Kyle Baker finished all 12 pages of his Hawkman strip in two weeks. The fifth week of Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman strip will have about 65 panels – in one page. And editor Mark Chiarello has three one-page strips in the drawer ready to go, just in case someone doesn’t meet their deadline.
At last weekend’s Comic-Con International, a host of creators from “Wednesday Comics” shared not only these interesting facts about their work on the latest weekly series from DC Comics, but also the trials and successes they’ve faced working in a format that’s different from what they’re used to.
The panel was moderated by Chiarello and included Dave Gibbons (Kamandi), Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner (Supergirl), Vinton Heuck and Dave Bullock (Deadman), Lee Bermejo (Superman), Eddie Berganza (Teen Titans), Mike Allred (Metamorpho), Ben Caldwell (Wonder Woman), Paul Pope (Adam Strange) and Kurt Busiek (Green Lantern).
“I’m astounded at the group on stage,” Chiarello said. He also showed the audience Allred’s original art for his and Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho strip, as the artist brought new pages to the panel to turn in to the editor. The pages were enormous. “I’ve never seen artwork this big.”
“They’re for sale,” joked Allred.
“By the yard,” said Gibbons.
Chiarello asked Conner if she was drawing her strip that large. “To do that large, I would have to do it on the floor,” she said, adding “My arms are too short.”
“I’ve never worked that big before,” Allred said. “But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” He said the pages won’t fit on his drawing table, so he ends up rolling the paper across the drawing board. “I’m standing up a lot, and I have to make sure I don’t lean against the table because I don’t want to crease the artwork. It’s difficult, but I’m loving it.”
Allred said he’s always wanted to work in the bigger format since seeing an original Hal Foster “Prince Valiant” strip at Matt Wagner’s house. “It was gigantic, and it was actually taped together,” Allred said. “Right then and there, I thought, ‘Someday.’ But what would be the point of it, and this fit the bill.”
Pope, who typically works in a larger format than most artists, said he was “pretty impressed” with Hal Foster originals he saw at the comic research library at Ohio State University. “They were drawn that way for tabloid publishing, which is what we’re doing,” he said. “In the old days, these would have been shot by cameras, so it wasn’t really a problem, but now, to shoot stuff with cameras, there’s a few places in New York that can do it, but they shoot stuff for billboards or for museums. And I think we’re all discovering that it’s a real pain in the butt to have to scan these things to put them back into the proper page format.”
Gibbons said he drew the Martha Washington series he did with Frank Miller in the larger format. “It’s a different experience,” Gibbons said. “It’s like you’ve got a landscape, and it feels very spacious and you can really draw; rather than drawing small, you’re drawing at a comfortable size.”
Caldwell, meanwhile, took a different approach to the strip. “It might come as a surprise to people that I drew it really small,” he said, showing some of his originals.
“That’s amazing, because in a regular comic book there’s an average of six panels a page, and a bigger publication like this, there’s an average of 14,” Chiarello said.
“People have been saying I’ve been doing like 80-90 panels, and that’s crazy,” Caldwell said. “Because I’ve only done 65 at the most.” Chiarello said to watch for page five of the Wonder Woman strip to see 65 panels on one page.
Chiarello asked if it was daunting for any of the panelists to see who else was working on “Wednesday Comics.” “Somebody must have dropped out, that’s why I got this gig,” Palmiotti joked. “And then I realized, oh, it’s because of Amanda.”
Conner said the first pages she saw were Baker’s. “I thought to myself, ‘Alright, I’ve got Kyle Baker, I’ve got Joe Kubert, I’ve got all these amazing people here that I’ve got to keep up with, what’s going to be my angle?’ And I was like, ‘I know, I’m just going to make it as absolutely vomitously adorable as I possibly can,’ and that was my angle.”
Bullock said he initially told Chiarello that he didn’t want to know who else was working on strips. “I had a feeling a guy like Risso would be involved, and I swore I would outdo him with the amount of black I wanted to put on the page.” He added he wanted to utilize the format as much as possible. “You don’t get the opportunity to work in sort of an inky news strip style often, let alone in such a big format. Bullock said he waited until he had four strips done before looking online to see what his peers were doing.
When Chiarello asked Busiek how he approached writing his Green Lantern strip, the writer joked, “I wrote the script in 18-point type.”
Busiek added that he also avoided looking at anyone else’s work until he was done. “I have seven years of copies of Leonard Starr’s ‘On Stage Sunday’ strips, and I would just spread them around the office, and look at the pacing, and look at the way he established a scene, and how he’d get an important character point into a panel and half – something that if it was happening in an issue of a normal superhero comic would take three pages. When you’ve got this kind of space to work with, you’ve got to do it much, much more concisely.”
Allred asked him how he met artist Joe Quinones. “He’s amazing,” Allred said.
Busiek said he met Quinones at Stumptown two years ago. “I was looking for someone to work on another project of mine, and I saw Joe’s stuff, and I thought it was wonderful.”
Quinones was already talking to Chiarello about doing something for “Wednesday Comics” before Busiek was involved. “I didn’t get Joe into ‘Wednesday Comics,’ Joe got me into ‘Wednesday Comics,'” the writer said.
Chiarello said his daughter went to camp in Maine, and the art teacher was Quinones’ girlfriend. “He showed me his artwork, and it just completely knocked me out.”
Chiarello then asked Gibbons about the comparisons his Kamandi strip was getting to “Prince Valiant.” “It’s absolutely deliberate,” Gibbons said, adding that he wasn’t excited about creating a Kamandi strip — at first. “I never in a million years would have thought of going anywhere near Kamandi,” but Chiarello sold him on the strip when he suggested doing it in the “Prince Valiant” style.
Gibbons said the charming thing about “Prince Valiant” and the old “Flash Gordon” comic strips was that “the story’s told in narrative rather than balloons, which immediately gives the artist a huge ability just to compose unencumbered illustrations.”
In regards to Ryan Sook, Gibbons said, “I couldn’t be happier that Ryan’s drawing it because he just gives it that grandeur. I mean, talking tigers is kind of stupid, but he makes it look mythic.”
“I had a fan come up to me yesterday and ask me if Ryan was on steroids,” Chiarello said. “He was always a really good artist, but he’s really ramped it way up.”
Chiarello asked if any of the creators looked at old Sunday comic strips, and Palmiotti said he didn’t look at anything. “All I was worried about was, ‘Can I get the whole idea on one page? Can I get something that’s continued, but it can sit alone?’ I was really worried about if someone picked up the second one, was it going to stand, even though it’s continued?”
Palmiotti said the format had its own pace, and writing one page was kind of like writing three pages of a regular comic book. “I grew up reading newspaper strips, but they were mostly comedy. For Supergirl, it works well, because we kind of lean toward comedy.”
When Chiarello asked Allred what it was like to draw a Neil Gaiman page, Allred responded, “Neil’s been torturing me,” which got a laugh out of the audience. “You’ll actually be able to play a game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’ with that page,” he said, referencing one of the pages he’d brought Chiarello. Allred also mentioned that pages eight and nine of his strip will feature the entire periodic table of the elements, with little elemental men and women running around on them. “Neil says that’s really why he wanted to do Metamorpho. He’s hoping it will replace all the charts you have in your science classrooms around the world.”
Allred added that he thought some of the most creative comics ever were done in the Sunday pages. “I’m thrilled that Neil is in this kind of spirit with this, because that’s what I wanted to do. “
“When something special and unique happens, and it gets ignored or it doesn’t get the support you hope it does, like – did anybody see ‘Solo?'” Allred asked. “Solo” was a DC title published from 2004 to 2006. Edited by Chiarello, it was an anthology that spotlighted a different artist each issue, and the artist was free to tell whatever stories they chose. Contributors to its 12-issue run included Allred, Pope, Sergio Aragones, Darwyn Cooke and Brendan McCarthy, among others. “For me, it’s a shame that series isn’t still going.”
“If you see Paul Levitz downstairs, tell him you want him to collect it,” Chiarello said, adding that he was very proud of “Solo,” even if the sales “weren’t phenomenal.”
Chiarello asked Bermejo what it was like seeing the Superman strip he was drawing show up in a paper with the circulation of “USA Today.”
“It’s flattering and humbling,” Bermejo said, “because I’m sitting here right now at this table and I’m looking at these guys, and I don’t know why mine is in USA Today other than the fact that it’s Superman. So yeah, it’s awesome.”
“It’s because it’s gorgeous,” Conner said.
Later in the panel, Chiarello credited two members of DC’s public relations team, David Hyde and Alex Segura, with getting the strip into the paper. “I think they hooked up with a guy at ‘USA Today’ who was a big comics fan, and it was pretty smooth.”
Someone asked how long it took Chiarello to get the project approved. “I can’t answer that question,” he joked. “Now they think I’m a genius, but for the four years I pitched it, no.”
Chiarello said he was recently interviewed and was asked where the initial idea came from. “I just ripped off the 1930s; I mean, it’s so obvious.”
The editor said he came up with a wish list of creators he wanted to work with on the project, and they all said yes. “It was really cool. You know, one or two guys dropped out in the beginning for weird reasons.” He said one of them dropped out because he didn’t want to wait for Gibbons’ script while Gibbons was promoting the “Watchmen” movie. “You can’t wait three weeks? That’s crazy.”
Pope said Chiarello sent him an email close to Christmas, asking if he wanted to participate. “I didn’t even know what it was, but I was like, ‘Yes.'”
From a sales perspective, Chiarello said the project is doing well. Preorders from retailers for the first issue were 48,000, but he said Bob Wayne, VP-sales at DC, suggested they overprint it by 10,000. All 58,000 copies sold out, as did the second issue. “Hopefully we’ll be able to do another one next summer,” Chiarello said.
Someone in the audience asked if retailers were increasing their numbers. “They certainly are,” Chiarello said. “A lot of retailers didn’t kind of get it when we did prerelease press on it, so they under-ordered initially.”
Another fan asked how DC planned to collect “Wednesday Comics.” “I think size matters,” Chiarello said. “I think it’s an immersive reading experience, but we don’t want the price to be prohibitive. We’re really looking at that now.”
Another fan related a story about reading “Wednesday Comics” on a bus. He had several people ask him what it was and how to get it. “Not only is the format and the art amazing, but it’s bringing in more people into comics, and that’s a key thing and an amazing thing you’re doing with this,” he said.
Another fan asked if the creators were surprised at how their artwork looked printed on newsprint. “Very much so,” Bermejo said. “I really was curious how mine specifically was going to come off.” He said he looked at a lot of British artist Frank Bellamy’s work before he started and seeing it printed on newsprint has taught him “a couple of things by failing. It definitely was a good learning experience for that.”
Another audience member asked what each creator learned from the experience or what they would do differently next time. “I’d like to get Dave Gibbons to draw the next one, that’s for sure,” Chiarello said.
“This project has taken a lot more thought and effort than I think, seriously, any page-by-page project I’ve ever worked on,” Pope said. “I think in my case, the Adam Strange pages are taking literally five days to finish, per page.”
Pope added that “there’s a real mystery to this format,” calling it the opposite of manga. “I can’t quite say what it is exactly, but instead of having 100 pages to tell one scene, or like Kirby and Lee would have done in five pages, you have to do one page that is like an entire issue. There’s something weird, because you find yourself cutting out everything that’s superfluous. It’s a very elegant and brutal way to do comics, this weekly thing.”
Chiarello asked Eddie Berganza, an editor at DC, how he found the time to write the Teen Titans strip. “I didn’t sleep a lot,” he said, adding that Chiarello is an excellent editor for keeping the project on schedule. “You’ve seen how late we can make monthly comics, so imagine that on a weekly basis.”
“When I was a kid growing up in England, we used to have weekly comics, so the idea of telling a weekly story feels pretty natural to me,” Gibbons said. He added his grandfather used to give him old Sunday comic strips he got from Americans at a close-by Air Force base. “You couldn’t read the whole story, but you could treasure each page; it was a big piece of art. You could spend a week just looking at one page. And this has the same feel to me, that it doesn’t give itself up immediately.”
Gibbons said he read something on the Internet that “chilled me to the marrow” – that the average amount of time a reader spends looking at a page of a comic is seven seconds. “With this, you can’t just look at it in ten seconds.”
Pope said each of his strips has what he calls the “showcase” panel. “I do realize I try to consciously approach one particular panel, which is the showcase panel — it’s either the splash page panel or the payoff. Even though inch per inch, every panel of the thing I’m working on gets the same love and attention, there’s one that has to be the showcase, it has to be the one people linger on.”
Chiarello asked Conner if she considered one of the panels the “money shot,” and she told a story about her father looking at her strip. “Not every damn panel has to be the Sistine Chapel ceiling,” he told her.
“So I get lost in each and every panel,” she said. “I just get obsessed with it. I think the most important thing for me is for the whole story to have a beat to it, and have sort of a flow.” She said she will occasionally have a showcase panel, but she thinks the storytelling experience is more important.
Chiarello then asked her what happens if her husband, Palmiotti, writes something she doesn’t want to draw. “I make him change it,” she said.
“She definitely does her own thing,” Palmiotti said. “We’re all teams here, and we trust the other person. The great thing about writing is to see what the artist does.”
In regards to the showcase panel, Busiek later added that for him, there are two – the first and last panel. “For me, what I work on the hardest and takes me the most time and what I find the most satisfying is getting the beginning right and getting the ending right. And I think I’m pretty good at it.” Busiek noted that when he writes “Astro City,” if he has the beginning and ending right, the middle will take care of itself.
“I went into doing ‘Wednesday Comics’ thinking, ‘This is gonna be fun.’ It’s 12 one-page chapters, it’s a little story, it’s a nice story. If it was told in a regular format, maybe it would be 32 pages,” Busiek continued. “What I didn’t realize going into it was that there are 12 beginning and 12 endings, and there’s only like two or three panels in between the beginning and ending every time. So the hard part took up the whole page, and the easy part was just three panels in the middle of each page.”
Busiek said it took him a day to write each of the first few Green Lantern strips, but was able to write chapters 7-12 all in one day.
One fan asked if the “Wednesday Comics” creators considered making self-contained one-page comics, instead of continuing series. Chiarello said he had three one-page strips ready to go in case someone “screwed up” and missed their deadline. “Well, then I think one of you better screw up, because I’d like to see them,” Gibbons said.
A fan asked about the possibility of DC taking more risks along the lines of “Wednesday Comics” in the future. “You’re always willing to do something really different,” Conner said about Chiarello.
“We’re gonna bring back radio next,” Chiarello joked.
Gibbons pointed out that newspapers originally started running comic strips to attract new readers. “With newspaper sales going down, it would be interesting if newspapers started running this stuff to try and boost their sales.”
A fan asked what artist each of the panelists would like to see contribute to a future edition of “Wednesday Comics.” The panel mentioned Aragones, Cooke, Jordi Benet, Brian Bolland, Charles Burns, George Perez and Walt Simonson, among others. In terms of characters for a future edition, the panel mentioned Jonah Hex and Martian Manhunter.
“When I went in, Mark wanted me to do Dr. Fate,” Pope said. Pope wanted to tackle Kamandi, but when he heard Gibbons was doing it, he said he didn’t mind. Allred said he’d like to create a Doom Patrol or New Gods story, while Busiek said he’d like to write The Witching Hour.
Chiarello said a lot has been made about the uniqueness of the project’s format. “It absolutely was created as a reading experience; that’s the impetus for it, that’s the whole thing. I don’t care if people are upset that it’s not mint.” He said his main concern was that people were reading it and enjoying it. In terms of price, Chiarello pointed out that newsprint is more expensive than other paper because it’s a rarity. He also said he had to pay the artists double their rate “because they’re drawing so big.”
“I was a little daunted by the almost $4 price until I started reading it,” Conner said. “It’s a lot of reading. It’s a good read. It’s a meaty read. You get a lot out of it.”
“It’s just a nice object to own,” Gibbons said. “Most comics are okay, but this is something special.”
“You can wrap a fish with it,” Berganza joked.
One consistent theme running the panel was the respect the creators have for Mark Chiarello. “I want to say this for the record, [there are] very few editors like Mark in the business,” Palmiotti said. “And this gig for me, it’s about making Mark happy. Other than Amanda, obviously, because we’re working together, all I worry that is Mark going to like this, and I don’t really worry about every editor like that. I can honestly say that, for me, because I knew [the late] Archie Goodwin, it’s like the baton was handed over to Mark on this for me. And working for Mark is the same thing as Archie. I just wanted to please Archie when I worked for Archie. I just want to please Mark at this point.”