Welcome To My Nightmare: the Tom Brevoort Interview

Before I begin, I want to mention that my column is moving to Thursdays. It gives me slightly more time to prepare, and if I get on my reading pretty promptly I can be that much more timely when commenting on new comics. And because the Dark Overlord said so, and even though I’m hella meaner than he is, he’s got the reach advantage on me. And if I play ball with him, he’ll do the driving out to Pittsburgh Comicon (and it’s not too early to make your plans to go, hint-hint). Moving on…

Today is a big day for me. I feel like Charlie Rose or James Lipton or anyone who lets his guest actually speak their minds–so not Jay Leno, obviously. My guest today is Marvel’s Executive Editor, Tom Brevoort. Tom was kind enough to take some time out of his busy day (or mad enough at me for bitching about Thunderbolts 98 and New Avengers 33, depending on how you look at it) to address a variety of topics. He was extremely generous with his answers and I am thrilled to share our discussion with you.

Could you briefly describe what a typical working day in the life of Tom Brevoort entails?

Tom: There’s no such thing as a typical day; every day is its own entity. There is no set routine. But on any given day, I read a dozen scripts, both for titles I’m editing directly and titles that are being done by editors under my watch, proofread and make final edits on lettering, receive and check pages of artwork—pencils, inks and colors, check over and approve final books before they’re printed, interface with creators of all stripes about a variety of topics—upcoming storylines and plans, what creator to pair with what project, ideas for new stories or projects, where a given creator’s check has wound up, etc, interact or have meetings with other members of the staff about a variety of issues, anybody from Joe Q to Axel Alonso to David Bogart to David Gabriel to the Talent Management team. And I read and answer a ton of e-mail.

What about your assistant editors? How are their tasks different than yours?

Tom: There are a number of different editors under my watch, at a variety of different levels. The full editors — Warren Simons, Steve Wacker, Bill Rosemann (on his Conquest projects) and Mark Paniccia (on his Marvel Universe projects) — do much the same thing that I do, just on a slightly smaller scale. The associate editors — of which we presently don’t have any in my division — would handle fewer books directly still, and might function in an assistant capacity on others. And the assistant editors — Molly Laser, Thomas Brennan and Alejandro Arbona — each have a few projects of their own to oversee, depending on their tenure and experience, but also function as an assistant on each editor’s books, performing some of the same tasks — talking to the talent and so forth — but also being much more responsible for the day-to-day scheduling and deadline maintenance, interfacing with the production team in the bullpen, gathering reference or paper for the artists as needed, and doing a hundred other tiny jobs that contribute to putting out a comic magazine every month.

I’ve recently noticed a new role in the credits – Production. What does that job entail and are they considered part of the editorial staff?

Tom: No, the Production credit indicates the member of the Bullpen team who digitally assembled the issue in question, and made it ready to go off to the printer. This entails marrying the colored art files with the lettering, assembling the “in-position” of the book, including all of the ads, making any final corrections or adjustments that need to be taken care of, and getting the whole finished job over to the printer’s. The addition of the production credit was a means of making them feel a little bit more invested in what they were doing, more like members of the team with important responsibilities, rather than faceless drones.

What is the process from idea to printer? For a monthly comic, I can’t imagine there’s a lot of wiggle room in the event of a script or art page that requires tweaking. Is there time for corrections, proofreading, etc.?

Tom: It depends on what you mean by “idea.” For the sake of argument, let’s take an issue of an existing title, say CAPTAIN AMERICA . Ed Brubaker starts out with an idea for the story, which he’ll discuss with me beforehand, at least in the most general terms. Once we’re both on the same page, he’ll write a script, typically a full script these days, with final dialogue indicated and each individual panel broken out. (Some creators still work in the traditional “Marvel style” of plot-art-script, adding their final copy after the pages have been drawn, but this is a bit more rare these days.) My assistant and I read the plot, get back to Ed with any comments, and Ed makes any corrections or adjustments that might be necessary. From there, it goes off to the penciler, Steve Epting, who draws the 22 pages in pencil. He’ll e-mail over jpegs of each page in process so that the members of the team can see them and be on the look-out for anything that might require changing or adjustment. From there, the penciled pages go to the inker — in this case, Steve himself — who’ll render and embellish them in black India ink. Again, jpegs of the pages at this stage will be sent to the team, and the finished pages will be uploaded to Marvel’s FTP server. These files will be set up by the Bullpen production team, making sure they’re sized correctly and are in a form that can be used by both the colorist, Frank D’Armata, and the letterer, Joe Caramanga. From there, copies of these files go to the colorist and the letterer to start working on. Frank will color each page using a program like Photoshop, again sending jpegs around to the rest of the creative team as he goes, so everybody can make sure that things are colored correctly. In the meantime, Joe takes the script and letters the pages. These digitally lettered pages get proofread by dedicated proofreaders in production, and by my assistant Molly Lazer and myself. During this process, I may make changes or adjustments to make the text match the artwork more precisely. The writer will also get a chance to review the lettered pages and my corrections, so as to have his voice in the discussion. From there, all of the files are posted to Marvel’s FTP site, and a member of the production team marries they all up. The final, married files are proofread again, both by the dedicated proofreaders and by my assistant and myself, for any last-minute corrections, changes in sound effect colors, balloon alignment, mis-colored elements, bad storytelling, overall confusion of story flow, and things like that. Once everything is as perfect as we can make it, the final files are sent out to the printer. A few days later, we’ll be notified that the job is ready, and review a digital on-press proof. This is the final opportunity to catch a mistake or make changes, and it costs money to do so at this point, so only the worst errors will be fixed at this point. From there, once the editor has signed off, the book is printed and shipped.

There’s absolutely time for corrections and proofreading and so forth in the process—there’s not a book that goes through the system that doesn’t have some form of correction or adjustment made to it. But you can’t often be fussy, worrying over every punctuation mark. There are only thirty days to get each issue done and to the stands, after all.

I know the final decision on an underperforming book’s fate comes from the highest ranks at Marvel. How does the editorial department prevent an underperforming book from falling victim to cancellation?

Tom: Each book has a different expectation placed upon it, and fulfills different needs within the publishing group, so there isn’t one answer to this. Some titles, like the MARVEL ADVENTURES line, don’t sell well in the direct market comic shops, but do extraordinarily well in mass market venues, by subscription, and in collected editions through bookstores and direct marketing organizations such as Scholastic. So there are revenue streams that may not always be apparent to somebody looking in from the outside. But in some way, from some place, every title needs to generate enough of an audience and enough incoming revenue to justify the resources used to produce it. So with an underperforming title, it all depends on what the goal is with that particular project. Sometimes you might change an element of the creative team, sometimes you might try to boost sales with an exciting or sexy storyline, sometimes you might opt for a crossover or a tie-in, counting on cross-pollination to raise reader awareness and interest in what you’re doing, sometimes you might try to attract more readers and retailer simply through skillful promotion. And sometimes, you might decide that the title is doing what it’s doing to the best of its ability and is still not making enough of an impact, and that those resources might be better utilized on other projects, and so you end the series. Not every idea is going to work, and not every series needs to live on forever — it’s a pretty common phenomenon for people to break the very things that make a certain series interesting and distinctive in a misguided attempt to make it more commercial.

The grind of pumping out one monthly title much less the many your office is responsible for (just how many is that anyway?) presents some special challenges. How does the crunch of deadlines impact the entire team’s ability, both the talent and editorial, to produce exactly the story you set out to make and your ability to make adjustments?

Tom: In terms of how many, here’s the listing of titles scheduled for September 2008 that we’re putting out. (This doesn’t include the Mark Paniccia-edited Marvel Universe titles that I’m overseeing)

SEPT
The Initiative #6
New Avengers #34
Captain America #30
Iron Man #22
Mighty Avengers #5
Fantastic Four #550
Illuminati #5
Jack Kirby’s GBH #6
Ant-Man #12
Loners #6
Ms Marvel #19
Thunderbolts #117
Amazing Spider-Girl #12
Nova #6
Quasar #3
Star-Lord #3
Wraith #3
Classic Avengers #4
Daredevil #101
Immortal Iron Fist #9
Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1
World War Hulk Front Line #4
Shanna #2
Thor #3
Daredevil: Battling Jack #4
Iron Man Mandarin #1
Terror Inc #2
Fantastic Five #5
Champions #3
New Avengers/Transformers #3
Sub-Mariner #4
Spider-Man/Red Sonja #2
Penance #1
Captain America : The Chosen #1
Captain America : The Chosen #2

Tom: In terms of how it impacts, the schedule is the schedule. In any collaboration, there’s always going to be some measure of compromise, because any two people aren’t going to have the exact same sensibility on everything. But that’s part of the process. When there’s a correction or a change that’s necessary, you’re always going to have to weigh it between how important it is to the story or to the character, and what kind of impact will making the change have on the resources you’re dedicating to the project. Is it a page you need redrawn, or is it something the inker or colorist can adjust. Can you cover it in dialogue? And if the page does need to be redrawn, what’s that going to do to the schedule overall. But we correct stuff all the time — you just can’t minutely correct every page of every issue and expect the book to come out on time (or ever, if you’re that obsessive about it.) There’s a saying that factors in: you get another chance next month. It’s impossible to produce a perfect comic book, but every month, everybody involved takes their best shot at it. But this is also the business of publishing, so you do need to publish. So everybody does their best, but you maintain a proper equilibrium in that, if something goes wrong, you’ll have another issue to do next month, and maybe you can make that one better.

In discussing how you might handle a book on the chopping block, you mentioned possibly making a change to the creative team. I wrote a piece a few months back in which I wondered why big name creators were used on big name books. I used the sales figures of “Batman” and “Superman” before, during, and after Jim Lee’s run on those books versus what an “endangered” book like “Manhunter” was doing. Knowing that certain talents have a “built-in” audience, wouldn’t it be better to utilize these talents on books that really need a lift? Or to put it more simply, how do you determine which book a creator will be assigned to?

Tom: There are a couple different points to this, so let me take them all in turn. These decisions don’t happen in a vacuum — the days when writers and artists were cattle to just be plopped down wherever an editor wanted are long gone. So factor one is what the creator is interested in. I don’t want to speak for him, but I expect that, for Jim Lee, there was no small thrill in drawing BATMAN and SUPERMAN, whereas he may never have even read an issue of MANHUNTER, and may have no interest in or enthusiasm for drawing it. Jim can always work on his own characters through Wildstorm, so there needs to be some “get” for him to be working on a particular project.

Factor two is that I think you’re underestimating the impact that a creator like Jim has on the perennial core titles. Both BATMAN and SUPERMAN were in far healthier shape when he left them than before he was on them, and it always pays to keep the core of your business healthy and strong. The surest way for Batman to go away is for people to assume for any length of time that it doesn’t matter who writes or draws the series — because it does. There’s a saying: “The creators make the characters and the characters make the creators.”

Factor three is the collections market. DC can theoretically sell copies of “Hush” in TPB and hardcover form indefinitely, and make a hell of a lot of money over a long period of time, precisely because those characters have longevity, whereas you might get only one printing out of a MANHUNTER collection. So there’s long-term return on investment. And sure, sometimes you can catch lightning in a bottle, but when you’re playing this game for actual money, it makes sense to follow the odds at least most of the time.

The final factor is a simple dollars-and-cents equation: a creator like Jim Lee is going to be more expensive than the average guy — he’s likely going to have a better page rate and possibly a better deal on back-end elements, such as circulation bonuses or completion bonuses. A series that’s circulating low numbers, like a MANHUNTER, may not be able to generate enough profit to be able to afford a Jim Lee. And, even if it could, because of the additional A & E costs, Jim would have to lift the sales numbers on MANHUNTER further than another guy simply to cover the additional expense of his involvement.

As my readers know I am a diehard fan of the Thunderbolts. Issue 99 featured a story about the Swordsman aka Andreas Von Strucker. This issue was used to reveal some of the mysteries about the (then new) Swordsman and to set the stage for the milestone #100, a rare feat in the current market. But when I read Fabian Nicieza’s story I was shocked and more than a little put off by the revelation that Swordsman, under the Purple Man’s control, killed his twin sister, stripped the flesh from her body, and–having leathered it–wrapped his own sister’s flesh around the handle of his sword so he could access his mutant power. The reason this doesn’t sit well with me is that Thunderbolts is an “All Ages Book.” It sits between Thor and Uncanny X-Men on the shelves. If it was a MAX book or in some way identified as “For Mature Readers” I wouldn’t have been put off, as I have no objection to mature titles. Could you discuss the process in which this story came to light? Assuming the idea was Fabian’s, did you have any objection to this graphic description of sibling murder by a character who is, ostensibly, attempting to be a “good guy?”

Tom: I went and pulled the issue to confirm my hypothesis on this, and I’m attaching a scan of the page in question that should be posted along with these comments, so that people can see what we’re talking about.

First, believe me when I say that you’re totally and completely entitled to have whatever reaction to a given comic book story that you have; what I’m about to say doesn’t make your response to the work any less legitimate. By that same token, let me also tell you that, as far as I can remember, you are the only person to lodge this particular complaint about the issue. There may have been others somewhere online, but in terms of what crossed my desk and crossed my path, you are it.

And I think your reaction to this sequence has more to do with you than with the actual content. (That’s not meant as a slam — everybody’s got their own particular things that make them feel ookey.) But given the general guidelines under which we work, I look at what’s actually on the page, and I think it’s well within bounds. We show nothing other than Andreas wrapping his sword — the entirety of what you’re talking about isn’t visualized at all, it’s only spoken about. The rating listed on that specific issue of the title (#17/#98, not #18/#99, by the way) (By George he’s right, have I been complaining about the wrong issue all this time? I know I was much happier at issue 101, for what it’s worth!) was T+, which is a little bit different than “All Ages”. It’s analogous to PG-13. For a book with this rating, I think this sequence is completely within bounds.

And, honestly, there wasn’t really any great controversy in doing this scene. Fabian came up with it, I thought it was appropriate and fitting for the book and for the story, and we went ahead and did it. One of the underlying principles of THUNDERBOLTS has always been that these are “villains turned would-be heroes, seeking redemption”, and part of the magic of what makes the series interesting is the fact that these characters should always be in jeopardy of slipping back into the patterns of behavior that made them villains in the first place. They can sometimes take the easy way out, or make a wrong or ill-considered or selfish move in the moment. That’s what keeps them interesting — not everybody gets to find the redemption that they’re searching for. It’s the journey that’s more intriguing than the destination. So none of these characters are lily-white. Elsewhere within the run of the book, we’ve seen other T-Bolts commit acts of murder and larceny and violence on others, often in a more graphic treatment than this scene. And it’s the context of the story and what you bring to it that allows you to either continue to root for the character or not. The Thunderbolts are all Anti-Heroes in one respect or another, and the question of whether any redemption is possible is one that each reader must answer for themselves.

That scene creeped you out. I get it. It was kinda supposed to.

More recently in New Avengers #33 there is a scene in which the team is arguing about whom may or may not be a Skrull when there’s a knock on the door. Echo, a character who’s defining trait is her deafness, turns with a look of shock to see who is knocking. I read the scene over and over to make sure I didn’t misunderstand it or misidentify Echo. The scene becomes even more comical later when Luke Cage makes a point of explaining her deafness to his wife. Is this scene a matter of Leinil Yu misinterpreting Brian Bendis’ panel descriptions or a matter of something that gets lost in translation when you try to convey movement in a medium of static images? I know it seems like a minor thing to quibble over, but the scene was distracting enough that I found myself unable to get back into the flow of the narrative. Some of my readers felt the same way–once they ceased to be involved in the story and their suspension of disbelief was broken, they find it hard to enjoy them book as they were meant to. Was this something that was just missed, or did you decide that you deemed minor enough to let go as is?

Tom: This is an instance where elements in a given sequence just didn’t come together as well or as clearly as they could have. First off, just as a general point, it remains incredibly difficult to deal with a deaf character in a book where at least two of the characters (Spidey and Ronin) wear full face masks, so this is something we grapple with issue after issue. In this particular instance, the way the scene is supposed to play, the Avengers are arguing amongst themselves, there’s a knock on the door, and all heads turn in response. In this context, Echo responding makes sense, as she takes her cue from the other characters. However, in the way Brian described that panel in the script, he called out Echo in the foreground (to lead into the following sequence, where she answers the door), and that’s the element that Leinil seized upon when drawing the page. While I see every page as it comes in, as does my assistant, I don’t actually compare them to the script at that point — there aren’t enough hours in the day. My mind for this stuff is generally sharp enough to catch the most obvious sorts of gaffes regardless. So by the time I did my actual editing pass, at the lettering stage, there wasn’t enough time to get this panel redrawn and recolored — so we opted to leave it. It’s just what Stan used to call a “bone-headed mistake”, and every comic book has at least one of them of one sort or another.

I wrote a piece last year on race in comics, discussing how few miniority characters there are in prominent roles. New York City is one of the most widely represented centers of ethnic diversity in the world, and yet the Marvel Universe, very firmly rooted in NYC, seems much less representative of that. Likewise there would seem to be more diversity in matters of sexual preference or faith than what we find in most comics. Why do you think there isn’t more utilization of race, religion or orientation characteristics in comic characters? Is it a matter of marketing and demand or a matter of creators that (presumably) are mostly straight, Anglo and Christian simply writing what they know?

Tom: It’s a little bit of all of that, and also a few other factors. One factor is that, in most instances, we’re dealing with characters and strips that had their roots forty to sixty years in the past, at a time when the cultural diversity in comics was even worse than it is today. What this means is that most of the “prime territory” when it comes to the bigger icons tends to be spoken for by existing characters, most of whom are seemingly WASPs. And while it’s possible to add new characters into the mix of a series like that, it’s extremely difficult to move them to the center of the hearts and minds of the overall readership who’s been following the hero in question over the years. (This doesn’t just go for supporting characters of a particular ethnicity, but as a general rule overall.)

But the biggest stumbling block, I think, is that it’s dangerous. Not simply because you may be called upon to write about a character whose background, upbringing, cultural identity and experiences may be totally alien to your own, but because each such character tends to have to carry more “cultural weight”, such that it becomes more difficult to have story options.

Let me give you an example, not a very deep one, but it just happened so it’s fresh in my mind. A month or so ago, we had a CAPTAIN AMERICA cover that showed as the centerpoint of its movie poster montage composition an image of the Falcon on fire. When Ed, Steve and myself came up with that image, we didn’t think anything more of it than that it was a strong image of the hero in jeopardy, reflective of events within the story itself. But once that cover hit the net, and the stands thereafter, we heard from a number of people who were upset that we’d done a cover showing a black man set ablaze, because of the larger cultural implications. And it’s entirely a question of context — the same image with Captain America set ablaze in the same pose wouldn’t have set off the same alarm. Which isn’t to say that those people are wrong — it’s a question of their experiences versus ours.

But following that example out to the furthest extreme, because there are so relatively few Latino characters, Native American characters, Gay characters, whatever demographic group you like, each character within that grouping must carry a greater burden. Each one is reacted to as more emblematic of the group to which he belongs — which means the outcry from that group if the depiction isn’t one they care for is more extreme. Spider-Man can make a mistake and do the wrong thing without losing the reader’s sympathies. But if you do the same thing with the Falcon, or the White Tiger, or American Eagle, or Hulkling, it’s taken as a statement about an entire subset of people.

So that makes it potentially dicey, especially for writers who don’t belong to that particular demographic. I expect that Allan Heinberg could write a villain who was gay and have it be accepted, because of who he is, the background he would bring to the character, and the fact that this wouldn’t be the only gay character that Allan has written. Certainly Christopher Priest and Reggie Hudlin get a pass on writing black characters who are petty or vain or buffoonish or evil because their readership understands the broader picture, because they speak the language of the culture, and because this wouldn’t represent the sum total of their depiction of the race. But have, I don’t know, Dan Slott writing such a character in either of these situations, and the potential for offense becomes instantly much greater, because Dan is neither gay nor black, and the audience can sense it. And after a writer who’s trying to represent multi-culturally gets burned a few times, they can become a little bit gun-shy about stepping back up to the plate on this. If you make your villain white, if you make your petty, vain, buffoonish, evil characters white, then the controversy all goes away, and the character is judged by other merits.

The good part is that things are slowly getting better, but this is going to be a process. It’s not something that can just be turned on like a light switch and gain acceptance with the audience. And it’s ultimately more harmful to have a quota to fill. But trying to keep an eye on representing multi-culturally is something that I think both major companies strive to do, even if we don’t always hit the ball correctly.

As you’ve stated, books change, evolve and sometimes end naturally; I can understand that. What I don’t always understand is how Marvel views continuity. I’ll give two examples, as I see it. The Ultimate line of comics was at least in part touted as a place readers could go to enjoy characters without the burden of continuity, and yet now, with those books at or nearing triple digits in issues, “Ultimate” continuity HAS been developed. And then there’s death in Marvel. I know popular characters like Colossus aren’t likely to stay down forever, but characters like Mysterio seem to die one week and pop back up again in another book just a month or two later. So my question is: How do you approach the complicated world of serial continuity and why doesn’t Marvel create a sandbox imprint like DC’s “Elseworlds” where creators can tell any story they like without the “trappings” of continuity? I know you have the “What If…?” books, but could more be done there?

Tom: We’ve actually got the MARVEL KNIGHTS line right now, which does just that. But that isn’t really what you’re asking about.

Continuity is a tool, rather than a goal, that’s the first thing you have to understand. And like any other item in the storytelling toolbox, there are times when it is vital to your story, and there are times when it’s irrelevant. But continuity isn’t and shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself. I do understand why many readers feel like it is or it should be, because Marvel itself helped to foster that notion for many years, starting in the 1980s. This was largely the handiwork of my late and much-missed friend Mark Gruenwald — but while there’s plenty that I love and respect about Mark and what he did, in the case of continuity, I feel he sometimes had a tendency to put the cart before the horse.

Continuity exists to serve the story, the story doesn’t exist to serve continuity. This is something that television tends to understand instinctively: in season one of a show, a character may tell another that he has no siblings, and in season three they’ll bring in the brother and the sister — and nobody really cares, because it’s the needs of the story and the show at that particular moment that are paramount, rather than being faithful to a line of dialogue that had been dropped two seasons ago that most viewers don’t even remember (but which will startle them once the show is in syndicated repeats, after they’ve come to know and love the brother and sister in seasons three, four and five…) And especially now that the Marvel Universe is nearing fifty years of continuous publishing, it’s become impossible to expect the readership as a whole to be conversant with every facet of Marvel’s history in a way that it might have been when there were only, say, fifteen years of publishing to deal with.

And continuity isn’t an all-or-nothing binary proposition. Sometimes you make a choice not to worry about some facet of continuity for the greater good of the story you’re telling today, especially when it’s something that relatively few readers are going to be concerned about. And yes, this does tend to piss those readers off a little bit. Everybody wants to feel like their time investing in these characters and stories is worthwhile, that it has a tangible benefit. And it does, of course — but that benefit is more directly realized in the enjoyment readers get from the stories, not the need for everything to maintain a lockstep going into the future. A good, compelling story is more valuable than a mediocre story that gets the continuity right.

When you speak of ULTIMATES continuity, in some respect I think you’re missing the forest for the trees. Certainly one of the ways it was promoted at the outset was as an entry point devoid of the baggage of continuity. But no reasonable, thinking, intelligent person would tell you that continuity wouldn’t be built up within those titles and that universe over time. However, the goal with those series all along has been accessibility — and even now, it’s easier for a person to pick up the 15 or so ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN trade paperbacks which have remained in print and get the whole story, as they would pick up the seven Harry Potter books or any other type of serial fiction, in a way that’s just not possible with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. The Ultimate universe is still very continuity-friendly, by design, a fact that I think is reflected in the continually strong sales those TPBs experience in the mainstream, as well as through comic shops.

And, ultimately, another thing to bear in mind is that the continuity of the Marvel Universe has never been perfect, not from the very start. As somebody who worked on the Handbooks with Mark G back in the early 90s, I can tell you that there were all sorts of times when we had to force pieces to fit together that just didn’t work — characters would come back from the deal without explanation just as often, and the events in one book wouldn’t be reflected in another. The difference that you see, I think, is that in those days an inordinate amount of effort was being spent in trying to minimize these mistakes, whereas nowadays that effort is being channeled more directly into making the stories better. There are some readers who don’t like this, who place more importance on the overall universe than on its individual components — and that’s all right. Each reader gets out of the work whatever he or she wants to, and brings their own aesthetics to the table. But I think the larger readership — and by that I mean the overall readership, in every format — isn’t all that bothered by these problems, especially if they’re enjoying the stories. A good, strong story beats everything else.

How does Marvel — in your case the Editorial Department — tackle the issue of attracting new readers? And what I mean by that is how do you work with the creators to bring in new readers when there seems to be a steady stream of crossovers and big events? I know some books have pretty defined arcs, but how do you grab a child, teenager or young adult who hasn’t picked up a comic before when a majority of titles either feature World War Hulk or The Initiative mastheads on them?

Tom: Jeff, I think you’re missing the forest for the trees here a little bit, and forgetting what it was like to be a young reader. I think a book like WORLD WAR HULK is an excellent outreach to young readers for the simple reason that, at its heart, it’s a story about all of the best super heroes fighting one another. That’s what every young kid who’s into comics wants to see, and is the appeal at the heard of the crossover phenomenon, going back to SECRET WARS.

On a more general level, we try to craft all of our stories with an eye towards the common man, looking for story hooks and metaphors within the material that the average person can connect to and resonate with (while still servicing the dyed-in-the-wool hardcore audience.) And we try to structure our crossovers in such a way that each individual element can be read and enjoyed on its own, and in such a way that you don’t need to purchase a dozen comics to follow what’s going on (though, of course, we hope a given reader will be interested enough in all of the permutations that he’ll want to follow it all.) And we generally try to avoid “comics about comics”, stories that aren’t about much of anything other than previous stories, which by their nature tend to be more exclusionary to a reader less versed in the mythology of these fictional worlds.

Beyond that, we’ve got an aggressive outreach program — everything from the MARVEL ADVENTURES line to distribution deals with Scholastic and penetration into large chain stores like TARGET with appropriate material. We try to build our individual issues with the understanding that any given issue could be somebody’s first — that’s one of the reasons we incorporate the recap pages into all of our books.

At the end of the day, though, an engaging story is an engaging story. If you craft stories that have some meaning to the lives of the people reading them, you’re more likely to attract them and garner their attention.

Thank you, Tom Brevoort, for taking time out of your busy day to answer my questions and sharing your insights with my readers. Your answers were thoughful and thorough, and I hope to talk with you again in the future.

Now how do I follow this up? I know! I’ll take a vacation! See ya in two weeks. Oh, and remember, the Nightmare is moving to Thursdays. I’m like “Must See TV!” Only, you know, with better plots and no Matt LeBlanc, thank Thor…

Welcome to my nightmare.

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