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Thoughts From the Land of Frost:
A Discussion With Mark Waid
By Alexander Ness


His great runs on FLASH, RUSE, SIGIL, CRUX, JLA, and CAPTAIN AMERICA would, in themselves, argue that he could write his own ticket wherever he chooses to work. We know that a Mark Waid-written book is a must read for us, and many readers likely agree. He is now currently hard at work on Marvel's FANTASTIC FOUR as well as EMPIRE for DC Comics.

Now enjoy the interview as we delve into the mind of a true comic creator.

AN: Tell my readers where you were born, grew up, went to University and now live? And are you married with children?

MW: No wife, no kids. I was born in Hueytown, Alabama and grew up all over the mid-South area before--at least for now--settling in Los Angeles. I went to school at Virginia Commonwealth University but never actually graduated -- despite being a very good student, I just couldn't pass the foreign language classes necessary for a degree!

AN: What is your first comic buying or reading memory, what comic was it and do you still own a copy of it (if not the original)?

MW: Not only do I have a copy of it, it hangs framed over my desk to remind me, in the bleaker times, just why exactly it is that I choose to do this for a living. When I was about three, in early 1966, my father saw Batman on TV and thought I might like a Batman comic. I read BATMAN #180 -- an unremarkable issue save that it was probably the best-selling Batman comic of all time next to Dark Knight because of the TV exposure -- and was hooked.

AN: My brother and I were hooked in essentially the same way. How did you get into the comics industry?

MW: I worked in the fan press and got to know a lot of editors and creators at local conventions. From there, I went to work on staff at Fantagraphics and was hired in '87 as an associate editor at DC Comics. Left that job at Christmas of '89 and went freelance.

AN: What was your first credited work, and similarly, what was your first writing credit?

MW: I no longer remember my first credited fan-press work, but my first comics writing credit was an eight-page Superman backup for then-editor Julie Schwartz in ACTION COMICS #572 (1984). It's not a bad little tale, though I'm not really expecting a retroactive Eisner award for it.

AN: Who are/were the greatest influences on your work?

MW: In comics, Elliot S. Maggin, John Broome, Robert Loren Fleming and Jim Shooter. Outside of comics, William Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, David E. Kelley, James Thurber, Shirley Jackson.

AN: And who are your best friends in the industry?

MW: Tom Peyer, Brian Augustyn, Gail Simone, Devin Grayson, Terry Moore, Mike Wieringo, Barry Kitson, Humberto Ramos, and I really could go on and on. Many more great people.

AN: Which character is your favorite to write?

MW: Superman. Next question?

AN: Hey, I am not as smart as you, please don’t rush my thinking process. Your run on Flash and Impulse really made you a favorite writer of many people. Do you look upon your work on that book as being a great run or do you see it from the distance of time as being somewhat having more for you to address?

MW: No, I look back on both FLASH and IMPULSE pretty fondly and think I said all I had to say. As with anything, I wish I could go back and tweak and twist some stories, mostly for clarity, but I think they hold up--almost completely because of the involvement of Brian Augustyn, a great sounding board and editor.

AN: Why did your initial run on Captain America receive so much accolade but the Heroes Return run receive so many complaints? (I loved both, by the way)

MW: Hard to say, but it's certainly true. First, I think that we had the disadvantage on Round Two of not being as surprising as we were coming out of the gate in Round One. By Round Two, people knew what they were getting, and the shock of the new was gone. Second, there was a GARGANTUAN amount of editorial interference on Round Two because Marvel was desperately trying to maintain the sales momentum of the Heroes Reborn books. Third -- maybe it was my fault. Maybe I wasn't connecting with the audience as well, which is entirely possible. The one thing I do know for sure is that I regret having gone back.

Article continued below advertisement

AN: Describe your time and work on JLA. In what way do you see it as being a success and otherwise?

MW: I think it was a success in that sales held steady and that Bryan Hitch in particular did some lovely work. On the other hand, despite being what I will go to my grave believing was a really good idea, the "Queen of Fables" arc seemed to be a gigantic misfire in the eyes of fans. I'm still glad the "Tower of Babel" arc is well-received, though.

AN: I loved KINGDOM COME, but just recently learned that some consider it to be 7/10ths Alex Ross, and the rest you. To what degree is this true?

MW: "Recently"? Where have YOU been?

I don't know. I don't care. All I do know at this point is that I've never once accused Alex of taking too MUCH credit for the story. It was a collaboration. My memory is that we offered Alex a co-plotting credit on the series but he declined for whatever reason; maybe if he hadn't, this wouldn't somehow still be an issue with some people seven years later. All I really care is that people enjoy the finished series.

AN: Your work at CrossGen, particularly SIGIL and RUSE was excellent, yet you became somewhat famous for chafing under the studio system. What didn't you like about the CrossGen system.

MW: When I was hired in September of 2000, it was with the understanding that I don't do my best work when I have to punch a clock. That's not my being a prima donna; that's simply what I'd learned about how I work after ten years at it. I was promised that so long as the books came out on time, I'd have a lot of latitude as far as my actual office hours went.

Unfortunately, by January 2001, when I actually started on staff, the internal managerial/editorial process had been restructured for reasons that were all well and good--the writers were now held more responsible for the day-to-day, hour-to-hour production of the books--and those new, more rigid structures (which, again, I hasten to repeat, made sense) superseded any guarantees I'd been given about being able to dictate my own schedule, so through no one's fault, I immediately came into the job feeling trapped and claustrophobic, and it didn't get any better.

AN: RUSE was my favorite book, you seemed to dig writing it and then you left. What happened?

MW: Once my one-year staff contract expired, I was offered the chance to write RUSE indefinitely beyond that time with the understanding that CrossGen liked what I was doing. For whatever reason, however, the book's regular artist was growing increasingly displeased with my work--which was a shame, because I made no secret that I thought he was doing a terrific job and contributed greatly to the book's success. The artist knew he had my permission to make all the additions and alterations to the story he felt necessary as he went along, provided he phoned me up to talk them out, but the phone calls came less and less frequently.

Sadly, the snapping point came when he heavily rewrote a plot I'd written not for him but for a fill-in penciler, and I learned this only after that issue was in production, so I was put in a position where all I could do was resign. Shame. I'd have stayed on that book a good long time had it been up to me.

AN: Your painful Gorilla Comics experience has been discussed elsewhere, but could you briefly tell us what happened and why?

MW: Briefly, we weren't as good at business as we were at creativity. Until the day I die, I'll never know how we sold ninety thousand copies of EMPIRE #1 and #2 and I still lost money.

AN: Your take on Fantastic Four has been called fresh and new for such an old comic. How has working on it been difficult and which member of the Four is your favorite?

MW: Reed's CLEARLY my favorite -- I think he's gotten short shrift over the years and would like to make up for that. It hasn't been difficult at all.

AN: What do you see for Empire coming to DC? Will it be extended beyond a miniseries should it sell well?

MW: That's the idea. Barry and I are two-thirds of the way through the mini and have plenty of ideas for the next run.

AN: Might you share with us some of your upcoming projects?

MW: Chief among them is SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT, this summer's Big Superman Project, where artist Leinil Yu and I have been given a relatively free hand to redefine Superman for the 21st century and tell, for the first time in decades, the Definitive Story of the Last Son of Krypton. Along the way, we've been answering questions not often asked, such as "Why does he do what he does?" and "Why in this day and age does he wear a bright-colored costume?" and "How could a pair of glasses make any difference in your appearance whatsoever?" I really think readers are going to be VERY surprised by what they see; if they're expecting the Silver Age Redux, they're gonna be shocked.

AN: Would you still write Seinfeld Comics and Stories for free if you had the opportunity?

MW: No, but if anyone's doing a Quantum Leap revival, give me a ring.

We thank Mark for his time and forthright answers to my questions. Interviewing him was a privilege.

Final Thoughts:

Comic publishers and talent are invited to submit their products for review.

Alexander Ness
Land Of Frost
Box 142
Rockford MN 55373-0142

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