At a conference sponsored by investment firm Bear Stearns, Marvel's Peter Cuneo announced that the publisher had reached a distribution agreement with the 7-Eleven convenience store chain that would more than double the number of current outlets for Marvel comics.  Avi Arad, the head of Marvel Studios, added that Marvel had developed a product line for its new c-store retail outlets, though no product details or timetable were provided during the call.  Cuneo characterized the 7-Eleven agreement and a deal with Barnes & Noble to expand a 50-store experiment in carrying Marvel comics to 300 stores as a strategic decision to provide Marvel comics with 'exposure to a wider audience' than the publisher's current distribution provides.


Marvel also announced that it was distributing more than 2 million free Fantastic Four comics to some 6,000 schools through a program administered by Marvel's subsidiary Cover Concepts.  The comics, created with input from educators, will be accompanied by more than 8,000 teacher guides filled with lesson plans focusing on reading, writing, science and math.  To create even more interest among grade schoolers, Cover Concepts is sponsoring a 'Do Your Thing Essay Contest' based on the comics (the contest winner will get a guest appearance in a Fantastic Four comic as well as $1000 in Toybiz toys).


The ambitious Cover Concepts school promotion is timed to generate additional interest in the release of the Fantastic Four film this summer.  The FF movie, which is being produced by 20th Century Fox, should also get a boost from having its trailer included in all showings of the Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, which opens in May. 


Arad described the FF movie as the 'feel-good action comedy' of the summer and waxed poetic over the merchandising potential of the film, which features five major characters (collect 'em all).  Noting the success of the Hulk Hands toys associated with the release of Ang Lee's Incredible Hulk movie, Arad was clearly excited about the Thing Hands and Thing Feet products from the new FF movie product line. 


Arad also noted that a Fantastic Four animated series, produced in France by Antefilms, would keep the property in the public eye when it debuts in late 2006 (see 'Marvel Licenses FF for Animated Series').


Arad also announced that Marvel's tentpole release for 2006, Ghost Rider, had commenced shooting in Australia with Nicholas Cage in the title role (and Peter Fonda as the devil).  Spider-Man 3 will carry the Marvel flag for 2007 and Arad promises that there will be a major Marvel-based film release every year.  At the other end of the movie spectrum the first in a series of direct-to-video, 70-minute animated series produced by Lions Gate, The Avengers, will debut in the first quarter of 2006.


Cuneo also used the occasion of the conference call to dispel several myths about Marvel, including the idea that the company was a 'one-trick pony' -- dependent for its success on Spider-Man.  Cuneo noted that Marvel projects that the webslinging wallcrawler will be responsible for slightly less than 40% of the company's income in 2005.