For all that Comic-Con International in San Diego is called a “convention,” it has traditionally been somewhat light on the types of professional workshops and panels non-comics conventions routinely feature. Sunday, Marvel Comics rectified that somewhat, with their final panel of the 2002 convention, where they assembled a team of Marvel Comics writers to talk about … writing.
Taking questions from the audience, the panel first tackled how tightly (or otherwise) they plotted out story arcs, which segued into where they get their ideas.
“With ‘Rising Stars,’ I kind of knew the story ahead of time,” “Amazing Spider-Man” writer J. Michael Straczynski told the audience. “I knew where I wanted the story to end, and the high points along the way. … The story kind of got away from me a little bit.
“Mainly with Spidey, it’s the character arc, about Peter Parker. … Basically with the first two villains I threw at him, I wanted them to be placeholders … and keep the focus on Peter Parker.”
“The fun part to me is the joy of discovery, the journey,” “Fantastic Four” writer Mark Waid said. “I come up with ideas for endings of stories, and I have a vague idea of what I want to go. But more often than not, by the time I get there, I go somewhere else entirely. …. That was the most fun thing to me: Put them into a cliffhanger situation, and I figure, I have 30 days. If I haven’t figured it out yet, you folks sure can’t.
“In broad terms, I do think about the characters. Where I want them to be in six months, in a year from now.
“But on a month to month basis, I know this is actually the worst way to do it, but I just like doing it by the seat of my pants. It’s the most fun.”
“What we’re doing right now in ‘Elektra’ is loosely plotted,” writer Greg Rucka said. “We know where we’re going. I have a final panel image in mind, it’ll come around issue 21 or 22. … The steps along the way are amorphous.”
“Amorphous” doesn’t equate to “sitting around eating bon-bons and letting ideas strike you from the heavens,” though.
“It’s the most infuriating job in the world,” Rucka said. “People walk by and see you sitting there and say ‘oh, I wish I could have THAT job,’ and I turn around and snarl ‘I’m WRITING here!'”
When he’s not sitting at his desk, writing-but-not-typing, Rucka does the more cerebral portion of writing elsewhere.
“I actually end up doing a fair amount of work in the shower and in the gym.”
“It’s true; I do a lot of work in the shower and when I’m driving, when I’m completely relaxed. … I don’t know if this is true of anyone else, but my best ideas come when I’m peeing.”
Next up, the writers tackled the issues of characterization — specifically, doing it well.
“You tend to find who the characters are — a lot has to do with who the characters have been,” “Hulk: Gray” writer Jeph Loeb said. “I’m dealing with franchises where the characters are 40, 50 years old.”
“I’m scared to death of writing Superman right now, because I just don’t feel it,” Rucka. “Batman’s easy for me. … Elektra took a while to work into. And a real good reason for that … is because there really is no character there. … Miller did his job, and then Marvel said, ‘hey, we can have more fun with this.’ You can see the other writers struggling to find a way to make a viable character out of here that didn’t retread just what Miller had done before. … The heart of the character for me may not be the heart of the character for anyone else who works on her.”
“It’s going back to the earliest versions of the characters, trying to get a sense of what was there that made them successful,” Waid said. “That helps me get a grasp on these characters. When I find that part of myself that’s in the character, that’s when it becomes easy for me. When I can’t do that, you can tell. The characters are all wooden.”
“Here’s the grand ultimate secret,” Straczynski said. “Imagine for a moment, your best friend … is walking across the living room at night, bangs his knee on the table. You know exactly what your friend will do and say. … If you know your characters that well, you can drop them into any situation and watch.”
The discussion then segued into the issue of diversity in comics, and the traditional lack thereof.
“I’m constantly aware of race, because my wife-to-be is black,” “Avengers” writer Geoff Johns said. “Black Falcon is a cool character. Black Panther is a cool character. It’s kind of sad when people say ‘wow, two black characters in the Avengers.'”
“This is an ongoing problem,” Loeb said. “The only way to solve that problem is to keep working on it.”
“It’s active in every decision I write, but because that’s a decision I made,” Rucka said. “It only works to be colorblind when there’s no inequity. It’s all well and good to say you’re colorblind, but you’re part of the problem. … I know no writer actively working today who doesn’t actively feel this.”