“Ultimately, my goal is to make sure that I am doing what the people who ran Marvel when I was a kid did: tell cool stories about cool characters that resonate with the readers at their core and make them want to be a fan for life.”
We’re speaking with Marvel editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski and if the statement above isn’t testament enough, let us tell you that it’s quite clear that C.B. is one of us. Not only passionate about comic books, but a fan too. As we sit down with him, he comments on the SciFiNow merch we’re rocking (it’s what all the cool kids are wearing don’t you know) and in a classic game of ‘we’ll show you ours, if you show us yours’ C.B tells us he’s wearing red today to represent Captain America (yesterday was black and yellow for Loki) and he shows us his Marvel phone case.
We told you: one of us!
“What do I want to achieve?” he ponders, continuing. “There’s no grand goal but just month to month, put out quality comics that the readers who have been reading for 40 plus years, like I have, find the stories entertaining and the newer readers who see the Marvel movies or play a Marvel game, can feel easy access to come into the comic book world.”
We’re speaking to C.B at the 2023 Lucca Comics & Games festival – a comic con that is not only completely unique (C.B has just walked off the stage after an intense discussion with legendary comic book writer Frank Miller about… food. Yep, turns out Miller is an advocate of three meals a day after spending countless nights living off snacks while writing into the wee hours) but that is also an advocate for the next generation of comic book writers, a task that C.B himself is also clearly passionate about.
Indeed, we’re currently sitting with him at his specially designated table in the Area Pro building of the festival, which is entirely dedicated to finding tomorrow’s great comic book creators.
C.B is no stranger to sourcing new talent. He’s been working behind the scenes at Marvel since the early 2000s. He initially wanted to be a comic book artist, but when that didn’t pan out (“I went to a few art classes and I was terrible,” he laughs. “So my parents took me right out.”) he started to take notice of the team behind the comic books.
“I realised that there were men behind the entertainment that I loved early on like George Lucas, Stan Lee and I started paying attention to the names in comics, Chris Claremont and John Byrne being on the X Men run very early on in my career. I’ve dabbled in the creative side, but I found my calling in talent scouting,” he tells us.
C.B did his first work at Marvel Comics as an editor, but that didn’t quite work for him either: “Joe Quesada, my old boss, the editor-in-chief once pulled me aside and he said: ‘You’re a terrible editor’,” he laughs. “Joe was known for his honesty! I was a terrible editor because – he said – I had a terrible history of books shipping on time. I always believed my artists. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t want to split books. I wanted the book to look as good as they wanted.”
Joe Quesada realised that it was in working directly with the talent that C.B could really flourish at Marvel. “Joe said: ‘You’re a terrible editor but all the talent loves you because you respect them and you try to fight for them and give them all the opportunities’. He also knew I had a good eye for finding new talent that could contribute.
“That’s why we created the talent management division and I became Marvel’s talent scout for almost a decade.”
After scouring the world for new talent, C.B became editor-in-chief of Marvel in 2017, but he still touches base with learnings from his previous job…
“I think my passion, my strength, still lies in finding artists but combining that with the creative side,” he explains. “I know how the creative side works, I know what the writers and artists need and now I’m able to understand what my editors need as well. I think that as the editor-in-chief, it is extremely important because we are a team. It’s not my opinion about what the line should be. It’s everyone’s opinion. I run the Marvel editorial team like a democracy, everyone’s opinion counts.
“I wake up every day still pinching myself that I’m at Marvel and I get to work with those characters and the people that I work with every day.”
As a lifelong fan of comic books and Marvel, it’s no surprise that for C.B., present-day Marvel still respects the Marvel that came before, including the emphasis on creating diverse characters. “It’s basically the same formula from back in the day but just on a more global scale,” he tells us. “When Marvel started, it was based in New York, there was the bullpen, all the writers and artists were creating characters but it was mainly white males in New York who are creating diverse characters.
“Stan was very concerned about the world outside the window, and made sure that there was a story for everybody, that every culture and every character was represented when anyone opened a comic. That mandate still stands, but now it’s just more on a global scale because rather than having to go to the library to research for reference, for authenticity from countries and culture and clothing and things, we actually have writers and artists from around the world who are able to bring themselves naturally, authentically into the comics and tell stories about characters, no matter who they are or where they’re from.”
A roster of global writers means that C.B’s job takes him all over the world sourcing new talent but you may be surprised where some of those recruitments take place… “I’ve done portfolio reviews in barbecue joints, I’ve done them outside in parks, I’ve done them in many a bar,” he laughs. “I actually first met Sara Pichelli, who’s one of the great Marvel artists, who co-created Miles Morales, in a bar in Dublin. She sat down, we reviewed her portfolio and it was crazy.
“It’s different wherever you go and we have to learn how to adapt. Sometimes the guidelines, the rules have to change, but that’s what Marvel’s always been!”
A big difference from Marvel in the bullpen days is the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which really started back in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. So how does C.B. juggle with the Marvel comics side of the business alongside the movie and TV side?
“If you take Marvel studios as a body, Disney Plus is now the head, it’s what everybody sees first, mostly because it’s everywhere,” he explains, “and then the arms are our Games and our Animation division. The legs are the consumer products – the T-shirts, the bedsheets, everything with Marvel on – but Marvel Comics is the heart. We are the heart that pumps the blood into the rest of the body.
“If you compare that to 20 years ago, the blood just went into the body. Now it’s a circulatory system – that the blood goes out from us and then circles the body and comes back in. So there are no bad ideas. So Games creates a character, Movies come up with a cool concept, and we say ‘why didn’t we think of that? That’s awesome’. And then you bring it back into comics.”
An example of something that the Comics department took from the Movie/TV department was Alligator Loki from from the Loki show on Disney Plus. “Alligator Loki was brilliant,” he laughs. “We talked to Kevin Feige, and Kevin said ‘please take it’. We did the same with Darcy from the movies, and with Agent Coulson. So we send out, but we gladly take back in because it just makes the whole Marvel experience – no matter where a fan started, or what they like – feel more holistic and more natural.”
Speaking of that Marvel experience, though C.B. is clearly a fan with – let’s face it – probably the coolest job in the world, he stresses the importance of the team not just pandering to nostalgia but actually change and evolve, just like Marvel always has done.
“Every single person that works at Marvel grew up a Marvel fan. Kevin Feige: huge fan, most of the writers and artists and directors that we’ve hired are huge fans,” he says. “They’ve got the comic books in the closets. They got the action figures on the walls. But our jobs is to make sure that we’re not constantly playing into our childhood memories. That the characters are growing up with us, with the readers and with each other in the universe and that the interactions between the characters continue to develop in a natural way that readers are going to like,” he explains. “Do we hit it out of the park 100% of the time? No. We have stumbles, there are things that people don’t react to as well as we thought they would.
“But there are other things where people go crazy for that we didn’t even see coming. Dan Slott introduced Spider-Boy as a character recently. His first issue just came out as the highest selling comic of the year for us so far. The reviews online have gone amazingly well and if you would have asked me I would have said: ‘Ah, that character is nice, he’s fun, but maybe not the going to be the biggest hit’. I would have never expected it! We love it when we we’re surprised as much as anyone else.
“As long as the readers feel a connection with the character, they feel that we put as much love into it as they expected us to and that they know that we are giving as much attention to the characters they love as creating new characters for the next generation, I think we’re always in a great place.”
We couldn’t agree more!
Spider-Boy is out now. Find more from C.B Cebulski here, where he discusses the new crossover event: Blood Hunt.