Marvel: Making a Difference in the Real World 

Session 108 WWDC 2016

The heroes and villains of Marvel have captivated a worldwide audience for over 75 years. Marvel Games Creative Director Bill Rosemann lifts up the masks of Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy and more to reveal the true power behind the world’s most heroic brand.

[ Music ]

[ Applause ]

Hello true believers!

So, let me know, do we have any Marvel fans in the house?

[ Cheering ]

Alright! Good to hear!

So, you know the phrase, with great power comes great responsibility.

Right? So, you’ve heard that from Spider-Man stories, whether that’s comic books or TV shows or films, but really the phrase connects to all these characters up here.

Our heroes and our villains, see the only difference between our heroes and our villains is how they decide to respond, the choices they make once they realize they have power.

So, that’s the phrase; with great power comes great responsibility.

And I learned that phrase early on.

See, like the characters I had moments in my life that made me make decisions.

I was lucky, when I was very young, when I was like four or five, my mom let me watch reruns of the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon that was kind of made up with panels from the comic book.

And something about Spider-Man just grabbed my attention.

I don’t know if it was those bright primary colors; the red and the blue.

Perhaps it was his big white eyes.

Maybe it was because he was young and funny.

I don’t know, but something about Spider-Man really grabbed me like no other character had before.

In fact, I was into him so much I remember two years later, it was the book fair for my second grade class at school, and I walked in and there against the back wall I saw Spider-Man.

Not actually Spider-Man, it was a small reprint, a paperback sized reprint of his comic books; Amazing Spider-Man seven through 13.

I never forget, and I walked up and I grabbed it, and I bought it.

And I read that book over and over and over again.

And it opened my eyes to a whole new world.

It introduced me to the Marvel Universe, and from that moment on I was hooked.

That was my thing, comic books.

And I was one of those crazy kids who never stopped.

I read them through grade school, through high school, and even through college.

And I had a pretty good collection until the summer between my freshman and sophomore year at college.

It was I remember it was one evening and I saw some weird lights out the window.

This was an apartment I was living in with my mother, my parents had divorced when I was in high school.

So, I saw these weird lights.

I go outside and I see that the apartment building that we live in is on fire.

And the flames were starting over on one side and our apartment unit was down here.

And as the flames started going across the building I was running in and out of the apartment building grabbing things that I thought we couldn’t replace.

So, these were years before we had such things as an iPhone, I know horrible, so our pictures were physical, they were in photo albums.

So, I was running in and out of the building, our apartment building, grabbing photo albums, I was grabbing some pieces of furniture, pictures off the wall, whatever I could grab that I thought had sentimental value.

And then I remember the lights went out in the building, no more electricity.

And I knew I had one more chance to go in.

So, I run in, I can’t see really, I’m feeling my way through the apartment, down the hallway, into my bedroom, I open my closet door to get one more thing from the apartment, a box of comic books.

Now you might think that’s kind of crazy.

Why would someone run into a building that’s on fire to get comic books?

Well, I mean at that moment it kind of crystalized in my mind how much the comics and these characters meant to me.

So, I mentioned my parents had a divorce, and if anyone who has been through a divorce, or experienced it as a child, you know how unsettling it is, and it sort of rolls this grenade into your life.

But during that, during our moving around, whatever was happening in my life, and even the fire, I had really good friends, friends that helped me through these events in my life.

And luckily those friends helped guide me eventually to work for Marvel, the company I dreamt of working for ever since I was that little kid watching the cartoon.

And when I got to Marvel, that’s when the real learning began, and that’s when that mantra, with great power comes great responsibility, really sunk in.

See not only does it apply to our characters, and the decisions they must make with their abilities, it also applies to us, the employees at Marvel.

So, we say to ourselves, what is our power.

Well, our power is we’re able to work with these amazing characters, only we can.

Our other power is our storytelling skills.

We think we’re pretty good at telling stories, whether it’s in film, or in print, or through video games.

That’s where I work now, as the Creative Director for the Marvel Games Division.

So, if that is our power, the characters and the stories that we tell with them, what is our responsibility?

Well, our responsibilities are to create stories that in some way help people.

That connect to them, that speak to them, and hopefully give them inspiration in a way that they can then apply it to their lives.

Now, I mentioned I had some friends, some friends that helped me through my life and led me to Marvel, and to embrace power and responsibility.

And even though we grew up at different times, probably in different locations around America, and if not around the world, I think you know my friends.

I think you do.

Let’s see, there’s six of them I want to talk about today.

My first friend, he was a skinny kid, he grew up in Queens, and he really wanted to give back to his country.

He wanted to serve the country, and he thought the best way that he could do that would be joining the military.

And so he would go he went to a recruitment office and they turned him away.

They said he was too skinny.

He had flat feet.

They didn’t want him.

But that did not deter my friend.

He kept going to different recruitment offices.

And there was a soldier who was going on a mission, and he went from one recruitment office to another collecting some papers, and he saw my friend.

And he said, didn’t I I just saw that kid at the other place.

And he said, to his fellow soldiers, that’s the guy we want.

And the other one said, him?

The skinny one?

And he said, yeah.

See, it’s not about this muscle right here, it’s about this muscle.

I can see this kid has heart.

He’s not giving up.

That’s the kind of person we want in our army.

So, my friend was lucky.

He succeeded.

He got in.

He became a soldier.

He not only became a soldier, some called him a super soldier.

In fact some call him a living legend of World War II.

So, I guess you can guess my first friend, right?

[ Inaudible Audience Response ]

Captain America!

So, here is the cover to his first comic.

See the date up there, 1941.

And what’s remarkable and really cool about this cover?

Well, what is he doing on it?

Who’s he punching?

Hitler! Because that’s what you would do, right?

If you were in a room with Hitler and you had the shield and the powers, you’d sock him in the jaw [laughter].

Little problem with that.

See, this comic was published in the summer, 1941.

Months before December, months before Pearl Harbor, months before America was officially entered into the war.

So, when his creators, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon came to work they were in trouble.

There were protesters outside and when they got up into the offices of Timely Comics, and that’s what Marvel was before they were Marvel, they were called Timely, they got up to the offices, they were yelled at by the publisher.

He said, Jack and Joe, what are you doing?

You’ve published a comic book with a character named Captain America, of all things, and he’s wrapped in the American Flag, and he’s punching in the face the leader of a country that we are not at war with.

What the hell are you doing?

Now, it was at that moment someone came running in from the sales department; boss, boss, look at the numbers!

Keep doing it [laughter].

It was an immediate hit, sold out.

Why? Because it was wish fulfillment.

Jack and Joe were using comic books as their art form to make a statement.

They were both Jewish.

They had relatives and friends back in Europe.

They knew what was going on.

They knew about the ghettos.

They knew about the work camps.

They knew what the Nazis were doing and they thought America should go over there and stop them.

It’s also important what did they give Captain America?

What is he holding?

Is it a bazooka?

Is it a machine gun?

No, it’s a shield.

Like I said, these comics are an art form.

They send messages.

So, I think they chose a shield because what does a shield do?

Well, it defends him.

Look, it’s blocking that bullet.

They’re saying a message that Captain America and America itself should go over and protect those that can’t protect themselves.

So, it was a big hit.

But like I said, it was controversial because some felt we should still be isolationists.

And why are we why is he punching the leader of this nation?

But they thought it was more important to make the statement.

And that’s not the last time that we’ve made statements with Captain America.

So, here we have a cover to an issue that came out just a year ago, but you see that’s someone different in the suit, right?

So, you see above the Captain America name, Sam Wilson, The Falcon, who you may know from the films; from Captain America Winter Soldier, Captain America Civil War.

In the comic books he was Cap’s partner.

In fact there was a time, for about 50 issues, where they changed the name of the comic book and it went from being Captain America to Captain America and Falcon.

And I know for me as a young boy, to see a white man and a black man, from different backgrounds as equals, working together, that had an effect on me.

So, we recently did a story where Steve’s Super Soldier Serum was running out, and he said to Sam, America still needs a Captain America.

Will you take the shield?

Will you take over for me?

And we did and he said, yes.

We published this, and of course we had some reactions.

People were not happy, and we get it.

People feel why are you messing around with my character?

You know, you’re ruining them.

Why are you changing thing?

And we even get people saying, you know, why have you turned Captain America black?

And we had to say, well we didn’t turn Steve Rogers a different make him into a different race.

This is actually Sam Wilson, and he’s earned this.

He’s stood behind Captain America, and with him, for decades.

He deserves his chance to be Captain America.

Now why did we do this?

Well, we like to try different things with our characters and stretch the brand and push the brand, but we also like to say things.

So, I’m just thinking in my mind, and I don’t know exactly what the creators were saying, but I think perhaps they were saying that it doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is, if you have the heart.

If you have the heart you can be Captain America too.

My next friend, he was also a skinny kid.

He was from Queens as well.

He was a bit of what you would call a nerd.

He was picked on by the jocks.

See he was really into science, my friend.

And he was an orphan and he was raised by an older aunt and uncle.

And he really felt the world was against him.

And one day his uncle said to him, hey, when you grow up you’re going to have a lot of power because you’re smart.

So, when you do grow up you should use your powers responsibly.

And my friend kind of said, whatever.

And when he grew up and he was a teenager he realized he was pretty smart and he did have some amazing abilities, and one night he was out and there was a cop, police officer, chasing a thief and the cop was yelling, hey, hey help me stop this thief.

And my friend said, from now on I’m looking out for number one, and he took a step back.

And that thief ran by, and as fate would have it two days later that thief ran into my friend’s uncle and shot him dead.

And my friend said, if only I’d listened to my uncle, one of the only nice men in my life.

If I’d listened to him he would still be alive and my aunt wouldn’t be devastated by his loss.

And from that moment forward, as a dedication to his uncle, he decided, I will use my powers responsibly.

So, who am I talking about?

My next friend Spider-Man!

So, now it’s 1963.

I mention that because all of our creators were using our comics to talk about what’s going on around them.

And this was really the birth of the Marvel Character.

And what do I mean by that?

Well, Spider-Man looked a little different than heroes that came before.

And once you start reading his adventures you found out he was truly different.

And his creators, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, they got yelled at too when they came into work.

So, they came into work and the publisher, Martin Goodman, said, what are you doing?

You’ve published a comic with a character named after a spider and he has an insect on his chest.

Everybody hates bugs.

What are you doing?

And you’ve covered his face.

He looks like a bank robber.

We can’t see his face.

And worst of all, he’s a teenager!

Teenagers should be sidekicks.

Who wants to read about a teenager?

Well, the new generation did.

So, the greatest generation is back from World War II.

It’s 20 years later.

It’s the rise of the teenage culture.

They have disposable income.

They want to read about heroes that are different.

They want to read about heroes that are like them.

They want to read about heroes that are a little more relatable, who are not perfect, they’re not square jawed aliens from another world, or rich billionaires, they are skinny Peter Parker from Queens who gets picked on.

But the publisher didn’t realize this, didn’t know who was going to read this book.

And so he’s yelling at Stan and Steve, what the hell are you doing?

As you can guess, at that moment in comes someone from sales.

Boss, boss, look at the sales numbers!

Keep doing it!

Another hit.

And you can see what made him really different.

I mean check out poor Peter over there in the bow tie, and the glasses, and the kids pointing at him, and laughing at him, and as you can see, via the art, without reading a word, you see that he’s ostracized.

He feels alone.

He is an underdog.

But look behind him.

Look at the shadow of the hero within.

And don’t we all feel that way sometimes.

We feel the world is against us.

We feel the world is judging us, but we know, we know within us, if given the opportunity, lies greatness.

So, as with Captain America, Spider-Man was a bit controversial when he came out, with some readers.

They didn’t get it.

But many more did.

And that wasn’t the only controversial things that we did with him.

Let’s see, in 1970 the president happened to be Richard Nixon, believe it or not, went to Stan Lee, and President Nixon said, Stan we have this problem with drugs.

And we’re going to lose a lot of young people.

And President Nixon knew how popular the comics were, that Marvel were publishing.

And he said, could you do a comic book that would mention the drug problem?

Stan thought about it and he said, you know what, I will.

And what was remarkable is he did it in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man.

Now we had many characters to choose from.

Stan could have selected one of our less popular characters, but he didn’t.

He picked Spider-Man.

Now, you’ll see there’s something that’s not on this cover.

Now see up there on the top right of Amazing Fantasy 15.

That’s the Comic’s Code Authority Stamp, was a seal of approval that basically told parents that the comic was safe for younger readers to read, it didn’t have, you know certain levels of violence, things like that.

What’s not on this cover?

There’s no Comic’s Code.

See what happened was, when we were ready to publish it Stan gave the comic to the Comic’s Code Authority to read and to give their stamp of approval and the Comic’s Code said, you can’t publish this.

Stan said, why not?

He said because it mentions drugs.

Stan said, but it’s not doing it in a positive way.

It’s an antidrug story.

And they said, we don’t care.

You the Comic’s Code says there can be no mention of drugs in the comic, so you can’t publish this with the Comic’s Code Stamp of Approval.

And Stan said, good, we’re going to publish it anyway; without the Comic’s Code.

First time that happened, and it was a hit.

People really responded to it.

They responded to, really kind of a smart, difficult story.

In the story Peter’s roommate, Harry Osborn, the son of the Green Goblin, had a pill problem, and Spider-Man had to council him and finally get him help.

But they handled it in a way that the readers at the time could appreciate.

Stan was really speaking to the readers in a language that they wanted to hear.

But, as you can guess, it was a little controversial, but sometimes we’ve got to take a stand.

Right? We have to use art to send a message.

But it didn’t stop there, with that issue.

No. We use Spider-Man from time to time to speak to other things.

So, in this case it was 2011, and we had a line of comics called The Ultimate Line of Marvel Comics.

They were set on another world where we kind of started we started now.

Rather than having our history starting in the 60s, we kind of started this new line, but wanted to make it different.

We wanted to make it unexpected.

And so actually on that world that Peter Parker died in battle protecting Aunt May from the Green Goblin.

And in that reality there was a boy named Miles Morales, who happened to also be infected by a spider bite.

And when that world’s Peter Parker died Miles decided the world still needs a Spider-Man.

So, he made his own costume and he became that world’s Spider-Man.

And, as you can see, looks a bit different from Peter, right?

He’s half African American, and he’s half Puerto Rican.

And I remember the day I came into work, I was an editor at the time for Marvel Publishing.

An editor is sort of like a producer, we’re selecting the writers and the artists to work on the series, and we’re working with them through every step of the way, deciding what’s printed on the cover to what’s in the word balloons.

We work on everything.

And we also have access to an email account called [email protected], and people can write in letters.

Usually they write in and say, why can’t Peter Parker marry Jane, be happily married ever after?

Why can’t Rogue and Gambit just be together?

Why are you so cruel to them?

Because drama, that’s why.

So, that [ Applause ]

So, I remember I came in and our offices and that email account were flooded with letters.

And some of them weren’t happy.

One was from a dad, I’ll never forget it, he wrote and he said, when my kids get home from school I’m going to take them to the backyard and I’m going to stack up all their Spider-Man comics and I’m going to burn them.

He said, why did you make why did you turn Spider Man black?

Why did you do this?

Why with your East Coast liberal views?

Why are you ruining our hero?

So, I wrote to him and I said, Sir, you don’t have to buy a single additional issue of this series, but just so you know, in the regular Marvel Universe Peter Parker is alive and well.

But we’re offering an alternative with a Spider-Man that looks a bit different.

So, I said, you don’t have to buy any new issues, but please don’t burn your kids’ comics.

It will not have the effect on them that you think it will.

It will be far, far worse.

Now he didn’t respond.

I don’t know if he burned them or not.

I’d like to hope he didn’t.

Who can say?

But I can say, immediately after reading that I read a great letter.

A young woman wrote in and said, thank you.

She says, now my little brother has a Spider-Man that looks just like him, and he feels great.

He feels he is represented up here, on this cover.

And that’s why we do it.

[ Applause ]

Alright, my next friend let’s see.

Oh, he really loved his dad.

His dad led this more than a business like an empire, you could say.

My friend really he loved him, and he hoped to one day take over for him.

And as fate would have it, his dad was killed, and my friend did have to step in for him and run the empire.

And he found it was so much more challenging than he ever knew, and he realized it was constantly under attack by others outside of it.

And he had to find the courage within himself to step into the boots of his father, but to become his own person.

I’m talking about The Black Panther, who many of you may have been introduced to in the latest Captain America Civil War movie.

So, Black Panther was introduced in the pages of The Fantastic Four, 1966.

And it was remarkable because it was the first black character introduced by one of the major comic book publishers.

And what’s also crazy cool is that he was no one’s sidekick.

He was no one’s servant.

When the Fantastic Four answered his invitation to go to his nation of Wakanda, this was a country we made up that was in Africa.

They saw that he was a king, and he was a king of a nation that was the world’s most technologically advanced country.

And so again, I think the creators, this time Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were making a statement.

Were making a statement just in the choices they were making.

And people loved Black Panther right away.

And they were very smart in the stories they told with him, and I think they told some very symbolic stories, like this next cover.

So, here we are in the 70s, and yeah, Black Panther is taking on the Klan.

He’s actually ripping himself off a cross before they set it on fire.

What an emotional, powerful, symbolic image.

One of the things I love about him is that he’s outnumbered.

I love that they chose, not to just have one Klan member at the bottom, but there’s a whole group of them.

This always this again speaks to the Marvel message of underdogs feeling outnumbered, feeling the world is against you, but deciding to fight back, deciding to do the right thing anyway.

My next friend, she was an orphan too.

I think I should stop there and talk about; what’s up with all the orphans?

Well, in any sort of art form you have to make decisions to especially in fiction you want to get the audience on the side of your character, and if you have limited time, say a limited page count of a comic book or a limited time in a movie or in a video game, you have to make choices right away that helps your audience connect with your character.

So, that’s why you it’s a tradition in heroic fiction, all these orphans; Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, every Disney princess, poor Bambi.

There goes mama [laughter] Why do we do this?

Why do we do this?

Because again, we’re trying to get the audience on the side of the hero.

And what’s the one thing that everyone can either fear, or if it’s unfortunate enough to have gone through it, to sympathize with, losing the parents, something everyone can fear.

So, it gets your audience on the side of the hero.

It also literally forces the character out of the nest.

Our characters must now stand on their own two feet and again make their choices about power and responsibility.

So, that’s why you often see it in super heroes like this.

So, my next friend; she was an orphan and she felt like a freak.

She was like this friend, she was born in Africa, and she had silver hair.

She was black but she had silver hair and she felt like everyone was judging her and condemning her and thinking she was some sort of witch or a monster.

And one day this really nice teacher came up to her and said, you’re not cursed, you’re blessed.

I want you to come with me to my school in Westchester where everyone looks really cool and we have these cool jets to fly around in, and together we’re going to go around and we’re going to show the world that people like you are not evil.

That people like you are good.

And we can all work together to create a better world.

So, can you guess my next friend?

Storm! Storm, a mutant.

In the Marvel universe we kind of divide the characters by how they get their powers.

So, if you get bitten by a radioactive spider, or if it’s cosmic rays, or if it’s gamma rays, the creators were really grappling with the Cold War at the time, and the fear of the bomb.

That’s why there’s all this radiation in our characters.

But if you’re a mutant you are just born different, it’s in your genes from the start, and when you hit puberty, ta da!

You’re body starts changing, and in the case of the mutants, you grow wings, lasers shoot out of your eyes.

And isn’t that what you felt like when you were going through puberty?

I did. And so the teacher I was talking about is Professor X, right?

And so he comes up to the mutants and he says, come with me and we’re going to change the world.

We’re going to show the world that mutants and humans can live and work together to change the world.

And it’s a great message.

And another message was sent by this cover.

I’ve mentioned America a lot in this discussion.

And super humans are a uniquely American invention.

We came up with them and I think we do them really great, and you could say right now it’s one of our greatest gifts to the world is the super hero.

We export the super hero around the world.

But this issue was different.

This issue introduced international characters.

So, you have Storm up there flying.

The big metal guy is Colossus, he is Russian.

And to me, as a kid, that was huge.

My mom was Ukrainian, and so I remember growing up in the 80s, you know anyone from Eastern European, and anywhere near Russia was, you know those were commies, they’re evil.

But in the comics I saw that, no, Russians can be good.

Colossus is a hero.

It meant a lot to me.

So, also you see Nightcrawler, with the blue face, he’s German.

Wolverine, with the claws, from Canada.

True story.

International group.

Again, I think they were making a choice deliberately to say, again, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, we can all be heroes.

We can all be heroes.

And storm was really unique because she wasn’t only just really powerful, she can control the weather, she can make it thunder and lightning and storm.

Not only that, but she had real strength of character.

I mean look at this next cover.

That’s her rocking the Grace Jones look, with the mohawk and the leather.

And she was saying to the world, hey this is me.

Love me or hate me, this is who I am.

Now, this issue was significant because she actually challenged Cyclops for leadership of the X-Men, and she did it at a time when she was zapped by a gun and she didn’t even have her mutant powers.

But she was very smart and she was crafty, and she beat Cyclops.

So, here I am, this white kid.

At the time I was living down south in Tennessee, and I read a comic book where a black woman defeats a white man for leadership of Marvel’s most popular and powerful super team.

And you know what I said, and readers around the world said?

We said, alright!

Cool! She’s earned it.

So, I think stories like this, and images like this, they have an impact.

And Storm isn’t the only powerful female that we have.

We actually have a tradition of strong women.

In the movies you’ve seen Black Widow and Scarlett, which, we announced we’re finally going to do a female solo movie, Captain Marvel.

We have a history of these strong women and we like to celebrate them.

So, this year we did an event called Women of Power.

We were going to it was kind of a salute to International Women’s History Day.

And so we said, let’s do a whole month to celebrate.

So, up top you see these images.

We created these covers.

We created 24 different variant covers that were going to go on our comic books.

And I knew we were doing this months in advance.

So, I called up my friends in publishing, because at this point I’m now was over in California working for the Marvel Games team as Creative Director and I said, hey, let’s team up.

I want to do women of power in our games.

And they said, well how are you going to do that?

I said, I’m going to call all of our different partners, who create all of our mobile games, and I’m going to ask them if they want to participate.

I’m going to say, hey do you have any female characters that you were going to introduce in the games?

Do you want to hold them until that month?

And everyone whose logo you see up there said, yes!

And so we did the Women of Power event in games.

It was covered by Entertainment Weekly, and then Forbes picked it up.

And it was a way for us to make a statement without even saying anything.

See, at the time, you know the story of Gamer Gate was in the news.

And people were asking me, what do you think of Gamer Gate?

And I said, what do I think?

I we love our female readers.

We love our female characters.

We love our most of our staff is female.

We want to invite everybody to the party.

And that’s what the Women of Power event represented.

And that’s what it said with us having to make a statement on it.

My last Yes!

[ Applause ]

Let’s see, my next friend I lied a bit, it’s actually a group.

It’s a group of friends, but they’re so united I think of them as one.

These friends, like my other friends, were orphaned in some way, and they felt alone, and they felt like misfits.

But they ran into each other and they looked around and they said, you know what?

You’re my kind of misfit.

And they formed a new family together, and they were all very different, but they said, you know despite our differences we can stand together and we can save, not only the world, we can save the entire galaxy.

My next friends, The Guardians of the Galaxy.

Now this Yeah!

Yes, that’s a talking raccoon and a walking tree, that does deserve applause!

So, this cover that came out in 2008, I was actually the editor of the series at the time.

I was asked to edit our Cosmic Books, and I wanted to do a team book.

I had a book that was a solo hero called Nova.

And I said, well now I want to do a team, but I want it to be, you know the freaks and geeks of the Marvel Cosmic Heroes.

I want it to be a true Marvel creation.

And then I got this name, Guardians of the Galaxy.

There was a team in the 70s with that name.

And we hadn’t used that name in a long time.

And I’m like, I want to use this name is perfect.

You hear it and you know instantly what they do; they guard the galaxy.

So, one night I have my official handbooks of the Marvel Universe, they’re these encyclopedias, right?

And they with these bio-entries.

And I have them open, and I have them putting and I’m going through and I’m finding all these characters that I remember from when I was little and but we haven’t seen them in a while.

So, I’m putting sticky notes on all these pages, and I have them spread out on the floor.

And my wife comes in and she says, Billy, what are you doing?

You’re making a mess!

I said, honey, I’m building Marvel’s next great team, and this is going to be our star.

And I show her a page and she says, is that a squirrel?

And I said, it’s a raccoon!

Back in the 80s there was a mini-series called Rocket Raccoon that I thought was just awesome.

I mean it was a raccoon with a big gun and a jet pack and a bad attitude, and who doesn’t love that?

And I thought if we just give them the right platform, then the world will love him.

And I just continued on that role and I found all these crazy characters.

Groot, a walking tree and Drax, this weird, big, muscular, but not too smart assassin, and Gamora, the most deadliest woman in the galaxy, and that’s Star-Lord there holding the gun.

And it didn’t have a huge following, but the people that read the comic really loved it.

And I remember one day my phone rings.

Hello. It’s a friend over on the West Coast and he’s like, Bill, the crew here in Marvel Studios, we really like your Cosmic Books, especially Guardians of the Galaxy.

I’m like, that’s cool.

Cool bud, I’m glad you like it.

No, no, we really like it!

So, what does that mean?

Can’t tell you, bye.

Click. Well, what do I see months later?

The movie poster.

And I said, that’s our Guardians!

They made it about our team!

And it was remarked about the film and of course it was great, the script was fantastic, and the director, James Gunn, and the cast, just beautiful, it was awesome and but what was unique about it was the content was rather new for a Marvel Studios movie.

Usually we look back, if you think about Iron Man and Captain America, we look back at the original comics back in the 60s and even in Cap’s case the 40s, and we base the stories on that.

But they were basing this content from just a few years ago.

And it was characters that no one knew about really.

When you see the movie you walk in and assume these are new created characters, but they’re not.

They’re decades old.

They’re from the 80s and the 70s and even the 60s these characters.

And they’re crazy.

They’re freaky, right?

They’re it’s like a raccoon and a tree.

And people are like, is this going to be I remember the headlines; this is going to be Marvel’s first flop!

I said, no it’s not!

It’s going to be great!

And the reason it was a hit, even though the characters were crazy, and it took place in space, they grounded it in family.

It was all about family from the very first scene when Peter Quill is kidnapped from his parents, all through the movie, when you meet all the characters they talk about how they feel like they’re the only one of their kind, or in Drax case he lost his family.

They were all alone, but they looked at each other and said, we will be each other’s new family.

Groot goes from I am Groot, to we are Groot.

That was the message.

And I think everyone, in one way or another, can relate to that.

As we grow up we often move away from home.

We leave our family.

We go to school.

We get jobs.

What do we do?

We look around.

We find other misfits like ourselves, and we form new families.

I think that’s what is at the message of it and it was in every scene and that’s why it was the hit that it was.

Alright, I have one more friend to talk about.

And he is not on this cover, but it all begins with this cover.

Let’s see, so there I was, at work when I was still on the East Coast.

And it was a February and it was cold and rainy and I had walked 20 minutes from Grand Central and I was soaked.

And my phone’s ringing and I know I have to go to a meeting in 20 minutes and I turn on my computer and I look at my emails.

And there’s a wall, a wall of emails.

And some of them were, like I mentioned, that email, [email protected], letters were coming in.

And some of them were again, saying how they loved some issues and hated some issues.

And one subject line just said, help.

That got my attention so I opened the email.

And it was not a letter complaining about Rogue and Gambit or Peter Parker and Mary Jane.

No, it was from a mom named Christina.

She said, I need your help.

Said, my little boy Anthony, who’s four years old, this morning he did not want to wear his hearing aid.

We call it blue ear because it’s made of blue plastic.

He said, mama, I’m not wearing blue ear.

And I said, why not?

And he said, because super heroes don’t wear blue ears.

So, Anthony at that age, four, knew he was different.

So, Christina tells me that she says, yes they do.

Super heroes where hearing aids.

And he said, you mean like Marvel Characters?

And she said, yes of course.

And he said, well mama, which ones?

She said, I’ll tell you when you get back from school.

She drives Anthony to school.

Runs back.

Help! Oh, what am I going to tell him?

I don’t know if any super heroes wear hearing aids, and he can’t know his mom was lying!

But I have faith, I think there are some, right?

I’m not a liar right?

So, there I am, and the phone’s ringing, like I said.

And I go to the meeting.

And my finger is going to the delete button, and I stopped and I said, what would Peter Parker do?

Catholic guilt!

What would he do?

But that is seriously something I would ask myself when I was growing up.

I didn’t really want to be Spider-Man, I wanted to be Peter Parker.

Because even though he wasn’t perfect, he always tried to do the right thing.

So, I said, okay, power and responsibility.

What can I do?

Well, I don’t have a lot of power, but I have information on super heroes.

And I have access to images.

I have that.

So, what’s my responsibility?

I’ve got to use that to help her.

So, instead of deleting the email I sent it throughout Marvel Editorial.

I said, what can we do?

Do we do you remember any heroes that have hearing aids?

Or could we even maybe ask one of our artists to draw someone with a hearing aid?

And my good friend Tom Brevoort, who was my boss, he reminded me of Hawkeye.

He said, oh, remember Hawkeye?

I said, you’re right.

Back in the 80s he was on a mission where he was trapped by rubble and he used a sonic arrow to get out of the rubble and it burst his eardrums and he was deaf.

And his good friend Tony Stark, being the cool inventor that he is, made him hearing aids.

And to this day he’s our deaf hero.

And we’ve done stories about him either wanting to wear his hearing aid or not.

We’ve done whole issues in sign language to use him, and to use him as a metaphor, again to say that everyone can and should be a hero, no matter what your challenges may be.

So, I went through our digital backlog and I grabbed this cover, because it was one of my favorites when I was growing up.

And I sent it to Christina and I said, Christina, I want you to show this cover to Anthony and tell him that not only do super heroes wear hearing aids, but a member of the world famous Avengers wears a hearing aid.

And if Anthony wears his hearing aid we will make him an honorary Avenger.

And I thought, [applause] And I thought, okay, good deed done for the day, off to my meeting I go.

The next Monday I get in my in-box, this piece of art.

So, my friend Manny Mederos, he saw my email, he knew I was sharing the picture of Hawkeye.

He draws this, on his own time, for free.

He draws this over the weekend.

He knew I sent the Hawkeye cover, so he draws Hawkeye.

And then he invents Blue Ear because that’s what they called the hearing aid.

And I send that to Christina.

And we I said, hey man, that was awesome.

And we said, yeah, okay, cool.

Good deed done for the day.

We’re done right?

No. Next day I get this piece of art by Nelson Ribeiro, Adult Blue Ear!

With his mighty hearing aid he’s hearing trouble and he will go help!

I send this to Christina and we think, okay, we did it!

It’s awesome!

Three weeks later she writes me back and she says, Bill you don’t know what an impact this had on Anthony’s life.

I’ve had to print out these images multiple times now because he keeps bringing them to school and gets them all muddy.

And now I had to put them in plastic sleeves.

And he brings them to school, and he goes to a school or kids with hearing challenges, and his other classmates see them and get so excited, and they feel acknowledged and represented, and they see themselves up there.

And the teacher saw [ Applause ]

The teacher saw how excited the kids were, and the teachers organized Super Hero Week, where all the kids could dress up.

And as fate would have it, Anthony’s grandfather is a State Senator.

Plot twist!

So, one day the Senator is at work and a reporter comes up and says, hey, do you have any good, juicy, negative political gossip for us?

And he says, no, I have a good story.

These people at this company took time out of their day to draw these pieces of art and send it to my grandson.

And it was covered by the local news.

And it started getting picked up by more news sites.

And then I have the New York Daily News on the phone wanting to ask me about this, and the New York Post.

And from that day forward I kept receiving emails from families saying, I heard about Blue Ear.

Can you send me the comic book?

And I had to keep saying, there is no comic book!

There’s just these pieces of art.

But I kept getting these emails.

Kept getting them.

And I bugged the hell out of my bosses.

And I kept saying, we need to do a comic.

We got to do a comic.

There’s a need for this.

Families need this information.

Kids need to see themselves like this.

So, I kept bugging them.

I kept bugging them.

And at the time I was working with a division called Custom Publishing, where we would work with clients outside of Marvel, whether it was Visa or Cirque du Soleil, or Harley-Davidson, you name it.

We would create things like those does anyone remember those old Hostess fruit pie ads with our characters?

Yeah! That was good stuff!

That’s the kind of stuff we made.

We would make comics posters, advertisements, using our characters in an authentically Marvel way, to also promote another brand.

So, finally we partnered with the Children’s Hearing Institute and we made a comic book!

But we decided, hey let’s use Iron Man front and center.

Why? We want to get everyone’s attention.

He’s one of our most famous characters now.

But not only is he famous, he’s a metaphor.

We used him as a metaphor.

We said to the kids, hey, if you have to wear a hearing aid like Blue Ear or if you have to wear a cochlear implant, that’s Saphira on the other side, in the pink, because this is in the tradition of Women of Power, we wanted to have a female character for young women to see.

So, we said, hey, if you have to wear a hearing aid or cochlear implant, you’re just like Tony Stark.

He uses his tech to be the best he can be.

You can use your tech to be the best you can be.

And the comic came out, and the day it came out I got emails from Italy and Australia saying, thank you and asking for copies of the comic book.

And that created another wave of press.

Yes, it did not stop.

And one day I get a call and I was asked to go on CNN.

I’m like, alright.

So, I’m in the limo going into Manhattan.

Mom. Yes Billy?

Mom, in half hour I want you to turn on CNN.

I’m going to be on.

Billy, what did you do?

No, mom it’s good!

It’s Blue Ear.

He’s going to be on the show.

And actually, Christina and Anthony are going to be there and we’re going to meet up.

And they’re all going to be able to meet.

And then guess what.

Then we’re going into the Marvel office together.

[ Applause ]

So, there’s Nelson, who created the cover piece.

There’s me, grinning like an idiot.

And there’s Anthony, and you’ll notice he’s in the whole Blue Ear costume, because mom saw how excited Anthony was.

And he felt like, I’m going to be Blue Ear.

And so he dresses up like this and now the town knows him as Blue Ear.

And guess who was the Grand Marshall of his town’s Halloween parade last year; Anthony as Blue Ear.

So, these Marvel characters; why do we make them?

Power and responsibility.

What can we learn from them?

We have to use our powers responsibly.

Now, you may be thinking, Bill I can’t climb a wall.

I can’t leap through the sky.

I don’t have rays coming out of my eyes.

No, but everyone in this room is incredibly smart and incredibly gifted with the skills you need to create good things.

We have to use and realize what our powers are.

We need to use them to create things, to reach out to people like Anthony, and kids around the world of all ages like that.

We must use our creations to make the world a better place.

Thank you very much.

[ Applause ]

Apple, Inc. AAPL
1 Infinite Loop Cupertino CA 95014 US