San Diego Comic-Con 2010

San Diego Comic-Con 2010: Strange Tales II

Editor Jody LeHeup speaks on the past, present and future of Marvel's incorrigible indie-creator spotlight series!

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By Sean T. Collins

They're baaaaack!

A second volume of STRANGE TALES-the series in which some of the best and brightest names in independent, alternative and webcomics get a crack at Marvel's mightiest heroes-is on the way. Launching in October, STRANGE TALES II will include contributions from Alex Robinson, Dash Shaw, David Heatley, Dean Haspiel, Edu Medeiros, Farel Dalrymple, Frank Santoro, Gene Yang, Gilbert Hernandez, Harvey Pekar, Jaime Hernandez, Jeff Lemire, Jeffrey Brown, Jhonen Vasquez, Jillian Tamaki, Jon Vermilyea, Kate Beaton, Kevin Huizenga, Nick Gurewitch, Paul Hornschemeier, Paul Maybury, Rafael Grampa, Shannon Wheeler, Terry Moore, Tim Hamilton, Tony Millionaire, and more.

Spearheading the effort: "Doctor Strange Tales" himself, Marvel editor Jody LeHeup. Since taking over the original STRANGE TALES in the middle of its production, he's been in charge of recruiting talent for the project and ensuring that their weird, wonderful visions of the Marvel Universe become a reality-or surreality, as the case may be.

Jody emerged from the realm of the strange long enough to talk about the success of STRANGE TALES, explain the birth of STRANGE TALES II, and take us behind the scenes for the highs and lows of one of Marvel's most unique publishing projects to date.

 

STRANGE TALES II #1 cover by Rafael Grampa
Marvel.com: From the inside looking out, what did you think of the reaction to the first volume of STRANGE TALES?

Jody LeHeup: Truthfully I wasn't sure how it was going to be received. I mean, I knew how I hoped it would be received but sometimes those things don't match, you know? And I can honestly tell you that I couldn't be happier with the stories from the creators, the reactions from fans and the support from the rest of editorial for this project. A book like this takes a lot of work and everyone involved was excited every step of the way. And so many who weren't involved were chomping at the bit to see what Marvel characters through the lens of these particular contributors would be like. I guess I was just so happy to see that I and contributing editors Aubrey Sitterson, John Barber and Axel Alonso weren't the only ones. And we're doing a [second volume], so the reaction was fantastic across the board.

Marvel.com: I'm glad you mentioned "the rest of editorial." I think that in looking at a lot of this stuff, people are apt to wonder what the men and women in charge of these characters' more traditional adventures think of it all. It was a hit internally, too?

Jody LeHeup: Oh, absolutely. A lot of people on the editorial staff are huge fans of these guys. And when they heard that one of their favorite indie creators was a part of the project they got really excited and curious. Bugging me to see pages, throwing out suggestions for people they'd like to see on the book, that kind of thing. You gotta keep in mind that people that work in positions like ours do it because they're passionate about comics. And that includes the "Strange" stuff as well as the big production commercial stuff.

Marvel.com: How soon did you know a second volume was in the offing?

Jody LeHeup: I knew as soon as issue #1 came out that we'd be going back for a second volume. The series did well for what it was which was great news for everyone. You never know with series like this if the sales are going to be there or not.

Marvel.com: STRANGE TALES II's existence has certainly been hinted at with various contributors teasing over the months...

Jody LeHeup: I knew from the beginning that news of the second series would get out sooner or later and I didn't mind at all when it did. That's the kind of thing that helps build anticipation and buzz, so I welcomed it. If I didn't, I would have been much more serious about locking it all down. A piece of art leaking here or there can be a good thing. Not all the time, certainly, but in this instance I think it just shows how excited the

STRANGE TALES #1 cover by Paul Pope
contributors are to share what they've been working on and in some cases working toward for many years. Hopefully it translates to readers that they should be excited too.

Marvel.com: You came aboard the first STRANGE TALES late in the process. What was it like to steward this second volume from the get-go?

Jody LeHeup: Well, I actually didn't come in that late [in the volume one] process. When I took over as editor the book was about half-finished, so there really was a whole lot left to do. It had sort of been collecting dust for a couple of years due to a variety of factors when it landed in my lap. So I was really able to develop relationships with the contributors of Vol. 1 and get an idea for what putting together a book like this required. Then I carried that experience over into Vol. 2. But I tell you, doing the whole thing yourself is a hell of a lot of work. There's a million moving parts. And because I love the series so much, there's a lot of pressure to get it right and make sure to meet everyone's already high expectations. I love it though. I'm the luckiest guy in the world to be working on this book with these incredible people.

Marvel.com: How did you assemble the line-up? Did you have a wish list of creators? Did any approach you?

Jody LeHeup: All of the above, really. Many creators I reached out to, and some beat me to it and contacted me. I think you can't put something like this together without having some idea, and sometimes some very specific ideas, of who you'd like to see do a story. Fortunately my wish list is very, very long, so I never run out of people I'd love to see tell a Marvel story. Unfortunately that also means they can't all make it into the book due to my limited space constraints. You'd think that with as many as 30 creators you'd pretty much cover all the bases, but in reality there are so many incredibly talented artists and writers out there. I wish I had more space so I could fit them all in. Maybe we'll get a [third] volume.

I do want to take a second here though and thank editor Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics. He really helped me out getting contact information for many of the contributors and was just really supportive the whole way. When I first contacted him he mentioned that it was the first time that anyone at Marvel had spoken to him so I was really glad to be able to develop a relationship with him and the fine folks at Fantagraphics.

STRANGE TALES #2 cover by Peter Bagge
Marvel.com: I know this is a tough question, but are there any creators in STRANGE TALES II you're particularly excited to work with? Any especially interesting takes on Marvel's characters you're looking forward to?

Jody LeHeup: I gotta tell you, and I've never meant anything more than this in my life: Every single person I have worked with on this series, Vol. 1 or 2, whether it's on the creative or editorial or production side, has been an absolute dream to work with. When people are as excited as they are on this project and as passionate as they are on this project you can't help but be thankful to be working with them. There's a story behind every one of these stories and they all hold a special place in my heart.

Marvel.com: Obviously, most of these writers and artists are accustomed to working independently, in terms of everything from deadlines to content. With that in mind, I'm curious as to how different editing this book is from editing a more traditional Marvel title.

Jody LeHeup: Well, from a production standpoint they are very similar, but it's on the creative end that things are a little different. For this book the creators have-I want to say more freedom but it's not really like that. There's a certain voice that these guys bring to the table that you don't want to get lost because of things like continuity and commerciality or really even clarity in some instances. If I had edited Tony Millionaire's Iron Man story to death it wouldn't have been a Tony Millionaire Iron Man story. Largely these are underground or independent or fine artists so you really want to be careful that you preserve their version of these characters. That's what the book is all about. If a Marvel reader picks this up and doesn't get hit over the head with something completely different, then I'm not doing my job and really I've failed in my responsibility to them. Over the years, these creators have honed certain styles that are unique and, really, vital to the comics medium, and it's my goal to celebrate that in STRANGE TALES. So yeah, I think it's safe to say that they get to do more of the driving. At the same time, a lot of these artists are known for being subversive, whether it be politically or sexually or what have you, so you need to keep more of an eye on that here. I was happy to learn, though, that everyone was really gracious and patient with the few times that we found ourselves having to dial it back.

STRANGE TALES #3 cover by Stan Sakai
Marvel.com: What you just said about Marvel readers getting hit over the head with something completely different makes me wonder: Have you gotten any feedback from Marvel fans who picked this up without knowing much about alternative comics and had their minds opened to the contributors?

Jody LeHeup: Actually I've read several responses from fans of Marvel comics who weren't necessarily fans of "indie" comics that really got a lot out of the book; so much so that some wonder why we don't have more stories like this as backups in our more traditional issues. And many have expressed a desire to check out more works by the creators in question. So while I doubt we were successful in broadening the horizons of every Marvel fan, the answer is a definite yes, and in my mind, that makes this book a win.

Marvel.com: Back to the question of striking that balance with the creators-did anything wind up on the cutting room floor?

Jody LeHeup: Actually no. But we had a couple of real close calls. There was some concern that Jim Rugg's Brother Voodoo story was going to come across as racist. That most certainly wasn't the intention, but Jim was playing with a blaxploitation style so it made some people up here a little uncomfortable. And that is absolutely a legitimate concern from the perspective of the higher-ups that stood to lose a lot of business if something went wrong. So the story was shelved and Jim went to work on a Machine Man story. It was right about that time that I took over and I stumbled across the Brother Voodoo story. I read it and loved it but saw why people were a little concerned about it content-wise. So I called Jim and we talked about it. He loved the story and wanted to see it published so we went to work revising it and finally got it to a place where everyone could move forward with confidence. Then we included the Machine Man story in the trade as an extra. But it was close. It almost didn't happen. Really happy that it did though.

The other story that almost didn't make it out was Max Cannon's Peter Pepper story, which basically treated Peter Parker as if he never had powers at all. He just thought he did because he was psychotic. Which is wonderfully dark and funny, but-it's Spider-Man we're dealing with here, and we just couldn't portray Peter in that way. So after a lot of discussion with Max, we renamed the story Peter Pepper and were good to go, thankfully.

STRANGE TALES hardcover collection
Marvel.com: What was the deal with Peter Bagge's contribution, "The Incorrigible Hulk"? What happened in the first place and how did it end up in STRANGE TALES?

Jody LeHeup: "The Incorrigible Hulk" was commissioned years ago-2001 or 2002 I think-but never published. Cut to a year ago when I'm putting Vol. 1 together. I had remembered hearing something about a Peter Bagge Hulk story, so I did some digging and found the files, discussed its history with the editor of the story, Axel Alonso, and we then raised the idea of maybe publishing it in STRANGE TALES. Peter, Axel and I were all very happy that it finally got to see the light of day-especially since Axel's been trying to get it out for years.

Marvel.com: How similar was the project to something like the Bizarro books that DC did a while ago?

Jody LeHeup: It's very similar, but there are some very important differences. In that book, there were no writer/artist stories for some reason. For example, I remember looking at that book-which I enjoyed very much by the way-and wondering why Jaime Hernandez, for example, didn't write the story he drew. And it was like that throughout. In STRANGE TALES the opposite is true. Most contributors are writer/artists, which I think makes for a different kind of story experience. The other difference is that there is a lot of young and new talent mixed in with the veterans of indie comics. So there's this exuberance or vitality to the STRANGE TALES stories that I'm very proud of.

Marvel.com: That's a good point. As someone who reads a lot of these creators' work outside of Marvel, I feel like you're getting stuff here that really isn't a world away from what you can find in truly independent comics.

Jody LeHeup: What books like this do is they bring two worlds together for a brief shining moment. They bring indie readers to Marvel but not only that, they bring Marvel readers to indie talent. I really believe that these kind of outside the box reading experiences make for a richer understanding of what the comics medium is capable off and broaden our perception of the possibilities of the super hero genre. Books like this are good for comics. So I would like to thank every single person that worked on or bought this series from the bottom of my heart. This project has truly been and continues to be a dream project for me.

 

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