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
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, Fleers 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
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 Americas 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.