In this Mark Waid interview, we discuss his status as a titan of the comic book industry. If you think you haven’t read something of his, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered his work in other ways. Current comic book creators, TV shows, and movies adopted many of his original ideas. Have you watched MAN OF STEEL? Remember the phrases “the ‘S’ means hope” and “you’re the answer to are we alone in the universe?” If so, you’ve heard Mark Waid’s words.

Heavily inspired by DC’s ACTION COMICS in his youth, Mark Waid entered the comics industry as an editor. Then, he moved into freelance writing. An eight year run of THE FLASH made his first major success. He invented series staples such as Kid Flash (at the time named Impulse) and the concept of the Speed Force.

Later, Mark went on to collaborate with industry giants like Grant Morrison for JLA: YEAR ONE. He also worked with Alex Ross on the critically acclaimed KINGDOM COME. The latter comic remains one of the top-selling comics of all time. Many consider it a classic. He’s also written the modern consolidation of Superman’s official origin story in SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT. He also showed nuance and understanding for the character creating a new generation of Superman fans.

In current years, Mark Waid worked on SPIDER-MAN, S.H.I.E.L.D., and had a previous award-winning run on DAREDEVIL. Currently working on CHAMPIONS, BLACK WIDOW, ARCHIE, and more, Waid proved himself as an established and seasoned crafter of character, story, and a die-hard comic book fan. We attended a spotlight panel and also conducted a short Mark Waid interview! Besides the Mark Waid interview, some highlights from his Spotlight panel include:

There are some difficulties in attempting to write about political or international issues nowadays.

  • Specifically, with CHAMPIONS, a very diverse teen group book, Mark found it difficult to place them in situations where they can even address an issue. “The danger I had not foreseen was them going overseas and not wanting them to be the white-horsed Americans solving the problems of some other culture because that’s crap and that’s a bad way of approaching it.” Even at home, Waid found himself forced to make small imaginary towns to play out social or racial problems for the Champions to tackle. “We are such a polarized society, it’s harder now than ever because I thought this time last year we’d have a sane person in the office. I have a hard time finding things the Champions could deal with that you can be fair and even-handed about, even simple things like sanctuary cities.” His way around it? Not to have the Champions solve the problem per se, but to have them facilitate and inspire other people to tackle and solve these problems.

Waid feels the diversity in comics issue is important, but can’t be forced.

  • Diversity needs more inclusion in comics, but the danger happens when you start having a checklist, it becomes disingenuous. These characters can’t be put in just because it’s a good idea to have that group represented but because they have an authentic voice that needs to be the heart. Waid also notes that “as a pasty white man, I have to make sure I do my homework.”

Waid is not afraid of losing readers due to his progressive politics.

  • “Do my liberal Twitter rants translate to lost sales?” Near as Waid can tell it balances out. He notes some readers might be lost. However, others will appreciate what he’s trying to do. Ultimately the responsibility of practicing freedom of speech and talking about important issues can be more important than lost sales, a consequence he’s willing to face.

Do you love CHAMPIONS? Check out our CHAMPIONS  #7 Review: Defending Thy Name!

In order to keep his characters straight, Waid uses placeholders.

  • Waid often uses trading cards, or in the case of CHAMPIONS, cardboard standees that he keeps on his desk like a chess board. Having physical representations of the characters in a group book allows him to make sure they all have equal representation in the story.

During the Q & A, someone asked for advice for those might have trouble writing Superman.

  • Waid started off by saying, “Well, Zack [Synder]…” which was quickly met with laughter. He assured the audience he was kidding, despite Waid being an outspoken critic of Man of Steel. His actual advice to writing about a man who can do anything is to not write about the powers, but instead the man inside. “What’s it like to write about a character who can do anything, take anything, and use it only for good, how hard is that? What’s it like to live in a world where everything is paper and glass and cardboard, where if you sneeze wrong you could blow down a building. How lonely is it to never be able to just play pickup basketball because you might break someone’s bones. Superman’s invincible, but he has a breakable heart, and his heart is as big as the world and he cares about everybody.”
  • “No one wins a fight against Superman because he has heat vision, anyone who can fly a mile into the air and hit you with heat vision wins the fight.”
In this Mark Waid interview, he discusses KINGDOM COME.
In this Mark Waid interview, he discusses KINGDOM COME. Image courtesy of DC Comics.

Mark Waid Interview Exclusive: The world might see Mark Waid taking another DC project soon. 

  • In this Mark Waid interview, he stated since DC Rebirth, Waid and DC had talks. There have been some offers extended. “Part of my issue is I have so much going on. If I’m to take on another DC project it has to be the right thing, if I’m going to do that I’d like to play that card on something big, we haven’t found that thing yet.” Although there are no concrete plans yet, Waid did say he can’t imagine getting to the end of the decade without doing something with DC.

While Waid has written almost every hero in comics, he dreams of writing DC’s Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Shazam.

  • Finding new projects is tough for such a veteran of the industry. So much so that whenever Waid finishes a book, he and his editor sit down and ask, “what’s left?”

Mark Waid’s early years were difficult.

  • Waid left his home at 15 years old. He ended up moving around from place to place for a while. Therefore, his relationships seemed transitory. The compassion he saw in Superman gave him hope and courage in difficult times. He explains his deep emotional connection and understanding with the Superman.
In this Mark Waid interview, he discusses his run on Marvel's DAREDEVIL.
In this Mark Waid interview, he discusses his run on Marvel’s DAREDEVIL. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

When writing DAREDEVIL, Waid would literally imagine himself in Matt Murdock’s shoes. 

  • “Everywhere I went while I worked on Daredevil. I would think to myself ‘how would Matt Murdock perceive this situation or this moment that just happened in front of me?'” Waid finds the fascinating thing about Daredevil the fact that his powers become less and less useful as time goes on. How can Daredevil learn to disarm something like a sensor? “We live in a world of screens…for Matt, managing a box means nothing.”

Writing about depression in DAREDEVIL came from Waid’s personal experience.

  • “The depression stuff I’ve been open about: I have depression issues but so do a lot of people. Matt can’t take drugs for his depression. Any little change in his biochemistry can completely throw him off. He’s so in touch with his body.” What’s the other way to cope? “Fake it till you make it, just try to get up and live the best life you can and don’t think too hard about it. So for Matt, from the very first issue, I was thinking about how every time a writer took his series it gets darker and meaner. Matt just has to fake it till you make it. He has to pretend to be the kind of person you really want to be.”

Once you’re done with a series, it’s hard to read the next iteration. 

  • Waid likes what current DAREDEVIL writer, Charles Soule, does with the character. However, he finds it hard to read what comes next for Matt. “It’s the same way when you break up with someone. It’s hard to see that person on the street, it’s the same way in comics.”

LISTEN: Want to hear more on Mark Waid? Here’s our interview at C2E2!

When it came to writing ARCHIE comics, Waid thought long and hard if he wanted to take the story.

  • When the Archie team reached out to Waid to do a slightly more grown-up take, Waid wasn’t sure if he would be comfortable. He hasn’t been a teenager for quite a while. However, although everyone and every generation’s high school experience is different, Waid used universal experiences for inspiration. “Some things are eternal, like having your first kiss, your first fight with your best friend, the first time face-planting in front of all your friends.”

Waid wanted to make sure he took on a respectful approach on Betty and Veronica.

  • Waid made sure to iterate how much respect he had for everyone who worked on ARCHIE before him. However, a big concern lied in not making Betty and Veronica sexual objects. He didn’t want their characters fighting over a boy. The way to avoid that entailed introducing Betty first. Then waiting a few issues to introduce Veronica, so each relationship established itself in its own time.

Having a completely dialogue-less first issue of BLACK WIDOW was Chris Samnee’s idea.

  • The first Black Widow script ended up as just two pages long after Samnee called Waid and told him he wanted to do the first issue as just one big James Bond-esque action sequence. Waid felt tempted to do the entire series with no dialogue, but he also felt worried it would look like a mistake.
Mark Waid interview discusses BLACK WIDOW
This Mark Waid interview covers his work on BLACK WIDOW. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Stories are always about something.

  • Spider-Man is always about responsibility; the X-Men are always about being feared and hated. While for a long time Waid couldn’t figure out the plot of Thor, he eventually realized the God of Thunder represented a son who cannot please his father no matter what he does. “And everybody can relate to that,” says Waid.

Waid isn’t afraid to take you on when it comes to storytelling.

  • During a meeting in Tokyo with a Japanese animation company for an animated series that never ended up getting produced, the staff had a hard time meeting eye-to-eye on the way stories should unfold. Waid felt the other team acted disrespectfully and wasn’t trying to understand his viewpoint. When, after hours of condescension, someone tried to “teach” him storytelling by using the example, “the theme of Spider-Man is love”, Waid lost his patience and declared that “the theme of Spider-Man is responsibility, it’s on the poster!” He then shut down the meeting by asserting, “can I please get a show of hands of everyone whose written Spider-Man? That’s what I thought. Proceed.”

Mark Waid loves seeing his work portrayed on the big (or small) screen.

  • Waid states that the first time he heard them say “Speedforce” in the FLASH television show was one of the greatest moments of his life. While there’s some money that comes out of it, money Waid lovingly calls “cheese pizza money,” he says he won’t remember how he spent the money in the future. What he will remember is where he was the first time he heard “S stands for Hope,” his famous words when writing SUPERMAN.

Some advice to young writers? Stop overcrowding your story.

  • Waid puts emphasis on the fact that comics are a visual medium, so make sure it’s a visual story. Too many words and panels on the page makes it look like illustrated text. So use the Waid rule of thumb: no more than 5 panels a page. No more than 25-30 words a panel.

In concluding this Mark Waid interview, any final piece of advice for creators?

  • If you start from the point where you think or you’re setting out to write something important, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Just write the story you want to read.

I became a fan of Mark Waid long ago, his KINGDOM COME one of the first superhero comics I ever read. Despite his hectic schedule of panels and talking to fans, we got a few minutes for more on his thoughts on diversity in comics. The Mark Waid interview also includes his method to putting together a story, and why he loves Superman so much. His passion and experience shone through, and excitement will follow him wherever he goes.

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2 Comments

  1. Nadia Shammas

    April 24, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    I’m sorry for the misunderstanding! I wasn’t familiar with the expression, I just thought you were taken by the heat of the moment. I’ve edited the article to better reflect the actual events described. Thank you for the clarification and for taking the time to give me such a wonderful interview!

    Reply

  2. Mark Waid

    April 24, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Thanks for the coverage. Just one quick point of clarification: I didn’t flip a table because someone characterized Spider-Man as a love story, I lost my cool because, after hours and hours of condescension and disrespect, I was told that “the theme of Spider-Man is…love.” I didn’t actually flip over a table–that’s a figure of speech, sorry to disappoint–but I did yell the line about responsibility and followed it up by adding, “Can I please see a show of hands of everyone in this room who’s actually WRITTEN Spider-Man? That’s what I thought. Proceed.” The meeting kinda shut down after that….

    Reply

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