Comic Culture

FULL EPISODE

Comic Culture: Ron Marz

Writer Ron Marz discusses working for the Big 2 publishers versus creator owned projects, and Ominous Press.

AIRED: September 20, 2017 | 0:28:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

[pompous fanfare music]

- Hello and welcome to Comic Culture.

I'm Terence Dollard, a professor in the department

of mass communication at the University

Of North Carolina at Pembroke.

My guest today is Ron Marz, he's a writer

and the editor in chief for Ominous Press.

Ron welcome to Comic Culture.

- [Ron] Thanks Terence, thanks for having me.

- So let's get started.

You are probably best known for your mid 90s

run on Green Lantern.

Could you share any thoughts that you have looking

back I guess about 20, 25 years now?

- Yeah I haven't had a real job in 25 years.

So you know that's pretty cool.

I've been writing comics since literally 1990

and yeah among them Green Lantern

certainly was you know sort of a highlight for me.

I was on the book for seven years and I had

a great relationship with DC, I still do really.

I mean it's, I was exclusive to DC for

quite a while during that period

and eventually you move on and you dance

with other girls at the party.

But you know you go back, you know you go back

and date now and again.

- That's interesting because you know we hear

sometimes that artists who are you know

the superstars or even the more reliable artists,

sometimes they find themselves priced out of the market.

Is this something that writers encounter

or are writers sort of given a longer career

just by the fact that they come up with all the good ideas?

- Well I think, you know it's a different scale

of economy first of all.

Obviously artists are paid more per page

than writers are generally because what they do

is more difficult and it takes more time.

Artists can generally do one book a month.

They can work on one project at a time.

Writer's juggle different things all the time

and you know you can juggle different

publishers at the same time as well.

So it's more difficult for artists to do,

they sort of have to serve one master at a time

whereas as writers you can you know, you can

like I said dance with different girls at the party.

You can frankly play the different girls

at the party against one another

to get yourself a better deal.

So it's you know, I think it depends

on what sort of person you are as a creator.

You know whether you like that aspect or not.

Writers are always juggling multiple things

and you're always looking for the next gig

because you have to have multiple things to fill your plate.

Artists are a little bit more you know go from

one to another to another.

It doesn't mean you know, it doesn't mean

one is better than another or

one working style works better.

It's really, you know it's really up to the creator.

You know it's up to the publishers too.

Obviously you know exclusive contracts are a lot more

common now than they were you know 15 years ago.

Certainly 20 years ago because these are now

multi billion dollar franchises, if we're

talking about the Marvel and DC Universes

and in general, the big franchises

that can translate into other media.

So the talent is a little more jealously guarded

than it used to be.

It used to be you could move back and forth

between Marvel and DC and other publishers

with a lot more comfort than you can now.

And that also has to do with the fact that

Marvel and DC are obviously very much competitive.

They don't want their plans getting into the hands

of the other publishers.

So they kind of keep the talent

a little bit closer to the vest.

- So I've noticed that throughout your career

you've worked on different genres within comics.

You've done superheros, you've done science fiction,

you've done I guess what we would consider

fantasy style books.

So as a writer, how do you keep all of those

different genres turning in your head

and keep them separate in a voice

that works for the books that you're working on?

- That's actually sort of by design.

I try to have a number of different genres

on my plate at the same time because

that keeps me interested.

That keeps me excited about the work

every day when I get up and come

into this office and do what I do.

I like to stretch different muscles as a writer.

I like to have different kinds of projects to work on.

Both for the interest, both for stretching different

muscles as I said, but also if project A

isn't working one day, hopefully you put

that aside and you work on project B or project C

and you can still make progress.

I find that if you're doing one thing over and over,

if you're just writing superheroes,

or if you're just writing horror,

it's a little tougher to be able to switch horses like that

and make sure that you're still making some progress.

I know not everybody's like that.

Some guys just want to write superheroes,

they just want to write the superheroes

they grew up reading, and that's great.

They're obviously niches to be filled there

but I've always found myself drawn to doing

as many different things as possible

because you know I'm just a fan of storytelling.

I'm not a fan of any particular genre over another.

I'm not a fan of any particular style over another.

I like to have as much variety as possible

to keep me interested.

- So when you're working on creator owned stuff,

you have the ability to make radical changes to characters.

When you're working in the Marvel or DC Universes

you're dealing with, like you were saying,

multi billion dollar properties that when you're done

with them they gotta be in pristine condition

when you pass them on to the next writer.

So a lot of time writers will say that they are dealing

with characters and the situations that they're in

are designed to sort of help the characters grow.

How do you as a writer, knowing that you have

to return Superman to DC you know in showroom condition,

how do you make those changes and then still have

the character be recognizable to an audience?

- Well you know by their nature, superhero comics

are a lot of middle.

There's an origin and there's decades of middle

and there's really no end.

You don't tie these stories off and that's the end of it.

You know as a writer and even as an artist

when you get on a book, it's your turn

to pick up the ball and carry it for a certain distance

and then you put it back down and somebody

else is gonna pick it up.

So you know ahead of time that you're working

within the parameters of the publisher.

I always liken it to, you know you're given

the toys to play with and you're given

a certain amount of playground to play with.

And you know your job is mostly not to break the toys.

Once in a while, like on Green Lantern,

you do get to break the toys.

And that's pretty cool, that's kind of a rare gift.

Because the main purpose of superhero comics

is to propagate themselves.

This is monthly entertainment that's obviously

moved into other media now.

But it's you know, it's mass entertainment

for a mass audience.

Which isn't to say that you can't tell personal stories

but you have to go into it knowing that

there's somebody looking over your shoulder

and you have to make your peace with that

or it's a difficult marriage.

Creator owned stuff, you do whatever you want

and that's kind of why I tried to keep

a balance between creator owned stuff

and work for hire stuff because you know

it's sort of the George Clooney one for me

one for you theory where you know you do

the commercial blockbuster to make the studio happy

but by doing that you allow yourself

the time and energy and effort to do something

that's more personal and it's really, it's really yours.

You've kind of grown from the ground up.

Again there are some guys who just want

to do their own stuff, there are some people

who want to do work for hire stuff.

I find the balance and the variety of it

is what appeals to me.

But you sort of, you know it's like trying

to pick between your kids.

You ultimately love all your kids

but you might love the creator owned one a little better

because you're know it's yours or they

weren't there before.

- And do you have a hard time,

I know that a creative venture is very difficult

because sometimes people think that because

you work from home that you are just

goofing off all day, you're watching Judge Judy

or something like that.

But it takes a great deal of discipline to have

a deadline every month, make that deadline,

make the changes based on what the art has

and so on and so forth.

Do you find it difficult sometimes because you've got

let's say Marvel or DC has you on a project

that maybe you find yourself putting

your own work to the side a little bit

because you know their deadlines are

a little more firm than yours?

And how do you kind of balance that all out?

- You know it's certainly a balancing act

and you, you know ultimately I like Stephen

King's answer when people ask him

where the inspiration comes from.

You know he said the inspiration comes from

those envelopes that come in the mail

with a see through window and your name on it.

Yeah inspiration comes from bills.

If you don't turn the work in you don't get paid.

Stephen King and I are obviously dealing

with far different scales but

ultimately for the most part

you're working on monthly books.

So you got to do one a month.

The deadline train never stops.

Every day that you give up is one you have

to work to get back.

You have to work twice as hard on Tuesday

if you didn't get anything done on Monday.

So that kind of goes back to what I said about

making sure that you make progress every day.

Whether it's on project A, B, or C.

You want to be moving the ball forward.

It's ultimately, it's just discipline.

You know I don't watch Judge Judy,

I don't play video games, I don't turn

on the TV during the day or go to the movies

except on rare occasions to catch a matinee

or something like that.

You have to treat this like a job

even though my computer's down the stairs

from my bedroom to my office here.

And you know most of the time I'm wearing

sweat pants and a t-shirt, it's still a job.

You still have to treat it responsibly.

If you don't do the work, eventually the work

stops coming, the offers stop coming.

And that's really the way it's always been.

I enjoy what I do, don't tell the publisher this

but I will do this for free mostly.

It's a great job, certainly there are days

when you're more frustrated than others

but I love what I do so it's not like pulling

teeth to get me to sit down here and do it.

But you know the other side of that coin is

when you work at home you're always at work.

So the work tends to expand to fill

all the hours that you allow it to.

Take a break for lunch, take a break for dinner.

Self in here midnight, 1:00 in the morning

still touching on stuff.

That's kind of the nature of the business

and you have to make your peace with that as well.

- And that can't be easy too

because I would imagine at some point

you know the family's going to want you to come

up out of your office and relax a little bit.

- Yeah again it's a balancing act.

I certainly go to my kid's Babe Ruth games

and track meets and all that kind of stuff.

You decide when you can take the time and when you can't.

And that's something you learn

over the expanse of your career.

You can't just do the work but you can't continually

blow it off 'cause you feel like doing something else.

You know once in a while there is a hard choice

of this deadline has to get done

but you know I'd rather go to my kid's baseball game.

You know sometimes the work has to win

because you're fulfilling your professional responsibilities

and my family understands that.

They've grown up around this, they know how it works.

They know if dad's office door is shut you know unless

something's on fire or there's a bone sticking out

through the skin, maybe deal with it yourselves.

Don't interrupt if you can help it.

That's how they've grown up, that's how they

understand this to work so it's a learning process

for everybody but you know it works pretty well.

- I'm just shocked that you don't have

a more stringent dress code you know.

[chuckles softly]

- The sweatpants and the t-shirt

might be the best that it gets

for the most part.

[chuckles softly]

- Let's talk a little bit about Ominous Press

which is from what I understand

this is something that Bart Sears started I guess

about 20 years ago and then recently

you got together and decided you wanted to bring

the characters back and make a go of it.

So what can you tell us about Ominous Press?

- It was initially Bart's deal in the 90s

when the markets were exploding

and the speculator boom was on

and image comics had just debuted.

It was the boom time in comics

and a lot of smaller publishers had started

and found success and Ominous was one of those.

But just as quickly the market imploded

because there was a bubble and it had to burst.

And Ominous did four or five books,

a number of projects ultimately

had to pull off on the side of the road

because there wasn't enough gas to keep going.

So it was always seen by Bart,

who is one of my best friends,

you know he's a guy that I've known for 25 years,

we worked together a number of times

over the years on various projects.

It was always something that Bart wanted to get back to,

wanted to have some sort of closure with.

When your story just stops without any sense

of conclusion to it, you know it's like an itch

you can never really scratch.

So a couple of years ago, myself, Bart,

Andy Smith, who's another artist and a friend of ours,

and Sean Husvar, who is another friend.

We've all known each other for 20 years,

ended up together at Baltimore Comic Con

through Happenstance.

We all happened to be there and Sean was going to be

there and came down to surprise us on Sunday

morning and we literally hadn't all been

in the same room for about 20 years.

I mean it was Andy's wedding was the last

time we had all been together.

And just from hanging out from each other

the idea of we starting Ominous with the four of us

sort of came to fruition and we've been nursing

it along every since.

We've reprinted some of the older material.

We just did an issue that ties off all of that

old material with some new stories

that Bart wrote and drew and that Andy worked on as well.

So we sort of tied off everything

that was started two decades ago.

There's now that sense of conclusion.

And in July we'll be starting new series

with Ominous characters.

We're doing three titles initially,

Giant Killers which is gonna be written and drawn by Bart,

Dread Gods which is written by me and drawn by Tom Raney.

And Demi God which is written by me

and drawn by Andy Smith.

And we just finalized our deal with IDW

to be our publisher, which we're announcing very soon.

This sort of stands as the first unformal announcement.

So we're partnering with IDW to start putting

the material out and we couldn't be happier

about the whole thing.

These are the kind of sort of epic science fiction

fantasy stories that we grew up on,

that we as creators grew up on,

both in comic and in prose.

So we're getting to do exactly the kind of material

we want to do, we're working with our friends,

we're able to pull in other friends, other artists

to work on covers and backup stories

and all sorts of stuff that we're gonna

be putting out in the coming months.

And you know it's kind of like putting

on a play in your backyard with your friends.

You know dad makes the sets and mom makes the costumes.

You know it's one of the real joys of doing comics

is you can put together a fairly small

number of people and make your story.

You can make your comic and get it out

in front of people.

Unlike really anything else.

Obviously you can sit down and you know

write a prose novel yourself, but beyond

that you know if you're gonna do film

or television or any other project,

it takes a lot of people.

For comics you can have four or five people together

and put the whole thing together professionally

and put it out in front of an audience.

To me it's the quickest conduit from the creators

to the audience with very little in terms

of road blocks or turnoffs or anything like that.

We can tell the stories we want to tell

and put them right in front of the audience

a few months later.

- Now I'm curious about your work or your

arrangement with IDW because without

trying to get into any financial matters,

they're publishing the book.

I assume that literally means that they're putting

the pages and stapling the books and everything else.

So with a deal like this and again I'm not asking

any financial terms, but just in terms of broad

concepts, how do you as the creators of the book,

I'm assuming you're assuming a risk as well

when they're taking the physical cost of the book as well.

- Sure there's obviously a financial risk on our part,

there's a financial risk on their part.

It's shared risk, shared reward.

We feel like by going with IDW, who I've had

a relationship with already.

I'd done a number of gigs for IDW and have

a really good relationship with David Hedgecock,

who is now the editor in chief out there

which is part of how this all came about.

Because I said to David in San Diego last year,

"Hey how about we go have lunch and talk about the thing."

And he was enthusiastic and brought it up

to the board about the chain at IDW and it

was met with real enthusiasm on their side.

You know we're doing the books.

We're doing all of the work on the books.

We will deliver to IDW, you know finished books.

They'll do some production and put in some ads

and you know prep things to go to press

but we're basically in charge of our own books.

There's no heavy editorial hand guiding us

except mine I guess.

You know we're partners with them but they're

not telling us what to do.

By the same token, IDW obviously is a you know

eminent successful publisher.

They do a really good job on a lot of fronts.

So we certainly take our cues from them as well

in terms of when do we want to put the books out

and how should we market this.

It's very much a partnership where our creativity

and their market share, their publicity department,

their reach in the market in every since

is going out to the table as well.

And we're thrilled to be with them.

Honestly it was the partnership that we wanted.

We talked to a number of different publishers

but truth be told, IDW was the one

that we really hoped would work out and it did.

The first book, which will be

Dread Gods number one by me and Tom Raney

with covers by Tom and Bart Sears

and inside covers by Kenneth Rocafort and Neal Adams.

So those guys are pretty good.

That'll be out, the first issues comes out in July

so things are starting to really move into high gear now.

- You know it's interesting, it seems like

a lot of the so-called smaller publishers

are the ones that are taking a lot of the risks

with new concepts and new directions in comics.

It seems like even with web distribution

that a publisher is still your best bet

to get into people's homes, having

a physical copy of something rather than the web.

- Yeah I mean obviously the web is usually important

for reaching people and certainly there's an audience

that that's how they want their books.

They want their books digitally,

you know they don't want to have

a big pile of comics on the floor at their house.

They'd much rather wake up Wednesday morning

and pick out the books they want and you know

five minutes later everything's on their iPad

and you know they can read 'em at their leisure

and it's not taking up, you know there are no lawn

boxes stored in the basement.

So I think that's a reality that publishers

and creators are facing, that you have to pursue

every avenue to get your books in front of people.

Single issues, single print issues,

digital singles, digital trades, trade paperbacks,

hard covers, anything you can package

to put in front of people in the way

that they want to receive it is what you have to do.

You know I'm certainly, as you can see,

there's a lot of hard covers in this house.

I would much rather have an oversized

hardcover collection of something than singles or a trade.

I know I'm not, I'm not the only person like that

but by the same token, plenty of people

just want their single pristine issues that they can bag

and board and store in a long box.

So our notion is to pursue all of those avenues

and you know publishing is not a wide path

to riches and financial success.

Publishing is hard and the margins are slim

so you sort of have to go down every

avenue you can to make sure that

your revenue streams are coming

from as many different places as possible.

- Well I've been shown that we have

about five minutes left in our conversation

and I feel like I'd be remiss.

This past weekend the comics world lost Bernie Wrightson

and you had a number of posts on Twitter

about your experiences with Bernie.

I was wondering if you'd like to just share a few

experiences with our audience.

- Sure Bernie was the first comics guy that I met.

I met him when I was in high school.

I went to interview him at his studio,

he lived in the Catskill Mountains in New York

and I lived I don't know 30 minutes away, 40 minutes away.

And that was the first time I met Bernie

and I ended up meeting him again in college.

And he very kindly said hey I'm having a Halloween party

this weekend, why don't you come.

And you know it was really kind of a watershed moment

in my life when I decided okay I'll go to this

Halloween party, where I don't know anybody

and I have no you know, and I have no experience

with any of these people.

But I sort of screwed up my courage and decided

okay I should do this.

It really changed my life because I met people,

including Jim Starlin, who eventually you know

I became good friends with.

And you know him and Bernie were some of my best friends.

Jim is the one who took me by the hand

and took me into Marvel and basically

gave me a career 25 years ago

and that's what I've been doing every since.

So I mean Bernie certainly changed my life

in that sense but also just you know

was one of the nicest, kindest,

gentlest, guys that I ever met.

For a period of time we live a mile

down the road from each other.

We saw each other three or four, five times a week.

Worked on projects together,

you know that's the sense of loss that I have

is not the amazing artist that did work

that I think was a bit early, could

still be looked at a hundred years from now.

I think Bernie was that good and that

sort of talented for the ages.

But you know I lost my friend.

And that's what stings the most

is that the guy that I hung out with

on an almost daily basis for as long as we lived

in the same state, you know was taken far too soon.

I understand the people reacted to Bernie's passing

with a great outpouring of this sense

of loss of this amazing artist that he was

but I wish everybody could have known

him as I knew him, which was a guy

to go to lunch with and a guy to have a beer with

and you know just hang out and watch horror movies.

That's what, you know for the last few days

has continually had me stomping my toe over.

Just memories of hanging out and having

a good time with him.

And I'm glad I have those memories but obviously

for the moment right now it's a little bittersweet.

- Well Ron I'm being told that we are out of time.

I'd like to thank you so much for joining us

on Comic Culture today.

And I'd like to thank you at home for watching the show.

We'll see you again next time.

[triumphant orchestral music]

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