Mark Waid is a living legend in the comic book industry. His career began with DC Comics in the 1980s with runs as editor on titles from Action Comics and Doom Patrol to Secret Origins and Wonder Woman. He eventually left his role as editor in favor of freelance writing for DC, specifically their Impact line, before settling in on an eight year run on The Flash. In the 90s, Waid worked for Marvel Comics on the X-Men series before heading back to DC to produce Kingdom Come with Alex Ross. He has worked on a number of Justice League titles for DC as well as Superman, Legion of Super-Heroes, and the Brave and the Bold. His work for Marvel includes stints on Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, The Indestructible Hulk, Daredevil, and several others. He has served as editor-in-chief of BOOM! Studios and has launched his own digital publishing website, Thrillbent. His most recent venture is breathing new life into the characters of Archie for Archie Comic Publications. Mark Waid is also the 2015 Guest of Honor at the Baltimore Comic Con.
Mark Waid- It’s really an interesting challenge, but it’s not as daunting as I thought it would be because the obvious way to go would be to go overboard by having the characters refer to their Instagrams, their Twitter accounts, and so on. But that stuff will be out of date in three or four years so the more of that stuff you try to use to ground it in the moment might keep it fresh for six months, but then it becomes very dated. I didn’t worry about that so much. I’m still smart enough to know not to have the Archie kids congregating around the television – kids really don’t do that anymore – and to know that kids communicate mostly by text messages.
But what I think is still constant whether it’s 1942, or 1972, or 2015 is that there are emotions and moments tied to being a teenager that are constant. Everyone remembers, and it is timeless, what it’s like to look like an idiot in front of your friends. Everybody remembers that when you are a teenager everything you do it’s, “This is the first time anybody’s ever done this in the entire world,” and conversely anything bad that happens to you, “This is the worse thing that has ever happened and it has never happened to anyone else but me.” It’s little things like that where you remember the first time you had a kiss or the first time you fell in love that I zeroed in on. Hopefully that’s the stuff that keeps it timeless. Then, you polish it every once in a while use some more contemporary slang, but that’s not your go-to. Your go-to is, “What are the emotions people have always felt?”
PO – How did you get involved with Archie? Did you approach them?
MW – They actually approached me. For good or ill, I have a reputation for taking outmoded IP or characters that need a spit and polish and be able to bring some kind of take on them that makes them a little more contemporary. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
But I love comics, and I love the characters and I always feel like whether it’s Superman, or Daredevil, or whoever, if I’m trying to spit polish it to give it a new shine what I ask myself is, “What do I love about those characters? What is it I love about them? How do I show a modern audience what I love about that character?” If I do it well enough, I think they’ll like them too. Because it’s not me. There’s no ego here. I’m not the guy making Archie special – Archie’s special. Daredevil is special. Superman is special. There is a reason they’ve been around for 75 or 80 years as opposed to characters like Andy Panda or Betty Boop, who are still around as refrigerator magnets or beach towels, but not in a story form.
There is some x-factor that makes those characters American mythology – the Supermans, the Batmans, and the Daredevils. So my job is to tap into that, figure out what that is, and bring that into the 21st Century, but don’t lose any of the stuff that makes it special. If you’re going to err, err on the side of being too faithful than going, “It’s going to be all different. This isn’t your dad’s Superman.” Well, there isn’t anything wrong with your dad’s Superman as long as it’s told well.
So, yes, the folks at Archie approached me and I’ve been working with them on little things here and there over the years – non-Archie stuff – and I’m very flattered they asked. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it, but when they threw out Fiona Staples as the artist I knew I’d made the right choice, because she is amazing. Her whole thing was not, “How do I remodel the Archies to fit my vision,” but – and I’m paraphrasing what she told me – “I want to draw the characters, but how do I draw them in a style that is consistent with what I do but still have them be those characters.”
PO – Let’s move on to Thrillbent. What inspired you to found Thrillbent and what are your current projects there?
MW – Thrillbent.com was kicked off four years ago. What I was trying to do at the time was find a way to self-publish material without having to spend a fortune in print costs. At that time print costs were just off the charts expensive unless you were selling 15,000 copies of a comic book – which nobody was. If it’s costing you $.75 to print a comic and you’re only getting $1.50 for it after the distributor takes his cut, then that’s your single greatest cost, more so than art, more so than editorial, more so than story. So we cut that part out of the equation and flipped the paradigm and went digital first. Then once the comic is produced and once it makes some of its money back, then you can go to print and then it’s found money because you already earned some of your creative costs back. That was the genesis of Thrillbent.
I came onboard with Peter Krauss to do Insufferable which was our twisted take on the Batman / Superman paradigm which was a “What if Robin grew up to be a jerk – an ungrateful douchebag?” and we had a lot of fun with that. That got other creators to come along and do more stuff for us, and so after four years we’ve got literally hundreds of comics on the site. It is a subscription which costs $3.99 a month, which is the price of one print comic. You get full access to our back catalog and full access on a monthly basis to everything we put up and we put up and we put up at least two or three comics worth of material a month. We have material coming out on a regular basis.
PO– Speaking of the “What if?” scenarios, tell me about Kingdom Come. Where did you pull your ideas for that?
MW – I cannot give Alex Ross enough credit for that because it was his basic nugget of an idea which was, “What happens twenty years from now when Superman retires and there are a bunch of younger superheroes running around?” He had a bunch of images and a bunch of character designs and some ideas for scenes, but there was no narrative to knit it all together. He and I sat down at great length and we start talking about the characters and start breaking it all down. It was a constant ping-pong back and forth creatively and it was up to me to structure it into a narrative that made sense.
His big thing was the character design and the idea of having his father fictionalized as the priest – that’s Alex’s dad, he looks like Alex’s dad, his dad is a minister, and his name is Norman. It was up to me to figure out stuff like the central conflict. In Alex’s original idea Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman weren’t big parts of the story, but we had to figure out how to create conflict in the superhero camps and that was what we came up with.