Two veteran comic book writers paired up Saturday evening at the fifth annual Long Beach Comic & Horror Con for a joint panel dubbed “Scott Lobdell vs. Marv Wolfman.” Things began with Lobdell asking Wolfman if he could guess what “celebrity” he got a photo with earlier in the day — it was KITT, the “Knight Rider” car, one of many noted pop culture vehicles on display outside the Long Beach Convention Center, a revelation which led to Wolfman disclosing that he was asked to write the current “Knight Rider” comic from Lion Forge Comics. It was an offer he ultimately declined, because he didn’t know anything about the property.
Talk quicky transitioned to Lobdell and Wolfman’s first experiences as comic book readers. Lobdell said he was introduced to comics as a teenager with an issue of “Guardians of the Galaxy” when he was sick; Wolfman said he noticed as a child that the “Adventures of Superman” television show credits stated that Superman was based on a comic book character, which led him to seeking out his first comics at a corner candy store.
Asked by Wolfman about his experience breaking into comics, Lobdell told the audience he was originally a psychology student. “I realized I’d have to listen to everyone’s problems for the rest of my life,” Lobdell said, explaining his turn away from the field. Lobdell said he was subsequently rejected from Marvel for about six years straight. Discussing his early career, Wolfman said he sent a “Blackhawks” script to DC when he was 17, and didn’t hear back. A year or so later, Dick Giordano called him, saying he found the sealed envelope containing the script left by his predecessor, and asked if Wolfman wanted him to read it. Wolfman said yes, and Giordano bought the script.
“I can draw, and if I needed to draw a comic book, I could,” Lobdell shared. Though he admitted he wasn’t fast enough of an illustrator to do it on a regular basis, the skill has helped him in his career in collaborating with artists. “I used to be able to draw, but I let that talent go fallow,” said Wolfman, a former art teacher.
Lobdell remarked that previous conventional wisdom was not to have scenes just of two characters talking, but he sees it more and more now. Wolfman said that a writer like Brian Michael Bendis can pull off satisfying dialogue-heavy sequences, but “not everybody can.”
Wolfman asked Lobdell about his first comic book work. “I heard ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’ was open,” the current “Superman” writer said. “I didn’t know the first thing about writing comic books. A movie script is a movie script. But the way I do a comic book and the way you do a comic book, there are enough differences between them.” Lobdell said his first attempt at a comic book script format was “insane,” and was told by Denny O’Neil that while the legendary writer and editor liked the ideas, he needed someone more experienced to execute them. It was six years before his next published work.
Discussing his early horror comics, Wolfman said the Comics Code restricted him from writing “true” horror. “You were essentially doing O. Henry-type stories,” he said.
Lobdell — the current writer of “Teen Titans” for DC Comics — turned to Wolfman for comments on his legendary run on the series, saying that at the time Wolfman introduced the “New Teen Titans’ in 1980, readers weren’t exactly clamoring for new Titans stories. Wolfman explained that he initially came up with a new take on the Teen Titans out of a dissatisfaction with working on team-up books like “Brave and the Bold.” He and artist George Perez at first encountered hesitation from fans for diverging from the original “Teen Titans” roster. Lobdell — who’s written “Teen Titans” through the entire New 52 era — said he could relate.
“As somebody who’s relaunched the Titans, I’ve found a tremendous amount of, ‘It’s not Titans if there’s not…” Lobdell said. His typical response has been, “If you were around when Marv and George were around, you’d be angry.”
Wolfman explained that Marvel’s comics were far outselling DC at the time of the “New Teen Titans” debut. “The books were in the toilet. They were desperate.” Wolfman and Perez’s “New Teen Titans,” however sold “Marvel numbers,” which helped stymie criticism from within DC. “That’s why I don’t comment on anyone else’s work, because I think there’s no positive that can come out of it, other than saying, do your best job, and do your own job,” Wolfman said.
Lobdell, speaking from his experience working on X-Men for Marvel Comics in the ’90s, asked if DC wanted “New Teen Titans” spinoff books during the book’s heyday. “DC wanted it,” Wolfman replied. “I turned them down every single time.”
Turning to fan Q&A, an audience member asked Lobdell what motivated the recent major status quo changes to Superboy. “I like the notion that The New 52 said, ‘We’re going to do new and different things.’ It’s two years in, and I felt like we’ve got to keep that promise,” Lobdell answered. “We’ve got to keep surprising people. When I grew up, Superboy was young Superman. When John Byrne came along, he got rid of that. Eventually there was Kon-El. Superboy does not have to be one particular thing, is my feeling.”
Woflman agreed, saying that he pitched a Superboy and Supergirl series after “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” with the two characters as siblings with no relationship to Krypton at all.
Wolfman told a fan that he loved the “Teen Titans” cartoon show, “because they found their own voice, and weren’t doing the comic.”
Another fan asked if Wolfman had any memories he wanted to share of his “Tomb of Dracula” collaborator Gene Colan, who passed away in 2011. “Gene was given by Stan [Lee] the nickname ‘Gentleman Gene,’ and if there was a man who deserved it more, I don’t know, because he was one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known,” Wolfman said. “He was very self-effacing. I don’t think for a moment he actually believed he was brilliant, and he was so much better than anybody else at the time, doing slightly more realistic work.” Wolfman said that while Colan might not be the right choice for a book like “Fantastic Four,” “I don’t think there’s anybody on Earth who could have done ‘Tomb of Dracula’ better. His ‘Daredevil’s were brilliant.”
The next fan up asked the pair which books stand out for them as personal breakthroughs, for which Lobdell cited “Generation X.” “It was the first time I was doing something in the spotlight that wasn’t compared to Chris Claremont,” he said. “It was just pure me doing ideas coming as they would go, and flitter off into something else.”
“For me it was ‘Dracula,'” Wolfman answered. “It pushed me one step further.”
An audience member asked Lobdell and Wolfman which Titans characters were their favorites to write. “I like writing Bunker, because he’s always upbeat,” Lobdell said. “Kid Flash is kind of like Woody Woodpecker.”
“I think for me it’s Raven,” Wolfman said. “Just because I spent more time coming up with the backstory, and had so many places to mine.” Wolfman also named Nightwing and Starfire as favorites.
Asked about the differences between DC and Marvel, Wolfman said DC stories tend to be more “external” and plot-focused while Marvel stories are “internal” and character-centric. “I preferred the DC plotting, but I preferred the Marvel characterization,” Wolfman said. “DC had really interesting stories, but I didn’t care about the characters.” For “Titans,” Wolfman stated, he aimed to combine both.
Towards the end of the panel, Wolfman and Lobdell were asked for their favorite work by the other writer. Wolfman said he hadn’t read much of Lobdell’s Marvel work, but had read his recent “Teen Titans” and “Superman” output. Lobdell named Wolfman’s “New Teen Titans,” the first 25 issues in particular, “because everything was so new.”
[CBR News had to leave the panel shortly before its conclusion to make it to another session on the other side of the convention center.]