Friday, March 21, 2008

Lunch With Mark Waid, part 1

During Megacon weekend I had a chance to take Mark Waid out to lunch in exchange for a chance to interro- er, interview him. Mark was an extremely nice guy and it ended up being a fairly long interview. As a result I've broken it up into two parts. This is the pre-desert portion, enjoy!

Gwen: So, starting off, how did you end up at Boom as editor in chief?

Mark: I got my first taste of editing in the late 80s and I liked the editorial process. I like being able to help other writers and artists sort of shape their direction. A good editor’s job is not to tell somebody else what their story is – it’s to help them tell their story. This is what we tell a lot of people who come into Boom worried that there’s an editor in place and that I’m going to run roughshod over their ideas. My job is to help you tell your story the most effective way I can.

So after 20 years of writing superhero comics and other stuff I got to the point where I was running a little bit out of things to say for a little while and also after 20 years – I’m a good teacher, I know this – but after 20 years you sort of accumulate a certain amount of knowledge that you want to pass along to another generation in terms of craft and style, and you couple that with the idea that it helps me as a writer too, because it forces me to articulate things about storytelling that are generally instinctive for me. In order to have to explain this to you - why this doesn’t work or why this is a better idea - it makes me think about it in ways I haven’t thought about it before. So it makes me a better writer as well as the editing part of it. In that sense it’s very rewarding.

Gwen: I can understand the teaching aspect – I read somewhere that you were at UCLA as guest lecturer.

Mark: I’ve done that a lot actually, not full time, at a lot of colleges and high schools. I‘m not the best comic book writer who ever lived but you can’t do this for this long without knowing something - without picking up a few tricks.

Gwen: Well you could be considered an authority on this.

Mark: No, you don’t understand I’m not an authority on comic book writing; I’m an authority on Superman, that’s not the same thing.

Gwen: That’s probably important as a comic book writer

Mark: You’d think - one would think that the fact that I can tell you anything about Krypton, but can only name 38 states is not necessarily a good thing, but it helps me in the writing of DC comics anyway.

In general, in writing, it’s good because it helps keep you fresh. Because the worse thing you can do in any creative medium is decide you’ve got all the answers and that the next generation of creators, the next generation of talent, is all a bunch of upstarts that don’t really know what they’re doing. I mean, I don’t have to like anime, but if I’m smart I’ll appreciate what they do well, and what in terms of that form of storytelling are the things that we can apply to what they do. I’m not a big video game player but I’m smart enough to play enough of them to know, just in terms of research, that this is the type of world our fans are living in. This is the kind of stuff that appeals to them - what is it about this storytelling process (because video games are a story, good ones are) that informs what we do?

Gwen: In your position you’re not only a teacher but a leader as well. Where do you hope to lead the company?

Mark: Our mission statement is really just to do good stories. There are two ways to go. If you’re Marvel or DC then you do a bunch of superhero comics, that are all intellectual property that the company owns, and the creators don’t really have a piece of it and there’s not really an incentive to compensate the creators. I will say working at DC you get a little piece of the pie – every time Impulse shows up on Smallville I get a tiny piece, or if I create something for Vertigo obviously I have a percentage, but its not the same as when you’re working for, say, Image comics, when you own it completely but no one is there to really promote it for you, They don’t have much of a stake in it.

It’s all about good comic books first and foremost – we are not yet in the position to go wildly experimental with comics to the point where we can do stuff that we know will never in a million years be a video game, TV show or a movie. We ideally eye stuff most favorably that is a good comic first and foremost but also looks like it could translate to other media if somebody else picks it up.

Gwen: Boom's comics do have a strong cinematic appeal.

Mark: We really do. As an entertainment company Boom has placed Talent, Tag and half a dozen other of our projects. We’ve placed them with movie companies or TV developers. It didn’t change the way we did the comic.

On financial consideration we’re asking creators to come work for us for what is not a lot of upfront money but if we manage to place it - and we have really good success there… Well, every studio in town is constantly calling us finding out what we’ve got in development – but they understand it’s comics first. If they can do something with it once we’ve established it as an intellectual property from within, than great.

Gwen: You also have your own stories being published by Boom. Do you plan on doing more with Potter’s Field or will you begin work on something new?

Mark: Well both. I would love to do more with Potter’s Field but that’s a matter of trying to find time with Paul Azaceta to set a schedule. He and I are going to meet up next month to figure out when in the summer of this year we can finally get another one or two issues of Potter’s Field out - which is great because then we have enough material to make a trade paperback. But beyond that I’ve got a bunch of stuff in my hip pocket that’s creator owned/shared stuff, and this is my chance to do it. It’s just finding time in the 19 hour a day job doing editorial on Boom. We’re busy hiring a staff for me so I don’t have to be responsible for 25 books a month. At that point I can start to develop some of my other stuff.

Gwen: What was the inspiration for Potter’s Field?

Mark: It came almost 10 years ago. I was sitting in my house in Brooklyn with Jimmy Palmiotti and a couple other people. We were talking about Gatecrasher and at some point in the conversation Jimmy or somebody mentioned that there’s a graveyard out on Hart Island in New York for the people who have no identities, and I just latched onto that immediately - like that’s a great idea for a story! It’s this whole image of a guy who goes from grave to grave, one at a time, and will not rest until he can figure out who these people were and what there unfinished business was. There’s any number of stories you can tell about that - you can tell crime stories, you can tell heartfelt, warm stories, or dark ugly murder stories. So I’ve had it in development for 8-9 years and finally got it off the ground.

Gwen: The imagery in Potter’s Field is fairly powerful. How closely were you involved with it’s development?

Mark: I was pretty closely involved with developing the imagery with Paul at first because we didn’t even have a look for the guy. I know we went back and forth with a lot on the idea that he’s got to look fairly anonymous for the story to work, because his name is John Doe. I wanted him to have to look of a guy who could be intimidating if he needed to be, but at the same time could talk to a disconsolate widow without seeming threatening; a guy who could have some sort of range to him. We hit on the idea of the mirrored sun glasses and that was a big help. It was something to make him anonymous and everything we did up until that point didn’t make him look anonymous enough. But it’s not a superhero comic book, you can’t give him a mask, so what can you do?

I wrote the issues all full script, but by the time we got to the third issue Paul had so impressed me with his storytelling ability that there were entire sequences where I would just give him dialog and say, wherever you feel like for the setting Paul, cause you’re the New York boy, whatever you feel comfortable drawing. Here’s what has to happen in this scene and you can block it out - and he would come up with these ideas for how to stage the action and it was great.

Gwen: How did that translate to working with the colorist?

Mark: Nick Filardi was our colorist on that. He was a guy found, I think, by Marshall Dillon who was one of the editors at Boom. His storytelling sense was just so strong. The most important thing about color in a comic book is you’re supposed to know what’s going on. It’s that simple. You can do all kinds of funky Photoshop effects, and lens flares, and fades, and 78 shades of green and stuff if you want - but I don’t care if I can’t tell what’s going on.

The test for of comic book coloring is if you hold the page upside down and your eye still gravitates immediately to what it’s supposed to be looking at – to what the most important things are in that panel - then you’re doing your job right as a colorist. If your eye is instead focusing on that cool sunset or the technique that the colorist used on that girl’s hair, instead of paying attention to the knife in the guy’s hand, which is the most important thing in that scene, then the colorist did it wrong.

Gwen: I think it’s rare to find a writer, penciler and colorist that work well together as a team.

Mark. If quizzed Nick would probably admit that I rode him pretty hard on some of this stuff and asked for some changes here and there. But they were only to clarify the storytelling.

Gwen: So is it safe to say that you enjoy your work?

Mark: I think that, it’s fair to say yes, I enjoy my job. It’s a lot different than I thought it would be. There’s a lot more licensed property stuff that at this stage that we’re busy trying to hire a staff to take off of my shoulders. That’s a whole different level of difficulty because you’re not just appeasing yourself, you’re not just making sure the artists are happy, you also have to make sure the licensers are happy. We’re very quickly getting to the point where I’m back to what the job was originally described to be which was intellectual property that Boom and the creators has a share in and nobody else does. That way we can do what we want to do. And that’s a blast.

The fun part of that is finding new artists who are willing to work for food stamps and canned goods, and writers who understand we can’t pay top page rate at this point because we’re still a young company. Beyond that, what I try to offer if you’re younger, or if you don’t have a whole lot of exposure, well, I know our rates aren’t very good but for whatever it’s worth I’m certainly willing to make it clear that I’m willing to work with you. Whatever benefit my years of experience may have, or whatever mentoring I can do when it comes to your stories, I’ll definitely step up to the plate there. Hopefully, if that has any value, that sort of makes up for the fact that we can’t pay the highest page rates in the world. Overall maybe the work experience will be worth it for you.

Gwen: I’d think that there would be a lot of creators out there willing to work for peanuts, just to get their work out there.

Mark: You would think, but I never want to take that for granted, and I certainly never want to take for granted that people will work specifically for me for less money, because that’s kind of egotistical.

Gwen: I think it’s more difficult for writers to break into the comic book business.

Mark: It’s much harder for writers to break in.

Gwen: I’m just saying that I think what you’re offering would be appealing to writers.

Mark: It is, but the trick is that the writers who it appeals to the most should probably cut off their hands and bury their keyboards. Ok, that’s mean… but oh my God the scripts that come across my desk - half of them are good or have potential, and half of them make me want to go open up a tire store somewhere.

Gwen: So you guys accept scripts?

Mark: Yeah, yeah… in case you know somebody who writes… *teasing voice* (Mark may expect that I like writing *cough*). We accept scripts.

Gwen: You guys are the only ones, it seems, who accept scripts by themselves.

Mark: Well I’d prefer to take a pitch first.

Gwen: Still, most companies require the writer to already have a team lined up, or to be able to draw the book themselves.

Mark: I don’t care about that. The only reason I prefer pitches first is because first of all they’re easier to read, and secondly they’re easier for me to look at instantly and go, ok, that’s great, but you don’t know this, we’ve got a story next month that’s exactly like that. I don’t want anybody to spend their time working on something that is too close to what we’ve already done. Unfortunately, for various legal reasons, we just can't take unsolicited submissions.

Gwen: It seems that most companies won’t even think about looking at a new writer’s script, and there are good novice writers out there. I think it would benefit you guys to take writer submissions as well as art submissions.

Mark: Other than the legal issues I mentioned previously, the other big problem is that no body has time.

Gwen: Yes, but I’d think even if you just went through pitches it would be worth the time, and that would eliminate quite a few, just looking at the good pitches more closely.

Mark: I agree with you, but the odds of it being a solid pitch are slim, and the odds of it being a competent script even after a solid pitch are slim. And while I have time to teach some people some things, it’s hard to find the time to teach complete tyros everything. I’m willing to try, but it’s just really hard. It’s a two fold benefit though, the good scripts and the guys who are willing to do a second draft based on my notes and turn in something that really works; I love that.

And the scripts that are truly, truly awful - I kind of like those too because I like to have a big file in my office labeled undrawable scripts, and every once in awhile a good writer will come in who’s having a bad day and I’ll hand him one of these scripts and say, you will feel like Shakespeare when you read this! Go read this. And he’ll come back and feel much better. *teasing voice*

Gwen: *laughs* Well that’s one way to cure writer’s block!

Mark: I mean no offense, but some of the scripts we’re getting, are like, are you kidding me? Have you ever read a comic book? So, do you understand you can’t put 500 words on a page - that you can’t put and amusement part and a stadium in the same panel? What is wrong with you? So… there’s that.

Link to Part 2

Tune in next week for after desert (mmm, banana pizza)!

>note: some changes have been made to this interview at the request of Boom<


  1. Very cool. Nice interview! I'm looking forward to part 2.

  2. I'm glad to get to read the transcription, because some of what was said I had trouble hearing.

    You did a nice job on the interview and it has translated nicely into written format. =)

  3. Actually it's awful on the recording - I sound like I'm an eight year old =/ Luckily I didn't do too much talking myself =)

  4. I'm soooo jealous. Sounds like you had a great time.

  5. Great job on the interview!! I didn't know Boom took unsolicited scripts! I just sent that information along to a friend... hahahaha.. Mark will be thrilled to know we're sharing that info, but seriously, I do think he'll be happy with this writer.

    Can't wait to read the rest of the interview!

  6. Bah, I was there, and you did not sound like an eight year old.

    You sounded at least 12.