Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably are aware that one of the biggest comic book movies ever will hit the screen in a few days in the form of Marvel's The Avengers. What you probably don't know is the man behind the curtain who had an integral role developing this sure to be popcorn smash. Enter Joe Quesada. Seconds prior to landing his first major illustrator job, an editor at comic book publisher DC Comics told Joe Quesada he was "the luckiest son of a bitch in the history of comic books." Now, with over two decades of illustrating, editing and writing comics, and 10 years as Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics, this man definitely runs on more than just luck.
The Marvel universe that Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk call home has resonated with the 49-year-old Cuban-American artist since childhood. A native New Yorker, Quesada grew up in Spidey's hood, the cultural melting pot of Jackson Heights, Queens playing stickball, loving the Mets and escaping into the Spider-Man comics his father bought him; he took pride seeing the diversity of his neighborhood mirrored on the pages of Marvel Comics with heroes such as Black Panther and Master of Kung Fu. In 2005, Quesada continued this tradition with Daredevil: Father, a comic he wrote for his father that featured the first Latino superhero team, the Santerians. Quesada credits their existence to memories of his mother practicing Santeria in his youth. In the 90s, armed with a B.A. in illustration from The School of Visual Arts, he set out to do anything but. "I wasn't quite sure if I really wanted to be an artist," he said in an interview with Roadtrip Nation. "I basically went to art school because I found it very easy and it was something that I did well, but then promptly after I graduated art school I realized art wasn't what I wanted to do at that point in my life." His music and a day job at toy emporium FAO Schwarz dominated his time until a store stock-boy saw him doodling on a napkin and recommended he get into comics. Comics? To Quesada they were a thing of his past. A gift from the stock-boy, a first edition of Frank Miller's epic Dark Knight, reignited his love for illustrating. He was ready to take over the comic world.
While at another job designing light fixtures, he landed an interview with a DC Comics editor through a customer. Completely immersed in comic books, he developed a $40 a week comic habit with plans to build an explosive portfolio. "I gave myself six weeks to hunker down and do a comic book portfolio. I drew for hours and endless hours, every day, seven days a week until I got my portfolio pages right" he said to Roadtrip Nation. After impressing the editor, he was assigned a cover which he completed overnight. It was all uphill from there. He worked on books like Batman: Sword of Azrael and assignments from numerous publishing companies including Valiant and Marvel. In 1994, he co-founded Event Comics, creating his own characters like super-firefighter Ash and Painkiller Jane which turned into a SyFy channel film and TV series in 2007. Event's success led to a major collaboration with Marvel producing the wildly successful Marvel Knights, which resurrected long forgotten characters from the archives like Black Panther, Black Widow and Daredevil for new titles. Our hero prevailed and was named Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics in 2000, the first Latino to claim the spot. As EIC, Quesada was instrumental in bringing Marvel back from bankruptcy, bringing in new talent and ideas, creating popular imprints and overseeing its growth from comic book house into entertainment colossus with box office barn burners like 2002's Spider-Man and the more recent Iron Man films.
In hindsight, he tells Marvel.com, this growth is his greatest accomplishment for the company. "I wanted to do something as great as Dark Knight or Watchmen. When I look back at my 10 years at Marvel and everything we've accomplished, from Chapter 11 [bankruptcy] to now where we're part of the Disney family; now that we're a movie studio, a television studio, and animation studio...I look back on that as my Watchmen." Today, Quesada ensures Marvel's growth as Chief Creative Officer, making sure Marvel's characters remain true across films, TV and comics.
As a father, husband and CCO of Marvel his plate is full, yet he still manages to draw. On his Twitter account he recently revealed a Spider-Man cover he illustrated for an upcoming release. But it's not just a hobby -- it's draw or die for Quesada. "I need to keep drawing," he told Marvel.com last year. "It's important to me to keep my hand involved because I feel like if I stop, I'm going to lose touch with everything and I just don't want that to happen." In Quesada's book there are three keys to success: hard work, passion, and failure -- sorry, "luck" is not included. "The old acumen is really true that the most successful people in life are also the greatest failures in life," he told Roadtrip Nation. "Don't be afraid of failure. Never fear it because there's always a lesson if you're open to it."
Photo credit: ©New York Daily News/Getty Images