Not to get ahead of myself, one of the big lessons of C2E2 for me was how much I love it when creators speak honestly. It’s fun to hear announcements, but they’ll be on Bleeding Cool soon enough anyway. No, while all the traditional elements of the con experience you imagine are great, there’s something special about conventions that dismantles the strange, often artificial barriers between creators and fans. I’ll probably talk about this again before my coverage of C2E2 is over, but rarely was this fact more apparent than in Buddy Scalera’s Inside the Creator’s Studio with Mark Waid.
Things took a few minutes to get off the ground. First Mark Waid was late and then Scalera needed a moment to get things in order. Before Waid arrived, Scalera talked to us about illegal torrenting and the serious threat that he felt it posed to the industry. In the latter interim, Waid showed us all a magic trick. It was the purest silliness but it set a familiar vibe for the panel.
Scalera’s first questions were about Waid’s childhood and how it influenced his writing. Waid said that his family’s frequent moves were a fairly significant part of his experience. Scalera then brought up the theme of family in Waid’s writing. Mark said that while his relationship with his family was not a bad one it was not particularly strong and that he left home in his mid-teens. He also mentioned that growing up in small southern towns influenced him significantly. Growing up in the 60s Waid really saw a significant cultural evolution in the more ‘traditional’ areas of the country. He pointed to the realization that some of his racist relatives were still fundamentally good people limited by the culture they grew up in as a significant one, one that taught him about the complexity of good and evil.
The panel then discussed a favorite issue of Waid’s, 1994’s The Flash #0, an issue that sees Wally West return to the past to talk to his ten year old self. The story was inspired by a visit to Waid’s childhood home and the impossible desire to go inside and find things as they were then. Waid said that it was a cathartic issue, born of a desire to tell his younger self that the things he worried tabout would turn out alright and to offer readers the opportunity to do the same through Wally.
Scalera then asked if Waid attributed his success at all to his willingness to move about and do “anything necessary” for his career. Mark wasn’t sure that he’d go that far, but he chalked it up to being flexible. He didn’t want to place limits on himself and, at the time had the freedom not to.
This line of questioning brought up the issue of Cross-Gen. which both panelists good-naturedly acknowledged as a disaster. Mark reminded us of the uncertain landscape that the comic industry found itself in during the late 1990s. While he acknowledged whole-heartedly that Cross-Gen’s plan was a failure, he pointed out that having a plan was a rare luxury in those days.
From there the interview turned to work-for-hire issues and Waid’s time at DC and Marvel. Waid fondly remembered Impulse and, perhaps pointedly, mourned that he was erased in the New 52 reboot, despite the existence of a Bart Allen. He admitted that there is an energy to working on characters you own and that there is sometimes a temptation to save your energy and your ideas for your own characters. Even so, Waid warned against this attitude. While he couldn’t blame anyone for thinking that way, he told us that he felt that the audience knows when you’re giving 80% and deserve better.
Scalera then asked if Mark ever followed his old characters. The question was met with a resounding no. “It’s like seeing an ex-girlfriend with someone else,” Waid explained. Given that he couldn’t read the further adventures of his characters, Scalera asked about Mark’s experience of rereading his own work. Mark responded that it’s inevitable as a writer to see the flaws in old writing, but said that the experience was more significant in some cases. Particularly in work where there wasn’t a lot of collaboration between Waid and his artist, the flaws are apparent to him. However, working closely with someone not only enriched the story but allowed Mark to look back on the how the story developed more than on what he wished he’d done differently. In discussing this topic, Scalera briefly mentioned ‘the spinner rack’, which Mark revealed is a set of real spinner racks in which he keeps every issue he’s ever written. “It’s good for when I’m feeling down,” he told us.
The conversation next turned to Mark’s career history. He discussed how he made the jump from writing articles about comics to actually editing them, and then becoming a writer. The final transition was entirely an accident, “I meant to be an editor,” he said as if expecting disbelief. Asked if he was an overachiever in school, Waid at first answered that he neither under nor overachieved, but changed his answer, describing himself as an overachiever at things that didn’t matter.
Scalera then asked how much being a ‘wiseass’ had affected Waid’s career, providing an instance when Waid accepted an award for Scott Lobdell as an example. Waid quickly clarified that Lobdell was in attendance.
In Waid’s mind the readers he loses for talking about Cliven Bundy, for instance, get made up for by those who appreciate his honesty and directness. Taking a further moment, a laughing Waid wondered “How do I have a job!?”
That said, he acknowledged that he kind of can’t help himself. “I just don’t like bullies,” Waid said, before reciting a quote by Paul Newman, “A man without enemies is a man without integrity.” Waid summed up his feelings on the matter by stating his hatred for pandering and the feeling of being sold to.
Scalera’s next question was about Waid’s writing process and how he imbues his characters with such realism and complexity. To that Mark replied that he has three major elements. The first is looking at the original version of the character. There aren’t many enduring characters, he argued, who haven’t found success due to some element inherent in the original concept. The second trick is considering how the character perceives the world. Waid admitted that there really isn’t a day where he doesn’t, at one time or another, wonder how Daredevil’s radar sense would pick up his surroundings. From there it’s a matter of interpreting their perceptions and finding their emotions and fears. Finally Waid focuses on the character’s motivation and why they do what they do.
Waid stressed that the most important thing to a story is reader investment. There are plenty of comics that have clever dialogue but it’s important to him to balance that with heart so that the audience can relate to the action.
When asked if he ever acted out or voiced any of his characters, Waid immediately answered no, but had to get confirmation from his girlfriend, who was in attendance. While he doesn’t employ voices, Waid acknowledges that his writing process is indebted to method acting.
He also revealed that he cannot just write small amounts at a time, saying that he really had to block out the world and sink into his stories. Scalera asked if that meant that Waid has a schedule. Waid replied that he isn’t like Stephen King, who famously works from nine to five and that, if he attempts to be, the rule hating ten year old inside him rebels. For Waid the most important thing is just to spend the time and to not give up until you’ve written something each day. Maybe some days it’s just a sentence or a paragraph but that gives you something to build off of when you come back tomorrow.
Waid described the act of writing a story like a puzzle. There are all kinds of ideas that he accumulates and sometimes the root of a story is just a single scene or a line of dialogue. From there it’s a matter of flipping over those pieces, those ideas, you’d set aside and finding where they fit until a story emerges. The somewhat simple metaphor was appropriate for, as Mark said, if you don’t have fun it shows.
Scalera’s next question was how much of a run Waid plans out in advance. Interestingly, Waid responded that he often doesn’t have that much mapped out when he begins. Speaking about when to leave a title, Waid also said that while he often comes aboard without an exit plan he generally knows when it’s time to go and that it would take something pretty spectacular for him to return to a character after a lengthy run. Scalera then asked Waid how he knows when he’s taken on too much. “I don’t know,” he answered with a laugh.
Finally Scalera made good on his promise to discuss the issue of illegal downloads with Waid, who has long held a differing opinion on the matter. Scalera’s position was fairly clear, so he asked Waid to present his side. Waid said that, ideally, he would oppose torrenting but that in the modern world it no longer made sense. The business model of the 21st century, he told us, was using technology to connect creators to the people who will support them, whether that be twitter or kickstarter. “Forget big distributors […] you find the people who will pay [for your work] and you give it to them.”
This was the idea behind Waid’s digital comics platform, Thrillbent. Seeing that there was no way to avoid readers downloading comics, Waid decided to create a service where fans could pay as much or as little as they wanted and he could provide high quality versions of the comics. Thrillbent has been a success and, according to Mark, the profits are extremely similar to printed books and more traditional forms of digital publishing. It appears to him that people want to support creators and will happily pay a fair price for good comics. It also struck me that whether they downloaded for free or simply paid less than the traditional asking price that Thrillbent likely makes up any lost profits through greater exposure and larger fanbases.
Waid said that ultimately a writer’s duty is to create a story for the readers; the responsibility is to the readership. A moment later he changed his mind. More accurately the responsibility is to the work. You can’t write for what the fans want, he said, “If the audience knew what they wanted it wouldn’t be an audience.” As the interview came to a close, Waid reminded us that readers want “Stories not fanservice.”
And with that, we were out of time.
It was a very different panel, likely the most distinct I attended at this convention, but I very much enjoyed it. Waid’s honesty and expertise made it fascinating to hear him talk about these issues and the format provided an opportunity to discuss elements of his career and the industry that likely wouldn’t be raised in a traditional panel. Scalera also hosted a similar panel with Jimmy Palmiotti at last year’s New York Comic Con so, especially if you’re attending a ReedPop convention, I’d keep an eye out for future installments.