A post from my old Marvel blog about how I would go about picking the creators to work on a given title.
I’m asked fairly constantly how one goes about selecting a new creative team for a given series, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about that today.
I expect everybody kind of hopes that there’s some magic formula, or an equation or something that I can impart, but the reality of the situation is that it’s almost entirely an instinct-based decision-making process.
The first thing you do is assess where you stand. This can differ if you’re the same guy who edited the outgoing creative team’s work, as opposed to coming in new on the series, as you’re more likely in the former case to have some connection with the material as it’s been prepared up till that point. What you’re looking at is the series overall: what’s working, what isn’t, what classic elements have fallen away in recent years, what new avenues for exploration have opened up, what’s the reaction of the overall fanbase been like, and what have the hardcore fans been saying.
It’s difficult to really talk about this kind of thing in the abstract, so let’s use a specific example: THE HULK. I inherited the series from Matt Idelson shortly after the book had been relaunched by John Byrne and Ron Garney. John and I came to an impasse pretty quickly, so then I stopgapped for a few months while I figured out the best approach.
Ron had met Paul Jenkins at a convention, and was interested in working with him, so he suggested that we speak. I’d only dealt with Paul once before this, when he was writing WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and needed some information from me for a Ghost Rider guest appearance. But speaking to him, he had an interest in plumbing some of the psychological aspects of the character, elements that had largely fallen away since the end of Peter David’s run a year or two earlier. And from reading his INHUMANS series I had a pretty good idea of what he’d do. So Paul joined Ron on the series with issue #12.
Ron got tired of the book around issue #20, but Paul was good to stay on, so I began to cast around for a new artist. It occurred to me that John Romita Jr. had never drawn the series, and seemed to have a bit of free time at that point (he had come off of THOR expecting to draw both SPIDER-MAN titles, but then PETER PARKER changed hands–going to Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham, ironically enough.) John does power better than most anybody else, so I figured he’d be a good fit.
Thereafter, Paul’s workload got too large for him to continue on the series–he’d taken on SPIDER-MAN shortly after starting on HULK, and that combined with other things was just eating up his life. He had blocked his rough story out through issue #32, but was going to have to come off the series earlier, around #28. So we arranged to have him give all of his plot notes to Sean McKeever, whom he had been mentoring a little bit as a writer, and Sean would take the story to its conclusion. And in the meantime, I set about to come up with a new writer.
Wanting to go in a different, more visceral, more fun direction at this point after two years of Paul’s approach, I began speaking with Jeph Loeb. Jeph was interested in working with JRJR, and had some good ideas for where to take the character next. But this was not to be–the powers-that-be shifted the series from my editorial office to that of Axel Alonso. Axel decided to go in a different direction from Paul as well, but it was also different from where I had been heading. Axel brought Bruce Jones on board, casting the series more in the spirit of the 70s television show with a strong dollop of conspiracy theory mixed in. And they kept the Hulk largely off-camera at the outset, which lent him a sort of mythical power. And that worked pretty well.
But after a couple years, Bruce decided to move on. Axel’s plan to replace him was to bring in Daniel Way, who’d continue in the psychological spirit of what Bruce had done, but would ramp up the action quotient and bring his own sensibility to the character. But this was not to be–yet. Elsewhere, the powers-that-be had been speaking to Peter David about doing a HULK project, and thought this might be a good time to bring him back onto the series and see what happened. I ended up editing the book again, and Peter and I did six issues together. Peter tried to mix up his storytelling style a bit from what he’d done in the past, which electrified some readers and put off others. And soon after, the title switched editors once again, moving into the realm of Mark Paniccia.
Mark had his own elements that he was interested in exploring about the character. At the same time, Joe Quesada had hit upon the notion of the Hulk as a barbarian on some untamed planet. And so the decision was made to fold the storyline that Daniel Way had begun for Axel (and was now going to be a separate limited series) back into the main book, as had been done for Peter David’s story, but to modify the ending so that the Hulk was shot off into space. The notion was that he’d land on an alien world, and become first a gladiator, and then a conqueror. This would be an extreme flip on the Bruce Jones era, in that you’d have almost all Hulk, and very little Bruce Banner. I can’t tell you what the process was that got them there, but Paniccia and Joe Q selected Greg Pak as the guy to handle this storyline–probably based on some projects he had worked on that got terminated along the way for one reason or another, but which showed a good grasp of science fiction world-building and culture-building. And this approach, too, has seemed to rejuvenate the title.
What’s next for HULK? Who can say? It’s all a matter of instinct, of trying to figure out which moves will produce the best end results. All through the periods I describe above, the overall pattern has remained the same, though: a new direction and creative team spikes reader interest and sales, and then the audience starts to drift after it’s gone on for awhile, necessitating a change of direction. Nobody’s quite proven to have super-long-term legs on the book–but that’s all right, as long as the runs that are done are good and strong, and that each successive creative team can build upon the success of the previous guys.