Unless you’ve been stranded on a remote island recently, chances are you’ve heard of a little film called The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Marvel Studios‘ blockbuster hit theaters last week, bringing back Earth’s mightiest heroes in the follow-up to both 2012’s The Avengers and subsequent solo character films. We were given the opportunity to chat with one of the masterminds behind the original comic story that was the foundation of Age of Ultron.
Tom Brevoort, is the Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing at Marvel Comics. He gave us some insight into his job and his advice for young people starting their careers! Full interview below.
Q: As the Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing at Marvel Comics, what is your primary role within the company?
Well, I oversee a vast swath of our publishing titles. I have a hand in everything, although I mostly am focused on as what we think of as the Avengers line of books – the actual Avengers titles and all of the solo character titles that fall under that umbrella – Captain America, Thor, Iron Man – all of the “core” Marvel heroes. In any given month, I’m editing between half a dozen and a dozen titles and I’m overseeing a staff of many others who are doing the same thing, only a bit less of it.
Q: Do you have a favorite part of the job?
Well, every day is kind of different. Probably my favorite part of the job is when the book is finished and comes in. Even that is a double-edged sword, however, because that’s also when you find the mistakes. *laughs*
Q: You’ve worked on so many characters and titles that have ended up being crucial parts of the movies that come out of Marvel Studios. What is it like seeing those characters and story lines being translated to the big screen? How is it different from seeing them come alive in print?
Well it’s mostly different because film is just a different medium. What our Marvel Studios team is able to do is really cherry-pick all of the best elements and ideas out all of the publishing we do. In a given month, we’ll release in the neighborhood of 70 comic book titles, whereas they will do one Avengers in three years. We generate a lot of raw material for them to sift through and find the pieces that work the best for them and their medium.
That having been said, I worked on the original comic story that was the basis for Avengers: Age of Ultron, the story that was the basis for Captain America: Winter Soldier, and I worked on Civil War which is the next Captain America movie…so it’s kind of neat to see these things! What Marvel Studios does might not be exactly what we did in the book, but the spirit of it is the same. So, it’s cool to see it on the big screen with real live people, you know – battling and flying and blowing things up.
Q: With all that you work on, do you have a favorite project or story? Or are they all special in their own way?
Most of them have some up-side *laughs* so I don’t know that there is any one in particular I could point to and call it the “best one”. It depends on the day and even how things work out. I tell my junior editors that the good part about this business is that you can do it all again next month. If there is an issue with Avengers this month, it isn’t 100% – well, you get another crack at it next month. You get to keep trying and innovating which is great.
Q: So, our research has shown us that you actually started working at Marvel Comics as an intern back in 1989 in order to really break into the business. Can you describe what that was like?
Well I was an illustration major at the University of Delaware. During our senior year of the program, all students had to go get some sort of internship in a field related to their course of study. During orientation my first year, the dean of the college came out and described the plan of study – they mentioned they had someone intern at Marvel. I told myself that would be me in 4 years. Eventually, the time came and I sent an application, not just Marvel but to a few places. I heard back from Marvel, so I came in as an intern.
I worked there five days a week and, on the weekends, I would work at fast food job to keep my financial head above water. I was working 7 days a week during that period. It was good though, it worked out!
Q: Have you always been a comics fan? Is working in this field sort of like a dream job for you?
Yes! I started reading comics when I was 6 years old, so I have done it for a long time. I won’t tell you how long exactly, but let’s just say it’s been a very long time! It’s always something I was kind of focused on doing and now I have! For a long while.
Q: Are there any characters – who you’ve worked on or just in general – that you really connect with? Whose stories just really resonate with you?
It is sort of a vast canvas. I’ve worked on so much at this point, not even just the Marvel stuff, but crossovers with other companies and other licensed properties and so forth. Back when I was just a reader, my favorite book was Fantastic Four. I edited Fantastic Four for about 14 years, which is longer than anyone else. So, I got my crack at that! I tend to love all of the Marvel characters in their own right. I love working on Captain America, Avengers….Thor, Silver Surfer – all of the various things that we do here. They all have their place in my heart, just in different spots.
Q: Do you think the characters and their stories and just how many there are is what makes the Marvel Universe so exciting – both for readers and for fans of the movies? Do you think it’s all of the characters and how they interact that really draws people in?
I think it’s the interaction that Marvel does and has always pioneered – the idea that all of the Marvel characters exist in the same shared space.
More than that, there is a real secret to the Marvel characters (and it’s no secret because everybody that you ask on our team will tell you the same thing). Stan Lee would tell you this straight up: the real secret to the appeal of the Marvel characters is that they are the person in the suit first, rather than being just about the costume and the powers and the pyrotechnics. Those aspects are cool, but it’s more important that you understand and relate to the person in the costume first.
While Iron Man is important, Tony Stark is more important. While Thor the Avenger is important, Thor, the son of Odin and brother of Loki is more important. Spider-Man is important, but Peter Parker is more important. Spider-Man is really the story of Peter Parker, Peter isn’t a player in Spider-Man’s story. That’s really the quintessential difference between the Marvel heroes and other superheroes. Marvel characters don’t just exist in a shared space, it’s the same space that you and I live in – something analogous to the real world. The problems they have and the emotions they feel are all – at least metaphorically – the same things we deal with and grapple with. That’s what keeps them fresh and alive – they adapt and deal with the issues of the day, they remain modern.
Q: Having come as far in the industry as you have, is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out? It could be career-wise or just in general.
I don’t think there is just one small piece of advice. As with everything, the higher up you get, the more you understand why the “cake is baked the way it is”, so to speak. Our fans often ask “why don’t you do this with this character,” or “why don’t you do this story”, etc. – why do you do things the way you do? Some of that is just fan eagerness because they’re so invested in the characters and the story. But, those are sort of like fantasy football wishes. It’s really that the more experience you get, the more you come to an understanding of why we do things the way we do.
I don’t know if there is one sort of simple aphorism or piece of advice. For me, the key to my success has really been stamina. There is definitely strength in having stamina when it comes to your career.
Q: That sounds like great advice for most young people who are just beginning to build their careers. Is there any other wisdom you would share with our students about chasing their dreams or staying motivated?
Well I think the idea of working toward the dream career is the key to all of this. If you can get a job that is something that you like doing – something you might do even if no one paid you to do it, that really is the best recipe not just for success, but for overall happiness in life. There are way too many people who have jobs where they’re not necessarily unhappy, but they really do them because bills have to be paid and food has to be put on the table. It’s not the type of thing where they woke up and determined, “I want to do that for a living.” The circumstances of life have driven them into that.
Pursuing the thing that you are passionate about with great determination and with great focus and with great intelligence is worthwhile and will yield an excellent return in most circumstances.
If there is something you want to do, find out everything you can find out about it. Be sensible in how you are approaching things – don’t go in with your head in the clouds, feeling that you’ll be just discovered on the street one day. Be prepared to work for it. I worked five days a week as an intern and then at a separate job on the weekends. That was enough to get me hired – it can be done. If other people can do it, that means you can probably do it was well.
Nothing is unattainable, for the most part. I mean, I’m never going to have the ability to become a professional basketball player, but most things can be achievable if you work harder and smarter and genuinely love doing it. Then it’s not even really work.
This week we started Secret Wars, Marvel’s big event for summer of this year. In the space of the first issue, we destroy everything we’ve built up to this point! *laughs* This makes the subsequent issues very easy to do because there is nothing left. This is kind of the biggest, craziest story we’ve ever attempted. It impacts a ton of our titles and it will certainly have people talking – hopefully good, but definitely either way. That all just began this Wednesday. We’ve been working towards this for two years now and we’re right on the cusp of it. I’d say that’s the big thing that is sort of eclipsing everything right now!
ALERT! WE HAVE PRIZES TO GIVE AWAY!
We’re certainly excited to check out Secret Wars! We hope you found our interview with Tom Brevoort as exciting as we did. Just in case you’re looking for even more Marvel goodness – we have news! We’re giving away TWO copies of The Art of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Just tweet us your favorite Marvel character using the hashtag #MarvelBNC for your chance to win! Sweepstakes ends 5/13 – official rules here.