Come In Alone: Issue #44

Fri, September 29th, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Warren Ellis, Columnist

Concluding the Mark Waid interview. He's been working in comics a long time, he's seen a lot of changes, and he's got a lot to say:

[Mark Waid]I've been given to understand that when you and Morrison were turned down in your bid to take over SUPERMAN, you were informed that, in fact, you would NEVER be allowed to write the Superman books. What did that mean to you personally? What is the condition of your relationship with DC and Paul Levitz following it?

What did that mean to me personally? You cannot IMAGINE the frustration. No, I mean it. You think you can, but you can't. The one job I'd been working towards my entire life--and I'd just been told point-blank that not only could I never have it, but I couldn't have it for any reasons that were just or made any logical sense--at least in part because someone at DC had point-blank asked me for a proposal and then failed to speak up when another someone decided I was simply crusading for a job that wasn't available, violating the freelance code, and acting in bad (and punishable) faith. Doesn't matter that that wasn't true; since when do truth and politics go hand in hand? Welcome to the real world.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't told I could never write the CHARACTER Superman. In fact, I was told I could pitch whatever Elseworlds or one-shot or what have you I might like. I just couldn't write the ongoing adventures of Superman, couldn't guide the character to his heights, couldn't polish him up and let him shine like a diamond, couldn't give back to him in the spirit he gave to me. I felt just like David Letterman when he was crushed even though he was told he could have his own CBS show--because he didn't want a CBS show, he wanted the Tonight Show. Worse, I couldn't get anyone at DC to understand that difference. No, worst of all is a part of it that all four of us had to endure--Grant, Mark Millar, Tom Peyer and myself--that we choose not to talk about because it can to this day only make lots of lives more miserable.

But.

It was a good thing. It was a very good thing. It got me off my ass and put me in the frame of mind to create my own stuff and to start making some inroads into other media as a fallback. And it only made me hate the industry--not the medium, just the industry--about 100% more instead of a perfectly understandable 10,000% more, which was fine, because lots of good material comes from anger, right?

My relationship with DC overall, as near as I can tell, is still reasonably good despite all that nonsense, thanks in enormous part to Dan Raspler, who gave me JLA when other editors might have been (unjustifiably) afraid to. And by and large, I think everyone at that company still knows to this day how loyal I have always been, even when Marvel was backing trucks of gold ingots up to my door to lure me away, and that I love DC, am the caretaker of its history, and am genuinely helpful to its characters and employees rather than harmful. I have to assume that counts for something.

Is taking an editorial post also a way to protect your writing from the predations of other editors, such as you have suffered on CAPTAIN AMERICA and elsewhere? How badly have you suffered at their hands since, say, KINGDOM COME?

Nah, not really; I won't say that it's impossible for me to name some of my embolisms after certain thuggish editors, but I combat that less by running to CrossGen and more by working only with the editors I know won't make me want to ram my head through a lamppost. Frankly, while I've had my share of frustrations, the X-office is the only editorial office I've ever really suffered under. Everyone else in comics, both before and after KC, has been generally easy to work with, probably because I've always known enough to communicate early and often with my editors rather than simply hand them material out of the blue and be surprised if they squawk.

Then again, I got my start at a very good time from a very good editor--Brian Augustyn. Now that I've since heard horror stories from Devin, from Brian Vaughan, from Jay Faerber and Todd Dezago and so many others, I'm certain that if I'd been subjected to half the indignities they've had to endure, I'd be in prison for homicide right now. They'd be finding the Jason Liebigs of the world bobbing face-down in the Hudson with my fingerprints on their throats.

How secure are you in your talent? Going from KINGDOM COME to X-O MANOWAR struck as the act of a man who didn't understand what he was capable of, nor what he could ask for.

Yeah, I get crappy seats in restaurants, too. And smoking rooms at the Hyatt. But we're not all as scary as you, pal. Besides, I never, ever know what it's all right to "ask" for. Red M&Ms? An eighteen-year-old cheerleader? The very act of negotiating demands sometimes--not always, but sometimes--teeters on the edge of arrogance, and arrogance is in my eyes maybe any human being's single most loathsome character trait. I don't abide it in others and am thus very cautious not to fall prey to it myself. If I'm gonna err, I'd rather err on the side of timidity than swaggering ego.

"I don't abide [arrogance] in others and am thus very cautious not to fall prey to it myself. If I'm gonna err, I'd rather err on the side of timidity than swaggering ego."
- Mark Waid

Without getting specific, I've taken quite a few assignments as personal favors. Some of them quite lame assignments, some of them assignments that were supposed to be ideal and ended up hitting the Earth like a sack of peat moss. Only once, ever, ever, did I take a job for the money. Tom Brevoort asked me to write SPIDER-MAN TEAM-UP #1 guest-starring the X-Men, and to be brutally honest, my royalty check sense began to tingle. Wrote the story (with Tom Peyer). I turned it in and I saw it printed, with only one interesting incident in between: THE MARKET COLLAPSED. Spent my royalties at a parking meter. Served me right. Money is an indefensible reason to take a gig. Right, Warren? Right? Warren?

On the other hand, taking certain jobs to make someone else's life easier or to give a friend a leg up during trying times...that, to me, is a little more defensible. Career stupidity? Probably. But at least when I've gone that route, I can sleep a little better at night. Helping some guy put food on his table is more important than where you fall on the Wizard Top Ten list.

How secure am I in my talent? Not staggeringly. I think there are things I do particularly well, but most of them are invisible matters of craft: while everyone can no doubt point to examples here or there that mock everything I'm about to say, I'm good with natural-sounding exposition, I think visually, I don't cram too much on a page for an artist to draw nor do I ask for things that can't be drawn. These things don't get overtly noticed by readers, nor should they. Beyond that, I think my dialogue is generally fun and witty (unlike in my real life), and I'm willing to personally invest myself even in characters I don't own, which the cynic in me agrees is stupid but the romantic in me knows is the only way to do what I do at all well. On the other hand, my prose is anything but lyrical, my ability to write more than one female personality is suspect, and I create lame villains, EMPIRE excluded (let's hope). But I'm actively working on those shortcomings. Honest. And not just by sitting in front of the TV.

Let's just say I think I have a very specialized (and critically disrespected) talent for writing super-hero comics. In a world in which a lot of people have no talent for ANYTHING, I'm appropriately proud of that. It's past time to expand its horizons, but the single most influential-to-my-craft story I ever read was a super-hero tale--ADVENTURE #369-370, a Jim Shooter Legion story--and it's imprinted on my DNA. (Waid scholars, both of them, can go back to that two-parter and see with crystal clarity that it's a blueprint for everything I write, something I myself realized only a year or so ago.)

Word has it that you're no longer welcome at Marvel after a statement you made on my Forum about Bob Harras. What's your take on Bob's time at Marvel in your experience?

Yeah, that's at least temporarily true. Apparently, the fact that Bob was fired for unfair and wrong reasons one September rather than for all the tens of hundreds of RIGHT reasons he'd racked up in the seven years PREVIOUS gave a lot of staffers a sudden change of heart. Amazing. Overnight, they forgot what a two-faced, cowardly liar Bob had been and what crap they'd all had to suffer through because of his shortcomings as a manager. Instead, everyone was lighting candles for Bob. Jesus. You want to know the truth? In my humble =koff= opinion, Bob did as much to help destroy the comic book industry during the 1990s than any other single human being alive. Yes, even more than Gareb. I'd even let Ron Perlman out of Hell before I'd pardon Bob. For years and years and years, the editorial philosophy at Marvel was to make each and every comic book as labyrinthine and confusing as creatively possible. Marvel had the single highest-profile comic book in the Western hemisphere--X-MEN--and Bob did everything imaginable to make it completely incomprehensible and inaccessible to new and/or casual readers. Everything.

"But, Mark..." I hear the whine. "But, Mark, Bob kept the X-books best-sellers in the industry during his tenure." Technically true--but let's look at the sales figures. Over the last six years, the sales margin between the X-books and their nearest competitors has dwindled from about three-to-one to barely 1.5-to-one. Woo-hoo. Cigars, everyone.

Here it is in a nutshell: Did you see that stupifyingly atrocious piece-of-crap X-MEN sampler comic in TV GUIDE? My rage had no words. It was a textbook example of how NOT to write and draw something a prospective first-time reader could possibly understand or enjoy or want to see more of. Hell, I've been reading comics for 34 years and I had to read it three times to figure out what was going on. TV GUIDE. Eight million households. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for new market exposure. And everyone connected with it failed miserably. Fire them. Fire them all. We're DYIN' here. We cannot afford to blow ANY opportunity to find new readers.

"We cannot afford to blow ANY opportunity to find new readers."
- Mark Waid

Ghaah. Thanks for letting me vent, pal. "Mark Waid as you've never seen him." Please. "Mark Waid as anybody who's ever spent half an hour with him is already sick of." Tom Peyer recently asked me why I say things like I've said here. "What do you have to gain?" he asked me, and the question stopped me short because I had no immediate answer. For that matter, I don't have an answer now--I don't gain anything. But being vocally passionate about matters that affect the medium I love, that affect the careers of not only myself but many others who don't have as big a bat to swing around--that's not about personal gain or advancement. It's about loudly letting those who are hurting us or making our lives and our jobs more difficult that we're on to them and we're watching them.

Doesn't seem to do much good, but I can dream.

Mark Waid is the author of EMPIRE and JLA.

You can find a list of his works at the Comic Book Database, http://www.cbdb.com/.

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