Jan Utstein advances a ’true American art form’
Comic book publisher also works in production finance for Marvel
If there are people more passionate than comic book fans, good luck finding them. Collectors are no longer content with weekly jaunts to the comic book store. Conventions are the rage, with tens of thousands of fans eager to get back to turning out to meet industry stars and dress as their favorite characters.
This is the world in which Jan Utstein ’80 has built a career while having the time of her life. Utstein works in production finance for Marvel Studios and runs her own comic book and graphic novel publishing company. She has also produced a number of independent films and streaming series.
Though she has always loved comic books, Utstein didn’t see her professional life going that way. At Binghamton, she focused on theatrical set design, and leveraged her coursework and experience into a full scholarship for a UCLA master’s degree program in the film and theater department.
“At some point, I deviated and began producing and developing content for film and television,” Utstein says. “Between projects, I needed to make money and I had friends who were in film production accounting. My parents were both in accounting so I grew up surrounded by adding machines. As much as I loved art, I loved numbers. I found beauty in numbers because there are patterns, just like there are patterns in art.”
Utstein has been with Marvel for more than five years. In an industry where most jobs are freelance and temporary, she has an inhouse position. She is part of the production finance team and simultaneously works on all of the studio’s films and streaming shows. Notable productions have included Black Widow, Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Doctor Strange and, most recently, WandaVision.
“At first, I was just going to be there for a few months, then they asked if I could stay another month, then another,” Utstein says. “It was the first job I had that was full-time, not freelance.”
As CEO and editor-in-chief of Hurricane Entertainment, she has published numerous comic book series and graphic novels, including the multi-award-nominated graphic novel Violent Messiahs. She has partnered with big names such as Kurt Russell on the title John Carpenter’s Snake Plissken Chronicles, based on the movie Escape from New York. She has also partnered with four-time Academy Award-winner and Star Wars alum and sound designer Ben Burtt — credited with creating Chewbacca’s voice and sounds as well as the voice of Yoda and several others — in development of her title Chassis.
“Comic books are one of the only true American art forms,” Utstein says. “You’ll notice the story lines and subject matters are very sophisticated. That’s because the kids who grew up reading comics are now the people writing them.”
Utstein looks forward to the revival of an industry rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect is being felt everywhere — from the small-town comic book stores that can’t get shipments to the big cities hosting conventions.
“This isn’t like Hollywood with barriers between you and the stars,” Utstein says. “In the comic industry, the talent is accessible. You can go to any convention and stand right across the table from your favorite writers or artists and speak with them, get their autographs and maybe even take a picture with them. What made our industry unique and special is dead for now, and I can’t wait for it to come back.”