From Marvel to Moviemaking: Joe Quesada’s Creative Journey

Insights on comics, films and storytelling from the former Marvel EIC

From Marvel to Moviemaking: Joe Quesada's Creative Journey

With Toronto Fan Expo 2023 fast approaching, CGMagazine took the opportunity to speak to Marvel’s former Editor-in-Chief and prolific comic book creator Joe Quesada before his appearance at the convention to discuss his creative journey, current projects post-Marvel, plans for the future and advice for fresh faces wanting to break into the creative industry. 

Currently making the rounds in various film festivals, Joe shared some words regarding his first post-Marvel short film, Fly.

“Fly was a short film I shot and directed — we filmed it during the doldrums days of Covid — it was just a little project to see if I could do it. My buddy suggested we enter it, and it ended up winning a bunch of awards. It’s a very simple story about a young girl trying to get into college.”

With the movie so grounded in reality, was that a nice change of pace for you, someone who is so used to writing about fantastical stories?

Joe Quesada: Definitely, it was definitely a palette cleanser after working in the superhero genre — which I love, by the way. Every time I get the opportunity to do something that’s not superheroes, it feels special and fresh. At the end of the day, I consider myself a storyteller, no matter what the genre is, because all good stories have similar themes — it is just the genre, costumes and settings that change. I had this idea for a long time, and it feels good to get it out finally. 

From Marvel To Moviemaking: Joe Quesada'S Creative Journey
Quesada’s variant cover – Batman #134

With such an extensive background in illustration and storytelling, has aspects of your comic book-making craft translated over to working in film?

Joe Quesada: Absolutely, I’ve directed once before — my first time was a 4-minute Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D episode, that actually won a Webby. I learned that the greatest time-saving trick that I can apply is storyboarding everything— so I storyboarded that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D episode, like every bit of it, probably way too detailed, and the same for my movie here. Storyboarding is not unlike comic books because if you’re telling a story properly, you are more than likely applying the classic rules of cinematic storytelling, or any kind of sequential storytelling — the only difference is you’re not using any special effects or camera tricks — it’s ultimately, very much the same. I came in at an advantage thanks to my years of work on comics.

Do you have any ideas in your heads or specific genres you would like to tackle now that you have Fly under your belt?

Joe Quesada: Fly was a lot of fun, and it was sort of a test — I would definitely like to do another one in the future. The next one I’m thinking about is a Horror Comedy short, that I’m working on with a few friends — taking place in the same small town, with some of the same characters. Okay, there may be some comic book continuity in there. I also have a third one in mind, but god knows when I’ll get to that to, but it has a little bit of a sci-fi bend to it — but again, very, very grounded stuff in a small town, really about the characters and the people.

From Marvel To Moviemaking: Joe Quesada'S Creative Journey
Superman Lost #1 Cover D

“I consider myself a storyteller, no matter what the genre is…”

With the unequivocal influence the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Superhero genre as a whole has had on the film industry, Joe shared his insights on Storytelling and Transmedia from a creative perspective. 

Thanks to my relationship with Marvel and also when Disney acquired Marvel. I’ve had the pleasure of working in just about every entertainment medium — from comics, TV, video games, animation, and theme parks — I never thought I’d get to feature my work in theme parks. Storytelling is storytelling, but the delivery system changes, and you just got to learn how that specific delivery system works. I’ve been very, very fortunate. I enjoy filmmaking, but I always come back to comic books — I have an inherent love for the medium, which always draws me back. It just feels like the purest way for me to tell a story. Also, I’m a control freak — when you create a film or movie, you have to let go. You write the script and direct it, but you have to let it go to the performers and the rest of the crew — when working on comics, it feels like the most undistilled version of myself, for better or for worse.

Do you have any comic projects from your career you’d like to see get the transmedia treatment that hasn’t?

Joe Quesada: There is some stuff I’m working on that’s personal in nature that I hope one day can transfer onto other mediums, but strictly speaking, writing and drawing these projects for me are so they can become comic books. There is always a trend in entertainment; I have to be honest, I fall into it myself — I consider myself a storyteller, and right now, you and I, we are telling each other stories. I see a trend with new publishers talking about IP, IP, IP, and they’re in the game of selling that IP. I’m pulling out of that mindset — I want to create some characters, create great stories — if someone wants to do something later on them, that’s great, but I’m not creating these things as intellectual properties to be mined or profited off of. I’d love to profit off the books, but if more happens beyond that, that’s great. Anything beyond just enjoying the comic book is gravy at that point.

From Marvel To Moviemaking: Joe Quesada'S Creative Journey

Career highlights or something you’re particularly proud of from your long tenure at Marvel?

Joe Quesada: If I had to distil it all down to one thing, it would have to be my 22 years at Marvel, which is actually 24 if you count my Marvel Knights years, along with my creative partner Jimmy Palmiotti, we went to Marvel and revitalized four kinds of dead properties at that time. It would have to be my entire time at Marvel and the people I got to work with. In 2000 when the company was in Chapter 11 and sinking, I was fortunate enough to be on a team that could do something that is rarely seen in the business world — which takes a pretty popular company and then basically sank like a stone. We were able to resuscitate it, give it CPR, bring it back to life, and ultimately give it a life beyond anything we could ever imagine.

When I was given the offer to take over as Editor in Chief, I was given the weekend to think about it and there was a moment where I thought, am I just being offered the best seat on the Titanic, is there anything that can even be done? Or am I just going to be known as the person who sat in Stan Lee’s chair the day the company boarded up. That was a real fear I had to overcome — thankfully, during that weekend, my wife said what’s the hold-up?

She said do you know if you say no, who they’re going to offer the job to, and I said, look, I have no idea, and she said, well, maybe the better the devil, you know — that was it because I realized, wow if I kinda know my own abilities, but I don’t know anybody else’s, so if they do pick the wrong, person, that affects the whole industry. So when I went back on Monday, I brought a list of not demands but a list of things that I felt the company had to do and prioritize — if not, bringing me on would be a waste. Luckily, Bill Jemas had a list too, which lined up about 90% of what I had on mine, so we were on the same page, and it ended up being a great run.

From Marvel To Moviemaking: Joe Quesada'S Creative Journey
The Gotham War

Do you have a process of writing a comic, or perhaps, a favourite part of the process?

Joe Quesada: It all mixes in, but my process is to start is a very simple one — I don’t write a single story unless I don’t know the ending of the story, which is why I’ve never taken on a monthly comic gig. If I have an idea, it generally also comes with an ending. Even when I was writing my short film — I had the ending before I had the middle. Middles are hard; beginnings are easy. I don’t like the feeling of not knowing where I’m going. I once interviewed Ed Viesturus, a high-altitude mountaineer, and he said something that really resonated with me. He said you can’t look at the peak when you’re climbing up because it will discourage you. It’s just too much, especially when you’re on low oxygen. With each step, you must take a moment to catch your breath. Instead of looking at the peak, you must look at the rock 5 feet above you. I operate on that same mentality.

Any advice you can give young creatives trying to break into the industry, something which has changed tremendously since you began your career?

Joe Quesada: Well, you know, it’s interesting you say the landscape has changed, it has, but it has changed for the better — it’s a lot easier for young creatives to find work. When I was breaking in, you had to either get lucky at a convention or roll the dice and send your work in the mail and maybe, by some miracle, someone actually didn’t throw it in the garbage and decided to call you. Also, nowadays, creatives can team up worldwide and say, hey, let’s get together and try something. The community is more connected, but the business is the same. Your job as a writer or artist is to hone your craft. You need to learn to write before you can go out there and write a deconstruction. You have to first master your craft before you can abstract it.

From Marvel To Moviemaking: Joe Quesada'S Creative Journey

In closing Joe shared his excitement in attending Fan Expo Canada 2023 which will be held later this month, from August 24th to the 27th. Readers are encouraged to check out Joe Quesada’s newsletter Drawing a Line Somewhere, available for free on Substack, featuring tutorials, advice and stories from one of Marvel’s greatest real-life heroes. 

Zubi Khan
Zubi Khan

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