Joe Quesada is name that may not be familiar to many of the people that enjoy Marvel movies and TV shows, but it would be hard to say if there would even be a Marvel today, as we know it, without Quesada’s timely intervention. Starting with a small line of four books no one really cared about, Quesada soon found himself the head of the Marvel Comics at the turn of the century, and a prime force in taking the company from the brink of bankruptcy to being a multimedia empire standing up in its own right amongst the expansive Disney kingdom. He talked about this journey Friday at Fan Expo Canada.
Given how awesome everything is for Marvel right now, Quesada was reminded of a time when he came into Marvel and everything was very much up in the air. “The whole industry was shaky, we just didn’t know where rock bottom was,” Quesada said at the beginning of his Cup O’ Joe panel while not coincidently drinking a cup o’ Starbucks Joe.
“I knew what the feeling was at Marvel because they took the core books and shipped them out west to people who had abandoned the company,” he explained recalling Marvel’s Heroes Reborn imprint in the mid-90s. The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Captain America were all canceled and outsourced to Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee’s companies for a year. “I wanted to make sure we were treading water on the ground where there was no where to go but up,” he said.
Quesada’s Marvel time began with the launch of Marvel Knights, the flagship title being Daredevil. Quesada would draw the book, but it was filmmaker Kevin Smith, then coming off the critical and commercial success of Chasing Amy, that would write it. “If it wasn’t for Kevin, I wouldn’t be sitting here, and Marvel wouldn’t be where it is,” Quesada said. “He took a chance on a company that was Chapter 11 and jumped from the big pool into the little pool. He is so instrumental in the history of comics, and no one says that enough.”
But having said that, is there a chance that Marvel might get too cozy with its success?
“There’s a huge team us at Marvel and the people at Marvel will never lets us get comfortable,” Quesada explained. “We live in a constant state of it’s not good enough. I like that push, that there’s no guaranteed of success because at the end of the day, we’ve got to keep going forward.”
In terms of specific questions about Marvel these days, one person asked if we will ever again see a Marvel Comic venture past the 50th issue. “So much of that has to do with today’s fan,” Quesada explained. “So many people want to jump in on an issue one, and it helps sales. Atrophy is the way of comics, if you want to spike, you do a number one and it also brings in new readers.”
Another recent development in the comics has been a conscientious effort to diversify their characters. “There’s been a huge influx of characters of different genders and ethnicity, it’s the way of the world and it’s one of the things that made me gravitate towards Marvel Comics. These were stories that were taking place in my world,” Quesada said. “We can always do better, but the one thing I always caution about is the need to fill a quota. One, it fails; two, it’s not authentic; and three, it doesn’t comes out of the creative process. If you start following those second guessing instincts those characters don’t get used, they get boring and they disappear, and these are the tightropes we walk.”
But Quesada’s life is all about the tightropes, and he left those in attendance with a lesson: don’t just accept failure, embrace it. “My wife is a pragmatist and it drives her crazy sometimes, but when there are disappointments, I’m like, ‘It’s all right.’ I think it’s lemonade,” he explained. “My daughter’s a figure skater so she spends three-quarters of her life falling down, but the falling down is what prepares you for that time you hit hit it.
“The most successful people in life have failed more than most people have ever tried anything,” he continued. “They have a library of failure that would stagger you, so allow yourself to fall down, forgive yourself for it. Every artist has a waste paper basket full of stuff before you finish the piece.” And Quesada is no exception. ‘Nuff said.