Marvel Editor-In-Chief C.B. Cebulski Wants To Focus On Entertainment, Not Politics

C.B. Cebulski at a recent Marvel creative retreat. (Image: Marvel)

At this year’s TerrifiCon in Connecticut, Marvel Comics’ recently-appointed Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski sat down with comics writers Nick Spencer and Charles Soule, and reporter John Siuntres, to talk about the publishing company’s future.

Over the course of their conversation, which you can listen to here, Cebulski enthusiastically spoke at length about new developments on Marvel’s horizon, such as the Fantastic Four’s return to prominence and Chris Claremont’s upcoming return to the X-Men.

But when asked specifically about the tonal direction Cebulski plans to take Marvel’s stories, the editor shifted into a much more corporate and perplexing posture.

One audience member in attendance for the panel made a point of asking — given Marvel’s extensive history dealing with and commentating on politics and social issues in the pages of its comics — what kind of messages the company wants to tell people today. Cebulski took a moment before responding with a point about how comics can’t get “too deep” into politics:

Marvel has always been, as Stan [Lee] always said, "the world outside our window". It’s the reflection of the modern times that we live in. Marvel has never shied away from that, around what happened with 9/11 or what we were doing with Secret Empire. And we’re going to continue that tradition. There are a couple of [upcoming issues] that are going to reflect things that are going on in the real world.

However, one of the things I want to make sure is when we do tell these stories — I don’t know how to put this in the right way — they still have to be entertainment. If we want to see the real world, we can turn on CNN, we can turn on the TV, we can pick up a newspaper and see what’s going on there. And yes, it’s our responsibility as a comic book publisher, especially Marvel, given the history that we have, to reflect those times, but they still have to be fun.

We can’t get too deep into the politics. And the characters can take sides, choose sides, turn evil, turn back to good, but they still have to entertain. That’s first and foremost, no matter what real-world events we are going to reflect, they are going to be fictionalised and they’re going to have the classic spin that Stan always brought to them. They will be serious, but they may make you smile.

It’s odd to hear Secret Empire held up as an example of Marvel’s political commentary given how much time the company spent insisting that it wasn’t meant to be a political story, despite that obviously not being the case.

Cebulski has a point — comics are meant to be entertainment. But at the same time, it’s silly to pretend that entertainment should exist in an impenetrable cultural bubble where the realities of the things people experience first hand and see in the media aren’t foundational parts of the stories being told and the people telling them.

One of the most frustrating things about reading comics from legacy publishers is that, inevitably, there comes a moment where you can’t escape the fact that things don’t really change all that much. Wolverine comes back, Jean Grey dies again, the Fantastic Four have some sort of family drama, and readers are expected to get excited every single time.

Sure, for a while, that can be entertaining, but in time, it becomes a reminder of the historical, systemic inflexibility of the comics publishing industry that, on the whole, has only made the slightest of advancements in terms of diversifying talent pools and staff and pushing for better representation on the page.

The reason that people advocate for timely stories grounded in reality, be they about politically-charged events or not, is because more often than not, those stories centre traditionally marginalised people in meaningful ways that other stories do not.

Much noise is made when new characters who aren’t straight white men are introduced, but those characters suffer (narratively speaking) when they’re just plopped into plots readers have seen time and time again, because they break the illusion of comics being as ever-changing as breathless press releases would have you think.

It may come as a surprise to some, but most people aren’t in favour of wall-to-wall Very Special Issues that strictly focus on social injustices week to week. But relegating those narratives into a few sequestered plot lines that don’t play a part in the long term doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea.

And perhaps having the EiC of a major publisher downplay politically themed stories while women, people of colour, and queer people in the comics community are being targeted by hateful crusades of harassment wasn’t the best call.


Comments

    If only we had 80 years of experience to suggest this was the right path.

      Uh? I don't understand your comment. Throughout most of its history, Marvel hasn't shied away from politics. Doing it now is not some sort of "returning to roots".

    women, people of colour, and queer people in the comics community are being targeted by hateful crusades of harassment
    Isn't this somewhat ignorant of the one thing the people being targeted have in common? A certain ideology perhaps?
    Not an advocating the harassment on any count, but to argue the people targeted are being targeted for any other reason than being vocal about their brand of politics is missing the biggest part of the picture.
    C. B. Cebulski, Tom King, Jeff Lemire, Nick Spencer, Zircher, Sean Gordon Murphy. That's without even trying and they are all Straight White Men who have been targeted by ComicsGate.

      And this post is somewhat ignorant of the one thing C. B. Cebulski, Tom King, Jeff Lemire, Nick Spencer, Zircher, Sean Gordon Murphy have in common.

      They are all Straight White Men (except for Akira Yoshida).

      And as a result, while they are also being targeted by the hordes of frothing comicsgate incels

      a) they aren't being as directly targeted
      b) their own multiple layers of privilege insulate them significantly

      which is kind of the whole point.

      You see, while the incel brigade says:

      OH I AM NOT BEING *PHOBIC THAT ANTI TRANS/GAY/BLACK/FAT COMMENT I JUST MADE IS SIMPLY A MEANS TO INSULT SJWS

      a) bullshit
      b) more bullshit
      c) no one believes that bullshit except for other incels
      d) even if it's not bullshit, they're still being an asshole
      e) by using that as a means of justification they're actually doing more damage to the thing they allegedly aren't insulting

      Comicsgate, like gamergate etc, is just shitty, vile white dudes who have never had anything in their lives not go their own way so when someone else DARES claim a tiny part of their massive domain they

      LOSE
      THEIR
      SHIT

      All we can do is stop trying to justify these creeps and just see if we can ensure the next generation have better parenting so that white boys learn to understand what 'no' means.

        they aren't being as directly targeted
        It just feels like a statement made without looking in to it much at all. Statistically men and women tend to get harassed in equal parts online (http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/07/11/experiencing-online-harassment/) with men getting slightly more harrassment, so surely the default stance would be equal parts?

        Comicsgate, like gamergate etc, is just shitty, vile white dudes
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kErzmNRWQBU
        Try again.

        You and I aren't the only people reading comments, if you aren't a poe you might want to think about how your comments are read.

    I'd believe this if his staff weren't outright engaged in harassing random customers and other professionals over "politics" (if you can even call it that when it's been happening on Twitter over "I don't like this particular piece of dialogue, it doesn't feel organic") without any kind of punishment. Politics are fine in comics so long as it's well executed within the product. Unprofessional behaviour and hiring unqualified people for roles they're not suited for and cost cutting to the point of hurting product quality is not fine regardless of political content.

    But if Cebulski doesn't want to address those problems, people will do what they were already doing and just not buy the products.

    See it is almost like if the last three years had actually been properly thought out and not a mess of some novice editorial changes everyone could have enjoyed some really nice cake. I am pretty sure DC is forever thankful that Marvel shot themselves in the face in such a way that was easy for them to dissect and make sure that they didn't follow in the exact same footsteps.

    DC's transition into being progressive was a lot more natural and well thought out. It was done in such a way that not only didn't need to destroy characters, but also experienced really nice sales. They have been given the wriggle room to experiment with a whole lot of publications that would likely had never happened if Rebirth hadn't been as well received as it was.

    While Cebulski says he wants to make Marvel comics less political, he has a whole staff of writers who have very deeply embedded single minded political ideals that they are going to push into the books they are writing, then will lash out at any fans who doesn't agree or celebrate those same ideals; even going as far as insulting those fans in future books.

    Marvel's problem isn't so much the political stories, it's the writers and their attitudes towards long term fans of the books that is causing those same fans to stop buying their books. You can't insult your customers and then expect them to continue supporting your brand. It's impossible.

    I can agree with the sentiment of focusing on entertainment (though I'd argue that it is entirely possible and better to focus on /both/). However we'll have to wait to see how much of that "entertainment" metric is simply bending backwards and changing course whenever some straight white dudes say "We don't like seeing so many feminist women or queer characters in our comics!"

    The problem with this is though you cant avoid politics. Because subsets of society will always see things as politics.

    You add a female character - "WAAAAH PC RUNING MY COMICS WAAAAH!"
    You add a male character - "WAAAH YOU ARE SEXISTS, YOU MUST REPRESENT EVERYONE"

    Marvel should just keep doing what they are doing and stop giving a crap what both sides of politics are inferring from their decisions.

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