Comic-Con International in San Diego is a place where the comic industry and Hollywood cross over into one another’s businesses. One individual who exemplifies this hybridization perfectly is writer Marc Guggenheim. He is someone who has worked in the television industry for close to eight years, he will be writing an upcoming show on a major network this fall, and he writes several comic books each month. Adding a cherry to the top of all these achievements is the fact that he recently signed an exclusive with Marvel comics.
This was just one of Marvel’s many announcements here in San Diego, but it was a welcome one for Guggenheim and his fans. And Marvel plans on getting their money’s worth out of the writer right away, as he is part of the writing team that will be bringing “Amazing Spider-Man” to readers three times a month. CBR News contacted the writer to discuss his exciting news and how this opportunity arose.
So, let’s start with the most obvious question – why are you taking an exclusive with Marvel? You’re in a rather unique position when compared to other comic writers who take exclusives with comic companies: you’re the co-creator of a TV show in “Eli Stone” (which has been picked up by ABC), and you already have a successful career in comics. So why take an exclusive deal with any comic publisher?
It’s funny because “the TV show with the major network” is one of the reasons why I did it. I am biologically incapable of turning down work, and what this does – at the very least – is reduce the number of offers for work I’m getting. I had decided that I would sign an exclusive before the show was picked up, but it was when I realized the show had a good chance of getting picked up that I decided I would sign an exclusive so that I could control my work load better. I just can’t seem to say no! I know that sounds like an ass-backwards way of doing things, but that’s just the way I do things.
Now, I’m guessing here you were being fought over by both Marvel and DC, having had some very nice successes at both companies thus far. So why sign with Marvel over DC?
Axel Alonso is the answer to your question. I owe my comic book career to Axel. He took this incredible chance on me when he gave me “Wolverine.” That was the type of high profile gig that just turns into a lot more work. Giving me “Wolverine” for any number of issues alone was a leap of faith; doing it as part of “Civil War” was the textbook definition of insanity. [laughs]
I owe him. I wasn’t going to repay that kind of loyalty by signing with anyone else.
And clearly you enjoy working with him …
Yes. I came to Marvel through Ruwan Jayatilleke, and when I met with him I told him there were certain editors at Marvel I was most interested in working with and Axel was at the top of my list.
“Wolverine” wasn’t your first project at Marvel, though.
Right. Axel’s crazy, I’m not saying he’s not, but he’s not that crazy. [laughs]
The way it started was that Ruwan felt Axel and I would be a good fit both because I expressed a serious interest and also because of my TV background. A lot of my work on shows like “Law and Order” and “The Practice” was very urban-oriented. Since Axel was editing Marvel Knights (at the time), he thought that was another good reason why we should get together.
Axel said, “Well, we’re doing these Punisher and Wolverine one-shots.” These extra sized, self-contained stories featuring the Punisher and/or Wolverine. I pitched a bunch of Punisher stories to him and I pitched one or two Wolverine stories. I’m trying to remember why it was I focused on Punisher, and I forget exactly why that was. It’s been two years now. At any rate, I pitched him several ideas and he and I both had a special affinity for one of them. I wrote that and Leinil Yu is drawing it – it’s been mentioned here and there before – but Leinil is busy with some “low-selling” book right now.
Right, with a “nobody author.”
Exactly. I don’t know why he’s wasting his time instead of drawing my Punisher story! [laughs] But he is drawing it! And at the time when I turned in the script, Axel liked it enough to say, “I know you like Wolverine…” And since we had been talking about a Wolverine one-shot with a similar ‘vibe’ when “Civil War” got hatched – and there was a need for a CW Wolverine tie-in – I ended up on “Wolverine.”
They certainly did throw you into the fire pretty damned quickly.
They really, really did. They threw me into the deep end of the pool, but the problem is when I’m thrown into the deep end of the pool with one of their characters, I’m probably not the one who’s going to drown.
Clearly it was your enjoyment of working with Axel and his show of faith in you that kept you working with Marvel versus going across town to DC. But do you feel like you’re missing something being exclusive with Marvel?
You know, it’s funny. I love comic books, but anytime you sign an exclusive with anybody, there’s an opportunity cost involved. I’m sure Brian Bendis would love to write Batman or something like that. There’s always that cost and you have to make choices. I was sort of raised professionally as a writer in television where you can only work on one TV show at a time. So, I’m very sort of used to that. You sort of have to make an educated decision about what it is you want to do.
One of the reasons I thought the timing was right for the exclusive was the fact I actually wanted to decrease my number of opportunities.
Now, as this story runs, fans at Comic-Con International in San Diego are learning that you’re one of four writers joining the writing crew of “Amazing Spider-Man.”
That’s the other reason why I took this exclusive. They offered me Spider-Man, and with that comes an exclusive.
When we get you guys out to the CBR Comic-Con boat, we’ll talk further about your plans.
If I may, I’d like to talk a bit more about why I signed an exclusive with Marvel.
I love Marvel. I’m not going to say I love Marvel more than any other company because I just don’t want to put that out there, but I have a special place in my heart for the company. I interned at Marvel. There are an awful lot of characters at Marvel I’m dying to write. Interestingly enough, when I met with Ruwan and I talked about the characters I would most want to write, Wolverine and Spider-Man were both on that list.
In terms of my dream gig at Marvel, one day when I’m ready, I would love to write an X-Men book. I sort of came to Marvel as a reader starting out with Spider-Man, branching out to the Fantastic Four, and then discovering the X-Men and that rocked my world. The first issue I read was the one where Kitty Pryde joins the X-Men, and I don’t recall ever reading a comic before and having that type of reaction to it. It completely blew me away. So, of course, the chance to write characters who had that sort of effect on me…that would be very nice. That’s a nice thing to strive for.
You said “when you’re ready.” What does that mean?
When I’m ready means a couple of different things. For one thing, I’m relatively new to comics. Though I’ve been writing professionally for eight years now, it’s been primarily in television and I want to continue to develop my command of the craft of writing comics. So, if I get the chance to write an X-Men book, I’d like it to be when I feel like my game is at a certain level. Related to that is I’ve never done a team book before, and writing a team book is very different than writing solo books like “Blade,” “Wolverine,” “Punisher” and “The Flash.” I just want to know that I am seasoned enough as a comic writer to do it.
What do you think is the greatest strength you bring to your writing at Marvel?
I have to say I feel most comfortable with my dialogue. In television, your bread and butter is dialogue. Television is a dialogue-driven medium, so I feel very comfortable in that aspect of the job in comics. I guess also I bring a real love of the medium to what I’m doing. I’ve been reading comics my whole life, and I’m still a fanboy at heart – I’ll always be a fanboy at heart. I made a vow to myself that if and when I ever broke into comics, I would address all of my pet peeves as a reader. I always try to be guided by that as I work on various projects.
What are some of those pet peeves?
Well, they’re not pet peeves in terms of how other writers have chosen to depict the character, it’s more like pet peeves like…decompression. The things I want as a reader – the things I look for from my comic book reading experience – that’s what I try to bring to my writing.
It sounds like you’re talking about a great sense of adventure.
Sure, that, but I do like all different types of comics. I love amazing high adventure, but I also love Brian Bendis’ issue of “Ultimate Spider-Man” where it was just Peter Parker confessing to Mary Jane that he’s Spider-Man. It’s a phenomenal issue. There’s no Jack Kirby to be found anywhere in that story. So, I like different things and that’s one of the things I strive for. In any given series I read, I like different notes in the symphony.
To me, the antithesis of decompression is density of plot and that’s what I strive for. One could argue that that issue of Spider-Man I referred to is the worst example of decompression, but I wouldn’t make that argument. What I’d say is that I put that issue down and I felt like I had a complete reading experience. That, to me, is how I judge whether or not a comic book is decompressed or not. It can be part of an ongoing story, it doesn’t have to be a done-in-one, and it can even be an entire issue of talking heads.
The question is – how do I feel after I put down that book? Do I feel like I got my money’s worth and was entertained? I think we’ve all had the experience of reading a comic and going, “That was it?” That to me is decompression. The anti-thesis is putting down a comic and saying, “Wow, I got my three bucks worth.” That is the key for me.
Would you call yourself a fount of knowledge of the Marvel Universe, or will you be leaning on your editors heavily for help?
I would never profess to be a fount of knowledge, just because comics have become really complicated. I lean on my editors, but the truth is I think it’s impossible for the editors to keep up. There’s so much material out there, it’s been so many years, and continuity has gotten so complicated that I find myself leaning on the internet more than I lean on my editors.
When it comes to policing continuity, no editor at any company could do that exclusively – that would be a full time job. I think it’s incumbent upon the writer to do their fair share in terms of trying to make the book work in continuity, but it’s almost like a sucker’s game. I did an issue of “Blade” – and I forget even what continuity thing it was I tripped up on – but I got a letter from a guy referencing a line of dialogue in a panel in an obscure issue of “Nightstalkers.”
I try very hard to follow continuity – I like continuity. It’s one of the things I like about the medium of comic books. I’m actually a big fan of continuity, but I’m also a realist just in terms of simply what can be accomplished and knowing everything there is to know.
One of the stronger criticisms of television writers coming into the comics field is a lack of delivering on time. How do you go about fitting this Marvel exclusive into your television-writing schedule?
I have no idea! It’s the reason why I have three ulcers, because I am determined not to be one of those writers. So far, to date, none of my books have ever missed shipping or been delayed. I give a lot of props to the artists I work with in helping with that. I’ve worked with some of the most incredibly professional artists in the business, which I consider both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that they’re able to turn around the quality they do so fast, but it’s a curse in that it would make my life a lot easier if people went a bit slower. [laughs]
I am determined not to miss any of my shipping deadlines – and I’m determined to always keep all the artists I work with working – but it is a constant struggle. It’s a lot of 5:00am mornings and weekends and lot of stress. But, so far, knock on wood, so good. I’m sure at some point I’ll have some sort of massive train collision. Last year I was incredibly busy. I was working on “Brothers and Sisters,” I was producing my pilot – which became the series I’m working on now – and I was carrying like five books at a time. One could argue that my life has gotten a little easier in that I’m working only on one show and I’m carrying three to four books, but it’s always a trek. It’s a high wire act. The key is discipline and working as diligently as possible and scheduling. Stay tuned!
And as a final point, the project you’re tackling at Marvel doesn’t allow you any time off or space since it’s (almost) a weekly. A lot of people will be depending on you.
That’s very true. The thing I focus on is the artists. My key is twofold: one is making sure I’m scheduling things out very carefully, and the other thing is to make sure that when I fall behind that schedule, which happens, I’m always keeping my artists supplied with material to draw. That, to me, is what it all comes down to.
When Humberto and I were doing the “Vendetta” storyline in “Wolverine“, there was one or two issues where I had to give him just the first half of the script so that while he was drawing the first half, I was writing the second half. Or say I was behind by a day, he had to spend that day doing a cover. The beautiful part is there are always those cushions.
The trickiest thing is working with a guy like Howard Chaykin on “Blade.” I love him and his work is absolutely amazing, but that guy is so fast and professional! I’m writing for my life when I work with him! I hope it comes across in this interview how much affection I have for Howard, because you never know how much of that comes across in a printed interview, but it’s like I’m Indiana Jones and Howard is the boulder. [laughs]
Did you ever send an email to Howard with just two words, “Draw slower.”
I have! I’ve begged him to! I’ve cursed his name! You know, I’ve done interviews where people have asked what I was most proud of in the 12 issues of “Blade” I did with Howard. I say the thing I’m most proud of is that in today’s marketplace – with crazy TV writer me writing it – we did 12 issues that came out over the course of 12 months, produced by the exact same creative team down to the cover artist and the letterer. That is really amazing to me and I give the lion’s share of that credit to Howard. Again, it’s a high wire act, but a lot of that run was produced at my busiest! I’m really proud of “Blade.”
If you accomplished a great run like that at your busiest, then we can’t wait to see what’s next. Thanks Marc!
CBR Staff Writer George A. Tramountanas contributed to this article