Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Interview with Mark Chiarello - 2009

New Interview! I had the great opportunity to have a chat with DC Art Director Mark Chiarello, the behind DC's upcoming Wednesday Comics series.

Not only is Mark trying to bring the oversized comic back to comic shops, but he's a big fan of the classic treasuries, as well:

TreasuryComics.com: I was thrilled to learn you had heard of TreasuryComics.com. That made my day.

Mark Chiarello: I stumbled across it not too long ago, and I'm such a fan of that stuff. I grew up the Marvel Kid, so, those treasuries they put out still hold a warm spot in my heart. One thing I wonder, and you might be able to answer this--is it pure nostalgia? You know how you can look back on things you had as a kid, and you sort of can't judge them without the blush of nostalgia? I don't think it is, but do you think its that way with the treasury stuff?

TC: I think that's a big part of it, but...I don't know, I think for me...I started buying comics in the mid-70s, and they were everywhere. And just in the span of my lifetime, they've gone from being everywhere to just these few specific places. Now that my all my friends have kids and I have nephews and nieces, I kind of wish they had that experience of comics being everywhere, and I've bought treasuries for some of these kids...and they just love them. Plus, DC and Marvel made them such events--Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, Superman Vs. Shazam, etc...

MC: That ties into what I've been hearing around here. I've been at DC fifteen years, and a lot people still give me crap that I only read Marvels as a kid, and those treasuries they did (pauses, counts across the first row of Marvel treasuries on the Gallery page)...those first three rows of I have. I was such a follower of Stan, that those are the ones I love.

TC: Some of the first Star Wars I ever bought were the treasury-sized adaptations of the movie, and they were just so cool, so special, so impressive.

Which is why, not to try and tie these two things too closely, when I first heard about this Wednesday Comics idea, I went "Oh God! This is exactly what I'd want to see!"

I get a lot of email from people who didn't know the site existed, and as much as they love seeing all the books they had/have, they also tell me they buy these books all over again for their kids, so they can have the same experience. I bought that first Spider-Man treasury for the kid of some friends of ours, and the next time I saw him the book was really beat up. I thought that was great, because that meant he was looking at it all the time and enjoying it.

MC: My son does the same thing, and I'm like "No, dude, that was mine when I was a kid...be careful!"

TC: [laughs] One of the things I'm curious about with Wednesday Comics is--as soon as the news broke of this, I went checked various message boards, and it seemed like 9 out of every 10 fans was really behind this idea, really positive, but there was always one who was like "I can't keep it in mint, I can't stick it in a bag, I don't want it, blah blah blah..." and I was like...wanted to pound my head on the desk.

Comics fans, especially over the last 10-15 years, have really been conditioned to obsess over having the most permanent, beautiful, costly version of whatever book it is they like, and Wednesday Comics is completely bucking that trend. Its saying no, no, this is meant to be read, to be folded over, its probably going to get beat up a little bit by the sheer handling of it...how do you feel about that?

MC: I certainly consider myself to be part of that group, being a comics fan, but the ultimate goal for a comic book company, and people who create comics, is to create a reading experience.

We certainly saw the Image boom of the late 80s, when it started becoming less about the reading experience, and started being more about the investment experience, and I found that very sad, and I'm glad we got away from that. Because for me, I want to read an enticing story, that's everything that comics are about.

I am glad that, as you say, 9 out of 10 people who posted about Wednesday Comics were enthusiastic and did think it was a good idea, because I it seems they've hooked into what it was going to be as a reading experience, to see these really large pages, with 15-20 panels on a page.

TC: Yeah, I've been seeing some of the rough pages some of the artists involved are working on, and they're a sight to behold. And I was happy too, to see so many people seemed supportive of it. Maybe Wednesday Comics won't be the greatest thing ever, but DC's trying something different, and you have to give them credit for that, and you have to support it if you love comics as a medium.

But at least you'll buy the first 2 or 3 issues, and then maybe say "Eh, these stories just aren't doing it for me", although I don't know the odds of that happening, with the line-up you've got in there...

MC: Right, right.

TC: There's gotta be something in there somebody likes! [laughs] Do you guys have a price-point yet, and a date when they start coming out?

MC: The first issue will be out the first week of July, which is neat because it'll be out in time for the San Diego Con. The price point is...we're 99% locked in to the price point.

I wanted it to be the price of a regular comic book, I didn't think people should have to spend a lot of money for this. Because again its not about the buying experience, its about the reading experience, and I realize that if its $10 [an issue] nobody's going to buy it. So...because its not locked in I can't give you an exact price, but it'll relatively be the price of a regular--quote unquote--comic book.

TC: Are there any characters personally that you would have liked to have seen be in Wednesday Comics? You've said in other interviews that you went to the creators and said "Who do you want to do?", so were there any you hoped to see in there that aren't?

MC: That's a really good question. We're certainly covering the big guns at DC: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash...I was so happy when Neil Gaiman wanted to do Metamorpho, because that's a character that fans really like but doesn't get a lot of ink.

When I invited Kyle Baker to work on Wednesday Comics, his response totally surprised me. I really wanted him to do an over-the-top zany, humorous, story about all the villains in Arkham Asylum. The Joker, The Riddler, etc...all the guys kinda running around while they're in prison. I thought the idea of Kyle doing that was really, really funny, and I love Kyle's humor work, but I didn't pitch that to him, I let him decide what he wanted to do, and he came up with Hawkman.

And I said, "Are you sure that's what you really want to do?", and he said "Yeah! I want to do kind of a Prince Valiant-kind of take on the character", and I thought he was out of mind, I really did.

TC: [laughs]

MC: Then the pages started coming in, and I realized he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He really killed it.

TC: Oh yeah, I've seen a few of them, they're beautiful. And, since Aquaman is my all-time favorite character, I'm happy to see that he does show up in Baker's Hawkman story. I saw a piece of art with him and Hawkman fighting a dinosaur or something and I was like "Whew! At least Aquaman's in this somewhere!"
MC: Yeah, Kyle let that out of the bag a little prematurely, but Aquaman does make a guest appearance.

TC: I was very glad to see that [laughs].

MC: Yeah--just an aside, Aquaman is a character I wish a writer, who really loves the character, would come to us and says "I really want to do this", because I think he's a lot people don't quite get.

TC: Oh yeah. Well--you've probably already heard this quote, but if not maybe let me play matchmaker here--there's a quote Brian Azzarello gave, to CBR I think, where he said he has an idea for Aquaman story, because he loves the character, but he doesn't want to have to tie it in to continuity, he just wants to do regular Aquaman, and he said he'd do it in that context, but if he can't do it that way then he doesn't really want to do it at all.

So when I heard that quote, and then I heard about Wednesday Comics, I thought, "Oh, please...let there be Wednesday Comics II or something next summer. You can go to him and say 'Hey, Brian, I heard you have this Aquaman story..."

MC: [laughs] I would totally do that!

TC: A Brian Azzarello Aquaman comic? I'll buy 10, 15 copies of that... [laughs]

MC: That would be so cool.

TC: You said before that you asked the creators who they wanted to work on. I'm guessing you don't have to work really hard to get somebody to say "I wanna do Superman, or Batman..."

MC: Yeah, right.

TC: But I would guess, at the same time, they have to be in a project like this, something that's unusual, maybe a tough sell, it has to have the big guns in it.

MC: I think...the answer is yes, they have to be in there, but not because of sales. They have to be in there not from a business standpoint, but purely from a "These are great characters" standpoint.

John Arcudi wrote the Superman story that Lee Bermejo is drawing, and he wrote the greatest Superman story I've read in years--I mean, its just a fabulous story, and that's the character he wanted to write. A creator's desire to play with certain toys, there are certain characters I always wanted to draw, that I think, because of my desire to do that, I would do a good job.

And the same holds true for the guys who are doing Wednesday Comics. They're like "I want to do this."

TC: The artists on Wednesday Comics...are they thrilled to be working at this size? Most of them have probably never had the chance to do this. Joe Kubert, sure, but not most of them.

MC: Yeah, [laughs], its a little daunting to some for the guys, because the publication size is 14x20", and some artists are working even bigger than that. Mike Allred sent me a photograph of his drawing table, and he's got the Metamorpho first page original art taped to the drawing table, and the piece of paper is twice as big as his drawing table.

TC: [laughs]

MC: That's really neat. I was happy that when I pitched it, especially the artists, they really got it, and went "Wow, my artwork will be reproduced that big? That's really cool." They got what I was hoping they'd get.

Some guys...I mean, Paul Pope's originals are wall-sized, so its kind of easy for him, but some of the more traditional artists, on the first page or two, are presented with a real challenge.

TC: Is...I guess anything is possible if sales go through the roof, but could Wednesday Comics continue, or is thought of more as the next in a line of weekly series? You had 52, then Countdown, then Trinity, now this...or could there be more? You say to yourselves, "We could do this next Summer?"

MC: Nothing would make me feel better than if Wednesday Comics is a big success, and we could do a second series. Once we announced the project online, I got calls and emails from a million freelancers who said "Man, if you ever do a second series, I'd love to be part of it", that kind of thing.

TC: That's fantastic.

MC: So yeah, that'd be really fun.

TC: I'm wondering, will DC be doing any sort of display, like a display box you could have by the counter, for this? Because that's how DC did the original treasuries...they had this cool display box for them, and my life will not be considered complete until I find one of those [laughs]. They were shipped to department stores, so I know somebody's got one in an attic somewhere...

MC: [laughs] Man, good luck, because I've been here fifteen years and there's none here! If I ever come across one I'll send it to you.

TC: [big laughs] I figured there weren't any there. I did an interview with Bob Rozakis a few years ago, and he told me DC shipped the books in those boxes, so I know they made it out there. Someday...

MC: By the way, I was looking at TreasuryComics.com, and looking at all the covers, and I didn't know Richard Corben did a treasury-sized edition of Rolf.

TC: Yeah, 10x13 or something.

MC: Man, I have to have that! I have to go on ebay and find a copy, I'm such a Corben fan. I didn't know they printed it at a big size.

TC: Yeah, I go on ebay, and sometimes I'm lucky and find these odd little one-shots that were printed at this big size.

MC: Yeah, Joe Kubert was in my office the other day, turning in his installment--you know, he's doing Sgt. Rock for us--

TC: Amazing.

MC: Yeah, I can't wait. And he kinda went, "You know, I invented this" and I went "What do you mean?" and he said, "Well, I did Sojourn", and I went "Dude, that is not as big as what I'm doing, so, get over yourself!"

TC: [big laughs] Did he hit you with those giant hands he has?

MC: Actually, he did.

TC: So, will there be any type of display material for this, as a separate thing, or for right now...

MC: Probably not, because it does fold down, and it'll be shipped along with the other comics. If we were selling them flat, we would certainly do that. We're actually looking into the idea--although its unlikely--that we'll ship them both ways, folded and flat.

TC: One last thing I wanted to ask you, and this back to talking about your love of the original treasuries---when you were a kid, was there a character that you really wished they had done a treasury book for, but they never did? I mean, Marvel covered most of their stars--Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Hulk, Dr. Strange, etc.

I always hoped DC would do an Aquaman treasury book, but they never did. I mean, I understand that, he can barely sell a regular-sized comic, let alone a giant one. But was there one you would've really like to have seen?

MC: Hmm...I never thought about it, but I was such a big Gene Colan Daredevil fan, thinking about it now--man, that would have been cool, having his artwork at that size.

Spider-Man always was my favorite character, so the fact that they covered some of the big Spider-Man stuff, The Jack Kirby Fantastic Four stuff...I loved the Holiday Grab Bag Special kind of things, even the big Howard the Duck one.
The one I really treasured was the first Conan the Barbarian one--it was like the fourth or fifth one Marvel did--seeing Barry Smith's artwork at that size, seeing it printed that large--I still take that out every now and then and look at it.

The other one that really killed me was the Captain America's Bicentennial Battles--
TC: The Jack Kirby one.

MC: Yeah! Having Barry [Smith], John Romita, and Herb Trimpe ink the book--it was just, God, it was incredible.

TC: That's one of those combinations you think would never work--Barry Smith inking Jack Kirby?--but it worked pretty well!

MC: Those pages, they're astounding, they're so gorgeous.

TC: Well, Mark, I thank you for your time, and I really want to say thanks to you and DC for doing Wednesday Comics. I hope its a really huge success, and I am looking so forward to reading the series.

You know, I talking with friends of mine, friends who run the comic store I shop at, and we talked about maybe I'd come in a day a week or something to help out at the store.

And they joked I'd need to help push some books, and I said, "Hey, I will be the biggest shill for Wednesday Comics imaginable. People will be sick of hearing me talk about it so much. I'll berate people at the counter--why are you buying this? Do you need another Wolverine comic? No, you don't. Here, buy Wednesday Comics, its got Batman, Kamandi, Sgt. Rock, Metamorpho..."

MC: [laughs] I don't mind! We'll have you go on a fifty-state tour, selling the book.

TC: [big laughs] Yeah! Anyway, thanks again, Mark, and good luck with Wednesday Comics.

MC: Very cool, thanks Rob, this was a lot of fun. My pleasure.
I cannot wait to get my hands on the first issue of Wednesday Comics...the first week in July can't get here soon enough!

I thank Mark for his time, all his great work, and his effort at making comics big again. Thanks Mark!

1 comment:

Josh Blair said...

Cool interview. I can't wait for Wednesday Comics either. And I agree with Mark, a Daredevil treasury should have been in order.