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January 19, 2014


CR Sunday Interview: Ron Marz

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Ron Marz is a mostly-mainstream industry veteran known for his lengthy runs on a variety of characters including Silver Surfer at Marvel, Green Lantern at DC, Witchblade for Top Cow. He may be best known for two plotlines related to the Green Lantern concept -- the killing of Alexandra Dewitt and the turning of Hal Jordan -- although when I mentioned his name to one of his peers the first thing that person mentioned was the long period Marz spent developing the Sara Pezzini character in the Top Cow books. Marz is one of those professionals that's worked at so many interesting places you look forward to the eventual career-spanner someone will do. His stops include the aforementioned mainstream comics companies in their fascinating just-post-Image days, Virgin Comics, and CrossGen.

I saw that Marz was writing The Mucker in webcomics form, which with art by Lee Moder will be appearing on the Edgar Rice Burroughs web site. I think The Mucker an odd book, and Edgar Rice Burroughs in an interesting place vis-a-vis modern pop culture: this fount of ideas, many of them marketable in other media, forced to compete with a million surging properties and concepts, many of which in some way owing a considerable debt to his work. The Mucker is a well-received Burroughs offering from reasonably early in his publishing career that kind of turns on their head a lot of the ideas we ascribe to Burroughs. It is also broadly rather than specifically indebted to other material of its time. Marz and Moder's The Mucker debuted yesterday, and the upstate New York-based writer was nice enough to give me some time on a Friday afternoon to talk. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: I think of Edgar Rice Burroughs as a topic that comes up with older comics professionals in their old Comics Journal interviews, how he was a foundational presence for anyone in that era that worked with escapist media. I think of him much less so that way now, much less of an automatic influence. You're slightly older than I am, so I wondered if there was as natural an inclination to engage with Burroughs when you were growing up as there might have been for our fathers' generations. I saw in one interview you did recently that you did indeed read Burroughs as a young person, quite passionately. How did you latch onto Burroughs -- was it the books? Was it through other media?

RON MARZ: I think most guys -- and I don't use "guys" in a generally male/female sense, because it's generally guys that discovered Burroughs in the mid-'70s. I think it was primed for someone of my generation to have latched onto all of that stuff in '76 or '77 up through 1980 or something like that. All of the Burroughs stuff started re-appearing in paperbacks.

SPURGEON: So you're talking these snappily-designed, [Frank] Frazetta illustrated or Frazetta-like illustrated paperbacks?

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MARZ: That would be the Gino D'Achille covers on the Ballantine John Carter Of Mars series. Which were followed by Michael Whelan covers. And then the Tarzan stuff, which had Frazetta and Boris [Vallejo] and Neal Adams. I was buying those things because I had fallen in love with the covers, and then I was falling in love with what was inside. It's pretty common for people at just the right age in that era to have an adolescent attachment to that stuff. I know from reading interviews with Andrew Stanton, who directed the John Carter movie, who I think is just the same age as I am or maybe one or two years younger or older, he kind of had the same experience. You discover that stuff at that magic age between 10 and 14. It sticks with you the rest of your life.

SPURGEON: So what is it that you responded to, Ron? What were those kids reacting to in that material? What is a strength of that material that punches through for you?

MARZ: It was the adventure of it, and that the women were beautiful and half-naked on the covers. I"m not ashamed to admit that. The heroes were stalwart heroes, they were cut from the heroic mold that we frankly don't see a lot anymore. These were adventures as well as romances. It was the discovery of your significant other on an alien planet. It just doesn't get any better than that.

And they were page turners. And still are, frankly. All of the Burroughs stuff to me is a perfect example of what an adventure story is supposed to do, which is propel you through a story because you care about what happens to the characters.

SPURGEON: Yours was certainly not the first generation of readers to fall in love with this material. Did you have any sense of or interaction with Burroughs as someone you should read, as a canonical writer of fantasy adventure? Did you ever feel like he was somebody you were supposed to read because he was one of the greats? Did you get to him on that level?

MARZ: Not really. I think I was too young at the time to really grasp the overall influence that Burroughs had had since the stuff first started appearing. I just read them because I liked them and they were thoroughly entertaining to me. I was drawn to that kind of material: Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, as well as [JRR] Tolkien. And Terry Brooks with Sword Of Shannara, that was the new kid on the block at the time. There was not a whole of this material out there. If you wanted to read a fantasy series, you read Tolkien and Terry Brooks and there wasn't a whole lot else. It wasn't until a few years later that the spate of fantasy material being written at the time started to hit. Obviously those were generated by the success of this older material finding a new audience. I think I latched onto Burroughs before I did Howard, and because there were so many more Burroughs books that's what I really buried myself in.

SPURGEON: Did you carry this stuff with you as you grew older, then, or do you think of this exposure to Burroughs as being of a time? Did you have go back to Burroughs at some point, or has he always been present?

MARZ: I think in an overall way I have kept it with me. It's been an influence ever since I discovered this stuff. A lot of the novels I haven't read again except for specific work-related needs. I don't know, in a lot of ways your first love is your best love. There's a misty veil of nostalgia when you look back, and in a lot of ways it's more about the feel than the specifics of a work. But now going back and reading a bunch of this stuff -- in particularly The Mucker... that's a pretty damn good book! I know Burroughs is seen as this pulp guy that churned it out, but he was a pretty good damn writer. I know when I was 12 years old I wanted nothing more than to grow up and be Edgar Rice Burroughs. That or Ray Harryhausen, but both of those jobs were taken.

imageSPURGEON: The Mucker is an odd book in Burroughs' career. It's kind of early, as I recall, and it's almost but not quite stand-alone; in fact, I don't know what it is you're adapting.

MARZ: There's two books and then sort of a related book. The plan is to adapt everything that's possible. You're right, it is sort of the redheaded stepchild of the Burroughs canon. It's unlike anything else he did in terms of it being a book set in contemporary times to when it was written -- a lot of the Burroughs books have either a timeless feel or were set, like the John Carter stuff, somewhat in the past.

I think the other big thing with this is the main character, Billy Byrne, is really not a very nice guy. [laughs] The other Burroughs heroes are these honorable, square-jawed stalwarts who did the right thing because it was the right thing. They start off with a sense of decency and honor and what's right. The Mucker is none of those things. He's a street thug, basically. I was fascinated by this. When the opportunity to do this came up, I said, "Is anybody taking on The Mucker?" It's such a different vibe. I felt like it would be a treat to work on it in terms of character and setting.

SPURGEON: You can get a sense of some Burroughs work in terms of a context for work of that type during the time he wrote it: The Mad King had as a contemporary and immediate forbear the Anthony Hope books. The Mucker has always kind of slipped easy comparisons to works from other writers, at least for me. Were there other works like The Mucker out there that Burroughs was riffing on or drawing inspiration from, or is the book series as odd in its time as it is odd in the context of Burroughs' career?

MARZ: My assumption is that there was a fair amount of pulp material out there at the time that was not altogether different from The Mucker, but all of that stuff has been -- except for real aficionados -- all of that stuff has been kind of lost in time. And frankly probably most of it wasn't very memorable in the first place. So it's this weird square peg in a round Burroughs hole. I think it really holds up, maybe because it's so different than everything people associate him with.

SPURGEON: That one is class-conscious, even, and its central relationship is more layered than a lot of Burroughs' other work.

MARZ: It is absolutely class conscious. It's the other side of the coin of the nobility you find in Greystoke and the kind of southern gentleman you have with John Carter. Everyone was fairly well-refined. Then you get this guy who would despise Tarzan and John Carter upon first meeting them.

SPURGEON: There's a transformative aspect to the character, too. He's a bad guy that ends up doing good things. I can't recall if this is because of the central relationship or because of a variety of factors, but there's definitely a progression with the lead character that's maybe not typical to other Burroughs works.

MARZ: Right. There's more of a hero's journey -- the classic [Joseph] Campbell hero's journey -- with Billy Byrne than with other classic Burroughs protagonists. They all start out as pretty swell guys, and completely accomplished. They can fight. The loves of their lives fall into helpless love with them. They're very much idealized heroes. Billy Byrne is the opposite end of this. He's an unsavory character, and because of that there's more growth in him than with other leads.

SPURGEON: Do you have a sense of why this one was so different? Was there an element of genre correction or Burroughs pushing back against some of his other work? Is there a social criticism aspect to this work?

MARZ: I really don't have an answers to that, other than I look at Burroughs as a guy that was first and foremost a working writer. He cranked this stuff out. There was imagination on display like few other things. Because of that imagination he was constantly churning out stuff, and I think this was just something... something different. I admire it in that way even more than some of the other stuff because it's so different. Maybe a lesser writer would have had no interest in pursuing something like this because it wasn't as commercially accessible as another Tarzan book and another John Carter book. He went off and did something different because presumably he felt like doing it, which I admire greatly.

SPURGEON: You're working with the Burroughs estate directly on this, right?

MARZ: Yeah.

imageSPURGEON: So what is their hope in terms of having a Mucker adaptation out there? What is their stake in having you revisit this work?

MARZ: I think first and foremost it's a way to try and breathe life into these properties that haven't had a whole lot of life in decades. You can still go on Amazon and do a digital download of The Mucker. You can order a print copy. But certainly when I was kid in the '70s and you walked into a bookstore -- and I walked into a lot of bookstores, I practically lived in them -- there was an entire shelf of Edgar Rice Burroughs. All the different series: John Carter, Tarzan, Venus, the historical stuff like The Outlaw of Torn, it was all there, in some form or another, from Ballantine or Ace or one of the publishers. You walk into a Barnes And Noble now, there's maybe a John Carter omnibus, maybe a few Tarzan volumes and that's about it. It's not in the public consciousness as much as it once was. So I think these strips are maybe a way to bring some eyes back onto these properties.

For me, I'm doing it because I love this stuff. I feel like I owe a debt to Burroughs for inspiring me to do what I do in a lot of ways. If I can get another generation to pay some attention to this material, I'll feel like I've done some service to the estate overall, I guess.

It's a curious mix of nostalgia -- which these projects certainly have an aspect of, in both the properties themselves and the fact we're doing Sunday style pages, because how many people even look at Sunday comic strips anymore -- married to the fact that we're doing these strips on-line and we're making them accessible to frankly anybody that can log onto the Internet. To me it's a curious and hopefully enticing mixture of nostalgia and new media.

SPURGEON: Something you were talking about just now really hit me. The context is so very different now for any project like this. You've worked on a wide variety of other people's properties, ranging from stuff that's 100 years old to stuff that's 50 to stuff that's 20. You've also worked on your own material, which at its inception is of course brand new. And you're doing this all in this massive, massive marketplace for ideas and concepts that exists right now. There are so many more players in that market than there used to be. These concepts retaining currency has to be an absolute struggle for those interested in seeing these properties continue to find an audience. Do you ever stop to think what it might have been like to work during a time -- 30, 40, 50 years ago -- when there wasn't as much material competing for eyeballs? Do you ever regret the fact that so many people want to place so many things in front of people's eyes? That it's this competitive?

MARZ: It's absolutely a two-edged sword. The access that we have to eyeballs is wonderful... but everyone else has the same access. [laughter] So you're shouting to be heard above the din.

I don't even know if there's a right answer for that. It's wonderful to be able to have access to people and be able to put your think about there on the smorgasbord table with everybody else. But yeah, it was certainly a lot easier to reach your target audience when there weren't literally thousands of other purveyors out there trying to get the same eyeballs.

The first stuff I wrote was in 1990. It's certainly a hugely different marketplace now. I see pluses and minuses to both of them. I think the real winner is the consumer that gets to sample whatever they want. It's a plus for the providers of content to a certain extent because there is so much more access for people to check out what you're doing, but because of that access there's always someone willing to do it for cheaper, or for free. I think there's more competition for slot to get in front of people than there have ever been.

SPURGEON: Someone in your position, someone has been doing this for 20 years now, are you happy with the place you've built for yourself to create? Are you happy in terms of the rapport you have with an audience and the skill set you continue to develop? There's a disposable element to comics culture: "we've seen what this person can do; onto the next person." Are you happy with the audience you've built? Are you happy with the stories you get to tell them?

MARZ: The answer is yes to both. I'm happy with what I can do and I'm happy for the opportunities that I have. Again, there's always somebody there to take your gig. That's reality. I would be less concerned if I were 24 years old and not married and not possessed of three kids to feed. There are practical concerns in which you have to make sure that you're steering your career in a way that you can extend your career.

I'm completely thankful that I was able to establish my career in years past. There's a certain amount of cachet for having done this for a while, for having played in the Marvel and DC universes. I think that's something virtually everybody has to do in their career in order to gain an audience and be taken seriously as a creator. With some exceptions. So I'm glad I was able to do that. Having some name value and having some experience under your belt gets you a bit of a pass in terms of people being willing to try what you're doing. I think that's a huge thing. If I were a 20-year-old creator, just trying to get me worked looked at by somebody, I think it would be a hugely depressing undertaking, because there are so many people trying to do the exact same thing.

I also think there's fiercer competition for gigs now than I've ever seen before, in terms of any gig belonging to anybody. In years past, there was very much a sense of honor or loyalty -- however you want to describe it -- among creators that if you had a gig, that was yours. You didn't pitch for somebody else's book and they didn't pitch for yours until the editor had decided to move on or there were plans to relaunch or whatever. That's very much a thing of the past. In speaking to other creators, that's something that a lot of guys from my generation and the generation that came right after me have noticed. There's not really a sense of "ownership" of a creative gig anymore. It's a free-for-all. I've known people that I considered friends and still consider friends pitch for a book I was writing while I was on them.

SPURGEON: Oh no.

MARZ: That's the new reality, that that sort of stuff is done. I've literally had an editor tell me, "Hey yeah, this guy came in and said he would do the book and he would do it for half the rate you're writing for."

SPURGEON: Oh my God.

MARZ: It's a cutthroat world more so than it ever has been. Creators are moved in and out of assignments more quickly.

SPURGEON: [laughs] You know it struck me that I was about to ask my follow-up questions in terms of the positives and negatives of this, but I don't think we've had that wide a discussion and it's hard for me to figure out any positives. Is there anything positive from a milieu that features this fetid, fevered marketplace? Does it keep it on your toes, at least? Is this something we just chalk up to an overall negative?

MARZ: I think there are more negative than positive aspects to it. It does keep you on your toes. It forces you to consider that you may have to reinvent yourself every so often. It certainly leads to creators, whether they're writer or artists, being aware that they have a shelf life and you need to be thinking about your next gig all of the time.

Certainly when I broke in at Marvel and then moved over to DC, unless there was a problem, unless sales plummeted, you got to stay on a book for as long as you wanted to, for as long as you felt like you had ideas. That's really not the way it works anymore. There's again such a competition to get eyeballs, to get sales to get buzz to get attention. Very rarely do creators get to stick around and do a four-year run on a book because the best way to lose sales is to keep doing what you're doing. Sales attrition happens everywhere, to good books and bad books. Bad books it's worse, frankly. I've found that the easiest way to lose readers in a lot of ways is to just keep doing a solid book every month. [laughter]

Frankly, there is so much competition for the attention of the audience that the inevitable winnowing of those sales numbers continues to trend downward. If you don't do something over four months, every six months, however often you can, to get some press, get some interest, get some people to talk about what you're doing, eventually you're in a position where everybody looks up and says, "How did we lose a third of our sales?"

SPURGEON: There's hard-won wisdom there, so that's an advantage you may have now that you didn't a decade or 15 years ago, but I'm also interested in talking about this in terms of your skills. What do you think is different about your writing now, Ron? How is a work of yours different now than even five years ago? Or are your perhaps obscenely consistent?

MARZ: I don't know. I think perspective always lends a clearer picture and you sort of view what you've done three years down the road with a lot more clarity than when you're in the midst of it. I think I probably have a grasp of what I do and what I can do and feel like what I can do well. I know the things I want to write. I know the kinds of stories and am better at writing than others. I always look at the difference between idea-driven stories and character driven stories. As a reader, I can enjoy both, but I'm much more drawn to character-driven stories. As a reader, but even more so as a writer. I'm not terribly interested in doing stories with big ideas where the characters... you're not terribly invested in them. I think a lot of current comics fall into one category or another. I think that generally the really well-done comics are the ones that can bridge that gap, and be something more than each camp can offer on its own.

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SPURGEON: I've read a bunch of your Top Cow stuff. You seem to have fallen very comfortably into telling the stories of your lead characters. There doesn't seem to be a lot of fussiness there, Ron, it seems like you have a pretty firm grasp on who those characters and the kind of setting you think it's interesting to place them. There's an authority to the way you present your main characters.

MARZ: I think that's my job. That's how I approach my job. I always approach it -- doing superhero stuff or doing supernatural stuff or whatever, my self-imposed edict is I want the reader to care enough about the protagonist that they'd read a book about the protagonist doing something that has nothing to do with being a superhero or being supernaturally challenged or anything like that. The fact that we shouldn't be doing books about superheroes not being superheroes [Spurgeon laughs] is a separate discussion. Ultimately, I don't want to read a Superman story where he doesn't punch somebody after a while.

But I do feel like the writer's job is to make whatever the characters do look interesting. Pages of endless exposition don't interest me the same way that pages of endless fight scenes don't interest me if I'm not engaged with what those characters are trying to do. So I approach my job from a character-first standpoint. If I can make a connection with the character, I can stay on the book a while. For me it's the difference between my run on Green Lantern, which was seven years because I was fully invested in building that character and trying to inhabit his life, and that I lasted a year on Superboy because I figured out I didn't care what a 16-year-old kid was doing.

SPURGEON: With the Top Cow material you write, how is that audience different? I have no sense of that audience. None at all. Is that a different audience than those that might follow you onto a more directly mainstream assignment, Ron?

MARZ: A little bit, but in terms of execution not hugely different. But in terms of freedom... Top Cow has always given me a huge amount of "Go do what you want. If you go too far we'll let you know." I had and still have the ability to evolve the characters I'm dealing with without being too constrained by media tie-ins or selling bedsheets or whatever. That's not to say that's an inherently bad aspect of writing in one of the Big Two universes. That just goes with the territory. If you're not sanguine with the fact that you can't just decide what happens to these characters because you're working within a framework, then you shouldn't be doing that job.

The Top Cow stuff is for me a little more mature, a little darker because we're working with a lot of supernatural stuff. But I don't think in the details of the job I approach it any differently. It's all character-driven stuff and when I have a character that I feel like I can inhabit, I prefer to stick around for the long term. Which I know is the exception rather than the rule in the way publishing plans are set up.

SPURGEON: How is The Mucker structured. I should know this, but I don't. You mentioned Sunday strips -- is it like a Sunday strip, then?

MARZ: It's a Sunday strip. I should say a Sunday-style strip because they will appear on Saturdays.

SPURGEON: So it's like a broadsheet, a big, giant sheet of comics?

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MARZ: Oh, I wish it was a broadsheet. I love broadsheet-style comics. No, this is more a Sunday style comic from when we were growing up, essentially a third of a broadsheet page. I would dearly love to do a Prince Valiant. We actually did an issue of Scion at Crossgen where every spread was turned on its side to reveal a Prince Valiant-sized broadsheet. It's still one of my favorite issues ever. This isn't quite that. I think dimensions-wise this is a regular comics page turned on its side.

SPURGEON: The reason I ask, Ron, is that you have a very assured sense of structure. Your comics don't seem hurried, don't seem to end abruptly. There's enough substance to them without seeming tedious or long. You have a natural grasp of how to use that comic book structure. I wonder after shifting structure to work on The Mucker. Has it been a challenge to make that format work for you?

MARZ: It's slightly different in that there's a brevity that's necessary. You have to make sure each strip, essentially each page, feels complete in some ways. The people that are going to be reading this weekly, there are six days in between. That unit you give them once a week has to have some sense of completeness to it, as well has having some sort of a cliffhanger, some sort of leap in the final panel. There's a little less latitude in terms of "I'd love to do a big-ass splash image here and use the whole panel." You're not able to do that. So that's different that traditionally structured comic book. Even in a 20-page traditional comics you're working towards visual payoffs every so often, you're working towards some sort of larger page on each page so that there's some sort of visual interest and visual contrast on each page. This is slightly different in that you're working on a one-off every time.

That said, I'm really enjoying it. Most of the strips are ending up at about six panels, because they feels like about the right amount of pacing per week. Here and there we'll dip around to five and some of them are seven or eight panels depending if there's a special rhythm we want to give to it. More than anything, the fact that I'm working with Lee Moder on The Mucker and I'll be working Bart Sears on Korak... these guys are two of my best friends, these are guys I've worked with for years, and they both happen to be really damn good artists. So there's a huge saftey net for me. If I write a lousy script one week, I know they're going to save it.

SPURGEON: [laughs] You know, I forgot to ask about your perspective on the conventional wisdom concerning the quality of the Mucker books. That is a line of thinking that says the first one is really good, and the second one and the sequel with the supporting character aren't very good. Do you agree with that?

MARZ: I think the first one is maybe a little bit better because you're introduced to everything. But I think the second one is really strong as well. I think the setting in the first one is probably a bit better, too. More exotic for western audiences. I think one of the things I said in some of the press material that was sent out is that in the sorts of adventures this guy eventually goes on, this is Indiana Jones before Indiana Jones. I'm a big sucker for period stuff, anyway. Because the world seems... certainly in this era the world seems more exotic and mysterious and sexy, all of that stuff, because there was an inaccessibility to all of it. Any time I get to write something that takes place somewhere other than the here and now, I always do it, even though I know that period stuff is a harder sell.

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SPURGEON: Is there a gold standard for the treatment of Burroughs in comics where you're concerned, or, given that the Mucker material may be slightly out out of step with the mainstream of what Burroughs, is there an ideal for this kind of story in comics?

MARZ: It's hard to beat the [Joe] Kubert Tarzan stuff. That's obviously just lovely work and right up Joe's alley in terms of... I think as much as I love all of Joe's work, I think if my choice is Joe's Tarzan or Joe's Hawkman, man, it's Tarzan every time. They feel way more up his alley than the superheroic stuff.

SPURGEON: That's something that's been nice about the last five years, actually, this appreciation for that specific period of work that Kubert did.

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MARZ: I like Joe's stuff a bunch. I remember as a young kid I had a stack of Korak comics when DC took over the license. Those appealed to me for reasons I can't even put my finger on, because at that point I was young enough I didn't know who Edgar Rice Burroughs was. Those appealed to me, and in a very real way I love the hell out of the [John] Buscema Tarzan at Marvel. I think obviously Buscema's Conan stuff is better known and maybe overall better material, but again I think John is one of those guys that did incredible superhero work but was more comfortable and was more suited to adventure stuff like Conan and Tarzan and even the Thor stuff is more like fantasy-adventure material than straight superheroics.

SPURGEON: Is there trick to Burroughs, a key perhaps? Is there something to avoid? Or is that material so sturdy it really does become whether or not you execute it on the page?

MARZ: You know what? More than anything: work with the right artist. The stuff is so visual and so fabulous in sort of the original sense of that word that the material doesn't succeed anywhere near like it should if you don't have the right artists drawing it. I think it's all cool when you get the right guy drawing this stuff is when it really sings. The Burroughs material, particularly the fantastic stuff like John Carter, is so visual if the right guy's not doing it it's okay but if the right guy's doing it, it's just magic.

SPURGEON: You mentioned CrossGen earlier, Ron. That's a company with a certain public reputation now. Is there something we don't understand, we don't get, something you think may be under-appreciated about that company and the work it did? Is there something you wish more people knew about that company?

MARZ: I don't look back on it with regret other than the fact that it ended badly. And it ended for reasons of hubris and naivete in a lot of ways on the part of Mark Alessi who was the guy that founded it and paid for it. I look back on it with regret in terms of what could have been I don't like back on it with regret in terms of what we accomplished there and the material we were able to work on. The biggest regret I have is that its failure has probably doomed any other venture like that. Where you would actually have a studio of writers and artists who were working together and getting paid on salary and getting treated like employees who were worthy of health benefits and vacation time and sick days and all of that stuff the real world takes for granted and freelancers have no access to. To me, that's the big regret. It was an opportunity for writers and artists to have some stability, to have access to a real job rather than bouncing from gig to gig.

The other side of the coin is that creatively I really enjoyed the hell out of it. We were doing at least on the surface non-superhero material and I loved being able to interact with an entire creative team on a daily basis -- if you wanted to. Certainly there were days I didn't feel like getting up and going to the office. There were distractions in the office that actually prevented at least me from getting as much work done in the building as I wanted to. But still I'm proud of a lot of the material that came out of there. Some of the books were dogs [Spurgeon laughs], no two ways about it.

Overall... if I knew now what I knew then... I would probably still do it. I learned a lot about putting comics together. I learned a lot about my craft just being with other people who did the same thing that I do. There was a learning curve I think for everybody there. A lot of artists came in the door good and left the place really, really good or great. I think a lot of that is due to the learning atmosphere as well as the competitive atmosphere. Nobody wanted to be the guy that hung up the shitty page at the end of the day.

SPURGEON: Ron, I think of you as a pretty positive guy. You're very positive about your job -- that you enjoy what you do. Another thing I always wonder about guys that have put a couple of decades in is where the crux of the pleasure of doing comics might be. What is a good day at the office, Ron? When do you enjoy comics most?

MARZ: [pause] For one... [laughs] I haven't really worked a day in the last 20 years. Let's be frank about that. I make up stuff for a living. How cool is that? There are real-world concerns of pay and security and all of that stuff, but at its core I get to make up stories and people pay me to do that. That is... that's no small gift. I try to remind myself not to look that gift horse in the mouth on any day. To me the satisfaction comes, the best moment of my job comes when I've written a script, and it goes off to the artists and then the pages start coming in to my inbox. That's still the best moment of my job. It's not when the issue comes out and hits the stands. It's not when you go to a show and sign autographs and people say they really like this. The best moment is when the stuff that was in your head is now made real on a piece of paper or on a digital screen. To me there's no beating that moment.

Maybe that's just specific to me, because I'm a huge art fan. I appreciate the art, but I can't do it myself. I can't draw to save my life, despite the fact that I'm in love with comics art and illustration art and have been since sort of those magic ages -- 10 to 14, when I first discovered Frazetta. So to me, maybe this is just very specific to me, that's the best part. I can't draw. I can't make art in that sense. But I get to be a part of the process, and I get to see what I imagined made real in front of me.

SPURGEON: You've lived through a cycle in comics where conventional wisdom was at one time that the artist for a comic book was foremost and praised: the Image era and its immediate aftermath. That's when you entered the industry. Now we're in an period where conventional wisdom has done a 180, and now it's believed that the writer is the first praised, even at the expense of the artist. That might even be something that benefits you in a career sense, but it sounds like it might also pick at what you find valuable in comics. It might hit your sensibilities directly, what you value about comics, that we maybe don't appreciate artists as much as we should.

MARZ: I despise the fact that we don't appreciate the artists as much as we should. It drives me nuts. I'm probably more often than anyone wants me to be on a soapbox on twitter about this, or expressing my disbelief and disgust that you read somebody... just a quick scan of the vast majority of the reviews out there might mention the art in one or two lines if at all. That makes me crazy. When I read interviews with writers that can't be bothered to mention the art team they're working with -- it drives me crazy! I feel like I'm the outlier here, because I value so much of what the artists does. I think we're doing a gross disservice to our artistic partners not having them as complete equals. Frankly, they should be more than complete equals. I have no problem admitting that the art is more important than the story.

SPURGEON: Is it just that the cross-media opportunities are so important now that we value the writer because they represent the portability of the idea in question? So we define comics in terms of their concepts rather than their execution because the concept can be re-used. Or if that's not it, why did we make this switch over the last 20 years?

MARZ: I think it's a number of things. For one, yeah, the portability of the idea is a part of it. I also think the audience used to be really into the art. Maybe too much. [Spurgeon laughs] In the Image era there were guys that were clearly lousy artists that were just doing pin-ups with panel garnishment around them and calling them sequentials. That's not great, either. I think the backlash of that is that our medium became so writer-centric because writers are on a book every month. A lot of artists were not up to the monthly grind. Artists are switched in and out of series, almost willy-nilly. There was not much of a writer-artist team in many venues, and there still isn't. It's more rare to encounter that than it is to encounter an artist who sticks on a book and works with a series of art teams that last three or four issues and then get replaced by somebody else. A lot of that is scheduling concerns. And I understand it. But I think that art is not interchangeable. One art team isn't going to bring to the table what another art team does. Frankly, ideally, you shouldn't be able to swap artists in and out of assignments without the attention paid to creative casting. When you get a run like [Ed] Brubaker and [Steve] Epting and Mike Perkins and Luke Ross all in that same artistic style? All pulling in the same direction? That's when you get a memorable run. I think it's more rare now than it should be.

I think the crunch of getting books out has led publishers to use whatever team from whatever studio they can schedule, and deciding that's fine by them. As that becomes predominant, the newer generation of writers isn't used to forming a partnership with an artist. It's just an assembly line. I've spoken to writers from the generation past mine who have frankly never spoken to the artist they work with. That just boggles my mind. More often than not, they don't know who they're writing for. They write a script, and it gets sent off for someone to draw. By and large, if I don't know who I'm writing a script for, I don't want to write it. I want to be able to write to that artist, to that artist's strengths and away from that artist's weaknesses, or at least away from what that artist might not want to draw. You end up with a better book. If you're creating it as an assembly line, the product at the end kind of comes out the same. That's what an assembly line does.

image

SPURGEON: So what's a strength of Lee Moder's on this project? How can we appreciate Moder through your eyes?

MARZ: Lee's one of those guys that's pretty good at damn near everything. But he's particularly good at the acting of the characters. The expressions of the characters. It's really good cartooning. I know that once you say cartooning, everyone thinks you mean cartoony art. Lee's stuff is open and there's a life to it, but I don't think it's cartoony. It just doesn't have the life rendered out of it with a million cross-hatching lines. In Lee's stuff, the characters act. They look like they're having thoughts in their heads. They have a variety of expressions. All of that is a necessity for any gig... I think what makes this particularly suited to The Mucker is that he's really good at the period stuff. He's done his research. He's found reference that makes this all feel very much of that era. This is a necessity for a period book. You need to believe it's in that era or I don't think you can fully invest yourself in it as a reader.

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* Ron Marz
* The Mucker

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* The Mucker logo
* one those great '70s covers by Gino D'Achille
* an older image of the character in question
* Lee Moder's imposing introduction of the character, in that first strip, posted yesterday
* Marz at Top Shelf
* one of the Scion #39 Prince Valiant tributes; I could not get the dialogue to reduce legibly, but you can read it here.
* Joe Kubert's Tarzan
* John Buscema's Tarzan
* more Moder
* banner used by the ERB folks to advertise The Mucker (below)

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