Mark Waid is a man that needs little introduction for comics fans. The Eisner Award-winning writer has shaped the industry over the years with his work on The Flash, Fantastic Four, and Kingdom Come with Alex Ross. We got the chance to talk with him about his career and his upcoming horror book Shadow Walk with Legendary Comics.
Talk to us about Shadow Walk. What drew you to the project in the first place?
The basic concept and what drew me in…it wasn’t the people, it wasn’t the company, although all those things contributed to making it a great experience, but it was the basic concept as envisioned by Thomas Tull, who is, of course, the head of the studio. He threw the elevator pitch out [that] The Valley of the Shadow of Death, that we’ve sort of known from Biblical passages as an allegory—really isn’t an allegory. His pitch was “what if this was a real place?” What if this was truly an odd, y’know, bizarre, dark test of faith that was literal rather than symbolic and if so where does it exist today and why does it appear now and what do we want out of it and how do we deal with that? All these questions intrigued me and we were sorta talking about it and [decided to] bring Max Brooks in to help world-build this thing and come up with some science and some real, genuine, mythological backstory to a realm like this. I just couldn’t be stopped and I was really taken with this notion.
Your portfolio has very little in the way of horror books. How does writing a more horror-themed comic differ from your usual output?
It’s a little different in that I don’t feel a need to be quite as family-friendly and bouncy as some of the other material that I do, and because there’s no spandex in the story, there’s no capes, no tights, people feel a little more relatable, everybody feels a little more real, visceral, and the characters are allowed to have feet of clay a little bit more than they would [as superheroes]. So writing horror gives you those tools to deal with, and with that said I think there’s probably a reason that there isn’t as much horror on my resume. While I enjoy writing horror, I don’t enjoy writing cynicism. I don’t enjoy writing darkness for darkness’ sake, or gruesomeness for gruesomeness’ sake. I kinda feel that there is a moral and ethical imperative to try and tell a story and to have a point of view and even in the darkest of times tell a story that has a glimmer of hope. Otherwise it’s kind of a canned death march into a dark place that I don’t want to wake up.
Wow. Do you feel that some of your lighter tone comes through on this book or do you feel that you really plunged into that darker aspect?
I think I really plunged headfirst into that darker aspect, but there are lighter-toned moments here and there only because it’s a 128-page graphic novel and nobody wants to read something that long that is going to be nothing but morose. I don’t want anyone to read this and then go feel like they’ve gotta go drink themselves to death. With that said, it certainly goes in some really truly horrific dark places that I’m not accustomed to as a writer, but that’s part of the fun of the journey.
You’ve spent a good sized portion of your career as a freelancer. How has that helped or hindered you over the years?
I don’t think it’s hindered me so much. I think it’s helped in that it allows me to work for so many different companies, so many different editorial regimes, so many other writers and other artists that I think it’s helped me be a pretty well-rounded guy. I may not be the best writer at any given moment, but I’m certainly one of the most experienced.
If you had unlimited resources and no one to make happy but yourself, what would be your dream project?
Very good question. I’m gonna sound like I’m selling you something, but I’m not, I swear to God. This is not misleading, it’s the God’s-honest truth. The stuff I’m doing on Thrillbent.com, which is my digital comics site with material I’m producing there, that really is the dream job because, again, unlimited resources because all you’re doing is putting in some equity, and unlimited time because I’m my own publisher and my own boss, so nobody gets to yell at me. The material that I’m producing there really is, at this moment, the dream job. That answer may change in the next couple of years, y’know, but that’s my answer right now.
Finally, you wake up one morning and discover you’ve become a superhero or supervillain. What are your superpowers and your name?
(Laughs) I don’t know about the name but the powers are easy. I’ve always loved the Flash because I just believe that time is the enemy of all living things and with each passing day, y’know, I’m an impatient guy to begin with. I’m the guy tapping his foot behind you in line, I’m the guy who’s sighing exasperatedly behind you at the checkout counter when you pull out your checkbook, y’know, and I’m the guy who never feels like he’s getting enough done during the day so super-speed would be my number one superpower that…nothing else comes close, not flying, not super-strength, not invulnerability, nothing else comes close to super-speed. As far as the superhero name…y’know what? I withdraw from my answer and remind myself of all the times that my gym teachers yelled at me for not being Charlie Hustle. “Come on, Charlie Hustle!” That’d be me, Charlie Hustle: Super Speedster.