There had been rumors and indications for over a month or that Marvel exec Bill Jemas had fallen out of favor with his bosses. His confrontational approach to public relations and his support for controversial comics that possibly interfered with movie licensing deals were the most-cited reasons. On 14 October, Marvel issued a press release confirming that Jemas was being shunted diagonally downward to "Chief Marketing Officer" (pretty much an empty vanity title, especially since they specified that it's not an "executive" position). He has since stated that the move was "voluntary", but that doesn't necessarily mean it was his idea. Former Marvel marketing employee Dan Buckley is coming back aboard as Publisher, reporting to the now-promited Gui Karyo as EVP of Operations and Chief Information Officer. A few other people got shuffled around in a reorganisation of the company's operational hierarchy, to accomodate for Jemas' highly reduced role. Jemas' former Chief Operating Officer position is gone.
One of the rumors tagging along with the "Jemas is being fired" rumors had been "Epic is being shut down". Marvel issued a news statement about that a couple working days before the official confirmation of Jemas' ouster. The statement read (emphasis added):
Due to the continuing overwhelming response to its EPIC Comics open submissions call, Marvel Comics is temporarily suspending acceptance of any new EPIC submissions.Since then, Marvel has announced that the new Epic series slated to be launched early in 2004 would instead be combined into a quarterly anthology; that series was canceled after a single issue. Ownership of Phantom Jack, a non-Marvel-Universe series, has been given back to writer Mike SanGiacomo (at his stern request), and he took it to Image. With the first two limited series concluded in 2003, and the first ongoing series going on hiatus, and the anthology canceled, Epic is finished.
"The response has simply been incredible, and because of the high volume of pitches we're still receiving, we're no longer going to be able to evaluate them and respond to aspiring creators in a fair and reasonable time frame," explained EPIC editor Teresa Focarile - "Creators who have taken the time and energy to go through the submission process are entitled to a timely response.
"Now that we realize the level of response and the kind of commitment these projects require, we are going to restructure the EPIC process across all editorial offices and implement some new procedures that will hopefully have us back on track before too long."
"Meanwhile, the early results have been extremely positive, and we've already found new talent whose Epic projects fans will not only see in 2004, but who are also working on and pitching for projects within the regular Marvel editorial offices, like John Jackson Miller, writer of his own EPIC series Crimson Dynamo and premiering this month as the new regular IRON MAN writer."
While new EPIC Comics submissions are no longer being accepted for now, Marvel reminds creators that they ARE STILL looking for new writers on an ongoing basis, and the standard submission options are still in place. Details can be found at Marvel.com at http://www.marvel.com/about/submissions_guide.
In addition to getting the opportunity to pitch for new projects, writers found though this process may also be showcased in two new, ongoing bimonthly titles premiering in early 2004 - SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED and X-MEN UNLIMITED. Each title will feature 2 stories debuting new writers teamed with established artists telling stories about Marvel's biggest icons.
"We're still seeking and developing new talent and have created showcases just for these new writers, and just for the time being we're scaling down the EPIC process to give aspiring creators the attention and professional response they merit," concluded Focarile.
So what does this really mean?
The timing of the closure announcement - coming hand in hand with the news that Jemas, Epic's executive patron, is no longer in charge - makes it impossible not to draw a connection between the two events. It's fairly common for former execs' projects to get axed when they step down, except for those that are clear commercial successes (like the Ultimate line has been). And the jury is still out on Epic. In fact, it's become something of an albatross, consuming substantial staff resources and posing fan-relations difficulties over the slow response times and the mere trickle of new books. The contraction of the line to a quarterly anthology suggests that the new management is reducing its commitment to a minimum. Another not-very-encouraging sign is that sometime on or before 14 October, the entire Epic section of the Marvel web site (including "hidden" files that supposedly no one out here in the real world even knew about) was deleted from the server. A bit drastic if it's only a temporary change in the submission policy. It's over.
What can Epic submitters do instead?
If you submitted something before Epic closed the doors, sit tight. By all indications you'll receive your (probably) rejection letter soon.
Aspiring writers hoping to submit material to Marvel are going to have to get used to a different policy. The main thing "missing" is the promise that they'll read and respond to your submission. That's how the rest of the comics-publishing industry generally works. The "Unsolicited Idea Agreement Form" referenced in the new (actually old) submission guidelines is the same document as previously required for Epic submissions; see my analysis of it for more info. Since the designated venue for new writers is now going to be Spider-Man Unlimited and X-Men Unlimited, I'd suggest focusing on the wall-crawler or mutants in your pitches.
Unless you had your heart set on only writing stories for Marvel's characters, keep in mind that Marvel is not the only publisher out there. You can start narrowing down your options by checking the submissions policies of other established publishers: DC, Image, *Dark Horse (or their current New Recruits program), CrossGen/Code6, Oni, Fantagraphics, *Avatar, Antarctic, Slave Labor, NBM, Top Shelf, D&Q, Highwater, Dreamwave, IDW, *Platinum Studios, 01, Penny-Farthing, Humanoids, Digital Webbing, *Shooting Star, Imperium, United, AIT/PlanetLar, Alternative Comics, or any other company that publishes material similar to the material you like to write. That last bit's important; don't submit superhero stories to Fanta or erotica to CrossGen or autobio to Avatar. I've given you direct links to all their policies, or the e-mail addresses of those to contact; use them to find out what they want. The publishers who have (last I checked) policies that include unsolicited writing-only submissions are flagged with a *. Some of these publishers want drawings on paper, not bloody e-mail attachments; others want e-mail, not friggin' paper. Give them exactly what they ask for; following directions is the first test you have to pass. Many of these places will only accept completed submissions, or only submissions they've asked to see (like after you buy the editor lots of drinks and/or impress her with your portfolio at a convention), so don't waste your time and postage on mailings that will not be looked at. Also, be prepared for a wide variety of deals that might be offered by these companies. Frankly, your best bet is to start making friends with artists, and either put together a full-package proposal (including art) which many of the other publishers will be able to consider, or self-publish it.
Presumably new pencilers and inkers will also be able to "audition" for jobs the traditional way: through portfolio reviews at conventions.
As for colorists and letterers, I'd say you're out of luck. The only reason Marvel said they wanted submissions from you folks was so they'd be able to give your names to Epic writers charged with putting together their own production teams. Over the past few months Epic has been moving closer to the traditional in-house-edited model of producing books anyways, since new writers can be among the least-qualified people to handle that themselves. And as I'm sure you've noticed, Marvel didn't exactly go out of their way to give you the templates you needed to submit in the first place.
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© copyright 2003, Todd VerBeek
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