Marvel creators Peter David (All New X-Factor, Spider-Man 2099), Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man, Hulk), and Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly [Image]) were present for a discussion of the creative changes that make up the newest waves of Marvel’s publishing lineup. The panel took place at Atlanta’s immense and long-running science-fiction convention, Dragon Con, on Sunday, August 31, and it was moderated by Chris Brennaman.
Brennaman started the panel by asking each creator about “the State of Marvel NOW!” DeConnick joked, “Was I supposed to prep for this?” then said that Carol Danvers is currently in space, having finished her first six-issue arc and now off to rendezvous with the Guardians of the Galaxy for a two-issue “complicating adventure featuring Carol and Tic and Rocket and Chewie the cat” called Release The Flerken. David Lopez will return for issue 9, a single-issue story set on Lila Cheney’s Dyson Sphere. She grinned as she told the crowd that he will be “drawing everyone as 80’s pop stars… fighting on a dance floor.” Bagley said he has “gotten to draw pretty cool stuff” on Gerry Duggan’s current Hulk story, set to run through issue 16, including the Hulk with a mohawk which Bagley “fought tooth and nail” but has now come to consider “pretty f-in’ cool.” Peter David summarized his most recent All-New X-Factor issue as “the press conference went horribly wrong, as X-Factor press conferences are wont to do,” and promises that the next issue will pick up on father-daughter time between Quicksilver and Luna with an appearance by Gorgon. The book will then tie-in to Marvel’s Axis event with X-Factor pulled in as “Serval Industries is under siege by powerful mutants” including a former team member (not Jamie Madrox or Layla Miller). In Spider-Man 2099, Miguel O’Hara will be pitted against the Scorpion before tying in to the Spider-Verse event. David was smiling as he promised “a fun storyline” with Miguel in the thick of it, and as an example he described a scene of Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham, looking at Spider-Monkey and saying, “That’s messed up.” At that point, Bagley asked David if Ultimate Peter Parker would be in it, and when he responded, “Miles Morales will,” the Battlestar Galactica panel occurring next door erupted in timely cheers. DeConnick deadpanned, “Battlestar Galactica loves Miles Morales.”
DeConnick had to leave early, so the next few minutes were devoted to a question-and-answer for her. In response to a question about upcoming Pretty Deadly stories, she said that the story is moving forward in time and will include World War I imagery and the child, Cyrus, as a grown man. She described trying to nail the “MythSpace” of the first arc, “like what you think of when think of what a lemon tastes like” more than the actual taste sensation, and using that concept to maintain a Myth of History, “not ‘Deathface Jenny walks into a Starbuck’s!” Emma Rios has been producing watercolor art for this project. When a woman asked to see more Rhodey in Captain Marvel, DeConnick animatedly answered, “I sure hope so, he is hot like fire. They’re two fighter pilots, right? I’d like to explore that.” After a pause, she apologized, “That sounded super-creepy,” then joked, “You’re welcome.”
Brennaman then asked remaining panelists about their response when a New Hot Idea comes from Marvel editorial, such as we have seen in the Marvel NOW! publications. David approaches the ideas with the question of how he can help make it successful, but he described the mixed signals of fans buying tie-in issues while complaining about buying tie-in issues. Bagley explained that as an artist, he tries “to fulfill what wonderful writers’ visions are. That’s my job, I’m appreciated for it, and I appreciate it immensely.” David continued the gratitude by describing how uplifting it is that Marvel still employs “old farts like us” and that people want to read their work. Bagley followed that with “We dance on the graves of ‘hot young things’ every day.” In response to the original question about New Hot Ideas, Bagley talked about how in the early years of Ultimate Spider-Man, there were no crossovers, and the creative team could “do whatever we want.”
Next, Brennaman asked the men if they could explain the key to their continued relevance in the industry. David described his weekly column, “But I Digress,” for Comic Buyer’s Guide as a means of establishing himself as an individual with opinions on the world but also allowed readers to follow the end of his marriage and subsequent remarriage. “What differentiates me is the personal connection I have to the fans,” he summarized, then said that he did not appreciate this connection until his stroke last year, when he was overwhelmed with the emotional support of his readers via Internet presence. He joked, “Not to mention, my book sales went through the roof!” and Bagley teased, “How many strokes can I have?” Keeping the mood light, David told the story of Stephen King visiting him in the hospital and agreeing to work on the comic adaptation of the second Dark Tower book there, “so thank God I had a stroke!” Bagley addressed his own relevance by saying, “I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing, and I look back five years and cringe even though I know it’s a fan favorite.” He denied having a set style and noted Stuart Immonen as a current inspiration in the development of his work. “I still work seventy hours a week, I only put on pants to get the mail, I outwork a lot of people and love what I do.”
The panel finished with question-and-answer from the audience. In response to a fan’s question about the source of creativity, David advised writers to read more than they write, and twist ideas to their own devices. As an example, he described watching Superman: The Quest For Peace, and in particular Superman’s announcement to the UN that he plans to get rid of all nuclear weapons. David’s mind predicted that the story would follow the defensive rejection by the world’s superpowers, leading to “Superman versus the world,” with Lex Luthor coming in as a hero. “But the next second, everyone in the UN was cheering in agreement!” Peter David’s facepalm is a thing of beauty. Echoing Bagley’s earlier statements, David talked about his creativity consistently evolving. “I can’t even read how horrible my old work is, but people tell me it’s their favorite.” He recounted a story of standing behind a prominent creator who responded to a fan’s praise of an old book by picking the work apart until David reminded him, “Say thank you.” David summarized, “There is no reason to hurt a fan’s feelings by disagreeing with what they like. Say thank you.” Bagley agreed with this.
When questioned about their favorite work they’ve done, David picked Future Imperfect and DC’s ambitious Atlantis Chronicles, and Bagley chose his work on Ultimate Spider-Man as “a body of work I’m proud of,” with emphasis on the issue including Peter’s death.
The next fan asked for the panel’s response to fan requests for new characters but buying patterns that only support established characters. David finds this conflict “tremendously frustrating” as it builds resistance to anything completely new. He further explained that new materials needs pre-orders to which retailers and readers are resistant, leading to books being cancelled before they even get fully launched. “Until then, we will revisit and cycle… we can’t change it. You guys have to.” Bagley agreed but pointed out that “in Marvel’s defense, lower-rate characters like Spider-Woman have become the new hotness” and suggests that difficulty like this is “why there’s an independent market out there.” David recounted that Fallen Angel did fine until it was no longer profitable to make. A retailer responded by pointing out that companies often provide incentives for large orders of new first-issues but that stores are nervous about ordering subsequent issues before they know who will be buying them. David suggested that companies should sell issues two through four on a returnable basis, then set up the story that previously, a retailer could take unpurchased issues and sell them as back issues someday, but with a market focused on reading trade paperback collections, “there’s no incentive to keep ordering the same amount each month,” and pre-orders dwindle based on surplus comics. “A lot of people wait for trades and don’t connect that monthly sales keep books alive.”
A fan asked how the creators garner interest in titles related to big names like Spider-Man without telling derivative Spider-Man stories. David explains that he picked up the story of the Scorpion and the Spider-Slayers where Dan Slott left off in the main book but allows his villain, the Alchemax corporation, to pick up the threads. Bagley thinks the appeal of Ultimate Spider-Man was in the book’s avoidance of writing down or up to anybody and instead just told an accessible story. “I don’t know how to get out of writing to the market,” he lamented. “I’m not that smart. But I draw like a madman.”
The panel ended as a fan was granted “One last question,” to which David warned, “Better not suck.” The fan asked if each panelist could recommend one book everyone should read. David excitedly yelped, “Mine!” and Bagley joked, “After mine.” David chuckled, “That was a snap,” then checked his phone. “The Mets just won.”
The thunder of applause that followed was not for the Mets.