How would you like to see a Malaysian superhero fighting alongside Marvel heroes like Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man and Captain America?
According to Marvel’s CB Cebulski, Marvel’s vice president of brand management and business development for Asia, there is a possibility that the company could look into creating a superhero in Malaysia and other countries in Asia, as part of Marvel’s push for more localised content in the region.
“Marvel’s always been big on the world outside the window – we want our comics, games, films, and animation to feel like the real world and relate to everybody. As Marvel has grown globally, we’ve seen the need for our creative bases and our heroes to grow globally,” he said during a phone interview from the Philippines, where he was attending the Marvel Creative Day Out event.
While Cebulski admits that in the past, Marvel has always been stereotypical when it comes to its Asian heroes, they are looking to change all that.
“The Japanese heroes are usually geishas, ninjas and samurais … Chinese heroes are based on the Monkey King and so on. But that’s not reflective of the local culture and history,” he said.
He added that Marvel is looking to bring creators from different territories and regions on board so they can create local flavours and stories, and maybe even come up with new Marvel heroes based in their countries.
“We don’t want to just take an existing hero and put an Asian person in that uniform – we’re looking for different ways to do it, so we can say whole-heartedly that these characters have been created with Asian sensibilities at heart. Maybe we can look at something for Malaysia as well!” he said.
According to Cebulski, any new character they create will definitely be part of a larger tapestry that is the Marvel universe. “In Korea, we introduced a character called White Fox through a webtoon, who became very popular. We then introduced her into the Marvel comics universe – she was in Deadpool, and an Uncanny Avengers story, and then we seeded her through the video games. So you see, we want to make sure we don’t just limit the characters to comics, we have to put them out into all the different distribution platforms we have.”
Cebulski’s current role is to support the Disney teams in all the regions to help expand the Marvel brand. While there are similar Marvel executives around the world with the same portfolio, Cebulski faces a different challenge in Asia.
“In most of the rest of the world, like in Europe or South America, Marvel started as a comic company and built its way up to a movie studio. But in Asia, a lot of new fans know us from the movies first,” he said. “So in that sense, I see myself as a reverse engineer – instead of the usual way of taking the comics and building up the brand, I’m taking the movies first and building up the brand.
“I’m trying to tell Asian fans that once you’ve left the cinema, the story doesn’t end there. If you fell in love with the Hulk or Iron Man, there are other ways you can continue enjoying their stories – you can read the comics or play the games.”
Has the success of the movies changed the way Marvel approaches the characters and stories in the other formats then?
“Well, yes and no. It’s changed the business of the company, but not the creative part of the company. Marvel is first and foremost a content development company, no matter what the medium. We have a philosophy of ‘great characters, great people, great content’. The movies have put those characters front and centre, but the way we create content is the same no matter where we are,” he said.
The challenge now, he continued, is to make sure that any new characters or stories Marvel creates for Asia is not stereotypical and feels authentic.
“Marvel is all about realism, and making sure our characters are relatable. So, our biggest challenge is remembering the tenets that were in place when some of our biggest heroes were created, and do justice to that. Any new heroes have to be realistic … real people that readers can be inspired by and aspired to be like. We’re walking in the shoes of our predecessors, and we have to live up to their legacy,” he concluded.