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Comics Journal #79: Marv Wolfman Interview

[from Comics Journal #79 – 1983]
>> go to part two

Wolfman began freelancing for DC where he wrote Batman, Teen Titans, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Double, Vigilante, Supergirl, and John Carter before becoming the story editor at Warren. In 1973 he became an associate editor at Marvel Comics and was soon promoted to editor of Marvel’s magazine line. In 1975 he moved up the editorial hierarchy once again to become Marvel’s editor-in-chief, a position he gave up less than a year later in order to devote more time to writing. During his tenure at Marvel, Wolfman scripted Captain Marvel, Skull the Slayer, Killraven, Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Man-Thing, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Spider-Woman, and Nova. His most acclaimed work and the work of which he is proudest was Tomb of Dracula, drawn by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. Wolfman also helped kick off Marvel’s line of super-hero novels, co-writing the first Spider-Man and Fantastic Four novels with Len Wein.

In 1979 Wolfman became embroiled in a bitter dispute with editor-in-chief Jim Shooter when Shooter refused to allow Wolfman to continue editing the Dracula title that Wolfman had scripted for 63 issues. The dispute resolved itself when Wolfman quit the company and joined DC Comics.

Upon his return to DC, Wolfman wrote Green Lantern, Superman, Brave & Bold, Superman Family, and DC Presents. He and George Pérez then created the New Teen Titans. And when Gene Colan left Marvel over artistic differences between editor-in-chief Shooter, Wolfman and his old collaborator on Dracula teamed up to create Night Force. But, it’s the New Teen Titans that has taken off and become DC’s best-selling title in the direct-sales market and that is the subject of the Journal’s second interview with Marv Wolfman.

– L. K. Speerloop

This interview was conducted by Dwight R. Decker in January 1982, was copy-edited by Marv Wolfman, edited by Gary Groth, and transcribed with patience by Tom Mason.

DECKER: I’ve read all the Teen Titans in the last couple of days in one or two sittings, and one thing that struck me immediately, was that you’ve apparently seen the movie Star Wars.

WOLFMAN: Yeah, have I duplicated things?

DECKER: In the very first issue, Kory ‘s escape from the planet where she had been reminded me very much of the escape of the robots and the business with Princess Leia from the Imperial Cruiser.

WOLFMAN: If there is, it’s an unconscious similarity, I doubt that anything was done intentionally. If I recall Star Wars, she did not escape, they had to help her. And in this particular case, she simply got into a spaceship and left, and the robots got into a sort of satellite and were dumped. So if there’s a similarity, it’s that people get into a spaceship and leave. That’s the only one I could see.

DECKER: Another scene was where Trigon took Raven back, blew up a planet with a cannon and then broke a promise about laying Earth alone. It sounded very much like the Aldernan sequence from Star Wars.

WOLFMAN: You know, there are only a certain amount of gimmicks and certainly I was not thinking of Star Wars in a case like this. I was simply trying to establish a villain on my own, a villain who lied constantly, a villain who was a total representation of evil. I’m sure that throughout all of comics and science fiction and movies you’ll find the same concepts coming up all around and I don’t think one is based on the other. They seem to be generated from the same interests in trying to develop a character. And the one thing that I’ve tried to do in the Titans as the book has progressed and as I’ve gotten a better handle on the various characters, is to really make the characters come alive. The early issues had problems – I didn’t have a sense of the dialogue, how each character would speak, how each character~ would move. Now I feel that over the past year, starting with about issue 8, George and I both got a feeling that we knew what was happening with these characters, how they would react to different situations and how each one’s speech patterns would differ. In the early ones, there were some rough spots. It’s the learning process that one goes through. And one of the things I’m mostly concerned with is the direction that the book will go, where the characters will develop, how they will develop, so that there are subtextures to each character.

DECKER: The reason I brought it up, I guess is because there are continual references throughout the book to, well, media references. Like calling someone a ‘refugee from a Flash Gordon movie.” And I think in one of the pages you have there that I just glanced at, Changeling was talking about Harrison Ford playing him in the movie about his life.

WOLFMAN: I think that these days people tend to make a lot of media references and I think it is a common factor. I know I’m constantly talking about it, most of my friends do. We sort of use the media as a background. There’s a TV show Bosom Buddies and if you can get past the transvestite angle, it’s a very funny show in many ways, and they are constantly doing the same thing. It’s always references to the media, the things you grow up with and to alienate them from there surroundings would be a big mistake. Gar Logan, specifically makes most of those, and he was in television, so he has that background, he’s the youngest, and the most outward, so he would make those references, as would most of the others. Wonder Girl, I don’t think ever has because that’s not her background. Raven and Starfire obviously didn’t either. I’d say the primary person who would do that is the Changeling and possibly after that, Kid Flash, but not as much with Kid Flash.

DECKER: So it’s less you trying to be cute and trendy and more characterization.

WOLFMAN: The Changeling mini-series has a whole thing about his TV background and he tends to think in those type of terms. And that’s the type of commentary he does. If it was just me, I’d have all the characters saying that. But it’s not me.

DECKER: Marvel writing has for years been that way.

WOLFMAN: I think that any up-to-date writing refers to the period that people are living in. I hate to say, “Marvel does this, and DC does that.” I think it’s a writer who has a sensibility of the times he’s living in and uses that time as a factor in the stories:

DECKER: Is there a danger that this could be a shortcut to characterization?

WOLFMAN: No, because I tend to think that real people make media references as well, and that’s only one element. If that was all that Gar Logan did, and if all our characters spoke in the outward manner, it would be a shortcut. What I’ve been trying to do starting with issue 17, where I started to feel that I understood the characters inside and out, was start to give a feeling of the subtexture,some of the things you wouldn’t think about. The way they react to various situations in politics, religion, some of the things that have never really been dealt with in comics. Over a period of many~ many years, if the book continues to sell and last, you’ll learn about these characters. If I try to say everything in one issue, it would be a big mistake. People don’t discover everything there is to know about their friends from one meeting. You have to meet the characters, learn about them, and grow with them. And I’m Just learning myself. I think the book’s strong point will be coming up as each issue goes on, and I begin to feel I understand the little things that make the characters work. That’s the stuff that I’m mostly interested in.

DECKER: Let’s go back a little. Can you tell briefly how the book came about; the book had failed twice before. And why did you and George decide that you would try again?

WOLFMAN: Well I was leaving Marvel, and I knew that. And I was speaking to Len about various books. I had a habit, even at Marvel, to create books rather than take books away from other people. I’ve always been fairly sensitive as a freelancer to taking a book. At Marvel, I created Skull, and I created Nova, and a lot of others. And when Len Wein left, I took Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. So I wanted to create books. I didn’t think that there were going to be many openings. So one of the things I wanted to do was a book I liked writing – the Teen Titans. Len and I worked out the characters in various ways that I’ve gone into in the past. And we tried to sell it to Jenette. She wasn’t thrilled about the idea because she hated the last run of the Teen Titans. She was much more interested after I spoke to George Pérez. George entered it after Len and I had already-determined that we wanted to do it. I met George up at the Marvel offices and said I was going to DC and he said “Don’t forget, I’m a freelancer.” And I asked him how he’d like to do the Teen Titans, and he said he’d love to.

Because we had worked fairly well on the one story that we did together, and all we ever did at Marvel was an FF Annual. I like George personally beyond that, despite the fact that we hadn’t worked together that much. And we lived near each other also, which also made it nice. We went in with the fact that George would draw it, I would write it, and Jenette said Okay, but show me what you’re going to do, because even with us she hated the concept of the Titans so much. We told her what we were going to do and she loved it from that point on. Liked it so much that she was willing to lose a considerable amount of money doing that preview. That’s half again the cost of a comic, with no extra price. And that was the first time that that had ever been done. So that’s basically the genesis. George created the costumes, with some advice by us, but mostly it was his, and he did a magnificent job. I mentioned the first letter column, that there wasn’t a single change. And both Len and I are frustrated artists, and we probably would have made as many changes as we could just to feel that we added to it. But George has constantly through the run of the book, not only given of himself as an artist but far beyond that in terms of creation and even helping in the plot and characterization. He’s a tremendous talent and I just love working with him.

DECKER: Excuse the crassness, but was there any thought given to creating DC’s answer to The X-Men?

WOLFMAN: No, actually not. I wanted a book. I was not about to do a mystery book with anyone other than Gene Colan, and at that point I had no concept that Gene would be coming [to DC]. I wouldn’t be interested in The X-Men, as much as I’ve enjoyed the book, it’s not my type of writing. First of all, I’ve never enjoyed the type of intense.. Let me start over. I’ve never been a big fan of group books. Like I said, I enjoyed The X-Men, but was never interested in writing it, or the Avengers, or the Justice League. The Teen Titans was a group that I liked coming into comics. And it was really to give me a book that nobody else could bother with. It was pretty much outside the mainstream, with the exception of Robin. None of the other characters were being used, and certainly none of the ones I created could have been. And it was just to sort of be left alone. It was a direction that I would have probably taken the Teen Titans had I stayed on the book 14 years before.

People talk about the similarity between the Titans and the X-Men which I can’t see because Chris and I write completely differently. Our interests are different, our structure is different. If there’s a similarity, it’s as Chris said himself at a comics panel at one convention when asked that question. He said, The only similarity is that we brought back old groups, added some new characters and did it better than had been done previously. And I really think that’s the only similarity, even if there are some surface ones, say between Cyborg and Colossus, and the only similarity there is that there is metal connected to both of them. Outside of that, they are totally dissimilar.

DECKER: Well isn’t there a similarity in that you have two groups of quite young people who live together in a snazzy clubhouse.

WOLFMAN: Actually that’s the big difference between the books. The Titans all have alter egos and they all live on their own. Wally West lives with his parents. The only one who lives in Titans Tower is Raven.

DECKER: Well, they all have their own rooms, though.

WOLFMAN: They all have their own rooms – but that’s if they need it. Most of them don’t use it. Wally lives at home. Dick lives at home. Wonder Girl has her own apartment and shares it with Starfire. Cyborg lives in his own place. And Gar lives in a mansion. Plus they have their own lives. Raven goes to school as does Wally. Robin works with Batman and is now back at school, finally. The one thing I was determined to do was to make sure that they were people outside of being heroes. If there’s a problem with me toward the X-Men, it’s that they don’t exist outside the context of the X-Men. Our characters exist outside the context of the Teen Titans and come together.

DECKER: Still you have the business of the young people…

WOLFMAN: So did the Legion of Super-Heroes, which I think is closer to the initial concept of bringing back the X-Men than the Titans was to the X-Men itself. The idea of characters from other planets is translated very simply to characters from other countries. I think, if anything, that the X-Men is closer to the Legion, than the Titans is to the X-Men.

DECKER: What is it like to write teen-agers? You aren’t consciously trying to aim it at teen-agers…

WOLFMAN: No, I’m not trying to aim it at teenagers. This is a book about teen-agers that I think anybody can read.

DECKER: But you aren’t overdoing it and duplicating slang and…

WOLFMAN: No, I don’t believe in it because I don’t do it well. The worst thing I could do is try to give 1982 slang, which will be out of date by the time the book sees print. Even as a reader, I hated that. I could not believe that the kids spoke like that because I never did. I’d rather write the characters as people who are teenagers and let the stories tell themselves. I’m very story-oriented. I’m not as much rambling continuity oriented. And I think that shows in the fact that the majority of the Titans stories to date have been one-and two-part stories, as opposed to most of the other comics being published. We’ve had a few multi-part stories, but not many.

DECKER: I was just thinking that you have used very little slang at all.

WOLFMAN: Rarely.

DECKER: Can Gar Logan change into absolutely anything and use his animal form for convenience?

WOLFMAN: No. If I understand the character correctly, in terms of his powers, and that’s picking up off the Doom Patrol stuff, he can only change into animals. Yes, I know the next question is, ‘Can he change into a person because a person is an animal?”

DECKER: It would have to be a green person, though.

WOLFMAN: It would have to be a green person.

DECKER: He could probably do Brainiac 5.

WOLFMAN: Yeah, I would tend to doubt it. I would rather keep him as an animal. The original serum that his real father, Mark Logan, created was to solely tie in the genetic code between humans and animals. I assume that’s the only shape he could take. Yes, we have him turning into a Gordanian in issue 24, 25. Some levels, I’ll extend myself, but I won’t have him turn into other people.

DECKER: Well, there was one scene where he was turning into animals that didn’t even exist that were supposed to be projections of his mind.

WOLFMAN: Yeah, he was going insane at that particular time, and he normally could nor do that. I’ve since established, because even there I thought it was getting out of hand, that he can’t do anything very large and stay in that size or even shape-change afterward very easily. It would be several days before he could make a shape-change after becoming a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which I’ll probably never do again. I’d rather keep it small. I have to ask myself after I’ve made a mistake like that, where the mass comes from. I’ll accept where the mass goes, like when he turns into an insect, but I don’t see how he could become a Tyrannosaurus. So I’m going to try to avoid that in the future. That’s again, the learning process. If you stick to the past solely because it’s been done, I think you hurt yourself in the long run. You have to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, and work around that and adapt your characters to their strengths and weaknesses.

DECKER: The reason that I brought that up was in Titans #13, Amazon island, Paradise Island, he turned into what was given in the copy as a deadly Bracheosaurus.

WOLFMAN: Yeah, that was a Bracheosaurus.

DECKER: Yeah, but deadly? They were plant eaters.

WOLFMAN: Well, would you like one to hit you? They are deadly if they whap you. I didn’t say a carnivorous one [laughter] and I didn’t say one that was going to eat them. Any animal rampaging toward you with a great deal of weight is deadly to me. Again, as I’ve said, I will probably never do that again. I think it was a mistake having him turn into something that large. And that’s something I learned after the first two times I tried it.

DECKER: Forgive me if I sound like something from Uncle Mart ‘s Boo Boo Brigade but…

WOLFMAN: That’s okay, I’m sure I’ve made several of them.

DECKER: By the way, that was a nice concept of Paradise Island that you did. For the first time in all the years I’ve been reading Wonder Woman, I actually felt I knew the place or liked it.

WOLFMAN: Thank you. Now that I’m editor of Wonder Woman, I’m going to try to incorporate that thinking into Paradise Island. I think the Island is a great place, and the mythology of Wonder Woman is great. My interest is mythology, so if I can add something of that as editor of WW, I’m going to try. Certainly it didn’t hurt having George Pérez’s artwork, which was absolutely gorgeous.

DECKER: True, I like his Amazon armor.

WOLFMAN: He made them different. They didn’t wear those diaphanous little white gowns that they’ve been we:wearing for the last 47,000 years. Certainly not in battle.

DECKER: That was a. three-part story…

WOLFMAN: No, two parts. I try to avoid multi-part stories as I’ve said. I like to keep it as close and tight as I can. Very few of the stories have gone beyond one issue. One or two have gone to two, and I think two have gone to three. And that’s it.

DECKER: The point I’m trying to make here is that the Amazons and the old Gods trying to overthrow the new Gods, the point that was brought up in my mind was that there was a definite generational conflict and thinking about the series as a whole, it seems that you’ve done that a number of times. One of the underlying themes of the book is the younger generation opposed to the older generation.

WOLFMAN: I think that has been the theme. I’m trying to avoid overdoing it, although I think I overdid it with issue 20, it was just. too many times having the father-son problem. When you’re working with teenagers, one of the things I had to determine was whether to ignore the fact that they are teenagers or to play to the fact that they are teenagers, as characters, not playing to the teenage audience. I had determined in the earlier issues to play to the fact that they were teenagers, create that conflict between generations on both sides, positive and negative. Some of the characters have had very positive stuff. But I think I’ve overdone it. And I’m seeking to avoid it again. In a learning process, you see where you overstep the boundaries. And I started to overstep it.

DECKER: Come to think of it, there must be a dozen instances where someone is in conflict with the older generation.

WOLFMAN: I’m sure there have been. They won’t happen as much again.

DECKER: That brings up something else, it seems that a number of stories have dealt with the good guys being controlled by the bad guys, thus attacking the other good guys.

WOLFMAN: I think that’s only happened twice, and it happened in the first nine issues. I don’t recall it happening since. I tend not to like those type of story lines and have been getting away from it. Even in some of the stories that we’ve done since, after issue 11, have certainly not gone into any subject matter of that kind. I’ve gotten involved in other type stories and the Titans became more realistic.

DECKER: But there did seem to be a number of stories where someone was under control, not necessarily by a bad guy.

WOLFMAN: Yeah, I noticed that myself.

DECKER: Like Raven controlling Kid Flash…

WOLFMAN: That was very intentional. I wanted the character thing. Not so much her control, but the realization of what that has created between them. Very often the control type story, the so-called Puppeteer story, that was a very straightforward control story. The Justice League story. Those were old-fashioned in concept. Once I figured out who the characters were, I was able to avoid those type of plots. What we’ve been trying to do, both George and I, is explore new territories for the superheroes. It’s hard, really hard, what with Marvel having been Out 20 years, having tried virtually everything, and DC 40 years. It’s hard to find things, but one of the ways we’ve been able to do it or start to do it, is giving the subtexture to our characters, so that we do understand what they feel like, more than the Thing’s insecurity about being a monster or Spider-Man going around blaming himself. That, in the past, sufficed for characterization. But that’s not really characterization, that’s sort of a glossing over of troubles, Troubles and characterization are not the same thing. We’re starting. At least George and I are making the attempt now to to dig into the characters deeper than surface problems.

DECKER: I was thinking that you have what amounts to a family, and the theme of a family member who becomes a traitor or a renegade…

WOLFMAN: We’ve avoided that one. Not one of them has turned on the other. And I want to avoid doing that. We’ve seen that so many times.

DECKER: It just seems like that’s a very powerful theme because it gets down to something pretty basic.

WOLFMAN: It does, but unless we can do it in a completely original manner, I’d rather avoid it, because it has been done to death.

DECKER: The characterization of Kory – … I’m not sure how you pronounce that name.

WOLFMAN: Kor-e-an-door. Spelled differently, it’s a spice. It’s the first time I’m revealing it. C-o-r-i-a-n-d-e-r, and I adapted it

DECKER: Her characterization is interesting in that she’s almost a very well-developed nymphet.

WOLFMAN: Yes, that’s part of it. She also is very innocent and she’s been tortured and has had a lot of other problems, but it hasn’t affected her basic personality. I assume there was a point that you were going to make about her being a nymphet, though she doesn’t jump into bed with everybody.

DECKER: But still she’s an interesting character in that we haven’t seen many like her in comics. An intelligently done nymphet. There’s no real point about her I want to make, l’m just trying to run through the characters.

WOLFMAN: Of the characters in the Titans, the three new ones I created, I tried to give the most background, the back story as they say in television and movies. In the case of Cyborg, it’s a more realistic handling. Certainly Raven and Starfire are science fiction and therefore pretty much unrealistic in terms of things that could have happened. I like all three consequently because there are actual things to play off of. I tried to do the same thing with [Tomb of] Dracula and all the characters in there. To give them full lives before they actually entered the book. Kory’s life comes out in the next four issues.

The Starfire storyline on Tamaran, which is the last one of the mini-series, almost all of which I had worked out even before the first issue came out. I knew what she had done, how she had escaped, how she was tortured, all the things with her sister. I wanted someone who had gone through all this and still emerged pretty much an optimist, someone who doesn’t necessarily see the pessimistic view of things, even though she’s warlike. It’s a strange dichotomy, and I sort of took some of it from a Japanese handling from someone who could love the beauty of nature and then turn around and slice someone’s head off in the same moment, and not see the contrast between the two.

DECKER: In the first couple of issues she turns up and the bad guys are after her, and the Titans pretty much rescue her, but she hangs around after that, she doesn’t seem to have any other place to go.

WOLFMAN: Well, she can’t go back home. And that sort of makes it difficult to do much of anything. She has to stay around. These are people which she can associate with because of their abilities and they are the ones she became friendly with. I’m certain that someone like her or Raven, who came from fairly different type backgrounds than the rest of the Titans, once they get to know other people will start associating with them. Certainly in Kory’s case, maybe not with Raven, who is very very shy. But I think the proximity has made them friends, rather than deliberating setting up a friendship because of accidental meeting.

DECKER: And for a time there you did seem to have a certain tenderness, affection between Kory and Robin.

WOLFMAN: I don’t think it’s gone. Robin said it was, and Robin put it down. Kory didn’t say it was. And I have mentioned it since.

DECKER: I was just wondering how much you can do with Robin; he’s not a character you can really move with.

WOLFMAN: Yeah, I know. Robin’s a real problem. I’m constantly going through thoughts of whether or not to keep him in the group, get him out of the group, to see if I can get him out of Batman, although I think Gerry Conway would have something to say about that, and most likely to the negative. I like Robin very much. I enjoyed writing him when I was writing Batman. But he is a major problem in trying to do full characterization with all the characters. I can only go so far with Robin. I can’t change him. And I can change everyone else. So I’m in the midst of trying to work out this problem: do I try to replace him with a new member, or not. We’ll see. I haven’t yet made a decision.

DECKER: My point is that you couldn’t really let things develop between he and Kory….

WOLFMAN: Maybe…but I don’t know if I could convince Gerry Conway to do it. But I don’t know if Gerry would be interested
because he couldn’t do anything with Kory. So it becomes sort of a Catch-22,

DECKER: And with Raven, the Trigon sequence. It seemed like matters sexual were hinted at quite strongly. Trigon was Rosemary’s Baby grown up.

WOLFMAN: Yeah. Very much so. But we learn a lot more about Trigon in the mini-series that’s out now, in which we discovered that the people who raised Raven and took in her mother are actually the ones who created Trigon. The whole dimensional concept of Azarath, the understanding of who they are, how they were able to expunge the evil that was within them is the exact evil that the ones in Trigon’s dimension. And therefore they felt this need to take in Raven’s mother and Raven because they are in effect the cause of the problem.

DECKER: It seemed to me as I read the sequence with Trigon that you were having problems dealing with Trigon who was so immense, so powerful and evil, you had problems just having the Titans be on any level to affect him to any degree.

WOLFMAN: When you create a character like that it is a problem, that’s the reason I haven’t brought him back, outside of the mini-series. I determined that Trigon was a very good concept and a very good villain, and I’m not going to bring him back just to bring him back. I’m sure I could probably up the sales 10-15 thousand by having a good story with Trigon, but the next time I bring him back, I want to have it worked out a little bit better. That was still in the early days, the days that you’re just learning.

DECKER: There were long sequences of panels where Trigon was in the background, while the Titans were arguing among themselves, going up against him one by one.

WOLFMAN: I find it very difficult sometimes to work with villains of that nature, as much as I enjoy it. I enjoyed very much Doctor Doom, and some of the others of that “type,” the Sphinx, but you have to have a better handle. Dr. Doom has been overused beyond belief, and most of the characters become overused. Because they are good and you want to keep featuring them. I’m in a very good position with the Titans. The book is selling. I don’t have to bring back the villain solely to sell the book. Therefore, I could work out the character to more depth and I hope when he comes back, he’ll be much better realized and become a villain I can handle much easier.

DECKER: I was noticing too that you characterized Kid Flash as a Midwestern conservative in the Russian super-hero story. He was making all kinds of anti-Soviet cracks.

WOLFMAN: I think some of it was overexaggeration. What you try to do sometimes to establish a character the first time is maybe go a touch overboard and then bring them back. Very often the younger readers will not understand the subtleties. So first you hit em over the head and then you do it quietly. I won’t do it to that extent again, but I want Kid Flash as someone who – not necessarily Midwestern conservative, though that’s the phrase I used, but a conservative background. He’s family, church, home, mother, apple pie, and believes in all of that. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve never seen a character who’s like that in a sense. Even Captain America of late would not talk in those terms, and probably that’s the way a lot of people really do talk, and there’s nothing wrong with being a conservative, any more than there is being a liberal, or anything in-between.

DECKER: Okay. I never thought so either.

WOLFMAN: Well, you’ve just not seen it that much in comics. Everyone tends to be liberal. I’m a liberal, but I still think that there’s nothing wrong with the other side of the philosophy.

DECKER: Yeah, it did seem to me that characters have too often tended to reflect their creators too much. I’ve never quite understood how Bill Mantlo could comfortably write Iron Man.

WOLFMAN: Neither can I. But what I’m really trying to do is let each character dictate themselves. I wanted something that made Kid Flash unique. He’s always been one of the many ciphers up here, pure zeroes in terms of personality, and one of the things that I felt, way back with the first Starfire story, 14 years ago, is that he and Starfire would have a natural antagonism. He had it back then too – for the same philosophy. It’s just that now I can handle it better because I’ve learned 14 years worth of writing. I’m better at my craft.

DECKER: I’ll admit that the Russian Starfire story did take me kind of by surprise at the end where Starfire admitted that he had come to kill his own fiancee. That was…

WOLFMAN: Did you like it or not? [laughter]

DECKER: It was one of those things that sort of reaches down inside your throat, grabs hold of something soft, and squeezes.

WOLFMAN: Well, I guess that’s a good reaction, then. It was more important to him to relieve her pain than anything else. That’s why he took the mission. He loved her enough not to let her destroy herself slowly.

DECKER: I see. Like the philosophy at the end of Of Mice and Men. “Sometimes a man has to kill his own dog.”

WOLFMAN: [laughter] Not quite. It’s almost a case for euthanasia, but I won’t say that. But what the youth in Asia have to do with this, I don’t know. [Drum roll]

DECKER: You’ve used several serious themes which are kind of surprising when 1 think about them. At least twice you’ve done a conflict of just sitting around and doing nothing and letting evil triumph being as bad as evil itself.

WOLFMAN: Pinpoint which ones you’re talking about. My mind.. sometimes, after doing all this I forget.

DECKER: Yeah, well, the Priester, the Azarath philosophy…

WOLFMAN: You have to try things. I get bored very quickly. That’s the reason Dracula was always such an experimental book. And if I get bored it’s going to reflect on the readers, so I’m constantly trying things, only to keep my own interest alive.

DECKER: Right. But it just seemed like you were trying to make a point. You just can’t sit around. You’ve got to fight for what you believe in.

WOLFMAN: I’m at a disadvantage. With my memory being as bad, I can’t pinpoint exactly what you’re referring to at the moment.

DECKER: Raven’s mother’s people…

WOLFMAN: Oh! The fact they just sat down and did nothing. They were an extreme. I was trying to take the various extremes in that particular case. You can’t sit back and do nothing. The ultimate pacifistic view can’t work, because you have to stand up for yourself someplace. Nor can, I think, the opposite side of that, being purely aggressive, because you have to live in a society as well. And what that specifically was was saying, “You can’t sit back.” If I now understand you correctly, yes, very much so.

DECKER: And you’ve also done something with the opposite theme, like the Titans trying to restrain Kory from just taking off and just blasting…

WOLFMAN: That’s the same theme. The extremes in those cases don’t work. Either the ultimate pacifism or the ultimate violence. One decides to live in a society of rules, whether they like the rules or not. If they don’t like it they can leave. Or they can help change it. In the case of murder, you cannot condone it, under any way, shape or form. So if Starfire had decided to live under our rules, which state murder is not acceptable, she had to stop. As much as the Azaratheans would have to know that the only result of not saying “Stop” is to be totally wiped out. Both sides aren’t functional.

DECKER: You made the same point that this is what distinguishes the bad guys from the good guys when Madame Rouges’ stormtroopers were being blasted. The Brotherhood of Evil was killing them and the Titans were trying to just put them out of action.

WOLFMAN: It’s a basic theme that has always gone through my work. It’s just part of the nature that I am, I guess.

DECKER: I was thinking of this one panel in the Madame Rouge base attacking Zandia, there’s this one panel where there must have been hundreds of storm troopers taking off…

WOLFMAN: The thing about George is that I may say to draw shot A, he’ll draw shot A and then add B, C, D, and E to it. He is so involved with what he does, that he adds 150 percent to every story he draws. And I think that puts him in the position he is in today, as really among the very, very top. He gives me back things in terms of characterization that I may not have put in. I think we work from challenge very often. Both George and I tend to challenge each other. I’ll write in a sequence that I can’t possibly imagine how he’ll draw. And he’ll not only do it and do it far beyond what could have been drawn. Then he’ll challenge me to come up with a way to write that. And he’ll throw in other sequences as a challenge to me. Both of us work off of challenge, always have.

DECKER: It reminds me of what Bill Gaines was telling me yesterday when we interviewed him, that in the EC days the artists were constantly trying to top each other. Wally Wood would bring a story in and the other artists would crowd around it to ooh and ahh, then each of them would go home and try to do something that would knock Wood out.

WOLFMAN: Well, I think that’s the best way. When you’re working with people you really like, you’ve got part of the problem conquered already. When you’re working to challenge each other, that keeps your interests up. I’ve written comics now for almost 15 years, George has been doing it for 8 years, we’ve written and drawn almost every shot that could possibly be imagined, and the only thing left in many ways is to try to come up with ways to challenge each other, to do something that we didn’t do. A shading to a character that we may nor have thought of.

And because George has complete freedom to take my plots, and do what he wants with them, he’s free to come up with something that hits him at the spur of the moment. He’s not locked in to mindlessly, following what I tell him. And I get his drawings and I’m inspired in many ways to try something else. He did a shot once of Robin having to stop Cyborg, who was taken over by the Puppeteer. The shot, because there were a lot of shock lines, seemed to indicate that Robin may have been hitting him in the solar plexus, while Starfire is firing a bolt from off panel, but you couldn’t tell that it was Starfire, I sort of changed it so that it wasn’t exactly the solar plexus where Robin was hitting. What looked like Kory and’r’s blast really became more shock lines and where Robin was hitting him would have done a lot more damage.

DECKER: I’m surprised that got post the Code.

WOLFMAN: They probably didn’t know what was done, or they didn’t feel it was graphically there. You had to read into it. And the younger kids would not know what was going on, so that’s fine. You read in levels.

DECKER: I think I would have known myself very early what was going on.

WOLFMAN: It’s possible, but then again you’ve gotten involved with writing and with a lot of other things that indicate…

DECKER: No no no. At age five, I’m sure that almost every little boy knows what it’s like to get hit there.

WOLFMAN: Possibly. Possibly. I don’t know. It’s nor something that I said, “Look what’s happening.” It was there. And I think the Code is willing to accept certain things if it’s not highlighted in neon signs.

DECKER: Well, that brings up something else about the book, in that the Titans aren’t hopping into bed with each other, but there’s still an undercurrent of sexuality, like the whole business with the models in the Jeans ads.

WOLFMAN: I thought that was asexual, to be honest.

DECKER: The models had nothing on on top, even though they were just seen from the back.

WOLFMAN: That’s today’s society. George drew very skinny models, purposely so, and I don’t think there was anything sexual about them, quite frankly. I’ve seen… Kory and’r fully dressed is more sexual…

DECKER: Maybe the point is that you’re acknowledging sex as an abstract, if nothing else, as part of a society in which the characters are living.

WOLFMAN: It certainly is. You can’t avoid it. The characters have to think and be in that society that’s all around us. But we’re not being overt. At least I don’t think so.

DECKER: No. Although Donna Troy’s relationship with her older divorced boyfriend might raise an eyebrow.

WOLFMAN: Again, we’re not showing them in bed. What you leave to the readers’ imagination is sometimes a lot stronger. Yes, of course, they’re having a very healthy sexual relationship. No reason they shouldn’t. But we’re nor stating in a Kinsey version exactly what they’re doing. [laughter]. Nothing’s wrong with that. We haven’t received a single complaint, and I probably would ignore most of the complaints anyway, because I think we’re doing it tastefully.

DECKER: Right. Although isn’t she, what, 19?

WOLFMAN: Yeah, she’s 19. That’s above age. [Laughter]

DECKER: Yeah, well, still, he’s ten years older than she is…

WOLFMAN: Yeah. And divorced. And has a kid somewhere. So? That doesn’t happen?

DECKER: It almost happens a little too much. It’s almost a little too trendy.

WOLFMAN: Not in comics. This is about the first time I think this has happened. But again, we haven’t even gone out of our way to keep pointing to it. We mention it once; it’s there. And the difference between what I’m trying to do and sometimes what is done in comics is again the lack of giant neon arrows. We set up the characters, they have a very healthy relationship. As far as I’m concerned, at some point in the future they can get married and it wouldn’t change Wonder Girl’s relationship to the Titans one whit. I don’t see why it has to. It’s a realistic relationship.

DECKER: Yeah, but perhaps a little too realistic, in that Donna Troy is a super-heroine…

WOLFMAN [puzzled]: Yes?

DECKER: She can ride wind currents, she wears a costume, and she goes out and fights crime.

WOLFMAN: Yeah. And she can’t full in love with someone?

DECKER: But he’s so prosaic, so normal, he’s Lois Lane as a man.

WOLFMAN: At the same time~ he’s older than she is. He is someone who’s had his kiddy relationship in a sense, already in a sense, and her knowledge and the experiences she comes to, she probably could not have found someone her age that she could have related to. She needed someone who was older who had probably gone through an equivalent type of relationship, and being a history teacher as he is, there certainly would be a lot in common even there.

DECKER: I still tend to think that if there were super-heroes they’d be a very clannish lot, that they would tend to many among themselves, simply because other people wouldn’t understand them or know how to relate them.

WOLFMAN: Possibly. Yet… Well, there’s no way to determine that, is there? [laughter]

DECKER: I guess not. Moving along, it seems like you’re possibly kind of edging toward an interracial romance with Cyborg and What ‘semame the girl who…

WOLFMAN: Sarah Simms.


WOLFMAN: Not necessarily. At first I thought of it. And then decided there was nothing wrong with a good healthy friendship that is nor based on a sexual background between them. I received a letter that sort of helped me change my mind, from a black leader who felt that we had seen a lot of interracial relationships, but we haven’t seen that many good, solid black-black relationships to show that a black hero doesn’t always go together with a white heroine and vice-versa. And that sort of got me thinking. That came very early in the relationship, that it made a lot more sense in terms of their needs to be very good friends. He has no girl friend who he is totally in love with in a sexual way at this time. He’s just very good friends with her, And that in itself is a slightly different relationship.

DECKER: I think that the scene where he was strolling through the park, and the little kid Lame up to him and asked for his ball back, and it turned out the kid had a prosthetic hand. I thought that was very touching.

WOLFMAN: Thank you. I have to give credit where credit is due. George and I worked out most of the scene to where he would come together with these kids and such, but George is the one who devised that particular scene. That’s what I mean about George adding so much. Obviously that came out of what we had discussed and worked out together but the fact that we can work in tandem) like that adds to the book. And I thought the lack of copy in that particular scene made a lot of it work as well.

DECKER: Maybe you could tell how a story gets done. How George and you work together.

WOLFMAN: We have done stories in all different ways. When you see in the credits that it says “Co-creators” it usually means that I’ve done a very tight plot, six pages single spaced, broken down page by page in which George gets that plot and does whatever he feels like. He could ignore the stuff or keep with it. He rends to do both. He follows my stories almost totally adding a couple of bits here and there. And does what he wants with the fight scenes. They are all choreographed if he wants to follow them. If he’s having a bad day, if he’s nor feeling well, they are there. But he could do it better than I could, certainly in terms of pacing. The stories that have co-plotter” listed and creator put elsewhere indicated that George and I talked out the story together. That could either mean that after we talked it our I typed up a plot, or that George took it from the verbal plot that we worked out.

Of late, George has helped me out tremendously, because having taken this staff job, and the mini-series, and the annual, and everyrthing else all at the same time, I haven’t had as much rime to work out the stuff. The entire Starfire sequence has been a verbal plot. And the two of us go back and forth, trying to work our what we want, how to make it work, all the little gimmicks, the characterizations, how to spread it throughout the story, and such like that. We tend to approach each story differently. If George hasn’t got the rime to talk it our with me, I’ll do the full plot. If George was leaving and didn’t have time for a plot, I’d do a full script. I’ve done full scripts, too. But it seems a shame to tie someone like George down to a full script. He’s just too innovative to be restrained.

DECKER: What does his inker think of it? Since he must be called on to do much work. I can think of some intensely detailed scenes, like the one of Starfire flying over the city on her back.. it’s a straightdown shot and there’s the city and every building below is metitulously detailed.

WOLFMAN: Romeo has learned over a period of several issues, how to ink George, and there is a secret. Romeo inks the book almost as fast as George pencils it, so he has learned how to work just as quickly. One of the benefits the Titans has, and this is only in terms of DC production, is that George, Romeo, and I are equally fast. We are all at our top speeds without a decline in quality. I mean, I could nor write slower if I tried. And George draws at his speed no matter what the deadline is. The same with Romeo. So we’re all pretty fast and Romeo has picked up the secrets of Romeo’s artwork and knows how to translate it very quickly to linework.

DECKER: One last word on Cyborg, I’ve noticed that you’ve gotten letters thanking you for not making him a heavy-duty black stereotype.

WOLFMAN: Yeah. Intentional. All the white guys don’t run around saying “Hey, I’m white. And I’m happy” or “I’m boring because I’m white.” So why should every black character run around saying “I’m black and I’m angry.” This person was raised in a very scientific area, his anger was at his specific situation, not the fact that he was black. He’s highly intelligent in terms of I.Q. And bigotry tends to fall apart when seen through an intellectual gaze. I just wanted a straightforward character who was raised in a specific way, who views the world through his eyes and not through stereotyped eyes because he’s black. The fact that he’s black obviously has to have some bearing on him because it’s the way other people may treat him. But it has nor affected his outlook on other people. He wasn’t taught bigotry by his parents, so there would be no reason for him necessarily to believe in it.

DECKER: And of course you deliberately changed him over a period of issues, you evolved his character. You didn’t make certain qualities be his funny hat.

WOLFMAN: That was again very intentional since I knew what was going to happen, with his father coming in, and I knew where it was going to go. I wanted him to start in one way and to progress. People do progress in reality when they realize certain situations. What had happened to him was very mind-jarring in many ways. Having his body destroyed and everything else, he would naturally have some antagonism. The mini-series story showed many cases why because he wasn’t given the freedom to do what he wanted or didn’t understand what freedoms his father was giving him. And what finally had to result was the knowledge of why his father was doing things. There is a feeling among everybody I think, that just because their parents are parents they should be perfect. You look up at them, they’re people. I’m a parent now, and I’m no different than I was before my daughter was born. She probably looks up at me thinking I could do everything perfectly, and that’s false because I can’t, and no one else can. And to think of your parents as people who have to be idealized and that every flaw you see in them makes you dislike that, or cringe or get embarrassed is really silly because everyone has flaws. They’re people. No one goes to Parent College. [Laughter]

DECKER: I was a little disbelieving when the Titans were given the Titans Tower and for about two issues there they had no idea where it came from, but they made use of it anyway.

WOLFMAN: That was convenience for me. Maybe if I had done it again now, knowing what I have done with the Titans, I would have changed that. It was convenience, pure and simple.

DECKER: Have you considered the fact that “teenagehood’-‘ doesn’t last very long?


DECKER: There’s only about four years there and if you stretch it out in comic book time…

WOLFMAN: It is a problem. I don’t know what will happen. I assume, since I’ve just given Cyborg a birthday in which he becomes 19, they are going to have to become 20 and 21. Maybe I don’t have to say it, they could just start acting differently. Nor really differently but progressing beyond the initial worries that a teenager may have. They don’t really change, they just focus differently. From peer pressure to business pressure. But that has to happen eventually, I just don’t know how to get around it. Fortunately we’re still young in the book’s history.

DECKER: Well you’ll always have the title NEW Teen Titans…

WOLFMAN: Well that’s because we had an old Teen Titans…

DECKER: What I meant was that…

WOLFMAN: I can’t take our Teen, for very totally different reasons. Neal Adams registered or trademarked something called The Titans for his portfolio and we could nor technically take out the word teen. So it will always be the Teen Titans, even if they are 80 years old.

DECKER: One more point. Reading the letters column and hearing fans talk about the book, it seems that fans aren’t looking for slam-bang action any more. They want characters they can get to know like friends. In fact they are almost more insistent on characterization…

WOLFMAN: Which makes me feel real good.

DECKER: And your emphasis is on characterization…

WOLFMAN: I tried with issue 8, and I was so scared because there was no action in it, and by the time it came out we were on issue 12 or 13, but the reaction was 100 percent positive. So from that point on I realized I was able to get away with eliminating a lot of the action. I wouldn’t do it every issue. And I certainly intend to go back and forth because I enjoy the action stuff too. But I think there’s no longer the stigma or the fear of writing books more oriented toward characterization. People used to say that it was only the fans who liked that. We’ve discovered through test markets and such that the direct sales shops and the wholesalers sell exactly ‘the same. If a book is selling very well in direct sale, it’s usually one that’s selling well to the wholesalers too.

So obviously the thought that we had been told for years, even if we didn’t believe it personally but we followed, was that they want action. And that’s nor necessarily the case. I think you can get rid of action for issues at a time as long as you have very complex storylines. And characterization. And learn about the characters, move and develop them. I was very pleased to see the current Cere bus. They stood in a room and that was it. I don’t know if it was successful or if it did what it should have done. It was very much a plot type of thing since they were advancing the situation but it was really risky of him to try something like that, because he has more to lose. I mean if one book at DC dies, it’s not going to affect the company, if one of his dies, he’s out of money. So I’m very happy that readers are willing to accept things like this.

DECKER: Do you feel limited by the format, 25 pages a month? And if somebody picks up on the series now, he’s got to pay $12 for issue I and having the whole thing as a set; it seems like you’ve grown beyond your format.

WOLFMAN: The ‘format is a problem in terms of pages. I don’t think that people have to buy the past issues to understand the characters. I try to write it so that you don’t have to, I do very few footnotes because I try to construct my sentences so that it’s understood. Or I use the letters column as a means of explaining things. There’s nothing wrong with using the letters column for getting your point across. I don’t think it’s difficult for someone to pick up issue 25 of the Titans and start buying the book at that point. The continuity has nor developed to such a point that it’s so snakelike within itself. It isn’t choking on itself, and if I could ever avoid doing that, I would be very happy. I’d like a book that people get more and more attached to, but do not necessarily have to know every element to follow it.

DECKER: So you think you’ll be on this for awhile?

WOLFMAN: I’m enjoying it, I’m really enjoying it. I intend to stay on the book certainly as long as George does. And George is talking about beating Jack Kirby’s record on the Fantastic Four. And if the two of us can do that, I’d be very very happy. If the book ever starts to get boring to me, I’ll quit it. I’ll let someone else who’s excited by it rake over. I have a lot of myself in the book at this point. Because it was a big risk for me to try this. Coming over to DC, starting a book that certainly had no following, because of its name, and I put a lot of myself in time, certainly. Now it’s all very nice, we all get the royalty program, and it is DC’s top-seller. But we were doing this before the royalties, doing it because we wanted to. And it’s nice now that all of the effort that we’ve put in the book is going to pay off financially. But we were willing to do it previously without that financial reward because we cared.


>> go to part two

End of transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author