When IDW announced that they had hired Nachie Marsham to be their new publisher, his name probably wasn’t that familiar to comics fans. Although he’d done time at Wizard and DC, he’d spent more than a decade at Disney Press, a role mostly out of the public eye. However, as those who know him are aware, Marsham has a keen mind for comics, publishing, media and how it all fits together, as the following interview shows. As IDW negotiates the twists and turns of this COVID year and beyond, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from him.
I’ve known Marsham for a long time, and I was excited to get his first interview in his new role. We had an in-depth chat, and the interview will run in two parts. I caught up with Marsham from his office in the attic of his home two weeks ago.
Heidi MacDonald: Well first off, congratulations! I’m very excited for you to get this great opportunity!
Nachie Marsham: Thank you. It’s a really exciting thing for me as well – I feel like I have something to be honestly excited about in the year of chaos 2020, but it is very exciting. It’s been a hell of a four weeks, but it’s a good deal.
MacDonald: So you and I are long acquainted but I’d say you’ve kept a fairly low public profile in the comics industry in recent years. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your history in comics and how it led you to IDW?
Marsham: Sure. My first gig was actually with Wizard Magazine’s larger umbrella. I had an internship there the summer after my junior year of college, which turned into a full time research assistant, leading into an assistant editor position, first with the magazines, Wizard and Inquest. Of all of the nerd intern candidates, I think I was the one nerd who both read comics and played a lot of Magic. They were cool cards too!
MacDonald: The Magic Connection!
Marsham: Exactly. I was more than happy to sit around with all these things that I could never afford on my own, in addition to this comic library that I could never afford on my own. It started off there, and I bounced over to their version of the website back in the late Nineties when every single person on the planet had a burgeoning website. I was there for a little bit as an assistant editor and then I jumped ship and went over to DC editorial, working initially in the Batman group. And then that kind of mutated over the years into the Superman group I was there for almost nine years and worked on a staggering number of titles. As you can imagine, getting my first chance to work in publishing ended up being a great step for what came later, with some of the things that were going on with the Cartoon Network or the Batman animated series world, which was a lot of fun. Obviously in mainstream comics, it’s all heavy continuity, everything was intertwined and interconnected, and to be given a book where the edict and purpose of it was to do something cool every month. That’s actually much more amazingly liberating and creatively interesting than people might think it would be. But also — and not to make it sound like I had anything to do with the creation of these, I was the assistant editor — but to be around for things like Brubaker and Rucka and Lark making Gotham Central and Ed and Darwyn Cooke reinventing what Catwoman could be, and working on Superman reboots, was very educational and a lot of fun.
And then after about nine years, I kind of hit the wall and/or ceiling from the comics industry side of things and jumped ship over to Disney Publishing where I was for about 12 years in a handful of different capacities. I worked on some sequential stuff here and there when I could talk people into it or when it aligned properly with the franchises or characters. But the large majority of what I did was kids or all ages publishing, usually heavily illustrated, just because it was my background and what I was always super into. So I like to think I was one of the first people to always be like, okay, that sounds like a great book for middle grade, but wouldn’t it be better if we had a lot of original illustrations that would probably be a giant pain in the neck, but also make for a really cool unique product. People would either be very excited or facepalm or some combination of both. But it meant that we could be inventive with a lot of the stuff. And that was with almost everything that the Walt Disney company can bring to bear, which I know is itself a large statement, but I think over my 12 years there, I’ve worked on every brand size that was possible with the exception of the Lucasfilm stuff, although I was on a sister team with a lot of that. Whether it was the live action movies, studio features, animation, Pixar, TV animation, TV live action, Marvel Studios — I worked with creating original and extension books and franchises for a lot of existing properties. And also a lot of new IP development concepts that were just kicking around. So a lot of different stuff!
MacDonald: It sounds a lot like the boot camp that I got when I was at Disney Adventures in the previous time period. Now, you and I are both double dippers, because we both worked at Warner Brothers and Disney, which gives you a very unique viewpoint on things, I will say. You and I have talked over the years and I remember the first time you showed me some of your illustrated books at Disney and they were Marvel characters – I think it was pretty recent after the acquisition. And they had the Marvel characters, but then they had this classic Disney illustrated look to them and I was like, wow, this is really gonna work! I could see the magic of the brand mixing happening in front of my eyes.
Marsham: Yeah. And that was always like the big challenge and whether it was those initial things that we did as the Marvel Press imprint was getting up and running after the acquisition, or anything really, it was like, especially with Marvel, how do we not do what they’re doing because they are doing it really, really well. But how do we take [a property] and be, here’s something for a four-year-old, here’s something for an eight-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 14-year-old, whoever it’s going to be, that can be like additive to the main franchise and ideally in a perfect world, make someone super excited to be like, ooh, I would love to read more about this character, what else can I see? And then you can lead into early readers or you lead into comics.
So it was a good challenge in terms of trying to figure out how to make something unique, and honestly, to leverage what Disney Publishing could bring to the table, when you are in a company that the sun never sets on, while being super true to what Marvel needs to be. I was saying to some of the Marvel franchise team when we were saying goodbye to everybody from Disney Publishing, I was like, but I’ll probably talk to you guys in two weeks. So going over to IDW was like, oh, great, this is awesome. The licensors are — checks notes — the Walt Disney Company and Marvel and Lucasfilms. So it’s a lot of continuation, no matter what.
MacDonald: You’re coming to IDW at an interesting time. And I mean, all the times are interesting, but obviously, COVID is changing everything about the business. Me and my friends have really started admitting to ourselves, there’s before and after, and it’s not going to go back to the same. So it’s a challenge, but it’s kind of exciting too.
Marsham: Yeah, very, very much so. My coming over to IDW as publisher was like 2020, a little chaotic and weird. IDW is going through a lot of changes itself over the past year or so. And so a lot of it for me has been how do we, as quickly as possible, just stabilize things and make sure that everyone can feel like, no matter what is going on outside of the doors — the metaphorical doors and the literal doors like the door to the attic that I’m in right now. Outside of us as a company, we can only control so much, but we can certainly make everything as stable as possible inside for ourselves, for our relationship with talent, for our relationships with the retailers. And hey, that’s just a good thing to be able to do because, you know, everyone wants to do a good job and we’re all professionals here. I was really, really excited once I started talking to people here, about how many ideas that everyone had and brought to the table about the various ways that we can strengthen the company as we’re moving forward. But also it’s just how much everyone is kind of like, okay, things have been crazy, and now everyone is kind of holding hands. That is invigorating. And then hopefully it makes everyone have the intestinal fortitude to be like, okay, now I’m going to go read the newspaper a little bit more. That can be emotionally draining.
MacDonald: Very true. I find my ‘fun times’ running the Beat are a pleasant respite from my spare time watching the news sometimes [laughs]. So yeah, obviously IDW has been in the news quite a bit, not always for the reasons you want it to be in the news, but just over the past four weeks they’ve made some really fantastic hires, brought on some great people, promoted some great people. So can you talk about what is the structure at IDW right now? I know there’s Publishing, there’s Entertainment and it seems like things have been rejiggered a little bit.
Marsham: We have IDW Publishing and IDW Entertainment and really the goal is, when the project is correct and the creators are interested or whoever might be driving the IP forward is interested, to be able to leverage both the publishing wing and the entertainment wing of the company hand in hand. Literally the folks I was talking to before getting on this call was folks on the entertainment side talking about a couple of future projects from the comic side that they’re like looking at shopping around. Especially in this world where larger media companies are trying to get involved and make something the biggest thing on the planet, we want to find a way that’s not gigantic and hyperbolic. Find the right titles both across the IDW side and the Top Shelf side. And then where applicable being able to say, we have this entertainment company that can help turn something that has been planned as a book or comic that someone’s going to hold in their hands but we have the channel to talk about turning that into a show or a movie. We have the channel for talking about going further than the specific media that might’ve been envisioned, especially in a world where there are so many creators who are coming to things from a broader starting point in the first place. People who might be really interested in getting into animation are flexing their muscles in some form of sequential art as a way to figure out how they’re going to increase their career there, or vice versa. People who may be working in a different field but really want to be able to put their dream story together in a way that can be much more simplified and streamlined. It’s something that is very unique to the world of comics and graphic novels, as opposed to a world where you might have 17 people in a room telling you what shade of red something should be. We can offer that up.
And you know we’re not looking to have a ginormous list. I know in the past couple of years, there’ve been times where we’ve published probably more comics per month than [we should have], because there’s only so much shelf space up there. And that was before we got to March when things turned on their heads even more. So I’m really interested in making sure we’re publishing the right titles that we’re excited about, that we can promote and make noise about. So that everyone feels like this is the home where their stories should be.
MacDonald: Yeah. It’s almost kind of like it’s the era of Uber-licensing, like you’re saying, with all the crossovers between all of these kinds of media. Obviously streaming now is such a huge part of that with everyone housebound or housebound to come. Looking at the success of The Boys and Old Guard, Umbrella Academy and Locke and Key, comics are very much still in the media mix.
Marsham: Very much. I think that it is accepted in a way that isn’t surprising to people anymore, which is great. For a while there was kind of the superhero comics media boom, and people kept being like, oh, okay, well, this next one’s not gonna work. But people picked up that there might be successes and failures, but that it’s something that works in media in general. And coming out of that, I’ve been very pleased to see [how] people talk about it. It took a long time for Locke & Key to actually come to fruition the way that it has right now with Netflix, but it is not like a giant shocking surprise to a lot of the people that I’ve talked to, even before coming on board with IDW, that a show like that could get made and could come from comics. People just assume that comics and graphic novels can be strong stories. It’s also nice for people to go into a room and [be told] we want you to get up to speed with this story. Here’s a 200-page graphic novel, as opposed to here’s this 900 page book you need to be able to completely digest. But it means that there’s more of an appetite for smaller and simpler, more straightforward stories. And I think that is one of the things that I’m really excited about being able to bring to the table at IDW. If something is envisioned as an ongoing that could get to issue #1000 or whatever, great! I want that sort of ambition from people, but if someone’s also like, here’s this 200-odd pages long story with a beginning, middle and an end, great.
In part 2, Marsham talks about IDW’s plans for graphic novel, kids’ books, the Turtles and more.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]