On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Mark Waid kicked off the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo's Indie is In Comics roundtable panel by asking the crowd a question.
"How many people remember when the Chicago show was a big major comics event every summer? How many remember how crappily it's gone downhill in the last 10 years or so? How awesome it seems that we have a really good Chicago show back?"
As the panel got underway, Waid jested at the fact that he was only the creator currently onstage for a panel based around indie creators. "I love the fact of how I'm representing indie comics," laughed Waid. "The guy whose career was built on the back of Superman."
Waid then opened up the panel to the audience for questions. Right off the bat, a fan asked the acclaimed creator what indie titles he was reading at the moment."I'm actually, for the first time, and I know I'm late to the party on this, but I'm making my way through 'Scott Pilgrim,'" said Waid. "And I'm digging it. I'm really liking 'Scott Pilgrim.'"
The creator continued to list a few other indie titles he's currently reading, including BOOM!'s "Poe" and IDW's "Kill Shakespeare," before turning the question back on the attendees. He then asked how long fans gave a title before dropping it, with the average answer coming out to approximately three issues. Waid also talked about his recent win at the Mark Waid Takes on the Trivia Fans event.
"I blew them out on the trivia contest. That's really sad. That's not the way for a grown man to be," said Waid. "However, the difference being that all the guys who lost in the trivia contest can name their state senator and can name more than 14 states, which I can't do. But I can tell you everything about Krypton."
At this point in the panel, Jeff Smith ("Bone," "RASL") walked onto the stage. Waid recapped events and asked Smith how long he'd give an title before giving up, adding that the consensus was around three issues, but for him, considering the sheer number of titles and the cost of books, Waid usually gives it only the first issue.
"I agree, but if it's my comic, I'd give it at least 24 issues," said Smith.
Smith talked a bit about the comics he'd been reading recently, admitting that he actually read a superhero comic: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's "Batman and Robin," calling the title "kind of psychotic, but wonderful."
Smith asked who else was supposed to be on the panel. Waid quoted the show guide - which credited Waid, Smith and "a host of other indie luminaries." Waid joked that the "other luminaries" were running late, while making the drinking sign with his hand. "All the great convention panels are held at a bar. You have no idea," laughed Waid.
Both men shared stories about meeting creator Dave Sim, with Smith relating a story where, while at a convention, after he and Sim were banned from the show floor, they told the guests that they'd draw anything if the fan bought them a beer at the hotel bar. "We got so drunk," laughed Smith. "I had a lot of Heinekens that day."
Both men then talked about Sim's visionary movement in starting the trade collection trend. "He was the first guy that I'm aware of that said, 'My comic is ongoing and still popular, and I'm going to collect them into permanent collections,'" said Smith. "Even 'Sandman' at that time just cherry-picked one story arc."
"They weren't packaging complete runs of the stuff," added Waid. "They certainly hadn't the paradigm that we have now, where everything after six or seven months is collected as a trade."
A fan brought up the current news with a parent in Minnesota trying to get "Bone" banned from schools. Smith recapped the story for the audience, which basically centered around a parent seeing their child reading "Bone" and finding it offensive because of moments of gambling, smoking, drinking and sex.
When a fan said that he introduced a number of younger readers to "Bone" and they loved it, Smith laughed and said, "Fantastic! Gambling!"
"I don't even know what to say about that," continued Smith. "There is gambling and smoking and drinking, but it usually isn't part of the story. It's usually the unsavory character and it's usually him trying to use those things as a scam. There's no way anyone has been rewarded for those behaviors. As far as sex in 'Bone,' I don't know what she was looking at, but her sex tolerance level must be really low."
"I think there's a couple things that are in playing in," said Waid. "I think the internet and the existence of the internet makes that sort of thing more common than it used to be. I'm not slagging on the internet. It is what it is, a force for good or evil depending on how you use it. But I think that one of the things the internet provides is, when most of us were growing up, if you lived down in East Jesus Nowhere and you had crackpot theory about something or you were incensed about something, you'd talk to other people and they'd set you straight because it was a crackpot theory. Being part of society, you are sort of forced to listen to other people with different points of view and maybe come up with a more rational synthesis of all this stuff. With the advent of the internet, there is no opinion wacky or crazy enough that exists that you can't find 12 other people out there who share this with you."
"I honestly don't expect this book to be banned in the school," said Smith. "I can't really imagine that they're going to open up 'Bone,' and I'd be surprised if they find anything that encouraged kids to gamble or anything bad or have sex or anything like that. She just has a high tolerance for protecting her son and if she doesn't want her son to see a little cartoon Bone smoking a stogie, she can keep it away from him. I have a very low tolerance, myself, for banning books. Let's leave that to the Nazis and not us."
Another fan asked for advice regarding time management when it comes to writing.
"You want to take this?" Smith asked Waid after laughing.
"I got nothing. Unplug your internet router for several days," said Waid. "If you look at any writer's internet history for a day, you will find we all go online with the best of intentions - 'What's the synonym for rampart?' Then half an hour later, you're looking at old episodes of 'What's my Line.' Then there's a trail that leads you - porn, porn, porn, DVD.
"The prevalent myth is that the answer to writing and creating is to sit down in your chair and write," said Waid. "There's some days it's happening, and there's some days it's not. If you instead need to go ride around on a bicycle for a while, or go into the woods, whatever you have to do to feed your head, latch onto that. If you find anything that works that makes you feel creative, for the love of God, hold onto that and don't let it go, because it's fairly rare."
Smith discussed his theories and ideas on the concept for writer's block. The creator said that he believes writer's block is really your brain telling you that you missed something in your story. "All of a sudden, something will happen and you'll crack the nut. It'll be something you've forgotten to put in," said Smith. "There's you need to put in there and it's coming. It'll just bubble up from the basement of your brain."
"I think writer's block is your subconscious telling you that you have made a wrong turn in your story," said Waid. "There's something in your subconscious saying, 'Before you waste another three days going down this road, you idiot, go watch a movie and clear your head.'"
One fan asked about how they got their indie products into stores to begin with. Waid said that he couldn't really answer the question because he "started out in the majors."
"Not that I mean that in a condescending way," he clarified. Smith jokingly flipped him the bird and told his story of how he first began in publishing. "I would go to these shows, like a country music star going off to radio stations, and hand them my single."
Smith soon realized his flight left in approximately one hour. Waid and the crowd agreed that he needed to leave right away. "Thanks guys. See, time management," joked Smith as he departed the panel, leaving Waid to answer a few more questions before wrapping up.