Grant Fixes: Marvel Publishing, Part One

Good evening (morning, whatever), and welcome to the inaugural edition of Grant Fixes ___! In this column I’ll be taking a stab at “fixing” something within the world of comics entertainment, be it a movie, a book, merchandise, whatever. It’s basically a daydreaming series that anyone could do (and should do – it’s quite fun to flex the ol’ brain biceps and think about what could be repaired for something you subjectively thinks needs fixin’), and in no way can actually happen.

So for the first Grant Fixes ____, I wanted to tackle something that means a lot to me, something that has progressively gotten away from what drew me to it in the first place. It’s something that really does (arguably) need fixing: Marvel’s publishing branch.

Now, this isn’t to say that it’s a heaping, glistening pile of fresh turds waiting to melt your nose hairs – the publishing branch is obviously one of the Big Two and has no real need to fix whatever it doesn’t want to. However, in my fragile little mind I’ve developed processes to put it to the forefront of sequential publishing yet again, and to draw in new readers while maintaining older ones. I’m breaking this up into three parts, and the first one begins…NOW.

 

PHASE ONE – From the Ground Up

Part of Marvel Publishing’s current problem is that it seems to be catering to either obsessive speculators or new readers: multiple relaunches, hundreds of variants, event after event after event. This would be an interesting approach if they were in need of a boost, but it’s certainly not a good strategy for retaining readers.

One of the things that DC did so well during the early introduction of Rebirth was to admit, “Hey, we’ve gotten away from the things that held our readers, we’ve gotten away from telling quality stories, we’ve gotten away from what made us successful. We won’t let you down.” That admission meant so damn much, to know that they not only wanted to craft great stories that features the best of these characters, but they also knew what they did wrong and wanted to fix it.

Courtesy of the Nerdist, DC Comics

Courtesy of the Nerdist, DC Comics

Marvel is rapidly approaching a crossroads where they have ostracized old readers and burned through new ones. Their whole “Legacy” push is supposed to mend a few wounds, but forgive me if I’m overly skeptical; Marvel has been incessantly “NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN”-ing for years now and the act has worn thin. Sometimes a little consistency is needed to foster a love for the brand. This step is simply admitting that Marvel had gotten away from what made it great, and wants to be the top dog in the game again

In addition to consistency, a focus on the books and the stories within is desperately needed. Marvel starts and cancels new series so very frequently, or expands on their titles so much that the new additions wither quickly. I believe this can be solved by surgical book management and by an emphasis on creators – writers AND artists. If you have, say, one Spider-Man book, you won’t need three others, and if you put top-shelf creators on the book and promote that team you will get better results. No offense to Dan Slott, but having the same singular voice on a book for so long can lose its gusto. And for Pete’s sake (pun intended), put some pride in the art: Marvel has seemingly drifted away from Super Star artists for some reason (Image backlash?), and needs to get those huge talents back and put them up on a pedestal. Comics are just as much a visual medium as anything else, if not more so.

To further build on that point, make Marvel an exciting place to work, a place where creators can flex their muscles and use outside-the-box thinking. Cut some of the editorial umbilical cords and let them create, unencumbered by myriad events and crossovers. Let the stories grow and progress in their own books and focus on the stories that the characters are involved in. Also, I believe there should be an imprint similar to DC’s “Young Animal,” and a renewed emphasis on mini-series to aid in the exploration of open minds. 

Aa lot of characters won’t be getting their own books, but it’s worthless to just bench them and let them go to waste. Marvel used to really excel at this, with numerous mini-series in the past that are more than fondly remembered today.  Why not establish a strong set of mini series? It’s not a full-ongoing commitment, but it utilizes someone’s favorite character, and could really give young creators a shot. You can really cultivate a burgeoning class of creators on these types of things, and groom them for shots at ongoing. Build some loyalty.

Courtesy Marvel Comics

Courtesy Marvel Comics

As for the “Young Animal”-type imprint (which in this instance I’m calling the Atlas imprint), it should be headed by a dynamic young storyteller, someone with strong indie cred who is not just a great writer, but also a great artist. Personally, I’d let Becky Cloonan run the show at Atlas. Let her pick the creators, let her tell her own stories, let her create and maintain a tone. She’s a phenomenal comics person who hasn’t been utilized nearly enough by mainstream publishers.

Becky Cloonan

Becky Cloonan

I also believe that anything out of the ordinary should be hailed as a special event, and that includes variant covers. Marvel has variants coming out the wazoo, most of which just aren’t as necessary or even cool as they have been in the past – there’s no reason for them. Variants should feel like a special occasion, people should feel compelled not just to buy them out of some bizarre obligation, but because it’s a really damn cool reason to. Again, make a variant cover special, make it something really fun to look forward to, like the original Run the Jewels variants.

courtesy Marvel Comics

courtesy Marvel Comics

Lastly, and I sincerely believe in this one, Marvel needs its own version of Geoff Johns or Eric Stephenson. They need someone who is 100% invested in these characters, in growing and sustaining a readership, and in getting the absolute best out of the publishing branch. In this particular instance I think this should be a position split between the old and the new, with two folks who are as adept at the creative aspect as they are the editorial. Guys who know what it takes to grow a brand. Guys who earnestly want what’s best for the stories. I would offer positions to Mark Waid and Jonathan Hickman. These are guys who are very familiar with all aspects of the comic publishing world, and who have experience with all the ranks and responsibilities. Their work puts their love of Marvel on full display, and I honestly believe in the talent and vision of these two.

Mark Waid (left), Jonathan Hickman

Mark Waid (left), Jonathan Hickman

Part two will be coming up soon, where we divvy up the books, trim the fat, assign a few creators, and maybe create a new world or two…