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Sunday, March 2, 2003


Mark Alessi, CrossGen's president and CEO, took center stage at MegaCon in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, with a 90-minute panel

He talked at length about his problems with Marvel Comics, CrossGen's initiatives to enable as many readers as possible access to their comics and the company's film and television prospects. He also answered questions from the audience.

Following are highlights:

* On Marvel: Alessi opened his remarks with a 10-minute statement on Marvel's recent initiatives. Following is a transcription:

"If you're a company that says you have the best characters in history, if you're a company that says you have the best writers in the world and you're pulling them from Hollywood, if you're a company that says you have absolute, top-shelf artists, why in God's name do you have to resort to pandering to bright, intelligent people to create sales? And then scaring people to buying on the front end by having a no-reprint policy?

"That's unacceptable. Unacceptable to retailers, and that's unacceptable to the fans. That disturbs me.

"Because it's not about … if you want to write a book about gay heroes, God bless you. That should be done. There's brave gay people out there, and that's the way it is. If you write want to write books about Afro-American leaders, well, God bless you, you should. We've got one in Obregon Kaine that we think we've handled incredibly well and appropriately.

"But when you take a cowboy who, for 20 years, was a whiskey-drinkin', gun-totin', evil-killin' person who chased women, and the next thing you know he's gone through some sort of a sexual transformation for a six-issue mini-series… I'm sorry, that disappoints me. I've got some of the Rawhide Kids sitting at home in my collection, and it's different than the current Rawhide Kid.

"The last time I looked, Captain America was white. I think that it's important that we do more and more comics that address cultural areas and bring more people into the mainstream of comics. But I think there's a way to do it properly and correctly and I think there's a way to do it improperly.

"When you start doing things like making those changes for a six-issue mini-series so you can publicize it and get on CNN, well, now you disgust me.

"There's some terrific black characters out there. The Black Panther, I grew up reading that. We worked very, very hard to make Obregon Kaine the kind of individual every single person - not just black people - will emulate because he truly he is a hero.

"I think you can't do what they're doing. They think it's wrong. It's important that you guys recognize they're wrong. If you agree, God bless you, but their product. But if you disagree, vote with your dollars.

"Once upon they came out with something, Spider-Man that Clone series. Do you recall that? Well, the fans said, 'This is really stupid.' And they stopped buying the book. And guess what happened? The Clone Saga went away. It never should have started, but you guys closed it down. You don't realize how much influence that you have.

"They sit in rooms and they make business decisions and they say, 'Heck, they're going to continue to buy these books anyway because they don't want a gap in their collection.' And I felt that way myself. I've gone through the trauma of stopping a collecting and going, 'Oh man, maybe it will get better. I'll buy just one more.' And pretty soon I can't stand it.

"Well, if you don't agree with the changes…

"If you have the interest as a publisher to make a comic book about real heroes - firemen, paramedics, police officers - God bless you. They do things that protect us everyday all over this country. If you come out with that series after 9-11, you're using one of the greatest tragedies in American history as a marketing ploy.

"I'm sorry. I salute you if you do it before 9-11, you disgust me if you do it after 9-11. Thousands of people died, and we (Marvel) promoted comic books. Not only did we promote comic books, we hyped the heck out of it so retailers bought them by the droves, and now they're sitting back there with a ton of Valiant comics. And pretty soon, they'll be in the penny box and we'll shred these things so we can send stuffed toys from China with them.

"It's not acceptable. You got to stop it. You have to make the decision yourself. You guys are actually in charge. It's hard for you guys to believe it, but we don't sit in glass houses. We sit out there and see what you want at CrossGen and we try to do the right kinds of things.

"I'm disappointed with things like the MAX line. I don't know about you, but I grew up reading Nick Fury, and I thought it was a terrific book. And when I last recollected Nick Fury and one of his best friends was Gabe, who was black.

"Well, the next thing I know, I pick up a MAX line book, and Nick Fury is a racist and he's sleeping with a whole bunch of Asian prostitutes. And we wonder why people are nervous about putting comic books in front of our kids. I'm afraid to read that comic and I'm 50.

"We have to start making a change. And I think part of the problem is the management. I think Bill Jemas, unfortunately, has a contempt for fans. They're putting out the book Elektra and he defines it as a date book. So this is what those guys who read comics can do on a Saturday night because they have nothing else to do. It's "Bad girls for fanboys who are geeks." Well, that shows tremendous respect. Both for your intelligence and your ability on a Saturday night to get dates.

"That whole thing with Peter David … c'mon, give me a break. I'm really smart. I think I'm smarter than Jemas will ever be. And I can't outwrite Peter David. Peter David's an excellent writer. He writes novels, he writes comics … I can't always agree with his subject matter, but he's superior.

"So we (Marvel) create this 'who's better than who' thing, publicize the heck out of it, so they sell a bunch of comics that aren't worth being printed. And we buy into this hype. And when we are going to stop that? You guys have got to stop it. You've got to talk to each other and talk to your friends and say, "This is no longer acceptable."

"And (Joe) Quesada, I actually feel sorry for him. Joe Quesada is a talented professional who's been in the industry and who has done some great work. And he's been told what to do so often that I mp longer can tell whether the words coming out of Joe's mouth and the things that Joe truly believes in anymore or what he's been told to do."

* On CrossGen personnel: Alessi said past and upcoming creative changes are mostly planned and with a purpose.

"I don't want to fire people, I don't want to transfer them out of the company," Alessi said. "But if you've drawn a book for two years or three years, you're going to get tired of drawing the same character. You're not going to grow as an individual and I want to keep those fine people.

"So every two to three years, we're going to switch creators from book to book, writers, pencilers, inkers and colorists. Because I have respect for them and I want them to grow and I want them to become more talented. I want to get them an opportunity to expand their skills within our framework and within our stories."

Alessi said CrossGen's turnover has been 3 percent. "In one month, 30 people can change titles at Marvel and one person can quit at CrossGen and it's, 'Chicken Little, the sky if falling.'"

* On Cinescape: Alessi said that The Snake Plissken Chronicles, from Hurricane Entertainment, will likely be the second CrossGen title that will be bound into the science-fiction magazine.

* On comparing popularity of CrossGen titles: Alessi said that Meridian is the worst-selling comics title but the best-selling trade paperback. Sojourn has been the top-selling comic, bumped recently by the Lady Death revival, and Negation is the most-read comic on CrossGen's Comics on the Web.

* On CrossGen's books being a "slower" read: "They say comic from CrossGen are a slower read," Alessi said. "That's right, they are a slower read. Maybe we actually have a story to tell."

Alessi said that he received many letters initially about The First that were negative, but as the story progressed through many issues, the response grew positive.

"It's because we make books that are designed to be long continuing epics," he said. "If you get Comics on the Web (COW), you don't have to buy every single one of our books that are monthly on the shelves. I did it so you can turn to every friend you have and say, 'Take a subscription to Comics on the Web because you'll never be lost.' You can always go back to the beginning and you can always get caught up in CrossGen continuity."

* On CrossGen's TV and film plans: "There are two (movie) deals that will be in production this year, worst case," Alessi said. "One TV show will be in pilot, worst case. And by the end of this year, there will be at least eight to nine movie deals and two to three television deals that will come out over the next two to three years."

CrossGen will stage a TV/film panel on Sunday. Chuck Russell, who is writing and directing the Way of the Rat feature film, will not be able to attend as scheduled because of an injury, but will be sending a 10-minute taped message.

Alessi said he understands that adaptations of CrossGen properties won't be completely literal. "Some things will be real true and some things will be different," he said.

In addition, Alessi said CrossGen will be teaming with "big, Empire State Building-like names" from Hollywood on Code 6 Comics titles.

* Responding to a question about CrossGen titles featuring gay or black characters: "I have no objections at all. It just has to make sense and not be done in an inappropriate and demeaning manner," Alessi said.

"We have gay guys working for us, if that helps. It won't be a conscious decision to put in a gay character just to placate people."

* Responding to a question about if CrossGen will do a Western: "We're doing a pirate book, so maybe a Western will be next," Alessi said. "I'm a bit concerned about doing a Western with the backlash against Rawhide Kid."

* On future stories considering the fairly real-time quality to the CrossGen Universe: "Our books are not going to end," Alessi said. "We have a whole second generation of epics. Some people are actually going to die. And if they die in the CrossGen Universe, they stay dead. Some people are going to grow, and there will be some new heroes to step into the roles of the father or mother."

Alessi said there will be more Sigil-based books.

On Edge becoming Vector: Alessi said the name was changed due to potential trademark issues. Instead of possible costly legal issues, it was decided to just change the name.

* On the number of CrossGen titles: "We don't have any limit plans, as long as we can maintain the quality" Alessi said. "I don't want our fans to buy every single book that comes out. Try them as the comics come out, buy the ones you like and read the rest on COW.

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