WRITER'S COMMENTARY: Mark Waid on "Potter's Field" #1

Earlier this year, superstar comics writer and new BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid stopped by CBR News to chat with artist Paul Azaceta about their latest creator-owned project, "Potter's Field." "Starring a mysterious detective known to his operatives only as 'John Doe,' 'Potter's Field' is a project I've had kicking around for nearly ten years now," said Mark Waid. "Hart Island, the main locale, is a real place in New York - it's where the city buries its unidentified dead. John Doe, for reasons of his own, has taken it upon himself to investigate each and every one of these deaths one by one - identifying who he can, settling scores and doling out justice when merited, and in general putting ghosts to rest. "No one,' he says, 'should have to die unremembered.'"

With the first issue shipping today, Mark Waid joins us once more, taking us behind-the-scenes of "Potter's Field" with a DVD-style commentary of issue #1.

By Mark Waid


As I pitched to artist Paul Azaceta, our first page is a motif carried throughout the series: the face of that issue's victim, but obscured in such a way that we can't make it out clearly. Paul and colorist Nick Filardi caught this bang-on and ran with it, as you'll see not only here but in forthcoming issues.


Full of nice touches from Paul, including the Potter's Field sign in panel three. It's a bit different from the actual Potter's Field sign on NYC's Hart Island, but given the carnage that's gonna break out in issue three, it won't make much difference.

What's awesome about the art and coloring on all these pages, note, is that Paul and Nick (as good comics craftsmen do) always lead our eye to exactly what it is we're supposed to be focused on in each panel. There are full backgrounds and expressive characters, there's a real sense of place communicated in each shot--but there's no extraneous detail to distract us, and no panel is airbrushed in fourteen shades of brown. The rule for comics art is fundamentally the same as it is for comics writing: don't insult the readers by wasting their time on stuff that doesn't advance the story. Brevity is the soul of wit and of comics storytelling.


Despite your hopes, the names in panel two have no particular behind-the-scenes significance. They're not the guys who took my lunch money nor the cheerleaders who turned me down for the prom, I promise. They're all pulled out of my head, except for one. I did put Boom! writer Michael Alan Nelson's name on the list as a shout-out, not realizing that in between the time I wrote the script and the time it saw print, he'd become prolific and famous. D'oh.


Halpert's bedspread doubles as a giant crossword puzzle. I thought my interior decorating was bad, but his is worse. Also, any resemblance to shrewish, hateful, lowlife harridans who routinely lower the bar of human dignity and make the world a worse place with their nightly "fair and balanced" broadcasts is completely coincidental, really.


Aspiring artists: look at how gracefully Paul composes his pages. Room for word balloons, placed so they balance the artwork rather than intrude into it. I cannot impress enough upon you that this is an artistic consideration both important and rare.


Likewise, with the coloring. Again, nothing flashy, but we're looking at exactly what we're supposed to be looking at--an extra-important element in a mystery story. I especially like how the water bottle is prominent but not obtrusive.


There is a Taco Bell on Bundy and Pico where I go a little too often. I sit in my car in the parking lot and eat whatever new dish they've managed to invent from the three ingredients they have in that place and I stare into the sky and invent characters. The Taco Bell is right next to a piano dealership, hence the morbidly obese guy named "Steinway." And thank you, Shadoe Stevens, for Top 40-ing the hits of 1996 for my clue-dropping pleasure.


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