CUP O' JOE: Thor On Film, Back-Up Stories & More, 25 November 2009
By Joe Quesada

As CBR readers have learned, the life of Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada involves a bit more than sitting around reading comics all day (though there is a lot of that, too). But even with the Thanksgiving holiday mere hours away, Quesada had a minute to sit down for one massive pre-turkey chat for an expansive, two-part CUP O' JOE – where, exclusively here at CBR, he answers questions posed by you, the readers, in CBR's Marvel Universe forum as well as those of CBR staff (including the returning Jonah Weiland!).

A busy man right before the holidays, Quesada kicks off this installment with a recounting of his latest trip to Los Angeles to visit the set of Marvel's upcoming "Thor" film from director Kenneth Branagh before covering competitor DC's Comics' nabbing of the top six direct market sales slots for October comics and explaining what special feature awaits retailers for Marvel's "Siege" event.

Once you're out of your turkey comas, be sure to head back to CBR Friday for part two covering Marvel events of all kinds. And make sure to spend some time browsing CUP O' JOE content across our mini-site, from a brand new poll that gives you a say in the future of Marvel, sketched from Joe's Cup O' Doodles and more!
CUP O' JOE is Executive Produced by Jonah Weiland and Produced by Kiel Phegley.

Kiel Phegley: Joe, it's been a while since we've gotten all together. I hear you've been traveling around the country of late.

Joe Quesada: It has been a while! I've been moving around quite a bit, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon. Things are of course heating up with "Iron Man 2," "Thor" and "Captain America," as we're getting into a major areas of production on all three films. And on the other side, animation has really been heating up too.

Kiel Phegley: Have you been on any specific new business, or was it a routine check up on the West Coast side of Marvel?

Joe Quesada: My most recent trip out there was about two and a half days without a free moment, except for a couple of hours where I got to just sit with Brian Bendis at Starbucks, have coffee and chill for a little bit...and watch him tear his cornea, but that's a whole other story. Thank goodness he can type with one eye. [Laughter]

Jonah Weiland: While you and Bendis were both Tweeting from LA last week, a bunch of my friends who work in Hollywood were casting a skeptical eye on "Thor." They question how the movie will be a success. We see all this excitement from you guys, which has been ramped up by your business with Kenneth this can you put all those naysayers in their place and say, "This is the next Iron Man?" Are you that confident in the property?

Joe Quesada: We are incredibly confident. And there isn't much I could say to convince people beyond, "Look at these designs! Look at this script! Look at the moments in this story and tell me it won't be a huge success." But, that's obviously something I can't do, so the one thing I can say – and I've said as much to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige – is that people are going to go into this movie with a preconceived idea about what it will be. If you're a comics fan, you'll have a preconceived notion of what you're going to get. If you're a non-comics fan, you'll have another notion of what the movie is all about. And what's really amazing is that both groups will walk away going, "I've never seen anything like this before within the super hero genre." It's so cool, and I don't want to use the word unusual, but it is unusual in the sense that it redefines what a super hero movie can be. It's not the expected story or settings. That part of it is incredibly exciting to me.

We walked through sets and saw different designs for locations and designs for costumes, and I just thought to myself, "Oh my God." It's absolutely breathtaking, and the casting is terrific on the movie. And Branagh is a joy to listen to talk story. There was a point during the discussion of the most recent draft of the screenplay where a particular plot point was put up to the group for discussion, "How should we play this one moment within the context of the story?" and Branagh and some in the group had a particular idea of how it should play, while some others felt differently. I was in the opposite camp, but as we discussed the differences, I'm sitting there listening to Branagh act out his version of the scene with gusto and passion and I had to stop him and say, "If you said to me right now, 'Then Thor kills 100 puppies in an animal shelter' I'd say it was fantastic." [Laughter] It's just magnificent hearing him talking about the story with the great love he has for the material. You don't see it quite often, but when you see it you've got to go with it.

There's not much more I can say about it than that. I'm in the room with these guys and watching the stuff happen, and it just feels and looks right, and Kenneth's excitement is infectious, and his vision brilliant. You can never really predict 100% success, but at this juncture, "Thor" does seem to have all the ingredients in place to make it huge so its foundation feels very strong to me.

Jonah Weiland: You were checking out sets - any clue as to what those sets were?

Joe Quesada: No! [Laughter] Absolutely not! But they were pretty fantastical, and some of the locations are amazing. I will say this: I'm pretty sure this will redefine how we draw a Thor comic.

I will give you a funny aside. As we were looking at some of the models for the movie, there was one particular element that we were thinking would be a great prop to bring to next year's San Diego Comic-Con, ala this past year's Hall of Armor. However, the piece was so massive in size that it was actually too large for our usual given floor space at the con.

Jonah Weiland: When you and Bendis go into these production meetings full of producers and designers and various people, what role do you guys fall into?

Joe Quesada: We're just additional idea guys and an extra set of eyes. We listen to the big ideas and story beats and play a little creative kick the can. In a lot of cases, guys like Kenneth and Kevin have been living with this screenplay for a while, so having someone with a visceral reaction who's reading and or seeing it in their minds' eye for the first time can sometimes give you a fresher perspective. Truth be told, that's what the Marvel Creative Committee is there for.

Kiel Phegley: We also wanted to take some time to talk the nitty gritty of the business side of comics with you. There's been a lot of moves and shake-ups over the past few weeks worth diving into. For one, DC captured the top six spots on the Diamond sales charts in October for the first time in a while. Before talking about any of the specifics, what did you make of their showing? Have you been following things like "Blackest Night" and "Batman & Robin?".

Joe Quesada: First of all, congratulations to them. They did a great job with that event, and not only that – they did a great job in marketing it, and I think that's great for comics. We need DC to be strong as well as Marvel, and we need that back and forth. But, keep in mind, even with those top six slots, we still won the month with respect to market share. But, it's not like Marvel owns every month out of the year. While we'd love to, DC does win some months here and there.

On our end, we had two things happening. From a marketing side, October was what you could call a "catch your breath" moment as we prepare and wind up to our "Siege" marketing barrage. Also, we had some big books drop out of the month that hurt us a bit, I suspect ,in the top 10 standings. That said, I don't want to take anything away from DC's showing, and the competition is great. It's the kind of stuff that gets me all heated up. [Laughter] So, a tip of the hat to the folks ‘cross town'.

Jonah Weiland: I think it was Tom Brevoort who was talking on a blog post or on Twitter about how he was pretty sure "Siege" would destroy "Blackest Night." Would you go along with that take?

Joe Quesada: [Laughs] Yes. Absolutely! But let me say for the record that I do not read Tom's blog or anything Tom is attached to. He's a loathsome individual, and I just do not like him very much. And anyone who knows Tom Brevoort I'm sure would agree with me. [Laughter].

Kiel Phegley: At the same time, there has been a lot of talk of late that while Marvel is still obviously dominating much of the sales landscape overall, there has been some slippage in the numbers for marquee books whose price went up to $3.99 in the past year. I think a lot of people have been looking to reports on ICv2 about this, which have noted drops in the Ultimate line and in some 616 books. Do the folks there attribute some of these lost numbers to fans leaving over the price increase, or is it something else?

Joe Quesada: This is the kind of thing that can be deceiving and could cause people to find exactly what they're hoping to find, even though it's nothing out of the ordinary. The assumption that's being made by reading the link is that the attrition rate isn't "normal," when it fact it is. The attrition you see is really no different than the normal attrition you would see if these titles were $2.99 vs. $3.99. As a matter of fact, we see the exact same attrition and even more on our current $2.99 titles than our $3.99 books, so there's really no connection, other than these are the normal happenings in the ebb and flow of comic's publishing. As a matter of fact, titles like "Dark Avengers" and "New Avengers" have had very little attrition when compared to the average for the line. So, the bottom line is that this isn't an aberration, but just the normal noises. And, keep in mind, as I mentioned before, we are – with respect to a marketing strategy and the ebb and flow of publishing – in a quiet period before the storm as we gear up for "Siege."

Kiel Phegley: More on the creative side, you've been saying for a while that Marvel will be adding some co-features to titles, and we're about to see the first wave of that with "Agents of Atlas" making its way into "Incredible Hercules." Any hints as to what other titles might get a page bump? Are additional pages in the best-selling titles that have already seen a $3.99 price point something we can assume will be a move in 2010?

Joe Quesada: I've stated pretty clearly in the past that there is no definitive plan that will say, "Every $3.99 book will have a back-up story." We're creating a lot of back-up material, not just for the comics, but also for Marvel Digital Comics, so I think at the end of the day it will all be more story and title specific – whatever makes a good back-up for a given comic. For us "Agents of Atlas" within "Incredible Hercules" is a terrific fit. There is no spoon here. It's really going to be more a matter of feel and, yes, in some cases providing extra content on our $3.99 books for readers.

Kiel Phegley: Do you put out a general note to editors that says, "Hey, keep an eye out for potential back-ups?"

Joe Quesada: I think everybody on staff is aware that we're doing this. In particular with Marvel Digital Comics becoming so successful, we do want to dual-purpose a lot of this stuff. We make that stuff with the idea in mind of spotlighting it in as many places as possible.

Kiel Phegley: Another thing we've heard is that with the upcoming "Siege" event, which promises to be the last major mega crossover for a while, Marvel is making the book fully returnable for retailers, which is a promotion DC seems to have done well with on certain big ticket titles in the past. What's your thinking behind this move? Is it something we'll see more of in the future?

Joe Quesada: Well, these kinds of decisions aren't made by me, but with the people in charge of selling our books. However, what I can tell you, and to make this a bit clearer, is that we're not making the book fully returnable. We are making a percentage returnable if retailers get behind the book in a major way. We're also doing something that I don't know if any other publisher do, which is to increase retailer's discounts if they meet the plateau for returnability. This means that retailers who really support this book will hopefully have a very strong January and kick start the new year with a huge bang!

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