A sizable number of attendees decked out in Spider-Man garb gathered early on Thursday morning for the Spotlight on Dan Slott panel, one of the first panels held during this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego. Through his work on titles as diverse as "Amazing Spider-Man," "Superior Spider-Man," "She-Hulk," "Silver Surfer," "Ren & Stimpy," and "Arkham Asylum: Living Hell," Slott has made a name for himself with a diverse resume that gleefully treats continuity as a jumping off point for bold and shocking new story directions. Moderated by Jill Pantozzi, a comic book journalist and longtime friend of Slott's, the panel kicked off with the two bantering playfully about Pantozzi's lack of cosplay.
"When we were talking about me moderating this panel," Pantozzi explained, "Dan said 'I'll give you ten dollars if you cosplay [Silver Surfer companion] Dawn." Pantozzi gathered the correct wig, shoes and leggings, but the real sticking point ended up being the character's red dress with black polka dots. Slott playfully feigned disappointment, showing surprise that a simple dressed tripped up the moderator considering her past feats of cosplay. "She has dressed as stuff from Westeros," exclaimed Slott, "yet somehow can't work dots!"
With the cosplay elephant in the room addressed, the panel began in earnest with Pantozzi asking Slott about what his younger self wanted to be when he grew up. "This," said the writer without hesitation. "This is exactly what I've wanted to do. I always wanted to be a TV writer, and that was before I found comics. Once I found comics, that was all I wanted to do -- and work on Spider-Man."
Slott eventually got his childhood wish and started a run on "Amazing Spider-Man" back in 2008, but he revealed that his path to the character was far from a clear one. During a Marvel summit, then Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada asked every writer in attendance which character they most wanted to write -- and Dan noticed he had stiff competition for Spider-Man. "Every single person, Bendis, Greg Pak, everybody around the table goes 'Spider-Man.' And it got to me and I was the last person in the room, and I went, 'Moon Knight.' You could hear the needle on the vinyl. In my mind, writing Spider-Man was an impossibility."
The conversation then turned to one of the writer's earliest works: "Ren & Stimpy." Slott handled the writing duties for the Marvel Comics adaptation of the pioneering Nickelodeon cartoon -- a job that he quickly found out came with plenty of oversight from the television network. "They kept telling us that we didn't understand the characters," remembered Slott, who added that the network attributed the show's success to the fact that the two lead characters were "such good friends."
"At one point I was getting so frustrated over the things that were getting cut that a friend of mine said, 'They always cut twenty percent of your material, so write twenty percent over -- write things that are more extreme, and that gives them their things to cut.' That didn't work because they would cut the same stuff and now the stuff that I didn't want in the book was in there."
Slott then told the audience about his attempt to do an after school special type episode about substance abuse, except the activity abused in "Ren & Stimpy" would be slapping fish against your head. "Ren tells the story of how he was a teenage fish slapper, and the opening thing is a splash page of Ren slapping his head with fish going, 'I can quit whenever I want!' At one point he tries to go cold turkey and he's hitting himself with cold turkey: 'It's not the same!'"
Not every idea the writer has is pure gold, as Slott readily admitted when he started discussing a phenomenon that he calls his "Four In the Morning Ideas." These ideas, which tend to strike Slott during his all-night writing sessions to reach a deadline, don't always stand up to scrutiny once the sun rises. "I'm working on Spider-Man and I get the greatest idea in the whole world. No one has ever done this Spider-Man story before. This would be awesome! I'm full of Twizzlers and coffee, and I'm typing this thing and I type up the idea and I send it to both Tom Brevoort and Steve Wacker at the same time. The note I get from Tom is, 'Don't ever do this story. This is a terrible story. This a four in the morning idea story. Keep working.' The note I get from Steve Wacker is, 'That's great! You should totally do that, how's that plot coming?'"
But what never-to-be-published idea could inspire such differing opinions? "The idea was, Pym Particles are a thing -- what if Spider-Man uses Pym Particles and Spider-Man is giant Spider-Man? And he's punching Fin Fang Foom! Giant Spider-Man boxing Fin Fang Foom in New York! Worst idea ever. That's why you have an editor."
But some of Slott's unused ideas appealed to the audience, particularly one clever story that Slott couldn't get to during his run on "She-Hulk." "Pug, She-Hulk's buddy in the law firm -- you find out his high school science teacher is getting fired because he was teaching Marvel Creationism in the classroom. So he's teaching like, 'Then Odin descended from the World Tree, the Celestials came by and sorted them into Deviants and humans.' He's teaching the real Marvel Universe Handbook history of how everything happened."
While discussing his run on "She-Hulk," Pantozzi praised Slott's nuanced characterization of Jennifer Walters. "You just writer her with feelings we all have. Why aren't you paying attention to me? Why isn't this going my way? It's universal. There was a point in 'She-Hulk' when I was in a relationship with someone for a couple of years and at one point I used a fight we had in 'She-Hulk,' but the language was changed. People say I write women really well, and yeah, I had to live through that moment."
When the time came for audience members to ask questions, the conversation quickly turned to Slott's recently controversial -- and popular -- run on "Superior Spider-Man." The writer quickly dispelled rumors that all of his big ideas were the result of editorial interference.
"When you think it's an editorial mandate in a Spider-Man comic or almost anything I write -- if you think it's an editorial mandate, it's not. It's me being a complete and utter whore. Guardians of the Galaxy are in 'Silver Surfer' for three pages and they're on the cover: that's me. The Avengers have a movie out and now they're really involved in ['Amazing Spider-Man' story] 'Ends of the Earth.' That's me! I always pitch stuff like that. The editors go, 'Yeah sure, no problem.' So when I pitched 'Superior Spider-Man,' and the whole arc, they wanted to end it earlier... Maybe that's a six-issue story, maybe that's a twelve-issue story. I'm like, 'No, I can keep this going until the movie. I can have this going all the way until the movie, and when the movie comes out, 'Amazing Spider-Man' #1.' That's me; that's not editorial. That was always the plan."
The panel ended with a question from the audience about the ever-changing yet unchanging nature of super hero comics, an aspect of the genre Slott actually sees as a comforting thing. "There's certain ways where the character can't grow or change, and it doesn't have to do with you -- it has to do with the readers that are following you. The next readers who are coming up, the readers who are five now, the people who are going to find comic books next year, they deserve to discover Peter Parker too. People make the argument, 'Just have him grow up and then Joe Schemecky becomes Spider-Man!' No, [the next readers] deserve Peter Parker. They deserve to meet Peter Parker, the amazing Spider-Man, when they hit comics."
"When you have a bad day and you come home and you have a grilled cheese and hot tomato soup, or you want a nice big bowl of mac and cheese, you feel better," said Slott. "Spider-Man, Peter Parker, is our big bowl of mac and cheese."
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Slott's upcoming projects.