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AICN Comics: Gray Haven interviews Bill Jemas of Marvel Comics!!!

Hey folks, Harry here with the latest from Andrew and GrayHavenMagazine.Com and their AICN reports! This time he's speaking to Bill Jemas, President of Marvel!!! Tons of great stuff here... read on....

Bill Jemas: The Gray Haven Interview

The comic book industry is undergoing a positive turnaround for the first time in years and Marvel Comics is leading the charge. Marvel President, Bill Jemas, recently took some time to speak with us about everything from what Marvel’s ‘no reprint’ policy really means and his goals for the company’s future to playing along as we ask him to pick particular comics that would best apply to certain individuals. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so get reading!

GHM: How does one go about becoming President of the biggest Comic Book Publisher in the world? Tell us a little bit about the road to this point.

Bill Jemas: This is my second tour of duty at Marvel. In the early 1990’s, when Marvel owned Fleer, I ran Fleer’s Entertainment and Sports card businesses. It was great, until, Marvel’s senior management , went on a spectacular stupidity binge, buying up anything they could at obscenely inflated prices. It was pretty clear to me that they were steering us into an iceberg -- doing everything they could to keep the stock price up – even if that mean impaling the hull on a wall of ice, the ship was going down into bankruptcy – I ran for the lifeboats. I came back in January of 2000 with a couple of points to prove.

GHM: What comics or creators did you follow before getting into this industry?

Bill: Gilbert & Sullivan: "Stay close to your desk and never go to sea and you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navy".

I never read a comic book before my time at Marvel. Does that matter – who knows?

On the one hand, for the past 10 years, all of Marvel’s fanboy executives have failed because they couldn’t get over their fan boy likes and dislikes (or because they were dumber than dirt).

On the other hand, for the past 10 years, all of Marvel’s "entertainment business" executives have failed because they couldn’t get up the energy to immerse themselves in comic book creative (or because they were dumber than dirt).

GHM: Do you consider yourself more hands on in terms of your interaction with the creative process?

Bill: In a strange way, my answer to this question addresses your last question. I came to Marvel with well-developed creative skills, but without any pre-conceptions or hero worship. So I was able to dive headlong into the creative process. I love the Spidey saga, but never got my wheels stuck in 1970’s continuity mud. I like Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan but never looked at Counter X through rose and emerald colored glasses. To me, Elektra is alive, Wolverine has an origin – and whoa, what if they got together?

Having said that, I should also say that Joe Quesada and the editors run the creative process at Marvel. I pitch ideas like everyone else does, and when Mark Powers or Brian Smith says "nice try rookie, but that don’t fly" I go back to the drawing board (laptop) just like everyone else does.

I do have one powerful opinion – that does not get ignored. And, fortunately, Joe Q. and the top Marvel creators are all on the same page on this point. We are going to stop writing comics about comics and start telling stories about our world in 2001 and beyond. Marvel is moving toward a hyper-creative atmosphere. Instead of fitting books into small spaces left in ye old continuity, we are going to tackle interesting, important and entertaining contemporary issues.

GHM: People may jump to conclusions about what you mean by this. Are you saying you want less comics about 2 people in tights beating the crap out of each other and more titles along the lines of a Black Panther or Daredevil?

Bill: To paraphrase Joe Q, Marvel "creators" used to sit around and say, 'hey Rhino hasn't fought Spidey in a while, let's do a Spidey-Rhino thing. Hmm, Rhino is in prison, so we should start the issue with a prison break, with him muttering about how he is going to get revenge on Spider-Man for getting him locked up in the first place . . ." Now, we are going to focus on real world concerns and have our characters play out stories in which they deal with 21st century issues.

GHM: Are you affected at all by certain groups or fans who seem to want to spread doom and gloom about Marvel and try to appease them and win them over or do you just accept that certain people will always bitch and leave it at that?

In other words, am I affected by typing? As if.

GHM: Has the Internet been a help or hindrance to the comic book industry?

The books that Marvel has promoted via the internet have all done very well, and we’re just getting started – check out the new Weapon X trailer on and you’ll know what I mean.

GHM: That's the positive, but do you also think the speed of the Internet could have a negative effect by spreading false rumors and negativity even at a faster rate than publishers can react to?

Bill: Again, I'm not afraid of typing.

GHM: You've said one or two things that sparked some heated conversation around the industry. What did you really mean by your 'bad girls for fanboys' comment?

Bill: "Bad girls" - Elektra is so bad you are going to want to spank her.

"Fan boys" – face it, if you are reading this, you are a "fanboy".

"For" – enjoy.

GHM: When you say things like that or about the collector mentality of fans, which are all sore points, do you deliberately want to provoke a reaction or are they just off the cuff remarks said during the heat of the moment?

Bill: Well, my statements are almost never "off the cuff", I spend a lot of time thinking about our business and then I say what I’m thinking. As far as provoking a reaction goes – there is something to that, but frankly I say what I’m thinking, even when I’m the only one listening.

GHM: What would you say to comic retailers who are upset about some of your decisions.

Bill: Andrew, the simple fact is that the vast majority of retailers are doing very well with Marvel and are pleased with our current policies. There are a lot of people in the comic industry who have problems, and believe me brother, their problems have nothing to do with me or Marvel.

GHM: Where do you think their problems stem from then? And is there any way they could 'fix' them?

Bill: Bad books mean bad sales. Somewhere somebody wrote down this rule that comic books are supposed to suck, and the vast majority of what is published today by our competition - distinguished and otherwise - closely adheres to that rule.

GHM: What do you think comic retailers should do to bring in new readers and keep the ones they have?

Bill: Buy more Marvel - no kidding – I bet you a nickel that the most successful shops are the one’s that carry the highest percentage of Marvel products.

GHM: But can Marvel be depended upon to carry the industry? Buying more Marvel now may put some money in seller's pocket, but will it grow the entire industry with new readers or is there something more they need to do?

Bill: Here is a two-part answer:

First, business to consumer retail is an incredibly tough business, and comic book retailing is much harder than consumer retail businesses. A comic shop has to budget every square inch of shelf space to maximize their sales velocity per square inch. The better the manager does in this area the more money the store will make. The simple fact is that Marvel is the most efficient buy. On average, Marvel comics sell MORE THAN TWICE AS FAST as a DC book and NEARLY THREE TIMES AS FAST AS AN IMAGE BOOK and - are you ready - OVER 10 TIMES FASTER THAN THE AVERAGE INDY BOOK. So, Marvel right now, Marvel books can help make your store go. But, nobody, (not even me) would encourage stores to over-order Marvel comics. We are doing all we can to bring new readers into the business. But that is an expensive and slow process and it doesn't help anybody, not the stores and not Marvel to have shelves clogged up with any book.

Second, sure I have a suggestion for retailers, but it's hardly new. Every home video an electronic game retailer has exactly the same suggestion for their classes of trade - PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE organize your shelves by content group - not by the *&(*^ alphabet.

Nothing is more frustrating than going into a major retail chain looking for an NFL game and not finding the number one game because the clerk shoved John Madden''s EA game under M for Madden or F for Football and you are looking under N for NFL. Nothing, except trying to figure out an alpha comic rack

GHM: Is the future of the comic industry in the comic shops, online, in bookstores or elsewhere?

Bill: Clearly, the comic shops have been doing all of the heavy lifting for the past five years – with nearly no "mass market" feeder system. With respect to 80% of the titles that Marvel publishes – that’s just fine. I’m not so sure that we need more outlets carrying the adult/teen books. What we need are more kid readers, and that will come from online distribution, and mass market sampling programs for the Ultimates.

GHM: What type of sampling programs?

Bill: Last summer, Activision inserted nearly 500,000 Spidey comics in an electronic game magazine, this summer, the Brown Shoe (Buster Brown) kids footwear company will give away nearly one million Spider-Man sample comics

GHM: What are the exact specifics of the 'No reprint' policy?

* Bill Jemas provided us with a copy of the exact memo that was sent out to retailers, which reads as follows:

"Marvel’s new print-to-order policy and our $2.25 cover price

Contrary to popular belief, gross over-printing is not a time-honored comic industry tradition. In fact, Marvel’s policy of overprinting/re-printing 10-20% of our line was implemented during the company’s bankruptcy, in a desperate, shortsighted, effort to squeeze every last dollar out of every last book.

The policy never worked. It was never penny-wise; it was always pound-foolish.

ß Marvel added 15% to our annual manufacturing costs and passed those costs along to consumers as price increases. Consumers, of course, bought fewer books.

ß Every year Marvel spent several hundred thousand dollars to re-solicit those books to stores, again passing along the costs and suffering long-term volume decreases.

ß And, most of those sales were at deep discounts, so as to punish any retailer who had been foolish enough to make an aggressive initial order at full price.

ß Then, Marvel would pay thousands of dollars to store the unsellable books.

ß Then, we would pay thousands more to destroy the unsellable books.

ß And, some books always found their way into the black markets, further hurting Marvel, Diamond, and our legitimate customers.

ß And, finally, over-prints and reprints flat out gutted the long-term value of any book that could have become collectible.

Right now, Marvel makes enough extra copies to cover normal damages and mis-shipments. Beyond that, we do not overprint and do not reprint. I genuinely regret the inconveniences that this new policy has caused to comic ship owners. And, frankly, in our current financial situation, Marvel misses the short-term revenue every bit as much as you do. But I do believe that Marvel is acting in all of our best long-term interest, because of the things we have been able to do with the money we stopped wasting. Marvel has:

ß Held the price of our mainline monthly books to $2.25, while our distinguished competition increased theirs to $2.50.

ß Priced Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men at $2.25, while producing those books in a prestige format that normally commands $2.99.

ß Built an inventory of trade paperbacks to keep more books in constant supply.

ß Promoted new readership by posting sold-out books on

ß Upgraded the writing, art and editorial of every book in the line.

This is the new Marvel. We can’t be all things to all men, but we can make the best books in the business and sell them at the best price. "

GHM: How important is the success of feature films on Marvel characters to the success of the publishing line?

Bill: Blockbuster movies generate enormous demand for our characters – if we continue to produce great comics to meet the demand, our business will explode.

To Read the Rest of the Interview with Bill Jemas, head to the Interview Section of GrayHavenMagazine.Com

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