This is an open letter from Marvel President and COO Bill Jemas regarding Marvel's April-debuting 3-issue anthology 411 (see 'Marvel Gives Peace A Chance'). The title is stirring up controversy in both fan and retailer circles (see these retailer reactions to our initial story on the title: 'Andy Battaglia of Comics Etc. on 411' and 'Jerry Ringi of Amazing Fantasy on Ordering Namor'), so Jemas put out this response, which includes the forward to the book. Although his comments are focused primarily on fan reactions, many of them apply to the trade as well.
After reading on-line comic community reactions - positive and negative - to Marvel's 411 announcement, I wanted to share with all of you the foreword to the first book.
'No greater love can a man have, than when he lays down his life for a friend.'
Creators from many different countries and very diverse backgrounds contributed the stories you are about to read. Marvel did not seek to control the content of these books. We just asked for 'the 411 on peace.'
Yet, as story after story came in from creators, one common theme shone through: Your enemy, even your mortal enemy, is a member of the family of man...a member of your own family. 411 is about people who live by this principle. 411 is about peacemakers: people who make sacrifices in the name of humanity. These are people willing to die to keep all of us - on all sides - alive.
Stories about peacemakers are particularly difficult to tell with America on the brink of war. The part about self sacrifice is easily understood, because self-sacrifice is, after all, the essence of being a soldier: a Christian soldier sacrificing his life in battle is a hero, just as a Muslim soldier giving his life in battle is a hero. An Iraqi soldier dying for his country is a hero to his people just as an American soldier dying in the name of freedom is a hero to his.
But the theme of sacrifice for the sake of peace, for the sake of all of humanity, is hard for many Americans to accept right now, with the hearts and minds of the body politic rising in a patriotic furor. You see, for any nation to engage in war, the most inhumane human enterprise, its people must believe that their enemy has given up the right to be treated as human beings - in short, that they deserve to die. In wartime, looking for the humanity in your enemy can't help but be seen - by patriots - as unpatriotic.
I hope that you will read this book in the spirit that the comic creative community intended it. These stories are neither anti-America nor anti-Iraqi, not anti-French nor anti Israeli. 411 is pro-human. It is a tribute to peacemakers, to people who turn the other cheek in the face of violence; people who refuse to lose sight of the fact that their enemies are part of their own community.
Bill Jemas, 3/6/03
Like every significant Marvel announcement in the last few years, 411 spurred its share of squabbles within comic book circles, as evidenced by the on-line message boards. It occurred to me, while reading through the 411 posts, that spirited argument plays an important role in keeping a community, like ours, together.
I know that sounds strange, because all that name-calling, finger-pointing and groin-kicking seems pretty divisive at first. But if you step back and look at the industry and art form as a whole, you'll see hundreds of thousands of people moving in the same general direction with a few hundred of us typing and posting like crazy, trying to keep our flock together.
Internal debate has been part of comics for as long as we have been a community, and the debates have been growing more vociferous the industry has ended its period of stagnation and started to advance. To me, at least, this is all very natural - and very positive.
I try to spur DC to use AOL's vast resources to help us reach new fans - I do that that by kicking them in the pants, in public, every once in a while. Traditionalists (a.k.a. fan boys) try to encourage Marvel, and me in particular, to uphold the longstanding storytelling traditions - they do that by knocking me in the head when they know I'm looking their way. When any member of the flock gets too far out of line, each of us tries to nudge and nip them back in the 'right' direction - in what we feel is the best direction for the community.
I am writing this now to ask you to think about the difference between this electronic 'town hall' we have in comics, and the increasingly hysterical rhetoric of war rising all over the world right now. The former tends to keep us all in the fold, working together, and moving forward; the latter is intended to dehumanize our opponents, first to cull them and then to kill them.
Here's to hoping that our political and spiritual leaders - all of them, all over the world - engage in the kind of discussion that we have in our little land of comics.