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CrossGen: Mark Waid

The award-winning writer talks about making the jump to CrossGen

By Buddy Scalera     August 30, 2000

People are wondering if Mark Waid is a little insane. As one of the top writers in comic books today, Waid's writing currently graces such comics as DC's flagship title, JLA; Black Bull's GateCrasher, which he helped create; and his creator-owned Image book, Empire. His resume also includes defining story lines on Flash, Captain America and the already-classic Kingdom Come.

Truth be told, Waid could probably write almost any mainstream comic he wanted. He's that popular, and he has the awards to prove it. So, why would he leave it all behind and move to Florida to join the upstart CrossGen Comics team? Many people might think he's a bit crazy, especially considering the company's requirement that creators work exclusively for CrossGen. There must be a reason, because Waid's the latest in a long line of creators who've picked up their stakes and moved to Tampa.

Fandom recently caught up with Waid to get the scoop on his career-changing decision. Alternating between serious and witty, the fast-talking Waid reveals why CrossGen is better than the Big Two, where his current writing projects stand and why Robin Hood's bow helped clinch the deal.

FANDOM: SO MARK, WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING AT CROSSGEN?

MARK WAID: A little bit of everything. I'll be writing two books. But more than that, I'll be heavily involved in an administrative/managerial capacity. I've been wanting to get back into the editorial/business side of comics for some time, not only as a much-needed life-change to keep my batteries charged, but also because I want to be working more closely with a company that's aggressively out to find new markets.

ONE OF THOSE BOOKS WILL BE SIGIL. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO BE DOING DIFFERENTLY WITH IT TO ATTRACT READERS WHO AREN'T PICKING IT UP CURRENTLY?

I thought we'd have Wolverine guest-star in my first issue. That always seems to work. Other than that, all we can do is tell good, heartfelt stories and let the audience come to us. Most of the successes I've been lucky enough to have in this industry--Flash, Captain America, even Valor--have been the result of word-of-mouth and a gradual rise in loyal readership, rather than a sudden spike from fickle speculators. In the long run, that's much better for the health of a book anyway.

THE OTHER BOOK WILL BE CROSSGEN'S 'MYSTERIOUS SIXTH COMIC.' CAN YOU GIVE FANS ANY HINTS ABOUT IT?

I can't say. Really. [CrossGen publisher/founder] Mark Alessi would kill me. He'd beat me to death with this copy of Shogun I'm reading, which is a big, heavy book. [It'll be] full of interesting things. How's that?

WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND THE UNNAMED 'WRITER'S PROJECT'?

If you mean the teaching program, it's still in such an embryonic state that it has no real name. It's not like an accredited college course or anything. It's not like you can sign up through the Learning Annex. Alessi just pointed out to me that if I really want to teach a new generation of writers and artists, I can do it in his office better than I can do it from the solitude of my home office.

HOW WILL YOUR ROLE RUNNING THAT PROGRAM DIFFER FROM BARBARA KESEL'S AS HEAD WRITER? ISN'T SHE DEVELOPING NEW TALENT?

As I understand it, we'll be working in tandem. I'll have most of the hands-on responsibility of molding impressionable young minds. So look for a new generation of writers who all want to write Flash. Just kidding.

HOW DID THIS CROSSGEN DEAL COME ABOUT?

There was some 'greasing of the wheels.' There were some photographic negatives involved. But, essentially, Alessi invited me to Tampa for a weekend, and for three days talked to me as if I were an adult, which in this industry isn't something management is known for. And that went a long way towards establishing a mutual respect that turned into an offer and then an acceptance.

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO ACCEPT?

Because they're not living in denial like most of the major [publishers]. They realize that the industry's in a precarious position and that our survival depends on finding new markets and supplying those markets with comics that can be understood by a new audience. Not dumbed-down comics, not oversimplified comics, just stories and art that are clear and understandable. Did you see that X-Men preview in TV Guide? The one that was supposed to be an outreach to a non-comics audience? [It was the complete] opposite of that.

BESIDES TREATING YOU WITH RESPECT, WHAT ELSE IMPRESSED YOU ABOUT MARK ALESSI?

Seriously? The moment I first walked into his office, he had something he wanted to show me, something he'd just acquired. It was the actual bow Errol Flynn used in The Adventures of Robin Hood. And Mark just glowed as he held it and showed it off, not because it was a prize piece of Hollywood memorabilia, but because of what that bow stood for. That right makes might, that there's no shame in believing that heroism is its own reward. Mark and I bonded pretty quickly over those sentiments. Beyond that, all I'll tell you is that he uses the phrase 'with all due respect' entirely too often.

YOU'VE FELT BURNED IN THE PAST BY THE BIG PUBLISHERS, MOST NOTABLY MARVEL. WHAT'S GOING TO MAKE CROSSGEN ANY DIFFERENT IN THE END?

Mostly that I'm not dealing with a phalanx of businessmen and bean counters, and a hierarchy of editors who often don't agree with one another, much less with me, about what should and shouldn't be published. At CrossGen, I report directly to the High Sheriff, whom I respect. And while I won't always agree with every decision Alessi makes, at least he'll explain his decisions to me and--as he is already legendary for--he won't go back on his word once he makes a promise.

WHAT'S YOUR OPINION OF CROSSGEN'S POLICY REQUIRING PEOPLE TO WORK IN THEIR TAMPA, FLA., OFFICES?

I was skeptical, but it makes sense. The team spirit there was very strong. And the ability for everyone in the creative process to see the work at every stage and make any necessary course corrections before stuff goes off to print--how can that not make for better comics?

YOU'RE A HUGE COMICS COLLECTOR YOURSELF. HOW MANY COMICS DO YOU ESTIMATE YOU'LL HAVE TO MOVE?

According to the guys who give out moving-cost estimates--and I'm not making this up--by their weight and volume calculations in regards to my possessions, I am a family of six. There are in excess of a hundred long boxes just of comics, and that's not counting all the toys and books and CDs and DVDs and...oh, my God, what am I getting myself into?!?

SINCE CROSSGEN REQUIRES EXCLUSIVITY FROM ITS CREATORS, HOW WILL YOU WRAP UP YOUR CURRENT COMMITMENTS ON EMPIRE, JLA AND GATECRASHER?

Empire continues at least through issue six, which doesn't change at all. JLA I'm committed to through the year 2001, so it's not exactly like I'm jumping ship there, either. And GateCrasher I'm contracted on through its first year. Alessi not only allowed but also encouraged me to fulfill all those commitments.

BLACK BULL HAS A DEAL TO DO A GATECRASHER ANIMATED SHOW, WHICH YOU AND JIMMY PALMIOTTI ARE SCHEDULED TO WRITE. HOW WILL THE CROSSGEN GIG AFFECT THAT?

Shouldn't. All it means is that I'll have to carve an extra day out of the week for all this extracurricular stuff.

WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO GORILLA? A LOT OF COVERAGE RECENTLY HAS CENTERED ON ALLEGEDLY LOW SALES AND THE IMPRINT'S POTENTIAL DEMISE. WHAT WENT WRONG?

Nothing went 'wrong!' Do you see me canceling Empire? Do you see Kurt pulling the plug on Shockrockets? Gorilla Comics launched with high numbers--despite what you read in Wizard--and Empire's still making a profit. My commitment to Gorilla is exactly why Empire is exempt from my CrossGen exclusivity deal.

ULTIMATELY, WHAT'S THE BEST PART OF THIS WHOLE DEAL?

Honestly? Being part of a team that's dedicated to making a difference.

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