August 2007 Archives

I tried to find the one word. I considered: "Wow." "Exhausting." "Epic." Maybe "lovely" would have done the trick. Because it was a lovely movie, only slightly marred by the fact that the 20-something lady in the seat immediately to my right kept shouting "yes!" at unexpected moments. "Yes!" she shouted, wearing an inappropriately fancy red dress. Very disturbing.

The third in a trio, this one -- American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, and now Super Bad. Three slices of poetry. A story told overnight about childhood's super goodbye.

Afterthought: D&C and SB were primarily from the guy's perspective. Are we due for the 17-year-old girl's take on the last day of school? Or has that been done and it just didn't hit my radar?

Creativity interview with comic book writer, illustrator Matt Wagner
Photo credit: Greg Preston.

Welcome to the second half of this two-part interview with Matt Wagner, award-winning comic book writer and illustrator, and creator of Mage and Grendel. If you haven't already read the first part of this interview, be sure to check it out to hear Wagner talk about the birth of Mage, and why comic book creations often look like their creators. You can find it here.

Matt Wagner on the Web: mattwagnercomics.com


CV: I recently read your Batman run -- the "Dark Moon Rising" books. Could you describe where the idea for those books came from?

MW: They’re actually based on two of my favorite Golden Age Batman stories from the late ’30s and early ’40s. They’re both pre-Robin stories -- before Robin shows up. “The Mad Monk” is in Detective Comics #31 and #32. #31 you’ll recognize -- it has a very famous cover; it’s a huge image of Batman looming up over a small castle in the foreground. There’s a moon behind him, and he has absolutely ginormous bat ears. In fact, when you look it up, you’ll go, “Oh, of course -- that cover.” The other one, “Hugo Strange and the Monster Men,” was in Batman #1.

Part of the fun of playing with somebody else’s toys is the challenge of trying to tell a story where some of the playing pieces are already in place on the board. In the world of Grendel, in the world of Mage, I’m the absolute god. Whatever I say happens, happens, and there’s never any question. With Batman there are many other aspects to consider. [Also,] any work I’ve done for DC, I always like to work early in a character’s career because I hate the giant, extended, huge continuity crap you have to deal with in their world. And I’ve just always liked primary-motivation stories.

So I decided there was a missing link in the early Batman tales, where we needed to see his transition from Batman Year One -- the Frank Miller/David Mazzucchelli classic storyline where he’s fighting just thugs and mobsters -- to his more established litany of costumed crazies that eventually becomes his absolute normalcy, you want to call it that [laughter]. And so I decided to take these two early stories and revamp them into a modern setting. I wanted to dig deep into the actual origins of this character.

Those early primal Batman tales are neat because the conventions that have since become established as being comic-booky were fresh and new and were based more on a pulp tradition than what we think of as comic cooks. And they were just so unfettered and raw. So I took those and tried to squeeze them into DC’s continuity and make them work.

CV: What's your creative process when you're tackling a project like this -- what sort of thought bubble might we see over your head while you’re at your desk?

"Did you find everything you're looking for?" asked the guy at the grocery store checkout.

"Yes. Spiritual wholeness. Physical well-being. Companionship. Chick peas."

"Do you want paper or plastic?"

"Paper?"

Handing over a medium-sized paper bag and my change he said, "Enjoy your happiness."

Creativity interview with comic book writer, illustrator Matt Wagner
Image (c) copyright Matt Wagner.

Matt Wagner is a comic book writer and illustrator, best known for his original comics Mage and Grendel (winner of three Eisner awards) and a five-year run on Sandman Mystery Theater, as well as for recent stints on Batman and on Trinity, a three-issue miniseries featuring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

This is the first half of a two-part interview. Be sure to also check out the second half, in which Wagner talks about how Mage is like a Zen journey, and what makes for good comic-book storytelling.

Matt Wagner on the Web: mattwagnercomics.com


Cecil Vortex: Were you a storyteller as a young boy?

Matt Wagner: I was. My father, and this dates him quite a bit, used to say I was vaccinated with a Victrola needle because I was very talkative…. My parents like to tell a tale of when I was quite young. I must have been five or something like that. We had literally -- I kid you not -- a door-to-door Bible salesman come to the door one day selling these lavishly illustrated Bibles. We were going through it and I was pointing out all the illustrations and saying, “Oh, look this is Noah, this is Jonah, Jesus” etc., etc., and we got to a picture of Adam and Eve in their loincloths in the Garden of Eden and I turned to my dad, apparently, and said, “Dad, Tarzan!” [laughter] So I think I was doomed for this profession from the very beginning.

My mother was an English teacher before she became a full-time mom, and a huge proponent of reading, so she made sure I was an early and vigorous reader. Coupled with that was the fact that I was an only child. I grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania in Amish country -- we lived out away from most other houses…. I drew to entertain myself because there wasn’t much video entertainment in those days. I think we had probably three or four TV stations initially. And so I was a vigorous reader and I drew. And comic books were both writing and drawing all rolled into one and just became the magic quotient for me.

CV: So you were headed for comics from the start?

Suddenly all I want to do is listen to Flight of the Conchords. And I don't even have the HBO.

Intriguing.

At the airport today, the Aloha Airlines employees were wearing Hawaiian shirts and lovely flowers in their hair, all designed to send the message: "You're already there."

And I was struck by the idea that a flower in someone's hair can be all it takes to lift your feet, to change the temperature, to shift your sense palette and drop you on the far side of a wearying journey,

And then later on, I'm waiting to go through security, and I'm looking around at some of the smiling folks, blissed out, and I thinking, "You bastards! You're already there!"

Me, I'm off to Boston. Would it have been too much trouble for the JetBlue employees to sport Samuel Adams wigs?

This fall (specifically, late October/early November), Virago Theatre will be staging an evening's worth of sitcom good-times that I cowrote with an old pal. The aim is to film it, 3-camera-style, before a live studio audience. You can read all about the show, including a character list and a little more background on the show's premise, here.

If you're a Bay Area actor or theater person and you'd be interested in learning more, and either working on the production or auditioning for a part, consider yourself formally exhorted to drop me a line.

Woof.

I have a few notes from our trip that didn't make it into the heart of the travel log. I'll be posting them here over the next few days because, quite frankly, these are important observations, too important for me to keep to myself.

For example, here's one:

Is it possible that the wall of traffic we hit when we entered Luxembourg was part of a coordinated effort by Luxembourgians to give travelers the impression that Luxembourg is a really really big country (that is, one that takes a long time to drive across), when in fact it's quite tiny?

Could it be that they're under state orders to take to the road at 9 am and drive slowly until 5 pm before returning to their extremely tiny homes? I mean, is there any chance at all that this is exactly what's going on?

Because, if so, that would be crazy.

Poffertjes. (and I mean that as a compliment)

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About-Creativity is a series of interviews with artists about their creative process.
Cecil Vortex has those interviews along with my own writing and tunes plus the occasional group-read of a challenging tome.

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