Thursday, January 3, 2008

Marv Wolfman: Watching the Children Grow

As an aspiring writer weaned on comics, all I ever wanted was to work for Marvel or DC. But the grass is always greener, and as I became friends with many writers and artists in those camps, I watched their growing frustration despite the fact that their characters were catapulting to new heights. Anyone who has hung around comics as long as I have must wonder on occasion how cool it would be to have created The X-Men or Ghost Rider or Wolverine—and how lousy it must feel to see those characters generate millions of dollars while the creators are left out of the character’s financial success.

Marv Wolfman had a hand in building about 75 Marvel characters including Blade (with Gene Colan), The Black Cat (with Dave Cockrum), Bullseye, Condor, Diamondhead, Nova, Sphinx, Terrax, and Torpedo. At DC, he co-created most of the New Teen Titans and all of their villains with partner George Perez, including Cyborg, Deathstroke the Terminator, Gizmo, Jade, Jericho, Nightwing, Pantha, Psimon, Raven, Shimmer, Starfire, Terra, Trident, Trigon, and literally dozens of others.

Marv and I recently spoke about watching these “children” grow up.

Meth: The whole legacy thing is tricky. You and I both know any number of creators who labored to give birth to something only to see THAT thing become THE thing their career was forever associated with. And then their creation suddenly wasn't theirs anymore and some big corporation was making gazillions off of it. Let's take the X-Men, for example. Now there's more than one way to process that experience--and perhaps the process differs as you mature. Dave Cockrum was rarely bitter about his roll in the X-Men. He was only sorry that the industry stopped giving him work… Was your Blade experience painful?

Wolfman: It wasn't Blade that was the problem. I love the character and my involvement with him. My problem was that [Marvel] decided the creators should not get any money or even recognition for their creation. I had to fight and all I managed to get, along with Gene Colan, was the credit. And only on the movies. They were not included on the TV series, which is why, despite the fact that some friends and good people worked on it, I couldn't bring myself to watch it… Creators should always participate in the success of their creations. DC has given percentages for decades now. I wish Marvel had chosen to do the same as that was all I originally asked for.

Meth: Where does this leave you with Marvel?

Wolfman: Unfortunately, although I still love many of their characters, and some editors would like to work with me, the word comes from on high that I can't be hired. It's a shame. They are doing some great books.

Meth: Knowing what you know now, how would you have handled the Blade situation in the beginning? Or were there really any options?

Wolfman: In an early letter to them, I had originally asked only for the same percentages DC routinely gives its creators, and frankly the same one Marvel does for its creators (since 1978 or so) but very late one night I was called by one of their company Presidents (I think from Marvel Studios) and was told that if I wanted to get anything from them I'd have to—in his words—"Sue us." That completely threw me. There had been nothing in any of my correspondence to that time that even hinted of that thought.

As I say, I wrote letters asking only for the standard deal. I know someone high ranking at another company tried to help, but they were adamant. Without mentioning names, I had heard stories that one of the people responsible for many of their characters found it impossible to go into Toys 'R Us because he'd see characters he created that he never saw a penny from, and I was determined, win or lose, I would not let that happen to me. I didn't want this to be a legal case but that exec made it clear the company wouldn't give the same deal they were already giving others and the situation unfortunately escalated. I wish it never happened, as it certainly hurt professionally and financially, but that exec made it clear suing them was the only thing I could do.

I still wish it didn't go down that way. I still like many of the Marvel books and have no bad words (publicly or privately) about the company or its people - some of my currently favorite books are Marvel - but at the time I felt I wasn't given any options.

Meth: Your experiences with DC have been more rewarding. Is that a testament to Paul Levitz?

Wolfman: I think the change at DC happened with both Jenette Kahn and Paul. They both seemed committed to changing the way things had been.

Meth: You spent time in the hot seat at Marvel, as an EiC. How have things changed since the bullpen days, politically and practically?

Wolfman: I actually don't know since I haven't done it for awhile. I loved being EiC at Marvel (and later senior editor at DC and at Disney Adventures magazine) when it was a creative post. We were able to do comics we wanted to read. Comics that tried to preserve what was great about the company while pushing it forward at the same time. We were also attempting to "grow up" our stories as the age of our readers got older as well. Unfortunately, at that time Marvel was sold to a company called Cadence, and I have to say that company wasn't quite the best. My job slowly became far too business and much less creative, and Cadence kept trying to find ways to make things cheaper and worse. I was in my mid-20s at the time and really didn't know how to fight them, wasn't good at politics, and awful at business. I'd like to think I'd be a lot better now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting interview with Marv W, Cliff. Handled very tastefully. But I never saw that drawing of Marv before. It's really great. Please give him my regards and wish him a Happy New Year-- and to you, too, of course.

All best,