By Kiel Phegley
Come December, Kurt Busiek and Jay Anacleto begin rediscovering the modern legends of the Marvel Universe in the long-awaited MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA. By January, they'll be joined by a modern legend themselves.
Roger Stern will join Busiek as co-writer of EYE OF THE CAMERA starting with issue #3. After writing nearly every major character in the Marvel pantheon including acclaimed runs on CAPTAIN AMERICA and AVENGERS, Stern presents a no-brainer choice to help craft a series that explores the 70's and 80's stories of Marvel through the eyes of photojournalist Phil Sheldon. To get the full scoop, we caught Stern and Busiek as well as Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort for an extended two-part discussion covering everything from the story behind the story to the secrets fans will see in the pages of the series.
Marvel.com: To start with a look back, Tom, what kind of impact did MARVELS have on Marvel's publishing line?
The original MARVELS really began the pendulum swing back from more ostensibly grim and gritty material in which the heroes were all dark and foreboding and gritted teeth tough guys to a more classic depiction of heroism. MARVELS made it okay to like super heroes for being super heroes again. It was also the progenitor of the common man viewpoint on super heroes and their world that's become virtually a sub-genre unto itself. And, of course, it began Alex Ross's climb to prominence by allowing him a showcase in which to present his painterly, realistic vision of what the Marvel characters might look like in real life.
Marvel.com: Kurt, I understand that some earlier plans for a MARVELS sequel never really gelled. What made this version come together?
It's funny—I originally conceived [this project] as a 30-page one-shot, and we wound up turning it into a 6-issue [limited series], but not by taking what we had and padding it out. The part that would have been the special is still about the same length, it's just the final issue and a half. What we did was build a new story to lead into it, giving Phil a chance to witness and react to a lot of Marvel history of the 70's and 80's, setting things up for the story that has become the final act of this series.
I think the point where Tom really hooked me into the project, though, was when he showed me Jay Anacleto's artwork. We knew Alex wasn't available, and I didn't want to do the book with art that was just an imitation of Alex Ross but less, as it were. And Jay brings a beautiful, illustrative sensibility to it all, but delivers that realism in a different style, a different set of techniques, than what Alex does. The result, I think, is art that looks great, and serves the story in a way that complements the first MARVELS well, without trying to duplicate another artist's vision.
Marvel.com: Roger, I was wondering what your take was on the original book as someone who was simply a reader of the project and not working on or around it. Did you know Kurt at the time, or did the two of you become friends after MARVELS was such a hit?
Oh, I've known this young punk for quite a while. I remember—back in the days when I was writing CAPTAIN AMERICA—getting Kurt's letters to the title. Even then, I was impressed with
his insights, and how he was anticipating some of the things I had planned for Cap. I first met Kurt just a few years later, shortly after he'd become a working professional.
And I really, really
enjoyed MARVELS, from that very first issue, though it was hard to find a copy at first. In fact, I had to borrow a friend's copy of MARVELS #1. It had sold out that quickly. Fortunately, Kurt very graciously sent me a copy soon afterward. MARVELS captured both the wonder and the heart of the Marvel Universe. It was one of those books that you read and then hit yourself upside the forehead, going, "Why didn't I
think of this?"
Marvel.com: I was hoping we could talk a little bit about at what point in the process Roger joined the team. Were issues #1 and #2 in the can for a while before Roger came aboard?
Over the process of doing the first two scripts, it became pretty clear I needed some help. To put it in perspective: when I did MARVELS, I read and took notes on every in-continuity Marvel comic that covered the period each issue featured. And I mean everything—even for #1, I got microfiche of Golden Age Timely comics, and went through those, as well, which is why there's all that stuff going on in the background that virtually no one but Roy Thomas would recognize. But the thing is, I could do that for two reasons. First, I had the time—I wasn't writing any regular series at the time, so I could spend a couple of weeks researching each issue. And secondly, it was a reasonable number of comics; even on an issue that covered a long time period, it might be a four-foot high stack of books. Which would take a while to get through, but I could do it.
Flash forward to working on MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA #3. At that point, I had six long-boxes of comics on a big coffee table in my office, and another couple of boxes of reprint collections next to it on the floor. And that was just for one issue! I was reading through them, taking notes, but given how many there were, and how much other stuff I had to juggle, it was going really, really slowly, and it was becoming more and more clear that with the combination of the work involved and my unwillingness to skip any of the research, the project was going to bury me.
Tom and I had a series of increasingly glum conversations, until I tentatively suggested that maybe Roger could help out, something like the way he had on AVENGERS FOREVER, where he took on a lot of the research load. Tom was all for it, so we figured we'd give it a try. And it worked really well.
Marvel.com: I hate to talk about Roger as if he's not here, but let's!
That's all right. I'll just sit over here in the corner and plot an issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN until you're ready for me.
Marvel.com: For you, Kurt, what makes Roger the perfect fit to come in and work on the series?
Roger's not just a terrific writer, and not just a terrific writer with roots in the Marvel Universe, but he's also a conscientious and deliberate researcher, who uses comics history and continuity very well in his work. And Roger's writing has been an inspiration to me in my own career—his early work, on series such as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and CAPTAIN AMERICA were very influential on me as I was figuring out how to do that job. Not only that, but Roger was working at Marvel, as an assistant editor, an editor, and a writer during the vast majority of the period this series is covering.
But all that's just his qualifications. Add to that the fact that Roger and I do have a lot in common in terms of how we look at the Marvel Universe and the characters, and we've collaborated before, successfully, and that makes it work a lot better. I met Roger at the very first convention I attended as a pro, and stayed at his house, so we've known each other a long, long time and get along very well.
Marvel.com: Roger, what was your initial reaction to getting the gig? Was there any trepidation on your part to work in the shadow of the original series?
Oh, some. There's a little trepidation going into any
project, and especially for a follow-up to such a celebrated series as MARVELS. There are going to be certain expectations from the readership. And you always want to do right by the story, the characters, and the readers.
But I had a big advantage: I got to read Kurt's first two scripts. After that, I knew that I couldn't pass on the job. Even thought it did mean rummaging through my own long-boxes, and tracking down the bits and pieces of stories Kurt wanted to cover. That's right. Part of my job on this project was reading old Marvel comics. Sometimes, life can be so
Check back tomorrow for part two, including some key teases for what will be seen in the pages of EYE OF THE CAMERA! In the mean time, check out Busiek and Stern on AVENGERS FOREVER with Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!
Check out the official Marvel Shop for your favorite Marvel Heroes!