I'm dusting off some mothballs here to keep the content flowing over the Thanksgiving Day week/weekend. Today, I'm bringing to you an interview I conducted with Tom Brevoort back in October 2001, shortly after he became editor on Fantastic Four. This interview takes place prior to Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo even having been announced as the creative team on that title...
S Kleefeld: I know that you've been getting increasingly busy over the past weeks and months, but I was hoping that you might have a few spare moments to answer some questions for my web site. You're certainly in a unique position when it comes to your relationship with the Fantastic Four, and I think you could provide some fascinating insights into the creation of the book.
If I'm not mistaken, you're earliest extended work with the FF was actually as co-writer of Fantastic Force. Since the team's creators, Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, were still working on the main FF book, how did the Fantastic Force comic come across your lap?
Tom Brevoort: You're mistaken. The earliest work I did with the FF was the story in Fantastic Four Unlimited #8, which remains a favorite. It saw print after FanForce #1, so I can understand your confusion.
As for how I got involved with FanForce, originally, the series was to have been done by another creative team altogether. You may have seen previews for this version in Marvel Age and elsewhere. But after months of going back and forth, things reached an impasse, and that creative team resigned from the book -- which left the editors with a book to produce in short order and nobody to do it. That Unlimited story had been well-received by most people who read it, and assistant editor Joe Andreani was a very vocal advocate for giving Mike and I the book based on that. And so it came to pass.
SK: You actually worked on the book with your long-time friend and associate, Mike Kanterovich. How did the two of you work together on the book?
TB: The routine methodology was that we'd talk through the plot for a given issue over the phone, to the point where I had a sheet of paper listing what was on each page, and then I'd go off and type up the plot. When penciled pages came in, Mike would write the first draft of script, I'd write the second draft, then we'd get on the phone and read through the whole mess again and again, refining the script as we went until we were happy with it (or just too tired to care anymore.)
SK: At the time, the book struck me as unique for several production reasons, one of which was that the regular artist, Dante Bastianoni, was actually working out of Italy, if I'm not mistaken. It's one of the earliest instances I'm aware of where Marvel hired an overseas artist for a monthly series. Were there any logistical problems that came up as a result of that?
TB: Not at the start. Dante had penciled that Unlimited story and done a bang-up job, so he was all right with us. It became a problem later on, in that Dante could only manage to do about 16 pages a month. We were asked to switch over to a 16 page lead story and a 6 page back-up in terms of plotting after a while -- but whenever we'd write an issue that way, Dante or someone else'd end up drawing it all, thus defeating the purpose, and whenever we'd write a full 22-page issue somebody else would end up penciling the last 6 pages. That's not Dante's fault, of course -- it's more a question of poor editorial planning.
SK: One of the other unique "production" aspects of the book, as I recall, was your and Mike's online presence at the time. I believe the first online chat I attended was actually where you first announced that She-Hulk would be joining the team. Did you, at the time, have the sense what a big part the internet would soon play in promoting comics or were you more interested in the immediate feedback that was difficult to find until then?
TB: Well, I liked the immediate feedback, certainly. I think the Internet gives you a rather skewed picture of the readership as a whole, though, so I always try to keep it in context.
SK: In the years since then, I've come to learn some of your attitudes regarding how comics should be made and, looking back, it seems that Fantastic Force went counter to some of those notions. The concept, for example, seemed -- not to offend you, of course; I think the stories and character interactions were well done -- but the concept itself seemed a little contrived. And the series, being spun out of the main Fantastic Four book, had a lot more crossovers than it seems you'd be comfortable with. I'm curious how much of that came from various editors, and how much were simply things you've been thinking about differently since then.
TB: If there's a way not to launch a series, Fantastic Force was it. As I recall, the original idea came up in response to a column Tony Isabella had written in the aftermath of books like X-Force and Force Works, concerned that the same would be done to Fantastic Four. The plan was never to replace FF, but part of the strategy was to make it seem like FF was going to be replaced -- which was probably not the best idea in the world. So, inspired by this article, Tom DeFalco started brainstorming who would be in this new spin-off group. He came up with a roster, and then Mark Gruenwald and other tweaked it, turning it into something much like what it ended up being (Kismet would have been in the series at one point). But there wasn't any central core concept, nothing that separated FanForce from everything else -- no reason for being. And that was a big problem.
When we were brought in to write the series, Mike and I looked at the pieces that were there on the table, and tried to retrofit a central concept to what already existed. And what we came up with is that Fantastic Four is about four once-ordinary people who go out and get involved in the extraordinary, but Fantastic Force, given the roster of characters we had, would be about a group of extraordinary people, from diverse cultures, nations, times, who get involved in the ordinary world of downtown Manhattan. Everybody agreed that this made sense and was the way to go -- and yet, when we started working ont he book, we were always being pushed away from dealing with anything in this vein. There are a bunch of false starts that you can see in teh early issues, things that were being set up but really didn't get a chance to go anywhere because we were being told, "More fighting!" editorially. Also, the editor had taken Tom DeFalco's request for single issue stories initially a bit to literally -- Tom didn't mean not to have subplots, but that each issue should have a set-up and payoff in one installment (much like his later MC2 books). But this was interpreted so dogmatically that we couldn't get any sort of flow or momentum going.
Beyond that, the biggest drawback with the crossovers was that we hit them one after another, so for about three months right in the middle of the run we were telling anybody's story but our own. And the couple of things we asked other people to set up in other chapters ended up being botched. Fantastic Force was never a high priority editorally, so ti always seemed to get the short end of the stick in terms of people paying attention to it and making sure all of the ducks were in a row.
SK: Speaking of crossovers, the book had a lot of direct and indirect tie-ins with Tom and Paul's book. How much did you work with them to ensure that you weren't stepping on each others' toes?
TB: Tom and Paul were great. Tom particularly bent over backwards on some of our crazier ideas, such as bringing the Human Torch into FanForce as a member. We didn't work terribly closely with Tom and Paul -- most of the coordination was handled editorially -- and every once in a while there'd be some frustrating roadblock (as when the last page of #7 was rewritten poorly because Paul hadn't gotten the correct reference from the office when he came to draw the following FF chapter, and he'd set things up differently), but all in all they were great to deal with.
SK: The series ended more or less in tandem with the coming of Onslaught and Heroes Reborn. Was it cancelled directly because the organizational shuffling to get all of Marvel's characters back to their "status quo" or was it more of a sales concern?
TB: My understanding was that it was a sales issue. The book was simply not selling well by the end.
SK: Since then, of course, you've gone on to edit some of the most well-received titles in Marvel's stable. With your experience, I wouldn't think you would have been overly concerned about adding the Fantastic Four to your list, but you came on just before their 40th anniversary issue with the popular, regular creators choosing to leave shortly afterwards. Was there any sense of intimidation on your part, starting on a book with some of these big obstacles in front of you?
TB: Concern, but not intimidation. Fantastic Four is the book to have. I refer to it as "climbing the mountain." There's no other series I'd more want to edit. So sure, the problems were problems, but they weren't any more or less difficult than if I had similar problems on Thor or Avengers or Iron Man.
SK: It seems that most fans of the book have been fairly happy with the direction Carlos [Pacheco] and Rafael [Marin] have taken the book. Are you hoping to continue focusing on the same types of themes, or are there other angles that you'd care to bring to more prominence? Any long-term plans past the anniversary?
TB: In a nutshell, I think the malaise Fantastic Four has found itself in over the last decade stems from its longetivity. When the book began, and through much of its early years, it was a vibrant, colorful series with characters whose personalities crackled off the page. But four decades of familiarity have made the FF seem lifeless. The characters have often fallen into schtick, into narowly-defined roles (or, occasionally, written so far removed from those roles that they didn't seem like the same characters at all.) People have forgotten what makes these characters cool and interesting. They've ceased to see them with fresh eyes. So that's job one -- to remind people in the most direct way possible how fascinating and engaging the Fantastic Four can be.
SK: One of the first things fans saw you do as the new FF editor was to ask about what stories they'd like to see if you did a "monster" issue. I presume you're allowing some time after the over-sized 50th issue before asking fans to buy another giant issue. Any idea when a monster FF might show up? And have you made any decisions about what stories to include?
TB: Fantastic Four #54. It'll include the birth of Franklin story from FF Annual #6 (Stan and Jack's longest single FF story) as well as the Impossible Man's New York Adventure from FF #176 by Roy Thomas and George Pérez.
SK: One last, obligatory question: who have you got lined up as the new, regular creative team for the FF?
TB: Wait and see. Once we're ready to announce who'll be working on the book, you'll certainly hear about it. But not until we're ready.
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