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Orion #2: Marv Wolfman Interview

Orion #2: Marv Wolfman Interview
[from Orion #2, 1981]

Marv Wolfman is well-known as one of the premier creators in the comics field. One of the first of the so-called “new-generation” of writers (that is, someone who grew up reading comics and gravitated to the field voluntarily), Wolfman entered the field in the mid-1960’s with friend Len Wein, and had to contend with the hostility and intransigence of a field which had not changed In twenty-five years. At DC Comics, Wolfman wrote mystery stories, love stories, Blackhawk, The (original) Teen Titans, and, as Wolfman put it: “… just about anything I could sell. “In 1971, after the great shakeup at DC which saw a huge contraction of their line, Wolfman moved briefly to Warren magazines, and then to Marvel Comics.

During his nine year tenure at Marvel, Wolfman wrote virtually every character the company published, including Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and his highly acclaimed run on Tomb of Dracula with artist Gene Colan. In 1979, after a much publicized dispute with Marvel management, Wolfman returned to the newly revitalized DC-line, and within a year had created the most popular DC title in recent memory: The New Teen Titans. Wolf man also contributed to the revitalization of Green Lantern, and introduced another superhero team within that book: The Omega Men, scheduled to jump to their own title In 1983. Wolf man is also currently writing and editing The Night Force (alternately publicized as The Dark Force, and The Challengers, an experimental book attempting to resurrect the non-superhero horror comics form.

This Interview was conducted in November of 1981, at Dreamcon I in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal. It was conducted and transcribed by Mark Shainblum, and approved by Marv Wolfman.

ORION: You are well known as one of the early fans of comics. Could you tell us something about the early days of comics fandom?

WOLFMAN: I got Into fandom one year after It began, because I received The Comic Reader No. 13 In the mail, and It was a monthly book. I started publishing fanzines…

ORION: Such as?

WOLFMAN: I published about four or five of them that ran a number of Issues. One was called Super Adventures, It ran I think, ten or eleven issues. Then there was Stories of Suspense which was a horror famine, and a fairly revolutionary concept called What The?, which was totally free. All you had to do was pay for the stamp.

ORION: Which is quite common a practice now in science-fiction and comics fandom.

WOLFMAN: I guess so, but It wasn’t then. Nobody had ever done that before. it was something I was interested In, never made money on It, but It was enjoyable.

ORION: You and Len Wein were among the first, fans to break Into the comics field, the first of the “new generation” of creators. Was it difficult to enter the professional field?

WOLFMAN: When we started,, at least at DC there weren’t any others who were working generally for all the different editors, Len and I were the first, It was very hard because the older editors did not want to use new people. The fact that we were fans made it worse in many ways because they didn’t know how to deal with us. You see we actually cared about the books and characters on a level outside of just turning in work.

ORION: There was no concept then of doing a book or character for the sake of doing that character?

WOLFMAN: No. You see, there was nobody new in the field for almost twenty-five years. Well, there were occasional new people, but anyway, when we came in, we just wanted to do it and do it well, and that was our only interest. We tried to enter the field basically against the wishes of the professionals of the time. Slowly there was a great influx of talent our age, and today it’s all that way pretty much. It was really hard, we did tons of mystery stories, most of them without our names. I did love stories, I did funny stories, actually just about anything I could sell.

ORION: What was the first superhero title you did?

WOLFMAN: Well, I guess if you consider Blackhawk…

ORION: Uh-huh.

WOLFMAN: That was the first thing I said. After that, the Teen Titans, we did Teen Titans No. 18. In fact this (indicating a group of art ists on the table) is the New Teen Titans No. 18. That’s basically what it was like –

ORION: When did you make the switch from DC to Marvel?

WOLFMAN: About 1971. What happen,d was DC was cutting back and there just wasn’t work available. I started working for Warren, as their editor, then Roy Thomas asked me to come over to Marvel. At that point I was writing. – – what was it?. – – Dracula, plus I had done work on Spoof, the comedy magazine.

ORION: Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that.

WOLFMAN: I came over, and I stayed there for eight years.

ORION: And that leads right into the question I guess I’m obligated to ask: There’s been a lot of talk about conditions at Marvel recently, and about the less-than-amicable departure you had from Jim Shooter, Marvel’s editor-in-chief..

WOLFMAN: I’d rather not talk about it.

ORION: No? Okay, on to other things. What characters have you enjoyed working on the most?

WOLFMAN: At Marvel, Spider-Man, very much. I loved working on Spider-Man. Dracula of course, no doubt about that. Some of the Fantastic Four stuff, but I think I like the villains better than the heroes. I really enjoyed writing Doctor Doom, but I didn’t particularly care about writing the Fantastic Four.

ORION: What was it about the Fantastic Four you didn’t enjoy?

WOLFMAN: I just didn’t have the… way of handling a group book at that point, it was very difficult. It was a personal thing, I don’t enjoy writing team-up books, it took awhile before I learned how to do it.

ORION: What’s the major difference between team-up and solo stories?

WOLFMAN: It’s just the way you structure a story, so that the various characters are used and stuff of that sort. I love the Fantastic Four, I think it’s a great book, but I just found it difficult to write. Uhmm. – – not much else at Marvel, primarily Spider-Man I really liked, and of course Dracula. At DC: Superman, Teen Titans of course, Green Lantern I enjoyed, the Blackhawks, things of that sort –

ORION: Just to expand on a couple of those: I recall reading a comment by you somewhere, in which you said that Superman was one of the most difficult characters to write you ever handled. Could you explain why?

WOLFMAN: Well, Superman can do most anything. In order to write a Superman story you have to get around the fact that he can do most anything, which means you have to structure an entire story which plays against him rather than with him. What I did the first time I wrote Superman, which was when I first started at DC…

ORION: The Vandal Savage story?

WOLFMAN: That’s right. I tried to find situations to play against him. When I just came back to the book I found ways to play with him. You have to learn how to rework the characters to make it work, to make Superman work. As I said, when I came back I found my own handle for the character, and I think starting with the Brainiac stories that should be on sale now, I’ve figured out how to handle Superman. It is very difficult to write him.-

ORION: You’re doing Action now?

WOLFMAN: Action Comics, right.

ORION: How do you work with Curt Swan?

WOLFMAN: We’re doing it plot style. The first batch of stories we did, I did full scripts. They’re very nice but they didn’t work out as well, so I went to the plot style and Curt’s,stuff just exploded from that point. Even though he’s not comfortable with it, his layouts and his approach and his whole attitude towards the book has improved tremendously. Even though he would prefer going back to script they won’t let him, because his stuff looks so much better than it did before, and his stuff was always nice. We also have a better inker on the book now. Dan Adkins is taking it over, and maybe some people will realize that Curt can draw, because Curt is tremendously good, and he’s been ruined in the inking.

ORION: Well. I have trouble with Curt myself, because compared with some of the artists I was weaned on, his style seems a bit static.

WOLFMAN: Wait till you see the Brainiac three-part story and you’ll change you mind, certainly by the third story.

ORION: Could you tell me a bit about Green Lantern? What’s you view of the character?

WOLFMAN: First of all, I just had to leave the Green Lantern book.

ORION: Ooohhh.

WOLFMAN: Yeah, I know. I really didn’t want to, but my new horror book comes first.

ORION: Is that the one you’re doing with Gene Colan?

WOLFMAN: That’s right. I just don’t have much time, so I had to give GL up. My view of the character was that basically Hal Jordan and Green Lantern are the same person. Unlike Clark Kent and Superman or Bruce Wayne and Batman, they’re exactly the same. I see Green Lantern as a very independent character, very powerful, and also very loyal. You can’t tell from the current storyline but that’s because of what the plot is, and that’s not revealed until issue No. 150. My view was to get him off Earth, because I felt he should be the Green Lantern of his entire space sector, not just the planet Earth. He’s got this incredible ring and all he does is fight ordinary criminals.

ORION: Well, I always felt that Green Lantern was the character with the most untapped potential.

WOLFMAN: So do I. I think putting him n space will release a lot of that potential. Unfortunately I don’t do enough of those stories, I get off with issue No. 153.

ORION: Who’s taking over?

WOLFMAN: Mike Barr.

ORION: Do you enjoy working with Joe Staton?

WOLFMAN: Yeah. I love working with Joe. He’s a friend of mine. He was a friend before we worked together. It was very nice working with him. He’s a very good artist, very underrated by the fans because he has a carotene approach to his material. I found when we did Green Lantern that his pencils were real tight.

ORION: That’s odd, because that’s what’s always bothered me about his art~ his pencils always seemed a bit slapdash.

WOLFMAN: He had suffered a lot of bad inking. I felt. Joe’s style does have a humorous quality to it, and the previous inkers embellished the humorous aspect rather than play up the straight. Joe’s stuff in the last year has gotten really good, tremendous.

ORION: Well, I find that when he’s inked by Giordano or one or two other people he looks fine, but when he inks himself…

WOLFMAN: You should see the stories inked by Dennis Jensen and Mike DeCarlo. Tremendously good. I think they’re bringing out the quality of his work, the serious quality as opposed to the humorous quality.

ORION: Regarding the New Teen Titans, could you give us a little background detail on the characters themselves? How were they created and so on.

WOLFMAN: Basically Len Wein and I sat down and created them. Len wanted a mystic character, I didn’t, but Len said he really wanted one, so I came up with Raven.

ORION: Why didn’t you want a mystic character?

WOLFMAN: Because I didn’t want to do the Phantom Stranger, and I didn’t want to do Doctor Strange, yet the descriptions he kept giving me were that. He said the challenge is to find another way of doing it. Raven came out of being challenged by Len. which is the way I work best. Cyborg was mine, as was Starfire.

ORION: Wasn’t there a Starfire several years back?

WOLFMAN: Yeah, there’s been a lot of Starfires. I created two of them. I didn’t do the sword and sorcery character. The first Starfire appeared in Teen Titans No. 18, and he’s been brought back in New Teen Titans No. 18, this issue right here (indicating stats on the table). Len wanted the Beast Boy character, and I agreed only on the condition that we change the name, because I hated “Beast Boy”. That’s basically it, we just sat around a long time, several months actually, before the characters were created. As soon as we got the go-ahead for the book I got George Pérez to come over from Marvel to do it, because George and I are friends. He was going to continue on the Avengers and also do The Teen Titans. He came up with the sketches for the characters just beautifully, I wasn’t joking in the first issue letter column. He handed in drawings and we didn’t have to change anything. Usually on initial character sketches you want to change stuff. They were absolutely perfect and George has continued on that trend ever since; His stuff has been just remarkable.

ORION: I understood George is leaving Justice League of America, is he going to be devoting all of his time to New Teen Titans?

WOLFMAN: Teen Titans and another project that I can’t talk about.

ORION: There were certain people in the fan field that charged New Teen Titans with being somewhat derivative of X-Men. Do you have anything to say about that?

WOLFMAN: The best answer I can give is an answer Chris Claremont himself gave when we were both on a panel at a convention in New York. He said the only similarity between the Teen Titans and the X-Men is that we both brought back old characters and did them better. That’s the only similarity. The fact that they’re young characters has nothing to do. – -didn’t create the original Teen Titans who were young superheroes, Chris didn’t create the original X-Men who were young superheroes. There is no similarity I can see between the books. The characters are totally different, the types of stories Chris like to write and I like to write are totally different. I think what we did, simply, was resurrect old titles at approximately the same point, and do them better. And that’s it. I certainly wouldn’t have done a rip-off of the X-Men, because I wouldn’t concern myself with that. It would come across as a rip-off rather than as its own book.

ORION: Could you tell us something about the Titans/X-Men crossover?

WOLFMAN: Nothing’s been decided yet really. We’re having a meeting this week trying to work out the villains. Originally it was supposed to be Dark seid of the New Gods and Dark Phoenix, but I don’t know If that’s the way it’s going to go.

ORION: I can see where that would cause a lot of continuity problems. – –

WOLFMAN: Well, that’s Chris’ choice. I don’t know If he’ll be given the okay to do Darkseid, that’s what we have to decide.

ORION: Do these stories take place in an alternate universe?

WOLFMAN: If I had written the second Superman/Spider-Man story, there would have been a paragraph somewhere in the book indicating that It was, very subtlety so no one would know if they didn’t want to.

ORION: Well, it seems to me that there’s no other way these stories can be organized.

WOLFMAN: I don’t worry about it. That’s one of the reasons that I don’t care if Darkseid and Dark Phoenix are the villains; but other people do, so…
(Hiatus. At this point the convention doors opened, and Mary was beseiged by a huge group of fans. Rather than risk being torn limb from limb and have my tape recorder massacred before my eyes, the remainder of the interview was postponed for a few hours.)

ORION: I understand that you and George Pérez signed a contract with Flying Buttress Publications to do a graphic feature called Janus. Are you still working on that?

WOLFMAN: I plotted It about a year-and-a-half ago, George hasn’t really had the time to draw it. When it comes out I don’t know if it will be through Flying Buttress or not, because our contract with them has lapsed already. It’s something George and I want to do when he can get some free time.

ORION: Can you give a few details about It?

WOLFMAN: It’s sword and sorcery and horror, and It is about a hero. To say any more would give away the concept, which I don’t want to do.

ORION: I’d like to get back to the Teen Titans if I may. In the last few issues you were tying up some loose ends left over from The Doom Patrol continuity. I notice you Incorporated Robotman in the story but completely left out the rest of The New Doom Patrol members.

WOLFMAN: Well, frankly, I wasn’t interested In the New Doom Patrol. The story had nothing to do with the New Doom Patrol, it had to do with the Old Doom Patrol. Robotman was a member of the old Doom Patrol and that’s all. It’s very possible I could have had a panel with the New Doom Patrol and him saying: “Look I have this assignment to do.” But I really did not want to confuse the readers. You have to remember that the Doom Patrol was cancel something like fourteen years ago; for most readers of the New Teen Titans, they have no idea who the Doom Patrol is. In order to say that there are two Doom Patrols would have been totally confusing, so I decided to ignore the New Doom Patrol, since only on the old one and tie it in that way. If you notice, the story has really very little to do with the Doom Patrol, It has to do with Gar Logan avenging the death of his mother, who happened to be a member of the Doom Patrol. That’s to make sure that It held its own as a story, rather than just a piece of nostalgia.

ORION: Recently, in an issue of The Brave and the Bold, Batman was teamed-up with an adult Hawk & Dove. It seems to me that that story does tend to mess up your continuity a little bit does It not, since Hawk & Dove were originally shown as teenagers along with Robin and the others. Now they’re adults and Robin is still a teen.

WOLFMAN: Well, I never intended to use Hawk & Dove. They’re a 60’s concept and I don’t worry about it. If that’s the way they have it, fine, since I wasn’t going to use them, it’s okay.

ORION: Will you be tying up any of the plot threads from the old Titans book? There’s still the old headquarters sitting around with Mal and all.

WOLFMAN: You know. I’m not really interested in tying up old Titans stuff. First of all, not that many people care about It.

ORION: No argument.

WOLFMAN: Secondly. I refuse to play nostalgia in the book. The book has to survive on its own in today’s 1980s market. If by picking up something from the past makes a good story today, fine, but I’m not going to ruin a book just to do old-time stuff. I think it’s important to do a viable book today. Also, God knows what some of those writers were doing back then’ They had no concept of what they were doing sometimes, they didn’t know from issue to issue. I’m not them, I’d rather do The New Teen Titans, it began with issue No. 1, we acknowledge the existence of a previous Titans and leave it at that.

ORION: Okay. Now to backtrack a little. What about this book you’re working on with Gene Colan?

WOLFMAN: It’s a horror/adventure title, it doesn’t have a title yet so I can’t say… It will either be The Challengers or Dark Force, or possibly a third title, I’m not sure yet. (This became Night Force -Ed.)

ORION: I assume there is no connection with Challengers of the Unknown.

WOLFMAN: No. It’s a very different type of book, nothing quite like it has been done in regular, above ground, mainstream comics. It’s being paced like a novel, there may be issues with no action, there may be issues that are just solely characterization. I’m trying a very adult type of comic book and I’d like to see it work. It’s modern horror stories, and it is a series, it’s not like the regular DC mystery books.

ORION: A different tack now: What’s your opinion of the alternative press, does it have a future?

WOLFMAN: Oh yeah, I think the alternative press is going to handle some very nice material. I’m hoping to do something for Eclipse soon, I have a plot for Dean Mullany that he’s asked for, and I just haven’t been able to sit down and type it , It’s a horror story by myself and Gene Colan. I want to do it, I like what Dean is. doing, and I like what some of the other houses are doing as well. As soon as I can get it done, Dean will have my plot, and if he likes it, he’ll take it, if not, perhaps another company will. I see great hope for the alternative press, I think it’s very good that they’re around.

ORION: Speaking of which, do you prefer to do books without the Comics Code, or do you feel it serves a purpose?

WOLFMAN: The code is okay for certain types of comics. I see no reason why Superman should not be under the code, and stuff of that sort. I would just as soon prefer doing books outside of the code, it depends on what audience I want to reach. If I want a solely adult audience and alienate the little kids to the point that they won’t understand what I’m doing, fine, I’ll do it without the code. I use the alternative press for deeper emotional type stories and that kind of thing. I think you have great latitude within the code to do great stuff too: Look at what Frank Miller’s doing with Daredevil.

ORION: Yes, but I feel he’s pushing the code to Its limits.

WOLFMAN: Fine! We all have to push the code to the limits! I tried that when I was doing Dracula, we extended the code far beyond what they’ve ever intended to publish, It depends on what market I’m reaching, that’s all. Each story is aimed at a different market In a certain sense: Superman Is not aimed at the same audience as Teen Titans, and the Challengers or Dark Force or whatever they’re called will be aimed at a very straight realistic audience. They may also enjoy the Teen Titans, because I’m bringing the same sensibilities to it, the same characterizations and writing, but they’re going to have to like things without superheroes. I’d just as soon do stories in or out of the code.

ORION: Marvel, I understand, is producing fandom-only X-Men editions. Is DC contemplating anything similar with the Titans?

WOLFMAN: I’ve yet to see or hear anything of that X-Men book being done. They have not yet signed any contracts and they announced it about a year-and-a-half ago. It’s possible we may do it with the Titans, it’s equally possible we may not. It depends on how the books grows, whether George and I want to do it… it may come down and they’ll say: Look, we’re going to do this as a special graphic novel”. And we’ll say that we’ll want so much money for it, and they may offer us our regular page rate. In that case they may get someone else to do it, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to sell it. That’s real callous, I doubt if that could happen. DC and George and I have a very good relationship. The most likely thing that would happen is that we’d work something out and do it. I don’t really know though, It depends on whether and where they feel they could sell it to the direct market, and if they feel they could sell a Teen Titans graphic novel for five dollars like Marvel feels they can.

ORION: Do you have any particular favorites among the Titans? Do you prefer certain characters over the others?

WOLFMAN: I like Wonder Girl, actually I like the girls better than the guys. They’re more interesting in terms of their backgrounds. – –

ORION: I notice there’s a much more even ratio of males to females in the Titans.

WOLFMAN: Yeah, it was intended to be. But they also have more interesting origins and concepts behind them for me. Of the guys I like Changeling because I like writing that sense of humor type stuff, I enjoyed it when I did Spider-Man too, Robin; so-so. Kid Flash; I’m starting to get Into him now, it took awhile before I warmed up to him, Cyborg: I always like Cyborg because I knew he was going to get the most negative comments because of the way we began him. He was very negative and embittered and all that, but I knew we were going to change him. The mail went exactly the way I expected it to, so he is a personal favorite for that reason.

ORION: It seemed that you were playing up the “angry young black” type of thing.

WOLFMAN: I know. I intended very specifically to do that and then make the change, because I wanted every character to change within the context of the story. Cyborg, because of his background (which I knew long before his origin was published) had to be embittered. And it’s not because he is black, but because of what happened to him. All the other characters had to have their personalities based on where they were from, and when you change a character they grow within the context of the book.

ORION: Cyborg has struck me as the first real black character in comics where that issue is just not important, it’s just an incident, it’s there without excessive attention being called to it. I do remember reading, I believe it was in an interview with Len Wein in The Comics Journal, that you and he created a black character in the mid-sixties and DC would not publish it. Is that correct?

WOLFMAN: The publisher at that time would not publish it. The publisher who was there when we started the story loved it and asked us to expand it to a two-parter He left while we were in the midst of the story and the new publisher decided that he didn’t like it.

ORION: This character was called Jericho?

WOLFMAN: Yeah. It was for Teen Titans by the way.

ORION: I see from the material you’ve got here that you’re working on a Teen Titans mini-series. Which characters will be featured?

WOLFMAN: In order it will be Cyborg, Raven, Changeling, and Starfire. That’ll be on sale this summer.

ORION: Are you doing this to expand the characters beyond that which can be done in the regular book?

WOLFMAN: Yeah. I don’t have room in the regular comic to do a twenty-five, twenty-seven page Changeling or Cyborg or whoever story. Here’s a chance to explore their origins, who they are, and do a lot more detail than I do in the regular comic. It’s the perfect opportunity to do that within a mini-series format.

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