[During his six years as Assistant Manager, Marketing Communications at Marvel Comics, Jim McCann definitely established himself as a member of the Nicest Guy In Comics squad and was a constant presence for fans at convention panels and in the booth—and helped out The Beat on more than one occasion. This Thursday, 5/6, will be his last day on staff at Marvel, however, as he leaves to pursue his writing career with both regular Marvel writing gigs and a stiking creator-owned project, THE RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN,coming this fall from Archaia. As McCann mentions in the interview, he long had a background in writing, but his outgoing nature usually ended up spinning him towards marketing jobs; now he’s following his dream path.
McCann has definitely been in the middle of some of Marvel’s wildest rides over the last six years, and when he suggested an “exit interview,” I thought it would be a good way to look back on them. You won’t find too much muckraking here—McCann could easily segue into inspirational speaking—and things get a little sad at the end, but there’s a big musical number for a finale.]
The Beat: Jim, it seems we hardly knew ye. Was it only six years ago that you were a fresh-faced youngster breaking down the doors at Marvel? How does it feel looking back on your time at the House of Ideas?
Jim McCann: It feels like it was all a dream. I mean, seriously, did I actually quit my job and sell my house in Nashville, TN, and move to New York on the HOPE that I would land a job at Marvel? Much less, I actually DID land a job at Marvel? And now I’m LEAVING my job at Marvel to pray I land on my feet as a writer…writing MARVEL comics (and creator-owned books—you can take the boy outta marketing, as the modified saying goes…that I just modified)?!?!?
I had no idea what I would be walking into when I started at Marvel. Would they like me? Would it live up to everything I’d imagined since I was 10 years old? What if everyone were really robots?! Every possible thought went through my head when I started. And the ultimate conclusion—I didn’t find a job at Marvel, I found my new family. That’s due in very large part to the people that hired me and have been my bosses over the years—David Bogart, David Gabriel, John Dokes, Mike Pasciullo, Joe Quesada, and Dan Buckley.
They foster that feeling of family. I got to know the PEOPLE behind the comics, behind the credits, and know what they are truly like, as opposed to what fandom can sometimes project onto them, good and ill. And I have to say—these are some of the finest people I have ever known and am so proud to have spent these years with them.
I’m not the first person to walk through and eventually exit the doors at Marvel, but I do take with me a sense similar to when I moved out of my parents’ house into my own apartment. Marvel will always be a home to me and family. I’ve seen people get married, have children, move away, go through personal sufferings, and still they— like me—have found the House of Ideas to be more like the HOME of ideas. Their home. And mine. I like to think that I’m moving from into the Guesthouse of Ideas.
(Ok, this is just the first question & I’m choking up thinking about it…is it too late to take back my notice?!)
The Beat: As you know Beat readers like a little bit of the inside scoop. What was the biggest change in your job from the time you started to when you left? I’m thinking specifically of the vast, vast increase in comics book news both within the industry and in the mainstream media. How did you deal with this?
JM: I would say the biggest change is the respect the rest of the world has given our incredible industry, thanks to the films, yes, but also thanks to the quality and hard work the people making the comics have given them over the past decade. Comic book sites began to see growth as more and more fans came back to comics. The message boards and blogs became communities, a place where people with a shared passion could come together and celebrate (and complain, let’s be honest) about comics. It wasn’t a dirty little secret anymore. Comics started to get cool again. I love seeing people on the train reading comics and trades. [I’d] wonder if a story that ran on a website encouraged them to pick up a particular book, or if word of mouth got them to try something new.
For the mainstream, we kept doing what we’ve always done. We stand on the shoulders of giants like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr, Gene Colan, and so many more. We have taken what they did and grew from there, telling compelling stories that the mainstream could relate to, and finally they saw us. I remember that trying to get the mainstream to pick up a comic book story was nearly impossible. The month I started, however, NEW AVENGERS made it to the front of USA TODAY! Spider-Man became THE most popular kids’ costume at Halloween. Then came more stories that gained mainstream attention. For so long, the papers & TV had seen Marvel as a company that struggled to get out of bankruptcy. Then, slowly but surely, our friends in the press who were comic fans like George Gustines, Ethan Sacks, Blair Butler, David Colton, Geoff Boucher, Dareh Gregorian, Rich Sands, and so many more began to get traction within their outlets and were able to show that the mainstream audience wanted to know what was happening with Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, all within the pages of the comics. We were legitimized again in the eyes of the press & my job became easier and more difficult at the same time. I could pick up the phone and say “Hey, we’ve got a story you’ll LOVE” and see it run in the paper or on TV. And then I would also be surprised when my inbox would be flooded and my phone ring off the hook over some event or story-line. It’s been an incredible evolution and it’s greatly due to the creators & editors who craft these stories.
The Beat: How involved were you in some of the front page stories of the era, such as the Death of Captain America or Spider-Man and Obama? (I’m sure I am forgetting some of the blockbusters.) Why do you think the mainstream media suddenly became so enamored of comic book news?
JM: Very involved. Very, very involved. So much so that I had to stop answering my phone when Cap died. That was the craziest time for me. New Avengers, Civil War, Spidey unmasking—all of those had been large, but killing Captain America…that was the absolute WILDEST ride I’d ever been on, and I don’t know that it’s been topped. President Obama and Tim Gunn being in our books came close, but the death of Cap, man! I had calls from press, was shuffling Joe Q and Dan Buckley around New York City from station to station until we finally had to set up a station of our own in the Hulk Conference Room at the offices and have the press pool come to us. Brubaker, Joe, Dan, and Tom Brevoort were constantly taking the press calls I was fielding. Along with DKC, our PR firm, we worked around the clock for almost a week after that news broke. I also had civilians calling me up, swearing at me for killing such a beloved icon. I almost gave them Ed Brubaker’s number, but that’s not what you can really do when you’re in my position (no matter how much I wanted to——you owe me, Bru!)
As for why, I think it’s because of what I mentioned before, and something you’ve noted here on The Beat—the “nerds” have won! It’s COOL to be a geek, to read comics, to wear a Spider-Man t-shirt. Any part of the comic book culture the media can cover, they will now. They come to us more often than not! Quite the change.
And you never know where that coverage will come from, says the guy who wrote the GUIDING LIGHT/NEW AVENGERS crossover!
The Beat: Marvel also has a running relationship with the Stephen Colbert show. Is it true you once had to run crosstown with Captain America’s shield to deliver it to Colbert?
JM: Much to my delight and then eventual chagrin, yes. We had the idea of presenting Stephen Colbert with Cap’s shield, where Joe Q would read Steve Rogers’ “will” and that Colbert was the only man Steve could imagine carrying on his legacy. We had some plastic shields around, but Tom Brevoort had a REAL Cap shield (one that was given to him after Mark Gruenwald died—it was Mark’s originally). It was beautiful and Tom had it in a very prominent place in his office. Soooo, I asked Tom if I could borrow it. I swear, I really thought we were just borrowing it! And then Stephen loved it so much he made it a part of his permanent set. Which meant I had to come back and break the news to Tom. It’s a well-known fact that I adore, admire, and respect Tom Brevoort, but that he can also scare the &*^$# out of me. And boy did he! Eventually he calmed down and even drew this little doodle, which I have kept on my monitor (and will be at my home office) ever since until the shield is returned.
The Beat : Aside from your duties in PR, you have recently joined the ranks of Marve’s writers. How long had you been wanting to get onto the creative side of things?
JM: Honestly, for 20 years before I started! I had won awards for plays in college and been in the ABC Daytime Writer Development program and written for ONE LIFE TO LIVE prior to being hired here, so they knew that was my eventual goal. I wrote my first Marvel story, an 8 pg Western that was my version of a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn film, in 2006. From there, I was able to write a few more 8 pg stories and one-shots. When NEW AVENGERS: THE REUNION was green-lit, I knew it was time to start a change. I moved from full time staff to consultant, coming into the office a few days a week. Arune Singh took over and has done an incredible job, so everyone at Marvel and I felt this was something that would be beneficial for everyone. I got a lot of advice from a number of writers who I am lucky to have become friends with, and talked it over with my partner as to what to do next and timing. Now that HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD is an ongoing and RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN is coming out, it made sense for me to stop straddling the fence and put both feet into the world of full-time writer. And I’ve never been more scared/excited/nervous/exhilarated in my life.
The Beat: I had no idea about your soap opera background, but I guess I should have been paying more attention. And some would say going from soap operas to Marvel Comics was a natural progression. Do you see a connection?
JM: 100% there’s a connection. Phil Jimenez and I talk about this all the time because we both have friends in the soap world still. Both comics and daytime dramas are serialized fiction with years of storytelling where you use the same core characters, introduce new ones, against the same background/universe. In both, you have to find ways to tell new, relevant stories that respect and/or build upon what’s come before. And both have incredibly loyal and rabid fan-bases who are not shy to let you know when you’ve messed up and who are also your biggest cheerleaders.
The Beat: You also had a secret past working for Ingram, the giant book wholesaler -—what did you do there, and how did that help you in working with Marvel?
JM: LOL, shhh, it’s a secret! No, I had an amazing time working at Ingram, learning a lot about book distribution and marketing. I worked in the Library Services division. At first I was an inbound telephone sales rep for VHS/DVD sales to libraries. Then, as things seem to happen with me, I was moved into Marketing, where I wrote the solicit copy for every movie that was being release to VHS/DVD coming out each month (this was in the 90s, kids, where we still had VHS and before Blu-Ray). Much like my experience at Marvel has taught me every step of how a comic is made, this taught me how books (and entertainment in general) are sold and distributed to the retailers and consumers. It was an incredible time of learning that has paid off now. It’s also how I got to know David Gabriel, who I owe getting my foot in the door at Marvel.
The Beat: You also met your future DAPPER MEN collaborator at Ingram, Janet Lee, correct? How did that book come about?
JM: Janet & I actually knew each other through mutual friends prior to Ingram, but she is who helped get me hired at Ingram. She was the graphic novel buyer at the time. Funny how these things that seem like coincidences in life turn out to be actual steps on a greater journey.
Janet and I lived within a mile apart from each other before I moved to New York (we REALLY wanted to do Trading Spaces. True story! We weren’t picked…because we never did the application. Oh well). She was just starting to get back into her art and the style she uses now was beginning to emerge. I visit Nashville a few times a year & always make sure to get together with Janet and her family. Two Christmases ago, I saw three art pieces she had done for different showings. By this time, Janet was rapidly becoming one of “Nashville’s Top Artists To Watch” and had gallery showings all around town. Things were going great for her. And then, I came back to New York and shot her an email that would take her off the gallery market for a year. It started “Want to do an OGN?”
The Beat: The first thing you notice about Dapper Men is of course the incredible artwork that is mounted on giant chunks of wood—which must make toting around the art a chore for Janet! The story that I’ve seen seems to be in the vein of the classic “children’s secret world” although with many twists and turns. You’ve said it’s a fairy tale. What was the original inspiration for the story?
JM: It is very much a classic fairy tale, one which kids and adults can enjoy and can get different meanings from. It’s inspired by Janet’s amazing art. Those three pieces I saw two years ago really struck me and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. One was a Christmas ornament of a steam-punk looking kid, another was small framed piece of a robot girl floating in space, and the third was a GIGANTIC 6 foot Magritte-painting of these very dapper looking men raining down on a Victorian town. In my mind, they absolutely went together in a fairy tale where time—and in a greater sense—the world had stopped. And that is where we start. Nothing says “fairy tale” like a little Clockwork Universe Theory, does it? But the story was there, fully formed, and Janet is honestly the ONLY person that could do this, I feel. Not just because her art was the inspiration, but because her style is so unique and has that fairy tale quality. I’m so lucky that my friend has become my collaborator. Also, I’m glad I get to be the first person to work with her, because I think she’s going to get more emails after this from other people that say “Want to do an OGN?”
The Beat: Your other big project right now is a HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD ongoing. Bearing in mind what you said about soap operas and ongoing continuity a few questions ago, how do you go into working on these long running characters? Do you think periodical comics are daunting for new readers?
JM: I don’t think monthly comics are difficult for new readers. Like most TV shows have DVDs and online resources and episodes to catch someone up and get new viewers (see CASTLE and BIG BANG THEORY for examples of audience growth season over season), comics have a remarkable collections department. Also, many comic companies have or are starting to have a strong digital presence. The iPad apps have proven to be, so far, a great tool for getting people interested in comics and into retail stores. The digital comic, to me, is becoming the 7-11 of our generation—a new gateway to get people exposed to our industry.
As for working on long-running characters, I think it’s easier and difficult at the same time. You have this rich history to draw upon, and yet sometimes it’s convoluted or contradictory, or can feel burdensome. The onus is on the writer to tell their story in a way that moves the characters forward while staying true to the character and their history, but we should also keep in mind that every comic is someone’s first comic.
In the case of HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD, they are a classic example of this. They have a long rich history together, but it’s been years since they were side by side (until recently). Hawkeye’s been under a different alias for years and was dead for years before that. Fortunately, that gives me the chance to introduce them with a fresh start. I like to use internal monologues to get into the character’s heads. This explains their motivation without long expository “Who/What are we fighting? What’s happening here” scenes. Every scene should move character or story forward, so while I try to weave in past details that are relevant to the story, I can’t let the book turn into a Handbook entry. In the first arc of HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD, their respective arch-enemies team up to take them down. There’s a LOT of history there between these four characters AND I have new characters thrown into the mix. Using these pieces, I try to reveal the past as naturally as possible and keep forward momentum for new and long-time readers alike.
The Beat: Along those lines, some recent sales figures seem to show that comics sales are softening up after the price rise last year. Do you think this is a danger?
JM: Only a few books have gone up [in price], really, when you look at the entire picture of what Marvel & DC publish. IDW is on the rise and their books are all for the most part $3.99. I think as long as people are judicious with the price increases, the market is going to stay successful. There’s a recession all over and, relatively speaking, comics as an industry is doing pretty damn good staying solid. But now that I’m going into freelance world, I have no say in these, so I’m just a speculator now. I can say that HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD, along with most new HEROIC AGE titles, are $3.99 bonus-sized for the first issue and then go back to the regular $2.99 quality-packed awesome-filled issue price.
The Beat: What are some other Jim McCann dream projects?
JM: Is it too predictable to say DAZZLER? I would love to do a mini with her, at least, after the one shot in a few weeks. I grew up on X-Men and Avengers, so that’s another dream, to write more in those families. I have some ideas for projects to pitch for at Marvel (Cloak & Dagger, I’m looking at you!). GI Joe was one of my first comics, so even 1 issue of that would be something to check off on the dream-list. I love a number of other licensed properties other companies and Marvel have. HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD #100 is a nice goal and has a great ring to it, doesn’t it?
I have so many dreams starting; ideas and opportunities opening up. I’m just starting…and I am so lucky and honored to have these chances!
The Beat: You’ve already got yourself a pretty varied portfolio as you embark on a fulltime freelance writing career. What’s your goal as a working writer? What do you want to be known as?
JM: My goal is to keep writing. I’d like to get back to my theatre roots (it was my Minor in college and I won awards for playwriting), seeing as I am in New York now. I’d also like to get back into TV a bit. But mainly, for now, comics are my focus. HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD I could write for years, RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN is the first in a trilogy, and I have a number of other ideas for Marvel, other companies, and creator owned work.
As for what I want to be known as, wow. This may not be the answer you had in mind, but when I think about it, I want to be known as someone who is proof that dreams come true if you keep at them. Even if everything went away within this first year, I have already made the dream I’ve had since I was 10 years old come true. I worked at Marvel, I have written for Marvel, and I have made my mark, no matter how small, on the comic book industry. I hope other people can take from this and believe in themselves and never stop pursuing their dreams.
The Beat: You’re very open about being out—as a woman in comics I’m always being asked about women in comics issues, and I get a little tired of some of the kind “Women in Comics” panels and so on. Do you have any take on this kind of thing at all where LGBT issues in comics are concerned? Is it ghettoizing to bring these issues up or is it something you think needs to be addressed?
JM: I was asked about this recently and it’s a non-issue to me. I’m out but that’s not the whole of me—I’m not defined by any once part of my genetic make-up, just as men or women should be defined by their chromosomal differences. I have been very happy to find that there is no “pink ceiling” or anything at Marvel, or Archaia, or ANY of the comic publishers I have come across. I’ve said this before & I’ll say it here, I feel the same about LGBT characters in comics the same as I do about any minority or difference—it’s best when it’s just one facet of the character. I don’t think we need “A Very Special Issue of __ Where XXXXX Comes Out!” (cue gasp and awe that there is a gay person in comics!). I think that is more damaging and ghettoizing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I remember the moment Ellen came out in her show and there was someone I could relate to on TV, but now I look more to shows like GLEE and BROTHERS & SISTERS or UGLY BETTY (we miss you, Betty Suarez!) on TV and Young Avengers for the portrayal of LGBT characters. They are who they are and that’s the best portrayal to me. At the end of the day, all I can ask for is that I be taken for and respected as the person I am, not a specific aspect.
The Beat: Finally, since this is your “exit” interview, I know you wanted to make a few shout outs, so I’m going to let it roll.
JM: Ok…wow. This is where it gets real, huh? I thanked them earlier on, but the people I have worked for—David Bogart, David Gabriel, John Dokes, Mike Pasciullo—thank you for having faith in me and helping me grow. To the people in my department that I have worked beside—Arune Singh, Jim Nausedas, John Paretti, Tim Dillon, Jeff Suter, Rich Ginter, and Mark Annunziato—you guys are some of the unsung heroes in comics; the work you do absolutely has an effect on the medium, in a great way. To the editors I have worked with—Tom Brevoort, Bill Rosemann, Jeanine Schaefer, Mike Horwitz, Rachel Pinnelas, Mark Paniccia, Justin Gabrie (and if I left anyone out, I am SO SORRY)—thank you for your patience and for making me a better writer every day. To the writers who have helped and inspired me along the way, I have sent each of you personal notes, but I thank you for your advice and support. Dan Buckley & Joe Quesada—I cannot put into words how you have changed my life. I think you know it when you see me. To the amazing artists I have worked with and currently am, thank you for always making my silly words look better. To everyone in my Marvel family—offices, freelancers, everyone—thank you for being there for me in the lowest of lows and now some of the highest of highs. I’d also like to thank the folks at Archaia for having the guts to green-light a creator-owned book from an unknown artist and a guy known more for his marketing than anything else. Also to my friends in the comic industry, the press, and publishers—thank you for being a part of the past 6 years, and here’s to many, MANY more to come!
Personally, I owe a huge THANK YOU to my family, my friends and especially my partner. Without them, I never would have believed I could get this far.
To the fans who have supported me & will hopefully keep supporting me, honestly it is because of you and thanks to you that I am able to do this.
(If I’ve forgotten anyone, I’m sorry & thank you, too! Blame Sean Penn—he forgets people all the time.)
Before this gets too Acceptance Speech-y (too late?), I want to share one final story, and a thanks to them even though they know how much this means to me still. When I left full-time to become a consultant, NEW AVENGERS: THE REUNION had just been green lit. At that time, a little-musical-that-could had made its way from festival to off Broadway and had just opened on Broadway. It was called [title of show]. The story is one of two guys writing a musical about two guys wanting to write a musical. Hysterically meta and self aware, but with an incredible message. Do what you want to do and know you CAN do, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make it. Take that risk and jump. Make your own way and never forget that you’re doing what you love. I met the cast after and they are all self-proclaimed nerds. Comic references were all over the show, and the awesome thing was that people in the cast were playing themselves. These guys DID it! They MADE it! I bought the cast album CD at the show and listened to it non-stop as I worked on the outline to THE REUNION. Cut to now. The show has closed but is playing all over the world. I have become friends with these guys and they know how much they have touched my life and others, and they are still out there, doing what they love and inspiring people. When I start to feel paralyzed with gnawing fear or unsure if I’m really making the right decision, I listen to “Die, Vampire, Die”, “A Way Back to Then”, and “Part of It All”. And then I put “9 People’s Favorite Thing” on a loop. It’s from the show, almost at the end, with a simple message—“I’d rather be 9 people’s favorite thing than 100 people’s 9th favorite thing.” If you’re true to who you are as a person, an artist, a doctor, a banker, whatever you do—then the 9 people who consider you their favorite thing will tell 9 people, and it will grow from there. I take that with me every day, but even more so today. I hope other people look it up and can be inspired by it. I’ll make it easier—here’s the video! If you look closely, you’ll spot me in the video (I’m the word “Advice”, ironically. Then watch “A Way Back to Then video right under it for some serious Heidi Blickenstaff singing her face off in an AMAZING song!).
So, yeah. It’s time for me to wrap this up and start tomorrow. I’m terrified, but I’ve never been more excited! Thanks for being with me on this journey, now join me on the next chapter!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.