For more than half a century, fans have been asking just how they could work for Marvel – and now, editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski and talent scout Ricky Purdin are ready to reveal all.
Cebulski and Purdin aren’t the only ones scheduled to appear at this Friday afternoon C2E2 panel, though; Marvel is teasing a “slew of superstars” to help spill the beans during this hour-long presentation, helping the excited crowd learn just what it takes to make it into the House of Ideas. Just who will make up that slew, however, remains a mystery… for now.
Popverse will be liveblogging the entire panel as it happens, so bookmark this page to keep up to date with all the secrets as they’re shared, or come back after the panel is over to read the whole thing in its entirety.
We're still a few minutes away from the start of the panel, but a genial C.B. Cebulski has just wandered into the room and said hello to a few fans.
Pre-panel, Hans Zimmer's Wonder Woman is playing. "WRONG MUSIC" says a fan behind me, pointedly. (I mean, they're not wrong.)
I don't want to freak you out, but this is the first Marvel panel at C2E2 in three years," says Ricky Purdin, Marvel talent scout, to open the panel. He's opening by asking how many people in the audience want to make comic books - the answer is a lot.
Alongside Purdin, the panel consists of CB Cebulski, Samira Ahmed (writer of Ms. Marvel: Beyond the Limit), Tim Seeley, and Kyle Higgins. "Everybody on this stage aside from me and CB comes from Chicago," Purdin points out.
"Breaking into comics is like breaking out of jail," Cebulski says, quoting Devin Grayson, adding that as soon as someone works out one way to break into the industry, that path becomes harder for others to follow. He likens Marvel to the Yankees, saying that you don't jump straight into Marvel but have to follow a path to learn your trade.
Purdin says that his secret origin in breaking into comics was interning at Wizard Magazine straight out of college, talking about how internships can offer introductions into publishing. "If you're not a great writer, you're not a great editor, there are other jobs in comics," he says.
Higgins is getting applause for being local. "I found a love of both comic books and filmmaking through superhero movies and cartoons," citing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Superman as inspirations. He went to film school to become a film director, and worked on a superhero project as a thesis film. That short, The League, was about labor unions in superheroes.
Eric Wight, who worked on the OC, was brought on to work on the short, and when it was finished, he sent a link to the film to his friends and peers. Joe Quesada was the first person to respond to Higgins, telling him that his love of superheroes showed in every frame. "He sent the film around to editorial, and Tom Brevoort reached out," leading to a Captain America oneshot. "I've been making comics full time for 13 years."
Tim Seeley was another intern, working as an editorial intern on the Spider-Man books. "That's where I realized, oh shit, I'm a writer," he jokes. He was hired as an editor at a publisher here in Chicago, before creating Hack/Slash. Jokes that his favorite thing to do in comics is just making stuff up. That led to working on and off for Marvel for 15 years, he says. "I like to make things up, and writing comics is a good way [to do that]," he says.
Ahmed has a "very specific" entry into comics, Purdin says. "I never really imagined that I wanted to be a writer," she says. "My top three [jobs] were ballerina, tennis player, and doctor." The tennis player goal had an ulterior motive that maybe she could meet '70s tennis hero Bjorn Borg, she admits. Instead, she became a high school English teacher.
From teacher, she became a novelist. "I love writing stories," she admits. "I was writing for fun on the side, and just having fun" before she came up with the idea for her first novel. Her first comics in the 1970s were Archie Comics, which she calls a great gateway comic because there's no continuity and they're so widely available. "I love visual storytelling, but I'm not an artist." She also cites 1980s Spider-Man, Secret Wars, and the Batman storyline Death In The Family as stories that she loved.
When she saw the first cover of the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel book, "I was like, this is amazing." She asked her literary agent to ask if Marvel would ever be interested in hiring her to write the character, but it took Marvel editors to read her novels before they reached out.
Cebulski boasts that not only is his name the fake name used by Seth Cohen in The OC, but that he's also met Bjorn Borg, much to Ahmed's jealousy.
Cebulski's origin story didn't just come from growing up reading comics -- Uncanny X-Men #121 was his first issue -- but from seeing George Lucas on television as a child and realizing that someone made up the stories that he loves. He went to school for Japanese studies, before getting a job in the anime industry. Eventually, he returned to the US and got a job in the manga and anime industry, where he first met Joe Quesada. Years later, he was hired by Marvel when the company started getting interested in translating manga.
At Marvel, Cebulski went from being a "terrible editor" (in Joe Quesada's words) to working in the talent management department, which he and Quesada built together. "We work on making sure that the best talent not only comes to Marvel but stays with Marvel," he said, even in his current position as editor-in-chief.
Purdin says that newer creators can lack self-awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses. Seeley says that he met a young writer working on a wrestler comic, who was going to work on Hack/Slash but left because he'd been hired by Marvel. "That was Robert Kirkman," he says. He started writing himself because Kirkman left. "If you're an artist, you should try writing, and if you're a writer, you should try drawing," he says, saying that people are capable of more than they're aware of.
Higgins remembers that Quesada asked what he wanted to do at Marvel, but even as he worked on Marvel characters, he kept working on The League short, which would eventually becoming COWL -- a title that came about when Higgins met artist Rod Reis when they were both working at DC.
Higgins remembers that Reis didn't think that he would make a good comic book artist, and was instead just working as a colorist. "I just stayed on him," he says, convincing him to collaborate first on a short, and then working together on The COWL. "It wasn't so much my specific project, but as Tim said, sometimes you see [other people's] stuff and saying, that, that, I want to see more of that."
Purdin says that new creators need encouragment. "To get that kind of feedback from professionals goes a long way."
Ahmed says that she never imagined writing a novel. "I was really 40 years old before I even considered writing a book," she says. "That's why I always say there's no expiration date on your dreams." She adds that people need to learn to say yes to themselves.
Ahmed admits that the first draft of her novel was twice as long as the finished book, saying that the worst thing that can happen when you try new things is failure, but "failure is just a way of learning new things." She says that creators need to have a thick skin, but as a high school teacher, she'd already developed that.
Higgins talks about writer's block. "My mentor used to say, it's not so much writer's block, it's writer's laze." He suggests that people who get stuck on starting new creative projects can be tripped up by their own taste. "We all know what good comics look like, right?" He adds that everyone needs to respect the process, but "the process is, it sucks until it doesn't." The collaborative process of making comics helps, but not as much as simply writing and writing until someone finds their process and their own voice.
Seeley says that he used to not believe in writer's block, because there's no such thing as surgeon's block. Instead, he says that writer's block is "crap sense," which is the idea that writers instinctively know that things aren't working, and they have to go back and finding where the problem is. With experience, he says, you get better at seeing the crap when it's happening.
Higgins talks about fans of Radiant Black going back to reading his 2011 Nightwing run, and seeing his growth. "It's like baby Kyle Higgins," he jokes that they said.
Purdin invites questions, and repeats that just doing the work is what makes creators better. "I don't know how many short stories you have in drawers somewhere, but you've just got to do it." Cebulski says that the first part of doing the job is just getting out of bed.
"It doesn't work for everyone, the freelance life," Cebulski says, pointing out that being creative is just part of it - there's also the need to market yourself, take care of your money, and remember to eat. Seeley says that the last lesson in his drawing class is telling people about taxes. "People say, this is a drawing class, but I'm trying to save your life," Seeley says.
The first question from the audience is about the importance of persistence. How persistent is it acceptable to be. Kyle Higgins says, "every situation and every dynamic is different." Cites a conversation with his agent where he was told, "if someone wants something, you'll know it." "You need to be able to read the room," he adds, but there's a need to stay on the radar once you're on the radar. "There's professional persistence, and then there's pain in the butt persistence," Cebulski says.
Cebulski says that polite persistence pays off. He says that asking every eight to ten weeks is a good guide, but make sure that there's new work to be shown when reaching out again.
Higgins just hired an artist for a cover because of a tag on Instagram. "Right place, right time, there's a lot to be said for that." "People do get struck by lightning sometimes," Purdin says.
Purdin recommends that, when reaching out, it's smarter to go wide, but focus on people who are making work that you like. Cebulski adds, don't just sent your work to editor, send it to other creators as well. "Word of mouth is huge. I cannot stress that hard enough," he says, saying that Brubaker and Bendis got hired through that. He also suggests that assistant and associate editors are good people to contact, because they're hungry to build up their own talent pools.
A second questioner says that their portfolio refects a YA style from previous work. Should they branch out to new and different styles? "Marvel doesn't have a house style anymore," Purdin says, suggesting that creators target publishers who are already working on material close to the style you're working in. Cebulski says that they're specifically looking for creators with different styles for the Infinity Comics format, which deals with different genres.
Higgins is asking the creator about her style, saying that he's curious about artists who know their style and work on books outside of those immediate influences. He says that he'd like to see this artist's portfolio during the show.
Someone is working on a comic with a team of creators, but they can't get their foot in the door with agents. "Do we do agents, do we go to publishers?" You don't need an agent for that, says Seeley. "For most comic publishers, it's not really necessary, and in some ways, it gets in your way a bit." Higgins and Seeley both suggest that creators approach publishers directly.
"I don't want to poo-poo on agents in general, but in comics, especially for smaller publishers, I think it gets in the way," Seeley says.
A questioner mentions that he wishes Marvel had a booth. "So do we," Cebulski says. "Did it in San Diego, everyone got Covid aside from me."
Can people outside of LA or NYC get a chance to work in marketing departments or other divisions of companies, someone asks. Things are different, Purdin says, with the pandemic meaning that people don't necessarily work in the major hub cities at publishers anymore. He also suggests getting a start in smaller ways, and get an awareness of how the business works.
"There is no real base anymore. Zoom is our base," Cebulski says, before suggesting that the questioner visits disneyjobs.com as a potential route for anyone wanting to get into the business. (Branding!)
Someone asks how can someone license Marvel properties for audio adaptation? And additionally, what goes into the process when it comes to creating a new character? The creation of new characters is a collaboration between writer, artist, and editor on any given title, Cebulski says. Purdin says that the response to licenses is emailing email@example.com.
Someone asks about the age limit of internships. It's college age, Purdin says, saying that Marvel has no central base right now but is offering virtual internships.
And with that, the panel is over - with Purdin suggesting that the (long) line of people planning to ask questions catch panelists outside to continue the discussion!
Thanks for reading along, everyone.