Marvel vs. DC: Inside dope from the kings of comics

'The Avengers'

'The Avengers' (April 24, 2013)

Q: Big, profound question: Ever consider yourself a custodian of our contemporary myths?

A:You know, I feel like a renter, to be honest. I'm in charge at this moment, and the goal is to keep these myths healthy enough so that, eventually, you can pass them down to the next person who rents them.

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Joe Quesada, chief creative officer, Marvel Entertainment

Q: Is it hard to launch a new character now?

A: I don't think it's harder or easier. People ask me why we can't create the next Spider-Man, but, hell, if we could, we would. The thing is, even the incubation period for some of the best-known characters is long. Superman was an immediate hit when he was created, but the rest, they have to work their way through the zeitgeist it seems. It's rare that a character worms his way into the public consciousness right away.

Q: But it's tough going past the blue-chip characters.

A: Yes, but it's never easy with a blue-chip, either.

Q: After a character moves past a certain age, there's always a degree of updating that happens.

A: Well, the Marvel Universe takes place in the real world, so characters have to reflect what is happening in the real world. As long as we do that, I think, we're fine. But Peter Parker, the persona, has been consistent since the 1960s. He may be social networking now, but he is schlubby to an extent, can't catch a break. It still doesn't make his life easier to have these powers. That's the beauty of what (Marvel) was founded on: Superman was a facade, Batman a facade, but Stan Lee and others said, “No, the alter ego should be the biggest element in these stories.” The best superhero stories we tell are alter-ego stories in disguise.

Q: As a casual comics reader, I have to say: I find the Marvel and DC universes way too big. To just, say, read an X-Men comic now, you have to decide between a zillion X-Men titles.

A: And at DC, that's true of Batman. But believe it or not, we wouldn't have as many Spider-Man titles if Spider-Man didn't sell. Marvel is in the business of making money at the end of the day, and I don't think that's a sin. Nothing would make me happier than a B-level character getting their own book, but 9 out of 10 times that character doesn't sell, but fans always buy a new Wolverine book. There is no magic trick to this. There are times when we love a product so much we put it out there, but you can't run a business that way.

Q: Do you find more people wait for the collected books of issues now than buy individual issues?

A: That's an interesting question, because when I started as editor in chief nine years ago, we were not into collecting issues together as paperback editions, not as much as everyone else was. We lagged behind. My feeling now is there are several audiences: The reader who wants the monthly fix; the customer like yourself, interested but can wait for the collected-in-one-place books; and a third reader who does both. The more important question to us now is, what about digital? Does it replace the whole shebang or augment it?

Q: You don't see the hard copy completely vanishing?

A: This is a lot harder for a newspaper than a comic book publisher. The issue for us isn't advertising, it's piracy. But I think for the next 10 years at least, I see a hard copy, yes. Partly because there is that collectible angle, that emotional connection people retain with some comics. But then, 15 years from now … ?

Q: How far ahead is the Marvel Universe, storywise at least, plotted?

A: We are planned for two years, penciled in for three. But the publishing arm of Marvel is very turnkey. If the audience wanted romance comics tomorrow, we could be doing that within six months. And that's not a joke.

cborrelli@tribune.com | Twitter @borrelli

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