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CBR TV: Mark Waid on "Strange Fruit" Controversy, "Archie" Relaunch, "Avengers"

Regular CBR TV guest Mark Waid, the Eisner Award-winning writer of "Daredevil," "Kingdom Come" and so many more, joined Jonah Weiland aboard the world famous CBR Yacht at Comic-Con International ready to talk about his many current and upcoming projects. Starting with BOOM! Studios' "Strange Fruit" illustrated by J.G. Jones, Waid talks about his goals for the series, the criticism it has already received and how he anticipated all of this when working on the book. He also discusses his take on Archie Andrews in the rebooted "Archie," how long he plans to stick around Riverdale, and all of the expectations and criticism he's having to manage when he begins his run with Earth's Mightiest Heroes in Marvel's "All-New, All-Different Avengers."

First Details and New Art From Mark Waid and JG Jones' "Strange Fruit"

In the first part of the conversation, Waid discusses his history of writing comics that are accessible for readers new and old before talking about his latest series from BOOM! The story of a mysterious being's arrival in 1927 Mississippi, "Strange Fruit" mixes elements of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" with the heroic myth, all filtered through historical racial tensions. The book has already caused a stir online, and Waid talks about what it's like for him, as a White writer, to tell this kind of story following increased racial tensions in the U.S. and how he remains proud of the story he and J.G. Jones are telling. He also talks about his work on the recently rebooted "Archie" with Fiona Staples, how Archie stacks up against other comic book icons and how long he plans to stick with the Riverdale gang.

On the criticism surrounding "Strange Fruit," namely that it's two White creators dealing with racial tensions and using the n-word:

I feel it's a really complicated thing. I almost had a prepared statement, but I hate prepared statements, and I don't think you deserve a prepared statement with every comic book that comes out. We live in... Look, I'm lucky enough, J.G. too, we're in a position where, because of our time in the industry, we're able to tell the kind of stories that we are passionate about, that we want to tell. That is a remarkable privilege. And that comes from privilege and it comes with privilege, and I do not take that for granted. I am eager to hear what is said because I think that... I get a lot of, "Well, don't you think it's racist?" Well, you know what, I don't get to decide. Because white guys have done a really horrible job for 300 years deciding what the word "racist" means, so why don't I just shut up? And when it comes to that, we are in a social media era... I'm stumbling through this, I hope I'm doing okay. We're in a social media era where there are so many people who didn't have a voice for a long, long time, and suddenly they have a voice. And they're eager to use it, and that is awesome. And as hard as it is for me -- I'd be lying to you if I said, "I just want to defend. I just want to say, I want to explain" -- but you gotta rein that back because what I say is not important at this point. What I say about this is not what's important. What's important is what other people who don't have the privilege that I have want to say. That's what's important, and I have to listen. And I would be lying to you if I said it's easy, but I'm willing to try.

On using the n-word:

I'm not comfortable writing it. Also, it's 1927 Mississippi; if I didn't use it when white people are talking about black people, that actually, that makes white people look cool. That white-washes a lot of history. Look, I grew up -- I didn't grow up in 1927, I'm not quite that old -- but you know, J.G. and I both grew up in the 1960s in Alabama, in Mississippi, in Louisiana. What is interesting to us about that world is how much it's changed since then and yet some things haven't changed. But the idea of the casual racism, which has now sort of become institutionalized racism, but the casual racism, looking back and trying to wrap our heads around the fact that this is the way people talked back then, like it meant nothing. And trying to process that and kind of see where we've come from there.

On the timing of the comic coming out following the recent uproar over the Confederate flag, and the comic's final scene, where the "hero" wraps himself in the flag:

He's kind of in a sense [wrapping himself in it], or is he kinda wiping his butt with it? That's more of that. He's not adopting it as his superhero costume, no. It is in point of fact a big middle finger to the white guys who are carrying, the Klan guys who are carrying that flag. The whole point of that scene is that is a big middle finger to those guys going, "You're not gonna like this."

On the fortuitous nature of that final scene and an abandoned cover concept:

I don't know. I know I'm glad it's not the cover anymore. I dunno. A year and a half ago, before Ferguson, before McKinney, before Charleston, it was an idea for the cover. And you know what, it was in retrospect probably a bad call. And one of the guys at BOOM! said, "You know, we've got some people on staff who are not completely happy with that." I said, "I understand that, and we're not gonna fight that." Because that guy's voice that we were talking about was more important than ours in that case. You know, you stand up, you walk to the plate, you take a few swings, you try to hit the ball. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. I like what we did, I'm proud of what we've done. I'm proud of what we're going to do with the series. We'll see.

Mark Waid Gives "Archie" a "Blank Slate Fresh Start" with Relaunched Series

On where Archie ranks amongst the major characters like Flash, Superman, and Daredevil he's worked on:

Actually, pretty high up there. Because everybody knows who that character is. To me, the fun part of the job, and almost the anthropological part of the job, is I'm fascinated by the characters that existed before I came around and we'll be here long after I'm gone. I'm really fascinated by what makes certain characters perennial and vibrate and continued, whereas they're not Woody Woodpecker, they're not Andy Panda, they don't just vanish off the cultural landscape. Ya know, what is it about those characters? And so that's to me the fun part is like drilling down and going, "Okay, what is it about Archie that makes that character exist for 75 years and still be published? What is it that's there?" And it's a pretty simple answer which is that, clearly my high school experience is not the same as your high school experience is not the same as my girlfriend's 16-year-old daughter's high school experience. But, there are certain things about being a teenage -- I will defend this to the die I die -- there are certain things about being a teenager that are eternal: Feeling like everything is the end of the world, feeling how easy it is to be embarrassed in front of girls or boys, how you're trying to figure out who you are and trying to create your own identity for the first time because you're in high school and you're becoming an adult. Those are the things, those emotions are eternal. Those emotions are constant, and those things will always stay fresh. And luckily, those are also, those kinds of emotions are also the building blocks of good stories. So, you just concentrate on that stuff and don't worry about whether or not you're using hashtags or Twitter or Instagram, or trying to cram whatever the latest fads are into it. Don't worry about that. Three years from now and it will be completely out of date. You do what Daniel Waters did with "Heathers," which is you invent your own language, you invent your own slang, you invent your own way of people talking to each other. And that way it stays timeless.

On how long he'll stay on "Archie":

It would take dynamite to blast me off this book. I think I found my niche for a while. I really like it.

After touching on the end of his "Daredevil" run -- a run that will establish him with the longest, unbroken run by anyone on the series, Waid talks about what it's like to go from a solo character to a team book with the upcoming "All-New, All-Different Avengers." He discusses the team's experience level and what it's like to check in with the writers who have established Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel and the new Thor in order to make sure he's getting everything right. To wrap up, Waid elaborates on what it's like to manage fan expectations for seven different characters and Marvel's premier team on a single project.

 

On going from a character on the cusp of the Marvel Universe to a version of its marquee team with "All-New, All-Different Avengers":

It's the newbie team. But here's the thing too; we get a lot of attention on the fact that Miles Morales, Nova, Ms. Marvel are there. But all three of those characters have more experience than Thor at this point. And all of them have more experience than Sam Wilson in the suit of Captain America. So, that to me is really interesting. It's not three newbies and a bunch of experienced guys. It's more like you get a different layer of experience with all of them.

Waid Assembles Big Stories for "All-New All-Different Avengers"

On having a target on his back because he's dealing with intense Avengers fans:

In this case, this is not just Avengers fandom, it's fandom of several other characters at the same time. Are you trying to [make me nervous?] Maybe I should leave. I think it will be okay. The thing is, I love these characters. I really love these characters. I wouldn't have chosen these seven Avengers if I didn't feel a strong connection to every one of them. And you may not agree with my take on all of them, but you know intent hopefully counts for something. None of these are characters that were just handed to me like, "Oh, okay, I'm stuck with Miles Morales." No. There's something to be said here. The approach is that rather than it being some gigantic, world-ending disaster every single issue -- and there will be plenty of that -- but you know, I want to do more what like Byrne and Claremont did with their X-Men run and stuff. That idea that it's a team of individuals and dealing with watching how they interact with each other and their personalities and how they feed each other. That's more interesting to me.

Or deliberately leaning into how each of their agendas is not necessarily your typical Avengers agenda. Like, Sam Wilson in particular, what is it like to wear that suit right now? Where everything you do, whether you turn left or right out of doorway, that informs somebody's narrative on cable news. And what kind of pressure is that to be under? And the same with a lot of these other characters; they carry that banner of Spider-Man or Ms. Marvel or whatever, and not be the white kid on the team. What is that like? I just think that's what you lean into.

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