Comic Culture: Ron Marz
Writer Ron Marz discusses working for the Big 2 publishers versus creator owned projects, and Ominous Press.
[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.
- The sweatpants and the t-shirt
might be the best that it gets
for the most part.
- 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
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]