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October, 2006

Once again, I'm happy to bring you an interview with Cory Sedlmeier, editor of the Masterworks program, and it's a pretty good time to be talking to him. In a couple short weeks, this site will be launching the yearly installment of the Masterworks Survey, and we also had the privilege of announcing two big Masterworks that will see release in January 2007, Warlock Vol. 1 and Atlas Era Heroes Vol. 1! We caught up with Cory to discuss these two particular volumes specifically, as well as a couple other topics at hand.

GORMUU: We're not only starting 2007 off with a first for the Atlas Era (reprinting the super-hero comics of the '50s), but with Warlock Masterworks Vol. 1, we're also seeing our first non-X-Men foray into the "Bronze Age" of comics. First off, many Masterworks fans know you've long flown the freak flag for Warlock high. Personally, I bet you are really looking forward to seeing this book to fruition, huh?

CORY: I won't say it isn't a bit of a guilty pleasure. I've always felt that Warlock was conceptually one of the coolest characters in Marvel's stable. "Jesus Christ Super-Hero" is a pretty wild concept, and Roy and Gil gave it a gravity that's pretty hard to come by in anything else that was coming out of Marvel at the time. It was also a series that I feel does a great job at displaying the shifting focus of Marvel's output during the '70s. While there's no arguing Stan was and still remains a socially conscious writer, the young bucks like Roy Thomas, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart, etc. ratcheted up this quality to a whole new level. I've always enjoyed the diversity and directness that began to emerge in mainstream comics in the '70s.

GORMUU: Aside from Uncanny X-Men, which was reprinted back in the early years of the Masterworks program, Marvel hasn't published any Masterworks with Bronze Age material. There are many thoughts as to why (Marvel fears that these issues are too easily accessible and otherwise inexpensive for fans, lack of interest in the time period, etc.) Is there any trepidation into moving into the '70s era with Masterworks based on these or other factors?

CORY: The scarcity of the material collected is part of the equation, but the decision to dive into the '70s now has more to do with the natural evolution of the line. The 1960s runs of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Thor and company that started the House of Ideas will always be the foundation of the line, but now that that foundation has been firmly laid, I'm feeling like we need to add couple bedrooms and a pool to the ol' joint.

GORMUU: No question that Warlock makes the Masterworks clubhouse a little more swanky! Now, it's part of the conventional wisdom held by reprint fans that with '70s and later material, it is easier to track down good source material for restoration. Is that true in this case? And how's this book shaping up as far as restoration?

CORY: There's no guarantees on anything. As a general rule, yes, I'd say that our film/photostat archives are more complete for what I've dabbled in from the '70s, but there's still the occasional gap. For the issues collected in Warlock Vol. 1 we were very fortunate and everything was there and in good condition. The reconstruction is actually already completed, and the coloring is a stone's throw away from being done, too. This one's been a well-kept secret!

GORMUU: The way you've got it mapped out, Warlock Vol. 1 covers the pre-Starlin years of the title from front to back. Can you fill in the uninitiated on what they're getting with this book as far as story content?

CORY: It all kicks off in Marvel Premiere #1, which in 27 short pages defines the character in no uncertain terms, taking him from the Stan and Jack days as "Him" (see FF Vol. 7) to the soul gem-wearing hero christened "Warlock" we all know today. Shamed by his failure creating Dr. Moreau-esque man-beasts (in the soon to be released Thor Vol. 5), the High Evolutionary creates a new duplicate of the Earth called Counter-Earth. But his new Eden is poisoned by the Man-Beast, so he conscripts Warlock to redeem the planet. The allegory is unmistakable, and it sets a high standard for the series that makes the ride all the more compelling. After those 27 pages, insofar as I'm concerned, Roy and Gil owned the character. It's some of the best work Gil did in his career - all angles and anatomy. It's great, great work. Anyone who enjoys the O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow would definitely dig Warlock.

GORMUU: Who's writing the introduction?

CORY: The honor couldn't go to anyone other than Roy Thomas. Fans will definitely dig the insight he offers into the evolution of the character.

GORMUU: With big things brewing in the "cosmic" side of the Marvel Universe, what with the Annihilation storyline that has been playing out for the last year in Marvel Comics, are the chances good that we'll see more forays into this type of comic in future Masterworks installments?

CORY: Absolutely. My first Marvel comic that didn't have giant robots or Rocky and Bullwinkle was The Infinity Gauntlet, so I'm not going to pretend that I don't have a soft spot for comics with cosmic stylings.

GORMUU: In the next couple weeks, we'll be ready to launch the 2006 Masterworks Survey, which has turned into a real focal point of the year for the Masterworks website. It really gets fans excited about the future of Masterworks when they're presented with all the options for the different ways the Masterworks library could develop. What do you think of the survey? As the guy who gets to preside over many of the choices made for the Masterworks, do you get a lot out of it?

CORY: It's always fun to see what readers' interests are through the survey. If I remember correctly, your survey from last year was just shy of 1,000 participants, which is within spitting distance of 1/3 of initial sales on any given Masterworks. With that kind of turnout one can get a snapshot, minimally, of what the die-hard readers are into, if not something that can easily extrapolate into the full readership.

For nine out of ten volumes I tend to have the publishing schedule set well in advance, which means the survey often works as reinforcement for plans already laid down, however, it can be a helpful gauge when I'm thinking of shooting for something that runs off the rails a bit.

GORMUU: Now is probably a good time to get a read on the outlay of next year's schedule. In the past, we've seen a dedication to a monthly slate of "Marvel Age" books, and a plan for a quarterly schedule of Golden Age books - a line which, unfortunately, has seen some scheduling delays to keep it from hitting that goal. But Atlas Era is still an unknown quantity. What's the outlook for next year as we look ahead to the different lines for which you guys are producing books?

CORY: Marvel Age is going to keep on trucking along the same as it did in 2006 with a volume each and every month.

Golden Age has been a frustrating experience, but that's only because we're investing so much more time in making absolutely certain they're books that meet the quality standards Masterworks readers have come to expect. I say this with fingers crossed, it looks like we're just about over the hill. If all goes well, Golden Age will have a steady, quarterly schedule all next year with some great material that's never, ever been reprinted before.

By the time you're all reading this the second Atlas Era volume - Tales of Suspense - will probably be wrapping up at the printer. Two volumes for 2006 was great fun for me, so I'm all for upping the ante in 2007!

GORMUU: Speaking of Atlas Era in 2007, you've got at least one interesting project set up, and that is the addition of couple volumes of Atlas Era Heroes to the Masterworks canon. Can you talk about the appeal that this kind of material will have to Masterworks fans who might not be familiar with it, and also what it will mean to the Masterworks program as a whole?

CORY: Well, much like launching the Atlas Era line last January, I thought it'd be fun to start '07 with a similar Masterworks first. The Atlas Era Heroes line will be a series that encompasses the 1950s appearances of Atlas/Marvel's heroic characters. While horror, war and crime comics often dominated the era, there are a select 60 or 70 hero books from the period that constitute some of the rarest content in Marvel's history, by some of Marvel's greatest talents.

For instance, the first Atlas Heroes volume will include the 1950 Marvel Boy series from his own title and Astonishing —now there's a name with a Marvel pedigree! Launched by Stan Lee and Russ Heath, and then later presided over by Bill Everett, there are active links to this series that carry into the comics coming out right now. Marvel Boy's Quantum Bands and costume tie directly to Quasar, and there are clear connections between Stan Lee and Gene Colan's conception of Captain Marvel and this '50s ancestor. Not to mention it's one of the first places where the "cosmic" started to creep into Marvel Comics.

Beyond all that, how can you go wrong with a teen super-hero raised on the planet Uranus by his anti-war scientist father, who then goes on to battle crooks and aliens? It's pure action-hero merged with the best '50s sci-fi stylings.

'Nuff said about Marvel Boy. There's also the 1954 revival of Captain America, the Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner in the pages of Young Men and other titles, which teamed Stan Lee and John Romita on their first super-hero project, reunited the Human Torch with original-series creator, Carl Burgos, and Sub-Mariner, which is regarded by many to be Bill Everett's best work on the character.

After that, there's the original Black Knight series by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely, one of the little known titans of Atlas Era comics; Venus, a series that straddled both super-hero and fantasy/horror genres while introducing the first Marvel Comics renditions of Thor, Loki, Hercules, and more; and who knows, we may even dabble in some of the space-hero tales from Space Squadron and Spaceman, two series that featured recurring heroic leads, Jet Dixon and Speed Carter, very much a rarity for the time.

GORMUU: What are the challenges you've been faced with when mapping out a strategy to cover the Atlas Era super-heroes in Masterworks?

CORY: Since there's such a select amount of material, and often in incongruous blocks, it was a definite challenge plotting a logical course through the material that balanced content with chronology and still offered a book that wasn't a slim four or five issues. At the same time I needed to stay away from 350-page monster volumes. It was a riddle I'm glad to have in the rear-view. A big thanks goes out to everyone who contributed their thoughts to the final layout of the line!

GORMUU: What's the situation like in regards to tracking down source material for this particular Atlas Era stuff? Is this a tough nut to crack or have you had some pleasant surprises in finding stuff?

CORY: So far, I've found that our film/photostat archives for the late Atlas Era monster material are in impeccable condition. Since many of these stories have never been reprinted before, it's likely that they've sat untouched in various warehouses for over 50 years.

The search for Atlas Heroes material hasn't been as successful so far, but still nothing comparable to the Golden Age, where there's been very little of what we've searched for still remaining.

What's been heartening are the fans and readers have been gracious enough to drop us a line and let us know they have such-and-such rare issue. There are instances where those kinds of contributions have made all the difference in whether we push forward on a project in development or not.

If you're the lucky owner of rare '40s and '50s Timely/Atlas/Marvels, or even luckier owner of original artwork, please feel free to contact me at cmsedlmeier@marvel.com.

GORMUU: So with Atlas Era, we've got the late-period monster/sci-fi anthology stuff, and now we've broached the Hero material. But of course, there are other genres: jungle, war, crime, early-period monster/horror and even the Millie/Patsy girl comics. Got your eye on any of that material?

CORY: Oh yeah! I'm an avid fan of '50s horror. The oversized EC collections are some of my favorite books, so I'd love to tap into Marvel's store of horror content! Same goes for war comics. And jungle girls? You need look no further than the work of Frank Cho for my opinion on that one.

GORMUU: Finally, it's not really a secret or anything; in fact, you openly discussed it in the letters page to the last issue of Black Panther you edited, but many Masterworks fans aren't aware that you've actually left Marvel Comics as an everyday employee. Can you explain what led you to make that decision and how it will affect your work on the Masterworks, which you're now doing on a freelance basis?

CORY: Yup, I feel all unloved. Not even a peep from anyone on that.

Sarcasm and admonishments aside, after five years up at the office, it was just time for a change of pace. I come from a very long line of work-a-holics, and without knowing it until the guerilla warfare had already ended, I inherited that ethic lock, stock and barrel.

I take a lot of pride in the work I do, and I'll push through for as long as I have to before I'll let a project go that doesn't meet the standard I strive to meet. My father's been a self-employed carpenter as long as I've been alive, and when you're a small businessman you eat or don't eat on the basis of the quality of your work and the word of mouth that comes with it. That's a lesson I very much take to heart. The flip side to that is given the demands of a given work environment, eventually you notice that the cleaning lady cracks jokes that you're leaving early at 8:00.

Now I'm recharging the batteries, and taking some time to travel and visit friends I haven't seen in years. Jumping into the gig at Marvel even before I finished college, I had to set aside a number of personal and professional plans I can now blow the dust off of. It feels a little weird, a little indulgent - kinda like talking about yourself.

So apparently, I didn't give Dan, David and David enough headaches on the Masterworks and Mark Beazley was afraid he'd miss my yelling, so I've been brought on to continue editing them on a freelance basis. Freelance editing the Masterworks, as opposed to squeezing it between the cracks of my regular editorial duties as a labor of much-disturbed love, gives me more of an opportunity to plan up front and it gives my freelancers more stability because I can schedule their assignments further and further out. The only negative I've come across is that I killed my external hard drive inside of a month! Outside of that, it's business as usual.

GORMUU: Oh, and tell everyone about what you're doing and where you're going on vacation! (A well-deserved one, I must add!)

CORY: At the time I'm typing this, I'm 24 hours away from being over the northern Atlantic on my way to Dublin. After that it's off to northern Italy, and then to Croatia, which I imagine is where I'll be around the time you're all reading this. (Google up "Plitvice" and you'll see why you should visit.) After that, who knows? I have six weeks and no deadlines.

See ya in the funny pages!

I'd like to once again thank Cory on behalf of MarvelMasterworks.com for enthusiastically taking on these questions for the benefit of Masterworks fans all over the world - and from the sound of it, no matter where you live, you might have the chance to thank him in person! So you Warlock fans in Croatia, buy the guy a beer if you see him at your local watering hole! Until then, enjoy this picture of Cory reenacting "My Left Foot" on the western coast of Ireland at Smerwick Bay!

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