Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Speaking of big news–we made quite a bit of it in our last edition. You know, the one where Jonathan Hickman answered your questions and teased two new X-Titles. Well, Jonathan might be back at work driving X-Fans crazy with carefully crafted floor plans, but there’s still so much more to say about House of X and Powers of X. So, this week, we’re reflecting on the series from an editorial perspective with X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White and Assistant Editor Annalise Bissa.
Oh, and as the spookiest day of the year is creeping ever closer, there’s a little Halloween talk at the end to tie into AIPT’s 31 Days of Halloween celebration! That’s right, even columns about the X-Men aren’t immune to crossovers!
AIPT: Welcome, both! On an issue-by-issue basis, what were your primary roles as Editor and Assistant Editor on HOX and POX? I imagine working with Jonathan Hickman, on a project that is so very Hickman-like, is unlike other comics you’ve worked on in the past.
Jordan: I am on the phone with Hickman pretty much every day, talking over plot points, going over what we need from him in what order, and generally working things out. When we get scripts in from him, we both read them, comment on how great they are and laugh about our favorite bits, and get it to our artists. As the art comes in, we check it out, go over it, give any notes we have… and keep everything moving as much as humanly possible. Honestly, it’s not that different other than in scope. There are a lot of big ideas to keep track of, and a lot of scheduling to keep track of and then re-do when they are blown and then re-do again the next day when they are already re-blown on day one.
But, we made it work! 12 issues out in 12 consecutive weeks!
The only part that is a complete departure was the data pages… and the BIGGEST reason they were a departure and a challenge is because of a silly technical thing that I am not going to bore you all with, but which resulted in a lot of work for Jonathan, which meant him working on those design pages right up to the last second. But they were so worth it.
Annalise: I am… not on the phone with Hickman every day. So my role on HOX/POX was even closer to what it has been on other projects, compared to Jordan’s. Like he pointed out, though, 12 issues in 12 weeks, even with a bunch of lead time and two incredible artists—it was completely non-stop, so there was less room for stuff to go wrong, because it cascades into everything else immediately. I made a lot of spreadsheets, but no complaints. I love spreadsheets.
AIPT: Spreadsheets rock–I use them for X-Men Monday. Anyway, the response to Hickman and company’s new direction for the X-Men has been overwhelmingly positive. How soon into the HOX/POX process did you know you had something special on your hands?
Jordan: I mean… before we started, for sure. Jonathan PITCHING the books was something special. And while I know I have said before that my first reaction to his pitch was, “We can’t do that!” that does not mean I didn’t think it was special. And once I came around to, “Wait, maybe we CAN do that…” I knew it would be something big no matter what happened. What about you, Annalise?
Annalise: I think Jordan has alluded to this before, but the first iteration of the pitch that I heard wasn’t in order, so some of the huge stuff, like mutant resurrection, was right at the top. It’s hard to hear “mutants don’t die now” and not be aware that something major is happening. So yeah, I was in the same boat.
AIPT: I’d love to go a little deeper into your initial reaction to Hickman’s pitch. There’s a lot to chew on in those 12 issues!
Jordan: I was blown away by his pitch, it had so many huge ideas in it. Krakoa! Moira’s 10 lives! Mutants don’t die anymore! And even things that have not come to fruition yet! There were so many things that were so game-changing and high impact that it was awesome to hear. But then there was the one aspect that really made me say “But no—wait, this cannot work.” Thankfully, he made one key change to it that changed that aspect just enough that I started to see how it could work… and then I got fully onboard and never looked back.
Annalise: I’m a longtime X-Men fan, and hearing the HOX/POX pitch was one of the first things I did as an editor in the X-Office, so I was pretty much in a combined stress/joy coma.
AIPT: Knowing X-Fans and their many unique preferences, was there anything about the new status quo that especially terrified you?
Annalise: Nah. Bring it on! It’s the X-Men, wild stuff should be happening and people should be yelling about it.
Jordan: Oh, yes. A bunch of things, but one especially. But I cannot talk about it, yet… Ask me in 10 years.
AIPT: 10 more years of X-Men Monday at AIPT: Confirmed! Now, in today’s spoiler-heavy culture, Marvel did a terrific job of keeping the various twists and turns in these series under wraps. From withholding preview pages to only delivering advance copies to the press hours before the actual comics went on sale… do you think this approach was effective in building hype, and could the entire industry–where spoilers are such a huge problem–benefit from this approach?
Jordan: I think that the nature of marketing in our industry means that nothing continues to work across the board, the things that work best are the things that are in sync with the particular project in the particular circumstances of the book going on sale… all of it together. I think we were working with a writer who was, by him just being on the book, a pretty big draw, having written the biggest Marvel story of the last decade. I think we were coming out of an era of X-Men stories that had lasted for around a decade where the driving force of the X-Men was them being doomed and on the brink of extinction and we were promising changes… and importantly, we were telling the truth about it. All that talk of this being a seminal moment—that was because it IS one. HOX and POX are the seed from which all X-Men stories in the foreseeable future are growing from. And again, the structure Jonathan worked up for the story was one that was all about dropping new pieces of information every issue that recontextualize the previous issues. As such, we felt strongly about keeping them under wraps as much as possible.
Annalise: I mean, pretty much ‘what Jordan said.’ I don’t know that the media and fan ecosystem could survive looking like it currently does if every book ran like HOX/POX did. I think refraining from the usual methods of promoting a comic in and of itself signaled to people that this was a big deal, even without the special marketing pushes like the seed packets. It was tough to hold the line, though, and we actually did slip up—there was an article that ran about a month before House of X #5 that accidentally included that the tree structure on Krakoa is called ‘the Hatchery’ (which I think pretty solidly suggests the resurrection reveal). We pulled it down really fast, but I was SHOCKED that X-Fans didn’t catch us out on that one.
AIPT: There were so many to choose from, but what was your absolute favorite moment in HOX/POX?
Jordan: Oh wow. Probably the “data pages” at the end of House of X #4, because those came as a surprise to me as well. Jonathan and I would go over the data pages that were going to be in the issue usually around the same time we read the first lettering draft—talk about what he wanted to do in them, where in the book they would fall, etc. For that issue, he just kept being like, “I’ve got an idea that’s something different for this.”
We discussed the page of stats, Annalise and I did some research and discussed the figures there and such, but we had no idea what he was doing with those last seven pages of the book until he turned them in to us… and they knocked my socks off. Just a completely unexpected visual gut-punch to follow up on this incredibly emotional issue.
Annalise: Saying House of X #2 is cheating, right? But the whole thing kills me on a million different levels. From the overall concept… to the fact that a Moira MacTaggert issue is the third issue of our big X-Men series… to the panels of Moira as an adult and in utero staring at us… and of course the ART—what Pepe did to ‘tilt’ the reader forward and accelerate us through her lives… I can’t pick a single part.
AIPT: And what character are you most excited about in this brave new world?
Jordan: So many! But if I HAD to pick just one… then I would apologize profusely to the new Captain Britain and go with Captain Kate Pryde. She’s always been a favorite of mine, but Marauders in particular is an awesome series and Gerry Duggan is completely nailing her character and giving her a great and unique place in the new X-Landscape.
Annalise: Well then I’LL say Betsy Braddock Captain Britain!
AIPT: Captains rule the day (sorry, Captain Commander Cyclops)! My final HOX and POX question: We know how much X-Fans love to ask when and where their favorite obscure characters will appear next in this very column. Now, they’re all in one place! Without giving too much away, would you say we’re entering a very good period of X-Men history for fans of lesser-known/lesser-seen mutants?
Jordan: I think we’re doing what we can to bring some of the obscure folks to the fore. The problem being there are SO MANY of them… if we put two obscure characters in the forefront of EVERY ISSUE, it would still take us years to get to them all. But we definitely have some hardcore fans working on these books who are trying to spread the love around.
Annalise: As one of the people who finds our artists reference materials… I think we are showing plenty of obscure characters. Let’s use more characters who are frequently drawn from the front, with natural lighting.
AIPT: Alright–let’s talk Halloween! From demons and Goblin Queens to Dracula and his vampires–the X-Men have faced all sorts of spooky foes. Do you have a favorite Halloween-friendly X-Men tale?
Jordan: Oh man. I guess I will go with Excalibur #6-7. I absolutely LOVE the cover of Excalibur #6. I remember seeing it in a shop in the back issue bins and I absolutely HAD to own it. I was so intrigued! What happened to them?!? Why are they all monsters?!?!? Still a favorite to this day.
Annalise: Uncanny X-Men #153! The foe isn’t Halloween-themed, but (back before there was Marauders… when I had to walk uphill both ways to get my X-Pirates content…) it was fun to read Kitty’s Tale and see the X-Men all ‘dressed up’ and reimagined in her story.
AIPT: Finally, how do you like to celebrate Halloween?
Jordan: The last two years, my little one was not old enough to go out at all, we would just dress him up and give out candy. This year, we will walk him around to trick or treat a little. He has a BB-8 costume that he is SO EXCITED about. After that, we will probably just chill, give out candy, and maybe watch a horror movie. Actually, we’ll probably be giving away Archie Digests as well, since my wife has a ZILLION of them that she has recently decided to part with.
Annalise: I don’t go super hard for Halloween, so… giving myself an excuse to eat a bunch of candy is about as festive as I’ll get.
AIPT: Nothing wrong with that! Thank you, both for taking the time to talk HOX and POX and, again, congratulations on delivering a solid epic from beginning to end–on time!
Now, as it’s Halloween week, and we can’t give out candy over the internet, we have the next best thing for all you trick-or-treating X-Fans: Some eXciting, eXclusive images of things to come! Enjoy, and be sure to visit AIPT’s Twitter tomorrow (October 29) for the call for questions for next week’s X-Men Monday, which will be all about Marauders #1 and feature answers from the hit issue’s writer Gerry Duggan! Until then, have an eXceptional week!