Pipeline #1066: People, Politics, and the New Editor In Chief

Another Week, Another Marvel MoveC.B. Cebulski is now the Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics.As with [...]

cb cebulski marvel editor in chief
(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

Another Week, Another Marvel Move

C.B. Cebulski is now the Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics.

As with Brian Bendis' departure to DC in the previous week, this has led to a million voices on the internet giving Marvel advice on what they should do now.

It's a fun thought experiment. I get it. I'm sure I've done the same over the years.

These days, I prefer to sit back and watch what happens. This way, I won't get worked up that they're not taking my advice and making the changes I so brilliantly suggest.

That's a flaw of the internet: Conventional Wisdom often comes from people thinking someone's idea is so good that it would be stupid not to do it.

And, then, when their idea doesn't happen, they get angry that their unsolicited advice wasn't immediately enacted.

Let this column this week be a bit of a reality check. In light of this change in Marvel leadership, I think we need to go over a few things.

Reality Check

Something I've said for a long time still holds true: We don't know what's happening behind the scenes. We're clueless. Offering solutions to problems we don't know someone is having is usually not terribly effective.

You cannot improve what you cannot measure, as the old saying goes.

So it goes with Marvel. You don't know what they're measuring, nor what those numbers are.

What Happened and Why?

Why is Axel Alonso gone and Cebulski in? I bet half of you jumped immediately to give me the "obvious" answer.

Sure, it's obvious to you, but the other person three to your left has a completely different obvious answer.

Who's right?

Did Alonso leave because all the mean internet people scared him away? Did he leave to take care of his ailing dog? Did he leave because Michael Iger wants him to head up Disney Imagineering, instead?

Those are all ridiculous ideas, but they have about as much weight behind them as much of the "conventional wisdom" I've read.

Office Politics

Second, never underestimate office politics. It's true at the day job you work at, whether you're at a restaurant or a law firm or a telemarketing company. It's true at a comic publisher, too.

Not everyone agrees. Not everyone gets along. Some employees are ambitious and just want to climb the corporate ladder. Others just want to get to their next paycheck and hold onto their jobs. Frictions are inevitable, and one type of person taking advantage of someone of another type is normal, too.

Yes, Bendis is leaving a bunch of books open, and those slots will be filled likely by a combination of people Bendis suggests, and creators who are in the virtual Rolodexes of the editors on those titles.

Editors need to ship product monthly. They want to work with people who they know they can work well with, who are available, who will fit inside the book's budget, and who will answer their call with enthusiasm

When you're busy editing a dozen titles, you don't have time to conduct a talent search or to take on unsolicited pitches or even new freelancers' phone calls.

"Throw All the Bums Out!"

When someone suggests that the new editor in chief is going to turn over the marketplace table and replace everyone, that's just silly. Wholesale replacing that number of people in short order is ridiculously difficult and counterproductive.

Yes, Marvel has a problem with utilizing the same talent all the time, and just occasionally shifting them around. When they announce a universe-wide relaunch and it's all the same creators, it hardly feels like a big move.

But here's the thing: Freelancers are people, too. Exclusive creators are only human. Nobody -- and no editor, who are mostly human -- likes to tell a creator that they're being dropped from a book. Nobody wants to fire someone who they might often think of as a friend.

Is this professional? Is this right? Doesn't matter. It's real life.

The reason things stagnate often for as long as the do is that relationships grow stronger and the interconnectedness of it all stays put. That's human nature. Reaching outside of the nest that's currently filled with people who can get the work done is scary. Sometimes, it can even be considered dangerous for one's career.

Starting at the Top?

Replacing the person at the top is a good opportunity to break some of those bonds to create new ones. It's relatively easier to pull a move like you see in Hollywood all the time: All the old projects are off the table. The new guy doesn't want to deal with them. He wants his own victories and glories.

I'm not sure comics are like that. I'm not so sure comics could ever afford to be like that. Comics can't afford to throw out plans and pre-existing work to generate new ones. There's no money or time.

The implementation details may slightly change, but the inertia remains.

Usually, a big change on that kind of scale happens from a much higher power. You don't take Fantastic Four off the table because the new Editor In Chief doesn't like Reed Richards. You might take them away if someone a level or two above him has a strong business interest in that decision and can order it.

Do you think anyone at that level is going to come down and tell Cebulski to send Mark Waid, Charles Soule, Dan Slott, and Jason Aaron packing? Most likely not. (I'm picking well known names at random here. This isn't a judgment call on their work. I don't know; I haven't read much of it latelt.)

And when things like that are attempted, it's often ugly and often drives fans away, even if it was overdue and necessary. Remember the troubles at DC when attempting to change creative leadership on the Superman and Batman families of titles 15 or 20 years ago? Remember the failed Superman takeover attempt by Grant Morrison, et. al? Remember Dennis O'Neil firing people by fax?

Nobody really wants troubles like those again, particularly in this era.

Things Change, But Slowly

Change happens slowly over a longer period of time. Jonathan Hickman, Brian Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jason Lemire, and Ed Brubaker were all major writers at Marvel in recent years, and all dropped away one by one for various reasons. Slowly, new voices appeared. Some came from outside of comics.

So it will go in the future. No matter how brilliant your brainstorm is to restore the Marvel Universe of 1985 and bring Jim Shooter back to write it while replacing every creator with someone currently writing an underperforming Image title, it's just not going to happen.

Publishing is people and people is politics and 'twas ever thus. This isn't a draft situation. This is real life. That's far messier than internet conventional wisdom.

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