Mark Waid Talks 'Green Hornet,' 'Thrillbent,' & More
The ICv2 Interview
Published: 01/23/13, Last Updated: 01/24/13 03:47am
Eisner Award-winning writer Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Irredeemable, Incorruptible) took time from his busy schedule to talk to ICv2 about his new ongoing Green Hornet series for Dynamite (see "Mark Waid to Write New 'Green Hornet' Series"), the progress of his digital comics publishing initiative Thrillbent (see "ComiXology Adds Publishers"), as well as his work for Marvel on Daredevil and Hulk.
Can you tell us about the Green Hornet project you’re doing for Dynamite? Is this an ongoing series or limited series?
It’s an ongoing series.
Are you going to write it in arcs, for collection?
I think so, only because the first idea I had was intended as a miniseries, but once I get into the scripting of it I enjoyed working with the characters so much that I wanted to keep going.
And all this take place in the later part of the character’s life?
So to speak. He is actually from the mid-30s so by the time you get to 1941, which is when the series takes place, it’s not exactly a later date in his career, but he’s well into the process of being the Green Hornet. He’s certainly got his act down pretty well by now. It’s the hubris of what happens when he starts to believe his own press, and believe maybe a little too much in his own abilities.
What other characters will be central to this story?
Besides the Green Hornet himself, and Britt Reid his alter ego, you’ve got Kato, his faithful assistant/partner who is taking a little more of an active role than he did in the radio and comic book adventures of the 40s. We’ve seen in the Green Hornet film and in some of the more recent comics that Dynamite has done, the benefits of the two men being more equal partners more than just boss and sidekick. That said, we get to play a little bit with the politics of the day in that even Britt Reid, who was an enlightened individual and is not by nature a racist man, sometimes has to come to grips with the idea that he’s treating this Japanese houseboy as an equal. It makes sense from a 21st century perspective, but you have to step into the eyes of a man who was born 100 years before our time. It’s not that it’s a struggle for him; he’s not a jerk, but I do like the fact that there’s a little bit of tension there as Britt Reid has to wrestle sometimes with what he sees as a brand new and a very liberal way of viewing the world.
It’s a fine line. We don’t want in any way to be racially insensitive, but at the same time we want to be somewhat faithful to the era in which the story is taking place. That’s a fine tightrope to walk, but so far I think we’ve done an OK job.
What is the general storyline or conflict at tje center of this arc?
Ten years ago, one of my friends out here in Hollywood had been approached to pitch for the Green Hornet movie long before it became what it became. He didn’t know much about the Hornet and at that time I was moving to Los Angeles from Florida and was driving cross country. We would chat every night on the phone and I would have some new thoughts. It gave me something to think about on the road, thinking about the Green Hornet and filling him in on what the character’s dynamics were. And as I crossed the country, I had some ideas that I subsequently had filed away and forgotten about until Nicky [Barrucci] approached me at Baltimore this past year. I remembered my Green Hornet ideas and the thinking I’ve done on them since, so my pitch to Nicky was Citizen Kane by way of Lawrence of Arabia, if you will. I wanted to focus more on Britt Reid the charismatic, dogmatic activist newspaper publisher; and the Lawrence of Arabia angle is what happens when you are so good at what you do and so transformative a figure that you start to believe that perhaps you are somehow above the rest., somehow you are above the rabble and that you are somehow chosen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen hubris used to that degree in a superhero comic and that challenge excites me.
How many issues is this first arc?
Six. It’s basically the fall and rise of the Green Hornet.
Changing gears now, what’s going on with Thrillbent? What series are running on there now?
We’ve still got Insufferable. We just wrapped up the first arc there. We are getting ready to relaunch the site with a whole slew of brand new content in the next few weeks. In the meantime we’re running a bunch of one-shots of some very experimental Webcomics by myself and different people, showing off some of the techniques and things we’ve learned in the past year of what does and doesn’t work in digital.
It’s been up for about nine months. How do you evaluate the results?
I’m flabbergasted at the response we’ve gotten. The number of page views we’ve gotten (for Insufferable) has been tremendous based on what we went in expecting. I love the fact the comic has been viewed by in excess of 600,000 viewers. If that translated into sales figures in print comics, we’d all be rich right now. Just Insufferable alone has seen that kind of traffic and then we’ve had all these other strips up as well running for different lengths.
More importantly, the takeaway for me is the fact that we’re getting a great deal of international circulation. We’re getting a great number of e-mails and downloads from other countries, contact from international publishers who are interested in having it translated and having it run somewhere whether it’s on Thrillbent in partnership with them or on their own sites.
The fact that we’re able go out there and make some noise and get that much attention off something where all we had going for us was social media, the comics press and a little bit of mainstream press and we’d be able to make these inroads is surprising to me especially because every single person who works full time on the site--myself, John Rogers, and Lori Matsumoto--we’re all doing it in our spare time. That’s to me the most amazing thing that we’d be able to do all this and we’ve been doing this as moonlighting.
It’s not like you don’t have anything else going on…
(Laughter) Exactly! So imagine in 2013 when I’m actually able to roll up my sleeves and get in there full time, what we’ll be able to do with it.
Have you started to sell dgitially?
Yes, comiXology and Iverse as well. They both approached us about packaging, three or four weeks’ worth of installments under one separate cover…I’m not sure we can use the word cover anymore, because I don’t know if that applies in a digital world.
We're still using it. Nobody can think of anything better.
Exactly. With some bonus content with the idea that that’s a revenue stream and it’s a way of getting the comics in front of a lot of people that we just didn’t have available to us. ComiXology knocked themselves out not only by approaching us but also by working with us to make sure that we were heavily featured on the site on Christmas week, which is absolutely one of their biggest weeks because of the number of tablets out there and the number of new purchases.
We’re very happy with the numbers we’ve gotten there. We’re not toppling DC, Marvel or The Walking Dead anytime soon, but I’ve always said if we can make enough off of comiXology alone to pay our creative costs, then I consider that a victory because that means that whatever other further monetization we do with it becomes pure profit.
You’re not running ads, so that’s really the only revenue stream?
That’s the only revenue stream right now. We are launching an app with downloadable content sometime in the next few weeks, but we’re still hammering that out. At some point we’ll be having material for purchase directly on the site as well, downloadable PDFs or whatever. But honestly at this point with the limited number of hours in a day, I’m focusing just on building the content and worrying about the revenue stream later, which is either a brilliant strategy or you’ll be talking to me in six months when I’m in debtors prison--one of the two.
You’ve taken advantage of the digital medium by doing things like having the appearance of word balloons appear in sequence in the same image to show who’s speaking first instead of placing them left to right, so does that make this uncollectable in print?
No, it just means we have to roll up our sleeves and do a little more production work when it comes to actually assembling it into print. It doesn’t mean we’ll have to change the story, but it does mean we’ll have to do some heavy surgery on some of the world balloon placement, some of the images.
I’ve looked at it closely. We’ll still be able to tell the same stories in print, but when we translate to print, they may not look exactly the same as they do on the digital page.
Are there plans for collecting in print in the future, then?
There are, but I want to see what kind of response we get out of digital first. I would love to get to print at some point down the road, but that seems to me one of those things that you want to do through Kickstarter or through some other mechanism by which your printing costs are pre-funded. Otherwise you run into the paradox that got me into Thrillbent to begin with, which is that it’s very difficult to make a profit on indie comics these days, especially color indie comics with high production values with the kind of print runs that you’re able to get and the cost to print.
Looking at the size of Insufferable, it seems to be made for the tablet format?
If I had to pick one device that we’re targeting, it would be the tablet. On a broader scale, I wanted that landscape format because it’s easier to read on your laptop as well as on a tablet as well as on most digital devices. I admit that Insufferable, in retrospect, is not terribly well designed for anything much smaller than the iPad Mini, but we’re developing content specifically for the iPhone as well down the road, material that is a lot friendlier to the smallest devices--more limited text, bigger illustrations, one panel per screen, that sort of thing.
Did you have any trouble converting the Insufferable content to panel by panel view because of the way you’re using that landscape format and sometimes showing multiple images or where characters are talking to each other?
They’ve done a pretty good job with it on comiXology, the way they’ve pieced it out like that. Anything that’s designed to be looked at panel to panel, no matter how artful your guided panel view is, is going to suffer a little bit because it’s like looking at a comic book page through a cardboard tube. But no complaints, I’ve really liked what they’ve done.
What else are you working on? We hear there’s a new Hulk arc in April.
Yes, Walt Simonson is coming on board for three issues because I had had a story in mind where I wanted Hulk to deal with frost giants in the Asgardian realm and no one was more suited to that task than Walt, especially when he asked if he could take one issue and turn it into three because he felt like drawing Thor and would I mind.
Gentlemen than I am, I thought well gee, should I have Walt draw Thor for three issues? I guess I can... insert sarcasm here. Of course! And it looks amazing. The beauty of Walt is he hasn’t lost a single step. He’s as good in 2013 as he was in 1974. So few of us can have a career that spans that length of time and is that consistent.
We recently saw the Titan oversize hardcover showing the oirginal art for the Alien story that he did with Archie Goodwin.
Isn't that a phenomenal piece of work?
Unbelievable. Blew us away.
I love the thought that Walt keeps all his damn pages. Nobody else does that and he thinks to do that.
One of the greatest experiences I ever had (must have been 25 years ago) was when DC put out The Art of Walt Simonson trade paperback that I edited when I was on staff. Part of that job was to go out to Walt's house for a couple of days and help him go through stuff.
I know! I really felt like I was Uncle Scrooge and this was the money bin and I was just swimming through Walt's art like a porpoise, throwing it up in the air and letting it hit me in the head.
Anything else you’re working on?
Green Hornet and Daredevil are still proceeding apace. As for Daredevil, it’s worth talking about since the issue shipped. The American Cancer Society came to us at Marvel through Dan Buckley to some of the editors. They asked if we would be willing to do a story that would deal a little more realistically with cancer--not with cancer like a horrible scythe swinging down on the lives of our characters, but more as a hopeful survival story of cancer; what are the trials and tribulations on a real world basis that these characters go through. Foggy Nelson, who’s Matt Murdock’s partner, has been diagnosed and that’s going to give us nice dramatic thread to run with over the next few months in Daredevil.
We’ve got one character, Daredevil, who is basically a lifelong sufferer of depression dealing with partner who now has his own chronic condition and the bond between these two men is really tested. They really have nobody else to turn to except each other. I like the fact that it’s a story of friendship and brotherhood, but I also like the fact that we’re working very closely with the ACS to get it right; to talk very realistically and validly with great detail about something that is at once a grim topic but at the same time is also the kind of challenge that our superheroes don’t normally have to face.