to get anything in the pipeline. There are moments of inspiration, but that burns out fairly quickly, and there you are, two years down the line finally pumping out material you thought of two years earlier instead of what’s burning you up inside at the time. There’s really no reason it should take more than three months from conception to presentation. A self-publishing gig would give me the ability to do that.

 

Jamie: I know you’re doing something through Platinum Studios. What is it and how does that work? I know Platinum isn’t a ‘normal’ publisher.

Steven Grant: I’m not entirely sure, actually. You should really talk to Lee Nordling or Scott Mitchell Rosenberg about it. Basically, Platinum is a “broker.” They put projects together, largely to secure film rights to them so they have material to pitch around Hollywood, then find publishers for it. But until they actually start publication somewhere, it’s still just speculation. Things could change as they adapt to conditions. We’ll see.

 

Jamie: I noticed you’re doing a crime comic called CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES for Fantagraphics/Eros, which is different as Eros is known mainly for porn. I’m assuming there will be some sex in it or it wouldn’t be published there. Still many established comic writers don’t go near porn comics. Why are you doing it and why do you think other writers don’t?

Steven Grant: I’m doing it for fun, because Gary asked me to, and because a lot of other writers won’t. There’s still a lot of stigma attached to porn in our society, so that doesn’t surprise me. I don’t have any particular affection for porn, but I’d never done porn so I was curious to see what I could do, and it’s as much a crime comic as a porn comic and I want to do crime comics. Gary’s giving me the chance to do a crime comic. I actually go way past most porn in CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES because, unlike most porn, sex and violence are intimately connected in it; virtually synonymous, and they’re both way over the top. I don’t think porn fans are going to be very comfortable with the sexual content in the book. Men don’t fare very well in it.

 

Jamie: What can you tell us about your new Whisper: Day X Graphic Novel?

Steven Grant: The last WHISPER story came out in 1991. This story takes place in 2000, and concerns her being leveraged out of retirement by an FBI agent who wants her to help him investigate a terrorist movement. It re-immerses her in the “shadow politics” milieu she spent most of her series in, as she unravels a plot tracing back half a century. All the supporting characters are there in very changed situations, but no one will have to be familiar with WHISPER to get it. I don’t think she’ll appear in costume in the novel.

 

Jamie: Do you think you’ll be able to get your old Whisper work back in print?

Steven Grant: Not likely. I have no idea where the film is. Ideally, I’d hire one artist to redraw all the scripts, but I don’t see that happening either. I don’t have the money and I don’t know a publisher who has the interest.

 

Jamie: You are one of the few writers that goes into politics with your writing. Why do you think creators and the industry stay away from political stories?

Steven Grant: I’m not sure many of them have any real interest in politics, but you’d have to ask them. I’m fascinated by politics, but my background’s very political. Campus radicals and all that.

 

Jamie: Okay this interests me. How did you become a radical, what were you protesting?

Steven Grant: I grew up in Madison WI, the Berkeley of the Midwest, in the late 60s and early 70s. Trying to stop the Vietnam War and social injustice, know what I mean? It wasn’t something you became, it was just in the air then. Antiwar marches, underground newspapers, that sort of thing. Never bombed anything.

 

Jamie: In doing WWF Wrestling Comics for Chaos, the stories seem to go into fantasy. You ever wonder how a comic about behind the scenes involving Wrestlers would do?

Steven Grant: Knowing quite a bit about wrestling behind the scenes, I think it’d be pretty much like doing a comic about plumbing behind the scenes. There are occasionally scenarios such as those documented in films like BEYOND THE MAT and WRESTLING WITH SHADOWS, but for the most part wrestlers lead fairly ordinary lives. They have wives and kids, they have mortgages, etc. But the WWF Comics I wrote for Chaos were fiction but pretty much steered clear of what most people consider fantasy. But those were based on the ring personae of wrestlers, not on their real selves.

 

Jamie: I know it’s cliche, but do you want to create the great American novel?

Steven Grant: Oh, sure. But there are so many great American novels out there it makes my eyes bleed, and there’s no money in it. If I could go a year or two without having to worry about money, I’d be happy to write a Great American Novel, but I make my living at this, so I can’t afford to take a year or two off. Novels are a lot of work, particularly if they’re done well.

 

Jamie: You created @venture as an outlet for prose writing for comic writers. Are you at all worried about getting stories and ideas stolen by giving your work away for free online?

Steven Grant: No. Once they’re published, regardless of venue, they’re published and entitled to the protections accorded any form of publication. There’s no more concern about theft and plagiarism than if they’re published in PLAYBOY. Web publication doesn’t warranty anyone against getting sued for plagiarism, either way.

 

Jamie: @venture now has a number of stories by a variety of comic writers. Do you consider this a success or do you still have a bigger vision of what the site should be doing?

Steven Grant: Unfortunately, @VENTURE’s been in limbo for the past several months as my time has been completely eaten up by personal things. I’ve never been able to promote the site to my satisfaction, and I want to promote not to make money off the site but so the writers can benefit from publication of their work.

 

Jamie: You’ve written/writing two stories for @venture, do you want them both turned into comics?

Steven Grant: No. If I’d wanted to do them as comics, I’d have done them as comics.

 

Jamie: You’ve mentioned on @venture that you have a fetish for the name Elvis. Why?

Steven Grant: No, no, I said I DON’T have a fetish for the name Elvis. It just works well with other words, and, due to Presley, has cultural connotations that work as jokes. So I use the name periodically.

 

Jamie: Were you surprised by some submissions to @venture?

Steven Grant: Not really. Most writers have something unexpected percolating in them that they have no venue for.

 

Jamie: You’ve been doing Master of the Obvious since August 1999, which is a pretty good run. Do you see yourself stopping anytime soon?

Steven Grant: I know when it’s stopping, if that’s what you mean. I’ve had it planned from the start. But I’m not saying when.

 

Jamie: Do you think MOTO helped or hurt you in getting you work in the industry?

Steven Grant: I don’t think it’s had any effect on that one way or the other. I know quite a few highly placed people read it regularly.

 

Jamie: What MOTO columns did you get the biggest backlash from?

Steven Grant: Probably the column where I compared the Bush Presidency to the Luthor Presidency. A lot of conservatives got very upset with that one, pretty much doubling my hit rate. I wish I had a column like that in me every week. There have been some columns specifically to do with comics that raised a ruckus, but I don’t recall which ones they were offhand.

 

Jamie: I can’t believe you devoted a whole MOTO column to something as fanboyish as Thor vs. Hulk. Why on earth did you do it?!?

Steven Grant: Fanboys read the column too! The reason you can’t believe I did it is because I didn’t. Maybe a quarter of the column involved whether Thor or The Hulk was stronger, and I used it for an anchor for other points. Besides, there’s nothing that isn’t worth talking about, if you’ve got an angle on it.

 

Jamie: Recently in MOTO you’ve been trying to get people to accept Zines as a replacement term for indy & progressive comics. Why use the word Zines?

Steven Grant: It sounds vaguely familiar to most people, yet vaguely unfamiliar at the same time. It’s a word whose meaning can be easily molded to our purposes, it’s simple to say and remember (which is important to redefining associations) and it doesn’t sound like comics or comic book or graphic entertainment or any number of other terms. And it does have some connection to us.

 

Jamie: This was tried before using Comix, do you think you’ll be more successful than they were?

Steven Grant: Oh, I don’t expect to be successful with it. But anything’s worth a try; what do we have to lose? Actually, “comix” as a term for undergrounds was pretty successful, it only faded because Supreme Court rulings on obscenity put underground comix out of business. “Comix” referred to a specific type of product and it didn’t take long for the association to form. Some of them, like FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS, were outselling Marvels at the time. It was attempts to apply “comix” to things like AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and BATMAN that didn’t catch on.

 

Jamie: Do you think zine should replace the term Graphic Novel?

Steven Grant: No, graphic novel sums itself up pretty well. But you can’t call periodical publications graphic novels.

 

Jamie: Warren Ellis is putting his Come in Alone in print, do you see that happening with MOTO?

Steven Grant: Larry Young and I are sorting that out right now. There will probably be two MOTO collections.

 

Jamie: What is Paper Movies website going to be about?

Steven Grant: It’s going to launch a reinterpretation of the comics medium.

 

Jamie: Where did you come up with the name Paper Movies?

Steven Grant: I thought about how most people would best respond to comic books and decided the best way to pitch them was to tie them into something people were already familiar with and understood: movies. Everyone watches movies. It’s my guess that designing comics that approximate that experience is the best way to draw a new audience to the medium. Hence Paper Movies: movies you can read anywhere.

 

Jamie: Isn’t Paper Movies as a term for comics an oxymoron? Movies are called that because they are moving pictures. Comic pictures don’t actually move.

Steven Grant: Neither do movies. Movement in movies is an illusion, a trick of perception. Comics require a more conscious conspiracy between creator and reader to generate an illusion of movement, but the basic principle isn’t all that different. It’s the story that moves the movie and the comic book along, not the mechanicals.

 

Jamie: How will your Delphi forum called Graphic Violence be different than Warren Ellis’s forum?

Steven Grant: That’s something only time will tell. Our focus will be a little different, though.

 

Fabian Nicieza Interview

Fabian Nicieza at NYCC 2013

Originally published in May of 2001. Ouch, I was hard on Fabian here. In short Thunderbolts went from one of my favorite titles to one I dropped during his run as writer. I had a few friends that felt the same way and we’d gather in chat rooms and complain about the book getting worse. Neither of these were Jason Borgeois or Sheryl Roberts who helped provide questions for the interview. Jason was a fellow writer (and sometimes interviewer) for CollectorTimes and Sheryl was our editor. Jason likely provided the Gambit, Cable and Sinister related questions and I’m not sure which questions are Sheryl’s or mine. Fabian was a champ though, answering a lot of questions and being professional about it.

An Interview With Fabian Nicieza

Fabian Nicieza is a name many of you are familiar with, especially if you’ve been reading Marvel Comics over the last 10 years. He has written many different comics and even worked as an EIC of Acclaim Comics at one point. Currently he is working on Thunderbolts and with this interview I ask him all about that, about some previous X-men related work and where the comic industry is going.
* Special Thanks to Jason Bourgeois and Sheryl Roberts for providing some questions *

 

Jamie: I can’t help but notice a few people on usenet keep calling Thunderbolts #50 a ‘good jumping off point’. Does that worry you at all?

Fabian Nicieza: If 5 people say they’re leaving, I shrug my shoulders. If 5,000 people say they’re leaving, THEN I’m worried! So no, I’m not surprised if a reader chose Mark’s leaving the title and a temporary status quo shake-up as a reason for stopping. Just like I wouldn’t be surprised if an equal number use it as an opportunity to jump ON the book. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of people who might not buy the book anymore don’t peek at the coming issues and – based on all the fun stuff we have planned — slowly start to come back into the fold.

 

Jamie: Between your start on T-Bolts and issue #50 there have been a whole lot of changes to several characters. Jolt died and came back with different powers, Atlas has died after his powers went into overdrive, Techno died but but the Fixer is back, The Beatle (Abe Jenkins) became black. What is it with you and making major changes to characters?

Fabian Nicieza: A better question to ask is why WOULDN’T I do these things? The lifeblood of monthly superhero comics are good characters and good soap opera. In TBOLTS, I feel we have both.

 

Jamie: Do you feel there is an area where too much change can be a bad thing?

Fabian Nicieza: Sure, but the writer is usually the last to know! Hopefully, you have an editor who can see the bump in the road before the readers do!

 

Jamie: With Thunderbolts #51 you added a number of members and the remaining (alive) original criminal members are out of costume. You also replaced Hawkeye with Captain America as the teams trainer. What made you believe the title needed this much of a drastic change?

Fabian Nicieza: If you read the issue, you’ll know it’s not a drastic change at all. The core characters needed a chance to breathe and reflect on having attained a pardon for their crimes without the need for involving them in superhero action. I felt the best way to do that was to smack them in the face with unexpected freedom and the illusion of redemption and let them all start seeing if the grass is really greener on the other side. Between subplots in the monthly title and the LIFE SENTENCES TBOLTS special, I feel we get a look into their minds in ways that we haven’t had a chance to do since I took over the book. The book still remains about THEM, not about the Redeemers. But it’s a superhero comic, so we still need some slapping and kicking, and we can show that for a few months through the Redeemers. And, with Cap leading them, through those characters, we can also show other sides of the thematic coin in regards to what the book is all about.
Of course the TBOLTS will be back together again and back in action. The question is not if, but WHEN, WHY and HOW?

 

Jamie: I assume your writing the LIFE SENTENCES TBOLTS special, who is doing the art and when will it come out?

Fabian Nicieza: I have written it. Charlie Adlard is doing the art. I have no clue when it comes out. I think between issues #52 and #53.

 

Jamie: Why are Meteorite, Mach-1 and Songbird out of costume? I think most fans know it’s only a matter of time they’ll be back in them.

Fabian Nicieza: Asked and answered. We can learn just as much if not more about them by seeing them trying to maintain 9-5 jobs as we can watching them fight bad-guy of the month.

 

Jamie: Do you think the new Thunderbolts characters will be published after their time in Thunderbolts is done?

Fabian Nicieza: I don’t understand the question. The Thunderbolts characters ARE the Thunderbolts comic. 😉
If you mean the Redeemer characters, I can unequivocably say NO, they will not be published after their appearance in TBOLTS is over.

 

Jamie: Do you know how Patrick Zircher got the job to take over T-Bolts after Mark Bagley left? I know he took over the art cores on New Warriors when you left that title.

Fabian Nicieza: We ran through a list of potential artists and Pat was at the top of that list. Being able to get him is a privilege. His art gets better on the book each and every month!

 

Jamie: Have you had to change your writing any to compensate for Zircher’s strengths and weaknesses? If so, how?

Fabian Nicieza: In very little ways. No more or less so than with any creative team change. You feel your way out slowly over the course of a few issues and develop a rapport where you know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Pat is an excellent storyteller and draws elegant figure work, so I have to do more character interaction. He hasn’t worked on a group book in a long time, so he needs to get the hang of choreographing multiple characters in movement through a scene, so I have to pay attention that my plots are clear in regards to action. But like I said, Pat’s doing great work. I’m sitting here scripting #54 and I think it looks like dynamite!

 

Jamie: How do you feel about the event like “Silent” month on all Marvel Books and do you have any ideas on how your going to do your silent TBolts issue?

Fabian Nicieza: Well, part of me thinks it’s a bit forced, like any editorially enforced crossover tends to be, but the other part of me likes the creative challenge. I am more than half way through plotting and doing rough 8-1/2 x 11 breakdowns for the pages and it has been fun.
It helps that the timing fit perfectly for a Songbird story I had intended to do all along, so the “stunt” fits in smoothly to the normal flow of the TBOLTS storyline. In fact, the silent pages make the surprise ending work even better!

 

Jamie: I noticed in both Gambit and in Thunderbolts you played around with character power levels. Why?

Fabian Nicieza: I find it to be an entertaining way of putting a character through a physical and emotional ringer.

 

Jamie: You seem to have a penchant for using past works of your own in your latest projects, like Nomad in Thunderbolts recently. Why?

Fabian Nicieza: It’s easy to use what I know and apply it in the right ways. The two main reasons for using NOMAD supporting characters was to A) point out obviously the clues needed to guess Scourge was Jack Monroe and B) to get Andie Sterman into the V-Battalion because I wanted her POV in that organization. Why create a new superhuman psychotherapist, reporter, FBI agent. etc. when there are pre-existing characters that are begging to be used? And why not use characters I’m comfortable and familiar with since it makes their application into a crowded story easier?

 

Jamie: What are your feelings on leaving Gambit and then having the book promptly canceled so soon after?

Fabian Nicieza: Better to have been canned and then see the book canceled than to have it canceled while I was writing it! For those who liked my work on the Gambit character, there may be an interesting non-comic Gambit announcement soon.

 

Jamie: Can you give us any hints?

Fabian Nicieza: Not yet. It’s not real until it’s real.

 

Jamie: Did you accomplish everything you wanted to do with Cable and if you were offered the chance, would you go back to writing him?

Fabian Nicieza: No and No.

 

Jamie: What didn’t you accomplish with Cable that your really wanted to?

Fabian Nicieza: Pass. Not worth getting into.

 

Jamie: Is there any chance the Sinister miniseries, which was cancelled/put on hold may still have a chance of seeing the light of day?

Fabian Nicieza: Highly doubtful.

 

Jamie: Why was it stopped?

Fabian Nicieza: I think the core editor and core writer simply preferred I not play in that particular sandbox.

 

Jamie: Can you give us a hint of the premise?

Fabian Nicieza: 4 self-contained stories set in different time periods all linked together by an underlying story thread, all pretty harrowing stories of Sinister’s emotional devolution. And all a moot point.

 

Jamie: Acclaim Comics is dead, they just recently removed all mention of comics from their website. Was your book Troublemakers owned completely by Acclaim or was there any creator owned deal like Priest had with Quantum and Woody?

Fabian Nicieza: I had the same deal as Priest, but having been a co-author of that deal, I know how the lawyers got involved in it to the point where it is too much of a hassle for me to bother with.

 

Jamie: Are Acclaim lawyers fighting the contracts on creative owned deals?

Fabian Nicieza: In order for lawyers to fight, someone usually has to throw the first punch. I am not aware of that having been done by anyone.

 

Jamie: After your experience being EIC of Acclaim Comics, would you be up for another EIC job at another publisher?

Fabian Nicieza: Sure, but it would depend on the circumstance and the place. I loved my time with Acclaim – the EiC job moreso than the President/Publisher job, which was too much responsibility regarding details I lacked experience, or interest, in attending to.
I am a social creature, but I’m also very happy working out of home and trying my hand at a variety of different things. If a company were to call with an interesting 9-5 opportunity – and not just a comic company – I would certainly listen.

 

Jamie: Over the last few years you have been bouncing between Marvel, Acclaim and DC. Have you ever thought of self publishing?

Fabian Nicieza: I’ve thought about it. Then I look at the finances involved and realize it would be just as easy to throw my money off a bridge.

 

Jamie: So the success of Dave Sim, Jeff Smith, Terry Moore & others doesn’t convince you to take a gamble?

Fabian Nicieza: Define success? Creative fulfillment? Financial fulfillment? If the gentlemen above have been successful enough that they can pay the mortgage and their kid’s college educations without concern, then more power to them. I would prefer not to jeopardize my family’s financial comfort for the sake of my own ego. There are plenty of other, more enriching ways, for me to flex my creative muscles than self-publishing comics.

 

Jamie: It seems the comic book industry is moving away from monthly titles and into TPB’s or Original Graphic Novels. Do you see this as a good or bad thing for comics?

Fabian Nicieza: I see that as good if it expands the horizons for distribution and content. I think it’s bad if it forces the continued whittling away of the comic book specialty shops and the regular weekly customer visits.

 

Jamie: Some think the market is moving towards comic specialty shops that rack only or mainly TPB’s and customers come in and buy on an somewhat infrequent basis, very much like the typical bookstore. Is that good for the industry?

Fabian Nicieza: I don’t particularly think that would be a successful financial business model, but I’m not informed enough to be certain. Whatever floats their boat.

 

Jamie: Marvel’s no reprints policy have caused a stir among retailers. Do you think this will be to Marvels benefit?

Fabian Nicieza: As I’m not privy to enough information from either side of the issue, I have no comment.

 

Jamie: Speaking of reprints, I tried to buy your new Citizen V mini at my comic shop today so I could ask you about it. But it was sold out and they can’t get anymore. So tell me about it, what are you trying to do with the Citizen V character?

Fabian Nicieza: CVB is about old soldiers facing the end of their fight and new soldiers who don’t think they want to ever become old ones! It is about a sleek paramilitary organization that has been “fighting the good fight” for so long, that they might be willing to compromise their methods and ethics in order to finally win that never-ending battle. Citizen V is their point man, a covert op. He’s the kind of character you hate to love and love to hate. He has style, panache, wit and intelligence, but he is also very arrogant, very selfish and very indifferent to the obstacles he has to walk over on his way to accomplishing a given assignment.
It’s a fun adventure book that explores aspects of the Marvel Universe rarely visited — namely older characters and the mantle of responsibility borne on the generations that followed the soldiers of WWII.

 

Jamie: Do you have any other work coming out soon?

Fabian Nicieza: None that I know of. That could always change tomorrow.

Stuart Immonen Interview

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen at TCAF 2009

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen at TCAF 2009

Originally published in April of 2001. Sometimes when I got somebody to agree to an interview I’d ask the staff and maybe some friends if they had questions they’d like answered. If I they came up with questions I liked, I’d use them and normally share the credit with them for the interview. Sidra Roberts also did interviews at Collector Times  often filling in for me when I wanted a break. Lonni Holland is a long time friend. I’ve since met Stuart and his wife Kathryn and usually have a short (but delightful) chat with them when I see them at conventions. They are wonderful people.

 

An Interview With Stuart Immonen

This interview was conducted by three people: Sidra Roberts, Lonni Holland and Jamie Coville. Stuart Immonen has been a sought after penciler for many years now doing work on Superman, Legion of Superheroes, ShockRockets and more. This combined interview goes down history lane from his beginnings to what he’s doing today.

 

Jamie: How did you become interested in art?

Stuart Immonen: I’ve always had an interest in drawing, literally as far back as I remember. I’ve also been reading comics for most of my life. I suppose it’s natural that the two would eventually come together in some form, although I did nothing to pursue a career in the industry until I was nearly in my twenties.

 

Jamie: This is your thirteenth year in the business. Congratulations. Where did you get your formal training?

Stuart Immonen: I have no formal training. I pursued a degree in Fine Arts at York University in Toronto, Ontario for one year following high school, but the curriculum and I didn’t see eye to eye, so I left. In hindsight, I probably would have been happier in a vocational environment, with lots of applied studio time. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along, and, I think, am still learning.

 

Jamie: What made you want to draw comicbooks?

Stuart Immonen: It seemed to be the thing to do in the summer of 1988. There was a wealth of independent black and white material on the stands. Writer Kathryn Kuder and I thought we had something of value to contribute. We formed One Horse Leadworks and self-published two titles; Playground, a punk murder-mystery of sorts, and Headcheese, and anthology showcasing local Toronto creators. After three issues, Playground was picked up by Caliber Press, who published an epilogue.

 

Jamie: How did you get the job of drawing Legion of Superheroes for DC?

Stuart Immonen: This is detailed on my website. I submitted samples of my work for a number of years to DC. In early ’93 Neal Pozner saw Ron Boyd and I in his office and liked our samples. I got a 10 page Martian Manhunter story out of him for Showcase, which landed me a fill-in on Legion. Regular artist Jason Pearson was leaving Legion,and incoming editor KC Carlson asked me to come on board.

 

Jamie: Had you ever read Legion of Superheroes before drawing it?

Stuart Immonen: Never. I had no idea who anyone was.

 

Jamie: Did you get tired of drawing all those various characters for Legion of Superheroes?

Stuart Immonen: No, the variety kept it interesting. We ran into trouble when we tried to ease out of the post-hero Giffen material into more action-oriented stories. We tried to do things only half-way, and fumbled a bit. Legionnaires was far more successful. Similarly, Legion Lost has been the shot in the arm that the titles badly needed.

 

Jamie: Everyone has his or her favorite Legion character. Who was your favorite Legionnaire?

Stuart Immonen: I suppose Ultra Boy.

 

Jamie: What led to your Superman assignment?

Stuart Immonen: This is also mentioned on my site. I did a two issue fill-in for Superman, which went over well. When my contract was up on Legion, I wanted to do something different, and Barry Kitson just happened to be leaving Adventures of Superman. I got the offer and accepted.

 

Jamie: How did you like working on Superman?

Stuart Immonen: Very well. I did it for nearly four years. I enjoyed the expanded collaborative process that the closely-knit titles provided. I enjoyed working with the four editors I had. I enjoyed writing. I enjoyed drawing.

 

Jamie: There are a lot of very successful Canadian artists in the industry but many of them move to the states to be close to the big companies. Has staying in Ontario made things harder for you and how?

Stuart Immonen: I don’t know of very many who have moved since the use of couriers became prevalent. Now with fax and internet added, I don’t think physical distance is any kind of barrier.

 

Jamie: So here you are in southern Ontario and there Kurt is in the Pacific north-west. I know you meet at cons but how does the physical separation affect your work? Or are your phone bills just outrageous :)?

Stuart Immonen: The phone bills are, on occasion, enormous. But we communicate frequently by email, which is less expensive. In all the time I’ve been drawing professionally, I have yet to meet a client before working for them. That is to say, I’ve never know it to be any other way, so I find it difficult to tell whether it affects my work or not. Kurt has many other collaborators, and is no closer to any of them than he is to me. I’m sure he feels the same way. It’s just the way it is, and I expect the way it will continue to be.

 

Jamie: There was a double page spread in Shockrockets 2 which was computer produced. How much computer generated stuff do you use and what software are you using for it?

Stuart Immonen: There was a short sequence in ShockRockets 2 which I produced entirely on computer, but the only reason we chose to include it in the story is because we came up with a reason to include it first. This was not an attempt at escaping the drudgery of background drawing, nor was it a control issue. We had an experimental idea, and figured out a way to integrate it. That being said, you can’t escape the influence of computers in mainstream comics– they’re virtually all coloured, separated, or lettered using computers. I would think that, perhaps apart from Alan Moore, they are all written on computers. It’s inescapable. Most of the time the confluence works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

 

Jamie: Speaking of computers… that’s quite a nice website you have. Did you do all of the design work yourself? And if you did have you considered doing any of your animation using Flash?

Stuart Immonen: Thank you. Yes, I designed, coded and uploaded the whole thing. I have a passing interest in Flash, and to my mind, it’s a useful tool for things like animations, but Flash navigation is problematic and more often than not, distracting. I’m working on a few other sites now, including Cryptic Press’ realmsend.com.

 

Jamie: Immonen Illustrations, Inc. has a nice ring to it. Is it all just you so far, and are you planning to add others like Deodato Studios did?

Stuart Immonen: I have had a few interns, but I’ve found that I dislike the company, and am unsatisfied with their work. Clearly, it’s all my fault. I have had a writing partner in Kathryn since the One Horse days and have a studio assistant who has nothing to do with drawing. I don’t think it’ll every grow beyond that. The company was formed for purely legal reasons.

 

Jamie: According to your bio you live in Obscurity, Ontario with your 2 footed and 4 footed friends. Four footed?? Dogs? Cats? Horses? Fellow apes?

Stuart Immonen: Ha ha ha. Two cats, Emmett and Ernest, and a rat named Sweetie are the four-foot types. The two’s are my family.

 

Jamie: Rumor has it that Blockbuster’s computer just can’t seem to get your name right. Exactly how do you pronounce your name?

Stuart Immonen: ???? It’s pronounced EE-moe-nen

 

Jamie: I must say that you and the other apes are looking pretty healthy for a bunch of dead guys. Care to make any comment on Wizards rather premature report of the death of Gorilla?

Stuart Immonen: mmmm. no. There’s still Gorilla material coming out, but the company is basically a non-entity at this point. Tellos will continue to be published by Image, and there may be more from Kurt and myself after Superstar, and Section Zero may yet proceed, but that’s it. For the most part, we made good on the promises we made, even after it became clear that we would all have to do other work to support Gorilla projects, and then that we would eventually have to abandon the idea of Gorilla altogether. I’m pleased with the comics we did. There may yet be more.

 

Jamie: Shockrockets is finished and Superstar is on the way. When can we expect the first issue?

Stuart Immonen: It’s out! Superstar is a self-contained 48 page one-shot. Kurt and I have plans for more but nothing concrete at the moment.

 

Jamie: Is this another miniseries and would you like to tell us a bit about it?

Stuart Immonen: It’s really Kurt’s pet project; one he’s been trying to get off the ground for a long time,and one that’s been percolating for decades. I’m just the latest in a series of artists that have been associated with Superstar, but I’m the lucky one that helped finally get it in print.

 

Jamie: George Perez had a model of the Scarlett Witch’s MG, you had computer models of the Shockrockets ships. Any handy visual aids for Superstar?

Stuart Immonen: Just the usual morgue of photo reference. I have a resin model of Mark Hammill’s head which I use frequently, but I don’t think there’s much resemblance.

 

Jamie: Has Mark Waid’s contract with CrossGen had any affect on the running on Gorilla or is business in the jungle continuing as usual?

Stuart Immonen: see above.

 

Jamie: It’s just been announced that your doing a few issues of Thor. But you are careful to tell people your only doing 3 or maybe 6 issues. Do you have something specific planned after your work on Thor?

Stuart Immonen: I’ve just finished an issue of Rising Stars and one of Fantastic Four. Now I’m doing at least three issues of Thor, and as many as six as far as I know. Kurt and I have another project lined up for Marvel. A big one, but not one I’m prepared to talk about….
Immonen Illustrations, Inc.
http://www.interlog.com/~immonen [that link is now dead. Go here instead.]

Joe Quesada Interview

Joe Quesada at Toronto Fan Expo 2009

Joe Quesada at Toronto Fan Expo 2009

This was originally published in March of 2001. Joe Quesada gave me a great interview. He answered all my questions and then some. I’m glad that he’s had a long run at Marvel Comics as EIC and then got promoted instead of replaced. Despite his position and multiple demands on his time I’ve seen him at conventions drop everything and fully focus on 1 fan who simply wanted to talk to him and not do so in a rushed manor. What I find interesting is all the things that he wanted to do and what did and didn’t happen.

 

An Interview With Joe Quesada

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last 6 months, you know that Joe Quesada is Marvel’s Editor in Chief. Joe has made much ado about his big plans for Marvel Comics. In this interview he talks about them and a whole lot of subjects within the comic industry.

 

Jamie: Now that you’ve been EIC for about 6 months, how has it been? Do you miss being a penciler?

Joe Quesada: That’s really my only regret since taking the job is how little time I get to sit behind the drawing board to draw.

 

Jamie: It’s been said that you write some ‘interesting’ fanfic and e-mail them out to several comic pro’s. Any chance fans will be able to read your writings?

Joe Quesada: Huh? I’ve never written fanfic in my life. I do send out interesting e-mail’s with bizarre sites and such. Nothing i could distribute amongst strangers 😉

 

Jamie: There has been a long history of Marvel ‘Suits’ and freelancers getting into conflicts here and there. How have you been handling those?

Joe Quesada: Just by dealing with everyone honestly and attacking every problem head on rather than waiting a week to make a call and letting things fester. Usually when a decision comes down regarding how we do our books or business it’s not done with reckless abandon, there is usually a very good, sound reason. I just tell the people that work for me the truth and for the most part they understand. Marvel has been pretty quiet with respect to crises in the last 6 months that I’ve been there and I believe that’s the reason.

 

Jamie: Traditionally when a conflict between Marvel and freelancers happened, Marvel kept quiet. You’ve been active in telling Marvel’s side of the story in the press. Why?

Joe Quesada: Because, like I said, there is always another side to every argument. Marvel in its fear or in its arrogant silence has taken way too many a black eye in the public forum. Quite frankly. I believe that no one wanted to speak up on Marvel’s behalf. Maybe in the past we felt it didn’t matter since we were the top dog and we could do whatever the hell we wanted. Well, guess what? It hurt us, it hurt us to the point where freelancers (myself included) were in fear of coming and working here. Marvel did itself a grave disservice by turning its back on its freelance community and its fans. And also keep this in mind, if ever a time comes when I feel that we’re in the wrong, I’ll be the first to admit that we screwed up.

 

Jamie: As of late A lot of people have been speculating what would happen to the Direct Market if Marvel were to stop publishing. Responses range from all out catastrophe to wounded but surviving. What do you think?

Joe Quesada: I think everyone could pretty much pack it up and call it a day, the direct market would most likely die. Bill Jemas and myself have gone out there on a daily basis to squelch these fears. We heard rumors that said that Marvel didn’t intend on publishing in the near future which really freaked us out, especially when we felt like for the first time we’re really starting to behave like a “real” publishing company.

 

Jamie: Any chance Marvel will break it’s exclusive distribution deal with Diamond when the contract runs out?

Joe Quesada: Oh, man, jeese I don’t know. This is something that would be completely out of my jurisdiction.

 

Jamie: Will Marvel try different formats other than the 9 1/2 by 6 /14, 32 page comics?

Joe Quesada: If you mean original graphic novels, not right now. It doesn’t make fiscal sense.

 

Jamie: I was thinking more along the lines of Marvel Backpacks or the Monster Sized and as a regular ongoing title instead of a one shot try out.

Joe Quesada: Yes, we’ll be experimenting in the future but there is no guarantee with ongoing. If the market accepts it then fine, if not we have to move on.

 

Jamie: Do you see Marvel publishing black and white comics?

Joe Quesada: Quite possibly. I received a concept by Chuck Austen who is drawing Elektra Assassin with Brian Bendis. It has an amazing Manga feel and I would really love to see it in black and white and at a low price point.

 

Jamie: So is that still up in the air or has it been determined if Electra Assassin will come out in B&W or Color?

Joe Quesada: No, Elektra is a color book. The project I’m referring to hasn’t been publicly discussed.

 

Jamie: I know you’ve talked about Marvel publishing some non-superhero comics. Do you have any further information, like a date for when that will happen?

Joe Quesada: It all starts in the fall and rolls out during the remainder of the year. Our adult imprint will begin with some super hero related stuff and will branch out into more.

 

Jamie: Will the new Mature Readers line get a strong TPB priority like DC’s Vertigo Line?

Joe Quesada: Exactly the same priority that our entire line is getting.

 

Jamie: Will Marvel be overprinting and warehousing these books like DC does?

Joe Quesada: Yes, depending on the project we will be warehousing quite a bit of our TPB overprint.

 

Jamie: Marvel has announced a number of new TPB’s coming out this year. Will Marvel also be putting sold out TPB’s back into print?

Joe Quesada: Yup!

 

Jamie: Which TPB’s will you be putting back in print?

Joe Quesada: I don’t have the list in front of me but it’s extensive.

 

Jamie: Will Marvel gamble on Original Graphic Novels instead of just putting out TPB collections?

Joe Quesada: Probably not right now. As I said, it doesn’t make fiscal sense to us. They make more sense if you can afford a vanity project or two or if you’re interested in winning Eisners, but the reality of life at Marvel right now is that we have to keep growing our profit base in order to get to the vanity stage. One step at a time.

 

Jamie: As of late some small press/independent books like Safe Area Gorazde, From Hell and Pedro and Me have been getting some mainstream press. Do you think Marvel will ever publish comics with similar critical acclaim?

Joe Quesada: That is the hope. You can’t plan for that, it just has to happen. I will say this, we do have the talent pool to do it now.

 

Jamie: How well did Ultimate Marvel Magazine #1 and #2 do on the newsstands?

Joe Quesada: Phenomenally well and our exposure base is growing as we gain more accounts! So far the experiment is going well.

 

Jamie: Do you think they would have sold that well on the newsstands if they were available to comic stores through Diamond?

Joe Quesada: Sure, the fact that we didn’t solicit it through Diamond was a grievous oversight.

 

Jamie: I noticed in the upcoming Previews Marvel is selling Ultimate Spider-Man #1 that are CGC rated and slabbed. Do you think this is the path Marvel should be following?

Joe Quesada: No absolutely not, and I’m not aware of us doing this. Are you sure this isn’t one of our licensees?

 

Jamie: It comes from Dynamic Forces, they’re selling “300 Re-Marked Editions” for $69.99.

Joe Quesada: Dynamic Forces is a license, outside of that they have nothing to do with Marvel. I can’t stop them from buying copies of our books and CGC grading the stuff. Part of their license agreement is that they get a page in our section of the catalog.

 

Jamie: Marvel did reach out during the X-men movie giving away free comics at the theater. What will Marvel be doing when the Spider-Man movie comes out?

Joe Quesada: Hopefully twice as much and hopefully the core books and not just the movie adaptation books will be coherent when the movie comes out.

 

Jamie: Do you think licensing Marvel characters will increase comic readership?

Joe Quesada: Man, I sure hope so! I’m really hoping that the right promotional push will enable these movies to do something for us!

 

Jamie: Are you afraid of turning off female readers with a new line of ‘Bad Girls for Fanboys’ comics?

Joe Quesada: Wait and read the books, that was just Bill J’s way of getting everyone’s attention. It worked.

 

Jamie: Some people have noticed Marvel being more ‘mature’ with their covers and language used inside the books. This despite a CCA stamp being on the cover. Doesn’t this devalue the CCA Stamp?

Joe Quesada: Not really. It’s time for the CCA to grow up with the rest of the real world. They generally bounce words that are perfectly acceptable for Saturday morning cartoons. We may have gone a bit overboard, especially with the Ultimates, but we’re fixing that. With the rest of the line you have to understand that we’re trying to walk a thin line and compete with the rest of the youth entertainment biz. You realize we’re dealing with a 400 million dollar grossing movie and DVD in which every child and adults favorite line is “You’re a dick!”

 

Jamie: Marvel recently changed the way comics were made by making colorists bid for work. Do you see this expanding to other areas of freelance work?

Joe Quesada: No, the coloring situation was an isolated one. We had one of the best coloring studios come in with a very aggressive bid. It changed the landscape and we had to pursue the possibilities. It also came at the same time that our nearly exclusive contract with a large color vendor came to a close so bids were just flying in and around. The final outcome was that we’re saving money and incrementally the quality of the color will be improving starting in May. It was strictly a business decision, I didn’t feel great doing it but it had to be done and the books will improve because of it. I would have had a larger problem with it had it been a decision made regardless of quality.

 

Jamie: A while back, someone asked at a Press Conference about the possibility of Marvel including Credits for Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko co/created characters. Has anything come from that?

Joe Quesada: I look into it. It’s a bit more difficult than it appears. I really can’t get into the legal mumbo jumbo of it and it’s really silly but it’s not all on our end. I would love to see it happen someday but the stars would all have to line up appropriately.

2nd John Byrne Interview

Originally published in December of 2000. John Byrne just had a nasty split with Marvel Comics, one that has kept Byrne from working for Marvel since. It is very likely that John will never work for Marvel again. In short, Marvel’s President of Publishing (and my last interview) Bill Jemas decided to try and strong arm certain creators into working on certain titles by telling them they either do it or they’d not be working for Marvel any more. Another creator who has since gone on record about similar treatment was Mark Bagley, in regards to penciling Ultimate Spider-Man. With Bagley the title grew on him, and with some encouragement from his local retailer & friend Cliff Biggers, he wound up drawing it for 111 issues. This does not excuse that behaviour from Marvel though.

I had more of a back and forth interview with John after e-mailing my initial questions. Since he was in a fired up & talking mood I tried to pry some info about him about other controversies, without luck.

 

An Interview With John Byrne

John Byrne recently announced that he won’t be working for Marvel anytime soon. He was working on a profitable X-Men: The Hidden Years title, but Marvel cancelled it as part of sweeping changes to their X-men line of comics. I last interviewed John in the Summer of 1998 and decided now would be a good time to talk to him again about Marvel, DC, future work, Marv Wolfman and more.

 

Jamie: Did Marvel try to give you another book to do to make up for X-men: The Hidden Years?

John Byrne: No. There was an “offer” to continue XHY through issue 22 if I would agree to do another project (The X-Book with Chris Claremont, which Bill Jemas had already announced I was doing, without having my final confirmation) but I was not in the market for that kind of “deal”.

 

Jamie: One of the big questions X-men fans are wondering is what books are getting cancelled and which ones are not? Can you tell us?

John Byrne: I’m not sure. I don’t think Marvel is sure, either.

 

Jamie: We know that X-men: The Hidden Years ends with #19. Does that end a story arc?

John Byrne: No. Right in the middle of one.

[Note: Since this interview has taken place Marvel and John Byrne have come to the agreement to finish X-Men: The Hidden Years with issue #22.]

 

Jamie: With almost all cancellations there are bound to be subplots and character developments left hanging. Can you tell us what you did and planned on doing after X-men: the Hidden Years #19?

John Byrne: No, sorry. I don’t want another writer reading this and “finishing” XHY for me. Alas, this has happened before.

 

Jamie: You originally said that Joe Quesada gave you an explanation that didn’t make sense. What was that explanation?

John Byrne: Canceling books that are selling in order to make room for books which may or may not sell, in the name of increasing sales, makes no sense to me.

 

Jamie: Joe Quesada has taken a different route than most EIC’s when it comes to conflicts between creators and editors, using Fandom.com to tell his side of the story. Did you expect him to do that and which way do you think editors should respond to conflicts like yours?

John Byrne: The editors are free to do and say whatever they want, of course. Based on the reactions I have seen from posters on AOL, it would seem Quesada has done himself no favors in this case, since he has given a description of XHY which, as fans are quick to point out, in no way matches the actual book.

 

Jamie: Now that some time has passed, can you tell us what happened with your leaving Hulk?

John Byrne: No.

 

Jamie: In the latest Hulk Annual, Tom Brevoort apologized for your Hulk stories and Peter David retconed them out in 3 panels within Captain Marvel #2. How did you feel about that?

John Byrne: No comment.

 

Jamie: Recently Bill Jemas made some statements about making comics worth 20 dollars. Do you think Marvel should encourage speculating again?

John Byrne: The biggest problem with the Suits in charge at Marvel these days is that they have no sense of history. They do not know how the comicbook industry functioned before they came into the business. They think the conditions they found were the conditions as they have always been. Thus, they are convinced the way to “get it back” is to return to the insanity of the speculator market. Rather like “fixing” the Titanic by crashing it into another iceberg.

 

Jamie: I understand you testified at the Marv Wolfman vs. Marvel case in where Marvel won the rights to the Blade and Deacon Frost character. What did you tell the court?

John Byrne: The truth.

 

Jamie: And why do you feel that way?

John Byrne: Truth is truth.

 

Jamie: I don’t think it will surprise anyone if you get some new work from DC, but what about smaller publishers like Dark Horse?

John Byrne: The marketplace is still too soft for me to function in that context.

 

Jamie: Would you work for CrossGen?

John Byrne: I have no familiarity with their company or their line.

 

Jamie: Do you think you’ll ever write and/or draw something that is not superheroes?

John Byrne: In my career to date I have done science-fiction, war, western and humor titles and stories. I certainly expect to do more.

 

Jamie: …And do you want to?

John Byrne: Yes.

 

Jamie: Would you work under the Vertigo imprint or any ‘mature readers’ comics?

John Byrne: NEXT MEN was labeled “Mature Audiences” and dealt with mature themes.

 

Jamie: There has been lots of news around DC lately regarding censorship, comics being pulped, legal holdups and so forth. Have you ever had any problems with this while working there?

John Byrne: No. I understand the rules and find no problem working within them.

 

Jamie: What details can you give about your working with Stan Lee to do the Legion of Superheroes as he would have created them?

John Byrne: Other than the fact that it is planned, nothing. Stan has not yet provided a plot, and we have not talked about what direction we might take.

 

Jamie: You’ve said that the market is too soft for you to go back to creator owned work. This is being debated, primarily among people who say they are making “loads” of money through creator owned work. Considering the amount of money that creators are making through TPB royalties, do you still think Work For Hire is the only way to go?

John Byrne: When have I ever said it was?

 

Jamie: So is there a place between fully creator owned, controlled and financed work and corporate work for hire that you’re able to do? Something like say League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Transmetropolitan?

John Byrne: Of course. There are countless avenues open to any who wish to seek them out. It simply depends on what you want to do, where, and when.

 

Jamie: The comic industry seems to be moving towards a TPB/Bookstore format, do you think this is a good thing?

John Byrne: As with everything else in this business, it will depend entirely upon how it is handled. When Quesada told me this was one of the directions Marvel was planning on taking, I asked what sort of support structure they were setting up — how they expected to get the necessary volumes of material into the “real” bookstores. He had no answer. This is not the sort of thing, after all, one can simply do and expect it to work, as if the very existence of the product will create a demand for it.

 

Jamie: Any last things you want to tell comic readers?

John Byrne: Hang in there!

Bill Jemas Interview

Originally published in December of 2000. Bill Jemas had recently been revealed to comic fans as the President of Marvel Publishing. He had that job since January of 2000, but comic fans in general didn’t look above the Editor in Chief at Marvel. Bill was different as he got very involved in the direction and promotion of Marvel Comics. So when I learned about him I fired off an interview request for him. I think I may have been the first person in the comics media to get an interview with him.

The interview did not go as well as I had hoped. Jemas found some of my harder questions “too chatroomy” and either didn’t answer them or combined them and “answered” with a press release. Still Jemas was an almost complete unknown at the time so even a disappointing interview was educational. I should say that when Marvel started doing weekly Wednesday afternoon conference calls with the press, I got an invitation to join. I suspect Bill was the reason I got that invitation as Collector Times was not really a big name, high traffic website. Also, I discovered I got the invitation to join after they dis-invited Rich Johnston from attending for asking too many uncomfortable questions.

 

An Interview With Bill Jemas

Some of you may not know who he is, but Bill Jemas is a powerful man in the comics industry. He is President of Marvel Publishing, the boss of Editor In Chief Joe Quesada. As of late he has been in the news promoting Marvel Comics and with Quesada, making big changes in Marvel Comics. This interview reveals info about his past, his opinions and his plans for the future.

 

Jamie: What is your work history prior to becoming President of Marvel Publishing?

Bill Jemas: See attachment
(Attachment:)
Bill Jemas Background
Bill Jemas, the former Executive Vice President for MSG Sports, who joined Marvel as President of Publishing & New Media. Jemas originally worked with Marvel from 1992 – 1996, as the President of Fleer Corp. Under Bill’s guidance, Marvel Cards (including Fleer Ultra X-Men and Spider- Man, Flair, and the Overpower card game) became hottest products in the Comic industry (actually outselling Marvel books). Moreover, Fleer’s Entertainment card lineup (including, Fox Kids, MTV Animated, and the Casper, Power Rangers, Batman Movies) captured over 70% of a very healthy entertainment card market.

Earlier in his career, he served as Vice President, Business Development and Business Affairs for the National Basketball Association, where he was a key member of the team that built NBA Properties into one of world’s leading merchandise companies. He brings this wealth of experience to Marvel at a time when the company is re-tooling and looking forward.

 

Jamie: Did you read comics as a kid? Which were your favorites?

Bill Jemas: I never did read comics as a kid, but I was hooked on the Sunday funnies.
My dad gave me an old old copy of the New Yorker comic anthology. I must have read that 50 times in junior high and high school. I was also a big Kliban fan.

 

Jamie: Why do think people buy comics?
What do you think the average age of comic book readers are?
How will Marvel under your supervision, improve the medium of graphic literature?
What is Marvel doing to attract kids and adults into reading comics?

Bill Jemas: See attachment
(Attachment:)
Bill Jemas – May 17, 2000
The Ultimate Marvel comic book line will be our most comprehensive, focused and well-financed imprint. During the next 18 months, the X-Men Movie from 20th Century Fox and the Spider-Man Movie from Columbia Tri-Star will raise Marvel exposure and excitement an to all time high. Marvel plans to leverage the growing demand for our characters into new readership for our comics.

Everybody in the industry knows that this is not an easy task. For the past ten years, Comic publishers have been talking about bringing in new fans. But the cold truth is that the collective efforts of publishers and distributors have failed. Readership continues to drop and stores continue to suffer financially. Marvel is not giving up on comic books. In fact, Ultimate Marvel is on the ultimate industry mission – new customers.
The Ultimates will be great Marvel comic stories.

Loyal comic fans have earned an inside knowledge and insight through five, ten or twenty years of reading. The Marvel Universe is the longest-running continuous story in history, and it’s very difficult, in that context, to do anything new that’s not tied in to that continuity. Lose the continuity and you lose your most important customers.

This is the dilemma. Loyal fans embrace the complexities of the forty-year history, but new fans are baffled by it. This is an industry-wide issue. It is all but impossible for a new reader to comprehend (let alone enjoy) any main line comic from any main line publisher.
Marvel believes that the Ultimate Spider-Man and X-Men lines are the answer. Core comic fans will love these books. The characters are pure and true to themselves. The stories are strong, complete, compelling, and produced by our best artists and writers. But, any new reader can pick up any one of these books and start reading. Essentially, the Ultimates swap out the traditional back-story and replace it with a rich, self-contained, Year-2000 context.

The Ultimates will be marketed to new readers.
Let’s face facts. New readers are not going to find us. We can’t to sit back and wait for a 12 year old kid to wander into a comic shop, drift over to the right rack and find the Ultimate X-Men. Marvel will reach out through aggressive marketing and sampling programs. Our goal is to distribute 12 million sample comics over a 12-month launch period. We believe that the books will hook new readers into the Ultimates line and that they will expand their horizons to traditional titles. We are willing to invest heavily in this program.

Marvel.com will play a major role in the rebuilding of our comic book business. Marvel has developed our graphic and storytelling skills and earned our reputation as America’s storytellers. Now we are putting those skills to work in the on-line environment to reach out to a new generation of readers. Again, the goal is to build comic book readership by introducing them to the beauty of comic book story telling and promoting the purchase of hard copy books at retail.

 

Jamie: What non-Marvel Comics do you read?

Bill Jemas: I enjoy read everything that Brian Bendis and Mark Millar write, and get to as much of the other stuff as I can.

 

Jamie: It’s often debated as to what’s more important in comic sales. Creators or the characters. Which do you think is more important?

Bill Jemas: Just about everything in comics is “often debated” and many of the debates are as silly as this one. Because, when a great creator is working on a great character, the last thing you think about is which is more important.

 

Jamie: Will Marvel publish creator owned & controlled work any time soon?

Bill Jemas: Yes.

 

Jamie: You have been a lot more active in promoting comics online since Joe Quesada has become the new EIC, why is that?

Bill Jemas: Coincidence.

 

Jamie: Will Marvel be using old cover gimmicks like holograms and variant covers?

Bill Jemas: Only if the script calls for it.

 

Jamie: Many people within the industry think catering to speculators (people who buy comics hoping they’ll go up in value) caused the industry downfall in the mid 90’s. What do you think?

Bill Jemas: You mean, “Were gangs of wild-eyed speculators yanking comic books out of the hands of innocent readers, completely halting their life-long love of comics?”
No, not that I recall. What I recall is the industry-wide over-proliferation of really, really, stinky content. Then I recall billions of collector dollars building the beanie babies and Pokemon businesses into huge successes.

 

Jamie: It’s now known that some profitable X-titles are going to be cancelled. Do you think this is wise in today’s market?

Bill Jemas: For 10 years, every single comic book fan has been complaining that Marvel cranks out too many titles that are too similar to each other. They say that they can’t afford to buy all those books, and that they can’t follow all of the complexity. During those years, thousands of readers have voted with their feet and walked away from the hobby. We are facing that issue head-on in 2001.

 

Jamie: Since the X-men movie didn’t do much to raise toy and comic sales, how do you expect the Spider-Man movie to do better?

Bill Jemas: Check the box scores for December, X-Men hold all four of the Comic book spots.

2nd Roger Stern Interview

For this interview I went into full fanboy mode. As I mentioned in my last Roger Stern interview, Roger’s was my favourite writer as a kid and I was happy that after many years of not working for Marvel he was writing for them again. I pretty much used this interview to help promote his upcoming work as I was worried that his ‘star power’ had dwindled since the 1980s and his work wouldn’t sell.

 

An Interview With Roger Stern

Roger Stern has been working in the comic industry for a long time, lately he’s been doing numerous special mini-series for Marvel Comics. I had the pleasure of interviewing him back in May of 1998 and decided it was time for an update. In this interview, he talks about what he’s doing now, in the future and what might have been. Enjoy!

 

Jamie: The first issue of AVENGERS TWO starring Wonder Man and the Beast just came out. What was it like working with penciler Mark Bagley?

Roger Stern: Great fun! I’d briefly worked with Mark before — on an 11-page story for IRON MAN #21 — but this was our first opportunity to collaborate on a longer piece. And if you liked the first issue, just wait’ll you see #2 and #3!

 

Jamie: For those of us who didn’t read the end of the Wonder Man series, what was it that Simon Williams did that was so bad and needed cleaning up?

Roger Stern: Well, Simon blames himself for the deaths of a couple of people … there are some other folks to whom he inadvertently gave super-powers (which messed with their lives greatly) … and then, there’s the matter of the woman he was engaged to marry! He died before he could come to terms with any of that. So now that he’s back, there’s just a wee bit of business to settle. But you’ll find out all you need to know by reading AVENGERS TWO.

 

Jamie: My understanding was the original plans for MARVEL: THE LOST GENERATION was to re-write ‘Marvel time’ to fit in to a 7 year period. Why was that scrapped?

Roger Stern: You misunderstood. There’s no need to re-write time. Marvel has operated under a sliding time scale, since long before I first started working there in 1975. In fact, it’s that sliding time scale that made LOST GENERATION possible.

 

Jamie: Where did the idea to turn the Marvel Universe series into a series exploring Marvel’s hidden past come from?

Roger Stern: That was the idea right from the start — Tom Brevoort’s idea, to be specific! — and a pretty good one, I thought.

 

Jamie: Will MARVEL: THE LOST GENERATION have only previous Marvel Characters or will there be some new ones in the series?

Roger Stern: Previous, in the sense that their careers pre-date the origin of the F.F. — new, in the sense that you’ve never seen them before. Unless you go ‘way back and remember the Eternal Brain!

 

Jamie: Okay we know that AVENGERS INFINITY is a follow up to the very successful AVENGERS FOREVER you wrote with Kurt Busiek. So what is AVENGERS INFINITY all about?

Roger Stern: It’s about four issues long. It’s about a select group of Avengers who are specially assembled to deal with a serious threat from beyond the farthest star. It’s written by me, penciled by Sean Chen, and inked by Scott Hanna. And since the first issue won’t go on sale until July, it’s a little premature to say anything else about it … except that it’s never to late to start bugging your favorite comics retailer to carry it.

 

Jamie: Do you think there will be another series after AVENGERS INFINITY?

Roger Stern: You mean, spinning off from the events of the series, the way that INFINITY spins off from FOREVER? Maybe. But that’s really in the future!

 

Jamie: Tell us about this new GREEN GOBLIN mini-series you’re doing with Lee Weeks.

Roger Stern: The working title is SPIDER-MAN VS. the GREEN GOBLIN. It’s three issues long, and Lee will start penciling it as soon as he finishes his DOCTOR OCTOPUS project. And, as it won’t go on sale until the end of August, I’m not going to say much more about it … except that it focuses mainly on Norman Osborn, and it will have some serious effects on issues of the regular SPIDER titles which follow it!

 

Jamie: You mentioned that some of your unused MARVEL UNIVERSE stories were to be used elsewhere. Do you have anything else from the series that can still be printed?

Roger Stern: Yes, there’s a DOCTOR STRANGE story which Neil Vokes has penciled. As soon as I get some breathing space in my schedule, I’m going to script it. Then, it’ll be Tom Brevoort’s job to find some way to get it into print! Oh, and elements of a rough idea I had for a Sub-Mariner/Yellow Claw encounter will be turning up in LOST GENERATION.

 

Jamie: Can you tell us about any proposals that you have given to Marvel for either comic books or novels?

Roger Stern: There aren’t any. I’m lucky to be too busy to turn out proposals these days.

 

Jamie: Have you been offered any titles that you turned down? If so, why?

Roger Stern: Years ago, I was offered POWER MAN & IRON FIST, but didn’t have the time. I was also offered the last six issues of CAPTAIN ATOM at DC; but since I loved the old Charlton series and didn’t care for the DC version of the character, I passed. I was also offered the NEW WARRIORS some years ago, but — as there’d been about fifty issues of the series at the point, and I’d never read single one — I figured that I wasn’t the best qualified for the job. Oh, and I recently had to pass on writing a few issues of PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN … just had too many prior commitments.

 

Jamie: Would you work on a Marvel Knights title if it were offered?

Roger Stern: I never say never. It would depend on the project, the artist, and the schedule.

 

Jamie: Since you and Busiek are good friends, one has to wonder if you’re going to do a creator-owned series through the GORILLA imprint at Image?

Roger Stern: I’d love to, but I haven’t been asked.

 

Jamie: You did the scripts for the original SPEEDBALL series, would you like to do another series on him?

Roger Stern: Gee, that was so long ago. I really haven’t followed the character since I scripted those stories. I hear they changed his costume a couple of times.

 

Jamie: Any changes to the Photon/Captain Marvel name situation? You said you didn’t want her name to be changed.

Roger Stern: I didn’t want her name to be changed from Captain Marvel. I do want it changed from Photon. I have some ideas along those lines.

 

Jamie: I heard that before you left the AVENGERS in the mid 80’s you planned on doing a story with Iron Fist. Is this true and were you going to make Iron Fist an Avenger?

Roger Stern: Couple of things wrong there. I didn’t leave the AVENGERS — I was fired! And my plan was to write a story featuring Power Man, not Iron Fist (who was fairly dead at the time; it was only later that he got better). Whether or not Luke would have become an Avenger, I can’t say.

 

Jamie: I recall reading that your Wife Carmela was writing some Legion stories uncredited when you were doing the Legion books. Does she want to do more comic book writing?

Roger Stern: Actually, Carmela assisted Tom McCraw and me in co-writing LEGIONNAIRES from shortly before issue #50. And I had just about gotten DC to agree to give her a rate and a real credit before there was an editorial shift. If not for her help and support, I probably would have left the series after the Mordru story. She’s pretty busy these days with volunteer work to do much more than proofread my stories, which is a shame.

 

Jamie: Last time we had an interview, you mentioned having a number of pet snakes. How many do you have and which ones are your newest?

Roger Stern: Sixteen, not counting the babies. The newest is actually the oldest as well … a 30-year-old ball python, whom we adopted when his owner passed away. He’s a mellow old gent. We hope he has many happy years ahead of him.

 

Jamie: Who are your inspirations?

Roger Stern: I always liked Roy Orbison.

 

Jamie: What do you do when you’re not writing comics?

Roger Stern: I read, though not as often as I’d like. I hit the health club three days a week, and with the hint of warmer weather in the air, I’ll soon be hitting the pavement more often. (The simple act of walking is one of life’s great pleasures.)

 

Jamie: Anything else you’d like to tell the world?

Roger Stern: Read more and take time to smell the roses.

Gregg Schigiel Interview

Gregg Schigiel at TCAF 2015

Originally published in March of 2000. Gregg had recently left Marvel Comics and I decided to interview him in an effort to get some behind the scenes information about a recent controversy there. Rumor had it John Byrne wrote and drew a Hulk vs. Wolverine story but produced something that he knew Marvel wouldn’t like. His method of trying to get it published was to hand it in so close to the absolute deadline that Marvel would have to make a choice in either publishing it as is, or pay for a costly re-write/draw and publishing it late. As the story goes, editor Tom Brevoort chose to fire John Byrne from the book and pay for the re-do of the issue.

Gregg was professional and didn’t reveal anything when asked, but he did talk a lot about his time at Marvel and the things that he contributed, his love of comics and his future. At this time Gregg is doing a creator owned comic through Image Comics called PIX, which sounds like the idea he describes in this interview. I have since met Gregg at conventions and he’s always fun to talk to and tells me he still fondly remembers doing this interview.

 

An Interview With Gregg Schigiel

Wow, are you in for a treat this month. Gregg Schigiel was an assistant editor at Marvel Comics. You probably know his work from the ‘Fast Lane’ inserts he penciled for Marvel Comics and many other magazines. Others might recognize his work from various What If? issues. In this interview he tells us a lot of information and opinions about comic books, both as a fan and as someone who worked in the industry. He also tells us about the Starfox one shot, other ideas he has and a whole lot more!

 

Jamie: I assume you’re a comic book fan. When did you start reading comics? What were the first issues you bought and titles you got into?

Gregg Schigiel: Yeah, I am a comic fan. I started “reading” comics probably around the time I was seven or eight years old, or thereabouts; hard to remember exactly when. Amazing that I can’t remember the general stuff, but I remember a lot of otherwise insignificant details as you’ll soon see. But anyway, I remember my older brother and one of my cousins were into comics and I used to sort of look on. I definitely remember looking at the old Marvel collections like ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS and MARVEL’S GREATEST SUPERHERO BATTLES. They were these great, big collections published by Simon and Schuster. I still have the copy of SUPERHERO BATTLES and you can see the spine breaks on the stories I was entranced by; the X-Men vs. the Blob being the big one. I thought the Beast was the coolest thing, and Iceman and Angel. They were amazing to me. I mean, to have WINGS!? Are you kidding me? That’s great.

But anyway, I remember looking at those books a lot. I put “reading” in quotes above because I never really READ them. I just looked at the pictures…a lot. For example, I loved looking at the Silver Surfer/Thor fight by John Buscema, and there was a Daredevil/Sub-Mariner story by Wally Wood that really caught my eye. So yeah, I did a lot of looking at pictures.

Before that, I definitely watched cartoons. Cartoons are what probably got me into the whole idea of superheroes, especially Batman stuff. Loved Batman. Watched the cartoon (remember that from when I was a wee tike, round about 2 years old), the Adam West show (ran in syndication everyday after school on WDZL Channel 39 in North Miami Beach, FL), and Superfriends. I loved that stuff.

As I was getting older I got more into comics myself. We used to stop at a drug store before going to sleep at my grandparent’s house and buying two or three comics and some Presto-Magic packs, which I wish they still made. Those and shrinky-dinks. The earliest books I remember buying were BATMAN stuff, GREEN LANTERN and an issue of CAPTAIN CARROT AND THE AMAZING ZOO CREW (vs. the Justa Lotta Animals…it was so cool to me, the superheroes as animals). Eventually I started going to a local comic book store with my brother. And while he was regularly buying Marvels and DC, I used to fish in the 10 cent bins for anything with Batman in it, or any of the Superfriends. I ended up with a lot of BRAVE AND THE BOLD, DC COMICS PRESENTS, and other DC stuff, SUPER-SPECIALS and what-have-you. Really fun, superhero stuff.

Eventually, I started to buy ongoing series. The first books I can distinctly recall consciously picking up and trying out and getting hooked on was POWER PACK. I was really into POWER PACK, it was my little discovery. I picked up the current issue at the time (it had Dragon Man in it, who I didn’t much like) and the first issue. I was hooked. I still love the premise of kids with super powers. It’s almost perfect. POWER PACK and G.I. JOE. G.I. JOE was big.

Anyway, for a time, my brother and I actually fazed out of buying and reading comics. Not sure why, but it happened. Every now and then I’d pick up a book here or there (the new FLASH series being a perfect example), but it wasn’t regular. However, one day I was looking at the newspaper and saw an article about a new comic book that was out that had some controversy. Apparently, characters were cursing, and there was some intense, more mature material in it. I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time and well, that’s all I needed to hear. I asked my mom to take me to the comic store, plunked down my four bucks and walked out with a comic that had (and still does have) one of the coolest covers ever: BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE. I took it home, read it, and was back in the comic book habit. Years later I re-read that book and it actually made sense to me. But man, when you’re 11 and you read that…

My brother and I got back into the comic scene with vigor. We made lists of what we were gonna collect (so as to not double up) and filled our back issue lists. I was buying BATMAN stuff, FLASH, AVENGERS, THOR, POWER PACK, X-FACTOR (the original X-Men…the Beast, for crying out loud), the HULK, the new ongoing WOLVERINE series had just started, and all sorts of stuff. So yeah, we were really into comics. Bought ’em by the bushel and spent summers reading them just as fast. And that was it.

So there’s my probably over-long explanation of my early history with comics. Basically, I just loved superheroes, be it from TV or other exposure, I found them cool, and from there I got into comics. Eventually, that turned into a fascination with the medium itself, and so on and so on. But, let me get to the next question already…

 

Jamie: What did you do before you started at Marvel?

Gregg Schigiel: In the months before I was on staff at Marvel I was in college. In the summer before my senior year I interned at Marvel. I went back to school after that and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in advertising in May of 1997. Shortly thereafter I tried to get freelance work as a penciler. I showed my work at Marvel, got positive response (but no work) and went back to the boards to work up new samples. Matt Idelson, who was then an editor at Marvel gave me a DEADPOOL plot to work from. I did five pages and sent them in. Kelly Corvese called me the morning he got the samples and offered me an issue of WHAT IF?. I remember that day, hell, that week, vividly. It turned out to be WHAT IF? #104, starring the Silver Surfer and the Impossible Man (What if the Impossible Man had the Infinity Gauntlet?). I worked on that between August and September of 1997. My brother got married in September, and by the end of the month Tom Brevoort called me about an assistant editor job. I started as Tom’s assistant editor at Marvel in October of 1997. 1997 was a big year.

 

Jamie: Did you always want to work in comics or is this something you just happened to luck into?

Gregg Schigiel: Never planned on anything else. I decided I wanted to make comic books when I was in about fourth or fifth grade. Around that age it was a decision between comic books, comic strips or animation. I decided comic books was right for me, for the type of work I wanted to do.

Yeah, I’ve always wanted to work in comics. I love comics.

 

Jamie: How did you become an Assistant Editor?

Gregg Schigiel: Well, as I mentioned, I was an intern at Marvel. I worked in the Tom Brevoort/Glenn Greenberg office. After the internship I kept in touch with people at Marvel, visited when I could fly up from Florida, and generally kept up appearances. I also must have been a pretty decent intern in that Tom called me up an offered me the opportunity for the job. I flew up, interviewed, and within a month I was on staff, hired right smack dab in the midst of Marvel’s bankruptcy. Talk about a career move.

 

Jamie: What duties does an Assistant Editor do anyway?

Gregg Schigiel: Every office breaks their responsibilities down differently, and that could change depending on who the assistant is, who the editor is, etc. The easy answer to the question is, “whatever the editor tells them to do.” But that’s dramatically oversimplifying things.

In general, an assistant editor at Marvel is an editor’s right hand man. You make phone calls, check in and work with talent, work within Marvel and the different departments (Production, Manufacturing, Accounting, other Editorial Offices, Creative Services and Licensing, Legal, Sales, etc, etc.), deal with schedules, run material around, deal with letters pages, and more. You help your editor with whatever, all in an effort to put the best book together in a timely fashion.

In my experience with Tom, I tended to deal more with art related concerns. I worked with the Bullpen (production) putting covers together (picking colors for logos and cover copy, placement of those things, etc), worked with artists on cover sketches, followed work through the production process, and calling a lot of folks a lot of times to check on stuff or just talk shop. It was really quite cool. I learned a lot.

But honestly, I can only speak for myself in terms of what I did. Again, every office has a different breakdown. I was horrible with schedules. I didn’t keep track of them. Tom dealt with the writers more. I spoke to writers from time to time. I speak Spanish, so I worked with Carlos Pacheco quite a bit on AVENGERS FOREVER, and Leo Manco and Jose Ladronn on BLAZE OF GLORY and THOR stuff, respectively. I certainly can’t say that’s something on the list of assistant editorial responsibilities.

And even then, depending on the individual project, responsibilities broke down differently. The work split on AVENGERS wasn’t the same as it was on AVENGERS FOREVER, or AVENGERS 1 & 1/2, or AVENGERS: DOMINATION FACTOR, you know? So, there’s no list I can give you: I did this, Tom did that, assistants do this, editors do that. It’s definitely a team situation. You just work together to get the books done, as best as possible, as much on time as possible. I like to describe the job as the same thing every month, different every day. That is to say, every month the books had to go out (to the printers), but every day brought new challenges or what-have-you to getting that done.

 

Jamie: Spill the beans time, what editor’s office is the most cluttered and who’s is the cleanest?

Gregg Schigiel: By far, without question, without even a doubt in my mind, without ANY second thought, can tell you, in all honestly, that I was most assuredly the winner of “messiest desk and office” award. Ask anyone on editorial row. I many times proposed not even having a desk, because I couldn’t see it anyway, and just working on the floor. I had toppled stacks of paper surrounding my chair…it was like a coral reef. Tom’s a patient, patient man in that respect. But I could find anything…in about five minutes.

The cleanest desk…that’s probably a toss up between Bobbie Chase and Mike Marts. Their offices are kept in nice, clean, orderly fashion. I could never do it.

 

Jamie: Do you know if you want to become an editor or a freelancer?

Gregg Schigiel: Well, seeing as I am no longer an assistant editor, I’m gonna go with freelancer. My last day at Marvel was January 28th. I was offered a job working as an illustrator at Nickelodeon and accepted. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision.
But, even if that weren’t the case, my answer would be the same. I’ve always wanted to eventually do my own thing. I’d love to write and pencil material (and if I ever learn to ink, that too). I always had that in the back of my mind, even as an assistant.
I remember before I started working at Marvel, some of the other folks on staff were telling me not to do it. They thought I’d be throwing my freelance career to the wind. I even made a deal with one of them that if I didn’t get freelance work within a year, I had to quit. And I’m pretty sure I would have done just that…had I not gotten freelance work. Phew! In the end though, no, I have no real interest in being an editor at Marvel.

 

Jamie: Do you have any specific goals for the future? Titles or characters you really want to do, or some self published character?

Gregg Schigiel: Oh, jeez, this is a HUGE question. Honestly, I could go on longer than I did about how I started reading comics.

I have very specific goals for the future. I have a definite career plan mapped out in my head. So far, everything’s going pretty well according to that plan. But this is far-reaching stuff, that honestly, for now, I don’t want to totally get into (if anything because it’ll take too damn long). In the end though, my most important goal as far as this business goes is to do what I can to keep the medium of comic storytelling, sequential art, as a viable, and profitable means of expression, entertainment, and communication. Lofty? Yes. Achievable? That’s what I’m saying. How? I’m working on it.

The second part of that question is easier to answer. If you’d have asked me four or five months ago, the answer point blank would have been POWER PACK. Before I started working at Marvel I’d developed a pitch for them that I’m still very pleased with and proud of. Since then, other folks have taken the PP reins, so my stuff will have to stay in a drawer, or find another outlet.

Beyond them, there are certain characters I’d love to have a chance to work with. I have a take on Ultragirl that I’d LOVE to have see the light of day. She’s a wonderful character with a veritable blank slate. I have stuff I’d love to do there. I’d like to do something with Peter Porker, the Spider-Ham and the litany of Marvel Funny Animals out there (in fact, they’re part of my Ultragirl proposal). I have an Avengers story I’d live to do, moreso as a What If? because it’d literally change the Avengers completely. It would be amazing to work on something with Batman, sure, but I don’t think my take on Batman is in line with the current approach. I have some new characters and stuff I’d like to try out as well. And I’d love to do some humor stuff, and some non-superhero, human drama pieces. I’m very interested in doing DIFFERENT sort of material. I like characters that are otherwise not cared about or paid attention to. Ultragirl being the perfect example. Dazzler being another. These characters get moans and groans or a unanimous “huh?” when mentioned. I like that. It gives you a lot more freedom to do something creative and different. The problem with that, though, is that I’m still pretty green in this business, so I’m not really “bankable”. I won’t get the chance to do much of this stuff, if any of it. But that’s a whole other issue.

And absolutely, I will do some sort of self-published comics work. Yes. I have ideas for formats, content, all sorts of stuff that Marvel certainly would never do, nor DC as far as I can tell, or any of the companies currently publishing, that I’m aware of. So, I’ll do it my way by myself. I know it’s do-able. And you know what they say, if you want something done right…

 

Jamie: Tom Brevoort has credited you with coming up with the Marvel Militia. Where did you get the idea for that?

Gregg Schigiel: First, I thank Tom for that. In the end, he had to say, “Yes, Gregg, go for it.” So I’d like to volley back some credit to him.

But, yes, the Marvel Militia… I conceived the Marvel Militia out of several things, most importantly my passion for comics. Other factors were things like declining sales and what I consider less than stellar marketing strategy in comics. So, taking the “one man against the world” stance, I came up with THE MARVEL MILITIA. The alliteration and all was in the tradition of F.O.O.M (Friends of Old Marvel) and the M.M.M.S. (The Merry Marvel Marching Society). I considered it a modern update thereof.

At Marvel we often talked about what brings people into comics, how we got into them, etc. I know I got into them through my brother and cousin and cartoons. Others though friends, or hearing about them. Comics have for many many years been a grass-roots scene. There are no TV, radio, or print ads for comics as there are for toys, or movies, or soap. People share comics, turn people onto them. The Militia was an effort to remind people of that, to put the power to “save comics” into the hands of those who care enough to do so.

It’s a funny thing, the Militia, in that it totally didn’t get the response I was going for. Just after the first one hit, people were calling it a sales ploy and a gimmick and all this stuff. I could no believe how misinterpreted my words were. I specifically mentioned comics from DC and Image and such in that column to make it clear that it was about comics, not MARVEL comics, per se. Sure, we wanted Marvel books to do well. But that’s not what was at the heart of it. We even got some folks objecting to the use of the word Militia, in that it denoted a military, extreme group. As far as my intentions were, a militia was a group of citizens who rose up to defend themselves, their land, their stake, if you will. I thought the parallel was pretty good. A pretty simple metaphor, I thought.

Then, with other columns, the message got even more distorted. I wrote one in AVENGERS about how that title was the third highest selling Marvel book, and how we could get to number one. That would mean outselling the two main X-MEN titles (at the time we were out-selling WOLVERINE). I even said hey, don’t stop buying X-MEN! But we were accused of being jealous, playa’ hating, all sorts of stuff. Eventually, it lead to a long, fairly dramatic column once again explaining the purpose of the Militia. I call that the “LOVE” column.

Interestingly, my favorite column got no response, and that was my “Summer Movie” schtick. I talked about how with the onset of the summer movie season, comics fans could get people into comics that were similar, if not better than, movies they enjoyed. But yeah, we got no feedback on that bad boy.

In the end though, there were people that got it, and sent us their stories. I printed some in the various letters pages I worked on. I enjoyed doing it, that’s for sure. At least a little part of me felt like I wasn’t just sitting by on the sidelines.

Now that I’m gone I’d like to think that someone might take up the “mantle of the militia”, but who knows. Originally, I tried to make it something that could appear in any letters page for any book. You know, like an umbrella idea. Grass-roots stuff. But nobody ever took it up and joined me. Oh, well. But who knows, the little green camo box is still saved as a digital file, so the Militia could always come back.

 

Jamie: Let me be the first fan to ask this. How do you pronounce your last name? ;D

Gregg Schigiel: The spelling is totally whack, I know, but the Schigiel is pronounced SHEE-GULL. And Mjolnir is pronouced MI-YOL-NIR.

 

Jamie: Hey, you were around when Byrne suddenly left the Hulk. Do you know why that happened?

Gregg Schigiel: Yes, I was indeed around for that, and I do know why that happened. However, out of respect for Tom and John, and how they treated the whole situation, I’d rather not address it. I just don’t think it’s my place, or the right time. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t an amicable working situation, so it was definitely for the best, as far as I’m concerned.

But beyond that, I have a problem with the increased “insider” feelings that a lot of comics fans have come to “expect”. With the ease of information, it’s become much easier for folks to know what happens behind the scenes. Now, while much of it is very interesting and fascinating in many cases, I think it’s come to the point where too many people’s opinions are colored by that information.

I prefer that the material, the comics, stand for themselves. I think any sort of “true story” or muckraking certainly affects fan response to stories.

This was especially clear to me in October of 1998. I had been working at Marvel for a year. I, along with my fellow assistants, had been doing an online chat on AOL, and otherwise having a good time. And then, at the end of the month, a third of editorial, production, and various other departments at Marvel were laid off. Friends of mine lost their jobs. It was a horrible, horrible couple of weeks. I do not recommend such an experience for anyone. So within days, the message boards were abuzz, with such claims as, “why did they fire this one and that one? I hate that one!” And “that one” happens to be a good person, a human being, you know, who wasn’t happy that “this one” got fired. There was a lot of survival guilt in those weeks, and reading this stuff didn’t help. Hell, I heard there was a poster who said one of the people at Marvel should quit their job and kill themselves because the poster didn’t like a comic book they worked on. This is a horrible thing to say, to even suggest. That sort of thing bothers me quite a bit. I don’t purport to get along with everyone, but I certainly don’t say that about people I know, let alone someone I’ve never met or talked to who’s comic book I’m not fond of. Do you see what I mean? The stories that SHOULD be most important are the ones on the page. One day maybe I’ll tell the John Byrne story, but for now, again, I’d rather not. I don’t think it’s my place.

 

Jamie: Right now you’re probably best known as the artist of the Fast Lane inserts. How did you get that job?

Gregg Schigiel: Ah, yes, the FAST LANE inserts…
Very basically, I approached the people in Marvel’s Licensing and Creative Services department about possibly doing some work. I showed them samples of my older work and the current work I was doing and told them I’d love to do something with them, whatever it might be. I did some spot illustrations for them and that worked out, and then I was offered the FAST LANE gig. It was too sweet a deal to say no.

The people in Creative Services were wonderfully accommodating. They let me pick the inker, gave me a wonderful deadline, let me check things out at each stage of production (a definite advantage of being there). It was a great experience. But yeah, I got the job the way you get any freelance work, really. I looked for the opportunity, showed my work, and there you go.

 

Jamie: Some online fans and even Wizard has complained about the Fast Lane inserts. How do you react to that?

Gregg Schigiel: It doesn’t really bother me all that much. I have a pretty good sense of humor about a lot of this stuff. I know it wasn’t ground-breaking. But it wasn’t supposed to be. It’s a public service announcement, you know? It’s a “One to grow on” or “The More you know” bit.

What did bother me was the constant complaints about it from people who refused to just ignore it or tear it out. It’s four sheets of paper! Just rip it out. I know I did. Yep, AVENGERS #1 & 1/2 had it in there, and I ripped it out proudly, and asked others to do the same. Why? It had nothing to do with not liking it or having a problem with the insert. No. Not at all. It just wasn’t supposed to be there. Tom and I tried to get it so that the insert would not appear in that comic book. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and the insert appeared. Now, that book is one I’m particularly proud of and happy with, and I just didn’t think the insert was right for it, so I took it out. I even rolled my copy up and put it in my pocket for much of the day, just to make it as authentic as possible.

But that was the thing that got me most, the constant complaints about it being there, period. That was made even better by the continued complaints when part 2 came along. It was like, “What? There’s MORE?! ARRGGHH!!” The first one ends with a “to be continued…” You’re gonna get part 2, you know.

In the end it just got funnier and funnier to me, to the point where Chris Giarrusso, who does the great Bullpen Bits strips on the Bullpen Bulletins page, and I worked up a gag for the Bullpen Bits. That was a lot of fun to do. I kept intending to call WIZARD as well, to see if they might be interested in putting an insert in there too, you know, something funny, just for WIZARD, but I didn’t.

Only comic book readers get so vehement about such a thing. Those inserts have appeared in various mainstream magazines, GIRLS’ LIFE, BOYS’ LIFE, MUSE, SCOLASTIC, and I’m sure kids either read it or move on. Sure, it’s in the magazine, but you just move on, you know?

But again, at a certain point I do find it all very funny, especially the online stuff, newsgroups and whatnot. People are very fearless and mean and pig-headed when they get behind their keyboard. One of my favorite online posts ever was a review of GENERATION X #51, which I’d guest-penciled. It read, and I quote, “That art sucked. What happened to Dodsen.” Everything about that was funny to me. The pointlessness of it, the lack of genuine opinion, the misspelling of Terry Dodson’s name. People online can be whoever they want, say whatever they want. And that’s fine. I just don’t take it terribly seriously.

 

Jamie: Marijuana is somewhat popular with the Gen-X crowd. There is even a push to get it legalized. What’s your opinion on Marijuana?

Gregg Schigiel: Look at that, GEN X to Gen-X, now THAT’S a transition!
I honestly don’t know enough about the stuff to give a proper, official stance. I know for me, personally, I don’t smoke it or anything else and never have. I know the smell of it makes me ill, so I’m not a fan of that. I also know people who were really into it and I can’t say I was impressed at the effects on those people. At the same time I know people who are perfectly good people, people I like, good friends, who are or were into it, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. I know there are people that feel very passionately about it. Again, I can’t relate, so I’d rather not, you know, put out a position statement about it.

 

Jamie: Did you get any formal art training? If so, where and for how long?

Gregg Schigiel: Now that’s changing the subject!
OK, art training. I’ve been drawing since I was about five years old. I remember drawing Flintstones characters in kindergarten…or at least what I claimed were Flintstones characters (I couldn’t tell you if they were any good). From that point I just drew all the time. I took art classes in junior high school and high school as well, but in a lot of ways that was essentially more practice, you know? However, a great experience in high school was when Ted McKeever came to speak to our art class. As it turns out, he went to the same high school I did. Someone got in touch with him and he came and talked to us for like three hours. It was tremendous…and very encouraging.

After high school I attended School of Visual Arts for a whopping month before I realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wanted the college experience and I wasn’t getting that at SVA, so I left. I ended up going to the University of Florida. I took no art classes there. But I did continue to do artwork, especially for my classes. I took advertising classes and literature classes and tried as often as possible to incorporate art and comics into my work, writing papers in comic form and stuff like that.

Before I started at UF and after SVA I did have one of the most important training experiences ever. I took an eight week workshop taught by Will Eisner. It was fascinating, educational, inspiring, everything I could have ever wanted. I learned so much in that eight weeks about storytelling and the comics medium. I wouldn’t even know where to start. It was amazing.

Then, I learned a great deal as an intern with Marvel, showing work to editors and getting critiques. In fact, critiques were quite helpful to me.

But in the end, at least for me, it’s been just a constant drawing, lots and lots and lots of practice. I draw every day, to this day, continually working to get better.

 

Jamie: Who are your inspirations for writing and art?

Gregg Schigiel: On the art end, there are a bunch of different influences an inspirations. Certainly what I learned in Eisner’s class was major. The first artist whose work I recognized and followed was Alan Davis, and I’m still a huge admirer of his work. Without question, John Buscema is one of my heroes. I got the opportunity to work with him when I was at Marvel and every moment of that experience was a pleasure. In fact, both he and Sal are wonderful, wonderful people, and quite possibly the most professional people I’ve come across in the comics business. Amazing. Anyway, I must have read HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY I don’t know how many times. That book was huge. I still have my dog-eared copy.

Mike Wieringo’s work has definitely been an influence on my work. I remember his work on FLASH and ROBIN and then SPIDER-MAN. I loved it. In a lot of ways it was influential in terms of being artwork I admired. On the other side of the coin, he was being published, and popular, doing the kind of work I did; cartoony stuff. I’ve always had a cartoony style. I love the look of a simpler image. I think it’s more visually powerful in a subdued way, much like Scott McCloud talks about in UNDERSTANDING COMICS, when he discusses icons. Anyway, yeah, Mike’s stuff has influenced me, especially in the past five years. Same with Carlos Pacheco, who as far as I’m concerned, is the best gesture/body language guy in the business, in addition to being a fantastic storyteller.

But, above and beyond that, on the artistic end, I cannot explain how much the work of the Walt Disney Studios has influenced and inspired me. Just in the past year, after I saw Tarzan, I was drawing every acrobatic character I could think of in all sorts of new and interesting poses. It definitely shows, I think, in the FAST LANE stuff, especially the last page of Chapter 3. I was all kinds of Tarzan-inspired. But, beyond that, the work they do, cartoons used to tell stories that people get into and care about. Their commitment to overall design and art. From Pinocchio to the Lion King, the work is art. Not only that, but it’s beloved by the masses. People get attached to these drawings, you know? What amazes me is that if you drew a comic book in that style it’d immediately be dismissed as “kiddie stuff”. And then I’ll watch Beauty and the Beast (again) and note that these are drawings, iconic images, cartoons of people. Gaston. Are you kidding me? He’s not “realistic” by any comic book standard. But in that movie he goes from being a comic figure to a pretty frightening bad guy. Again, this is a cartoon drawing, you know? And we follow him, and his change, and totally buy it. This is a movie that got nominated for an Academy Award! If it got published as a comic and came out in the direct market, (a) it wouldn’t sell for beans and (b) it would be passed off as a kid’s book. That’s a shame. It shouldn’t be that way.

I’ve been trying to slowly make my work more cartoony, actually, more in that model, the Disney way, if you will. But it’s very difficult to convince comics people to go for it. “What? Thor’s chin is too big, his nose too round.” You know? It’s really very screwy, I think. Again, look at Archie. It’s totally cartoony, but totally representative and accepted by mainstream audiences. Peanuts. Look at it. Those kids’ heads are HUGE! But who doesn’t love Peanuts? The world is mourning Charles Shultz, and rightly so. But do you see what I’m saying?

Yeah, I know, I’ve veered off topic. Let me get back to the question at hand.
I’d say in terms of inspiration, well, beyond the people mentioned above, and Disney stuff, I mean, there are people whose work I see and am inspired by. People whose work I’m generally excited by. Mike Mignola’s work, Paul Smith’s LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, STRAY BULLETS by David Lapham, anything by Kyle Baker, Jeff Smith’s BONE, Jill Thompson’s SCARY GODMOTHER books, David Yurkovich’s DEATH BY CHOCOLATE and THRESHOLD, recently the work of Jules Feiffer has been blowing my mind, and MAUS, by Art Spiegelman (in my estimation the best comic ever, for many many reasons). I look at that stuff and get inspired.

And then, as different artists came into my reading world, I certainly was influenced. Basically, anything I read and liked I learned from. I could go on and on and on forever listing names. And then within the past two years I’ve learned more and more. Working with George Perez’ll learn ya quite a bit. And what hasn’t been said about John Romita, Jr., you know? Jerry Ordway, Ron Garney, etc. I mean, without even trying I’m sure I’ve been inspired by whatever I’ve seen. I remember Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee’s stuff being like nothing I’d ever seen, you know? I have old sketch books from junior high and high school where that influence is certainly clear. And then there’s the non-comics influences. Children’s books are surely an influence. Dr. Suess, Lane Smith, Shel Silverstein, Maira Kalman.

Honestly, the artistic influences are all over the map. Heck, Jeff Dee’s work in the Dungeons and Dragons book DIETIES AND DEMIGODS was influential when I was in junior high school. His drawings of the Norse Gods were amazing to me. I definitely remember copying those.

On the writing the end, the influences and inspirations are different. In terms of comic writers, again, I point to any of those mentioned above in terms of writer/artists. Alan Moore’s done amazing comics work, but it seems everyone knows that.

Most of my writing inspirations and influences come from outside comics, though. Outside the genre even. I’ve always admired the work of Mark Twain, with Huckleberry Finn being a wonderful book. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court being another. I’ve really enjoyed the work of Tom Perrotta, and I’ve liked what I’ve read of Kurt Vonnegut.
Television and movies and plays have influenced and inspired me as well. David Kelly’s work, specifically PICKET FENCES, was an influence. That show totally made me re-think the approach to genre and what a story can be about.

PICKET FENCES, for me, showed me that good characters could let you tell any kind of story. I mean, just because Batman’s a detective and a superhero in the archetypal way, that doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there, somewhere in the Batman mythos, to tell ANY story. Even a story about getting old could be told. With characters like Alfred, or Dr. Leslie Tompkins, or even Commissioner Gordon, you know? And you can still make it a Batman story, you know? It just got me to look harder at the potential for characters and stories. A great show.

Plays, especially stuff by David Mamet; that’s great stuff. There’s a musical called Into the Woods that’s amazing, totally fun and original and interesting as a story. The only musical I genuinely like.

Movies have also been big for me. Definitely. When I see a good movie I’m definitely inspired. A good film, a good screenplay. Anything. A good book or play or even a song; these things make you look up and take note of the potential of creativity. It’s a kick in the ass. It’s like someone saying, “HEY, look at what’s been done! YOU can do this! DO THIS!!” Spielberg certainly, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, Woody Allen stuff, and more recently the films by P.T. Anderson, the good Quentin Tarantino stuff, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, all sorts of things.

So many things can do that when it comes to creativity. Anything funny, you know, a good comedian or comedy. Hell, a good conversation can do it. The people you spend time with. All that stuff.

Finally, a huge influence on my writing and my approach to stories and the kinds of stories I like to tell has been children’s literature. My favorite book/story ever is ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. I love it. It’s brilliant. That, PETER PAN, fairy tales, all that stuff. This is the very basics of story. The plots are rich in their simplicity, the characters are full in their seeming lack of depth. There’s so much to them…but that’s brought to the story by the reader. Hansel and Gretl are kids on the run. Now, I’ve never been on the run, but all I need to hear is that premise and I bring those feelings, of being on the run, of being unloved, to the table. I bring that by way of imagination, or finding that feeling within you. It’s the same thing in comics. And then there’s the sense of magic, of fantasy. No one’s explaining this stuff. It just happens. BUT, in the scope of the story, it all makes sense. You suspend all disbelief. You accept it. I love children’s literature. From ALICE and PAN to more modern stuff, like MATILDA or THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, or two AMAZING books by Jules Feiffer, THE MAN IN THE CEILING and A BARREL OF LAUGHS, A VALE OF TEARS. I read this stuff and I get excited to write. I want to be a part of that. I want to create that same feeling I felt for someone else.

I realize I’ve talked about a lot of stuff there, but I did answer the question, right?

 

Jamie: In What If #114, you and Jay Faerber designed a bunch of neato characters that were kids of various superheroes. If you were allowed, would you make those relationships and characters come about?

Gregg Schigiel: First, thanks. I thought those characters were pretty neato, too.
Now, I assume you’re asking if I’d make those relationships and resulting kids actually happen in “real” continuity, right?

Um, probably not. I’m not a huge follower of continuity. I like it when it helps a story. I like it when it’s a special treat for the reader who’s been faithful enough to follow along. But I don’t like it when it forces you to bend a story so it’ll “fit”. I just want to write and read and draw good stories. I think continuity has in some cases taken over these characters’ lives and limited the stories you can tell. That’s not a good thing.

I like the Creeper. I think he’s a wild, interesting character. BUT, if I wanted to do a Creeper story, people would expect me to address what Len Kaminsky did, and what Ditko did, and what happened in ECLIPSO. Why can’t I just tell a story about the Creeper being crazy and creepy, you know?

Only in comics is this the case, too. Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes…a few times, I believe. He kept bringing him back. How about THAT continuity? I’m a huge SEINFELD fan. I’ve seen ’em all multiple times. I remember in an earlier episode Kramer says he only takes baths. In a later season, he’s got issues with shower water pressure. In another he’s living out of his shower, eating, making calls, etc. The continuity be damned. Why? Because they had a funny bit. I say better to do the funny bit, the better story, then throw it away because in this fictional world, where everything is made up, where creators decide what happens, it was said otherwise by people writing FICTIONAL characters.
Now I’m not saying continuity is evil or wrong. It DOES help build a sense of reality and believability. But after 30, 40, 50 years, well, it can become an obstacle that’s not always worth jumping over.

I remember mentioning Dazzler a few times as a character with potential. And the response, aside from moans and groans, was “how will you explain this, that and the other about Allison Blair?” I was like, why explain any of it? It has nothing to do with the ideas that are currently being proposed for this character. Besides, if our target market is 11 to 15 years olds, let say, they’ve probably never read a Dazzler story. They don’t know that Dazzler’s name is Allison Blair! And for those die hard Dazzler fans, what would they rather see, a Dazzler story that doesn’t explain details that aren’t integral to said story, or no Dazzler story at all? See what I mean? And then there are those who say the character is dated, that she’s a product of the time. That holds no water. What, there’s no music nowadays? She couldn’t have adapted and moved from disco to something else? The Beatles didn’t forever play poppy, sugar-coated stuff and love songs. Look at Madonna! And what, the Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man, or the Hulk, they weren’t products of the time, of a time where radiation was an unknown quantity? People create obstacles. Continuity potentially being one of them.

Anyway, once again, I’ve meandered off topic.To make that story happen, the Secret Wars kids, in this day and age, would require jumping a LOT of hurdles. I liked it as a What If? concept. I think the idea had a lot of potential, but as an alternate world thing, like M2 or Mutant X, you know?. I know my mind was racing with ideas for those characters. But I think the time for those characters, the window of opportunity, has passed. I hope it’s a story that remains as well-liked as it seems to be. I think it’s nice that way, as a simple story.

I do like those kids, though. They are pretty neato. I loved drawing Crusader. She’s a fun character to draw. And I was honored when Carlos and Kurt and Roger included them in the end of AVENGERS FOREVER. That was a nice treat, a good use of continuity.

 

Jamie: You have a Starfox One shot coming out soon, can you tell us about it?

Gregg Schigiel: Oh, sure I can tell you about it.
The first thing I can tell you is that it looks like it might not be coming out after all. Actually, that might be an exaggeration. I’ve just recently learned that the marketing/sales folks at Marvel have decided they “can’t sell” a Starfox one-shot, and that it’d lose money, so it’s been put on indefinite hold. Suffice it to say, I’m not thrilled by the news. It’s a project I’ve been wanting to do for years now and it was happening. Now, it apparently is not. Then again, I haven’t given up on it. I’m still gonna see what I can do with it, see if there’s some way to have it see print. I mean, I’ve talked to Mark Powers about it and he feels the same way I do. We want this thing to happen.

Barring that, I can say that the story is something different, a type of story Marvel hadn’t done in a LOOONG time. A lot of fun. It’ll catch all the online folks by surprise, definitely. I want the people who’ve been talking about it to actually see it, you know? I’ve been reading the posts, I’ve been seeing what people have been saying about how I described the one-shot. I want desperately to read those same people’s comments after this thing comes out…whenever it comes out.

But anyway, just for the sake of answering the question, I can tell you the one shot stars Starfox and Thanos, predominantly. Avengers, X-Men and members of the Fantastic Four appear and play a role as well. But even with all these characters, it’s a very basic, simple story, something I think a lot of people would relate to in some way, and enjoy, even if they don’t necessarily agree with it.

Basically, I look at the character and I think one thing, and that’s the thing everyone thinks of him. I took that one thing and spun a story out of it. Again, it’s a different kind of story. It’s NOT traditional. It’s NOT typical. It’s, well, again, I don’t want to give anything away with it. Within the first five pages though, the premise is well established and all the mysteries will fall away. It’s gonna be a scene, baby, a straight up scene. People will love it or hate it, but this book’s got merit. Now if only the people that can help prove that would get off this “unsellable” kick. It’s not a good thing.

It presumes that something IS “sellable”. Now, I don’t mean to be a pessimist, honestly. I love comics, I hate saying this stuff myself, but here it is. Basically, the claim is that a one-shot starring Starfox won’t sell, or rather, won’t make money. OK, that presumes SOMETHING can sell. I’ve seen the numbers. I know how they’re going. They’re going down, some more drastically than others. There was a time when books were selling, easily, in the multi-100,000 copy range. Heck, books were breaking a million copies sold! Now, a #1 issue opens at MAYBE 50 to 60,000 copies. Even books like X-MEN or AVENGERS have declining sales. It’s a slowly slipping slope, and it’s scary. But the point is that how can one claim to not be able to sell something when there’s not really proof that they can sell ANYTHING?

Kyle Baker did an interview in The Comics Journal recently, a decent interview. But the stuff I found most fascinating was him talking about sales and how it worked over at DC. It’s the same deal. He talked about how the Warner Brothers and Cartoon Network books barely sell. He’s like, that’s Bugs Bunny, you know? Everyone knows Bugs Bunny. He’s on TV every day, he’s in commercials and films with Michael Jordan, but they can’t sell him in a comic book. People will buy him as a salt shaker or a backpack or a toilet brush, but no, his comics don’t sell.

These things do not sell themselves. Just putting a solicitation in PREVIEWS and a blurb in Wizard ain’t gonna do it. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. Distribution, pricing, format, all that stuff. It’s not right.

Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out a way to get this book done. I’m VERY happy with the six pages that are drawn, and I was just putting tweaks on the script which I was having a lot of fun with. Hopefully, one day, folks will get to see all this stuff.

 

Jamie: Is Tigra going to be in the One Shot? What will she be doing?

Gregg Schigiel: Tigra is NOT in the one-shot. She’s got nothing to do with the story at hand. It’s a Starfox one-shot. It’s about Starfox and Thanos. Tigra’s got no place there. The ONLY reason for Tigra to appear is because she was last seen with him in AVENGERS, Vol. 3, #4. That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about with continuity. I have a Starfox story. Tigra’s not involved at all. Her life is totally unaffected by this story. She has NOTHING to do with it. But everyone expects her life and recent travails to be explained. It’s a wrong-headed approach. I’d just as soon not address her at all. I’ll leave her life to another story, or another writer, you know? If I HAD to put her in the story, I’d have Starfox kill her within the first two pages, just to prove a point. Maybe by page three he’d wake up from a dream, or in an intergalactic prison, or in a pool of kitty blood or something. But man, wouldn’t those pages make people stop in their tracks. It’s funny, when Newsarama first approached me to comment on the Starfox one-shot, I told them what I wanted to say about it. I was amazed at how people added meaning and stuff to what I said. They really made some bold conclusions. The best part was that they were getting so upset that I had ideas for Tigra and the aquatic Stingray.

I worked in the Avengers office for over two years. I cannot remember EVER reading a letter or e-mail requesting Starfox or Stingray to show up, EVER. These were characters that as far as I could tell, were as well loved as Gilgamesh, you know? So I come up with this story, and say what I said to Newsarama, and suddenly everyone’s worried about what I’m gonna do to Stingray! Well, here’s a tidbit about my plans for Stingray. I have none. I think the character is funny. He makes me chuckle. I said that to raise an eyebrow or two, to make me giggle when I read the article, and to make people wonder, what could he POSSIBLY have in mind for Stingray?! After I SAID I had plans for him, I DID come up with one idea for the character, and that idea is so far gone that people would lose their minds reading it. Something very existential, Metamorphosis-like in tone and feel. Totally non-mainstream comic booky. The more I think about it, the more I’d like to do it, just to see if it can be done, but that story will never happen, so don’t anybody worry about it. Stingray’s gonna be just fine there in limbo. So everyone that never cared about him can continue not to care about him. It still cracks me up how upset people got about the aquatic Stingray.

I DO have an idea for Tigra, though. And guess what? It’s has .6% to do with Starfox in any way, surprise, surprise. Her adventures with would be mentioned within the first page and not discussed any more, to set up a premise moreso than to establish continuity. The idea I have for her is not about that. It’s about her, as a character. There are no fights of the superhero variety. There’s no jumping over things or crawling under stuff. My premise for Tigra is basically a new-fangled romance book, a soap opera style story, about a woman who’s had an extraordinary life so far who wants to try and be normal. Which would be fine, you know, since she’s a strong-willed woman with set goals. Except, she’s covered in tiger fur and has a tail. How does a woman deal with sexual harassment when she’s always walking around in a catsuit, you know? That’s very interesting to me right now, more so than her fighting, you know, The Dogmen, or whatever. But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with that sort of thing either. I don’t know if my Tigra premise works for what’s the generally considered target comic audience, young adolescent boys (though I highly doubt that’s the actual market these days). I don’t argue that. I think Tigra versus the Dogmen could be a lot of fun, full of high action and adventure. BUT, that’s not the story I’d like to tell (though, the more I think of it, I would have loved such a story when I was 12).

And before everyone starts saying I have no regard for superhero comics and what they should or should not be, let me say that I DO have ideas for “real” superhero comics, too. You just asked me about Tigra, so I answered. I would love there to be a book called MARVEL HEROES AND VILLAINS, which would essentially be SECRET WARS, the series; a sort of Challenge of the Superfriends starring Marvel characters. No real-world angst, no Peter Parker and the Daily Bugle. Nope, just a group of ten to twelve heroes every month dealing with ten to twelve villains. Superheroes doing cool, superheroic stuff. Flying and blasting and lifting and running. As a kid, that’s what’s cool. Kids like Aquaman and Hawkman. I know I loved Hawkman. But the second I actually read a Hawkman story I was bored to tears. He was in a museum with old stuff and who knows what. Dude, just give me a guy with wings, a mace, and an awesome helmet, you know? I remember this kid, Marvin, from elementary school, who LOVED Aquaman. Loved him. Did he know he was a king whose wife went nuts and whatever? No. He was a guy who could breathe underwater and talk to fish. Superheroes have a great range for stuff. You can tell a story about Aquaman talking to a snapper or you can tell a story about the history of Atlantis, and both can be excellent. BUT, neither of these would sell worth a damn these days. People outside of comics would find stuff about Atlantis interesting. Kids would find a talking fish interesting. But comics folks — nah. I find THAT interesting.

Harry Potter wouldn’t sell as a comic book. Just look at the BOOKS OF MAGIC. Is anyone, kids or adults, lining up by the thousands to have Neil Gaiman sign their copies of that? No. Does Neil get featured in People Magazine? Does Timothy Hunter show up on the cover of Time? No. But Neil does get mentioned in Entertainment Weekly as the “winner of the week.” Why? Because he made a deal to write books and films instead of comics. Because, you know, “comics are for losers…but hey, did you read yesterday’s Dilbert! He’s hilarious.” It’s a funny and tragic and sad dichotomy. Anyway, Tigra does not appear in the one-shot.

 

Jamie: You are both writing and drawing the Starfox one shot. Do you prefer doing one over the other?

Gregg Schigiel: I prefer drawing my own material. I’ve never had anyone draw one of my stories, so I can’t relate that experience, but I have worked off other plots. I found in nearly every case, even though I enjoyed the story, I wanted to change the pacing, the page breaks, suggest dialogue, tweak a scene or an ending. One of the advantages of working the “Marvel Method” was that I got to do some of that, pacing-wise and stuff. But, even so, with just six pages of STARFOX done I think the work is stronger in terms of technical drawing, the storytelling is more cohesive, the facial expressions are “on”, the scripting will be punchy, etc, etc. I think the fact that it’s MY story makes it more fun to draw, more personal. It’s one of the beauties of comics, that you can present an almost pure creative vision. I love that. It’s that sort of attitude that’ll surely get me in trouble one day, though.

I remember just after WHAT IF #114, the Secret Wars story, we were thinking of doing a follow-up. I brought a bunch of ideas to the table, new characters, possible story lines, etc. I talked to Jay about a bunch of stuff and he put his story together. That was still very early in both our careers, but I remember getting a little frustrated by it. These were characters that were in my head too, that I had a take on, but I wasn’t always seeing that on paper, you know? It was being filtered through another mind. But I had the same frustrations as an assistant editor. We’d be working on THOR and I’d have an idea for something, and then Dan Jurgens would come up with something else. Certainly something good, yeah, but there’s still gonna be that frustration creatively. I had a screenwriting teacher in college who called that “killing your babies.” That is, letting your pet ideas, the stuff you’re really attached to, die for the sake of the story or the project or whatever. No one likes to do that, and therein lies frustration. In the end, the sequel What If? project would have been a lot of fun, really very cool, but I think it’s fine as a story in our heads, too.

 

Jamie: Do you have any future work coming up?

Gregg Schigiel: Well, I have a lot of ideas for stuff I’d like to do. I’d love to do some humor comics. I have an idea for an Avengers comedy book that’d be really fun and funny and timely. Right now though, I’m just trying to get some sort of confidence built up about me, something that’ll allow me to do some of this stuff. It’s VERY difficult. I worked at Marvel. People know me there. As far as I could tell, people liked me there. But it ain’t about that, you know? I’m not a name. And these days its names that apparently sell comic books. Garth Ennis could sell Starfox. Warren Ellis can maybe sell X-MAN. It’s a different market these days, a different way of doing business. I can’t say I’m terribly fond of it. But that’s the price of doing business…at least for now.

But I still want to draw stuff. I’d love to get a shot to write something that’d be published. I like doing covers. I’d love to do a cover for BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, just to have done it and been a part of that show in a roundabout way. I’d love to do my Ultragirl stuff. I’d like to draw the Beast, and Batman, and I’d like to draw the Hulk for something. But this is just a wish list, you know? Right now I’m working over at Nickelodeon drawing Spongebob Squarepants a lot. If I can make Starfox work, then that’ll be next. Otherwise, I’m gonna try for this Avengers thing I have cooking. Maybe that has a better chance, you know, in that it’s AVENGERS, which is a name. Only time will tell.

And then, further down the line, like, much farther down, I’ll definitely be doing my own thing. It’ll be good.

 

Jamie: How did you get work at Nickelodeon and what kind of cartoon(?) is Spongebob Squarepants? (and exactly what kind of work are you doing on it?)

Gregg Schigiel: The work at Nickelodeon came from someone over there looking for people to do artwork for their Product Services division. I did some samples figuring it’d be a nice opportunity for freelance work, some extra bread and some new exposure and experience. They guys at Nick dug my samples enough to ask me to come on board full time. They made me an offer, I considered it, and accepted.

Spongebob Squarepants is one of the NickToons which is on Saturday Mornings on Nickelodeon. It’s actually pretty funny. It’s about Spongebob, who’s a sponge, who wears square pants. He’s sort of this geeky, nerdy fellow. His good buddy is Patrick the starfish. His neighbor gets annoyed by him, and he’s got some sort of friendship/relationship with this female squirrel that lives underwater in an air-bubble biodome thing and walks around in a scuba suit thing. Spongebob works at a undersea fast food joint. It’s fun. Give it a watch. It’s very much a Nickelodeon cartoon. If you’ve seen some of ’em, you’ll know what that means.

What I’m doing at Nickelodeon is working with the NickToons team in the Product Services division. That means I’ll be doing illustrations that’ll go in style guides and stuff for use in consumer products, be they lunchboxes, underoos, toy packaging, cereal boxes, whatever. NickToons covers SpongeBob, CatDog, Hey Arnold, and the Angry Beavers. Right now SpongeBob is big stuff, so that’s what I’m working on. I have nothing to do with the cartoon itself, but moreso the licensing thereof. Yeah, not nearly as exciting sounding as the comic book stuff, but there you go.

1 2 3