Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seven Questions with TOM BREVOORT

Today, the Vault is excited to present seven questions with Marvel editor Tom Brevoort. For those of you who were hoping for more from the small press and self-published creators we've been talking to in Voices from Artists Alley, don't worry; there's another convention coming up next month, so you can expect to see more interviews soon. But today, we're going to head back to the big guns: over the last twenty years, Tom Brevoort has overseen a number of acclaimed and popular projects including current series such as New Avengers, Captain America and Fantastic Four as well as some of the industry's biggest events, such as Civil War and Secret Invasion. Tom was gracious enough to spend his valuable time answering some of the longest questions ever composed in interview history, so won't you do him a solid and take a couple minutes to read his thoughtful answers?

1. While you are well known as the editor of such bestselling titles as New Avengers, you also oversee a number of somewhat lower profile books as well. What can you tell us about the projects that you have coming out soon, and which books should discerning comics readers keep an eye out for that they otherwise might not be aware of?

This is such a broad question that it's difficult to know where to start, and it's hazardous in that somebody's sure to take offense if I leave their project out. But let me just work my way down the list. As I have for the past decade, I'm continuing to edit the AVENGERS family of titles, NEW, MIGHTY and DARK, as well as CAPTAIN AMERICA (currently on hiatus while REBORN plays out), SECRET WARRIORS and FANTASTIC FOUR (on which Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham just began an excellent run) and a bevy of limited series, one-shots and side projects. But if I had to aim people at a few special projects, the three I'd want to bring up would be 1) THE MARVELS PROJECT, in which the award-winning creative team of CAPTAIN AMERICA, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, tell the undisclosed origin of super heroes in the Marvel Universe. 2) NOMAD, GIRL WITHOUT A WORLD, wherein Sean McKeever combines his skill at writing teen drama with super heroics set firmly within the landscape of the main CAPTAIN AMERICA series, with artwork by David Baldeon, and 3) STRANGE, Mark Waid and Emma Rios' reinvention of Stephen Strange, no longer the Sorcerer Supreme and on a journey of discovery as a result. All three are high-quality projects, each with a very specific sensibility and a unique flavor. I really dig them.

2. There seem to be as many different styles of editing as there are editors in comics, with some taking a hands on role in shaping the direction of the books and characters while others act more as facilitators for whatever the creative team feels like doing. How do you define your own role as editor?

I think there are different editing styles even within the hands of a particular editor, depending upon the needs of the project and the creative team. Every interaction I have with various creators is different, and so I don't have a single way that I edit comics. But my log-line description of the role of the editor (at least when it comes to editors who work on company-owned properties such as Marvel and DC possess) is that he's a combination of the coach and the manager of a ball club. The editor doesn't play in the game, but he gets to select who does. He can switch out a substitute, or call in a pinch hitter as needed. He can call for a specific play. And it's his job to make sure that the team is at the ballpark on game day, ready to play. The editor is also not the star. While in the day-to-day course of doing the job any given editor may throw off story ideas or ways of restructuring or improving a particular tale that others then get to make hay out of, the editor really belongs backstage, directing the action from there. The creators do the work, so they deserve and get the credit. Editors get the blame. That's not a condemnation of the system in any way, merely a statement of fact--and one that a would-be editor needs to embrace before he's truly ready to play in the big leagues.

3. Over the last year you've been involved in an ongoing project on your blog where you are trying to trade up from some random back issues to a copy of Fantastic Four #1. For me, it harkened back to the old days of collecting when fans would write each other through lettercolumns and swap back issues. What brought this about and do you have anything similar planned for the future - say, perhaps a run at Captain America Comics #1?

As you probably know by now, my Trading Experiment finished up earlier this month, when I did in fact trade for a copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #1, which will be auctioned off to benefit the Hero Initiative. We're talking now about possible ideas for follow-ups, though I don't think trying to go back as far as CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1 is very realistic--for all that it's rare and valuable, there are a lot of copies of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 out there, far more than there are copies of books like CAP #1. You can go to any comic book convention and see dozens of FF #1s floating around. Plus, I wouldn't want to simply repeat myself. This whole experiment was inspired by the works and the writings of Danny Wallace and Dave Gorman. First together then separately, they pioneered a specific kind of genre--the "real world adventure", wherein they would take on a quest or a mission of some kind, and then recount the adventures they experienced while attempting to fulfill their mandate. Danny's slightly better known in the States as the guy whose story the film "Yes Man' was based on. So I was rereading their collection of works, spurred by their respective new releases Friends Like Me and America Unchained, and thinking about something similar that I could do (without all of the traveling and expenses and upheaval of lifestyle that they regularly engender) and that's where I hit upon the notion of the Trading Experiment. One of the other elements that runs through Dave and Danny's books is a feeling of the overall generosity of spirit of people, and that was certainly borne out by my experiences with the Tradees, who typically offered more than they were getting, and in many cases donated rare comics without asking for anything in return, just wanting to give to a good cause. So it was a lot of fun, and hopefully we can come up with a worthy successor concept down the line.

4. One of the more interesting things you've been doing on your blog is posting some internal memos and directives from Marvel's past. One of these that caught my eye included a release schedule that had a number of Avengers issues, such as #504, that were never produced due to Disassembled and the launch of New Avengers, which suggested that the decision to do those projects came about pretty late in the publishing process. I'm wondering just what the genesis of that decision was - did you or other members of the editorial team come up with the idea for New Avengers, was it the result of a pitch from Brian Michael Bendis, or did it come about through some other fashion?

NEW AVENGERS came about at one of our creative retreats, where the senior editorial staff gets together with most of our key writers to chart out the course of our publishing plan and our stories for the next year or so. At this particular retreat, a lot of time was spent in trying to drill down to the essences of what each series was meant to be about, in an attempt to either pull them back on-message a bit more, or alternately finding new and interesting avenues to take them in. And as we discussed AVENGERS, Mark Millar said that he didn't understand why the Avengers were so often all these second string characters that he had never heard of. What made the idea of the Avengers cool to him was the notion that it would be the book with all of the biggest and best characters in it. After some discussion, we broke for dinner, where Mark and Brian discussed these ideas a bit further, and by the time everybody came back in the next day, Brian had put together the outline of his pitch to take over the series, what eventually became NEW AVENGERS. So the story and the approach of AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED and NEW AVENGERS was Brian's, but the instigator of the concept was Mark and everybody else who was in on those discussions at the time.

5. As a reader of New Avengers, one thing that frustrated me was the disbanding of the New Avengers team in Civil War, as so much of the series up to that point seemed like setup (for instance, the introduction of new members like Sentry and Ronin, Spider-woman being a double agent, the subplot with the new Black Widow and SHIELD, etc.); having the team disband before any of that was addressed led me to question the purpose of those stories. I'm wondering in general, how do editorial and creative teams handle interference from mega events, and specifically how much of what Bendis originally had planned for New Avengers ended up being used in New Avengers or Mighty Avengers and how much of it had to be scrapped?

Interference from mega-events makes the assumption that people are being coerced into participating in these stories, which really isn't the case. While it's true that CIVIL WAR changed the trajectory of some of the stories that Brian was developing (including the groundwork for SECRET INVASION that he was laying), the conception and development of CIVIL WAR came out of another of those creative retreats, and Brian was there in the room to discuss and debate the storyline, and was completely on board with participating. He did some of his strongest work on the CIVIL WAR issues, I thought, particularly the Luke Cage issue and the CONFESSION epilogue issue. Of course, there are degrees of involvement--if you're writing Captain America and Captain America is going to play a major role in an upcoming event storyline, then it's going to impact upon you in some way. But that's all part of the deal when you're playing in the shared universe sandbox of the Marvel Universe.

6. One of the main events that spun out of New Avengers was Secret Invasion. You recently posted on your blog an original draft from Bendis for this story and in it the big casualty was Hercules rather than Wasp (who died in the published version of Secret Invasion). When it comes to planning these events, how are these kinds of decisions made? Was this change a result of Greg Pak's desire to use Hercules, or Dan Slott's interest in exploring the effect of Jan's death on Hank Pym? Or is it the other way around, where those projects came about because this change was made? Or some combination of the two?

It's different in each of the cases you cite. Hercules dying at the end of SECRET INVASION was just a notion that Brian was toying with at the outset of outlining his story, one that he didn't get very deep into thinking about, as we at that point were beginning to plan to launch INCREDIBLE HERCULES out of WORLD WAR HULK, and that sidelined his thinking. But it was Brian who decided to make the Wasp the final casualty, building off of seeds he'd left himself in early issues of MIGHTY AVENGERS, and it was Dan, coming onto MIGHTY as Brian cycled off, who chose to pick up that baton and run with it in terms of exploring how her demise would affect Hank. Ideally, this is how our stories and creators should synergize, with each one finding inspiration and building on the work of the others.

7. Lastly, what's one specific storytelling technique your creators use that you could share with new creators to help them hone their craft?

There are couple of concepts and ways of thinking that came to the fore during the craziness of the Bill Jemas-era--Bill could get overly dogmatic about his thinking, but he made a number of really good, really important points with regard to telling stories that can be embraced by a broad audience, which should be the goal of any storyteller. Start at start--tell your story from the beginning, and take the time to introduce your characters and make me feel for them. Keep your storytelling straightforward--while it seems clever to try to employ byzantine storytelling structures, often a new writer's reach will exceed his grasp, and they'll often try to disguise an inability to generate empathy or reader involvement with their ideas by the use of complicated narrative tricks. There's nothing wrong with being straightforward and clear. Don't play exclusively to the cheap seats--while we love our hardcore longtime audience of readers (of which I am one), if you're creating material aimed at them exclusively, if your plot turns on being conversant with an earlier story published two decades before or you don't identify or characterize the shocking mystery villain you've brought back out of the shadows on the last page, you're talking past most of your potential audience. Finally, have something to say--understand the metaphoric content of your stories and make them about something that relates to your readers' lives. This needn't be a straightforward one-to-one affair, but the best, most successful, more memorable stories are about something more significant that one super hero pounding another, and speak to the common experiences, fears, dreams and desires that everyone share.

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