LIFE IN FOUR COLORS SPECIAL:
GEM CITY COMIC CON - AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK WAID
by Bill Gladman
Bill Gladman: First off, Mark, I would like to thank you very much for taking the time out of your schedule to conduct this interview. I look forward to meeting you at Gem City Comic Con in Dayton Ohio. Saturday March 31st and Sunday April 1st.
You'll be appearing in association with the Hero Initiative, is that correct?
BG: You have always had the reputation as one of the most respected writers in comics and these last few years have seemed to even reinforce that train of thought in many fans. But I'd like to go back to a time when you were a comic fan (I'm sure you're still a comic fan) and talk a little about a two-part story that you credit for influencing your drive to become a writer yourself, Adventure Comics #369-#370 by Shooter, Swan, and Abel. What was it about "Mordru the Merciless" that left so much of an impression on a young Mark Waid?
MW: It was just brilliantly plotted, with lots of suspense and danger and thrills--and it had the greatest cliffhanger ending I'd ever read. The basic structure of how writer Jim Shooter plotted that comic is so much a part of the way I still plot stories today that I'm forever indebted.
BG: Silly question-did you read those books when you were what...six years old, or were they something you picked up later? It's not unheard of, of course, for long time comic collectors to start reading and collecting comics around that age. I started reading and collecting when I was seven.
MW: I actually started reading and collecting when I was four--I was a precocious little kid whose mother taught him to read at an early age.
MW: I always preferred DC growing up--partly because my entry into comics was the Adam West Batman TV show, but also because they were just easier to find than Marvel Comics were in Alabama in the 1960s. Marvels were relatively scarce!
BG: One of the books you worked on that established your name as a solid writer was indeed a DC book, that of course was The Flash. You were on that book for a few years. How do you feel about those stories now?
MW: I look back at them pretty fondly, actually. I was clearly still learning my craft, but the joy I had in working with some of comics' most talented artists--among them, of course, the late and much-missed Mike Wieringo--that'll never go away.
BG: You really established Wally West as THE FLASH for a whole new group of Flash fans. Many fans think of Wally as THE FLASH thanks to your run on that title. I myself prefer Wally over Barry. Was the fact that Wally was The FLASH at the time you wrote these books, and not Barry, a factor in wanting to work on this book?
MW: At that point in my career, honestly, just starting out, I'd have taken the book if it had starred my Uncle Lennis as the Flash. And, in fact, I'd never been a huge fan of Wally's. I had to really get into that character and find the hook that made it personal, the connection that he and I shared--and I discovered it when I realized that Wally was, in many ways, much like me--he grew up into a job that he'd only dreamed about as a child.
BG: Any thoughts on the fact that in the recent relaunch of the DCU Wally West has been eliminated?
MW: Disappointed, but not surprised. I'm not really following the new DC stuff, to be honest.
BG: After revitalizing The Flash you did the same thing with a character over at Marvel. You wrote a stellar run on a book featuring my favorite comic book character of all time...Captain America. At the time you took over that title it was in a serious slump...but you managed to resurrect the title. Any thoughts about working with Ron Garney on that book?
MW: Sure! Ron made that book sing, and without him, that run wouldn't be nearly as well-remembered, not by half. Ron pumped new blood into the look of that book and was terrific - a great collaborator.
BG: Not only did you resurrect the Captain America book, you resurrected Agent 13, better known as Sharon Carter. How difficult was it to convince Marvel this needed to be done?
MW: Ha! Not at all, honestly--remember, at that point, they knew (but we didn't know, Ron and I) that the continuity was about to be rebooted by Rob Liefeld (however temporarily), so they didn't really care.
BG: What do you think about the role that Sharon Carter now has in the Marvel Universe?
MW: I'm proud that she's around. I love what Ed Brubaker's done with her.
BG: Sharon definitely got the better deal here compared to Wally.
MW: The apple I had for lunch got a better deal compared to Wally.
BG: [The] next project that seemed to really put your name in the same circles of some of the most influential writers in the business was a little project you worked on with Alex Ross called Kingdom Come. Did your successful run on Flash play a part in getting to work on this story?
MW: Somewhat, but at that point, I was still fairly fresh on the Flash--remember, Alex and I were working on Kingdom Come a good two years before it came out. I think I got to play a part in that story based more on my knowledge of the DC universe than anything.
MW: It was actually Alex's brainstorm--he'd come to the table with a bunch of sketches, a lot of ideas for images he wanted to paint, and a rough idea that he and I then fleshed out.
BG: A few years ago I worked in a comic shop and there were a few customers who always confused you and Kurt Busiek. Some people thought Kurt wrote Kingdom Come and that you wrote Astro City. Anybody ever mistake you as the guy who wrote Marvels?
MW: Yeah, but Kurt gets the reverse, too. If I were Kurt, I would sue.
BG: Revitalizing characters and books that seemed to have become buried under years of confusing, lackluster storylines is obviously something you do very well. Flash, Captain America, and the one title that hadn't really been a "hit" in the eyes of comic fans since the late 80s/early 90s, the Fantastic Four. Most people considered this book "dead" since John Byrne left the book. Was the FF a book you sought out or something that just fell in your lap?
MW: Totally fell in my lap. Didn't have any interest when it was offered. But editor Tom Brevoort implored me to think on it overnight, and when I started to re-think Reed Richards as less of a stodgy old boring dude and more as Buckaroo Banzai, leader of an awesome team, I got excited and said "yes."
BG: Was there a special challenge in writing the "flagship" Marvel title?
MW: Yeah--that no one under the age of eighty liked Reed. If we did one thing, that was it--we managed to show people why Reed is cool.
BG: You actually were on the title when it hit issue #500...with one of the best Doctor Doom stories ever told. Any thoughts about being a part of comic book history in regards to writing that milestone issue of that title?
MW: Only that it was an honor and that I could never have done it without Mike Wieringo.
BG: What was it like to work with Mike Wieringo on the FF?
MW: It was the perfect collaboration.Mike and I talked out the stories--sometimes in detail, sometimes less so--and I always made an effort to write to his strengths. But there was nothing he wasn't willing to draw. He was a genius.
BG: Shifting gears from reestablishing characters with a long history to establishing brand new characters of your own creation. I remember working in that same comic shop a few years ago and two brand new titles from BOOM! Studios hit the stands...both created by you: Irredeemable and Incorruptible. Irredeemable was released the same week the store opened and was a huge hit in our shop right away. When did you start thinking about doing these two books?
MW: Honestly, that wasn't part of the original plan when I joined BOOM! -- we wanted to stay away from super-hero books--but the publisher, Ross Richie, challenged me to do something offbeat and risky, and I'd been wanting to tell the story of a hero gone bad for a long, long time. In fact, there are little, almost microscopic pieces of Irredeemable that were, almost twenty years ago, part of a pitch I'd done for an Impact Comics relaunch for the Comet that never went anywhere.
BG: Did you always intend to release both books or was Incorruptible a book that was born after the success of Irredeemable?
MW: Incorruptible wasn't part of the original plan, no. But once I thought about it, it made sense.
BG: Were you a fan of Alan Moore's Marvel Man (or Miracle Man) stuff? I recall a lot of comic shop discussion comparing Marvel Man to Irredeemable.
MW: Sure! Who wasn't? That stuff was astounding, and I really hope it finally gets back into print someday.
BG: Both books are coming to a close. What made you decide to end these titles?
MW: Honestly, the characters were pushing me that way. I've had an ending in mind since the start, and as we entered year three, it seemed like time to let that unfurl.
BG: Now the part I've been waiting for. You very recently pulled off yet another critically acclaimed revitalization of a character and many people are calling it the best comic currently being produced by Marvel, if not the best comic produced right now-period. How did you get involved in writing Daredevil?
MW: Editor Steve Wacker asked, that simple. I love Daredevil and I love working with Steve, and I was on board. And thank you for the kind words.
BG: This character had really been kicked through the mud for the last few years but you somehow stripped away all the garbage that cluttered the book up...was this an aspect about the book that appealed to you? Did you see this as a chance to "fix" Daredevil?
MW: I didn't want to disavow what had come before, but I definitely saw this as a chance to do something a little less dour and more life-affirming.It was, from my perspective, a HUGE risk, creatively--the market doesn't tend to be kind to super-hero books that aren't grim and gritty--but the response has been remarkable, in no small part thanks to artist Paolo Rivera, without whom no one would be paying attention.
BG: I was about to quit comics - I've been collecting for 38 years - until Daredevil #1 came out. That book brought the "fun and excitement" back into comics for me. Can't thank you enough for that. Thanks for redeeming one of my favorite characters. Any other character out there you would like to write but never gotten a chance to do so?
MW: Thank you. I have my eye on another Marvel character someday, but I'm not willing to admit who it is...yet. And, of course, I'd be happy to take a swing at Batman someday, a character I've never written in a solo series. Same with Superman, but I've been told that's a really long shot.
BG: Any advice for comic writers who are trying to break into the field?
MW: Read everything and stop reading comics. You've read enough of them. Read novels, study prose. Read William Goldman's ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE for advice on how to visualize things and tell stories in a dramatic and visual manner.
BG: Final question-I'm working with a couple of good friends of mine at Gem City on what boils down to a version of Comic Book Jeopardy. All the rules of Jeopardy hosted by a college professor who teaches a course on comics (Matt Smith-author of "Icons of the American Comic Book") and judged by two local comic creators (Frank Raynor and myself-we also host the charity auction together).Would you consider being a part of this panel the first day of the show... Saturday 2:00pm?
MW: Sure! Sign me up. I'll be your Sean Connery, sure.
BG: Thanks again for this interview. Thanks again for saving Daredevil and giving me faith in comics again.
Bill Gladman - Bill is a writer and illustrator and currently working on several different projects including the first issue of an ongoing comic book series (Prodigy), an illustrated fantasy novel (The Book of Noheim), and the first of four illustrated science fiction/fantasy novels (Jack the Rabbit, Living Legend of the Purple Plains) as well as a light-hearted on going mini-comic (Three Wise Men), and co-creator of the hit webcomic New Comic Day. Bill also writes the column Life in Four Colors and contributes reviews and such from time to time. Listen to the audio edition of Life in Four Colors each month on The Related Recap!
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