Welcome to a special edition of THE COMMENTARY TRACK. This week, we’re looking at “Spider-Man Family” #7, released last week by Marvel Comics. The lead 30-page story was created in tribute to Mike Wieringo by his former “Sensational Spider-Man” and “Fantastic Four” collaborators, writer Todd Dezago, writer Mark Waid, and writer-inker Karl Kesel. Brought together by editor Nate Cosby, the team set out to tell a story in the same style by which Wieringo created his many beloved comics, bringing back several characters Wieringo drew in both titles.
CBR brought all of the creators back together to chat about the special issue of “Spider-Man Family” and the fun they had in putting it together. You’ll learn about the bits of story and art that were left on the editing room floor, the identities of the uncredited artists who helped meet the deadline, the background gags, some bits of Marvel history, and a whole lot more.
As always, SPOILERS ALERT!
Karl Kesel: As I remember events, [editor Nate Cosby] contacted Mark Waid and I about co-writing a “Spider-Man Family” story in tribute to Mike. We both agreed instantly, of course, but I felt very strongly that Todd should be included– at which point I could hear Nate slap his forehead, even though I live clear ‘cross country from him.
Todd was brought in, but then I was worried that we may have a few too many cooks, so I put the idea on the table that Todd and Mark co-write the story, and I could draw it. This was actually an ingenious, evil plan on my part to get a chance to stretch my penciling legs, while at the same time still being able to kibitz on the story without having to do any of the heavy lifting, writing-wise! And everyone fell for it!
I’d also like to say that Todd was the real driving force behind this story. Which is only right since he, without any doubt, was Mike’s closest collaborator and friend. He set the pace, and Mark and I just tried to keep up.
Todd Dezago: Since we didn’t want this to be so much a solemn tribute but a celebration of Mike and everything he loved about comics, the four of us got on the phone for several, hours-long, hilarious conversations about what we should do, when I suggested a story that Mike and I had come up with years before and had hoped to one day pitch as a four-issue miniseries featuring Spider-Man and our favorite villain du-jour, The Looter. We folded in the Fantastic Four and the wild romp began!
As Karl, Nate, Mark and I riffed on the concept and threw around ideas, there was enough fun generated to make up a great 12-issue series! In cutting it down and compressing it, there were some good bits we just had to toss out completely, but in the end I think it all works out okay.
Mark Waid: I wish I had more to say in detail here, but as Todd says, he did the actual typing and stenography. My fundamental role was to make my contributions verbally. That way, no record exists of the dumber suggestions I made, like the time I spent twenty minutes trying to convince Todd and Karl that what this story really needed was more children because Mike loved to draw kids. Wait, did I just write that down? Crap.
TD: I should point out that Karl had a great deal of input into the story and bits of dialogue as Mark and I did. As it went, we kind of chatted up and blocked out the various scenes/beats of the story and then I wrote up a plot of the 30-page story, including suggested narrative and dialogue. Karl then worked up some beautiful layouts — with tons of references and inside jokes — and sent them on to us, where Mark and I would makes notes for jokes and dialogue and then I picked all of the good stuff (mostly mine) and typed up the script. Nate Piekos lettered it, Val Staples colored it, and the rest is history!
KK: I kept the Looter hidden on page #1 not so readers would be surprised by his reveal on page #2 — he’s on the cover, after all! — but to hide the fact of who he’s talking to! I loved the idea of the meteor having the flashback — sheer brilliant, twisted genius from, I believe, Todd’s mind.
Also, I was surprised how Ringo’s version of the Looter’s face (sans mask) stayed remarkably close to Ditko’s original design. And both Ditko and Ringo had used the Looter’s hair to reflect his mindset — slicked back and in place as a scientist, loose and unkempt as the Looter — so I was more than happy to follow in their footsteps.
MW: Karl took a bit of artistic license. The actual Institute for Seismo-Harmonic Studies in New York is in the second floor of a brownstone above a Starbucks.
CBR: Mark, We all know you have an encyclopedic knowledge for comics, but were you as familiar with the Spider-Man stories Todd and Mike in the ’90s? How many of these characters and situations were new for you?
MW: Todd and Mike’s run on “Sensational Spider-Man” was one of the Marvel series I loved most in the ’90s, and one of the best. And, no, that’s not my way of saying “it was the least repulsive freak in the sideshow” — I genuinely enjoyed it. Todd and Mike were a pair, man, and whenever you read a comic by them, it was like watching two polished entertainers play effortlessly off one another to wow the crowd. And I have loved Norton G. Fenster since I first laid eyes on him so many decades ago. That he looks suspiciously like Todd is pure coincidence. I’m sure.
MW: The kid is wearing a very familiar shirt that sports what appears to be the insignia of the Living Lightning. I think. Someone backstop me. Also, the bum almost hidden by the credits, the one fishing through the trash can, is me in a few more years when the “Kingdom Come” royalties finally run out.
KK: I threw in The Koj and the kid wearing the Flash t-shirt. I should have added in more references like that, but like I said earlier: slowest comic artist on God’s green earth. I also added myself and my wife, Myrna, and one of our corgis, Zevon.
TD: There were to be more references and story points from Mark and Mike and Karl’s “Fantastic Four,” but a lot of things in Mark’s run either happened in the Baxter Building, in another dimension, or in Heaven, and I ran out of room.
KK: Also: that car? I can’t draw a car that good, but you know who can? The computer! There’s an amazing program called Sketch Up out there which has all sorts of stuff like cars and buildings that you can download and then rotate in any direction you want. Once I get the car in the exact position I want, I drop the object into the pencils and print it out in non-repro blue to ink. While inking it, I add texture, shadows, etc. I only used Sketch Up on this car in this story, but future uses are limitless. David Hahn has used it to construct entire interiors of diners and the like. All he has to do then is drop in his characters and ink it!
By the way, I have one wacky rule about Spider-Man — whenever you can, show the bottom of at least one of his feet. You show the bottom of Batman or Daredevil’s feet, it looks weird (unless they’re jumping at the camera feet-first), but it works for Spider-Man because there’s something a little awkward and off about it, and that’s part of what Spidey’s all about. Showing the bottom of his foot makes Spidey look like Spidey, if you ask me.
CBR: The scientists tied up at the Institute for Seismo-Harmonic Studies — are those the same scientists we saw in the original story that Todd and Mike did way back when?
KK: D’oh! I had those comics in front of me and never thought to do that!
I mean– yes. Yes they are.
MW: Please note how fluid and skilled Karl’s storytelling is, especially given that he (wisely) cut a page in this sequence. Every beat is crystal-clear, and each character has a distinct, non-generic look. Aspiring artists, take lessons.
KK: In the original plot, this scene was one page longer — rescuing the girl was more of a thing, and it took Spidey a while to figure out where Looter may have gone. But everyone else let me condense it down a bit in order to. . .
KK: . . . Give the FF a little more on-screen time. I’ll admit I’m very pro-FF (anyone surprised?) and I wanted them to have the same sort of moment-in-the-spotlight intro that Spidey got, and so pushed to expand a scene in the plot where the family’s getting ready to watch “Heroes.” Nate, Todd and Mark let me do it — probably just to shut me up.
I’ll admit I’m still learning the whole penciling thing, and because of that I screw things up from time to time. One instance would be on page #13. There was a lot more fun dialogue suggested in the plot, but — being a dunderhead — I simply didn’t leave enough balloon-room in some of the panels, and it was cut. All my fault. Blame me.
MW: Ben doesn’t eat his popcorn out of a trashcan because that’s the only thing big enough for his mitts. He eats his popcorn out of a trash can because then no one wants to share.
MW: Thus begins the best joke in the entire story, and all I remember about its genesis is that (a) it wasn’t mine and (b) I’m jealous — the running bit where every single person Fenster encounters finds him to be charming and perfectly rational and takes Spidey for an overreacting lunatic.
CBR: Karl, what is it about dinosaurs that comic artists love drawing so much?
KK: Are you kidding? Dinosaurs are just damn cool! Name me one comic book reader (and artist) who didn’t love dinosaurs as a kid! I knew the difference between an Allosaurus and a T-Rex probably a decade before I knew the difference between a Democrat and Republican! And best of all — within a few basic guidelines, no one can say you drew them wrong! (The dinosaurs, I mean.)
This is an excellent opportunity, by the way, to give credit where credit’s due. Being the slowest comic artist on God’s green earth, I was way behind on my deadline for this story, and had to call in help to finish it. Luckily, my peeps at Periscope Studio were more than willing to help — especially since the last scene I finished in the issue was in the Savage Land. As I was told by more than one person: if I had needed help drawing Manhattan, a lot more people would have been busy with other projects. But the chance to draw dinosaurs….
For the record, props to the following people for helping on the following pages:
Page #16: Jeff Parker drew the entire magnificent establishing shot of the Savage Land. All I drew in the first panel was the Fantasticar and Our Heroes in it.
Page #17: Steve Lieber added all the background jungle — his favorite sort of background to draw, he told me. Not wanting to miss out on all the fun, I actually drew the dinosaurs on this page myself.
Page #18: Jesse Hamm drew all the wonderful backgrounds on this page.
Page #19: Lieber again. And this time he got to draw some dinos, too — the background dinosaurs in panel #1, and the ‘raptors in panel #2.
Page #20: David Hahn asked for a T-Rex, and I was happy to oblige. Jonathan Case inked David’s pencils. I’ll admit giving up this dino-action was extremely hard for me — it’s one of my very favorite scenes in the entire comic! — but David and Jonathan delivered the goods.
Page #21: Rich Ellis — someone to watch in the future, believe me — did some outstanding dinos and jungle work on this page.
Pages #22-24: Ron Chan was a godsend, handling all the temple backgrounds
on these pages, giving the moment the consistency it needed.
MW: One of my and Mike’s big regrets with “Fantastic Four” is that we never got to take Reed and crew to the Savage Land for an adventure with Ka-Zar and Shanna. I kept promising we’d go, but I never came up with a good enough reason. Mike loved Ka-Zar and was always very complimentary about the work Andy Kubert and I did with him back in the ’90s.
KK: I’ll just add that Zabu is a lot more fun to draw than I expected. As a result, I played him up as much as I could. Probably too much.
MW: Longtime Marvelites will remember the purple portal and the Sphere of Sarkath from Spidey’s second visit to the Savage Land back in “Marvel Team-Up” #19, 1974. Wait, I just checked. That wasn’t the Sphere of Sarakath. My bad. Longtime Marvelites will remember that Todd made it up so we wouldn’t have to watch Ben and the cast fly the Fantasticar all the way back to Manhattan.
TD: Actually, the portal and Sphere of SaraKath is from the Doctor Strange/Technomancers story Mike and I did in “Sensational Spider-Man” #21-23. At the end of the tale, Spidey is supposed to encounter the “spirit” of. . . someone who had helped him throughout the story. We had just recently lost Marvel Editor Extraordinaire, Mark Gruenwald, and while some were led to believe that the spirit was the clone, Ben Reilly, others thought that it was Mark. We left it ambiguous. The Sphere was named for Mark’s daughter and wife, Sara and Katherine, respectively.
MW: I love love, love how Karl pulls a little extra Ditko every once in a while and draws squinty Spidey without changing the size of the black part of his eyepieces.
CBR: Karl, your art style for this story has strong allusions to Mike’s. Obviously, many of the character designs stayed the same (right down to the boots), but was there a conscious effort on your part to mimic some of Mike’s style with your art? Even some background characters look like the kind of people Mike would draw.
KK: First: thank you very much for the high compliment. I can’t say I ever consciously mimicked Mike’s style, but I do think that Mike and I had very similar outlooks and ideas about what Good Comics are, and so that, by its very nature, made our styles kind of veer in similar directions. I did steal shamelessly from Mike’s sense of pacing, layout, and storytelling– how he would stage a scene, how he would overlap or juxtapose panels, etc. Mike’s storytelling was always extremely clear, but at the same time very dynamic and compelling. And that’s what comics should be!
KK: I have to say, Dr. Strange having tea with the Looter was one of the most inspired ideas in this entire story. Credit to Todd for coming up with it, and Mark for recognizing it for the piece of brilliance that it is. By this point in the story, there are a lot of characters running around and, once again, my inexperience as a penciller meant that a lot of great jokes and dialogue bits were cut because I didn’t leave enough balloon room. A mistake I will try very, very, very hard to not make again. In particular, on page #27, Strange was supposed to say it was okay that the Looter got away because Strange had been in contact with Reed. Ben asks, “How? Astral projection? Mental telepathy?” And Strange responds, “On the telephone.” Something like that. Only a lot funnier. The reason it’s not there: me. Sorry.
MW: The meteor’s one line of dialogue. I love balloons that are nothing but one exclamation point.
KK: For some reason, I put goggles on the Looter — and I really like ’em! If he ever appears again, I hope the goggles come back, too. Also: while I missed the boat on the scientists earlier, the lead S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on page #30 is the same guy who showed up to cart the Looter away at the end of Todd and Mike’s two Looter stories. And the ending is absolutely perfect, in my book. And I don’t mean just the art — although I’m very happy with that last shot of the Looter — I mean the moment. Let’s face it, the Looter’s a glass-99.9%-full kind of guy.
By the way, excellent coloring by both Mr. [Paul] Mounts (on the cover) and Mr. [Val] Staples (on everything else). They made me look like I knew what I was doing!
TD: Karl, like most artists, is being far too hard on himself. It would have been truly impossible for anyone to leave enough room for all of the crazy, goofy, and sometimes brilliant dialogue that Mark and I (and Karl) came up with. The book would have to have been, like, 104 pages long or something!
CBR: Should we believe the magic or the science? Is the meteor’s twin really on the moon, or in Latveria? Or was “Latveria” a fake-out arranged between Strange and Reed to get Looter into the Fantasticar?
TD: Well, I think that the real question is, should you believe the Looter? The guy is pretty delusional and I wouldn’t even count on there being a second meteor. I like to think that Reed and Doc just through Latveria in as a “fake-out”. And if The Looter’s next romp takes him — and Spidey and Ben and Johnny and who knows WHO else–to the moon, well. . ..
MW: You missed it completely. Go stand in the corner and re-read the Spider-Man J story.
TD: As for the Looter’s all-too-convenient escapes, that was one thing that Mike and I always loved — and laughed about — about many of the comics we dug as kids; the wonderful coincidences and conveniences that would arrive to carry the story forward! Usually they were reasonably acceptable, but in many cases they were just downright ridiculous! The Looter always having a previously established, yet just-too-convenient way out every time adds that element of fun that seems to have disappeared from comics and that Mike and I were always trying to re-capture.
Thanks to Mark Waid, Todd Dezago, and Karl Kesel for coming together on relatively short notice to share their thoughts on their tribute story to Mike Wieringo. “Spider-Man Family” #7 is on comic store shelves today.
If you have any titles or creators you’d like to see featured in THE COMMENTARY TRACK, or you’re a creator with a book due out that you’d like top stop by and talk about in detail, let us know. We’re busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there’s always room for more!
Now discuss this story in CBR’s Spider-Man forum.
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