The format of Saturday’s Inside the Writer’s Studio panel with Mark Waid at the Emerald City Comicon was, unsurprisingly (given its title) modeled after the Bravo television series “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” In lieu of James Lipton, Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik and BOOM! Studios co-founder and Chief Executive Ross Richie asked questions of Waid in an intimate retrospective on the acclaimed writer’s career.
Waid’s answers were surprisingly frank, and he appeared unafraid to discuss some of his less successful ventures in front of the crowd of Seattleite comic fans.
The discussion began with Waid jokingly asking if there were “people here who are not familiar with my work, who are just here because they couldn’t get into the ‘Firefly’ panel,” in reference to the spotlight panel featuring ‘Firefly’ star Jewel Staite that was underway in the conference room next door. Throughout the panel, loud cheers could be heard coming from the other room, and it was a source of constant amusement for Waid.
Sablik first asked Waid about his childhood in Hueytown, Alabama, and what the first comic he ever read was.
“My first comic was the first issue of Batman after the TV show came out,” Waid said. His father had purchased the issue for him after the premiere of the 1966 television show. Waid has written stories featuring the Dark Knight many times over the course of his long career and returns to the character again with the “Batman in Barcelona: Dragon’s Knight” one-shot, due out next month and featuring art by Spaniard Diego Olmos.
Waid was already reading by age three due to his interest in comics, and by the time he was seven he had 350 issues. The crowd expressed their collective sympathy when Waid explained that his mother made him sell his entire collection at a young age so that he could have Christmas money to buy his friends presents.
Waid eventually reacquired his entire lost collection over the course of many years, including one of the exact issues he had possessed at a younger age. A coupon in the back of the issue had been filled out by a five-year-old Waid and never mailed. “The print run on those comics was like 500,000 comics, what are the odds?” Waid mused.
Waid’s career began with an internship at the Seattle-based company Fantagraphics, editing a magazine called “Amazing Heroes,” which he described as being similar to the contemporary publication “Wizard Magazine,” except “with integrity.”
Through that gig, Waid was able to establish relationships with editors at DC and Marvel, and by 1987, he was working as an editor at DC Comics.
“I got lucky,” Waid said of the moment when legendary DC editor Julie Schwartz accepted two Superman stories that the young editor had pitched, even though, as Waid put it, “[he] had no intention of being a comic writer.”
Since that early success, Waid has never stopped working in the industry. Speaking with great affection, Waid said, “I’ve never had to look for a job.”
Sablik and Richie asked Waid about his time writing comics for the Impact Comics imprint. “It gave me a chance to practice over in the corner where no one is looking,” he said and noted that in the world of mainstream superhero comics, it’s hard to find a place where you can focus on your craft and can afford to make mistakes.
Sablik expressed his love for Waid’s tenure as writer on DC Comics’ “The Flash,” and the crowd indicated their agreement with a burst of applause. His run on “The Flash” began right after the 1990 television show was cancelled and he said that “they (DC) gave it to me because they thought I had nothing to lose.”
Waid gave some insight into his writing process, saying that his intent was “to connect with the character…to get inside the costume – not literally.” Many in the crowd laughed at this remark, and Waid later admitted to carrying around a replica Captain America shield in his youth, and reciting speeches from issues of “Captain America” in civics classes.
“Wally (West) was the first comic book sidekick to fulfill his promise. Wally West grew up to be the Flash. That was something I could connect to because as a kid, all I ever wanted to do was write comics,” Waid said.
A trademark of Waid’s run on “The Flash” was his use of the same opening narration for every issue. Sablik noted that this was one of his favorite aspects of the series. “He’s the fastest man alive,” Waid said. “That’s all you need to know.” Waid shared a fun fact with the attendees: this detail of his Flash series was once a Jeopardy question in the mid-nineties.
“The Flash” also marked the first collaboration between Waid and Mike Wieringo. Waid spoke fondly of working with the late artist, and that when Wieringo came aboard “The Flash,” it encouraged Waid to be “bolder” in his writing. The two later collaborated on a well-received “Fantastic Four” run for Marvel, and prepared an unused Aquaman pitch for DC.
Moving from one landmark run to another, Sablik asked Waid about his work on Marvel’s “Captain America.” “It was my dream Marvel job,” Waid said, explaining that Cap is similar to the Flash in that both characters are about “freedom and liberty.” Waid felt that he might have been an odd choice for Cap since he’s not “uber-patriotic” and identifies himself as being “about as left-wing as you can get without falling over.” During his initial stint on the book, sales tripled.
“You made him cool,” Sablik said about Waid’s Captain America.
“That’s the job. That’s what you’re supposed to do: show the rest of the world why you love these characters,” the fan-turned-writer replied.
Waid spoke fleetingly of his “Kingdom Come” miniseries, pointing out that he wasn’t hired for that job so much for his writing talent, as for the knowledge he had of DC’s large pantheon of characters.
Turning to some of his less-successful ventures, Waid shared some insight into why Gorilla Comics and CrossGen Comics were ultimately failures. “It was an awesome idea,” he said of the former, a creator-owned Image Comics imprint he launched with Kurt Busiek, Karl Kesel, Wieringo, and others (and for which he wrote comics such as “Empire”). Shady dealings with the venture capitalist who was supposedly funding the enterprise led to an enormous loss of money for Waid, and even though Gorilla Comics “sold 50,000 copies of ‘Empire’ #1 and 40,000 copies of ‘Empire’ #2, [he] personally lost $20,000 on that book.”
Waid pursued writing more original material with the CrossGen imprint after it was founded in 1998 by entrepreneur Mark Alessi. “I drank the Kool-Aid,” he said. Waid had he signed exclusively with CrossGen because he felt that at that moment, the “Big Two” were directionless. “The whole industry was in a freefall – no one had a ripcord.”
Unfortunately for Waid, “it didn’t go well. Mark Alessi was a lunatic. He was a big bully – screaming at people all day long. It was difficult to watch that going on.” Waid still expressed his pride in the work he did for CrossGen, and said that “there were a lot of good comics that came out of CrossGen.”
“Superman: Birthright” was a miniseries Waid penned for DC Comics that was meant to revitalize Superman for the 21st century. Waid said that it was a “career highlight” and his “labor of love.” “[That book was] my favorite thing I’ve ever done,” he said, and discussed the positive feedback he’s received from many fans about the book.
Superman is a character with immense personal meaning to Waid. He shared a story about a pivotal moment from his youth with the crowd.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t have a parent figure. I didn’t have a sense of being cared about,” Waid said. “In January of 1978, I went to see ‘Superman: The Movie’ – it changed my life.”
Waid said that the film’s message of hope had a profound impact on him. “[It was] the single most transformative moment of my life.” A misty-eyed Waid then said that Superman was important because he “was someone who cared about everybody,” regardless of race or class or any other determining factor.
At last the conversation came to Waid’s current work, including his books for BOOM! Studios, of which he was named Editor-in-Chief in July 2007. The first issue of his new series “Irredeemable” hit stands last Wednesday, featuring a Superman-like character who has plunged into evil. Laughing, Waid said that the long-running viral marketing campaign leading up to the book (in which advertisements warned that “Mark Waid is evil”) has made his whole family upset.
“Anybody who’s edited Mark Waid knows that ‘Mark Waid is evil’,” Sablik joked.
Waid’s upcoming slate includes more issues of “The Incredibles: Family Matters” (based on the successful Disney film) and a hardcover of “Potter’s Field” for BOOM!. On Free Comic Book Day, Top Cow will release a special one-shot featuring Cyberforce and characters from Waid’s “Hunter/Killer” comics.
The panel ended with a lightning-round of questions cribbed from Lipton’s famous “Inside the Actor’s Studio” climactic questionnaire (which incidentally were borrowed from the technique of the French TV interviewer Bernard Pivot, who was riffing of off writer Marcel Proust’s questionnaire).
Mark Waid’s favorite word?
Mark Waid’s least favorite word?
What turns Mark Waid on, creatively?
Mark Waid’s favorite comic book curse word?
With that, Waid gave his thanks and the room was cleared for the next panel.