WEDNESDAY COMICS: Walt Simonson

Wed, September 2nd, 2009 at 2:58pm PDT | Updated: September 2nd, 2009 at 2:59pm

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer
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"Wednesday Comics" #9 on sale now

Welcome back to CBR’s weekly look at DC Comics’ hit series, “Wednesday Comics.” Presented in a broadsheet format (14 inches by 20 inches), the 12-week series features 15 strips written and illustrated by Eisner Award winners like Kyle Baker, Brian Azzarello and Kurt Busiek. And with DC icons Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman standing tall beside lesser-known characters like Adam Strange, Metamorpho and Deadman, there is truly something for everybody.

Every Wednesday, CBR News presents a new interview with the creators bringing this unique title to life. This week, it’s industry legend Walt Simonson, who has teamed up with long-time DC cover artist Brian Stelfreeze (“Batman: Shadow of the Bat”) for a strip featuring the odd couple of The Demon and Catwoman.

Additionally, we have as special guest this week in DCU Executive Editor Dan DiDio, who is writing the Metal Men strip illustrated by José Luis García-López.

Story continues below

Q&A WITH “WEDNESDAY COMICS” WRITER WALT SIMONSON

CBR: How did you land on the team-up of Catwoman and The Demon?

WALT SIMONSON: [“Wednesday Comics” editor] Mark Chiarello called me up and asked if was interesting in writing one of the stories. And we kind of went around it a little bit. He had a couple of ideas in terms of what story to do. And eventually we settled on The Demon and Catwoman. I wanted The Demon because I think he’s just really cool and I’m an old [Jack] Kirby fan. What can I tell you? But I wanted to mix it up with something that wasn’t just your standard crossover. So we talked about different female characters at DC until finally, and Catwoman was one of the ones we were talking about, we decided on Catwoman.

As for Jason Blood, I gave him kind of a stately home over in England. I’m sure he had stately homes everywhere, so what the hell. But I thought with the artifact collecting and stuff he did that he would make a pretty good target for what Catwoman normally does, which is steal stuff.

I remember when it was announced, there was a lot of “What? What? What? Why are they mixing these guys up?” but actually, given what he did in his civilian life and what she did in her supervillainess identity, whatever you want to call it, they seemed like a good match.

Walt Simonson & Brian Stelfreeze page from "Wednesday Comics"

Have Catwoman and Etrigan crossed paths before?

Honestly, there’s been so much continuity at this point and so many years of it that I wouldn’t be prepared to say that it’s never happened. So all I can say is that I don’t know if it’s ever happened. And nobody I know knows that it’s ever happened before. It gave us a little, but different, place to start with the storyline. And I thought it would be fun. Mostly, my goal in doing stories is to be entertaining and try to find stories that would be entertaining. And ones that entertain me. And if they entertain me, I kind of hope they’ll entertain other folks.

You said you were a big Demon fan and a Kirby fan. What about Catwoman?

I like Catwoman but I haven’t followed that stuff as much. I like the work on her by different artists over the years, wasn’t she in the “Batman: Year One” story by Frank [Miller] and Dave [Mazzucchelli]? And I’ve enjoyed the character for a long time. It’s maybe because Demon has such a shorter history. He’s been here and there but he hasn’t been used for long runs on books so he’s easier to keep track of. But I do like Catwoman a lot. And I also like that she’s sassy and I thought that would be a really nice mix with Jason Blood.

The way the story works out, it starts off really as a caper story and then, because it’s The Demon, it really moves in a somewhat direction. One of things about the stories I like is, and I don’t know if this is clear in the published version, but Mark thought that we didn’t have to be bound by continuity. And what I mean by that is that even if there was a Catwoman and Demon story, I probably would have had to taken that into account, but I couldn’t find any. And so what I’m really doing in my story is a kind of an alternate DC Universe sequel to the last of “The Demon” issues by Kirby, which is about #14 or #15 or somewhere in there. He had a story where Morgaine le Fey came back and confronted The Demon and then he wrapped that up. And this is a story that pretty much leads out of that issue although I’ve tried to write it so that if you never read “The Demon” and never read those issues, it won’t make any difference. If you have, you may go, “Oh, cool.” Although I have fiddled a couple of things just because that’s the way I am. [laughs] I haven’t tried to make it exact. I’ve tried to make it interesting. I use that story as one of the springboards for the story that I’m telling.

In preparation for this interview, I read that The Demon’s look was inspired by an old “Prince Valiant” storyline.

Oh yeah. That was one of the very early stories. He takes a chicken, turns it inside out, pulls it over his head, a dead chicken I hasten to add, skins it, pulls the skin off, pulls it over his head with the legs sticking out like his ears and frightens a bunch of guys in the castle, who freaked out when a demon shows up.

In fact, in the original comic -- and I don’t know how Jack worked on this exactly, so I don’t know how this functioned -- but if you go back and look at the original run -- I believe it’s at the very end of the first issue -- there’s a shot of The Demon as he’s confronted by the forces of evil and Morgaine le Fey. He looks the same in all of the panels of that issue and on the last page, which is an interior splash, he looks a lot more like the “Prince Valiant” demon from Hal Foster. He never looked that way again and I don’t know if that means it was the first drawing Jack did of the character, but I have heard – although I don’t know if this is true, you’ll have to check with my fact checker Mark Evanier – that Jack didn’t always do things in order. I don’t if that’s true. He may have drawn that page originally and then worked backwards, I don’t know but in this one shot of The Demon, it is very clearly, quite different, the visage, from the way he established him. It looks a lot more like the “Valiant” demon.

You seem very knowledgeable about “Prince Valiant.” Are you a big fan of the early Hal Foster strips?

I like it a lot. It’s kind of hard to get a hold of a lot of that stuff. It’s in places here and there, I know Fantagraphics put a bunch of them out, but the first year or two, I know reasonably well because years ago somebody put them out in these gigantic folio forms. I have read a bunch of them, probably the first two years and then stuff from the fifties.

In speaking with you and other “Wednesday Comics” creators, it’s clear “Prince Valiant” is one of the Cadillacs of this format?

There are tons of strips. But yes, it’s certainly one of the Cadillacs of newspaper strips. That’s absolutely true. At the same time, for me, Foster was an illustrator that was writing stories. And part of the mark of that was that he didn’t use word balloons. He did stuff with captions and dialogue and didn’t create word balloon shapes. I presume he felt it detracted from the artwork but he didn’t use them. So although I like the stories a lot, I’m in love with the artwork. It’s not my entire model. And I’m not drawing the strip either, so I don’t have to worry about that.

But If I were to take a model for all things that I’m doing, as far as a once-a-week Sunday comics-type things, I’m probably taking something from Leonard Starr and his “Mary Perkins, On Stage” strip because I still think that Starr was one of the absolute best guys to ever do newspaper strips. They’re just straight strips. Part of that is he had great sense of pacing and structure, the daily structure and the weekend structure of how those strips played out when you read three panels a day.

He would also do a beautiful job of making the first panel kind of summarize, and the next panel would move the story forward, and the last panel would climax. He’d do the same thing, day in and day out, and he’d handle that in the Sunday strip as well. And the way that worked was that he would run the Sunday stories as part of the daily stories -- but not everybody gets the daily paper, they might get the Sunday only. And not everybody gets the Sunday paper, they might get the dailies only. So he had to write it in a way that you could read all the dailies and follow the stories and read the just the Sunday and follow the stories. And yet, you could read both of them and have an amplified vision of what’s happening. I just thought he was brilliant at that.

That sets the pacing of a summary. I haven’t done the summary so much because you figure “Wednesday Comics” is going to be collected somewhere down the line, so I have not been as careful about that. I have tried to move the story forward in each episode, and I’ve tried to end each one on an up-tick, so you have to come back next week to see what happened. So the Starr work is probably more my model for how I’d like this comic to be structured, not so much the fantasy aspects, but the structure.

Are there any challenges working with The Demon, specifically in terms of his “voice?”

The Demon has been written different ways by different writers from Kirby to Alan Moore, and occasionally he’s been written in verse. And I thought about that but I also thought, “If I write this in verse, it’s going to sound like bad limericks.”

So I thought about it, and in the end I wanted an archaic feel because The Demon goes back, in the original stories, to Arthurian times. He was summoned by Merlin to help fight the fall of Camelot. It didn’t work out too well for him, but at least he was around at that point. He goes back a long, long way or whenever you think Camelot happened. So I wanted the language to have a somewhat archaic flavor and in the end, I opted to write him in iambic pentameter and that can be written in blank verse.

don’t have to worry about that.

I’ve seen some flack on the web: “I can’t read this stuff.” But I mean, it’s 150 words once a week, get over it. I don’t know if it’s hard to read poetry but if I try to read it the way I read prose, I don’t know if I get that much out of it. I do much better if I actually read the stuff aloud. If I read it aloud, I get a lot more because so much poetry is rhythm. Not only the rhyme but the rhythm and the structure, the way the words fit together, and if hear it I do a much better job. So all I can do is recommend that if you read “The Demon and Catwoman,” you try to read it aloud. [laughs]

Walter says, “Read this aloud.” It’s like old rock n’ roll records that used to have things written on them like, “Play this loud.” It used to say that at the bottom. I should have thought of that. We could have a little note at that bottom left-hand corner saying, “Read this aloud.” But it’s too late for that now.

Did you consider drawing the Demon/Catwoman story for “Wednesday Comics?”

No. I’m actually in the middle of doing a long graphic novel for DC that I’m astoundingly late on and I’m only lucky that they haven’t sent hitmen out to deal with me. So until that project is done, I’m not doing any other drawing. I’ve finished all the drawing of all the stuff that I owed people and now I’m just doing this book until I’m finished.

Has that project been announced?

It’s been semi-announced, but since it’s a long way to go, they haven’t done much with it, which is fine. It’s called “The Judas Coin” and it won’t be out next year or even later next year. It’s not a secret but I haven’t been talking about it much because I have a long way to go.

But I have to say, boy, I am dying to draw one of these [“Wednesday Comics”] things. There’s just so much room. Holy cow! And I wouldn’t put in 5,000 panels. I’m not Chris Ware. But you could do tiny panels and large panels, you could really play with the space. I’m kind of hoping when I get done this graphic novel that they’re still doing stuff like this down the road. I would love to draw one.

Brian [Stellfreeze] is doing a lovely job with it. It’s cool to see them when they come out. In a way, it’s just fun to see comics that big.

Q&A WITH “WEDNESDAY COMICS” WRITER DAN DIDIO

During the DC Universe Editorial Presentation at Fan Expo, DiDio made the following statement about “Wednesday Comics.” What follows is a brief Q&A conducted minutes after the panel’s conclusion.

DAN DIDIO: The person who is almost solely responsible for pulling this all together is our Senior Art Director, Mark Chiarello. Mark, for over two years, has been pitching “Wednesday Comics” and we have tried every which way humanly possible to stop him from doing it. Seriously. We tried to change formats. We tried to change structure. We tried to change the amount of time it came out, but he was so locked in to this particular style on this particular paper with this particular brand of storytelling and he was just relentless, coming at us, coming at us. So what finally happened was that he put together such an amazing array of talent on this book that it was impossible to say no.

"Wednesday Comics" pencils by José Luis García-López

And again, we weren’t sure what the reaction was going to be. But the reaction has been pretty strong for us. Actually it’s been pretty amazing how people have just embraced the whole thing and it’s been a lot of fun.

And from a personal standpoint, Mark brought me in at the very last minute when somebody else dropped out. That always makes you feel important. [laughs] And it’s just been a pleasure for me to work with these guys.

CBR: You mentioned during the panel that you’ve enjoyed working on the series, not as Executive Editor but as a contributing writer.

I had too much fun. One of the things I wanted to do with Metal Men was try to challenge myself in regards to what information was going to be provided during the course of the story. And also, leave cliffhangers and explain who they were and make it an entry point to what’s going on. It’s the first time I’ve ever written characters that I truly love so it was a little weird to do. But it’s actually given me the bug to start writing again. So yes, it was actually a lot of fun for me.

Are you are going to be writing some more?

Yeah, I’m actually taking on a monthly series at the beginning of the year.

Can you tell us what it is?

No, not really. [laughs] Not yet.

Will José Luis García-López be drawing it?

No. I’m trying to get him to do more work in the DCU but he’s really involved with the DC style guide. He was one of the first artists that I could identify when I was growing up reading comics so it’s amazing to work with him.

“Wednesday Comics” #9 is on sale now from DC Comics. Be sure to check back next week when we discuss Wonder Woman with Ben Caldwell.

Discuss this story in CBR's DC Universe forum.  |  6 Comments

TAGS:  wednesday comics, walt simonson, dan didio, the demon, metal men

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