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Biographies of the Stars

Interview with Mark Waid (1996)

COMIC-ART.COM: Mark, my first question is: how did you get the assignment to write Cap?

MARK: Ralph Macchio just called me up out of the blue. I'm not sure who clued him in. Actually, that's not really true. Bob Harras, who I've been working with on X-Men stuff, he's the X-Men editor and was also writing Avengers and apparently had recommended me to Ralph, based on the strength of my X-Men work, so Ralph called me up out of the blue and offered me the assignment, cold, and I told him I'd have to think about it for a day or two, but I didn't really have to. He was my favorite Marvel character growing up and always has been and I've been waiting to write Captain America most of my adult life.

COMIC-ART.COM: You know, it's funny you should say that. Every writer I've talked to, I've talked to Gruenwald and Steve Englehart and they all express a certain passion for Cap.

MARK: Yeah. And I'm not entirely sure where that comes from. I think the fact that he's such a primal character is a big help, and the fact that he is a symbol and a fairly well-defined human being at the same time is a pretty neat riff to work off of.

COMIC-ART.COM: Do you find it all intimidating to work with a character who's so well-established?

MARK: Oh, I suppose some, but not terribly, because there, hmm, hmm, I'm trying to think of a good answer, actually. Somewhat, but the fact, I think the fact that I feel like I know him as well as I do takes a lot of the edge off that intimidation.

COMIC-ART.COM: As a fan of Cap, which creative teams have you liked the best?

MARK: Englehart. Englehart. Englehart. Englehart. Englehart. Englehart. Steve's stuff was the first Captain America stuff I read growing up and I'm sure that has a lot to do with it, but him and Sal Buscema were to me, the best Cap team ever, seconded probably only by Stern and Byrne. I think in order to protect my own livelihood (chuckles), I think Gruenwald did some nice stuff, too. He said, not at all sincerely.

COMIC-ART.COM: We'll cut that part.

MARK: (Laughs) Yeah. But, yeah, you know, actually if you could have me say something along the lines of: `Gruenwald has done some nice work as well.' that would certainly go a long way toward smoothing my relationship with Gruenwald.

COMIC-ART.COM: Is there a little tension that you're taking it over?

MARK: Well, actually there's none at all. Fortunately, he's been very good, but I just don't want to come on and go, you know, geeze I love Cap except for the last ten years.

COMIC-ART.COM: Gotta be tactful, I guess.

MARK: Yeah, yeah, but Steve Englehart, number one Cap guy in my book.

COMIC-ART.COM: Okay, then you're a big fan of Steve's tenure, then.

MARK: Yeah. It doesn't mean I'll be doing the book anything remotely like Steve Englehart, but I don't think there's any similarity in the way we're going to approach it, but that's certainly defined Captain America for me.

COMIC-ART.COM: Well, Steve said one thing I thought was interesting. He said that Cap, more than any other superhero, really has to be a reflection of America. Do you agree with that?

MARK: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It's a matter of staying on top of the mores and the attitudes of the times. He's still going to be a moral beacon, but he's got to reflect what's happening in America now. And that's very hard for a character who has been around for, you know, in the current Marvel universe for thirty years and yet is still, you know, about thirty years old, you know, Steve Rogers must, can't be any older than, you know, thirty-one, thirty-two tops by, you know, Marvel time rules, but I don't know if that's any help.

COMIC-ART.COM: Tell me, have you read any of the Golden Age stuff?

MARK: Oh, yeah. I've read a lot of the Golden Age stuff. You know, why you mean the ones where he's beating up on Japanese guys just cause they're yellow? Yeah, that stuff.

COMIC-ART.COM: And slugging Hitler in the face.

MARK: That's right. You know, but there's such primacy to that stuff. I had hoped that I would be able to find more there than I did and I don't know what exactly what I was looking for, but you know, the character wasn't very deep back then but he certainly was primal. There was certainly a lot of energy there and back then Jack and Joe were dealing in an age of comics where not much had been mapped out, so, you know, they were able to be the first in a lot of ways. I didn't, I'm not finding myself drawing much from there, either, but you know, it's certainly something that I dip into from time to time.

COMIC-ART.COM: Well, from that era a lot of the characters were all a lot more black and white.

MARK: Yeah, and yellow.

COMIC-ART.COM: Yes, and yellow. Yeah, okay, so a modern Captain America would seem to me to have to have a lot more shading to his character, a lot more ambiguity.

MARK: I would think so, although part of problem with Cap in the slack periods is that he's been so ambiguous and so shaded he has no strength and he comes off as a pontificator and a whiner and a speechifier and that just, that closes in Poughkeepsie on a Saturday night. I want a Cap who has an edge to him. My take on Cap in a nutshell is that because we know Cap, because Cap is so accessible to us, the readers, because we know everything he thinks, there is no way for Cap to surprise us, and worse, there is no way for Cap to surprise any of the people he fights because everybody knows exactly what he's going to do next. And my first goal is to take that out of the character somehow. Cap should be, I want people to be a little bit surprised from time to time by Cap's actions. Not that he would do anything that would be out of character, but I don't, you know, need a page and half of him explaining what he's about to do and then going and doing it. I just want to see him go do it and have everybody else catch up.

COMIC-ART.COM: Do you think Cap works better as an action character?

MARK: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean think that as I say, for all the reverence I have for Steve Englehart's version of the character, my Captain America won't be doing a whole lot of speechifyin'. My Captain America will be, people will turn to Cap, expecting a speech, and it will be this big blank space where Cap was standing two seconds ago and meanwhile there's Cap pounding on the Gray Gargoyle or whatever. I just think that, Cap has given enough speeches for a while. I think it's time he should act.

COMIC-ART.COM: One thing Mark Gruenwald said was that he thought one of his contributions to Cap was developing a greater stable of villains, you know besides the Red Skull. Are you going to be using some of the same villains that Mark did or are you going to come up with some of your own guys?

MARK: He did some nice villains that I wouldn't mind coming back to from time to time. I'd like to make up some of my own guys. And a lot of times, I think there's ways to tell stories and extended story arcs without having to have a costumed villain running around. I may be wrong but it's one of the things we've been very successful with in Flash, is that we've been going three years now and Flash has fought, like, six guys. I find it's a lot more interesting to be able to tell a good, dramatic, action-filled story without necessarily having to have another guy in tights and a mask show up to take the punches. I mean, there's all kinds of inner conflict that you can do, there's action stories you can do that deal more with Captain America than, you know, if that makes any sense.

COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, yeah. I see where you're coming from.

MARK: You know, I just I don't know how many times I can see Captain America pound on Mr. Hyde and the Cobra again. And I don't know any way that I can make that different from what we've seen before. I will certainly try from time to time but I'd like to achieve a nice balance of super-villain stories with stories that had no supervillains in them.

COMIC-ART.COM: Well, that segues nicely with my next question. What are you planning to do with the character, if you can sketch that in.

MARK: He's going to be, without giving away anything about how Gruenwald's run ends...

COMIC-ART.COM: Mark alluded to that in the interview I did with him, a little bit.

MARK: Okay. What did he say so I know where to spring off of.

COMIC-ART.COM: Well, he said that, his last issue will be in July, and he said it wasn't going to be a really explosive finale, he was just going to kind of, I think make his final statement about the character if I remember correctly. And he said he was going to leave Cap in that condition of paralysis where he's in the powered suit, still, which is I guess in the current storyline.

MARK: Without giving anything away, as I say, my first issue actually doesn't have Captain America in it at all. He, it is essentially the Avengers dealing with a crisis that is tailor-made for Captain America and trying to deal with it in a way that Captain America would and this gives them all a chance to kind of reflect explain to each other, and to the readers, what they think Captain America is all about. Did you ever read, you're familiar with the Steve Canyon newspaper strip.

COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, yeah. Big fan of Caniff.

MARK: Yeah, like the very first strip or two was people just standing around talking about what an amazing guy Steve Canyon was. Steve Canyon didn't show up for a while.

COMIC-ART.COM: That's true. When you finally see him, it's like I think in the last panel of one Sunday you see his hand on a doorknob opening his office.

MARK: Yeah, that's my approach to my first issue of Captain America, you know, people going, you know, `Let me tell you about Captain America.' That way we can fudge not having Cap in it. When Captain America shows back up and again, so I don't give away anything about Gruenwald's run, I won't be specific about as to whether we're talking about Steve Rogers or not, but, although you can probably infer, there'll be no armored suit. I mean I think the idea is to take him back to a more basic look, you know, the steely-eyed, lantern-jawed Captain America of old that didn't have to have, I mean the armored suit served its purpose in Mark's story, but we don't have a need for it.

COMIC-ART.COM: That seemed like, when Mark used it, I thought, Gee is this something that's going to become a permanent feature?

MARK: Nah.

COMIC-ART.COM: Are they trying to update it and make him into some kind of cyber-warrior?

MARK: Nah, the way you update Captain America has nothing to do with the look. I think the way you update Captain America has everything to do with the attitude, the fact that everyone perceives Captain America as their dad and nobody thinks their dad is cool.

COMIC-ART.COM: Sort of an old fogie.

MARK: Yeah. I mean the trick is to make him, I hesitate to say younger and hipper because that's, that conjures up all kind of scary visions, too, but he should certainly be a character with a bit more edge to him. Again, he's not ruthless, he's not grim and gritty, but he, he's definitely a take-charge man of action. My role models for him are the Superman in the Fleischer Superman cartoons, you know, a guy who is a man of action and then goes away, crossed with a little bit of Clint Eastwood and a lot of Jack Ryan from the Tom Clancy novels.

COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, someone who is basically a real decent character at his core.

MARK: Yeah, and a guy who doesn't agonize very much as to what the right path is, but rather just takes the right path and frequently leaves a lot of people standing in his, you know, people standing around in his wake going, Gee, I wonder what we should do? Oh, Cap is already on this, I guess I should just follow him?

COMIC-ART.COM: Would you say Cap is a character who leads more by example?

MARK: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I think in my run, hopefully more than ever. I don't really see him as a teacher, I mean I think that's part of it too, is that he's been, one of the reasons that he has been perceived as un-cool, and one of the reasons everybody looks at him as `your dad' is because he's so often cast in the role of teacher, and that makes some degree of sense, but I'd like to get away from that and have him not by giving lessons, but teach by example, having people just follow because Cap is not explaining his actions, Cap just goes and does stuff. So, I think actually stripping this idea of Captain America as the teacher of all the superheroes in the Marvel Universe has got to to, because that's what makes him your dad.

COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah. Well, are you going to be using some of the sidekick characters like Jack Flag and you know, some of the other ones that Gruenwald developed?

MARK: Well, off the record?

COMIC-ART.COM: Off the record.

MARK: They all blow, so, on the record, obviously I'm going to have to tie some of those ends up, at some point. Not in the immediate future. We, our first story arc is four issues, called "Operation Rebirth". That's 444 through 447, and then after that we get involved in some Avengers goings on and then following that we have a really nice, big story arc that, if plans continue the way we're headed, it kicks off with issue 450 which will be something, that without giving anything away, will be something that you've never seen done with Captain America before, a kind of hard choice that he's never had to make before.

COMIC-ART.COM: Well, in the stories are you going to be having crossovers into the Avengers book or will the Avengers just appear in Cap's book.

MARK: There's actually a crossover planned for issue 448 because by that time Cap will be up and running again, in whatever version he is, or whoever may be wearing the suit and he will achieved, let's put it this way, we will have achieved a status quo as of 448 and there are goings on in Avengers that are planned about that time that would involved all Avengers past and present, so Cap gets a chance to get involved in there.

COMIC-ART.COM: Well, let me ask you this: over the years Cap has had a number of sidekicks. Do you think Cap necessarily needs a sidekick?

MARK: I think he needs somebody around to go: `Holy Smokes! Look at that guy go!' I don't know necessarily a sidekick per se, like necessarily a kid in a mask or somebody in tights, but again, I'm not trying to be ultra-coy, but I was given by Ralph Macchio the perfect character to hang around with Cap for the first, you know, for the foreseeable future, and it's a character that you haven't seen in like twenty years who will be hanging around with Cap and is, to me, the perfect partner for Captain America.

COMIC-ART.COM: That's good. That'll be a nice, mysterious little thing to drop in. I think the fans will like that.

MARK: Yeah. There you go.

COMIC-ART.COM: Okay, let's see. Mark, how far ahead do you have the book plotted?

MARK: Roughly through 447 or so.

COMIC-ART.COM: Is this on paper or in your head?

MARK: It's a little bit of both.

COMIC-ART.COM: Are you going to have the same artist who's doing it now, or is a new artist going to be brought in?

MARK: Oh no, new guy. Terrific penciller named Ron Garney. He has done some Uncanny X-Men work. He did the issue of Uncanny X-Men before all this timeflip stuff, 321 I guess it was. And he's done some work here and there in the Marvel Universe, kind of like Jim Lee crossed with John Buscema, like the strengths of both, and he is just terrific. He's an amazing storyteller, and he's really, really into the gig. He's not just taking the book because it's a mid-list book, and geeze, somebody's got to draw it, I guess I may as well while I wait for my big break. You know, we're talking about a guy who could do all the X-Men work he wanted but is choosing to do Captain America because he likes what we're going to do.

COMIC-ART.COM: Well, is he a fan of the character?

MARK: Yeah.

COMIC-ART.COM: It seems like Cap is one of those characters who, you know, has a lot of fans within the business but the comic book fans out there don't necessarily buy him.

MARK: I know. I know, and it's, but, and I'm hoping--I don't have any easy answers as to how to change that, but fortunately exact thing has been said about the Flash, and, you know, we seem to have, it took us three and a half years of uphill struggling, but we've managed to make a success out of that, so you know, I have faith it can be done. If you're, I think the trick is to put creators on it who really care about the character and therefore, are laboring to make you care about it.

COMIC-ART.COM: So, in other words, you're hoping to pull an Englehart, like what he did in the seventies with Cap.

MARK: Yeah. Well, actually I'm hoping to pull a Waid, with what he did with the Flash, is what I'm trying to do. So, but yeah, I was joking. I didn't mean that to sound as egotistical as it did, but...

COMIC-ART.COM: No, no, no. Oh, but, Steve had said when he took over Cap the sales were pretty much in the toilet and then after about six months he said it was their top-selling book.

MARK: Well, that's Steve, too. I don't know what color the sky is on Steve's world. You know, I don't know if you know this, but Steve helped create Batman, too. So...

COMIC-ART.COM: I wasn't aware of that.

MARK: Well, Steve is, so I don't know if you know about this, but the movie never would have happened without Steve. So...

COMIC-ART.COM: Oh really, or are you joking?

MARK: Oh, man, be careful with Steve. And actually, before you run that actually as a gospel quote, the thing about six months going from toilet to top of the line, if you can find some way to check that somehow, I don't know how, but I would be hesitant to run that as pure fact and Steve is. I've spent a lot of time talking to Steve over the years and Steve is a nice guy and Steve is a very talented man, but Steve is a fucking loon. I mean Steve exists mostly just to make Steve look good. And he says things that are just, because I know, because if you're talking about DC stuff in particular, when he's talking about Batman, when he's talking about his DC work and time he spent at DC, well I was either there for some of that, or at least was around, on the periphery of DC for some that and a lot of times, Steve is just completely full of shit, but he's trying to, I don't know if he even believes this stuff anymore. I actually begin to think that he doesn't say these things because he's trying to look good. I think he actually believes these things, which is actually scarier.

COMIC-ART.COM: I don't know Steve too well, so.

MARK: Steve is, Steve is a loon. Steve is actually certifiable. He's a great, a terrific talent. And again, this doesn't in any way diminish the body of work he's produced, a lot of which I thought was brilliant, but, Jesus, he's looney. And I would really question that Captain America went from nowhere to top of the line on the strength of Steve Englehart and Sal fucking Buscema, you know?

COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, well I'll do some checking on that and see what I can come up with.

MARK: Yeah. Yeah. I mean don't doubt that it was selling better at some point, I mean, but, hew--Anyway, I don't mean to get off on a tangent...

COMIC-ART.COM: Oh no, that's quite all right. Mark, you're somebody like me, who did a lot of work in the fanzines and kind of broke into the business that way. What was your first professional work?

MARK: First professional work was Action Comics 5, trying to do the math, 572, a really dreaincr=F|dful Superman story for Julie Schwartz, back during the waning days of the Schwartz reign when he knew that his days were numbered on Superman and he was pretty much just trying to buy from a lot of new guys to try to give a lot of new guys a break in the industry, and that was very swell of him, for such a dreaincr=F|dful story.

COMIC-ART.COM: Aside from Cap what else are you working on?

MARK: Okay, got Flash, got Impulse, a Flash spin-off. Doing a lot of X-Men work here and there. Working on Underworld, the next DC crossover for the fall and working on the next Alex Ross project, which is Kingdom Come, which is a painted DC project that is scheduled for about this time next year.

COMIC-ART.COM: Alex is the guy who painted the...

MARK: Marvels.

COMIC-ART.COM: That's right, the Marvels book. I was thinking Legends, but I was going, no, that's not right. Nice-looking work.

MARK: Yeah, terrific-looking work.

COMIC-ART.COM: So, let's see, we've talked about where you're going with the book. Well, let me ask you this: why do you think Cap has lasted so long?

MARK: Wow, good question. I think one of the reasons he's lasted so long has nothing to do with the fans. It has everything to do with as you said before, that people within the creative community just have their soft spot in their heart for Cap, and no one wants to see the character go away. So, that as much as anything I think has helped Cap weather times when I'm sure he was selling bad enough to be cancelled.

COMIC-ART.COM: It does seem like there's a little more sentiment built up around him than any almost any other character.

MARK: I think a lot of that is because, he was, in a lot of ways, the first. I mean he was certainly, he was the first comic book superhero to premiere in his own magazine and he, you know, just the fact that he's been around that long. There's nothing not to like about the guy, or rather, there's nothing to dislike about the character. He's warm, he's charismatic, he's friendly, he's helpful, and he's been at the heart of the Marvel Universe. He's actually considered the Heart of the Avengers even though he wasn't on the starting lineup and I think that's because Roy Thomas as much as anybody did such a great job of making him the heart of the Avengers for years and years. So, I think that has a lot to do with it, too, that he's perceived as the heart of the Marvel Universe.

COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, kind of one of the linchpin characters.

MARK: Yeah, I mean the fact that he has always been able to hold his own alongside a God of Thunder and a guy in super-hip armor and characters who can crush planets with a glance. I mean the fact that Cap has been able to stand beside those guys without blinking says a lot about the character. Jim Shooter summed it up quite nicely. He pointed to the defining moment in Captain America, which is in the very first Avengers story where he appears, where they haul him out of the ice. Well, they're fighting Sub-Mariner five or six pages later, and I'm sure you've heard this anecdote before. Stop me if you have. But, you know, Sub-Mariner has got Captain America by the ankle and is ready to throw him to the equator and is rearing back and Captain America is thinking, `Well, he's got the best of me for the moment, but I'm sure I can figure out a way to outmaneuver him.' Well, Jesus, that's a pretty positive outlook there, Cap. You know, and that's very cool, and to me that's the defining moment of Captain America, that he never says die, he never accepts defeat.

COMIC-ART.COM: Well, does the fact that he doesn't have any superpowers have an appeal for you?

MARK: Oh, yeah, absolutely, because he just works on blood and sweat and strength, I mean that's it, you know. And I think that's more noble than a guy who wears souped-up armor or a god of Thunder. I mean I think it's, he's the most noble character we've got walking around because again, he's really got nothing but a shield and a heart.

COMIC-ART.COM: Right, right. Well, for me at least, one of the things I like about Cap is, like Batman, he doesn't have any powers. He does what he does through force of will, skill, and training.

MARK: Right.

COMIC-ART.COM: And I think that's much more impressive than, you know, an accident that makes you radioactive or something.

MARK: Right. I agree.

COMIC-ART.COM: Okay, well, you know what, Mark. I think I got about enough for this book...

MARK: Okay.

COMIC-ART.COM: Or for this piece. Let me just close with one question. One thing I've noticed that has sort of plagued Cap over the years is just endless retellings of his origin, again, like Batman. Is that something that you're going to try and get away from?

MARK: I think so. I think that we know every single thing about Captain's America's early past, and his origin, and the name and secret motivation of everybody who was standing in that room when he got the shots, and you know, what they had for lunch, and, we're done. Cap does not have to live in the past anymore, and we're not going to subject readers to the past over and over again. Having said that, the first thing he goes up against is the Red Skull, but we're done telling the origin. We are looking ahead and charting a new path.

COMIC-ART.COM: Will you have Cap working with Nick Fury?

MARK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean they are, they are fast friends, and yet, as we will reveal somewhere in the middle of "Operation Rebirth", Nick had involvement with something that, Nick had involvement with something that nearly destroyed Captain America's life and we, I'm trying to figure out the best way to say this. Something nearly destroyed Cap's life a few, several years ago. What Cap's going to find out is that Nick was involved and Nick had the best reasons and the best motivations but that's still going to throw a major monkeywrench into their relationship.

COMIC-ART.COM: Is that something that you're going to work out in the continuity of your book?

MARK: Yeah.

COMIC-ART.COM: Good, good. Okay, Mark, I think that's everything I need. Thanks very much for your time.

MARK: My pleasure.

We thank interviewer Steve Ringenberg for this transcript

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