Joe Quesada: Not Going Anywhere

We sat down with Joe Quesada to discuss his 10 years as Marvel EIC, his role as CCO and the state of all things Marvel.

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By Ryan Penagos

Yesterday's news that Executive Editor - VP Axel Alonso was promoted to the role of Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief took the industry by storm--and surprise. Fans far and wide welcomed Axel with open arms and minds, but the big question has been "What's going to happen to Joe Quesada?"

Joe Quesada: Not Going Anywhere
Quesada, the superstar artist turned Marvel Knights shepherd who took over the reins of Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief over a decade ago, may be passing the EIC baton, but he's not going anywhere. In 2010, Quesada stepped up to the role of Chief Creative Officer, a position tasks him with overseeing the creative aspects of the Marvel characters and brand in all mediums. Who better to make sure the representations of Marvel characters remain true across movies, cartoons, live-action TV shows and comics than the man who helped usher in the current Marvel Comics' creative renaissance?

But with these new responsibilities, Quesada's available time for EIC duties has shrunk. Now with the mantle of Editor-in-Chief passed to Alonso, Quesada can fully dedicate himself to being CCO. What does that mean for Marvel, for the fans and for you? We sat down with Quesada to talk about his reign as EIC, his job as CCO, his history, the future and so much more.

Marvel.com: What are your favorite moments and memories as Editor-in-Chief?

Joe Quesada: There [are] tons of favorite moments and it’s hard to pick out any single one, but I think my favorite thing as Editor-in-Chief has just been all the incredible people that I’ve met. I’ve made some really, really good friends over these years, from staff members to freelancers—that’s been the real joy of the job. The fans have been incredible. That’s always been the joy of this job. I think second to that would be discovering new talent and watching those guys flourish. That’s always been a lot of fun and made me feel really good when we’ve been able to find that one person, put them through their paces, given them some career guidance and watch them become stars.

Marvel.com: Who are some guys that you would pinpoint in that regard?

Joe Quesada: There’s no greater example than a guy like Brian Bendis, having Brian come to Marvel from the [independent] ranks and watching him flourish. Even guys who have been working for other companies, who have been struggling or not getting much notoriety—bringing them here and seeing them explode in the Marvel stable, that’s always a great feeling. It’s a long list of people [and] that really makes the job worthwhile.

Marvel.com: What is your proudest achievement as far as what Marvel has accomplished under your reign?

DAREDEVIL: GUARDIAN DEVIL cover by Joe Quesada

Joe Quesada: I’ll give you the long answer to your short question. When I was reintroduced to reading comics around 25-26, I remember the first comics I read were [The Dark Knight Returns] and Watchmen. I’m a big believer in role modeling, setting goals for yourself and shooting for those goals, shooting for the moon. So when I broke into comics, the goal became not only did I want to be a writer, not only did I want to be an artist, but someday I wanted to do something as great as Dark Knight or Watchmen—that was the goal. I think a lot of creators have that when they start; they find that one book and say, “someday I want to create something that’s just like that.” That’s the path I tried to follow.

Now nobody, myself included, has ever really had that kind of story that has redefined the genre like those two books. But when I look back at my 10 years at Marvel and everything we’ve accomplished, from Chapter 11 [bankruptcy] to now where we’re part of the Disney family; now that we’re a movie studio, a television studio, and animation studio; we’ve got all these things going on—when I look back on that, I look back on that as my Watchmen. That’s what I hope I’ve left behind as a good thing. It wasn’t a book, but it was certainly a period of time for me that I will remember very, very fondly. And when I look back at [my] early days at Marvel—in my cabinet here, I still have the very first catalogue from September of [1998] when the first Daredevil comic was solicited from Marvel Knights, and I look back at what we were putting out, how few titles we were putting out, how few top notch creators we had, to where we are today and it’s a big change. I mean hell—we didn’t even have a digital division!

Marvel.com: What’s a day in the life of the Chief Creative Officer like?

Joe Quesada

Joe Quesada: It’s actually not much different from being the [Editor-in-Chief], except it’s a lot more stuff, and [that is] one of the reasons I eventually had to give away the chair of the E-i-C. Every day is really different, which is really fantastic for me because I get bored very quickly. This morning I woke up, I worked on a couple of “Ultimate Spider-Man” scripts, making notes for those, making plans for my trip to [Los Angeles] in two weeks where I’ll be watching a screening of “Thor” and dealing with some other “Avengers” movie-related things. Every day is a completely different day and there’s different stuff that comes by my desk. I can’t even tell you what Wednesday or Thursday is going to be like. It’s literally a matter of who e-mails me first and that’s what I’ve got to get to next.

But I’m involved in all creative aspects of Marvel. How that differs from being E-i-C is a subtle change, but a big change; [as] E-i-C I used to have to worry about CAPTAIN AMERICA coming across my desk today, then tomorrow it will be IRON MAN, then the next day it will be DEADPOOL, oh and we’ve got a big event coming up—we’ve got three big events coming up—and talent’s visiting tomorrow; so every day was different in that respect as well. Today now as CCO, I can only handle so much of the publishing stuff. I’m spread too thin so I had to relinquish some of the responsibilities there. I’ll still be involved in publishing to some extent; probably to the same extent I’m involved in animation, television and movies.

Marvel.com: How involved do you get and will you continue to get in all these properties, specifically comics?

Joe Quesada: Pretty involved. It’s the same level of involvement I had as Editor-in-Chief where, if you were privy to our big story meetings, we sit there and hammer out story—and I never ran editorial or used my position in a ham-fisted manner. There’s only one [time] I’ve ever said “It’s my way or the highway” and that [was] cigarette smoking; I just didn’t want any of it in the books. But aside from that, everything is really run through collaboration and through committee, and I’ve relied very heavily on my senior editors, in particular Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso. We would collaborate with editorial and our creators to come up with the best product. It’s the same thing.

"Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series logo

Take animation for example: We’re working feverishly now on this incredible “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon, which is just going to knock people’s socks off. We sit there in a room full of writers, very much like our creative summits [for comics] and we hammer out stories. It’s me, Brian Bendis, Jeph Loeb, the Men of Action, Paul Dini, and we’re sitting there batting around ideas and it’s really no different than putting together a comic book. The only difference is that instead of dealing with 22 pages, you’re dealing with 22 to 24 minutes. So that doesn’t change, it’s the same process. Same thing now as we’re trying to develop television ideas, batting around ideas for shows and projects. It’s all collaborative. There’s nobody who says “It’s that project or nothing at all.” It’s the same thing when we work with [Marvel Studios]. As we [developed] “Thor” from inception of idea to outline to screenplay and now becoming a fully-realized movie—we’re sitting at a screening in about 10 days, and at that screening we’ll do exactly what we do when we look at an almost finished outline for a big Marvel crossover where we’ll sit there and say “that’s working, that’s not working, how about this” and throw around ideas and try to get it into the best possible shape it can be before it hits the eyeballs of fans everywhere.

19-inch Galactus figure package art by Joe Quesada

Marvel.com: Do you get to draw at all anymore?

Joe Quesada: I’m still drawing here and there. I have no more or less time than I did when I was E-i-C. That hasn’t changed at all. Whether I have the time or not I try to force myself to do at least a cover a month, maybe two or three a month if the time is allotted. Right now I’m actually working on a piece for Hasbro. For the last few years I’ve done a couple of Hasbro toy packages, so they’re giving me an opportunity to do another couple package designs, and that’s fun; getting to draw Marvel characters that appear on toys is always cool. I need to keep drawing. It’s important to me to keep my hand involved because I feel like if I stop, I’m going to lose touch with everything, and I just don’t want that to happen.

Joe Quesada 10 Years as EIC art by Alex Maleev

Marvel.com: Jumping back, what was it like for you to be named E-i-C?

Joe Quesada: It was a complete and utter shock, because I was not an insider. When Marvel was looking for an E-i-C, you were certain it was going to be somebody from the inside. As it turned out, I was lucky and blessed enough that Bill Jemas was crazy enough to give it to me. I remember when he offered me the job I took two weeks to think about it, did a lot of soul searching and discussed it with my wife—“Is this the job I want? Is this where I want to go?”—I wasn’t sure. I knew I wanted to do something in comics that would hopefully control the destiny of the industry in some way shape or form, but I wasn’t sure of Marvel as a company; it was new ownership and I wasn’t sure who these guys were or where they were going. All I knew was that what happened in the past wasn’t great. It was really my wife (Nanci) who said, “Look, you know you want this job, you know you can do it, go for it. At the end of the day, the industry is either going to live or die by what Marvel does, and if Marvel goes under, there’s no industry anyway, so you might as well give it a shot and see what you can do.” So I said yes and started to take the bull by the horns.

Marvel.com: What does Nanci say now about all these changes and with you becoming CCO?

Joe Quesada: My wife is very, very funny in that sense; she’s very cut and dry. She sees how hard I work every day, so it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. It’s kind of bittersweet, I have to admit; Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics is a great title to have on a business card because it’s the title Stan Lee had—then Stan Lee went out to L.A. and did Marvel L.A. stuff. I’m not leaving for L.A.—I will be in L.A. a lot, but I am not leaving for L.A. I will still be landlocked in New York, as I like it. But we’re cool with it, because again, nothing changes; I’ve been doing the CCO job now for a year, so the only thing that changes now is I have a shorter title on my business card.

Fear Itself promo art by Stuart Immonen

Marvel.com: What can you pinpoint as things you’ve gotten done thus far in your CCO role?

Joe Quesada: I started having more of a hand in stuff outside of publishing when Marvel formulated the Creative Committee. You’ll see some of that in the “Thor” movie. Since I’ve become CCO, I’ve probably had more of a hand in “Ultimate Spider-Man” than in anything else. That’s really my first real baby, along with Jeph Loeb, who has been doing an incredible job out there. I’m like a bad smell: I linger everywhere [Laughs]. I’ve got my hands in everything, even Fear Itself coming up. Death of Spider-Man: something I’ve hand my hands in. I’m involved, but it’s just like everything at Marvel: It’s hard to say who gets credit for what and who created what because it all happens through collaboration and group think. It’s cool—that’s the way it should be.

Marvel.com: A lot of fans don’t recognize that because they associate whatever name is on the product with who’s responsible.

Joe Quesada: There are a lot of people involved in this, from assistants to editors to seniors—a lot of people get involved in the creative process. But the bottom line is whatever comes out of Marvel, from animation to movies to television, it all comes from the same source material, and that comes from here in publishing—that’s the important thing to remember.

Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso

Marvel.com: What was the process like for appointing Axel Alonso as your successor as Editor-in-Chief?

Joe Quesada: The funny thing is that when I originally hired Axel [in 2000], I was going to hire him to replace me as editor of Marvel Knights as I became Editor-in-Chief. Then it was Bill Jemas who basically said, “Nah, we’re going to put him in regular editorial, you can’t have him.” [Laughs] Axel was putting out some great books and I saw him as somebody who could be a huge value here. I’m a big advocate of hiring people who are smarter and more talented than you are. It [makes] my job easier; having guys like Tom Brevoort and Axel here was really, really important to any sort of success I had. Any success you see at Marvel over these 10 years is as much their success as it is mine.

Marvel.com: Do you still talk to Bill Jemas?

Joe Quesada: I haven’t spoken to Bill in about a year and a half. I saw him a few years ago in Philadelphia at a Wizard convention where he came by and we had breakfast, but no, I haven’t spoken to him since.

Marvel.com: Do you have any advice for Axel?

Joe Quesada: When I got this job, Tom DeFalco came and visited me—he was the E-i-C previous to Bob Harras who was the E-i-C prior to when I took over—and Tom basically said, “Look, the only thing I can tell you is you gotta have a broad back to do this job, because you will have a target on it from the day you take it to the day that it’s over. If you don’t think you have that in you, then don’t take this job, it will destroy you.” And he was right: you have to have a broad back for this. And Tom was here before the Internet [Laughs]. Axel understands this; he’s been in the trenches doing this long enough. It was weird for me because I came from the very small pond of the creative pool to the being thrown into this position. Axel’s been here long to enough to see what we go through and he’s been through it himself. It shouldn’t be all that new. At the end of the day, he knows what he has to do; he’s been here long enough and he’s worked in our system and in a lot of ways has been groomed for this job.

Marvel.com: As somebody who has been very approachable as Editor-in-Chief, what would you say to creators looking to break in with this transition occurring?

Marvel Senior VP C.B. Cebulski

Joe Quesada: Nothing has changed. It’s not easy to break into comics just like it’s not easy to break into any skilled profession, but it’s easier to break into Marvel now than it has ever been, and that’s because we’ve set up systems here. When I started 10 years ago, it was all flying by the seat of my pants. We had no talent division. I was the talent recruiter; I was going out there and telling people “Hey, it’s safe, come on into Marvel, we’re going to treat you well” and keeping those promises.

As time went on, coming into contact with people like C.B. Cebulski—and seeing in C.B. that gene, that DNA that I saw in myself and others to make talent feel comfortable, and wanted, and know that they have a career path—we wooed him to come to Marvel and C.B. has created a division here that is an outgrowth to our grassroots approach to bringing talent in. We scout the talent, we bring them in, we put them slowly through the system, and C.B. can give you some remarkable numbers of each year how many new writers and artists come through the door—and how many of those we actually retain is a pretty large number and it’s remarkable that even in a down economy we’ve been able to do that.

Marvel.com: The diversity in our talent is something you don’t see in a lot of industries.

Joe Quesada: The great news for creators now is that my being involved in other aspects of the company—I think there was a feeling not too long ago that outside of comics it was a closed shop: “I guess I can’t write animation or get into the movie side of things or the television side of things.” I think now with myself as CCO and a guy like Jeph Loeb running the television division, you’re going to see more comic book guys branching out on a project-specific basis. Brian Bendis being involved in “Ultimate Spider-Man” is sort of symbolic of that. We’ve got Paul Dini and the Men of Action who are all comic guys—and have a pedigree in animation as well—they’re all guys who have worked with us or are working with us. At the end of the day, we’re going to be telling comic book stories, whether it’s on television, on the big screen, or on the pages of the books—who’s going to do that better than the comic guys? That’s what we do. We know these characters inside and out. There will be even more opportunities for our writers and artists getting to move on to other things.

Cup O' Joe art by Joe Quesada

Marvel.com: Will you still be doing things like your Cup o’ Joe panels at conventions?

Joe Quesada: I have no idea! I haven’t really thought about it. I’m assuming I will, I see no reason why not to; I guess the focus would be less on publishing and more on Marvel as a whole, but I don’t know, I haven’t really thought that far about it. In the last year-plus I’ve been cutting down on conventions because I just don’t have time. I used to do the weekly column—I just don’t have time. There are certain things I’ve regrettably had to move on from just because of the demands of my new job and also the new world that Disney has opened up to us, which is pretty astronomical.

Marvel.com: Such as TV, movies, etc.?

Yeah. Marvel would never have considered doing television in the past. It’s an expensive endeavor, and unless you have a network, it’s not the most efficient thing for a company like Marvel to do. Well, now being part of the Disney family, we are part of the network. That now opens up all sorts of new roads for us in [live action] television and animation. There are other things in the works, too, that become available to us by virtue of being part of this incredibly large family.

Marvel.com: Any final words for the fans?

Joe Quesada, Conan O'Brien, Paolo Rivera and Steve Wacker

Yeah: Thank you! It’s the only thing I can say. I’m doing these interviews and it sounds like I’m dying or like I’m going away or was fired! And that’s not the case.

If you look back on any interviews that I did nine or 10 years ago, I always said the same thing: I don’t know how long I’ll be on the job. I may be on the job two years. I may be on the job 10 years. But this is a job that’s normally never ended well—with the exception of Stan. I always said that if I have the opportunity to buck that trend, I want to at least be able to [decide when] I call it a day, pick a successor and move on to other things within the company. I’ve been lucky enough to do that.

It’s something that’s been in the works for a while now. It’s the new year and it’s time to pull the trigger. So the only thing I can tell the fans is thank you. It’s been a hell of a ride for these 10 years and it’s going to continue to be a hell of a ride. We have a lot of stuff planned. And I know I’ll still be dealing with the fans on every level—including publishing because I’m still here. But now I get yelled at for different things. They can yell at me for the cartoons and TV shows and movies and I welcome every single bit of it.

Thank you to all the fans.

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Comments

7 comments
Flutterboy
Flutterboy

Marvel comics got pretty bad across the board for a while and it was so much fun to come back to the comics as an adult and be consistently surprised that each "event" succeeds like the last... and the comic events are only a small part of the overall picture.Congratulations on your great creative direction to allowed this to happen and look forward to the next 10 (plus whatever!) yearsCheers

mbeecraft
mbeecraft member

Thanks Joe for all you have done for Marvel and all you will continue to do I would not be enjoying all things Marvel to the extent I am if you hadn't done what you did. Thanks and I look forward to where it goes from here, you guys are doing some amazing stuff and that's really exciting for a die-hard fan, who became a fan during your run as EiC.

coolhanddave
coolhanddave

Great ten years, the flag ship character has been gutted and distorted. Sales are down tremendously:11/10 #649 - 52,586 1 mnth (-31.7%) 6 mnth ( -7.3%) 1 year (-14.0%) 2 year (-21.0%) 3 year ( --- ) 4 year (-55.7%) 5 year (-34.0%)Spider-man has been abused and ruined irreparably. (See Spider-man 3, the cancellation of the Spectacular Spider-man, the Broadway debacle and Andrew Garfield and the coming Twilight version of SM).The characters voice is unrecognizable and the original storyline of the character is over. You basically changed the characters of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, or Great Expectations.

Dusty.
Dusty.

*sigh* Joe, you didn't lead Marvel out of Chapter 11, so stop being a Mark Millar clone and perpetuating lies that brag yourself up! And there was plenty of talent at Marvel when you took over. Writing talent, anyway. You did bring in some great artists, but you also created your own personal boys club with the writers, killing many careers, and when we look at how sales now are, how can you possibly claim victory for these decisions to hire friends? You alienated DC, as well as many legends in the field who won't work for Marvel because of your dealings.The two biggest successes you've had, you didn't even mention. Overseeing the collections explosion and interacting with the fans online. That's seen as standard nowadays, but it was very rare before you started taking questions on Marvel's first messageboard. Nobody ever did that! I miss that Joe. The Joe that came later, full of bluster, condescending words, and unwarrented hyperbole,... he's not as cool. And the writers and editors online followed suit with those attitudes, as if they had a sense of entitlement, and we, the customers, should kiss their **** for a $4 comic that takes 5 minutes to read. It's been time for a change for several years. Thanks for the good things that you did, and there were many, but I'm hoping that Axel doesn't follow your lead of trying to make all age superhero comics like Watchman and the Dark Knight. Sales suffered and good writers no longer have careers thanks to that policy.

dpaspalas
dpaspalas plus member

Congrats Joe and Job Well Done. I am glad that you will stay in the Marvel Family and at least Disney is smart enough to put Marvel guys in charge of Marvel productions (movies/tv/and so forth). Best Wishes on continued success, and Good Luck and congrats to Axel as well.

jonlz
jonlz

The fondest memory that I have about Joe is when I went the whole way from Popayán, Colombia to New York's Marvel offices to meet the staff and finding him outside just to tell me that I couldn't because of security reasons. Oh well...