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How Marvel's writers' retreat became the secret meeting everyone wants to be invited to

This is not a photo from the writers retreat. This is a panel from Axis, the kind of story forged from Marvel's writers' retreat.
This is not a photo from the writers retreat. This is a panel from Axis, the kind of story forged from Marvel's writers' retreat.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Last week, Marvel held one of the most important events in the comic book industry: its writers' retreat. The retreat is a convergence of the company's biggest stars, a hotbed of ideas, and the birthplace of stories that have shaped — and will shape — the Marvel Universe. The retreat could also be where the characters and story arcs for some future blockbuster movies are hatched.

And with great power comes great speculation. Comic book fans and journalists are always eager to see who is and who isn't at the retreat, then read the tea leaves, trying to determine what this means for their favorite characters.

Here's what you need to know about the meeting of Marvel's minds.

What is the Marvel retreat?

Marvel's writers retreat is a gathering of writers and editors at Marvel to discuss future stories, characters, and plots. Marvel, to its credit, has been really good at keeping the retreats' happening on its own terms. The company has also been good at parlaying and managing that secrecy into fan hype, and turning the retreat into something fans are genuinely interested in.

Why do Marvel's writers need a retreat? Are they tired?

A huge reason for the retreat has to do with Marvel's success with big crossover events. Crossovers, which really took off in the Chris Claremont era (the Mutant Massacre of 1986 comes to mind) of Marvel comic books, involve multiple characters, multiple teams, and multiple tie-in books. For example, the current Marvel event AXIS has an ongoing book, and myriad of tie-ins that the company produces and promotes to advance a single story. Here's what a back page of an Axis: Avengers & X-Men comic book looks like:

Axis: Avengers and X-Men. (Marvel)

In order to preserve continuity in all these books, so much planning takes place. That's why writers and editors all attend this retreat — they're hammering out what happens and what the ramifications are in the entire Marvel universe.

Axel Alonso, Marvel's editor-in-chief, has described the retreat like basketball practice. He says he even manages it as such.

"I do my best to manage the clock so we avoid going down rabbit holes for too long. I call time outs when things get too heated, or people need a break, or everyone's just plain talked out," he told Comic Book Resources in April. "And, keeping that coaching analogy alive, I do my best to foster an environment where everyone is engaged and involved and understanding where they can fit in."

Are there human knots? Ice-breakers? Trust falls?

The goings-on are usually kept secret. So… maybe?

Why do people who read comics care about what goes on there?

The comics. As in any profession with lots of devoted fans, the audience wants to know what the latest bit of information is. These retreats are where that's happening.

Writer and editors play into this, too. Because writers have become as well-known as the comics they write, a writer's presence at the retreat is usually a sign that the characters they're in charge of will have a major role in upcoming events. And because we live in the age of social media, when star writers can do things like post pictures from the retreat, it piques interest:

But fans are also interested in who isn't invited.

One of the growing conversations surrounding Marvel involves diversity and representation. And though the company has made strides in the past few years, seeing the representation of women and people of color at these retreats has become increasingly important to fans.

Earlier this year, the retreat made some news when Kelly Sue DeConnick, one of Marvel's star writers and the force behind Captain Marvel, revealed she had not been invited.

"I am not invited to the creative retreats, and I have never had the writers' room experience," DeConnick told the Inkstuds Podcast in September.

This prompted accusations of sexism from a few comic book journalists. At the time, Tom Brevoort, a vice president at Marvel, explained on Twitter that DeConnick's invite would be coming if or when she received an exclusive contract from Marvel:

DeConnick's absence and those cries of sexism are what makes this month's retreat significant.

G. Willow Wilson, the writer behind Marvel's ultra successful Ms. Marvel comic, confirmed that she was at the retreat and that she signed an exclusive contract with the company. In addition, female Marvel editors Sana Amanat (Ms. Marvel) and Jeanine Schaefer were present, as well as editor Daniel Ketchum — a positive sign to anyone who thinks the retreat tends to be a club for white men only.

Why should someone who doesn't read comic books care about what goes on there?


There are still millions of people who watch gigantic blockbusters like The Avengers, Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy — even if they've never read the comics those films are based on. What happens in many of these comic books comes from the retreats.

A quick example: we recently found out that the next Captain America movie would involve a storyline called Civil War that would pit heroes against other heroes. The idea for that 2006 story and how it would play out was dreamed up at Marvel's writers retreat.

And now, with the two-way street between comics and movies, the retreats take on a whole new importance. Something said at last week's retreat could become the big movie you're talking about in 10 years.

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