411mania.com Interviews: Comic Writer and Creator Mark Waid
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 06.10.2014
411mania speaks with Eisner Award-winning comic writer Mark Waid, the mind behind such stories as Kingdom Come and signature stories for Justice League of America, The Flash, Fantastic Four, Captain America, and more!
Recently, I got the chance to speak one-on-one with legendary comics writers and creator Mark Waid. The Eisner Award-winning Waid wrote the renowned DC Comics graphic novel Kingdom Come alongside superstar artist Alex Ross. He's also served as the creative force behind such signature runs on titles such as Captain America, Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Flash, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Daredevil.
Currently, Waid has re-branded his site Thrillbent as a showcase for creator-owned digital comics. Thrillbent is now showcasing a new volume of Waid's creator-owned series Empire along with artist Barry Kitson. The first issue is now available on Thrillbent, and the book will be serialized exclusively on the site twice-monthly thereafter. Here's what Waid had to share with us on Empire, Thrillbent, and his other ventures in comics:
Jeffrey Harris: So now we're getting another volume of Empire. The first volume came out in 2003. Have you been wanting to do a follow-up for that long a time? Was it a matter of just having the rights back to the series?
Mark Waid: That's really all it depended. The answer to the first question, how long we've been trying to get something off the ground with a volume 2 is since 2003. It's a just a matter of, not only did we reclaim the rights full and clear, Barry Kitson and I knew we just desperately needed to do this. We feel very strongly about this. We've had almost five to eight years to come up with a story, making notes, and plans all along. And then once we decided to rebrand Thrillbent as a digital comic subscription service, where for the price of one print comic a month, you get to indulge yourself in several comics worth of brand new digital material every single month. We wanted to lead strong. We wanted to come out with a very really strong lead property, and Thrillbent's Empire has a good ring to it. So Empire was it.
Jeffrey Harris: Now Empire was published as a creator-owned property for Gorilla Comics, right?
Mark Waid: Right.
Jeffrey Harris: So did you not own it? Why did you have to get the rights back?
Mark Waid: Well we did all that, but here's the thing. When you get to create your own book, no matter who you are, if you take it through DC or Marvel or another company to publish, they want in return exclusive rights to print it for a certain amount of time, which only makes sense. That's business. And so the way it generally works is that only once a book is out of print for a certain of time do the rights revert back to you, whether it's a year or two years or whatever. If finally went out of print long enough where Image had to give the rights back to use because they didn't have an edition in print. Once that happened, we were good to go.
Jeffrey Harris: Not to insult major publishers, but it sounds like creator owned is a quote, unquote term.
Mark Waid: Yeah, it's creator owned, but the freedom to be able to do it and be able to turn it on a dime, that doesn't necessarily exist. That's part of the tradeoff that you take when you go with a larger publisher to front the printing. But again, that's another reason we took it back to my company Thrillbent because the revenue stream on it is not as strong right off the bat because you're not coming out with a print edition. But at the same time, the flexibility is there for us to do whatever we want, whenever we want and not have to ask permission.
Jeffrey Harris: With your creator-owned stories such as Empire or Irredeemable, I have a lot of fun with these sort of post-modern deconstructions of the superhero genre. In Irredeemable it's a scenario of what happens if someone like Superman turns against us. In Empire, it's what happens if Doctor Doom wins and takes over the world. So what inspires you to explore these areas? Because you've done some great, defining superhero stories over the years.
Mark Waid: It gives me more flexibility with the storytelling. That's the thing. I've written a lot of superhero stories, and I will continue to write a lot of superhero stories probably until the day I finally keel over. In the meantime, I like the flexibility of being able to work outside of the scriptures of continuity; get out of the shared universe that is a blessing and a curse. The blessing of a shared universe is there's just great characters, and the curse is that you don't have creative freedom to do what you want fully with these characters. So that's part of the appeal, but that's just part of it. The other part of the appeal toward doing things that are a little darker or off-genre is that you get to explore the heroic tropes and the villain tropes in a way that you can't within a shared universe because you can't have a story where Doctor Doom really does take over the world and wins and that's the end of the story because there's always going to be the Fantastic Four. There's always going to be Spider-Man. With Empire, I like the idea that we built a world in which there is no Justice League coming to save the day and there never will be. You're watching the machinations of some very bad people.
Jeffrey Harris: I almost see a parallel with this comic and the popular series Game of Thrones based George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books. It's like a super-powered Game of Thrones.
Mark Waid: Oh yes. It's very much a science fiction Game of Thrones. It is very much a Court of the Borgias if you will, where you got people plotting against each other. It's not so much that you don't have anyone to root for, but you have certain characters that you root against more than you root against the other characters. You're still invested in what these characters want and what is going to bring them some sense of peace, but at the same time, it's not like you actually want to be buddies with any one of them.
Jeffrey Harris: What is your relationship like now with DC and Marvel Comics?
Mark Waid: Marvel, I still do things with because I still love doing Marvel Comics. I still have a couple regular assignments there with Daredevil and a few other things. With DC at this point, I don't really have a relationship with them, but I certainly wish them all the best. It's just that the toys that they have in their toy box right now are not the toys that I'm familiar with and the toys that I like playing with. So, that's fine. I haven't burned any bridges as far as I know. I'm certainly open to working with whoever allows me to tell the best stories, and I'm fine with that.
Jeffrey Harris: Trying to be diplomatic about this, I love Barry Allen as a character as the Flash. I think you were a great writer on The Flash, and I think you did great stories with Wally West, a character I also love. While I love both characters, when there was an initiative to bring back Barry Allen, in a way this cut the legs out from under Wally. As a result, Wally was marginalized. And now I'm disappointed with where Wally has gone in recent years, and I was curious how you felt about that and Barry's return.
Mark Waid: Yes, it is kind of weird. It is kind of odd in the sense that – I look at Flash now and it's like looking at some girlfriend you broke up with years ago, and she's with somebody else. It's a little odd to see the franchise that way. But whatever works for them. I miss Wally too. I really do, but to turn that into a positive, having seen The Flash TV pilot and seeing what they are doing with it there, a Barry Allen with a very Wally West point of view and a very Wally West outlook on the way the powers are used, I feel like that's the Flash I'm excited about right now. That's a really good Flash. That feels very much in the spirit of everything that I did.
Jeffrey Harris: One character I think you really left your mark on and I really loved reading from you was Captain America. And I remember reading an interview with you in about 2011 where you mentioned that you got to a point where you didn't feel comfortable Captain America anymore because you were becoming a much more cynical person, and you did not want that to reflect on the character. So in that case, I was wondering if you saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier because I feel like that movie really brought Captain America into the world we are in today. It wasn't like Captain America who woke up in the 1960s. He woke up in our present day and has to deal with the consequences. I was curious how you felt the movie executed these ideas considering what you said about writing the character before?
Mark Waid: No, that's a fair question. And frankly, having seen that movie, oh my god! What a brilliant take on all of those characters and the whole Captain America mythos. I think that I could be wrong. I think there maybe is room in this world to tell Captain America stories that are not terribly -- or they are not voiced by the cynicism of the 21st century. I'm not sure I'm the guy to write them because I'm always leery about going back to the properties I've already worked on at one point or another. It seems like a very dangerous thing to do. But that said…look, if you didn't like The Winter Soldier, you don't like America.
Jeffrey Harris: You've collaborated with some tremendous artists and some great writer/artist teams. So what is your process like with your artists? Does it have to be different for each one?
Mark Waid: It's all about collaboration. That's what makes the job worth doing and makes it interesting to do. The best jobs are the ones where you get on the phone and talk about the ideas, and you knock ideas back and forth. That's what makes it a real comic. I could be just writing stuff in a vacuum and turning in scripts and just working on the next script and not worrying about the whole process, but then you are just putting stuff together piecemeal and it doesn't feel like a cohesive team.
Jeffrey Harris: In the digital age we're in now, how important do you think it is for the comics industry to take advantage of this and utilize your digital formats to get your stories out there, be it through places like Comixology or Thrillbent?
Mark Waid: No question. That's the whole purpose – not the whole purpose – but a big part of doing digital is the outreach aspect of it. The reality is there's maybe 1,500-1,800 comic book stores in America. If you live in a state like Mississippi or Kentucky, you'd be lucky to find one within a150 miles riding distance. The idea that digital becomes the new newsstand, that digital becomes a platform in which anyone around the world can get access to comics 24/7, that is so exciting to me. I can't express it articulately enough. That's the game changer for the 21st century.
Jeffrey Harris: TV right now is really opening for unique visions and comic properties alike. I think TV is the way to go right now for some of the best quality stories. With that in mind, do you own the TV/movie rights for Irredeemable and Empire and could you foresee anything ever happening there?
Mark Waid: I'm interested in whatever take works that makes sense that is consistent with the property. And in fact, people have already been approaching me about Empire for some time. And I'd love to see something done with it, but the nice thing about it being fully creator owned is that Barry Kitson and I can put our foot down at any moment and go, "You know what. We appreciate what you're doing, but we don't want a robot dog in it. Or we don't want it to be set in the 19th century," or whatever crazy ass idea that some people have come to us with. If it makes it to another medium at some point, that would be awesome and that would be great. But at the end of the day, if all it becomes is a good graphic novel that we're happy with and we can stand behind, that's reward enough in itself.
Jeffrey Harris: And with Ruse, did you ever foresee anything romantically happening between Simon and Emma, or was it always strictly platonic with those two?
Mark Waid: I don't think that ever would have worked. I think that destroys everything about that series. I think that it's a lot more fun to write about stories who are friends and allies and partners in a male/female relationship rather than just rely on the trope of, "Oh. It's a romantic relationship." Anybody can write that. It's more fun for me to write stuff that isn't a romantic relationship.
Jeffrey Harris: And I guess you saw Simon as more of an asexual being, right?
Mark Waid: Oh, absolutely. Yes.
Jeffrey Harris: Thanks for speaking with me today, and just thanks for all the great contributions and stories you've written in comics that I grew up reading. And I can't wait to read more of Empire.
Mark Waid: Well thank you very much.
Thank you to Mark Waid for taking the time to speak with us. Empire Vol. 2, Issue #1 is now available on Thrillbent.com. Issue #2 will be released on Tuesday, June 10.