Q and A: Jason Liebig
If you read Marvel X-Titles between 1995 and 2001 then you’ll know this name; Jason Liebig. If you don’t then you should stop reading this and immediately head to your local comic book shop. Mr. Liebig was one of the editor’s on the X-Men books along with Mark Powers and under the supervision of Bob Harras. When it comes to titles like Generation X, X-Force, X-Man and more – this is the guy steering that ship. We reached out to him and he was kind enough to reach back and give us an interview.
Marvel 616 Politics: You seem like a cool guy so can I ‘geek’ out for a moment? YOU’RE JASON FREAKING LIEBIG! Comic book creators were always my Elvis Presley. So to have an interview with THE X-Man from the 90’s; I’m super pumped man. Seriously. This is so cool!
Jason Liebig: Working at Marvel and working there when I did, I got to meet a lot of amazing creative people who I myself geeked out about (and still do). I’m a pretty big nerd, and I like to enjoy things like that. So I can relate, even though I don’t stand anywhere near those guys. It’s such an odd, wonderful, unusual thing. I still see them every year or so, as I’m still in New York City and I attend NY Comic Con every year, but when I see old friends and colleagues like Klaus Janson or Michael Golden or Adam Kubert, or even Chris Claremont – it’s lovely – but when I reflect on it, it can remain a bit surreal. I mean, Klaus was on The Dark Knight. But we have this shared past together now, and they are all genuinely warm towards me, we went through a lot back then.
Even when I was working at Marvel every day, I never became cynical and I tried to never take it for granted, and while it could be “a job” some days, and it was filled with profoundly challenging and frustrating things, I think there were countless times I simply sat back and said, “Look where I am.” I feel the same way about where I live. After nearly 22 years in New York City, I still marvel (pun intended) at this city, such a magnificent thing to have been created by mankind. I try to never lose my sense of wonder at it all. Even if it can be… a bit much. From time to time.
And yeah, I got to help direct Wolverine’s life for a few years.. so that’s pretty rad.
M6P: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got your role as an editor in the X-Office in 1995?
JL: While in college, I realized I wanted to get into the comic book publishing business. I had been a lifelong fan, and I wanted to be a part of that. So, after graduating back in 1993, with a degree in marketing of all things, I went to the 1993 Chicago Comic Con. Thanks to my friend Brian Schur (owner of the now-closed Nebraska-based Cosmic Comics stores) I was able to secure a couple informal meetings at that convention. Even then, comic cons were huge. But they were really comic-centric. And I don’t even think the term “cosplay” existed back then,so it was far less colorful back then then as it is today – but still amazing. I remember seeing Stan Lee having a conversation with Oliver Stone right there in one of the dealer isles. A fan approached Stan, he stopped to talk to him as Oliver continued to walk and then I watched the 70-year-old Stan sprint to catch up to him. Pretty wild.
So, those meetings at Chicago Con were nice, but didn’t directly lead anywhere. And while I was working local jobs I organized a trip to New York City to meet with DC and Marvel in person again, but this time more formally. I did that in October of 1993, and while I had a nice tour of Marvel, I didn’t get much sense that they were looking for people. DC on the other hand were “planning to expand” their marketing department and I was told that I “should keep in touch”. And I did. I spent the next four months making semi-weekly calls to the offices and leaving voicemails (I never actually reached anyone). I was calling Bob Wayne, the director of their marketing department at the time. Finally, I had decided I was going to move to New York even if I didn’t have a job and I was going to figure out a way to get hired at DC or Marvel. I said as much in my last voicemail to Bob Wayne, and a week later got a call back. It turns out that he had been out on an unexpected medical leave, and that no one had been hired. So I moved out in April of 1994 and the next week I had a series of interviews with DC. A week later, I was hired into their marketing department.
During that first year I made a ton of friends within the industry, including lots of folks at Marvel. We all attended most of the comic cons around the country, and at the time it was a pretty small fraternity of people working at the big two. So it was easy to meet many of your counterparts. And the rivalry we had was spirited but mostly friendly.
I left DC a little after my first year, disillusioned with my marketing job, which had been transitioned to more of a sales job than I anticipated. Unemployed in New York City, I started picking up freelance writing work, mainly copyrighting, and that led to freelance work for ToyBiz, which prompted a meeting with Marvel’s catalog people (which did not lead to any freelance work, as it turns out). By this time, I realized that if I was going to work in comics again, I wanted to work in editorial. It is where I felt my strengths lay, but the industry was going through contraction pains after the explosion of the early 90’s and the following sales implosion that followed. So I didn’t know if there would be a job in comics for me. But, a friend at Marvel recommended me when positions opened up on the row (editorial row) and I was called into an interview. Little did I realize going in that I’d be meeting with the Editor-in-Chief at the time, Bob Harras.
I recall that meeting quite clearly, and beyond it being a little surreal, I recall Bob conveying to me that editorial had gone through some rough times with massive layoffs due to the sales implosion and that he was looking for people “with fire”. I felt I could bring that, and when Bob asked me to identify what I thought made a “good comic” and what I thought made a “bad comic” I think my explanation helped win him over. Because I took a pretty broad shot at the upcoming X-Men event that he was overseeing. I gave him my breakdown of what I felt was wrong with it, based upon my first impressions of the advance write-ups and after breaking it down, he responded with “That was my first impression of it, too.”
Four days later I was called in to meet with Mark Powers (who was now heading up the X-Men group that Bob had left to become EIC) and in that interview we got on great. Had a great talk about story, art, and comics in general. And two days later, I was told I was hired, and that I would be getting the job of assistant editor on the X-Men as well as serving as the assistant to the EIC. Bob, Mark and myself shared Bob’s corner office as we managed the X-men family of titles and I had a birds eye view of some of the craziest years in Marvel’s history.
M6P: What exactly did you do while you were with Marvel? What were you responsible for?
JL: I was an assistant editor on the X-Men line, an assistant to the EIC, and an editor on one-half of the X-Men line. Between those jobs there are a LOT of things I did, but for those that don’t know… back then, the editor was much of a Show Runner, which is a job that people seem to be aware of these days from television. But you were also like a producer, keeping things on-budget and on-time. That was very much how we functioned. Both as an assistant and editor, I recruited talent, calmed talent, made sure they got paid, fought for their raises, kept books shipping on-time (well, I don’t know that I ever did THAT). You also had to creatively solve problems when an artists had only turned in half of his work on time, and you had to make decisions daily on how to navigate those problems in hopes that the decisions you made were the best for the characters and the books – and in turn, the fans. So you were a head coach, a show runner, a facilitator and problem solver.
M6P: Among X-Force, X-Man, Mutant X, X-Men: The Hidden Years and Generation X, is there one series which stands out as the one you’re most proud of working on?
JL: I think when I endeavored to rebrand the secondary X-Men titles under the Counter-X banner with Warren Ellis as a sort of “show runner”, that was something I was proud of, insofar as it was a way to inject new life into those books. I think in the case of Warren’s X-Man – along with the work that writer Steven Grant did on that, and the gorgeous art of Ariel Olivetti, that was the one that came together as purely as I wanted. The color separations were still sub-par because we had to honor a terrible contract with an Irish color house… so unfortunate. Because the book could have looked even prettier. Just one of the many dead weight bad contracts we had to work with. But there was still room to work and to shine. And I am proud of the unusual take we took with that book. Warren Ellis’ “Mutant Shaman”. So that was terrific fun.
I’m also really proud of Jim Mahfood and our Generation X Underground, which I feel was a massive stylistic departure for Marvel OR DC. I’m proud of being the editor who brought that project to life, and sharing Jim Mahfood’s talents with the world.
As a fan I was maybe most excited to work with John on Hidden Years, but the actual practice of that turned out to be less enjoyable than I would have thought.
M6P: Were there any points which you’d be willing to discuss where the script was a trainwreck and how did you handle the writer and the issue as a whole?
JL: Hmm.. well, I recall successes in helping certain writers find the books. I do recall asking one writer to identify his dialogue out of context and to tell me which character said it. That is to say, I felt he was writing the characters with the same voices… he was a young writer, and I remember how great it was that after that, he “got it” and understood what we were trying to get at. That sounds like basic stuff, but sometimes it can get lost.
At the time, I felt my job was like being the coach of the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls. You have great talent around you, more talented that you ever could be, but you had to find ways to manage them to make them the best THEY could be. That was always the challenge. But it was also always the best part of the job. Sometimes personalities clashed, and sometimes you would get a script or storyline that didn’t seem like it was on track. So, in my case, when I was at MY best, I made suggestions and asked questions and got something better, something more dramatic, more true-to-character, and sometimes more interesting. But in retrospect, I’m sure my desire to do my job must have been a hindrance to some ideas a writer had, because I certainly did steer the ship at times. For me, the bottom line was always how to make great books that stayed true to the core of the characters, but somehow gave you something new.
This was the late 1990’s…. and the X-Men were, and had been, the top selling books in comics, month-after-month, for a decade. So beyond the abject insanity of a corporate bankruptcy and the things that were falling down upon us, there was pressure to keep that X-Men train running full speed. And to keep it successful… And I think, unfortunately, there were times when we didn’t, or maybe I didn’t, feel like I had the luxury to trust a writer as much as I should have.
M6P: How did you approach working with creative talents like Warren Ellis (X-Man, X-Force, Generation X) and John Byrne (X-Men: The Hidden Years) who have a reputation for going into projects with a very clear story vision? Did that make working with them less difficult? more?
JL: In the case of John’s The Hidden Years, it was more than a clear story vision that was at issue. I wouldn’t see scripts ahead of time, or at any point at all. I saw photocopied, lettered pencils. And that’s from the first issue on.
My excitement of getting to “work with John Byrne” was quickly replaced with “how do I manage a book that won’t allow me to manage it”. As far as the characters and the continuity, it was set in the past, and this was John Byrne, so he had the clout to be given that kind of leeway. Whatever he would do, it wouldn’t get in the way of the larger X-Men franchise. I just felt it could have been so much better. And the approach casused one big problem. John had indicated a coloring note on the side of the artwork, for a character in The Savage Land to be an albino. Well, in the photocopies that I received, that coloring was clipped off by the copier. So I never saw it. And since I also didn’t have a story breakdown or outline of any kind, when the pages came back from the colorist, I had no idea that the coloring was wrong. The mistake… I don’t recall if it went to press or just caused the book to ship late, but it was a contentious issue between John and myself.
I should point out that issue one of The Hidden Years shipped late, and that WAS due to an editorial mistake on my part, so perhaps John had reason to want to blame that later mistake on me, but in that case at least, I was innocent of wrongdoing. It was his tight-fisted control of the process with resulted in the error.
And ultimately, long after that time, I assessed things this way: John Byrne had forgotten more about comics than I would ever hope to learn or know, so if he wanted to do things “his way” and cut me out of the process of doing my job, or working with him in any way, I guess he had earned that right. I just know that one of the biggest disappointments of that whole thing was that I was so excited to work with the guy, but he seemed to hold my point-of-view in contempt, and me personally as well.
With Warren Ellis, my experience on Counter-X was pretty much delightful. When I was an assistant, and after I helped discover Lenil Yu, we paired them up together on Wolverine for what promised to be Warren’s “second to last mainstream superhero story”, but he owed us one and after my talks with Rob Liefeld to similarly show-run the secondary X-Men books (Warren didn’t occur to me until after my talks with Rob broke down over his unwillingness to agree to have the books colored by our contractually obligated Irish color house). Quick note here: I saw many of Rob’s flaws at the time in practice, but I thought he could have made an exciting “show runner” of sorts, especially on the X-Men. Here was a smart guy who truly loved comics, was as passionate as anyone, while his ideas were sometimes wacky at times, they were also fun. So Rob was my first choice to refresh those books, and to put in talented new writers and artists on each book to work WITH Rob to shape those books. But at a point, he said the coloring was non-negotiable and it opened up a window, and through that window I saw Warren Ellis.. .and I moved on. I still think it would have been great fun to work with Rob on those books. I know he’s vilified by many in the business, but I stand by the reasons I wanted to work with him. I wouldn’t have been anything like Counter-X, but I’d have loved to see what we could have come up with. It would have been great fun.
Getting back to Warren. He was a delight, he truly was. Completely professional, at times brash, but always charming. And he brought a point-of-view to the X-Books that at the time was sharp and cutting. I gave him a lot of leverage, and I recall calling him to discuss an issue of X-Force which seemed to end where it began and with only 22-pages of a bunch of general fighting and hyper-voilence in-between. I conveyed as much to him, and I recall Warren coolly responded and assuring me with “Trust me, Jason. It’s all going to work out.” And I trusted that guy. I still do.
But circling back around to your question, in Warren’s case, I brought him in BECAUSE of his clear story vision. That’s what he was paid to bring. With John Byrne, he had the same thing in some ways… but he was unwilling to let you in. With Warren, you felt he was leaning over a dark table and sharing a tale and inviting you to enjoy it. With John, it was never that.
So having clear vision wasn’t a problem (provided that’s what you were after) but some times it was easier to manage than other times.
M6P: In the late 90’s were there large editorial edicts/constraints placed on creators (not necessarily the presumed “PC” edicts some fans feel are in place today, but something as simple as “use this character” or “don’t use this character”)? And if so was it a point of contention with the creators or did they find it them engaging challenges in which to craft?
JL: I would beg to differ on this. This is part of the popular mythology of the time, and I was there when the mythology was being written up. It’s one of the reasons I had to leave Marvel – that I wasn’t much for propaganda. That said, sometimes this DID occur. I think I was guilty of it, once, in working with Jay Faerber on Generation X. And I’ve long regretted it. I think he had a handle on the characters, but I saw the sales sliding and I tried to make suggestions that I thought would help. But I don’t know that I helped there. But really, I did not see this in evidence. Certainly not to the level that the mythology of those Marvel years would have you believe. My experience of working on the X-Men (both as an assistant and an editor) was more of a period of trying new things. Sometimes failing, mind you, but trying.
I’m trying to think of other ways what you are talking about here occurred. Oh, I had to have artists lengthen skirts a couple of times. But by and large, I don’t recall there being a big edict to use certain characters over others. It may have occurred and maybe I just don’t recall, or it may have happened in other offices that I wasn’t aware of. But these are the stories people enjoy telling.
M6P: Why do you think the introduction of new X-Men in the 90s (Maggot, Marrow, Cecilia Reyes) didn’t gain as much relevance/fan love, whereas the x students now seem to have more longevity?
JL: Those three characters were all introduced by Scott Lobdell, and all within a period of time where him time on the books was waning. Whereas I would look at the characters he created for Generation X, and the characters and how the worlds of those characters changed due to Age of Apocolypse. And that, at least, appears to have had some serious longevity. Hah!
The thing about Marrow, Maggott and Cecilia Reyes is that those characters were very different from the mutants we had seen. I mean, give it up to Scott, he was trying to give you bold characters, weird characters. I don’t really read the books these days, but sometimes I get a whiff of something and I just roll my eyes. “Kid Apocalypse” “Time travelling X-Men” “Wolverine’s Clone”. Now, I get that those things in the hands of the right writers are awesome, but they are 100% derivative.
But in answer to your question, I think those three characters just weren’t that much fun, in the mythology of the X-Men. Wolverine was a part of the Weapon X program with adamantium claws, Cable was the time-travelling son of Jean Grey and Scott Summers – founders of the X-Men, Professor X’s brother was the Juggernaut. Next to those guys, Cecilia Reyes, hospital resident, doesn’t quite sparkle. I liked her a lot, though. Maybe her issue was timing. Maybe it was Scott’s take on her. I think Maggott as a character just never quite worked. On the other hand, I thought Marrow was a pretty great character. One of the non-pretty mutants. I liked that, and I liked when she owned it, and trodged on anyway.
That said, I think the acceptable narrative of comics have changed a lot, and you CAN do more interesting things with a character like Ceclia nowadays, in spite of the time-traveling X-Men and Wolverine-clone to the contrary. Back when I was working on the books, I said that the cheapest thing we could do with a new character is make them a time-traveller or make them related to an existing mutant. I say it was cheap because it had been done to death, and yeah, it WAS always fun. But I wanted to see new characters that did not fit that mold. X-Men don’t NEED to be related to other X-Men or be time-travellers to be popular, but sometimes it does seem like they need to be.
M6P: What was your absolute favorite experience working with Marvel?
JL: I have a ton of them, too many to isolate down to one. I think it was the people, it all had to do with the people. Working with great creative people both inside the offices and with freelance talent, and coming together to make cool things, to endeavor to tell great stories, and to be a part of a tapestry and history of storytelling that goes back to before I was born, that was profoundly exciting. I think some of the coolest moments were always when I had the chance to learn from some of the greats. I recall sitting with Michael Golden discussing cover design, going to lunch with John Byrne and hearing him talk about when he left the X-Men, watching John Buscema regale tales of silver age comics. Or having Stan Lee come into an editorial meeting and break down what he did and didn’t like about all of our covers. Stuff like that was pretty amazing, pretty special. Being a part of all of that, that was great. But finding new talent and giving them their first big breaks, that stands as pretty awesome. Guys like Lenil Yu, Jim Mahfood… we gave Joe Casey his first big break (so you can blame that one on us).
M6P: When you look back on your time in the X-Offices, what are you most proud of? And what’s the one (or more) story that got away?
JL: Again, I think that ties into my last answer. The one that got away? People will probably laugh, but … Well, I kind of really wanted “Bishop: The Last X-Man” to sort of remain this out of continuity book where we could craft a rich post-apocalyptic fantasy world where magic was replaced by mutants. I would have loved to have continued to paint that one out. I loved that world…
Being Bob’s assistant, I was a go-between during Marvel editorial and the image guys during Heroes Reborn, and when we were going to be getting the books back, I lobbied hard to get Mike Allred onto the Heroes Return Fantastic Four. Spent a number of evenings trying to recruit him onto that and getting him to agree in principal, with conditions. But the idea was bounced around a few people in upper editorial, and the creative community, and it was decided that it wouldn’t sell.
I was gratified to see that they eventually DID put Mike on a Fantastic Four book. And of course soon after I left, Allred was brought onto a Marvel book, but I fought like heck to get him before all that.
Tried to put together a Marvel book with Neil Gaiman, and got him to visit the offices for the first time but it wasn’t to be. Again, they got him later, after I left. But I like to think I “broke the seal” on that one. Oh, I tried to get Brian Bolland (actually to work with Neil… couldn’t do it). And tried to get Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Miller never returned my calls, Alan Moore was polite for a couple of years running. Always kind when I called, but absoultely firm that “Anything Marvel or DC could have done for me to work with again, they would have had to do long ago…” But I tried.
M6P: What loose ends did you want to tie up but didn’t get a chance to?
JL: There were a number of things I was trying to do when I was asked to leave. I was working on a painted “old man” Wolverine graphic novel with Joe Harris and Enrique Breccia – that was going to be awesome. I was delighted to see that they did something similar years later.
I spent years lobbying for and getting the Kevin Nowlan Man-Thing artwork back to Marvel in hopes of helping that book finally get published. I think it finally was, wasn’t it? (Yep! In 2012) Well, I started that long process to bring it back from the dungeons.
And I didn’t get to finish up the Counter-X run of books, but a few months after I left, every one of those books was systematically disassembled. So… ouch to that.
M6P: Joe Kelly mentioned in an interview that he originally was going to kill Storm during the Magneto War but editorial stepped in and stopped that; was that you? Do you remember that situation? Also, was there supposed to be more to Psi War? I know this is trying to remember things almost 20 years ago, but any info we’ll take!
JL: First, love love Joe Kelly. And Steven Seagle. I know that they came together and sort of bonded under what they might have perceived as a limited leash on what they could do on the X-Men. I was one of the voices who wanted them on those books. I THINK I was the one who first recruited Steve Seagle to the X-Men group (and maybe Marvel altogether) – Might be wrong on that, but I think so.. As for killing off Storm? I don’t think that was me, I think I had already transitioned out of the core books and I was heading up the extended family of X-Men titles (X-FOrce, Gen X, X-Man, etc). I recall something about a prison camp for mutants and how Bob and Mark felt it was a flat story character-wise. We all had so much respect for those guys, but you acknowledged that sometimes it just didn’t work. I do wonder back to those times and with my current perspective, I wonder if there were times we should have just gone crazy and let the writers do whatever they wanted to do. It’s easy to forget, though, that the X-Men were paying a lot of the bills for editorial back then. I mean, Spider-Man was selling well, but Avengers and Iron Man – those books weren’t paying too many bills. So, working on the X-Men, you always felt the pressure of having to keep that exciting and being “hits” because they kept money coming in, they helped keep stores open, which allowed other books to sell.
Back then, people would tell me that “You can do whatever you want and people will just keep buying the X-Men” and none of us who worked on the books ever believed that. We felt that we had to work harder and smarter, lest the train go off the tracks. Perhaps going off the tracks was what was needed, and I think I would have been all for that, but I also see the other side.
Now that the line is more balanced, that the X-Men is far from the “editorial bread winner” for Marvel, I think that’s got to be healthier and it has got to allow more chances to be taken. Hard to say, but that would be my guess.
M6P: What makes an easy working relationship with a creator?
JL: I think it helps if the book is selling well. If it isn’t, this marketplace is rough. And poor sales always get put on a creator’s shoulders, even if it is not their fault. This is the world, isn’t it? But selling well creates its own problems and demands, too.
Really though, and this will certainly sound trite, I think what is most important is to communicate with your creator. That’s the key with any relationship. Just talk to them. Because when either you or they start hiding out, bad things are going to happen. And if there are demands that a writer isn’t meeting, having the skills to find a way to bring out in that creator what they aren’t getting to on their own. Challenge them, but not without discouraging them. It’s a trick and it doesn’t always work, but that’s my answer.
M6P:Where did you see your big plan going in the long term?
JL: My personal life plan? My plans for the X-Men? There was a time when I thought I’d be at Marvel for the long-haul, but that was probably me being a tad naive, paired with the fact that Marvel changed around me, and I became incompatible with it. That “fire” that I was hired for and encouraged ended up being a liability, I think, to my time at Marvel. I was a bit too frank, and forthright at a time when it paid to keep your head down and just get on board the new ship in town.
But I think my personal life plan and my editorial plans for the X-Men were about the same. Take my people offworld to a planet that neither fears nor hates them, and see what happens. Still working on that.
M6P: You mentioned you wanted to “take the X-Men off world and see how they would work…” Do you know that’s the rumor of what is going to be happening to the X-Men right now? Also, how much do you keep up on Marvel comics? Other comics?
JL: That comment was meant as a bit of a cheeky joke – the offworld stuff was fun and oddly very X-Men (certainly that classic Claremont offworld stuff) but I think it could also feel unrooted, as when Lobdell and Maduriera were doing it. I didn’t feel as X-Men to me then. So, I didn’t actually want to do that… when I left, my goal was to try to reinvent the sagging secondary X-Men books which was what I was in the process of doing with Warren and Counter-X. But I just wanted to do bold new things and fresh stuff. A lot of the kinds of things I wanted to do, they ended up doing after I left. So…they sort of got it covered.
I don’t really read any Marvel Comics, and I haven’t since November of 2000. It’s not for lack of appreciating what they’re doing – from when I’ve checked in and read about what they’re up to or seen covers and interior art or reviews, it’s clear to me that they’ve done amazing things with the editorial line and the universe as a whole. I’ve only ever felt admiration for their progress and work and even a little envy at how cool some of the books look. How they’ve evolved and the kinds of stories they can tell now.
I think in the last fifteen years, I’ve read Marvel Zombies, and I might have read Avengers Vs X-Men.. or the first couple issues of it. I did read an issue or two of Secret Wars – stupidly fun stuff… I’d never buy those books, but I think I see the appeal.. The books have become so ridiculously expensive (and they were pricey when I left) that I would rather spend my money elsewhere. And after I left Marvel I was reading so many things other than comics after that. I’m sure part of it was that it sort of hurt my feelings to dip back into that world, now that I wasn’t a part of it. That said, I devour the work that Marvel Films does, as it only takes up so much time and money. And like I said, I graciously and humbly acknowledge that from my limited perspective they’ve been kicking ass up there pretty much non-stop. It’s impressive.
JL: I used to love Nightcrawler and I think I still do – he’s probably a favorite of mine. So noble and warm, yet isolated and hated for the way he looks, in ways most of the other X-Men are not. Jean and Scott are…hot.Kurt is such a tragic, poetic character . But he’s also a swashbuckler, and that’s terrific fun! That was, to me anyway, a kind of X-Men ideal. Yes, they were feared and hated,but in spite of that and through it, they still had this compassion and kindness – that made them as human as any of us. And they were fun!
M6P: Is there a Marvel character you always wanted to work with but didn’t get a chance to? What did you want to do with that character?
JL: Tons! I loved the old 1960’s Captain Mar-Vell. Though I think I just liked his costume. I was the assistant editor on the Heroes Return Fantastic Four series, and that was fun, though a little weighed down. The Marvel Universe has so many great characters, you could swim in them for a long time without ever needing to come up for air. I think that’s what is so fun about what they’re doing in the movies and TV. They’re really swimming in those characters and they’re getting deeper and deeper and it’s getting to be more and more fun.
M6P: Can you tell us a little about your departure from Marvel? You say you were ‘asking to leave?’
JL: I was “asked to leave”. I was technically laid off, which I think was a kindness as I could collect some severance and unemployment in that case, but the reality is that I was fired. I can’t say for certain what the reasons where but it’s fairly easy to speculate.
I’m a deeply loyal person and after the guy who brought me in was pushed out (Bob Harras), I found myself challenged to embrace Joe Quesada at his new position of Editor-in-Chief. This was more than a job to me, it was family. And my perspective at the time was that this nakedly ambitious person (Joe Quesada) had ripped apart my family.
With years of reflection, I don’t see it quite so harshly these days, and I realize that these things do happen. It doesn’t make them okay exactly but in the professional world it is naive to think your work family will always stay together. At the time, I couldn’t see past my loyalties, or my sense of loss and I was not going to bend.
So, I repeatedly challenged the new president Bill Jemas on everything from the editorial value of his Wolverine: Origin concept, to his understanding of what makes a good team dynamic. As for Joe Quesada, who I had been friendly with for years before this, and who I had respected all of those years, I was difficult and inconsolable due to the sense of loss of my mentor, Bob Harras. I flat out challenged the idea that Joe had “earned the position of Editor-in-Chief” and, to his face mind you, deconstructed every one of his hailed accomplishments at the time. Starting with his run on Marvel Knights Daredevil. As I put it, “a wonderful monthly book that came out 11 times in two years”, a situation where “any other editor would have had the book taken from them at best, or fired at worst” and I went on and on. And on. The fact that I lasted more than that afternoon is a testament to Joe Quesada’s patience, or perhaps his bafflement and inability conceive of anyone criticizing him so passionately.
In the end, those guys (Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas) needed people on their team, and they needed people who were going to go with their game plan. At that point, I was never going to be that guy. And so I was asked to leave. I don’t regret it, and in many ways I’m envious of just how loyal and filled with righteous indignation I was at the time. It might have been recklessly stupid, but I stood up for what I believed and spoke my peace, in the face of some very powerful people. These days, I suspect I’d have been more diplomatic, and perhaps less loyal. Maybe. Well, maybe not. But it was what it was, and those actions have allowed me to have some wonderful adventures. Not always the most stable living adventures, but still…
M6P: It’s been awhile since you’ve been with Marvel. (Since 2001 I believe?) Tell us what you’ve been up to.
JL: I’ve been all over the place. I’ve been a producer, a writer, an actor, a bartender, and these days I’m spending a lot of time as candy historian and prospective bubblegum inventor. I’m trying to carve out a new niche in the world of all-things-that-geeks-love with TheCandyGeek and and the first part of that is Zombie Mouth Bubblegum. But I occasionally dust off some old comic book stuff and I even had a cool musical monster tv movie in development with Disney television, so I’m not entirely away from the kinds of things I did at Marvel.
M6P: Any hints you can give us about the musical you’re working on with Disney right now?
JL: To be clear, that was a project that was in development some years ago with a writing partner of mine, Ahmet Zappa. After a year in the Disney Channel Original development path, it was as close as it could go before getting the nod to production, and at the eleventh hour it was passed over. A heartbreak, but I’m told that’s only the tip of the iceberg of Hollywood disappointments. A few years ago, an exec at Disney Features who really like the property dusted it off and wanted to get it to one of their young hotshot writers program guys to rework it for film, but I can’t tell you how far that got. It didn’t happen, I can tell you that. So, sadly, that was a year in development that ultimately resulted in a pass. But it was a of an exciting year. What I can tell you about it is that it was a monster musical and a coming of age story for a young girl and one where she finds the power of her own voice. In the end, I was quite proud of that empowered young girl we had created. I would have loved to have seen her brought to life on the small screen.
M6P: You mentioned Zombie Mouth Bubblegum – what is that?
JL: Zombie Mouth Bubblegum is a novelty bubblegum (in gumball form), that has extra coloring in the gumball’s coating to temporarily stain your tongue, teeth and lips, giving the chewer a case of “zombie mouth”.
It’s great for Halloween, Zombie Walks, Cosplay, First Dates, Last Dates, Getting out of work, Going into work, and just plain fun! Not only that, but it features display-worthy packaging that you’ll want to put on a shelf and show your friends. And then, when your friends ask where they can get their own Zombie Mouth Bubblegum, you’ll be able to brag that, “Sorry, you had to get in on the Kickstarter for this one.” So it’s great for just being cool (and a little bit of a jerk), too.
M6P: That sounds interesting and fun! Do I just go to the store and buy this? How do I get this?
JL: In researching some of my favorite confectionery brands like Skittles, Bubble Yum, and others I was struck by how much of their initial success rested on the whims of a few select corporate executives at big candy companies. Not only that but with distribution and retail shelves controlled by a handful of companies, it was clear that the modern candy industry left very little room for independent creation.
But as I learned about Kickstarter and what was being created with its help, I realized there might be an opportunity to bypass the traditional barriers to entry and create the bubblegum I had envisioned. Kickstarter proved that films, comic books, limited edition action figures and more could be made outside of traditional channels, so perhaps the same could be said for a professionally packaged, branded bubblegum. And if successful, Zombie Mouth Bubblegum might even pave the way for other people with their own creative candy or bubblegum ideas!
I’ve spent the last two years shaping the concept of Zombie Mouth Bubblegum as well as researching the ins-and-outs of the bubblegum and packaging business to the point where I can now confidently build a Kickstarter campaign that, if successfully-funded, WILL bring Zombie Mouth to life. With luck and your support (and telling others about it) we just might make the impossible a reality and create the first “Kickstarted” bubblegum ever with Zombie Mouth!
You can check out the Kickstarter HERE!
M6P: Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure talking with you!