Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
Writer Ron Marz toils to keep his family and stable of horses fed in upstate New York. He’s done so writing about the things he loves, whether it was reporting on sports and entertainment, or for his column here on CBR. Lately, he’s chronicling the adventures of Tarzan’s son “Korak the Killer” and Billy “The Mucker” Byrne in a series of web strips with artists Rick Leonardi and Lee Moder, respectively. He recently returned for a second stint on Top Cow’s “Witchblade” with artist Laura Braga and partnered with Chicago Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonijie and longtime collaborator Bart Sears for “The Protectors.”
CBR News asked the writer about the growth of the comics industry as he sees it, those horses just out the window, and his lifelong appreciation for baseball.
CBR News: How was Atlantic City?
Ron Marz: It was cool. We had a good time. It was a shop in nearby Mays Landing, brought us down. Us being my wife and myself, so we could get away for two days. Yeah, they put us up at the boardwalk, treated us terrifically. Had a great time. Good signing. Really good shop. And a long drive back on Saturday night.
What makes for a good comic shop?
The opposite of the one on “The Simpsons.” I think we’re seeing more and more of [the good kind] as the industry evolves and matures. There are less and less shops that are dingy places with dirty carpets and dusty longboxes of back-issues on a card table. The vast majority of shops I end up in these days are well-lit with nice fixtures. They’re pleasing places to be. Those are the ones that are going to survive. The alternative — the “Jaunty Jack’s Comic Crypt” — will eventually go the way of the dodo, because both the material and audience are maturing. And I don’t mean that in the sense that they’re getting older. It’s not that much of a niche culture anymore. It’s much more mainstream, and if you want the mainstream to shop in your store, you can’t be one of those old school, nasty shops.
Is Jaunty Jack any relation to Fat Jack and his Comic Crypt here in Philadelphia? [Laughs.]
I’m aware of Fat Jack’s, and that’s usually the one that I reference, if only because it sounds like that sort of comic shop. It might be an awesome shop and probably is, because I know it’s been there for years, but it just sounds like the place the “Simpsons” guy would work at.
I honestly haven’t been down there in a few years. They were friendly and kept it pretty clean for an older shop. They did have a cat or two lurking around, so I’d sort of be in and out, what with my allergies. Again, this was five years back.
That’s a little spooky.
It is. It’s a little “Bell, Book and Candle,” but it has its charms. So, what’s got you excited right now?
I dunno. If I admit to getting excited about stuff, that belies my veteran, jaded personality I’m supposed to have cultivated.
Everyone’s vulnerable here at Sunday Conversation.
[Laughs.] Honestly, I think it’s the fact that comics are, like I said before, maturing. I don’t mean that in the sense of, ya know, “Hey, look! Naked people! These superheroes are having sex! That dude’s arm got ripped off.” That’s the opposite of mature. I just mean that we as an industry are producing a wider range of material across a wide variety of genres, like we haven’t seen since the ’50s, since the Code came in and clamped down on anything that wasn’t adolescent power fantasy.
When I was growing up, ‘comic book’ was bandied about as a genre. That still happens, but I think more and more people understand it as a medium with potential to convey stories in any number of genres.
It’s always been a medium, but the perception was that ‘comics’ equals ‘super heroes’. That’s changing little by little, as more and more of that material hits the mainstream. People are becoming aware that we can do more than show pumped-up dudes beat the living hell out of each other. Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing. I like pumped-up dudes beating the living hell out of each other just as much as the next guy. But that can’t be the only thing on the buffet table.
Is there anything you think comics can’t or shouldn’t do?
Not really. Because that’s like saying, is there anything film or prose can’t do? You can do damn near anything with comics. You can tell any kind of story you want. We just need to take advantage of the things that comics do better than anything else, that alchemy of words and pictures. I wouldn’t say there’s anything comics shouldn’t do. It’s a one-size-fits-all medium. That’s one of the glorious aspects. We’ve been telling, as a species, stories with pictures since we could paint on cave walls. There’s a power to that that’s evolved just as humanity’s evolved.
Have you ever read a comic that made you uncomfortable?
Oh sure. The name is escaping me. The comic about Dahmer that Derf did.
Yeah. Which was given to me before release. I read it and it made me extremely uncomfortable. It was an unpleasant experience, but one I was glad that I had because it was a really well done book. Now, I wouldn’t seek out a steady diet of that material, but I’m glad that I had that experience.
You have horses. Tell me about horses.
They are generally my wife’s responsibility. She’s the horse person. I pay for what goes in the front end and I clean up what comes out the back end.
Are you all the happier for it?
Yeah! They’re like big dogs. They’re like big dogs that can kill you if you’re on the wrong end and you’re not being careful about spooking them. I love being around them. I’m probably not around them as much as I’d like to be. My wife handles a lot of the feeding and stuff, while I’m chained to the desk. She gets to do more of the outdoors stuff with them. I like having them around. It’s her thing. It’s what she loves. So I do everything I can to make sure that we can have them.
Does it take everything not to just hop a fence on one of them and race up alongside a train, jump from one to the other–
You’ve been watching too many movies.
They do it on television too.
Ultimately the horse would think you were insane. “I’m not doing that!” Horses are actually pretty smart. If you try to get them to do something stupid, they generally dispose of you.
You don’t think there’s a mischievous horse in that barn just waiting to have an adventure like that? A rascal horse with a heart of gold?
Oh, there’s totally mischievous horses, but their idea of mischief doesn’t usually start with a person on their back. Their idea of mischief, first and foremost, is “How do I get this person off my back?”
Well I know — from the movies and the television — that you have to establish that trust. How long does a horse generally live?
We just buried one about two weeks ago.
I’m sorry to hear that.
We had five of them. The one that went out into the field and laid down and died was 39 years-old. Now knowing that the horse died at 39, ask me again how long they live.
OK. Generally speaking, how long does a horse live?
About 30. The fact we had a 39-year-old horse was pretty unusual. They don’t generally live that long. He was a cross between a Morgan and an Arabian, and those are both long-lived breeds. He got the best of both worlds, genetically, and he stuck around for 39 years. He was actually the horse that my wife had since she was 11. I guess I could do the math to figure out how old he was when she got him, but I didn’t get into comics to do math. All I know is that my wife knew that horse longer than she’s known me. We’ve got a young horse, too. Going on four now, has not been ridden. That was a track layoff from Saratoga that my wife basically ended up getting for free. Basically a racehorse, a thoroughbred that had raced at Saratoga and some of the New York tracks. The owner turned out to be a deadbeat owner. My wife was helping foal out babies at the farm where this horse was kept, and when that farm closed, the horses from deadbeat owners were offered up to those employees. “This horse followed me home. Can we keep her?” So, now we have this new horse. This summer she’ll get up on the horse’s back and try and build that relationship. It can be a little scary. You never know how they’ll react, getting to know you. So those are days I won’t be getting a lot of writing done. I’ll be out there.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
I don’t know. It never actually occurred to me to do anything else. Since elementary school. Once I figured out being a third baseman for the Mets wasn’t in my future, it never occurred to me to be anything other than a writer. I worked at a department store for a few months. I worked at a shoe store for a few months. In high school and college. Other than that I’ve never had a job except as a writer. I worked as a sports reporter for a newspaper. Then I was an editor and movie reviewer and feature writer in the entertainment section. And it was during that time that I started writing comics. Being a writer is the only real job I’ve ever had. Knock wood, hopefully it’s the only real job I will have.
Why the Mets?
When I was a kid in the 1970s, growing up in upstate New York, free agency had just descended upon major league baseball, and the Yankees would buy up all of the free agents, putting together that late-’70s dynasty. All of my friends were Yankees fans, and I was a contrarian, so I went for the Mets, who were terrible at the time. And have generally been terrible since. But we’ve had those glorious instances of success — particularly 1986 — and those are that much sweeter because of the years of frustration and futility. Plus I can’t stand the designated hitter, so I’ve gotta be a National League fan.
Do you make it out to games much?
I used to go out to Shea Stadium not infrequently. I’d go to opening day a bunch of years in a row. I’d go with a bunch of the guys who worked up at the DC offices. We’d get a whole block of seats. Opening day was a tradition. Obviously that ended when I went to CrossGen in Florida for four or five years. I get down to City Field infrequently now, but I’d like to do a few more. More often than not I got to the local minor league park, which is the Tri-City ValleyCats. I take my youngest son. He’s a baseball guy. I coach his little league team. It’s a thing for the two of us to do.
Why baseball? What was the attraction for you?
I played baseball as a kid. I was okay at it for a number of years. I guess I liked the languid pace of it, the fact that there’s no clock. The game can go on and on and on. I like the tradition of it, the sense of history that goes with it. I think there’s more good writing about baseball than any other sport. Now I live about an hour from the Baseball Hall of Fame. That’s an attraction for me. I think baseball is a way you can mark your life. I can remember listening to Mets radio broadcasts as a kid, listening to Bob Murphy. That sort of becomes the soundtrack of your summer, and if you continue to pay attention to it, it’s a way to mark the passage of your life.