On Sunday at D23 Expo 2022, Marvel editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski and comics artist Humberto Ramos joined Marvel Comics fans for a surprise panel, Marvel Fanfare. Over the course of the hour-long 'fire-side chat,' Cebulski and Ramos talked about their careers and how the Marvel brand has changed over the years. With Mexico's Independence Day being September 16, special focus was given to how Ramos, a Mexican creator, broke into the American comic book industry and what that representation meant to the people of Mexico.
"I started working back in Mexico when I was 20 years old," says Ramos, who later admitted that his parents didn't want him to be a comic book artist. Instead, he went to school to study graphic design. However, although he had a plan B, he got his first job working on comic books in Mexico at Kaboom Cómics as he finished school. But it wasn't until later in his life that he made it into the US comic book industry, which can be hard for international creators to break into.
Ramos recounted his work history to the audience, stating, "I went to San Diego Comic-Con in 1992 and got picked by a little publisher called Milestone Media. I went to DC and worked there for eight years, maybe, and finally, Marvel got a hold of me."
"My first gig at Marvel in 1996 was X-Nation 2099, but it was a short run. I was there for two issues, and then I had to walk away," the Strange Academy creator added. "I came back in 2003 with the Peter Parker: Spider-Man book. I always wanted to draw a Spider-Man; that's my favorite character. He's the one and only. There's nobody else."
With Ramos' mention of Spider-Man, the conversation quickly turned to Mexico's El Sorprendente Hombre Araña (back in the '60s and '70s, there were official Spider-Man reprints and original Spider-Man comics created in Mexico), with Cebulski asking Ramos about the Mexican Spider-Man editions.
"I've heard them, but that was before my time," responds Ramos. "I've been told that back in the day, the books in Mexico were published weekly, unlike in the US, where books are published monthly. So at some point, [La Prensa, the Spanish language publisher at the time] caught up and had no more stories to tell. Hence, they told this guy in Mexico to draw some Spider-Man stories himself, and he did, and they have become some kind of mythic artifact to find for a comic book collector."
Marvel’s growth has changed how people are introduced to the characters
Ramos and Cebulski then switched the topic of discussion to how Marvel has changed over the years to become such an all-encompassing brand, which Cebulski describes as a human body.
"Right now, Marvel Studios is the head. It's what many people see first, getting the most exposure, as you saw this weekend with all the amazing stuff from the Studios and all the buzz it got online. Then, the arms of the body are like the animation and television divisions. The legs are like the consumer products division, including all the amazing costumes, underwear, bedsheets, lunchboxes, pins, figures, and everything else we buy to put on our shelves because that moves the Marvel body along. But Marvel Comics, what we do, that's the heart: one, that's where it started, and two, it's what continues to kind of push the blood through the body."
Cebulski adds, "The amazing thing that we've seen over the last 10 years, especially with the synergy, is that we've been able to achieve is that blood goes through the body, but then it comes back to Marvel." He continued on to say that Marvel Comics likes to take a lot of clues from all the cool stuff done by Marvel Entertainment in other mediums, adding that a good recent example is Alligator Loki.
"The Loki show came up with the Alligator Loki character, and we fell in love with the character," Cebulski says. "So after talking with some of the producers and Kevin, we said we'd love to take that idea and bring Alligator Loki into Marvel Comics. So it's that amazing synergy we have now working between our divisions where fans get the best of everything. The producers take what they love from the comics and put it on their screens. We're taking what they have on their screens and putting it back into comics. So it is this wonderful, sinister, symbiotic relationship that we have."
"Of course, I agree with you," Ramos chimes in, "but we are also the brains."
Cebulski adds that Marvel Studios president (and chief creative officer of Marvel as a whole) Kevin Feige is very open to input.
"We have these creative discussions between the Studios in the comic book divisions, so we can keep them up to date on what we're doing, and they can keep us up to date because that kind of collaboration just makes the product stronger," elaborates Cebulski. "Because we know what they have coming up, and they know what we have coming up in comics, we can actually pull any story points that they want for any of the animation or TV series or pull things that we want. So it's a great working relationship. And Kevin's a wonderful person and one of the most creative people you will ever meet."
Superheroes as a medium (not genre) and their impact
Ramos said that when people tell him the superhero genre is dead, he responds with, "No way, it's just starting because this will grow bigger and better, more exciting."
"It's interesting that you talk about genre because superheroes itself isn't a genre, but it's more of a medium," says Cebulski in response to Ramos. "If you look back, Spider-Man may be celebrating 60 amazing years, but at this point, the Marvel Universe itself is 83 or 84 years old, starting with the days of Atlas Comics," when the company was focusing on romance comics, war comics, horror comics, and sci-fi comics and not superheroes comics, which didn't happen until Fantastic Four #1 in 1961.
"I think it was Kelly Sue DeConnick, one of the writers so influential on Captain Marvel, who pointed out that the Marvel Universe and the stories we're telling is the longest continuous fictional narrative in human history," Cebulski adds.
While Marvel is about superheroes, one of the points Cebulski and Ramos reiterated throughout the panel was that the company takes pride in telling stories for everybody because, as most True Believers know, Marvel is the world outside your window. However, what was interesting about this portion of the discussion was the diversification of the Marvel Comics stories was partially attributed to Kevin Feige's vision for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"You look at all those superhero movies, and they're all different: Captain America: The First Avenger was a war picture; Captain America: The Winter Soldier was more of a spy film; Ant-Man was almost a romantic comedy; and, of course, Guardians the Galaxy was a sci-fi epic. All the Marvel movies and all the Marvel characters and franchises all play into different genres while they are superhero movies," says Cebulski. "I think that's the magic of Marvel. There is something for everyone. It's the different genres that we play in, and it's the relatability."
"We all can find something that we can relate to in these characters, and it changes as we grow. When I was younger, I could never relate to Peter Parker. He was a high school kid, and then he was a college kid, and I could never relate to him. I related more to Kitty Pryde because she was a younger character. She was stepping into the X-Men world, a very apt metaphor for young kids and preteens. As I got older, like in high school, I started to get what Peter Parker is. And for some reason, when I was in college, I understood what Bruce Banner was, just kind of confused and angry at different things in the world."
Unlike his boss and friend, Ramos is all Web-Head. His love is only reserved for Mr. 60 himself, Spider-Man – although the creator added that all the Marvel characters "are fun to work with now that [he] is drawing them" – because Peter Parker is not just a comic book character but a "moral compass."
Ramos then explained how Peter Parker had shaped the course of his life, and it's not in the way you thiiiiink (now re-read this sentence in She-Hulk's breakout character and Wong's new The Sopranos buddy Madisynn's voice).
"When I was a kid, I started reading [Spider-Man] about this kid who was in school, and he has this many issues in his personal life, and at the same time, he has to save the world or the city at least. He has to choose between the greater good even when that decision would eventually cause him a personal loss, whether failing a test or some of his lovable people. So the iconic phrase, 'With great power, comes great responsibility,' wasn't just a comic book tagline. It was the real thing. I try to build my adult persona on that statement, and it's hard to do the right thing or what you think is right. But I always try to be Peter, not Spider-Man. Peter is that important in my life because of what he brings to me as a person, and I want to believe that this is what people can get when they read about him or analyze his movies. I still believe in goodness. I still have faith in this world."
C.B. Cebulski and Humberto Ramos fondly remember Stan Lee, the comic book industry's Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Mick Jagger, all in one package
Cebulski and Ramos also took a moment to geek out over Stan Lee, sharing with the audience a particularly special moment they shared with Tom Holland and Lee at Conque, a comic book convention in Mexico. But to tell the rest of this story, first, we have to go back to when Cebulski first met Stan Lee.
"Right out of college, I was visiting LA. I was at a table in Carneys, and suddenly I heard, 'I'll have a chili burger and a beer please,'' recalled Cebulski in Stan's voice iconic voice.
"I turned around, and there he was. My mind was blown. I was like, 'What am I supposed to do?' I couldn't eat. I was so nervous that I had butterflies in my stomach, so I quickly finished what I had and went outside to wait and introduce myself to Stan Lee, like a stalker. Sure enough, Stan came out with his manager, who I got to know later, Gill [Champion]. I said, 'Excuse me, Mr. Lee,' and the manager said, 'I'm sorry, kid, we're in a rush.' And Stan's like, 'Oh no, what is it?' I was like, 'I'm a big Marvel fan. I just wanted to say hello and thank you for everything you've done for me in my life and the path you've put me on."
Cebulski continued, "He was great about it, and that's the kind of person he was. He would just stop and talk to everybody. He loved it."
Celebrating Humberto Ramos (who celebrated Dan Slott)
About halfway through the Marvel Fanfare fireside chat, Cebulski and Ramos opened it up to questions (as long as they weren't about the plans of Marvel Studios). And excitingly, the first question came from Kamala Khan's Spanish voice actor, Nicole Florencia, who was attending the D23 Expo with her family.
Florencia's mom began, "I just want to thank you for everything you're doing, especially for Humberto. But dreams do come true. You know, for us in Mexico, we work hard for this, and we're very proud of you."
After congratulating the young voice actor, Ramos said, "That's what Marvel is, right? As kids, many of us back in the day, in the '80s because I'm that old, we had no internet, no FedEx, and none of these technological bridges that shorten the distances. Picture this kid in Mexico who wants to be a comic book artist, and there are a few ways to get into this industry. So now that I learn more about people from Mexico, my country, the place I love, coming up at all levels, it makes me feel proud."
Next, the discussion turned to one of Ramos's major Marvel projects, Superior Spider-Man, written by Dan Slott (and I appreciated how Cebulski and Ramos summed up the plot for anyone unfamiliar instead of assuming people had read it). "People were pissed. The writer Dan Slott, who is my good friend, and a great artist, got death threats," says Ramos. "However, issue by issue, Dan, because he's that good, convinced people," and by the end of the run, "people wanted Dr. Octopus to stay as Spider-Man."
But before people changed their minds, the harassment got so bad that law enforcement got involved. "The FBI came to the Marvel offices actually to see if there was enough threat from people to start investigating," Cebulski adds, "but because of Dan's ability to tell a story and Ramos's ability to illustrate it, we brought that to life."
"It was a great moment," both agreed.
Revisit all of Popverse's D23 Expo 2022 coverage.