Marvel President Dan Buckley made time in April, following up on his keynote address at the ComicsPRO annual meeting (see “Buckley Keynote Address Transcript”), for a talk with ICv2 on the topics of the day.  In Part 1, we talked about the state of the comics medium and the market, licensing kids titles to others, superheroes’ decline in share, and steps to improve Marvel Comics' output.  In Part 2, we talked about Marvel’s structure, direct market distribution, Marvel’s title count, Marvel’s publishing plan, including a new program for kids comics, and Marvel’s themes for the year.

Last year there was a change in your reporting structure (see “Perlmutter Out”).  Has that changed what's going on in Marvel publishing at all?
Dan Buckley:  No.  To be clear, I've been in some way, shape, or form reporting in to Kevin [Feige] since 2019.

One other structure question.  You had a publisher in place at Marvel for a while, and it doesn’t appear there is one now.  Are you handling those duties yourself, or did they go to the people that were reporting to him?
I'm probably handling the bulk of the strategic stuff, and broad-based business planning.  As you know, the group that reports in to me, we've been around each other for a pretty long time, so there's certain things that I depend on them to pick up and do on a day-to-day basis.  I've been working with CB [Cebulski] for almost 20 years; David Gabriel almost 20 years; Mark Annunziato, 15.  The team was able to pick up and run with whatever things I might not have been able to get to day-to-day.  I think we've done a pretty good job just picking up and running on that process.

It's been a few years now since the big distribution change, and you addressed the whole fragmentation of data and some things that are being done to try to improve that side of it.  Retailers obviously have more burdensome relationships to manage in terms of the number of relationships they have to manage to get product in.  You said when you made the change that it would bring in better infrastructure, and it's going to help us.  Do you think those two things have balanced out in a positive way?
I'll admit the data is frustrating, and I don't have to deal with the headaches the retailers deal with on a day‑to‑day basis.  I know having multiple vendors and multiple partners is challenging, but some really good things have come out of that.  How retailers deal with shipping and freight, it's a better situation for them now than before.  Competition helps us in this space; I had a great partnership with Diamond, but I think it's been beneficial to the industry.  Are there growing pains?  Of course.  These are big changes for everybody. Is everyone happy with us for it?  No, [laughs] and I get that too, and they don't all have to be happy, and I respectfully understand that.

We're looking at things slightly differently.  We're approaching things differently.  We feel like we're in a better position to help grow the industry as a whole for a variety of different reasons, but I prefer not to get into it.

You talked about the ComicsPRO efforts: they're basically trying to standardize the metadata around comics so that all these different ways of distributing comics have common vocabulary in terms of handling sales.  What do you see as the path from that to getting industry‑wide reporting?
It's the only way we're going to get to industry‑wide reporting, so I'll just answer the big question.  I'm a big supporter of this; I think it's really, really important for everybody.  As far as the details to get from here to there, I would have to defer to ComicsPRO, because they're taking point on that; they obviously have to deal with multiple people to do this right.  But I'm really happy that they're taking up the task and they've asked us to participate.

Let’s talk about Marvel's publishing plans for 2024, and start with title count.  Where are you in 2024 versus where you were maybe during the pandemic and before?
I don't have the exact numbers in front of me.  Broadly, we're probably pretty even with where we were pre‑pandemic.  The mix of product might be a little bit different.  Obviously, we shut down for a while during the pandemic, and that's not a fair assessment, so let's throw out ‘20 as an analysis point.  We're higher than we were in '21, but we're pretty close to where we were in '19, before everything shut down.

From a broad-based standpoint, we might be a little lighter in comics, not a ton lighter.  I'm talking maybe five to six issues a month.

You talked in your keynote about using the power of Marvel Studios to expand the business in comic stores.  Back in 2014, you talked about how you were trying to build heat around a character for a year to two years in advance of the release of a movie, and then you wanted to have the right backlist in print. Has that changed, or what's your current strategy?
The broad-based approach from the standpoint of product offerings and how to complement what Studios is doing that you just described, yeah, we most certainly are going to lean into that approach still.

The bigger issue that happened in between is the pandemic and the slate.  The movie release dates changed a lot for a lot of really good reasons, obviously, right?  So it was harder to align because dates moved and we have published products in certain windows.

We feel good about that realignment starting to hit.  For Deadpool [& Wolverine], it’s maybe not quite a year ahead, but we have a good complementary set of products, digital publishing programs and print programs, in place for this July.

I think you'll see more of that building heat 12 to 6 months before release date, more thoughtful curation of the backlist trades and making sure that we have fresh and exciting frontlist trades around release.  I can see it in the plan; you'll start seeing it more in the publishing schedules going into '25.

It was harder to do that line-up that you just described during the pandemic, just because they moved so much.

Another question on content. Over the past decade (and you alluded to this earlier), Marvel has very successfully expanded the demographics of its audience.  That's led to an overall growth in the opportunity, which almost everybody regards as a positive.  But there is the thought from some quarters that that led to a decline in appeal for that old core audience of teen and young adult males.  What are your thoughts on that?
I don't think the broadening of our audience had anything to do with if there was some degradation in our appeal with teen and young adult males.  If we weren't making the right product to resonate with them out of the core publishing business, that was on our content plan, not on the broadening of our content and demographics.

Our sales don't indicate that we have a huge problem. Obviously the pandemic created a bunch of white noise.  We have to continue to do a better job leveraging the demographic tentacles that have been created by the success of our games team, and the studios team, and Spidey and his Amazing Friends on Disney Junior.

We continue to say, how do we take advantage of this reach to help feed the comic book business and grow and sustain that readership base.  No, I don't buy that our broadening caused a decrease in readership.  You can find a specific book to say maybe that story didn't resonate, but I don’t buy that argument.

What do you see as the key opportunities for retailers with Marvel product this year?
I’m excited that in August, we will be shipping out that low-price-to-the-retailers all ages Spidey and his Amazing Friends comic.

We’ll be rotating that with a middle grade Spider-Man offering that will be coming in September.  To be clear, this is content that was generated for other markets, and we're repackaging it and putting it out, but it isn't stuff that's been in Free Comic Book Day or anything like that.

We're going to be testing that out for four or five months, rotating, and we see that as retailers being able to promote it and say, "Hey, we have this product, get stuff for your kids or bring some kids in.”

We want to have comics for both the young grades and middle grades, because I know there's a difference: kids 9 and 10 might not be as into reading and writing as making friends.  We wanted to mix it up a little bit so the retailers would have a broad offering.  We think that will be a huge opportunity, especially with the core demographics that go into hobby shops.

We're trying to make sure we have a lot of product in there.  We're doing quite a bit of promotion: we're working pretty closely right now with the social media team, and with other folks on the digital media side to keep that excitement quite high.

And then, coming out of Deadpool & Wolverine, we'll also be leaning a little bit harder into Wolverine's 50th anniversary.  We're going to have quite a bit of highly promoted product that is leaning into the drafting of Wolverine. X-Men 97 is obviously creating a lot of heat around X, so we're leaning into that quite a bit.

We're also pretty excited about the What If...?s we're doing.  You saw the news about What If...? Donald Duck Became Wolverine (see “It Had to Happen – Donald Duck as Wolverine”).  We'll be doing a series of those. Those will reach out to Disney fans and Marvel fans.  That's just an outgrowth of the variant cover program around Disney 100.  We're pretty excited about that, just as a fun piece.

I've seen the Uncle Scrooge book by Jason Aaron, and it might be one of the prettiest books we've made in 20 years (see “Jason Aaron to Pen Marvel’s ‘Uncle Scrooge’”).  It's gorgeous, so we're pretty excited about that.

Those collaborations are helping us broaden the market.  We do have some stuff that we'll announce more in the latter half of the year that will be stuff organically coming out of Blood Hunt, but I can't get into that right now.

[Here’s some additional information on the kids program provided by a Marvel spokesperson after the interview—ed.

The retailer program will begin in August, alternating each month between
Spidey and His Amazing Friends comic bundles and Spider-Man: Classroom Heroes comic bundles.

Spidey and His Amazing Friends are perfect for younger readers, including short story SAHAF reprints and activity pages

Spider-Man: Classroom Heroes are more for middle-grade readers, featuring short story reprints about Spider-Man saving NYC from his classic rogues’ gallery, while balancing his life as a high-schooler

There will be a skip month in October to allow for our usual Halloween giveaways.

These will all be in typical comic book formats, priced at $5 per bundle of five copies for retailers.

Anything else that you want to communicate to our retailer audience which maybe wasn't at ComicsPro?
One of the things I've been emphasizing a lot with our staff and with the editorial team and our writing team: It's going to sound silly, but we all got into the comics because it was fun.  I'm not going to stop selling dystopian future stories that are very depressing because they sell, but what we do is a fun medium and we do fun things.  I think we should celebrate that more because more people are going to likely collaborate and be involved if they think it's a good time.  It's been hard to feel that way. We think it's really important, we're trying to convey that.

Deadpool's coming at a great time, because you can have a lot of fun with that.  The crossover with the Disney characters, the What If...? Disney books, those are a reflection of us trying to have a bit more fun. It's what we do.

Then the other thing too, I want to emphasize, there's a lot of different tactical things that you're seeing between the Marvel Must-Have, these younger age books that will be giving greater access to the retailers that they can either give them away or sell them at a full cover price, the Blood Hunt red band covers that are exclusive to the retailers.  One of the big things we're trying to do besides fun is create products and items that increase foot traffic in stores.  That is one of the biggest priorities I put in front of the team as a whole, from editorial to marketing. Any suggestions people have where we can help do that, we're open to them.

I think if you look at a lot of the things we're doing, at sales programs and products, it's being driven by those two main things that I'm trying to drive across the board.

Click here to go back to Part 1.