By Andrew Tolentino | BSCM Editor
Having been on shelves for a full week now, Upper Deck’s The Avengers: Kree-Skrull War comic card set has had ample time to speak for itself. A unique endeavor that challenges the notion of how a comic book should be read, it’s the kind of product that’s bound to cause buzz in the Marvel Universe and beyond.
As a followup to last week’s preview and yesterday’s Box Busters video, we turned the mic to Upper Deck’s Marvel product manager Bubby Johanson for a Q&A on the comic book(s) told by way of trading cards. After the jump, Johanson gives the lowdown on hit counts, free binders, production challenges, and what other superheroes (cough, Spiderman) might be found in future releases along these lines.
You’re the Marvel product manager for Upper Deck, which is a pretty intriguing position to say the least. How’d you get the gig? Are you a longtime Marvel enthusiast?
Yeah, it started out when I was younger, working and managing in comic stores. I actually started at Upper Deck on the sports side. I made the transition about a year and a half ago.
What’s it like working on the non-sport side of a predominantly sports-oriented company?
It’s a challenge because sometimes when everybody is talking about the games I have to say, “Well I’m going over to go get my new comic book.” It’s a different mentality. But it’s great because everybody here wants to know about Marvel and what they’re doing because it’s so high profile with movies coming out. It’s constant questions and engaging people in what I’m doing.
Do you have a favorite character from the Marvel Universe?
Oh yeah, Iceman, of course. My call sign on AOL back in the day was “BJIceman.”
He was my favorite Marvel action figure.
Heck yes. I’ve got that one in my cube.
Cards and superheroes haven’t always been mutually exclusive, but this product is a totally different endeavor. How did the idea get dreamt up?
A group of us get together on a regular basis to come up with new ideas. We were looking at the landscape of non-sport cards in general and it’s pretty stale. It’s pretty much the same across the board — a standard formula. So we tried to find a way to be innovative and what we wanted to do was try to see if we could merge both the card collector and the comic collector in the same kind of venue … and this product came up.
We didn’t really have a particular story line, but we wanted to get a comic book in card form to see if people would enjoy collecting things that way.
While there is a sketch card presence, “standard formula” chase items like autographs seem scarce here. Is that a challenge?
Oh, it’s definitely a challenge. When you’re talking with card shops, they’re asking “where’s my hit? Where’s my one box hit? Where’s my sketch card?” People are focusing on those hits, but we’re trying to get people to focus on the cards, the story, the art, the original storyline.
Marvel has created a story for us, for the fans and so we’re trying to deflect the focus from the hits because that’s not what this product is about — it’s the story and the nostalgia. But it is a challenge. Because it’s so different, people are excited, yet apprehensive about it.
Marvel has backed this more than any other product we’ve put out in recent history, though. They’ve been promoting this on their website and they’re going to give away our promo packs at Comic-Con.
Was this an easy sell proposing this concept to Marvel?
Actually, yes. Their artists, their writers love things like this. Talking to Sean McKeever, the writer who authored all the story lines — he loved the challenge of it because he was able to go back to a classic storyline, dissect it to find what pieces were missing and figure out how to make turn it into a nine-card panel format for a page-by-page read.
It was more of a difficult sell for card shops, because of the hit factor.
How is the product being received by comic enthusiasts?
We really couldn’t give out any pre-production samples in enough time for a focus group. In talking with card shops, some have had the same apprehension about hits. When it comes to comic shops, they love the idea, but they don’t know whether or not they can sell it to people.
But with the Avengers being so hot right now and with the Skree-Skrull Wars being one of the top-selling stories of all time — we’re really hoping that it works because we have a lot of plans for this in the future. If we can get some feedback from people, we can find out what needs to be tweaked to make it more compelling on a box level or a pack level.
I’m showing my geekdom, but the X-Men have had some encounters with the Kree empire. Are there any plans to incorporate those characters in this concept?
When we first started this idea, we had 10 different story lines we wanted to approach, but based on the timing we chose this one. We have a bunch of ideas of what we want to try — X-Men, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk are all characters that we want to get into.
The Avengers have the ‘it’ factor right now.
Yeah, when we first announced the release of this product, there were some people speculating that this was going to tie into the movie — pretty cool that with something as little as a blurb about an Avengers-related Upper Deck release, and all the sudden people are speculating — “oh is this related to the movie? Are they giving out spoilers?” That kind of momentum is awesome.
Aside from getting the entire main story, what is the most appealing part of the box break?
Well, with one box, you’re probably going to get around 40 percent of the side stories. We also have variant cards in there. Paul Renaud actually did a variant, which very cool and rare to get. We’re also doing plate cards for the entire storyline.
Even though the sketch cards are also very rare, they’re probably some of the best ones that I’ve seen as far as theme goes. Artists love the story, so they take elements and run with them. One artist Franklin B. Washington, actually did the Kree-Skrull War storyline through 45 cards … We found out that if you’re more specific with what kind of theme you want, they seem to step it up.
Tell me about the promo binders.
It’s a standard binder with artwork from the card box on the front and back, complete with enough pages to assemble all the storylines. I’d like to get more out there for us. I’m not a big fan of making people buy them, which is why we’re doing the promotional giveaways.
What storyline or superhero group from the Marvel Universe would you like to see next in production?
That’s an interesting one. I’m a big X-Men fan, so I’d love to see them. But I think, the most compelling one would be a Spiderman storyline.
Is that something in the works?
It may or may not be [laughter]. We have a pool of ideas of what we want to do. If this does well, the next one will be even better because we’ll know what we need to improve upon.
Any idea what Stan Lee thinks about this idea?
No idea, unfortunately. I’d love to see what he thinks about it.