Margaret Stohl, Mark Waid Talk Black Widow, Diversity & More


At Wondercon, writers Mark Waid and Margaret Stohl climbed on to the dais to speak to fans about the character Natasha Romanov and more. Waid settled in and introduced himself as someone who's written a million comic books, and "our star, Margaret Stohl, who's written six."

"You've got math -- a million versus six," Stohl said. "You figure out who the star is."

"I'm up here because she's too cowardly to be up here on her own, so she asked for support," Waid said. "We're here to interview her today about 'Black Widow' and other things she might want to talk about."

"No, I was here to interview you," Stohl protested.

"What?" Waid exclaimed. "We'll go back and forth."

"I lost my questions," Stohl said. "I had them on a little folded card, even. Somewhere around this hall, there's a series of murderous looking questions for Mark Waid. If you find them, enjoy."

Waid asked her if she was a comics reader growing up, to which Stohl responded, "So, Mark, were you a comics reader growing up?" She stopped to say that she felt she had "the most ridiculous panel face," and illustrated how she felt she looked by looming over Waid with her mouth and eyes wide open. She stopped to pose for photos so no one would take bad photographs of her.

Stohl explained that her formative years were during the Catwoman catsuit era and that she had nightmares of Cesar Romero's Joker as Satan.

"That's ridiculous -- Satan doesn't have a mustache," Waid said. "Everybody knows that."

Growing up in a strict Mormon household, Stohl saw black and white cartoons and stole comic books from her two brothers. "I wanted things I wasn't supposed to have access to, which led to questions. Where is the girl Gandalf? Why is Yoda a boy? I've been looking for a girl guru from fantasy worlds for most of my life."

Waid said that no one was there to hear from him. She responded that on Twitter, someone asked her to ask him a question, and she tweeted that the fan could just do it themselves as they were all on Twitter. Waid explained that Adam West came on the television playing Batman when he was three and his dad brought home comics, later adding that he attended twelve schools in ten years, moving around with his "blue collar gulf oil" family, and "those characters were the only constant in my life."

Stohl asked, "Why do we do this? I'm thinking a lot about heroes and stories. I write YA novels. I've written pilots, and I started in screenplays because I lived in LA where everyone in my English class had a parent who had an agent. I'm wondering why you do this. I've worked in video games and comics. I've had a book become a movie. I've gone back and forth between a lot of formats, so I'm wondering, why do we do this? You get hassled the most, you don't become rich ... or maybe you do, I don't become rich ..."

Waid said, "I was gonna hit you up for twenty bucks at the end of the panel ..."

"I don't know if any of you guys are following," she continued, "but women and diversity got a little hassled on the Internet yesterday, as they sometimes do. Why bother at some point? Why do we work in comics, and why work in a comic with a woman [character] if you don't have to?"

"For me," Waid said, "I enjoy the toys. These toys -- Batman, Superman, Spider-Man -- they were there for me when I was a kid. Because of that, especially being attached to them at such a young age, they became part of my DNA. When I write comics now, I do a lot of creator-owned stuff, in some ways it's not as fulfilling to me as writing stories about the characters that I loved growing up because I feel like it's a way of getting back to that."

"Does it feel the same?" Stohl asked.

"Creator-owned? No," Waid said. "It's a whole different animal. That's both the good part, and the bad part. The good part is you get to world build from scratch, the bad part is you have to think of everything, you can't just fall back on The Daily Planet being there. There's no existing mythology."

"I have a queer child, so that's always on my mind," Stohl said. "I grew up in a super-conventional household with a culture that had the kind of signs that said, and I quote, 'Bloom where you're planted.' I have never been particularly good at blooming where I was planted. It's not a skill that I have. If you tell me to bloom where I'm planted, I will bloom everywhere except where I'm planted. I'm a contrarian by nature.

"For me, I look at it as ground zero in the culture wars," she continued. "If people get mad and say 'comics are wrecked by inclusivity,' that's fine. If you wanna be mad, that's fine, because I am here, my kid is queer, that was a rhyme. I'm here to have that conversation with you. I view it as a vote. I'm here to be here. I've always been the only girl in the room. I worked in video games, where I was the lead designer on a project. I walked into the room for a meeting that I was in charge of, and a programmer looked up and said, 'oh look, the stripper is here.' That's the culture I come out of. I accept that any time you're in a community space, people are gonna fight you for it."

Stohl asked Waid what her goal was in making such a bloody "Black Widow" comic. Waid started to praise Chris Samnee, the series' co-plotter and artist, and Stohl stopped him to say, "I believe artists sell comics," again taking aim at comments made by Marvel's David Gabriel during a retailer summit over the weekend.

"Don't believe anything you read," Waid said.

"I don't," Stohl said. "And I love David."

Waid said that Samnee was the impetus for the story's direction, saying that the artist had more of a desire to do the book "because she's a gray area ... I'm more of a white hat guy."

"I like the gray areas," Stohl said.

"It's a more interesting place to write from," Waid admitted. "Chris took point, and we would talk out the plots, and I would go back and do the dialogue. The first rule that I put down was that with 'Daredevil,' we did a lot of first person narration, and I wanted to go exactly the opposite [with Black Widow']. I don't want to know what's in her head. From the story we told, it would have been damaging to be inside her head."

Waid said he was leery of writing a female character for twelve issues, feeling more comfortable outside of Natasha's head. Stohl said that going to a hair salon, a female space that might have a "chick movie" playing, was intimidating as her favorites included "Band of Brothers."

She said Marvel creative couldn't have been more welcoming, despite her and editor Sana Amanat being the only women in a room of 40-plus people at creative summits. She described the characters there, with Brian Michael Bendis presiding over it like a "gnome king," Amanat reining in the madness, Axel Alonso trying to "train the kittens" and visits from Gabriel and people from animation and sales. She also said everyone stops and listens whenever Ta-Nehisi Coates says anything.

Stohl answered a cosplaying woman's question, saying she made Natasha a role model because it was an uncomfortable role for her. She told another audience member that fans can make things better by buying a book from a diverse creator, downloading their work, or saying something positive, which she described as "extreme empathy."

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