BCC: The "Wednesday Comics" Panel

Mon, October 12th, 2009 at 4:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Caleb Goellner, Guest Contributor
13

The "Wednesday Comics" panel began as Mark Chiarello, Art Director of DC Comics, introduced a select lineup of Baltimore Comic-Con guests who had contributed to the recently concluded weekly mini-series. On the panel were Walt Simonson, writer of "Catwoman/The Demon," Brian Stelfreeze, artist on "Catwoman/The Demon," Joe Kubert who provided the art for "Sgt. Rock," Kevin Nowlan who inked José Luis Garcia-López on Dan DiDio's "Metal Men," and John Acurdi, writer of the sereis' Superman strip. The panel was also quick to point out José Villarrubia, who colored Paul Pope's "Adam Strange" strip.

"The guy most responsible for 'Wednesday Comics' is Mark Chiarello," said Kubert.

"I pitched 'Wednesday Comics' every year for four years. So the fifth time I pitched, it I cut up a bunch of comic books so they could get an idea [of what we were trying to do], and they finally went for it," said Chiarello.

For the artists, working on the strip-style was a departure from their previous comics work. As such, most of them adjusted their page size, going larger than normal to accommodate the different kind of art.

"I worked about [one-to-one scale], it was huge. It was like 20 inches tall by a little more than 14 inches wide, so it was huge," said Stelfreeze.

Chiarello explained that a lot of creators missed classic adventure strips like "Prince Valliant."

"What I wanted to do was [create] something that felt like those old strips. Today's art has changed, there's a lot more detail and a lot more 'bang zoom,' so when I did it, I wanted it to feel like the old stuff, with the big thick lines, so it was a lot of fun," said Stelfreeze.

Nowlan was asked about his experience working with Garcia-López on "Metal Men" and whether or not it was easier or more difficult to collaborate working in the "Wednesday Comic" strip format than in other styles.

"It was a lot easier, because I had just finished a Batman series with him. And he puts so much detail in his panels. It was a lot easier working in that scale," said Nowlan.

"I learned how to do it by virtue of having done it, I guess. The key for me, because I'm not that good a writer, was to come up with a gimmick, a cliffhanger, or something with a hook," said Arcudi, who added that the biggest challenge was simply "figuring out how to get enough information into a page to make it worth reading."

The first question on the panel's mind was whether or not its success would merit a sequel.

"Everybody asks that, everybody," said Kubert.

"There probably will be, because it was a creative and financial success for DC," said Chiarello. "So many professionals, having seen it, have said, 'Hey, if you do another one…[We'll do it] if we can get Walt Simonson to draw one."

(L to R) Walt Simonson, Brian Stelfreeze, Joe Kubert and Kevin Nowlan

One of the biggest questions surrounding "Wednesday Comics," now, was how the series would be collected.

"I think [the collected edition will] be about 17 inches big, a hardback first and then a softcover eventually. And all of the stories will be collected by story – you'll read all of the Batman stories first, and so on," explained Chiarello.

Given its similarities to the traditional newspaper funny pages, the panel was asked what they liked about reading the work as a whole.

"One of the things about 'Wednesday Comics' is, you don't have to like every feature," said Chiarello.

"When I was a kid, I read them all. The thing I like about this is, there's something for everybody," said Simonson.

"One of the things that really surprised me when I opened the first issue, was just unfolding the thing and reading this huge newspaper. You get so many different looks. You got a serious style next to a cartoony style," explained Stelfreeze, "Nothing really drew comparison, [each comic] managed to stay separate."

The panel then turned its attention to the differences between working on "Wednesday Comics" and traditional monthly titles.

"I really tried to write about an 18-page story and then boil it down to the 12 essential pages. We worked in what used to be called the 'Marvel Style,' which nobody uses anymore, but I'm old and I don't care," Simonson joked, "I get a plot, I gave it to Brian, he screwed up on the art, and then I fixed it."

Simonson discussed his choice to have the Demon speak in iambic pentameter rather than couplets, a move some Demon fans were critical of until they realized why he made that choice – to avoid the character sounding like he was speaking in limericks. The writer also talked about the technique of writing for a shorter serialized format, using cliffhangers and other devices to keep each installment interesting, yet individualized.

"Everything now, even with DC and Marvel, every story is connected to every other story, and in this book, the stories weren't connected to anything else," said Simonson.

Chiarello explained that his approach was based on advice he'd once received from Archie Goodwin, who he referred to as the patron saint of comics.

"Hire the best guys you can get, the guys who you really love their work, and get out of their way and let them do their best," Chiarello said, explaining Goodwin's philosophy.

One of the creators' favorite aspects of working on the series was its lack of firm ties to the rest of the DC universe.

"This [was] a great opportunity to do [DC stories] continuity-free," said Chiarello.

"If you've read the original 'Demon,' [our story] is a kind of direct sequel," said Simonson, explaining that he aimed to tell his own tale without the need for a lot of back-story.

"Wednesday Comics" creator and editor, Mark Chiarello

Next, Chiarello asked the panel which creators they'd like to see on a potential "Wednesday Comics" sequel.

"Adam Hughes; he could really do some experimental stuff with the large format, but make it traditional enough that it would read as a traditional comic strip," said Nowlan.

"There are only two people I can think of, and only one is available to you, and that would be my son Adam," said Kubert.

"I wouldn't mind seeing Mike Mignola doing one, because he's so stark," said Stelfreeze.

"I'd like to see Frank [Miller] do one. It'd be great to see his graphics in something that size," said Simonson.

Chiarello then turned to the fans to ask who'd they'd like to see. One fan mentioned George Perez, who Stelfreeze and Simonson agreed with.

"I'd personally like to see Tim Sale do one. I think he'd do a nice job. Or Darwin Cooke," said Chiarello.

"I'd love to see Stan Sakai do one. I'd love to see Sergio [Aragonés] do one, because you know it'd be crazy," said Simonson.

"I'd like to see Bernie Wrightson do one," said Stelfreeze.

Chiarello revealed that Wrightson actually came close to working on a Swamp Thing strip.

Additionally, Chiarello brought up another potential team up, specifically, the possibility of Simonson returning for a second "Wednesday Comics," this time as an artist rather than a writer.

"I got a call from Harlan Ellison, and he said, 'If Walt Simonson draws it,' it'd be Doctor Fate," said Chiarello to crowd applause.

A fan then asked Kubert about his style while working on "Sgt. Rock," wondering what kind of process he used.

"My layouts at this point are really rough, and my pencils are really rough," said Kubert, stating that he liked getting surprises when his work was inked.

"I've never liked Joe Kubert," joked Simonson.

"That scares the crap out of me," added Stelfreeze.

Kubert changed the subject, asking Chiarello about his role as editor of the project.

"How many of those gray hairs in your beard were created by waiting for us on our deadlines?" Kubert asked Chiarello.

Chiarello pointed to several portions of his beard and joked that most of them were from Stelfreeze and Paul Pope, implying their submissions ran right up to the deadlines on at least a few occasions.

Stelfreeze told the story of how he was offered the job, explaining that Chiarello did everything he could in order to ensure that Stelfreeze could handle the series' deadlines.

"It went from 'I want to do it, I have to do it,' to 'Please God, I have to do this," said Stelfreeze.

One fan asked about the inclusion of the "Superman" strip in "USA Today," which Chiarello considered one of the most successful aspects of the strip in terms of raising cultural awareness.

Chiarello said the project was so successful that it had some opportunities for even wider circulation than in just comic shops, which demonstrated outside interest in the series on a more corporate level.

"We came this close to getting the entire insert into the 'New York Daily News,'" said Chiarello, who pointed out how good the paper's circulation would have been for expanding comics awareness.

The panel then turned its attention to "Wednesday Comics'" all-ages content, which was considered one of the series' greatest strengths.

"I've worked at DC Comics for 15 years, and I think that, to me, and this is my opinion – this doesn't reflect on DC – we owe it to the characters to do things the right way," Chiarello said, going on to explain that he enjoyed all-ages books that could be read by anyone. He reasoned that those kinds of comics were good for the industry by virtue of good storytelling.

"I think comics have gone down this weird path, and I think that guys like us are trying to bring things back a bit," said Chiarello.

"It's like Pixar - I just want good, clean plots," said Stelfreeze, who reasoned that any book could be all ages if more adult-minded references were kept ambiguous enough that they didn't distract from story.

The next question came from a fan who wanted to know if the creators had taken any of the lessons they had learned from the project back into the mainstream DC Universe's line of books.

"I think now I can write iambic pentameter, so if I ever have to write The Demon again, I'm on it," said Simonson before joking, "There's a really good entry on it on Wikipedia."

The final question went to Kubert, with a fan asking what was next on the agenda for the creator, and whether he'd return to Sgt. Rock. Kubert explained that while he was working on three different projects, he's always excited for new opportunities to illustrate, although he isn't sure if Rock is on the immediate agenda.

"We'll have to see what the hell happens," Kubert said as the panel concluded.

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TAGS:  bcc09, wednesday comics, mark chiarello, walt simonson, joe kubert

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