Three years ago, comics publisher BOOM! Studios shocked the comics industry when they announced comics veteran (and one time editor) Mark Waid would join the publisher as Editor-In-Chief. It began a new era for the then fledgling company, providing a strong editorial mind to guide them through a difficult business environment and economy. During his tenure, BOOM! grew exponentially, launching new titles penned by Waid like "Irredeemable" and "Incorruptible," as well as new imprints including BOOM KIDS!, which publishes Pixar-licensed books such as "The Incredibles" and "Cars" as well as "The Muppet Show" and more.
This past summer, three years after joining the publisher in the editorial position, Waid handed his duties to incoming Editor-In-Chief Matt Gagnon and transitioned into the role of Chief Creative Officer for BOOM! Studios. A writer who's penned out of this world tales for Marvel, DC Comics and of course BOOM! Studios, seemed a natural fit in the CCO position, with Gagnon focusing on the day to day editorial of the company.
Just five months since that last announcement, things have changed once again. CBR News has learned Waid is leaving BOOM! Studios to return to the world of freelance writing, though it doesn't mean Waid is leaving the publisher entirely. In an exclusive interview, Waid described what events precipitated this change and what the future holds for him in print and beyond.
Mark, this is coming as a big surprise to most people in the industry, so let's start at the beginning - you're returning to the life of a freelancer, but why? And when does this take place?
It's been a transition in process for a little while now as BOOM! and I hammered out just exactly what my post-CCO assignments and obligations would be. We finally got everything figured out earlier this week, but, honestly, my day-to-day doesn't change much at all. I'm still maintaining my BOOM! writing assignments on "Incorruptible" and "Irredeemable," and now that we've added "Traveler," writing already takes up most of my days. Really, this mostly just means fewer meetings and (unfortunately) no longer being the editorial liaison with Stan, which I'll miss. But I think he'll still take my calls. [Laughs]
As for the "why" of it, bluntly, now that we've set up a strong editorial stable at BOOM! headed by the exemplary EIC Matt Gagnon, I'm more valuable to the company as a writer and creator than as an executive.
I know some will look at this news with some skepticism, for a variety of reasons. For one, you were one of the most visible members of the BOOM! staff.
I think you mean "loudest," but whatever.
This is true! Two, you were only recently announced as CCO of the company.
Three, you've left other companies, like CrossGen, in the past.
Well, yes, Jonah, but be fair, Bob Cratchit would have run screaming from CrossGen.
Fine point! But how do you respond to the skeptics in our audience who'll say this is the death of BOOM! or, excuse the bluntness of the question, this is happening because Mark doesn't play well with publishers?
Geez, don't sugar-coat the question. [Laughs] It's certainly no secret that I'm outspoken when I feel I or others have been wronged, and yes, I've apparently never found a bridge I couldn't burn, but you won't hear me disparaging BOOM! I helped hire some of its best people. Many of its staffers and creators are good friends of mine and I'll defend that bullpen to the death. Twenty-five years in the business and I have never, ever seen a group of people who work harder or put in more hours. Whatever [BOOM! Publisher] Ross Richie does to inspire them, it clearly works. I've been loyal to that company in ways no one will ever, ever know. But I've accomplished all I can as an exec there, and I asked to transition out in a way that would have minimal impact on the company – which is to say, in a way that allowed me to keep generating income for them as a writer. Look, you and I have talked about this. I get asked, enough for it to get under my skin, why I'm so candid and outspoken when most of the time it just causes me trouble. And it's a really good question. I think the answer, honestly, truly, is that while it's a characteristic that doesn't do much to make me look particularly, oh, laid-back, it does maybe earn me a reputation as someone who will shoot straight with you and not feed you some company line. I hate dealing with people who don't have integrity and don't conduct themselves with honesty and transparency, and I never want to be one of them. So when I tell you, as I am now, that BOOM!'s as strong as it's ever been with or without me, that's the God's-honest truth, at least as I see it. It's certainly going to keep being successful as long as I have any power to make it so.
So, you'll continue to write your current BOOM! titles, "Irredeemable, "Incorruptible" and "Stan Lee's The Traveler?" Where are you currently, script wise, on each of those books? How far ahead are you at this point?
They're still ongoing series and I'm not handing them off! I'm mapped out pretty concretely through at least issue 28 of "Irredeemable," roughed out through #32, full scripts not quite that far in advance but coming along, and the framework is built. I can't wait to get into year three of this series, because you won't see it coming.
Likewise, I'm also turning in "Incorruptible" scripts at a good clip – not quite as far ahead there, but that I can fix after we get through the holidays. As I say, nothing changes with the books I'm doing at BOOM!, worry not.
In our video interview conducted during New York Comic Con, I asked about the possibility of expanding this universe you've created a bit, possibly letting other writers play with your characters. Does this move to freelance change expansion of this universe at all?
In fact, it never occurred to me until you asked, but it might allow for that expansion to come a little more quickly in that I now have more time to devote to collaborating with other writers. Food for thought. Hey, Busiek, call me!
Will your future work at BOOM! be limited to just these series, or would we possibly see you on books like "The Incredibles" again?
Man, I'd love to dip my toe back in those waters, especially since I've had one last, really great "Incredibles" story to tell that I've been dying to get to, but it's probably going to be a while yet. Besides, Landry Walker's doing great on that book, and it's not fair for me to hog everything.
Looking back on the last three years, how would you rate your time as EIC & then CCO of BOOM! Studios? Did you accomplish what you set out to?
I...hmmm. Largely, but not completely. I certainly helped establish a voice and, I'd like to think, a creative ethic for the company; mission accomplished there. But initially, I'd envisioned myself acquiring more original content to be published through BOOM! and wasn't as successful as I'd wished I'd been in finding breakout hits that could withstand the harsh realities of the modern comics-shop marketplace during the most catastrophic recession since the Great Depression. Don't get me wrong; I'm very proud of the BOOM KIDS! line and could go on at length about the regular BOOM! imprint books that deserve more praise, but I wish I'd been able to bring out more of the great original material I loved like William Messner-Loebs' overlooked "Necronomicon." But maybe that time will come again for BOOM!, and in the meantime, the new material we do have coming up in 2011 looks very strong to me. Rating myself, can I give myself an overall B+? Is that too arrogant? Do I at least get credit for teaching the staff that "alright" isn't a real word and how to use an ellipsis?
What accomplishments are you proudest of from your time at BOOM! Studios?
The kneejerk answer is that I'm proud we were able to prove against all common wisdom that there is a market for kids' comics, but that's kinda impersonal, because I'm not the guy who thought that would work; that was Ross. I was skeptical. But I am proud, personally proud, that I was able to sit down with Stan Lee and find the perfect way to synthesize our approach to superhero comics, his and mine, and make some hits out of it. I'm especially proud that he told me in all sincerity that I was one of the best editors he'd ever seen, a compliment I'll carry with me forever. I'm proud of finding, through my old friend Chris Sotomayor, the unbelievably talented colorist Andrew Dalhouse. I'm proud that one of the best-known writers in Hollywood came to me to pitch his movie idea as a graphic novel and I held my ground and told him that while it would certainly sell based on his name, it would make a great film but a terrible comic, so no, thank you. (Somebody revive Ross, he just fainted.) And most of all, I'm proud and really, deeply touched that there are old friends like Don Rosa who, when we approached them to work for us, said to us point-blank, "I don't know who you guys are, but if Mark vouches for you, that's good enough for me." That feels great.
On the flip side, do you have any regrets?
Nothing major. I regret never being able to find adequate time, particularly once we started heavily adding staff, to sit down with the editors individually and share as much of my knowledge and experience with them as I'd have liked to. I think Dafna Pleban probably got the most "wisdom" out of me just because she was forced to listen to me drone on and on, Abe Simpson-like, in our podcasts. ("Man, I remember when comics used to be drawn twice-up! Y'know, coloring's no good if you look at it upside-down and your eye's not still drawn to what it's supposed to be looking at. Hey, did I ever tell you what Julie Schwartz told me made for a good cover?") Frankly, that all might be for the best.
Would you take on a gig like this again in the future, or is freelance writing/creating the best place for you to be?
I'm not averse to another EIC or CCO gig, but no time soon and no plans. Right now, I'm focused on finishing out the year making the writing better. There's always room for improvement there.
You've spoken quite a bit about your excitement about digital comics. Is that an arena you plan to explore further?
Absolutely. And I'll be blunt about this, too – part of moving back into freelance and away from the executive life is that it makes digital experimentation a lot easier for me and a lot less risky for BOOM! Despite recent rumors to the contrary (i.e., "Don't believe anything you hear from Rich Johnston"), I like and respect comics retailers immensely. I love comics stores. God knows that when you add up the years, I've spent more time in them than I have in church and school combined, probably. That proves something. I realize fully that part of the digital mission is to work diplomatically with – with – the retail community so we can all figure out together what the best steps are to maximize digital without driving customers away from brick-and-mortar stores. But - but - no matter how I approach digital as a creator, no matter what I do, as long as I'm vocal, there will always be a small contingent of retailers who I'll irritate, who see digital 100% as a direct attack on their livelihoods and guys vouching for it, like me, as an enemy. That's unfortunate, but it's understandable. I get that. I really do. But when they feel that way that strongly, that's one of those times when being BOOM!'s most visible spokeperson is a handicap. As CCO, I have to give enormous weight to my company's relationship with our retail partners. On the other hand, as a freelancer, I don't have to weigh the fate of our 25 employees every time someone sticks a microphone in my face, which gets wearying. To sum up, I'm more passionate with each passing day about digital, but if there're blowback from the path I'm on, then let it fall on my head, not BOOM!'s.
What's next? Where does Freelance Writer, Mark Waid go from here?
Between now and year's end, he goes in search of the bottom of that bottle of Macallan 18 while watching "Larry Sanders: The Complete Series." After that, there are new games afoot. Stay tuned, keep your iPad charged and keep reading "Irredeemable," "Incorruptible" And "Traveler!"
Do you have plans for additional work outside BOOM! in the immediate future? At Marvel or elsewhere?
Not in the immediate future. I've still got one issue of "Captain America: Man Out Of Time" to finish, and you'll hear me say this again closer to publication, but the third issue is unquestionably the best thing I've written in years, so I have to finish strong. And there's one other Marvel miniseries reuniting me with old friends that I'm not sure has yet been formally announced, but that's up to the boys at the House of Ideas. Other than that, did I mention the Macallan?