The comic book bromance of the decade continued on Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, as Eisner Award-winning writer Mark Waid pointed the spotlight on his fellow “Daredevil” storyteller, artist Chris Samnee. The medium-sized room was attended by fans who have fallen in love with the artist over the past year, thanks to his spectacular work on Marvel’s “Daredevil.” Moderator Mark Waid was dressed for the occasion, decked out in an “I’m not Daredevil” t-shirt, and ready to put his creative partner under the microscope.
“It’s rare that I’m able to find somebody who is this simpatico with my storytelling in terms of the rhythm of the way we do things,” Waid said in his opening comments. “It’s a really great partnership and I want to be clear that he can play in the yard with other kids if he wants, but he can’t cross the street without my permission.”
With introductions out of the way, Waid dived right into Samnee’s comic book history, asking the artist how he initially got interested in the medium.
“I was into the cartoons,” Samnee answered. “I used to watch ‘Super Friends’ as a kid and I didn’t realize that they made comics.” It wasn’t until he happened upon bundles of old “Detective Comics” issues in a department store that he realized his favorite characters also existed there. “I was like, ‘wait a second, they make books out of the cartoons I watch?'” It was then that Samnee set his sights on becoming a comic book artist.
While Batman may have hooked Samnee initially, he also found himself drawn toward a character he’d later become tied closely with. “I think the first time I ever read ‘Daredevil’ was the old Gene Colan stuff.”
In addition to being drawn toward the modern superheroes of the time, Samnee’s comic book intake often stretched into the past. Waid commented on how this eclectic bedrock informs his work to this day.
“I think that’s a big part of what makes your work so clean., too,” said Waid. “Clearly, while you were picking up new stuff in the mid-’80s, you had that gateway into older comics. You had a gateway into the classic comic guys. You and I have talked about the fact that you appreciate guys like Gene Colan and John Romita.” Samnee agreed and added artists including Alex Toth, Milton Caniff and Jim Aparo to his list of influences. These common interests allow the two to establish a shorthand way of communicating.
“As a writer, the thing that becomes most important as you go along in comics over the years, is the clarity of storytelling and the idea that you don’t have to get the art back and go readjust your script to explain stuff that the artist didn’t quite get,” said Waid. “Chris is very good at catching the times in my scripts where I forget [things like] that the door is supposed to be on the left, or what the layout of [Matt Murdock’s] office is.” Samnee revealed that he enjoyed making a map of the law offices, to which Waid insisted he get a copy of that.
While it may seem like Samnee has become an overnight success with “Daredevil,” Waid dug deep into the artist’s professional history and brought up his work on Big Bang Comics for Gary Carlson, work that he got when he was just 15.
“I met [Carlson] at a local show when I was 15, and he looked at my portfolio,” said Samnee. “That’s what I had been doing since I was around 12. I’d just take my portfolio to shows and try to show people my work.” Samnee got a short story out of that meeting, but had to wait a while before he could turn comics into a full-time job.
“My wife and I had decided that if I could make enough money on a book to support us for a year, then I could quit my day job,” said Samnee. “We got married in ’03 and I quit my day job in 2006.” “Capote In Kansas”, the Oni Press graphic novel written by Ande Parks, proved to be the turning point in Samnee’s career, as it pushed the artist further in regards to his own style and inking ability.
“That was the first big thing that I did,” said Samnee. “That’s sort of what got me work. That was a far cry from the ‘Fantastic Four’ samples I had been doing. People saw that I could draw people in suits doing normal things, and not just superhero stuff. I went to Marvel and DC and they would look at all these little drawings of people in suits and they’d be like, ‘yeah this is good, but I don’t know what we’re going to do with you… And now I’m working at Marvel full-time.'”â€¨
Waid and Samnee’s epic partnership started out by coincidence, though, as Waid revealed when he started discussing “The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom” miniseries the pair did for IDW Publishing.
“[Editor Scott] Dunbier called me up first and said, ‘Do you want to do ‘Rocketeer’? We’ve got an artist — Chris Samnee — for your ‘Rocketeer’ series.’ And then two weeks later, Steve Wacker, the ‘Daredevil’ editor calls and says, ‘We found a guy [for ‘Daredevil’] — Chris Samnee. He’s going to be great for this.’ And I couldn’t tell either editor the other’s [news] because it was a secret.”
“I was doing the same thing,” Samnee interjected, laughing. “I didn’t want either of them to think, ‘Wait, he’s doing two books a month?’ I didn’t want either of them to get nervous so I didn’t tell either editor. I just agreed to do both. My wife was like, ‘If you can do it, do it.'” And Samnee did, giving the duo two different comics to make for two different publishers. It was an experiment that both acknowledge could have gone horribly wrong if they hadn’t hit it off so well.
“The big test for us was ‘Daredevil’ #25, the big fight issue,” said Waid. “Up to that point we’d been working full script… but with the big fight scene, I really knew that it was important for that to be a long fight scene. And it doesn’t make any sense for me, as a writer, to try and choreograph every panel in that, especially when you’re working with someone who’s great with storytelling.”â€¨
Samnee agreed that that was a special issue for him, and that he enjoys being able to contribute to the book past just drawing what a writer tells him to draw.
“I love being able to collaborate like that,” said Samnee. “Nobody’s ever done that with me. One of the great things about our collaboration is we’re both willing to have give and take and have fun with it.”
The floor opened up to the audience for their questions, including one about Samnee’s recent foray into digital-first comics with “Adventures of Superman.” When asked how different the experience was, Samnee revealed that it proved to be similar to his normal output.
“The only difference is that [the pages] have to be cut right in the middle [for a tablet’s landscape formatting], and that’s it. It’s pages like I would normally do, I just can’t do a full page splash or anything where a vertical panel takes up the whole page.”
Another audience member asked why other creative teams can’t work together as well as Waid and Samnee, whose partnership seems to yield quality work effortlessly.
“It’s a matter of chemistry,” said Waid. “You can have the best writer and artist in the world, but if they aren’t on the same wavelength, then it’s not [going to work].”
“There’s a lot of trust, too,” Samnee added. “I trust you to write something awesome, and if I botch something then you back me up, and vice versa.”
“I have no answer as to why every book is not as good as ‘Daredevil,'” said Waid, the crowd audibly agreeing with him.