March 27, 2017 How to Interview Someone at Marvel Comics
Short answer: you don’t.
Or at least I didn’t. Not in the sense of talking back and forth with another human being face to face. Or even talking back and forth Skype face to Skype face. Or voice to voice via Skype’s widowed aunt, Phone. I did type back and forth email to email with Senior Communications Manager Joseph Taraborrelli. Though not because I wanted to. No offense to Joe, but I was dialing Editorial, not PR.
There are many wonderful things about pre-tenure leave, and a research trip to NYC is near the top of the list. My northern itinerary included the Society of Illustrators, the comics holdings at the New York Public Library, an evening New School lecture on text-images, plus guest lectures of my own at Marymount University. But it was the visit to Marvel that most curled my former fanboy toes.
Sadly, Marvel doesn’t give tours of its corporate headquarters (135 W. 50th Street). But I didn’t really want a tour. I wanted to talk to people. I particularly wanted to talk to editors. Not Axel Alonso, editor in chief, but regular in-the-trenches editors. And not just editors, but lowly even-deeper-in-the-trench-mud assistant editors. The creation of a comic is a complex business, involving writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, letters, and, of course, editors. The first five categories I have a pretty good handle on (even though “writing” at Marvel used to mean filling in Jack Kirby’s talk balloons with witty banter and “pencilling” meant figuring out the entire story moment for moment and writing “suggested” dialogue and narration in the margins for the “writer” to use later), but the how-what-where-whens of editing is pretty much a mystery. One I want to solve.
So I wrote an email to Sana Amanat. She edits, among other things, Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel, and she also can be heard on the podcast Women of Marvel. So I wrote to her via WomenOf@Marvel.com, asking if I could interview her while I was in town. I also wrote to Kathleen Wisneski, who had been featured with several other assistant editors on the podcast and confessed a near-miss career path in comics studies–so she might even understand why an English professor in Virginia is writing a book called “Superhero Comics.” I found her gmail and also tried her on Facebook–having not yet had the Sherlockian realization that Marvel employee emails (like the vast majority of company employee emails across the known universe) consist of first initial email@example.com (a theory confirmed by Joe’s JTaraborrelli@marvel.com.)
I think KWisneski hit delete and Samanat forwarded me to JTaraborrelli, as per apparent Marvel policy. The Senior Communications Manager said he would be happy to help me out by forwarding some specific questions to someone other than Sana, who wasn’t available, especially right now, and could we maybe revisit this in November? Since that would be two months after my two-day stop in NYC, I kept trying, sending new emails when previous ones hit their one-week expiration date in Joe’s Inbox and/or Deleted file.
Unfortunately, Joe could not grant an in-office interview. No problem, I’ll meet anywhere. Like the lobby. Or the sidewalk out front. Seriously, anywhere. Like many skilled managers the world over, Joe is artful at evasion, answering by not answering and instead offering again to forward some questions. So I sent him some questions. And, after the next email expiration date, asked again for a face-to-face, eventually getting an “email is easier for us” and another offer (the third) to forward some questions to an unnamed someone else. So I sent him my questions yet again.
Oh, and you can’t phone anyone directly at Marvel. All calls go through the main switchboard (212 576-4000) where the operators know how not to give out individual extension numbers. Or to connect you to anyone in any department other than PR–where Mr. Taraborrelli’s line goes to phone mail when my Virginia area code appears on its screen. Which is all perfectly reasonable. They’re busy people. Plus imagine the onslaught of enraged fans and non-fans demanding to see the people responsible for turning Captain American into a HYDRA-hailing Nazi last summer. Of course they don’t offer “tours.”
But still, Joe, is fifteen minutes with Ms. Wisneski talking nuts-and-bolts editing really such an impossible request? My questions could well be winding their way through the internal Marvel ether to the screens of any number of editors or assistant editors as I type, but should they have vanished through some off-continuity wormhole, here they are yet again:
1. How are story ideas developed? Do ideas typically originate with writers, artists, editors, or other individuals–or does it vary with each story?2. Do writers typically write panel-by-panel scripts, or are page-by-page or even scene-focused scripts common too? If panel-by-panel, how much detail is preferred? Does this vary according to the writer-artist relationship, or do editors maintain a standard approach? Is there a standard Marvel script format?3. At what stages do editors enter the creative process. For instance, does an editor always see a script before the artist receives it? What kinds of scripts revisions might an editor ask for before passing the script to an artist? How many revisions might a typical script undergo at this pre-art stage?4. Once the artwork has begun, when do editors typically view the products–per page? per full story? Given current technology, is the creative process still defined by a strict pencil layout followed by inking? At what stages of completion does an editor enter the art process? What kinds of revisions might artwork undergo? In past decades Marvel maintained a house style. To what degree is that still true? How is artwork evaluated in terms of whether a pre-existing character is drawn to match expectations?5. Does the artwork ever cause alterations in the originating script? If so, are those changes made by the writer or the editor? Do they entail rewriting the script itself, or are they only incorporated into the comics pages?6. How are writers and artists assigned to a project? How often are the pairings initiated by the creators and how often are they assigned to each other by editors? How are pencillers, inkers, and colorists assigned?7. Given the serial nature of comics, how far in advance of publication are issues scripted, drawn, and completed? In past decades, there seems to have been roughly a four-month production period. Is that still accurate? How might reader response, including sales, influence the process? Are scripts and art ever changed mid-course as the result of reader reactions to current issues?
As editor of Ms. Marvel, you oversaw the art of Adrian Alphona, whose style for the series was a major departure from his earlier work on Runaways. I would like to ask about that and also the equally distinctive and highly divergent art of Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, and Filipe Andrade in Captain Marvel. In the past Marvel has emphasized visual continuity, and so I would like to ask about that change in editorial control. Does she and Marvel in general now prefer artists with individualized and often less naturalistic styles?