Welcome back to CBR’s weekly look at DC Comics’ hit series, “Wednesday Comics.” Presented in a broadsheet format (14 inches by 20 inches), the 12-week series features 15 strips written and illustrated by Eisner Award winners like Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons and Brian Azzarello. And with DC icons Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman standing tall beside lesser-known characters like Kamandi, Metamorpho and Deadman, there is truly something for everyone.
And yes, with “Wednesday Comics” finishing today, so does this feature. Over the past 11 weeks, we’ve interviewed creators from 14 or the 15 strips bringing this unique title to life and don’t think for a moment, we’d miss the last one.
This week, we have yet another Eisner Award winner – Paul Pope (“Batman: Year 100”), who wrote and illustrated an Adam Strange strip for “Wednesday Comics.” Pope explains how he channeled Steve Ditko and Carl Jung to tell his story and was equally influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack Kirby and Carmine Infantino.
Additionally, DC Art Director and “Wednesday Comics” editor Mark Chiarello joins us one last time for some final thoughts on “Wednesday Comics” and reveals what he’s up to now that’s he’s back doing his ‘real’ job.
Q&A WITH “WEDNESDAY COMICS” CREATOR PAUL POPE
CBR News: The first time I spoke to Mark Chiarello about this project, he told me that he knew he was on to something when you landed on Adam Strange as your central figure. What made you think he would be the right fit for this type of story-telling?
He was among my top three choices. Mark wanted me to use Doctor Fate, and I do like his lurid first appearances in the old Golden Age comics, but I have no feeling for the arcane, magical characters. I found a way to work Fate, or at least Adam’s dream of Doctor Fate, back into the story as a nod to Mark’s wishes, though. My top choice was The Forever People, but Mark said “No Kirby for you!”
It’s pretty well known I love Kirby’s comics, so I’d have gone that way if Mark had let me. Forever People or a tale about young Orion and Scott Free, back when they were still teenagers under Himon and Darkseid’s care.
For this format, I wanted something that would allow me to do some wildly inventive designs and include lots of crazy, fantastic characters – something which, if it were a film, would take a massive budget to manufacture.
And I wanted some minor character from the DC Universe, somebody who wasn’t branded too much already, and I love the sci-fi bent to a lot of DC’s Silver Age characters. Doom Patrol was my third choice, but I was more into Strange then Doom Patrol, so it all worked out well.
Are you a long-time fan of the character?
Not really, although I am a big fan of a lot of the Carmine Infantino era sixties comics he either drew or edited. I hadn’t even read many Adam Strange comics, I had to go back and read them. I approached it as a plot-theme experiment, and asked Mark if I could go way off script with Adam’s established continuity and basically re-invent him.
Did you go back and read any classic “John Carter of Mars” serials for inspiration?
I re-read those books every decade or so, I’ve even read the later stuff with the “Skeleton Men of Jupiter,” I’ve read the “Carson of Venus” and Pellucidar books, all of those. I had been discussing the series with Michael Chabon right about the same time, so the Carter books were in my thoughts already. My take on Strange has an obvious nod to John Carter because when I read those old Adam Strange comics, I was struck with how close to the John Carter stories they were. I wanted to fuse 1930s era “Flash Gordon” serials with 1970s “Heavy Metal”/”Metal Hurlant.”
Do you love any other classic serial strips?
“Scorchy Smith” by Noel Sickles and “Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy” by Roy Crane. I am a longtime fan of both. Roy Crane is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists and storytellers. Given the mission of “Wednesday Comics,” I wanted to do a real old-fashion serialized sci-fi pulp story using the old tropes, but in my way. Another big inspiration was a little tale Alex Toth did called “Oh La-La,” which Mark and I both have a fondness for.
Do you ever wish you had access to the Zeta Beam?
No. I see it as a curse, actually. “Be careful what you wish for.” Adam Strange in my story is a man who belongs to two worlds, which also means he belongs to neither completely. I think he’s kind of tragic for that reason.
What makes the Zeta Beam a great plot device?
I wanted to show the Zeta as a weakness. I imagined Adam on Earth as an old man with a faulty memory. So he’s stuck on Earth for half the story. Maybe the whole thing is a fantasy in the mind of an old man, you know?
You actually have Adam on Earth for, I believe, four issues, and for one, he wasn’t even featured. What makes Alanna a strong enough character to carry a story?
I liked the contrary idea of removing the hero from the story and forcing the heroine to take charge. Whenever I came up with an idea which seemed ‘strange’ to me, I added it, so long as it still made sense within the rules of the world of the story. I wanted Alanna to be a pretty tough sister. I also wanted to place an oasis halfway through the story and do an episode which was ‘pastoral,’ where no action happens that we’d consider normal comic book action. So halfway through the story, there’s an episode where Alanna chops a piece of fruit in two, that’s basically about it for action in that one.
As you mentioned earlier, you dropped Doctor Fate in for a cameo. Why does he work well with Strange?
Both are old characters and both are a bit oddball. I thought it was funny that you have two doctors who are superheroes, one of whom is a Doctor Fate and the other is actually a Doctor Strange. So I wanted something vaguely Ditko-esque, a dream world, something befitting a Doctor Strange. Neither is a psychoanalyst, though, neither is a master of that world. I’m into Jungian psychology and dream analysis.
Jung has a theory of an aspect of the personality he called ‘The Other,’ who is a deeper aspect of yourself which is a source of surprising knowledge and can appear to you in a dream. He tells strange stories of having dreams where he would receive useful information or advice from dream characters who he realizes are actually nothing more than undiscovered aspects of himself. That’s a bit strange, a bit ‘magical,’ and it seemed to me Doctor Fate would be just the guy to appear in Adam’s strange dream.
Honestly, how much fun is it to draw the Rock People of Ragathan? Or as Adam Strange calls them, “talking blue baboons.”
[Laughs.] They’re fun. There’s more than one reason Carmine Infantino encouraged cartoonists to draw talking monkey men in those old comics.
Speaking of which, how did you handle art for this project? Did you use any different techniques or tools than you would use on a regular-sized comic?
The originals are pretty huge, but that seemed necessary. They were a bitch to draw, some of them took up to five days. I was inspired by McCay’s “Little Nemo” pages. That’s why I added that huge parade of monkeys in that one episode, in tribute to McCay, who seemed to draw a lot of parades in those old “Nemo” comics. The old Sunday cartoonists seemed to approach their pages as something designed to be looked at for hours, they didn’t have much wasted space on their pages. Everything was there for a reason.
Not sure what you can share, but what else are you working on these days?
Mostly “Battling Boy” and a project for my French publisher, Dargaud, called “Psychenaut,” which is a series of short comics about dreams and Jungian dream analysis. I’ve really missed having comics come out on a regular basis, so I am really glad Mark called me in on this one. That was an impressive list of talent he forced me to sit with at the table.
Q&A WITH “WEDNESDAY COMICS” EDITOR MARK CHIARELLO
CBR News: So, Mark, now that “Wednesday Comics” is finished, how are you feeling?
Mark Chiarello: I crashed and burned. I’ve been exhausted. I’ve got a cold. As soon as we’re done with this interview, I’m going home to collapse.
Honestly, what are your days like as DC Art Director now that your work on “Wednesday Comics” is complete?
The cool thing about “Wednesday Comics” is that I could put my “real job” on hold for like five months [laughs]. But now I’m back to being Art Director. But I’m also involved with some really cool, other project that are real special, like “Wednesday Comics” that I had started and now I’m picking back up.
And we’ve talked about those, but can you share any more details yet?
I can give you really horrible clues and hints about them but they haven’t been announced yet. I can say I’m doing a really neat project with Chip Kidd – the brilliant designer Chip Kidd. He’s a writing a really cool comic with one of our major characters. And the artist on it is someone really phenomenal, so that will be really cool.
And the incredibly talented Lee Bermejo is writing and drawing a graphic novel for me with again, another major, major character.
So essentially, I’m working with some really exceptionally talented guys.
Day-to-day are you looking at all the pages of all the DC titles, or are you only looking at specific books and projects?
I oversee the whole line, all the superhero comics in the whole DC Universe. And I do see every cover from sketch to finish. I don’t see every interior page but I consult on who draws what. Mike Marts, the Batman editor, was just in my office picking my brain about who could draw a new Batman project.
DCU Executive Editor [Dan] DiDio really relies on me for saying who can draw this or that project coming up. And part of it is getting new artists into the business.
Are you any closer to deciding what the collected version of “Wednesday Comics” is going to look like?
I know they’re, bizarre as it sounds, still discussing it downstairs. And unfortunately because that’s a different department at DC, I have very little say about it, so I’m sort of with all the fans hoping that it comes out really big and good.
|An unnamed graphic novel project written and drawn by Lee Bermejo is in the works|
Any big plans for Wednesday now that the final issue has come out?
I’m going to go home and go to bed. Like I said, I’m still exhausted. And maybe, start thinking about who could do the next series, who could do, “Son of Wednesday Comics” or “The Return of Wednesday Comics.”
Are we inching closer to that being a reality?
Yeah, a couple of baby steps closer. The Powers That Be at DC really want to do it. And they want to do it with me. Maybe I’ll take a vacation and when I come back, I can think about it.
Because right now, you’re probably saying, “Why would I do that to myself again?”
Exactly. But I’ll tell you man, I’ve been getting so many phone calls and emails from guys who I would just cut an arm off to work with – major, major talent who want to do it, if we do it again.
Looking back, was that the best part of this project – working with the exceptional talent you pulled together?
The highlight was absolutely the fans’ response. You can build a really cool project but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to click with the readers. But I really wanted this to be a fun reading experience. And the fans really picked up on that, which was really cool.
And of course, so many of the artists are really close friends, so working with them and the writers was really fun, too.
Special thanks to DC Comics and Art Director, Mark Chiarello, for their time and assistance in bringing this weekly feature to the CBR audience.